Priests are ranged damage-dealers or healers, and can use a number of different tactics in various situations.
Priests are generally weak when soloing against multiple opponents at lower levels, and generally have to hope their shield or heals holds out until they can take down attackers. At level 14, priests obtain their main crowd control spell, which is the potentially dangerous Psychic Scream. Priests will often use this when more than one mob is engaged. Keep in mind that mobs under the influence of fear effects will draw similar mobs to you if they run near them. Running away is never a bad option since you can raise your shield and do a Heal over Time (HoT, Renew) while moving.
A Staff will provide the most of a single stat, while a dagger or mace plus an offhand usually gives a more balanced range of stats.
Wands are very nice to use as a ranged attack that doesn't cost mana. Get a wand as soon as possible! With it you can use the Shoot ability (in your General tab of your Spells and Abilities window). Great for taking out near-dead opponents who are running away, or when you're running oom. Wands are currently set to autoshoot, which means that they will continue to fire until the priest intervenes, or the target dies.
Priests are most known for their healing spells, which are the best of any class, and buffs which have good synergy with their role of healing. They also get Resurrection and have a few spells (aka dispels) to remove bad effects like diseases and magic effects. Priests also get some Crowd Control spells. At higher levels, priests get some very cool and unique spells. For instance, Mind Control, granted at level 30, is a very fun spell that lets you 'charm' an enemy, enabling you to move it and use its auto-attack at a reduced attack speed. As a priest, you also gain access to group heals. The priest's most iconic skill, however, is Power Word: Shield, which envelopes individual party members in a shield that protects them for a time (or for a specified number of points of damage, whichever comes first).
The basic combat tactic of a priest in PvE is to begin by casting a ranged damage spell (Holy Fire, Smite, or Mind Blast) just within range of a single mob to pull it. Then cast Shadow Word: Pain and/or Devouring Plague while moving away from the mob, followed by more damage spells (priests with Mind Flay should almost always use it for its 50% slowing factor). It is usually better to cast Power Word: Shield before pulling the mob, if you plan on using it. By this time the mob is attacking you physically or from range. Use damage spells as listed above (Mind Blast, Smite, Mind Flay while PW:S is still up), or do damage with a wand. Don't forget that you can and should heal yourself occasionally in tough fights.
- Main article: Starting a priest
Basic Group Healing
In groups, a priest generally hangs back and provides a shield spell, heals and dispels to primary attacking group members with the occasional offensive assist. Most groups do not expect a priest to engage in a lot of direct combat, since they are often the best healers. If you have a wand and your heals and shield are not immediately needed, shooting your wand is a good way to assist doing damage without getting directly involved and allowing your mana to recharge at the same time. It's best to target the target of the MT as your wand target for two reasons. One, their aggro is likely firmly on the Main Tank (MT); two, concentrated damage is better than AOE (Area of Effect, or spread out damager. When everyone focuses on one mob, the enemies die faster. Depending on group makeup and skill, dropping a Damage over Time (DoT) like Shadow Word: Pain on as many mobs as possible at the beginning of the fight makes mana-efficient sense, but be sure your group knows how to hold aggro on all of them, or you'll get a surprise after the first tick of damage.
As the primary healer in the group, the priest should be prepared to use an array of healing spells from the instant cast heal over time Renew to Flash Heal, Lesser Heal, Heal, Greater Heal and/or Prayer of Healing. The key to group survivability for the priest is effective mana management and use of the right heal in the right situation. Casting a 3 second heal when the player has 2~2.5 seconds to live is a mistake many inexperienced priests make. Better to cast a quick small heal or two followed by a longer heal, than to hope you win the race casting the larger heal. Its vital that the priest continuously monitor the health bars of party members and be aware of the rate at which they are taking damage. The main tank may have the most health, but be taking damage from the entire group of mobs and require most of the priest's attention. On the other hand, if a mage ends up drawing the aggro of a mob, the mage may go down quickly if the priest isn't able to pop a quick Flash Heal and/or shield on them. A priest's situational awareness is essential to preventing a wipe. It is better to have everyone in the party finish a fight with only 10% of their health than to lose one or more members. A player with 1% health fights just as well as one with 100% health, so the survival of the maximum number of party members will almost always be better than preserving just one. However, the most important person to keep alive (if you must choose) is the tank, as, once they die, the mobs aggro almost invariably turns to you, the healer. This usually results in a wipe.
