Update Version: Updated for 3.3, probably first draft, information may change slightly over time.
This post is designed to provide information about Shadow Priest DPS and provide methods to help you maximise your DPS output. If you think your DPS is lower than it should be take the time to read all the information below, it will answer most questions you can think of, if one of your questions isn't answered please feel to send me a message or create a post with a detailed specific question.
Also keep in mind that this is mainly targeted at people who have little knowledge to begin with. Therefore I will not go into every advanced topic possible and some of the things I say will probably be true most of the time but not necessarily correct for the very geared or the very advanced player. If you are one of this incredibly geared advanced players im not sure why you would be here looking for advice
Spell AcronymnSP CoefficientVampiric TouchVT2.0 (2.8 with 2pc T9) or 0.4 per tick
Devouring PlagueDP1.48 or 0.185 per tick
Shadow Word: PainSW:P1.1 or 0.183 per tick
Mind FlayMF0.771 or 0.257 per tick
Mind SearMS1.429 or 0.286 per tick
Shadow Word: DeathSW0.429
For those who may not be familiar with the Spell Power Coefficient, this is a number that determines how much of your nominal SP is applied to a specific spell.
Like a lot of other classes, shadow priests do not have a set rotation and follow what is called a spell priority. This means that when we have a conflict and could cast more than 1 spell at the same moment, we choose the spell that is higher in the priority to resolve the conflict. As an example, MB might come off CD the same moment that VT needs to be refreshed, VT is higher in the priority so it is cast first. The priority is:
VT > DP > MB > MF
I have deliberately left out SW:P and SW from the priority because these are special spells that are cast under specific conditions. To some extent SW is removed from the cast selection while SW:P is cast during the opening rotation and then ideally never cast again.
There are two viable opening rotations you can employ which revolve around reacing max SW(Shadow Weaving) stacks effectively as possible for your one and only cast of SW:P.
MF x 3
MF x 2
Advantages of this opening rotation is that any trinket procs on a 45sec ICD are likely to proc for your opening DoTs and if you are the owner of the Nevermelting Ice Crystal you can apply a 20% crit buff to all 3 DoTs and due to the MF refresh mechanic it will stay applied to SW:P indefinitely (more on this later).
MF x 2
Advanages of this opening rotation is you get DoTs up quicker and proc replenishment immediately as well as get MB on CD asap. This is possibly the higher pure damage opening rotation but may fall behind if you have several 45 sec ICD trinkets or other procs.
At the end of the day the only real important aspect of your opening rotation is to hold off on SW:P until you have max SW stacks. How you get there invariably isn't going to have a critical effect on your final DPS figure, however I highly suggest you follow one of the above as well as learn which is better for you given your current setup of gear and procs.
SW:P & MF Refresh
This is a bit of an irritating subject for me because people are still advocating some very bad advice about recasting SW:P even though we're just about at the end of the LK cycle. In 99.9% of situations you should only ever have to cast SW:P once. Recasting SW:P is almost always a DPS loss and anyone who says you should be recasting it under certain conditions is almost always incorrect. Hopefully this section should alleviate some of the confusion that is still prevalent in the shadow priest community.
When you cast SW:P your current critical strike chance, spellpower and damage modifiers are taken into account to determine how much damage SW:P will deal periodically. When you cast MF it will refresh the duration of the spell but because you're not technically recasting it only some of your stats are updated after the refresh. This means that some changes in stats are updated and some are not. Taking that a step further we can use temporary increases in stats from trinkets, consumables and abilities and have them applied to SW:P at all times, while others can't be prolonged.
MF will refresh any changes in spell power and damage modifers on the target (examples, Earth and Moon, Curse of the Elements, Ebon Plague)
MF will not refresh any crit modifers on yourself or the target, changes in your nominal crit chance or any damage modifiers on yourself.
What you can learn from this is that you should aim to have all the non refreshable buffs/debuffs etc present at the time of casting SW:P the first time. This is achievable in 99.9% of cases, if you are recasting SW:P 30 seconds into an encounter to get the benefit of one of these buffs/debuffs then why wasn't it available earlier? With good raid communication you can ensure that mages have their scorch debuff up, you are in range of the moonkin 5% aura, ret paladins have put the 3% crit chance up via judgment etc by the time you have reached the SW:P part of your opening rotation. This also explains why it is critically important that you have 5 stacks of SW for that intial SW:P cast because SW is a damage modifer on yourself and is therefore not refreshed by the MF refresh mechanic.
Lastly if you want to be pro and do something a bit more advanced, get a rogue to target you for tricks of the trade thereby giving you a 15% damage buff and because this is a damage modifer on yourself as long as you cast SW:P while it is present you will now enjoy a permament 15% damage increase to SW:P so long as you keep it refreshed with MF.
Very lastly, if you are interested in more detailed information about what types of buff/debuffs and stat changes are refreshed and which aren't refreshed you can take a look here.
What about SW?
