Your first 39 levels of life as a shadow priest are exactly like that. It's painful and boring and you just want it to end NOW but stick with it, because the comforting, snug warmth of your shadowform bed is mere moments away.
Like your drunken stumble home, there's no one right way to go. But levelling, as I have discovered, is painful enough as it is without hamstringing yourself with a stupid build. So we're going to have a stab at picking an optimum route all the same. Think of me as that chilli kebab you snatched from the takeaway to sustain you on the journey, and try not to think about the indigestion it will give you.
This isn't a fun process. Most of these talents are tuned for raiding and balanced around shadowform's damage modifier (hold onto that, it does get easier). The absence of many shining talents at least means there's plenty of wiggle room in the build. I'd encourage you to deviate in both the order and placement of points wherever you think it would work better for your play style.
Let me know how it works out for you :)
Levels 10-12 — spirit tap
Since the nerf to base mana regeneration, this talent has lost a lot of its lustre (two thirds, to be precise) but it's still one of the strongest early talents for levelling. If managed correctly it will help reduce downtime and keep you killing for longer. ('Managed' means ensuring you're out of the five-second rule when your target dies. It's a very, very boring way to level and we're going to break this rule as soon as we can. Around level 30 or so...)
Please under no circumstances put points in improved spirit tap — at least until you get shadowform and even then not unless you are running dps in instances a lot (I still wouldn't advise it). The buff from improved spirit tap, which is very weak to start with, can only be triggered by a mind blast crit (at least for now) — which is in itself a very rare occurrence at your level (5 or 6 per cent crit, am I right?) — and is overwritten by spirit tap anyway. This is a Talent You Should Not Take (TYSNT).
Levels 13-14 — shadow power
This is a beautiful talent that is almost utterly worthless to new priests, but you're going to spend points here because the alternative is worse.
Level 15-17 — shadow focus
Half your spells at this level are still holy, and this only affects shadow spells. Nonetheless, improving your chance to hit with spells is important for efficiency and there's nothing worse than wasting mind blast's cooldown for no reason.
Levels 18-20 — shadow power
We're going to go back and fill out this talent in the absence of anything better. Are you spotting a pattern here?
This is where it gets really miserable. You need to spend four points to get to tier four and have a plethora of mediocre talents to choose between. You can discount shadow affinity (a TYSNT) and take your pick between the rest of the shite:
- Improved shadow word: pain (2) — an abysmal talent even when raiding, two points here will boost your pain ticks by about two damage. Remember, your wand hits harder...
- Improved psychic scream (2) — it helps speed up fear-flay grinding (I'll explain in a minute) and it's a pre-requisite for silence, but neither of those things are strong arguments for blowing points here
- Improved mind blast (5) — reducing the cooldown on a spell that you probably only use once per mob is a silly thing to do, surely?
- Mind flay (1) — the iconic shadow priest spell, but a stiff breeze causes more damage than rank one, the base range is gimped, and until you get pushback protection from improved shadow form, there's no use spamming this point-blank
I personally went 2/2 in improved shadow word: pain and 1/1 in mind flay on the basis that I'd have to get them some time. Then 1/2 in improved psychic scream for fear-flay, but not feeling particularly happy about it.
Levels 25-26 — shadow reach
You are probably still pulling with holy fire at this level, which is not affected by this talent. But it does mean you can make more use of mind flay's snare as the mob runs towards you. Marginally useful.
Leve 27 — improved psychic scream
We're going to finish this off to ensure fear is off cooldown pretty much every mob we take on. This is essential for effective fear-flay grinding, which I'll stop hinting at cryptically and now explain.
So — line up your mob, cast your opening nukes, and dot the mob as it runs at you. If you move back while dotting, you should have time to get in one mind flay before it reaches melee range. Now you cast fear and mind flay it while it flits around. (Fear-flay, see? Well I didn't promise anything complicated.)
You rely on the range (with shadow reach) and snare of mind flay to keep the mob under contol. You can almost always find room to do this outdoors, and mind flay usually keeps the feared mob in range. You've got to be prepared for an add or two occasionally, but the original mob is usually dead by the time the add arrives, so no big deal. In fact, the biggest problem with this method is fear breaking early, but it's pretty reliable until later levels (Outland, as I recall, although fears now apparently break after less damage — I'll do some intrepid testing for you another time!)
You learn rank 2 of mind flay at level 28, and from that point the spell gets much easier to use — especially if combined with the glyph of shadow word: pain (more on glyphs in a later post.) This method is more mana-efficient than shielding, but then you are more likely to be casting when the mob dies, wasting a good chunk of spirit tap. I'd say the disadvantages pretty much balance out. This method wins for me because it's more interactive, and killing with mind flay is a helluva lot more fun than wanding. Try it out and see what you think. If you really don't think it's for you, those points in improved psychic scream would be better spent elsewhere. Improved mind blast, perhaps.
Levels 28-29 — shadow weaving
Oh god, is this the best we can do? Clearly I think the answer is yes, otherwise I wouldn't be recommending this talent next. But it's really not a good talent at this stage of your levelling — again, it's something that will be much more useful later on.
Veiled shadows, in case you haven't already realised, is a TYSNT.
Level 30 — vampiric embrace
Levels 31-32 — improved vampiric embrace
Continuing our theme of picking up talents that will be much more useful later on, these really will be points well spent eventually. In shadowform, you can pretty much take a beating one-on-one without loosing health. If you want, you can defer picking them up for a few levels, but the alternatives aren't that much better.
Level 33 — silence
I admit, silence is a situational spell, but it comes in handy while levelling to reduce incoming damage and pull ranged mobs into fear range. If you didn't take improved psychic scream, take your pick where to throw this point.
Level 34 — shadow weaving
We need to spend one more point to move up a tier and finishing this talent off feels as good a place as any to start. If you move between mobs quickly enough, you can ensure this buff is maintained at a full 10 per cent for as long as your mana holds out.
Levels 35-37 — improved devouring plague
This talent boosts devouring plague's tick value way above shadow word: pain — these are points well spent, even at this level. The mana cost and cooldown mean you probably won't be using it on every mob, but it's great for tougher mobs and to set-and-forget on adds.
Levels 38-39 — mind melt
The increased crit chance to mind blast and mind flay are pretty useful but we're really interested in this talent for the boost to dot crits — yet another thing we won't have till shadow form. But look, we're so very, very close now.
Level 40 — shadowform
Thank fuck for that. Your talents should now look something like this. It's been a complete pain in the arse, hasn't it? Was it this hard the first time round?
Don't worry, it's all over now. From here on in it's a complete joy :)
I'm going to take a break from talents to talk a bit about early gear choices, spells and glyphs next. We'll come back to talents and finish up levelling after that.