Healing generates aggro. The bigger the heal, the more aggro the priest generates increasing the chance that mobs will break away from the tank to pursue the priest. A priest must always try to maintain the delicate balance of providing the right amount of healing without generating too much aggro or wasting too much mana while ensuring group survival. Renew generates little aggro and will work to offset the damage a player is taking as it occurs. Likewise, the 1.5 sec cast Flash Heal can quickly restore some health giving the priest the additional needed casting time to cast a bigger heal like a 3 second cast Heal or Greater Heal. Use Fade when you pull aggro, to allow the tank to regain control of the mobs.
It is important to note that casting Renew on the main tank before ranged pulls, or pulls which include mobiles that trail behind the initial pack, can be a bad idea. If threat has not been established on the entire group by either the main tank or main assist (which is very hard to do in line of sight pulls) the first tick of Renew will have the uninitiated mobiles heading your way.
Leather and cloth wearers may need a quick shield followed by Renew to allow the group to regain the aggro of their attackers. Also, don't forget to use Dispel Magic on party members. Many DoTs, poly, fear, stun or other effects (but not effects like curses or poisons) cast on your party members can be removed by DM and preserve your mana for other healing tasks. DoTs like Shadow Word: Pain and Immolate for example can be quickly dispelled before the party member takes significant damage. Likewise, remove disease effects if possible during a fight to prevent unnecessary healing and mana usage, although many attacks may result in the disease effect being replaced quickly, so use discretion.
A priest may well need a selection of items in his backpack, especially as the levels progress. For damage dealing, Hit Rating may be necessary. For healing, mp5 and int may dominate over spell power.
Priests can only wear cloth armor, which makes them fragile in melee combat. Getting armor patches from a leatherworker or an armor enchant for your cloak can be a huge boost to your survivability.
Tailoring is not necessary for a priest. Although cloth is generally what priests wear, most equipment will be from instance drops or quests. However, taking two professions, any two professions, will provide you with some kind useful bonus.
Tactics in Specific Scenarios
There are a few different scenarios you'll want to consider for your priest, and they all play differently. These scenarios include:
- Player vs. Environment: soloing, dungeon grouping, raid grouping
- Player vs. Player: See also Shadow Priest PvP Guide
PvE Solo Tactics
A solo priest is somewhat vulnerable, but because of their combination of healing, DD, DOT and shielding spells, a well played priest can take on several mobs of the same level.
Against a single mob you should begin just at the edge of the range of your best DD spell, preferably a long-cast spell. Cast that, then lay on a Shadow Word: Pain to get some DOT going. You should then continue casting DD spells, with a chance that the mob will be dead before it reaches you.
Another technique is to Vampiric Embrace, SW:P, then Mind Blast, THEN PW:S, then Mind Flay, then wand them down, refreshing SW:P as needed.
Against multiple mobs, especially quick attacking ones, it is very difficult to get off very many spells. Lay down Shadow Word: Pain on each of them, and Devouring Plague on one, to get DOT going on them all, then Shield yourself to save time lost while casting or channeling. It may be necessary to use Psychic Scream to ward off your attackers mid-fight. Use this interval to heal/bandage if necessary, to recast SW:P on all your targets, and to reshield. From here on in you'll likely have to wand them to death since your mana will be low, and conserve remaining mana to survive. Be aware that against multiple mobs, your shield goes down quickly. If the situation goes wrong, or if you don't think you'll last, shield-renew-run/fear-run.
Remember the basics:
- Priests are casters. Don't let the fights turn into slugfests.
- Begin the fight at maximum range and with a long cast time spell.
- Keep DOT on all targets at all times.
- Know when to run.
- Remember that you have the ability to fear and heal.
In some cases, the five second rule is your friend. If possible, apply Inner Fire and Renew on yourself to keep your health up, while putting SW:P on the mob. Continue to use your wand until your health becomes low. By this time, you will probably regenerate enough mana to cast a big heal. Even if the mob is hitting you quickly, you should get your health almost back to full before it takes you into the danger zone. At this point, your five second timer will reset, so take advantage of this by recasting IF, Renew, and SW:P as necessary.
