Priest DPS

Last updated 05/14/08, patch 2.4.2.


This focus of this page is predominantly on what spells to cast and in which order (when in instances/raids).

  • Information on talent builds can be found here.
  • Information on gear can be found here and here.
  • Information on gems can be found here.

For information on DPSing while soloing or leveling, check out the leveling guide instead.


What is “DPS?” What is “Utility?”

The prominent priest DPS talent builds are shadow-tree focused (41+ talent points); this is for good reason. Shadow talent builds provide solid DPS with fantastic utility.

DPS, or “damage per second,” describes the units in which we measure the damage we dish out to mobs over time. The term “DPS” is also used to describe the act of actively dealing damage.

Utility refers to additional benefits above and beyond the DPS you are providing. A shadowpriest’s major utility strengths are being able to provide strong health regeneration and/or mana regeneration for themselves and their party members.


Spell Casting

Welcome to Spell Juggling 101…

Playing as a shadow priest in a raid or group environment largely depends on keeping your damage over time (DoT) spells up on mobs while minding the cooldowns of some of your direct damage spells. This is called spell juggling.

Your DoT spells are Vampiric Touch (VT) and Shadow Word: Pain (SW:P). Also: Starshards if you are a Night Elf and Devouring Plague if you are Undead.

  • VT lasts 15 seconds
  • SW:P lasts 24 seconds (with proper talents)
  • Starshards lasts 15 seconds (30 seconds cooldown). Night elf only.
  • Devouring Plague lasts 24 seconds (3 min cooldown). Undead only.

Your direct damage spells are Shadow Word: Death (SW:D), Mind Blast (MB), and Mind Flay (MF).

  • SW:D has a 12 second cooldown
  • Mind Blast has a 5.5-8 second cooldown (depending on talents)
  • Mind Flay has no cooldown (but is a 3 second channeled spell)

Given the varied lengths of our spells’ cooldowns and up times, shadow priests do not have a “cast sequence” like some of the other DPS casters. What we have is more of a “casting priority,” meaning that when multiple spells are available to us, certain things are more beneficial to cast first.

Generally speaking, our casting priority looks something like this:

VT > SW:Pain > MB = SW:D > MF

Or, in a little more detail:


Starting DPS

To start off, you would likely want to open with:

VE (if applicable) > SW:P > VT > SW:D > MB > MF x 2

Then start juggling as above.

You can cast rank 1 of Shadow Word: Pain on a boss 3+ times before starting DPS in order to stack up the Shadow Weaving debuff while giving a tank time to get a decent threat lead on you.

SW:Death vs. Mind Blast

SW:D, since it causes backlash damage to you equal to the damage you deal, has its own caveats. You never want to use it when you are in danger of taking enough damage from other sources to kill yourself after it bumps down your health, or when the backlash damage itself can kill you (unless, of course, you are trying to avoid taking durability loss from an incoming wipe).

Shadow Word: Death is higher DPM (damage per mana) than Mind Blast, meaning it gives gives you a little more bang for your buck. Also, having Mind Blast after SW:D will help heal the backlash damage up quickly.  This is why SW:D is prioritized before Mind Blast. If mana and health return are not an issue, Mind Blast does deal more damage than SW:Death and should be given higher priority.

Additionally, as you are causing damage to yourself with Shadow Word: Death, be careful of threat if you have Vampiric Embrace up. A heal over time (HoT) or small heal from another healer is enough to cover the damage, but most healers will quickly become annoyed with having to heal you every 12-15 seconds.

Vampiric Embrace

… is not on the flow chart. At all. Most priests cannot use this spell all the time, or they only juggle it in periodically.

VE is this giant flaming torch that is cool when you can juggle it and impresses many people when you do, but can easily burn you if you are not careful.

(See “The Curse of Threat” below).

Welcome to the Price is Right of DoT Casting…

It is very important to understand how your damage over time spells work.


Every three seconds after the spell is cast, it will deal an amount of periodic damage until it expires. That means that right as the spell is expiring, it will be dealing its last tick of damage.

If you refresh your DoTs too early, you will be cutting off that last tick of damage.


If you do it only a fraction of a second too soon, then that is practically 6 full seconds without that DoT having dealt damage. It is better to wait for the spell to have ended before reapplying.

Try to reapply it as close as possible to the end of the expired DoT as you can.


You want to get as close as you can without it going over! (Yes, like the Price is Right…) This is better for both your mana and your DPS.