Generally speaking, using SW every CD is a DPS loss. While SW is better than 1 tick of MF, it's more benefical to take slightly longer to cast 2 ticks of MF as a filler leading into a MB CD or DoT refresh. However at very large amounts of haste it becomes increasingly difficult to clip MF at exactly 2 ticks and you can feasibly reach a point where you can fit 2 full MF channels + SW before MB comes off CD. If this information is confusing you or you're not exactly sure what I mean it's best to bench SW and only use it when you're on the move and therefore cannot cast any other spell (unless DP coincidently needs to be refreshed when you have to move).
I have also read some information that when moving and SW is on CD that you can use DP to clip the existing duration because Imp DP hits hard enough for it to be a DPS boost (while moving only). I've yet to confirm if this is true but it's something you may want to have in the back of your mind.
I consider this to be the mandatory points for a PvE shadow priest, it only leaves 1 point left which you can choose to spend in Focused Mind, Inner Focus or Shadow Affinity. I spend mind in Focused Mind, but spending them in Inner Focus or Shadow Affinity isn't a bad idea either. I also used to spend it in Psychic Horror for some defence when I was ganked during World PvP, it was also useful for Faction Champs in ToGC10/25.
TBH I really don't care where you spend that last point but in my opinion all the other points need to be spent in the fashion outlined above. Some will probably QQ about imp VE but staying alive during progression content is the most important thing you can do so any feasible survivability talents are a must.
There are two mandatory major glyphs, those being:
Glyph of Shadow
Glyph of Mind Flay
For the third slot you should probably use
Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain or Glyph of Dispersion
I had some mana issues when I first tried 3.3 content, so I felt glyph of SW:P was a must. However in my current gear my mana seems to be infinite again which tips the scales in favour of Glyph of Dispersion. If I do happen to have some mana issues Glyph of Dispersion provides necessary mana regen while reducing my best survivability CD to 1min 15 sec. I haven't had to use it for a pure mana regen purpose as yet so the mana Glyph of SW:P was returning was effectively not being used. Glyph of SW:P provides around 60mp/5 for the duration of every SW:P cast less the 798 mana for casting SW:P.
I would never use Glyph of Shadow Word: Death, you simply do not cast this enough for it to amount to anything significant. You are far better off having Dispersion on a lower CD.
Gear is usually assessed via stat weights. These are derived from simulation software, in this case simulation software known as simcraft. Without going into too much detail the stat weights tell us how much of 1 stat is worth to another stat and by adding up these stat wieghts we can rank gear in terms of it's DPS effect. The current stat weights for 3.3 are:
Hit = 1.88
SP = 1
Haste = 0.98
Crit = 0.76
Spirit = 0.59
Int = 0.22
These numbers are also known as PP (Psuedo Power), basically thats just a fancy name to normalise the stats into 1 comparable figure. The reason SP = 1 is because the figures are normalised for SP.
You should note that this type of gear ranking isn't perfect and it's technically only true for a specific set of stats. However for anyone reading this guide as a source of information, following the gear rank list implicitly is a perfectly fine way to gear. You can find the 3.3 BRGA (Best Raid Gear Avaliable) list here.
That list tells you how to gem every item, what enchants to use while ranking the effectiveness of each bit of gear per slot. Simply attempt to wear the highest possible gear in the list while maintaining the hit cap of 289 hit rating (more on this in the next section).
Relevent info relating to gear
You need to be aware of the spell hit cap... this is the amount of hit % or hit rating necessary before you gain a 100% chance to hit. Once you reach 100% chance to hit, gaining more hit% or hit rating does nothing and therefore is one of the true hard capped stats in the game. Against a raid boss or target that is +3 your level, your chance to miss without any talents or gear is 17%. Therefore we must make up 17% hit from talents and gear to reach a 100% chance to hit. There are 2 hit talents in the shadow tree, those being Shadow Focus and Misery. While the Misery Debuff is present (which should be always) shadow priests enjoy 6% from talents meaning we only require 11% from gear to be hit capped. It takes 26.23 hit rating to gain 1% hit meaning we require 289 hit rating on gear to be hit capped.
If you play alliance you may gain an additional 1% to hit from the Draenei racial Heroic Presence, in which case your hit cap would be 263 hit rating.
For those who are interesting in knowing how the combat ratings relate to percentages at level 80.
1% hit = 26.23 rating
1% haste = 32.79 rating
1% crit = 45.91 rating or 166.67 Intellect
There is a limited range of gems to choose from, I'm only going to list the best gems available and if you are serious about maximising DPS these will be the only ones you will use.
Chaotic Skyflare Diamond - Needs 2 blue gems to activate!
Runed Cardinal Ruby - Red Sockets
Reckless Ametrine - Yellow Sockets
Purified Dreadstone- Blue Sockets
I suggest you use the above gems to activate any socket bonus that is + SP, except in the case of double or tripple blue sockets. Technically speaking a single blue socket that provides +5 SP should get a Runed Cardinal Ruby but the difference between a Runed Cardinal Ruby and a Purified Dreadstone is 0.1 PP which won't be noticable. Because of how similar they are you are simply better off having 10 more spirit for some extra regen in case you end up with some mana issues.
