Priests are the quintessential healers in a group, although they can be powerful ranged damage dealers as well. But it is always in a group that a priest will truly shine. A priest is responsible for the staying power of any group, and although their job can be thankless it is essential — and most experienced players realize and appreciate this.
If you often lead parties, particularly instance groups, some experience in knowing how to play the priest class can be extremely helpful. Among newer players, however, this class is often enormously undervalued relative to their importance within a group. In a group, a Priest will generally be expected to fill a healer role, or act as a back-up healer if things go wrong. They will also be expected to buff and dispel others.
If you're considering playing a priest, you'll want to ask yourself a few questions first:
- Do I mind generally (and often being expected to without even being asked) taking the healer role in a group?
- Do I mind playing a class which requires me to learn both damaging abilities and group tactics with healing abilities?
- If I'm going to do PvP, am I comfortable with the pressure of frequently being the primary target?
- Can I think quickly, and handle a large number of very different abilities in the process of getting my job done?
- Do I mind the pressure of being the most indispensable member of a group?
- Do I like to melt faces?
Being a priest has a number of advantages, including your immense popularity when setting up a group (this could also be the peak of your popularity, by the way, as if the group wipes you may get the blame), and a lot of respect from experienced players if you play your character well. At higher levels, priests can become enormously powerful. A Shadow spec priest with Vampiric Embrace and Vampiric Touch is able to passively regain health and mana for his entire party while he himself deals a lot of damage, making the class an incredibly valuable to any group, while a Holy or Discipline spec priest is an astonishingly powerful healer. Even at early levels, the priest gets abilities like Power Word: Shield and Power Word: Fortitude and become able to resurrect other characters.
The following races can play as a priest:
As of the Cataclysm expansion all races except Orcs will be able to be priests.
Be sure to check each of the racial traits. Some are very useful to priests, and others less so. However, each race does have something useful for you, so don't fret too much about it.
Early priest leveling
Initially, you're equipped with a ranged attack, Smite, and a healing spell, Lesser Heal. With money, you can learn your first buff, Power Word: Fortitude. Keep this active at all times, and feel free to cast it on others as a friendly gesture.
Begin combat at maximum range with Smite, spamming it until you run out of mana or the mob dies. Since Smite does not have a missile graphic, combat begins as soon as Smite is done casting. Your survival is heavily dependent on the amount of mana you have. For now, combat should always start at maximum health and mana. If you run out of mana, use melee attacks, but as soon as you can, get a wand, and then use your Shoot ability.
Also, remember that you have the ability to heal yourself and others, both in and out of combat. Keep in mind the amount of mana you have, allocating some for both DPS and healing. When grouped with others, it's wise to play to your strengths and focus on keeping everyone healthy, as most other classes can deliver damage more efficiently and easily. As battles become more difficult, it's essential that you're never hit or under attack, leaving you free to cast much-needed healing spells without interruption.
Also stock up on water when you can, as during these early levels you will need to drink after every one or two mobs.
At level 4, you can learn your first DoT, Shadow Word: Pain. Continue to open combat with Smite. But instead of spamming right away, walk backwards or strafe to create distance between you and the mob. While moving, you can apply the Shadow Word: Pain debuff to the mob. Keep this debuff active on your targets at all times. In unfortunate situations where you are fighting two mobs at the same time, keeping this DoT active on both mobs allows you to efficiently deal damage to both while addressing one mob at a time.
After the DoT is successfully applied, you can stop moving and go back to spamming Smite. For extra long battles, always remember to renew the debuff when it wears off.
At level 6, you can learn Power Word: Shield. Use it whenever you are under attack, or cast it upon yourself before combat begins. Either way, the shield should be up as often as possible, to help avoid damage and spell interruption.
Visit your class trainer for a quest at level 6.
At level 8, you can learn Renew, a healing over time spell, and Fade, which helps manage aggro. Keep renew on whenever you or someone else is under attack, as it heals over time, sometimes saving you the trouble of casting a bigger heal later on. When working with others, use Fade when you have aggro, to help avoid being hit.
At level 10, you can learn another ranged attack spell, Mind Blast, and Resurrection. Now would be a great time to start deciding what type of Priest you'll play. See Leveling builds guide to help you decide where to put your first talent point.