If you have to reapply a DoT before it is over, try to do so right after it has ticked for damage (3 second mark, 6 second mark, etc.). Use a DoT timer add-on (like Quartz) to know how long your DoT has been up.

Trash and AoE

If you are fighting trash mobs who die quickly and/or are in an “AoE” situation, your casting priorities are completely different.

On trash mobs with low health, you do not have to put up all your DoTs, as the mob(s) will likely be dead before the DoTs come anywhere near doing all their damage. “VT-> MB -> MF until dead” is a good option on trash mobs (add SW:D if needed).

In situations where AoE is needed, you can SW:P every mob you can while tossing out MB and SW:D when they are off cooldown. You will run out of mana quickly casting a lot of SW:P, so be careful about using this method in places where you will need to keep DPSing right after without a break to drink.

Inner Focus

Which spell to use Inner Focus with is debatable. For maximum mana efficiency, use it with Shadow Word: Pain (highest mana cost spell). For maximum damage, use it with Mind Blast (highest damage potential from a crit). And if you are Undead, you should always use it with Devouring Plague due to its very high mana cost.

The trick is to use it reliably. Some raid boss battles can go on a long time, easily giving you the chance to use this spell more than once. If you are bad at remembering to use this, then make a macro to attempt to use it whenever you cast your spell of choice.


If you have trinkets that increase your spell damage on use, be sure to use them to their maximum potential! If you cast DoTs with such a trinket activated, then the DoT will receive the benefit for its entire uptime, even when the trinket’s effects wear off you. Your shadowfiend also benefits as well.

If you have trouble remembering to use them, make a macro to use them whenever you cast a DoT.

You can do something as simple as:

/use 13
/cast Shadow Word: Pain

That will try to use the trinket in your top trinket slot before casting Shadow Word: Pain.

Special Snowflakes

If you are a night elf or undead, use Starshards/Devouring Plague to your advantage. Both will increase your DPS if worked into your juggling.


The Blessing of Utility

Vampiric Touch is the defining utility spell of shadow priests. If you can keep the spell up 100% of the time, then you will be regenerating 25% of your shadow DPS (not damage, but your DPS) as mp5 for your whole party (example: a priest doing 800 DPS, or “damage per second,” of shadow damage would be giving 200 mp5, or “mana per five seconds,” to his or her party if Vampiric Touch is kept up the whole time). This spell is typically the main reason why shadow priests are brought to raids. Keeping this spell up all the time is your #1 priority. Don’t leave home without it.

The Misery debuff is probably the other major reason why shadow priests are loved in raids. Provided you can keep your DoTs up reasonably well, you will be increasing the damage done by all of your magic user friends by 5%. Similarly, shadow weaving can significantly increase the damage done by other shadow magic users as well (warlocks!).

Vampiric Embrace will regenerate 15-25% of the shadow damage you as health for your party (depending on your talents). It is quite handy on fights that have high amounts of environmental damage (situations where many people are taking damage). It is also useful if you use Shadow Word: Death a lot. You only have to cast it once a minute to benefit from it. Score!

Shadow priests have other utility, such as being able to buff Improved Fortitude (if specced for it), being able to change form to toss heals (if necessary), and being able to cast Dispel Magic or toss Power Word: Shield (as needed). Crowd control in the form of Shackle Undead or Mind Control could count as utility, too.


The Curse of Threat

Shadow priests get threat from the damage they deal, the healing from VE (if applicable), and the mana regen from VT (if applicable). Even with every threat reduction effect possible, shadow priests can easily out-threat an undergeared or underskilled tank. Priests have no permanent way to shed threat, besides death.

A shadow priest has what is called “backloaded threat.” While your threat may ramp up slowly at first, once you get going, even if you stop casting, you can still be generating threat. Think of your threat generation as a very large truck with bad brakes. It takes a bit of effort to get going, but once you are you are difficult to stop. You need to be able to hit the brakes a good number of seconds before you really need to be stopped.

You live and die by your threat. Install a threat meter (I really cannot recommend the add-on Omen enough!).

You can drop spells from your casting priority if threat is an issue.

Which order to drop them in?

  1. Provided you have ample healing in your group, Vampiric Embrace should be the first spell you drop if threat is an issue. (Note: some priests do not put points in the Improved Vampiric Embrace talent so that they can use the spell a little more often).
  2. Shadow Word: Death should be dropped next, since it is causing you damage.
  3. Drop Devouring Plague or Starshards, if applicable. Devouring Plague causes healing and is high in mana cost, and Starshards doesn’t help you regen your party’s mana (it also isn’t affected by threat reduction talents).
  4. The next thing on the priority list that you can drop is Mind Blast.
  5. If you really must, after dropping Mind Blast out of your rotation, you can drop Shadow Word: Pain.
  6. That leaves you with Vampiric Touch and Mind Flay. You really shouldn’t drop either of those. If you are having threat issues with a tank while only casting those two spells, then you really need to find a different tank.