You should avoid trying to gem for hit but if for some reason you are struggling on hit and there is no other alternative you do so as a priority. If you are forced to gem for hit you should prioritise finding natural hit on gear and gemming back to the above strategy. The reason being is gemming for hit is particularly ineffecient when compared to the hit provided naturally on items. With the amount of hit currently on gear this really shouldn't be an issue.
Again if you are keen on maximising your DPS then get the best enchants, there really is no excuse otherwise.
Helm - Arcanum of Burning Mysteries Requires Honored with Kirin Tor
Shoulders - Greater Inscription of the Storm Requires Exalted with Sons of Hodir, Master's Inscription of the Storm Scribes Only!
Back - Greater Speed, Lightweave Embroidery Tailors Only!
Chest - Powerful Stats
Wrist - Superior Spellpower, Fur Lining - Spellpower Leatherworkers Only!
Hands - Exceptional Spellpower, Hyperspeed Accelerators Engineers Only!
Waist - Eternal Belt Buckle Created by Blacksmiths
Legs - Brilliant Spellthread Created by Tailors
Feet - Tuskarr's Vitality, Icewalker Only if you need the hit!, Nitro Boosts Engineers Only!
Finger - Greater Spellpower Enchanters Only!
1H Weapon - Black Magic, Mighty Spellpower
2H Staff - Greater Spellpower
Tuskarr's Vitality should always be your first choice Feet enchant... while you might think Icewalker is a higher DPS enchant, the movement speed effect of Tuskarr's provides a greater DPS effect in any encounter with minimal movement, let alone major movement. There are many posts if info about the subject but I thought this info was particularly good.
Black magic is technically the better MH weapon enchant, however the difference between black magic and 63 SP is marginal at best. Considering I do heal occasionally I feel 63 SP is a more robust enchant because it allows you to use that weapon effectively for healing. In addition I don't have to look for another proc and perhaps change my cast rotation to match the increased haste for the duration of the proc. For example at very high haste rates you might have to drop MB while the temp haste bonus is in effect. I find 63 SP a much simplier easier enchant to use for a consistent DPS effect. Again this is really up to you and either enchant is more than acceptable.
My DPS still sucks
So you've read all the above information, your gear set is the best you currently have access to, it contains all the correct gems and enchants and you have the right talent spec. Now it's time to see if you are casting the spell priority as close to perfect as possible.
What you want to do is go to a target dummy and ensure you have a DPS mod like recount. DPS the dummy with your spell priority until you go completely oom, be sure to use your shadow fiend and you should get a good three minute parse. Now completely disregard the 'DPS' figure your mod displays, what you want to analyse is what spells you cast and how often they were cast.
If you are reaching close to the maximum possible DPS you should have:
1. Cast MB <= every 7.5 seconds
2. Maintained all 3 DoTs on the target for >= 95% of the time
3. Recorded a MF tick every <= 1.6 seconds
This is the important information, get the time you were in combat from your Mod and ensure you achieved the numbers above, if you didn't you need to practice your priority. The numbers above are very achievable and for very advanced players you will see MB being cast every 7 seconds, DoTs up 98% of the time and MF ticks recorded every 1.5 seconds or less.
If you're not sure how to do this, your average MB cast time is time in combat (in seconds) / total number of MBs cast. DoT uptime % is ((time in combat / 3) rounded down)/number of DoT ticks * 100. Lastly your average MF tick time is time in combat / MF ticks.
I just want to make a quick comment on UI's but will expand this section in time. You're UI is EXTREMELY important, it needs to be able to communicate vast amounts of information to you easily without distracting your attention to what you're doing. I would say that 99% of DPS probelms result from poor UI's, not understanding things like
1. Does my UI feed me detailed DoT information on multiple targets so I know exactly when to recast my DoTs?
2. Does my UI promote my main eye focus to be close to my character so I can see when I need to move out of fire etc?
3. Can I see what my raid is doing via raid frames at a glance? This includes knowing where people are, what buffs or debuffs they may have, being able to dispel anything nasty instantly etc.
4. Do I know where I stand in the threat list. Can I see who is top 5 in the threat list.
5. Do I know when timed raid events are about to happen eg. Mistress Portal for Jarraxus so I know to switch to the Portal and DPS it immediately?
6. Can I evaluate healer's mana and preemptively use Hymn of Hope if they need a hand?
I could go on forever but I guarantee a vast amount of people who read this post can't answer yes to any of those questions above, at least give an honnest yes.
Always critque your UI, if you die ask yourself why and be honnest with yourself when it was your fault. Did your UI give you enough information to react, if it didn't why not? What needs to change, what important information isn't getting to you quick enough. How can you fix that issue?
Please don't post useless posts on these forums asking why your DPS is low if you haven't bothered to do this. If you have done this post the information in your thread and ask a detailed specific question.
Hopefully this is a big help to those who read it, if you wish to view my character you can do so here, if you want to ask me specific questions i'm more than happy to answer them. Good luck melting face.