If you continue this cycle, you should be able to keep your health up indefinitely against any similar-level mobs.
PvE Group Healing Tactics
"And then there's aggro to worry about." "What's 'aggro'?" "Well, it's complicated. But loosely translated, it means 'the priest dies.'"
As a healing priest, you are the glue that holds groups together. Adjust your conduct accordingly. Little else can ruin an otherwise good group as quickly or as sourly as a healer that isn't concentrating on the task at hand.
There are three things you must do before starting any instance:
- Get something to drink. Your mana will be going up and down like a roller-coaster.
- Make sure your armor is repaired. You need max intellect/spirit for dungeon crawls.
- Candles (for the end-game priest on the go). Not just for mood lighting anymore, if you want longer-duration group-castable buffs, you need candles.
Additionally, once you get to the instance, there are things any priest learns to do instinctively:
- Know the party's roles. It will help you prioritize healing.
- Know the party. No, not the touchy-feely kind of know the party. Know how long the average fight takes, and the intervals between them. Get inside the head of your tank.
- Know how effective your healing spells are.
- Can't stress this enough. Even if you don't want to keep track of how much real HP is healed by your spells, you can gauge it all by the amount it fills that little green health bar. This is a qualitative, percentage-based business. You will find that the Druids' bear form takes flash heals like they aren't even there--they have a far higher maximum health, for example.
- Pre-heal. Your main tank might be fighting a boss that does big crits in quick succession. Starting a heal before the big hurt lands may be the difference. Additionally, a full health bar is a happy health bar. People are more confident when they know you're on top of things.
Remember that spells cast before the mobs are pulled do not count towards your threat tally. It is useful to cast a Power Word: Shield on the main tank shortly before the pull to get a head start on healing. Renew is mana-efficient, so keep it on the tank at all times while he's taking damage.
Do not feel it is necessary to assist in DPS.
The Assist button ('F' by default) is your friend. Click on your tank's character portrait and hit 'F' to target their target (or, better yet, if the group has a Main Assist, assist him instead). Lay a Shadow Word: Pain on it to help the tank kill the main mob as quickly as possible. And when you have the main mob targeted, use 'F' again to select its target, so you can pop a quick heal on the group member currently being attacked.
Prayer of Healing becomes a very nice spell to use when three or more people require a Flash Heal sized spell. Why three? The mana cost is equivalent to between two and three flash heals, so if you just need to heal two, then cast two Flash Heals. This can be useful when your group is being hit by AoE attacks. A good rule of thumb for when to use this spell is "do I have enough time to cast that many Flash Heals?" If you have enough time to do that, try it instead. A max-rank prayer costs in excess of a thousand mana.
Remember to keep your mana up. If the party pulls when you are OOM, then you will likely wipe. Be sure to say "drinking" or "oom" when you are out of mana, but also try to shape your healing style and gear to ensure that your downtime is minimized.
One thing to remember while healing is that Priests can gain quite a lot of mana regenerated outside of the Five Second Rule. One of the best ways to regenerate mana as a priest is to have a trinket which temporarily increases your spirit, and wait for the Clearcasting proc. When the proc occurs, use the trinket to boost your spirit, and feel free to cast a heal spell. Because the spell does not cost mana, you stay outside of the Five Second Rule. Using Inner Focus after this is a great way to continue your mana regeneration as the same rules apply. Using this tactic, a massive amount of mana can be regained in a short period of time.
PvE as Shadow Spec
Always have your shield up before you begin the attack. There are two reasons for this. First, the shield will last for 30 seconds, but you will not be able to cast it again for 15 seconds. If you pull too many mobs, you will likely lose your shield in the middle of battle and not be able to recast it immediately. If you cast it before the fight begins, chances are it will be available to recast when you need it. Second, casting after the fight begins lowers your DPS and allows more time for the enemy to attack you while you are not doing damage. Now that your shield is up, use a damage spell with a long cast time, such as Vampiric Touch or Mind Blast. Since you have not yet initiated the battle, the casting time is basically free. Next, you want to throw the DoT Shadow Word: Pain because it is an instant cast and because it deals damage over time. The sooner you apply it, the more chance it will have to deal damage.