Increasing Your DPS

First, fix any bad habits:

  • Don’t cut of your DoTs when reapplying them.
  • Make sure you keep your DoTs up as best your can.
  • Don’t cut off the end of Mind Flay with another Mind Flay. Mind Flay, like a DoT, has a tick of damage at the end.
  • Keep casting! Don’t spend time looking around or thinking about what to do next instead of acting.
  • Don’t wait for a spell to finish casting before starting the next one. Use the spell queue system; start trying to cast the next spell while your previous is still casting. Just mash the hotkey for the next spell toward the end of the previous spell’s cast. It will be put in the queue to start casting right as the other one is done. (Be careful when using this at the end of Mind Flay.)

Second, examine your stats:

  • Are you hit capped with spell hit for what you are attacking?
  • Are you running out of mana and having to wand? Are you keeping Vampiric Touch up all the time? Are you using your potions and shadowfiend early enough? Do you have enough DPS for your encounter? Because of VT, your mana regen is largely a function of your DPS.
  • Are you focusing on ideal stats? (For example: spell damage / spell hit / spell haste are all much better than spell crit for increasing DPS).

Third, if still having trouble, examine your environment:

  • Is your latency bad? Do you have a lot of video lag? Shadow priesting is very unforgiving to those who “play in the red.” Do what you can to reduce it.
  • Are you having to shift out of shadow form to heal? That really kills your DPS (and your mana pool). Similarly, are you having to Dispel Magic or Power Word: Shield others a lot?
  • Are you threat capped with your current tank? Do you have 3 points in the Shadow Affinity talent and the Subtlety enchant to cloak? Are you asking your paladins for Blessing of Salvation? Have you dropped Vampiric Embrace from your casting or are using an unimproved version of it?

Fourth, run some tests:

  • dr_boom.jpgFind a mob that you can attack without it attacking back. You want to choose something that doesn’t die (quickly). Dr. Boom (level 68 mob in Netherstorm with over 400k health) or one of the “Servant” mobs in the Blasted Lands (mid-50s in level, have another player kite them away from their stone and tank them and they won’t die, though threat may become an issue). Attack at length to test your longevity, DPS, casting priority, talent spec, etc.
  • You can analyze your DPS and longevity using a basic stats mod like Violation, Assessment, or Recount. For better, more in depth information, you can set WoW to save your combat log and can have Wow Web Stats process it (this is your best option) [instructions for Wow Web Stats here]. Things to look for are the uptime of your DoTs (check the DoTs column for the number of ticks, multiply by 3; that number should be close to the number of seconds you were in battle), your average DPS, and your spell hit rate.

Advanced Tactics

Despite what was just stated above, there may be times when you might want to cut off Mind Flay early on purpose. If your DPS is high enough, mana should not be too much of an issue with you, so you can afford to possibly spend the mana cost of Mind Flay but only use one or two of its ticks.

You would want to do this when a DoT ends or a spell comes off cooldown while you are in the middle of Mind Flay. You would make the conscious decision to forgo the last part(s) of Mind Flay’s damage in exchange for something “better.” This becomes more of a concern when you start to accumulate gear with spell haste and your spell casts in between DoT applications become a bit irregular. Again, you would only want to do this if you are in a place where mana efficiency isn’t much of a concern for you.

The trick is, you have to cut it off right after it ticks for damage! If you cut it off too soon or too late, you would be effectively losing DPS. Mind Flay lasts for 3 seconds and it ticks at the end of every second that it is channeled, but if you have spell haste you have to recalculate and figure out how long you Mind Flays are lasting to find the ticks (1/3 the casting time, 2/3 the casting time, and at the end of the channel).

The easiest way to do this is to install a casting bar add-on that clearly shows you the spell’s intended length and how many seconds into the cast you are, and can account for your latency. Quartz does this very well. Use a “/stopcasting” macro bound to a hotkey to cut the spell off. You have to be ready with the next spell right away, or use it as a part of the /stopcasting macro.


/cast Shadow Word: Pain

Mind Flay clipping is a difficult skill to master, especially at high latency. It takes a lot of practice to really get this down.


… but what about holy DPS?