At level 12, you gain Inner Fire that helps A LOT against melee enemies, boosting up your armor against physical attacks, and should be buffed upon yourself at all times.
At level 14, you can purchase Psychic Scream a must spell that will allow you to eliminate pursuit up to 2 mobs (5 at level 58). It is also a lifesaver when an add engages you while you're attacking a mob (it makes both of them run away for 8 seconds- enough time to kill one, shield/heal yourself and resume the DPS). Note however that the range of the spell is very limited as it will only affect mobs that are within 8 yards from where you're standing prior to unleashing the spell, making it mediocre at best while fighting 2+ ranged targets.
For detailed info, see Priest spells.
Usually a priest should pull with a slow casting Direct Damage spell like Smite or Mind Blast at the edge of the spell's range. The next spell should usually be the Damage over Time spell, Shadow Word: Pain, before the enemy gets within melee combat range. Because it is instant cast, you can be backing up while casting it, to extend the amount of time the mob takes to get to you. Mind Flay, a shadow talent, allows you to further slow your target down and give your DoT spell time to do its work.
Early on and throughout the adventures of a priest, Power Word: Shield can be used in a fight to instantly prevent some amount of damage to a party member. Be careful to watch whether you or a party member still has a Weakened Soul debuff before you try to cast it again. Though it is not the most efficient way of healing, it is extremely useful, as it instantly absorbs damage to you or a party member. One soloing routine involves casting Power Word: Shield, waiting until the Weakened Soul debuff fades off or is almost faded off, then starting combat. This is so that when the mob finally breaks through your shield, you have the option of re-shielding yourself.
With your Shield up, you can think of using another Smite or Mind Blast, but be careful with Mind Blast. Mind Blast generates lots of aggro and in a group environment, may cause the mob to attack you instead of the tank. Shield prevents spell interruption from many forms of damage, and will help you (or another spellcaster in your party) when casting spells. You can use Renew (a Heal over Time spell), if you or your party member has more than 75% health, but probably a Lesser Heal if less than that.
At level 10, every class begins to accrue what are called 'Talent Points'. You can apply these points instantly to your character by accessing the 'Talent' menu, which becomes accessible upon reaching level 10. See the Leveling builds guide to help decide where to put those first talent points. You can also look at other players' preferred talent layouts for an idea of how you may want to build your own priest. Of course, you may want to build your priest in your own way, in which case you may still want to look at this to at least help yourself plan things out.
Priests receive talents in three different trees:
- Shadow — These represent the darker side of priesthood. The shadow talents focus largely on increasing a priest's damage output through his or her Shadow spells. Specializing in shadow talents lends towards a more solo leveling approach to the game, as an early shadow priest's abilities don't generally stack well with teammates. However, the returns granted to group members from Vampiric Touch and Vampiric Embrace, as well as the debuff from the Misery talent make Shadowpriests a very powerful support class for end game content. As a starting point, it may be helpful to invest your first 3 points into Spirit Tap.
- Discipline — The discipline spells focus on inner strength, boosting a priest's mana and improving their buff spells significantly. Many Discipline talents are very useful no matter what you specialize in. Additionally for end game healing the Discipline tree provides talents which allows a percentage mana regeneration to continue while casting, a talent to increase maximum spirit, a talent to cast a spell free of mana and a talent to increase maximum mana by up to 10%. Discipline priests are also very well known for their superior "Single target" healing skills. They have lots of abilities to keep a handful of people alive for a long time. This is why they are also known for their superior skills in PvP. Discipline priests are likely to take a few holy talents, too.
- Holy — Holy talents are vital to maximizing your efficiency as a healer, which is why many high-level priests elect to focus on these talents. The holy line improves your healing power, lowers the mana cost of heals, and reduces the casting time of some healing spells. Holy priests are a different style of healer to discipline priests. As discipline priests shine in single or few target heals, the holy priest does extremely well in a larger group environment with many heals that can heal a large amount of people quickly. Holy priests are likely to take a few discipline talents, too.
In the beginning, a priest is a very fragile thing. One add is highly dangerous, two usually mean run away or death. The main problem is that there are very few instant cast priest spells, thus most spells (especially the mana-efficient ones) are subject to interruption by damage. Further, a low-level priest has no crowd control (except the highly dangerous fear) and no pet. In sum, this leads to frustration, and many promising priest careers end before level 20. There's not much to be done about this problem - low-level solo priests are not fun. The best idea is to find a group.