Until you get Shadowform, your wand is your best friend. Buy a good wand from the auction house, and upgrade it as often as possible. Coupled with Spirit Tap, you will never need to stop for mana. You may not put down a single mob as quickly, but you will put down 20 mobs faster.
Once you reach level 40, spec to get Shadowform. You will still use your wand, but much less now. Again, use the beginning three action strategy mentioned above. Shadowform fights will look like this: Power Word: Shield, Mind Blast, Shadow Word: Pain, Mind Flay, Mind Blast, Mind Flay, Mind Flay, Mind Blast. Keep repeating Mind Flay, Mind Flay, Mind Blast until either the enemy is dead or you need to conserve mana. If you need to conserve mana, use your wand once the enemy approaches about 30% health to finish it off. Make sure you're not wasting time getting Mind Flay interrupted when your shield goes down; if so, you will not channel for the entire time of the cast.
When you reach level 50, you will get Vampiric Touch. Always use Vampiric Touch; unless a mob has very little HP, it's worth it. On multiple-mob pulls, use VT liberally. To maximize the benefit you get, you should start every fight with it.
- Main article: Priest PvE guide
In a raid group you need to understand your role. If you are doing high-end raiding, you will require a lot of communication with the people in your raid. Note: With proper talents and gear, a shadow priest, if placed in a tank group, provides damage mitigation in the form of healing to the tank.
The priest plays a unique role in PvP. He/she is often the first target, but the priest has tools available to avoid being taken out as quickly as many classes.
- Main article: Shadow Priest PvP Guide
There are a few things that have to be remembered when one is PvPing as a shadow priest, especially when you are in a group:
- Vampiric embrace is your friend. With it, you can automatically heal your entire group as long as they are in range, which is a pretty powerful thing indeed. This is even more powerful if you consider that it will be buffed depending on how much spell power gear the shadow priest has accrued.
- Watch your other party members at all times. Sometimes you may have to pop out of shadowform and toss a few heals on another person, especially if it is a cloth-wearer or a rogue. Shields, dispels and Abolish Disease will also help greatly, and do not require you to leave shadowform. Prayer of Mending and Renew will continue healing even when you have switched back into Shadowform.
- Resilience is very important. It will help you survive, meaning less time spent healing/shielding yourself, and more time to spend killing opponents.
- If you ever happen to run up to a DPS/healer group, take out the healer first, or be sure to CC him long enough to take one of them down. Silence is one of the better things about being a shadow priest.
- When the enemy is not being CC'd, DoT everything. Keep devouring plague up on something at all times. Not only will you get significant self-heals from these dots, but they will whittle your opponent's health bar down, so you can easier finish them off. It will also keep rogues out of stealth while the DoT is on them.
- Mind flay is mana efficient and slows movement, so use it to keep melee classes at range.
- Use your Shadowfiend for extra burst damage.
Discipline is generally considered to be the only PvP healing spec as holy can cause a priest to be too weak to survive a longer PvP fight. Here are some tips on playing this to the fullest to benefit your team:
- Always use shadow word pain. It may not do very much damage but if it is cast on every target in a large fight the priest can do large amounts of damage.
- When healing it can be more beneficial to use flash heal as many PvP specs for DPS classes utilize burst damage. Though less mana efficient it can often be the difference between losing a battle and winning.
- Use prayer of mending. It's one of the best spells a priest has. Think of it this way, if you cast it on yourself and someone attacks you, it's a bit like an instant cast 1k heal which is significant enough to pop off a flash heal.
- Use psychic scream generously. This is one I'm sure you knew so I don't need to explain it.
- Use renew often. (self explanatory)
- When healing on the run try to hit off as many minor heals as possible. I suggest something like this: bubble, prayer of mending, renew. This can heal for large amounts in a short amount of time.
A priest in tandem with any other class make a great flag stealing combo. The partner makes the run, the priest stays right behind shielding, dispelling and healing, fearing enemies and generally making the most of their partner's HP. Most enemies will be so crazed and frantic to get the flag back they will ignore you, as there are not many players who manage to stay calm in certain situations.