As I previously stated, speccing at least 41 points into the shadow tree is the way to go for great DPS and utility as a priest in raiding. People have tried holy/disc DPS builds, and have had mixed success. If you wanted to try it, you would probably want to go with some variant of a 34/27/0 build.

For optimal sustainability and success, you would want to be put into a group with a retribution paladin, a balance druid, an elemental shaman, and one or more shadow priests. Group choice can really make a difference for you.

The utility you provide is poor in comparison to that of a shadow priest. You have the potential to provide Improved Divine Spirit and Improved Fortitude if no one else has it, possibly Power Infusion, and the ability to heal without switching form. However, a shadow priest can spit back mana and health to their party while being competitive on a damage meter and not ever breaking a sweat.

The #1 reason why holy DPS isn’t seen is mana efficiency. As a shadow priest, you are a mana-regenerating machine. As a holy priest, well, you sure do burn through that mana pool quickly. You are the mana suck. :) You just don’t have the longevity or efficiency that a shadow priest does.

Spell Choice

DPSing as a holy priest? Yawn.


Your casting sequence: Smite -> Smite -> Smite -> Smite … etc.

Shadow Word: Pain and Mind Blast are too high in mana cost and will run you out of mana quickly. Holy Fire, while more mana efficient, will not do the damage you need. The best optimization of damage and mana for holy DPS is Smite. Smite is also affected by certain talents (such as Surge of Light) making it a good choice.

Downranking is your crutch on long fights. You may have to use rank 9 of Smite instead of rank 10 if you are having mana issues. You will be able to do more sustained damage that way.

Starting DPS

Open with Holy Fire. Then proceed to start smiting.


Spell hit is a major concern; you can only get 4% from talents. You’ll rely on spell crit for mana efficiency (from Surge of Light). Also, if you are looking for +holy damage items in the game, there are only two.

Be Prepared

… to be laughed at. People laugh at the unexpected, and a priest doing holy damage is sure to catch them off guard.

However, if you can competitively pull it off, you will sure be turning some heads, embarrassing some lazy DPSers, and making yourself a legend in your own right.

Back to Priest Guide menu >>

23 Responses

  1. This has got to be the most insightful piece in 12 seconds of decision making as a Priest that I’ve ever seen. I especially like that Shadow Priest chart. What did you use to make that?

    I’m almost tempted to make something similar for Holy Priests. But there’s too many variables to take into account.

    Top quality post all around!

  2. I don’t have enough words to describe how much I like this guide. It might be because I love flowcharts, but this is the best priest dps guide I’ve seen.

  3. As usually this new article is a gold mine! It will really help me inside my little 5-man heroic group, and greatly improve my efficiency. A reference.

  4. Thank you! And yes I made the flow charts. :) I used a program named “Smart Draw.”

  5. This article is awesome. If only all guides were so good.

  6. [...] week I plugged in my weekly digest. Yesterday, she published an excellent flowchart detailing actions for both shadow priests and holy priests concerned with dealing [...]

  7. Nice! – I have a bad habit of cutting my mindflay off too early.. and somtimes may redot SWp too early.. will need to fix that now I understanding repercussions a bit better.. cheers

  8. [...] Priest DPS raidben: « előző | Black Ravens — 2008. 02. 28. [...]

  9. [...] DPS guide that has flowcharts is a winner. So it is with that Priest DPS guide from — not only does it include some good insight on the spells both Shadow [...]

  10. This is my first visit to the site, and before I get into any debate or disagreement on the above guide, lemme say that both the site and this article are tremendous. As a Dwarf Priest, Im loving it.

    That said, like I always do, I have to take issue with the lack of forethought and respect a holy priest dps’er should be given. Now, before we get too far, let me clarify that my opinions here are strictly limited to the utility and function of a holy priest dpsing in 5 man situations, not raid situations. I fundamentally believe that with the right raid group a holy DPS priest is perfectly viable, but I think that their true beauty comes in the more limited 5 person group.

    So, lets assume that you have a holy priest that is not needed to be the healer in a 5 person run, normal or heroic, either way. Lets also assume that you have good enough healing gear, or a pure DPS gear set that puts you up over 800 spell dam (you can bump the pure +holy a bit higher, but not much as you point out which is BS).