A Holy damage build will actually be the most effective leveling build for a long time. Shadow will eventually overtake it at about level 50, but many priests continue the path of this "Smite build" all the way to 80.
- Tailoring is immediately useful to a priest, they can wear the cloth armor they make. Additionally, for new players, having the ability to make your own bags is incredibly valuable during the early stages of the game. Also, in the long run there are fantastic items and enchants available to Tailors only.
- Although not specifically good for any one class, the many items a Priest can't use can be made useful with Disenchant to provide reagents for enchanting. Also, the self-only enchantments like rings are always nice to have. At higher levels and in guilds, enchanting can be both profitable and sought after. Tailoring can complement enchanting by supplying items to disenchant.
- Even if the Priest can rely on his own abilities to heal and buff himself, additional potions are always welcome. Potions increasing the player's attributes, and potions which restore health points and mana points, can make leveling and beyond a lot more comfortable. Alchemists also get Mixology, which allows them to receive increased duration and effect from potions they can make. Herbalists get Lifeblood, which will self-heal and grant an increase to haste rating for 20 seconds (and costs no mana), as well as being able to sell leftover herbs on the Auction House. This is a good combo to save money, and to make money.
- Skinning is a very good choice for Priests new to the game as it allows them to gather up leather to sell at the Auction House from their prey killed while leveling. While not as useful to the Priest directly, the money is scorned by no one and it may be useful for the Priest to spend several seconds out of combat resting as mana regeneration only begins 5 seconds after a successful spellcast. Hence this time would not be wasted. This also gives a small amount of crit rating to the player.
- Mining, like Skinning and Herbalism, is one of the gathering professions and hence requires very little money invested to rise to the top levels of the skill and potentially make a lot of gold. There is good money to be made mining ores such as Silver, Mithril and Saronite. Mining may be better suited as a supporting talent to those players who chose to go for Blacksmithing or Jewelcrafting, but miners get a passive bonus to stamina, helping you stay alive for longer! Note — ore sold in stacks is useful to both blacksmiths and jewelcrafters, whereas sold as bars it is of much less use to jewelcrafters (prospecting requires stacks of ore). If you wish to make maximum profits from this profession, sell the ores, do not smelt them into bars.
- Although it may seem redundant, First Aid is an extremely valuable skill for priests to master. It is a very useful way to enhance your role as a healer while preserving mana and complements the Shadowform talent nicely. Shadowform costs nearly 500 mana to activate, so canceling it to heal is very expensive. Additionally, the 5-second mana rule doesn't activate due to bandaging, so you will continue to regenerate mana throughout. During long fights, spending a few seconds to bandage yourself or a nearby group-mate saves mana and allows full regeneration to continue.
- Like First Aid, Cooking further solidifies your role, but as a buffer. Some higher recipes offer significant boosts to your attributes. And for the buff-happy, making a cozy fire in the middle of the area where you will be pulling a large number of mobs can give that extra special fuzzy feeling to your group's destruction.
- The large amount of patience required to keep up a good fishing skill will make up for itself when soloing, or even running instances. Most often, priests will heal themselves after a battle, using up more mana and consequently requiring more time for regeneration. But with fishing, just whip out those dead fish you caught earlier on and heal yourself the old-fashioned way! Or, give a stack or two of fish to everyone in your party before entering an instance, and you'll find yourselves requiring less time for regen breaks, and you might even save yourself some post-fight healing mana. You can eat your fish raw, or partner up the skill with Cooking to cook your fish, earning yourself some easy cooking skill, and not to mention, better food. Fishing is a good break from constant grinding, as well providing great buff food and a nice money maker at higher levels.
While these skills contribute very little relative to the other buffs and heals you provide, in the right situation, they are highly effective tools and help in making the impression with your group that you are serious about your role.
Some priests swear by them, others claim to be capable of doing their job without any AddOns whatsoever. It is a matter of personal preference. Certain add-ons may be required however by High End guilds for raiding. Among the more noteworthy are:
- BeneCast is a tool to help the player cast beneficial spells on themselves, their party members, and friendly targets. It does so by allowing the player to pick and choose what spells they want to show up as clickable buttons next to the intended target from the BeneCast interface.