    Breaking it down by your own sort of categories

    - Pure DPS. You show me a holy priest with over 800 spell dam, about 17%+ crit rate and 9k+ mana, and I’ll show you somebody that can put out 400+ dps on a normal run and 325+ on a heroic run without too much problem with mana. That’s also allowing some time spent backup healing/etc..which I’ll get into later, but there is no question based on a lot of 5 man experience in a DPS slot, that a holy priest can outshine a lot of folks. In a 5 man, the fights are typically not long enough for the mana efficiency issue to be a problem, so a holy priest can nearly go full out on DPS without concern. Some bosses you might end up popping a pot and your fiend…but that’s not a burden.

    I think that for pure DPS, the best sequence is Holy Fire->SW:P->Smite (repeate until DoT clears, rinse, repeat). You can swap SW:P and Holy Fire as I often do, in terms of easing into aggro with the DoT and long cast timer, before you start laying out the smites.

    I have topped out at 527 dps for a full normal Mech run, and 410+ for a heroic Mech run in a dps slot, and I have absolute confidence in aggro management with Fade and whatnot.

    - Utility :

    Well, you sorta casually toss out there that we can heal in a pinch without swapping form, gear, etc. That’s HUGE. Say you’re taking up the DPS slot in a 5 person run and your “healer” is a bit undergeared or underexperienced, or you’re just in a tough run that a specific healer type might have a rough time in (say, a pally where party healing is big, or a boss where you need a HoT running). The value in having a holy priest around to keep a Renew up on the tank, or toss over a Pom/shield if things get hairy, in addition to putting up enough DPS can and will turn the tide on fights.

    How about if your “healer” goes down…most parties are wiped, but not if your dps’er is a holy priest.

    Priest CC isn’t “good”, sure, but dont underestimate MC and fear. Well used, Ive seen MC’d mobs just rip through other mobs with sick DPS. With a party of folks who understand positioning and pulling, fear is a great tool.

    Anyway, I think you get my point. And lets be honest here, even in a raid situation, there are PLENTY of DPS classes that offer no “utility” to the party/raid. What’s a rogue giving you in utility in raids…not their sap very often. What is a DPS warrior giving you beyond shouts? Not much, and neither of them can keep a tank up in a pinch. Or shackle in Karazhan. :)

    Holy Priest DPS…it’s not the greatest, it’s not the sexiest, but it’s way way more flexible and party friendly than people like to admit. Yeah, pushing your smite macro button over and over is not the most fun you can have, but watching your equivalently geared “DPS” class party mates gape at being out DPS’d by a holy priest IS about the most fun you can have.

  11. [...] of the Lich king, I’m going to try to do some DPS. Here is how A Dwarf Priest sums up Holy Priest DPS “Open with Holy Fire. Then proceed to start smiting.” Keep smiting till you run out of [...]

  12. Great post. Good to know my little shadow poo gets a boost from trinkets – didn’t know that.

    Mind Flay has the extra benefit of slowing the mob so the tank has an easier time Taunting or even SSing it, especially good for high latency tanks.

  13. [...] Priest DPS � A Dwarf Priest Scroll down to the lolsmite flowchart. I lol’d. Shard – Twilight’s Hammer EU [...]

  14. [...] done this as a follow up to A Dwarf priests Post on Priest DPS of which awesome model was used. Priest DPS I’ve done a Excel Screen shot ( with Pretty Colours as to a time period Graphical [...]

  15. [...] more about priorotizing spells due to our abilities not syncing very well in terms of cooldowns. Priest DPS A Dwarf Priest is all you need in order to maximize your dps. It’s the shadowpriest class in a [...]

  16. Priest DPS…

    An interesting article on Shadow Priest DPS from Dwarf Priest….

  17. [...] Shadow Basics- [...]

  18. [...] Priest DPS A Dwarf Priest [...]

  19. In shadow built is better to cast Mind Blast—>Shadow Word: Death so you will shock the target with 3k-5k damage in 0.00000 sec. If you cast Shadow Word: Death and then Mind Blast Target will first take 2k damage and after 1.5 sec 2-3k damage… This tactic is useful only on healers :)

  20. thanks, your advice realy helped me in doing DPS :) now i have a good dmg

  21. Love the flowcharts and the advice. However, much of this has changed with the new talents, spells and gear selection. (Lock no longer love us, we all can get some health back from DP to stop annoying the healers, …) Any thoughts for updating for WotLK? Is spell haste good? What’s our new hit cap (considering the new effects of misery)? Are we looking at straight spellpower for gems? …

  22. Lovely advice as always…. please consider updating it for WOTLK. There are a lot of us holy priests who’ve got a dual spec clueless shadowpriest. We need help!

  23. [...] The Best Priest DPS Guide Ever! Period. Exclamation mark! [...]

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