- Healbot – party/raid frame that:
- displays all health/mana bars of group or raid members in a compact box
- highlights entries based on conditions such as missing buffs you can provide, existing debuffs you can dispel and health level
- allows for one click healing and buffing, without the need to change targets manually
- highly configurable
Despite its name, Healbot does not automate healing – this is not possible due to limitations imposed on the WoW addon system.
- Decursive – simple squares which:
- show raid members who have a dispellable debuff, poison, curse, disease, etc.
- allow fast one click cures and dispels
- use very little screen space – useful for large raids
Priests are fragile, yes, but the starting areas are forgiving enough that you can give yourself a huge advantage by keeping yourself reasonably well-geared:
- Good-quality armor is available and desirable at low levels. The Priest trainer in the town closest to each starting area has a quest that has a good-quality chest with +1 Spirit as a reward. You can also hire a tailor to make good-quality cloth armor pieces for you, or learn Tailoring and make them yourself. (If you become a Tailor, remember that only humanoids, undeads and, occasionally, demons, drop cloth. If you're on Teldrassil, this means sprites, harpies and furbolgs.)
- Obtain armor kits from a leatherworker or the Auction House, and make sure your equipped chest, hand, leg, and foot armor always has a kit applied. Remember to apply a new armor kit when you equip new armor, and to upgrade the type of kits you're using as you level.
- A wand is an absolute MUST as a solo Priest. It deals amazing DPS, grants a powerful ranged attack and can be used continually at zero range! It may get a bit tedious after a while, but it's more than made up for with the added survivability factor. You can usually find a Lesser Wand in the AH at a reasonable price. If you choose Enchanting as one of your professions, you'll have an easy route to a Greater Magic Wand that you can use at level 13, but plan on buying your first wand as counting on good enough drops to disenchant can be folly.
- Smite is the first damage spell that you start with. As you progress and get higher ranks of the spell, the cast time increases significantly. Holy talents can reduce the cast time.
- A Holy spec will almost always render you a healer position in instance groups. If you like healing, this is your game - even early on.
- At lower levels speccing Holy solely for the purpose of healing in instances is not necessary. Most priests can manage to heal in all 5-man instances pre-outland in any spec.
If you are between levels 1 and 5, you will always want to use your damage spell instead of your weapon. In these levels, you will almost always kill an NPC with it before you run out of mana. Regeneration is fast. Try to get a wand at the earliest moment possible though. Especially the arcane wands low level enchanters can create provide an excellent DPS boost helping you to kill mobs without running out of mana.
Try to make friends with others and work together. A tank and a healer can be really hard to find, but, if you are friends with a tank you have these already and Random dungeon waits are likely to be short.
- If you're healing for a group (especially in lower level [[instances]), remind other players that they need to stay in range and line of sight for you to heal them. They may be new players too, and not realise.
- Heal pets. It may seem like a waste of mana, since warlocks and hunters can heal their own pets, but if a voidwalker or hunter pet is your tank, that means it's taking damage for the rest of the group, thus concentrating the healing you have to do. This reduces the mana you spend, since healing one pet is more efficient than healing 3 players.
Playing to your strengths
To maximize your effectiveness, you will want to collect certain equipment bonuses:
- Spell Power: gives a boost to healing and damage effects
- Slow casting spells, such as Greater Heal, get more out of spell power than faster casting spells, like Mind Blast or Flash Heal. The effect on offensive spells and healing spells differs. Of course, each spell has its own spell power coeficient, so you should research the correct numbers.
- Intellect: determines your maximum amount of mana, and critical strike chance with spells.
- Spirit: determines your rate of health and mana regeneration.
- Spirit affects your health and mana regeneration rate. Mana regeneration is very important for priests, as it increases the amount of healing they can do over the course of a battle. However, the mana regeneration from spirit is subjected to something called the "5 second rule," which is that you get no mana regeneration from spirit in the 5 seconds after a successful spell cast. Additionally, with spirit being the Blizzard-intended core attribute for priests, there are additional bonuses to having a high spirit score that go beyond mere regeneration. (Spiritual Guidance)
- Mana regeneration per 5 seconds ("mp5")
- This bonus is better than +spirit in some situations because it is not subject to the 5-second rule, particularly during long boss fights. With Spirit Tap though, Spirit tends to be the better choice for solo play.