Shadow Priest Mastery: Shadow Orbs Explained

This round of “Voices from the Community” is brought to you by a shadow priest named Snakeneyes. He is in Undying Resolution on Elune (yes, that’s Lissanna’s guild), and he may be joining Restokin more frequently with shadow priest hints and tricks.

Understanding the Mastery of Shadow Priests is critical for determining which spells need to be cast and when. The priest mastery is called Shadow Orbs.

Although the Shadow Priest Mastery is on the complicated side, there are only 3 stages to think about. The current stage you are in will determine which actions you should follow up with.


  1. No Shadow Orbs are revolving around yourself.

  2. 1-3 Shadow Orbs are revolving around yourself.

  3. You have the Empowered Shadow buff on yourself.

It is important to note that stage 3 can occur at the same time as stage 1 and 2.

Stage 1

A typical combat encounter begins with the player at stage 1. The goal of the shadow priest is to cast Shadow Word: Pain (SW:P) and Mind Flay (MF) to gain at least 1 Shadow Orb. SW:P and MF have a chance when dealing damage to trigger 1 Shadow Orb.

Stage 2

With at least 1 shadow orb floating around, casting Mind Blast (MB) or Mind Spike (MS) will cause you to gain Empowered Shadow. A higher number of orbs will cause Mind Blast and Spike Spike to deal a higher amount of damage. Once Mind Blast or Mind Spike is cast with at least 1 orb, you will gain Empowered Shadow.

Stage 3

Congratulations, you have Empowered Shadow! This is a self buff that allows all of your periodic damaging spells to deal more damage. This includes Shadow Word: Pain (SW:P), Vampiric Touch (VT), Devouring Plague (DP), and Mind Flay (MF). The buff becomes stronger as your mastery stat increases. But does not get stronger with more Shadow Orbs.

The Mastery stat effects 2 major areas of our DPS. Mastery increases the damage boost that each individual orb gives to Mind Blast and to Mind Spike. Secondly, Mastery increases the damage boost that Empowered Shadow grants periodic damage spells (SW:P, VT, DP, MF). While Shadow Orbs increase the damage of MB and MS depending on how many orbs are stacked, a higher stack of Shadow Orbs does not increase the damage benefit Empowered Shadow gains. One Shadow Orb grants the same Empowered Power buff as three.

Keeping track of your mastery is essential to playing the Shadow Priest class well. If you do not have a Shadow orb, SW:P needs to be on the boss and MF needs to be spammed until the first Orb shows up. As soon as you see you have that first orb, cast MB to gain Empowered Shadows. Next, cast your remaining DOTs (VT and DP). Make sure to only refresh VT and DP if the Empowered Shadow buff is present.

Posted in Cataclysm, Priest, Voices From The Community

9 comments on “Shadow Priest Mastery: Shadow Orbs Explained
  1. WeWhoEat says:

    Is the community in agreement now to spam MF until you proc your first orb for max boss DPS? I know back when I played shadow more, many were splint on going ahead with the full dots then reapplying them with ES buff than wait playing orb roulette before getting your dots up.

    • Lissanna says:

      I giggle every time I see MF in the post because my brain inserts moonfire instead of Mind Flay every time. 🙂 Hopefully snake will pop around and answer your actual question soon.

      • WeWhoEat says:

        I’ve had enough of that MoonFire’in deathwing than won’t drop my MoonFire’in weapon!

        Like that? 🙂 🙂

    • Snakeneyes says:

      Sorry I have not been around to answer questions, I was on vacation.

      WeWhoEat: The most important thing at the start of a boss fight is to gain Empowered Shadows. If you cast all your DOTs right at the start, you are more than likely going to have to recast VT and DP right away once you gain Empowered Shadow. Casting VT and DP is 2 GCDs wasted. That is also 2 GCDs that could have been spent trying to gain a Shadow Orb at the start of a fight with Mind Flay. You always have the RNG (Random Number Generator) in play, but chances are high that your VT and DP will need to be refreshed with the Empowered Shadow buff before they would need to be refreshed naturally.

      But to be completely honest, the DPS difference with different openers are hard to determine when you look at the total damage done over the course of the boss fight.

      • Felade says:

        However, if you get really unlucky with orb procs, waiting too long on your DOTs will hurt you, even if they were the un-empowered version.

        Basically, the choice is:

        a) Fish for an orb, which if you are lucky, will give you higher DPS, but it leaves you vulnerable to issues with the RNG.

        b) put up weaker DOTs, which means two GCDs you aren’t spending on orb fishing, or spending a long time with ES-less DOTs, or even getting a quick orb proc, which means the two GCDs you spent on DOTs were essentially wasted. But it does mean your performance is much more consistent at the beginning of the fight.

        4pc t13 eliminates this problem by forcing you to spam flay until you can pop SF/AA and start spamming MS/MB. And over a long boss fight the difference between a) and b) is pretty small, as you mentioned.

  2. Felade says:


    Its personal preference. If you get lucky with orbs, then MF first is better, however, for consistency, start with DOTs first, then flay.

    HOWEVER, if you have t13 4pc, start with flay so you can line up all your CDs and start you MS/MB spam with a PT proc or any other proc you might have.

  3. Elunamakata says:

    Good read, I didn’t know anything about shadow priest mastery…which would probably explain why kurt doesn’t ever let me bring my priest to any alt runs….

    • Felade says:

      Realize that Shadow Priest mastery is completely changing in MoP. It will be a simpler mechanic – every time your DOTs tick, mastery gives them a chance to tick again.

  4. aramis says:

    This is a nice explanation of the ES buff and how it interacts with both Mastery and the Orbs in general.

    Personally, I use the orb fishing method. So yeah, I open myself to horrible RNG (which really doesn’t happen all too often), but t13 4-pc alleviates that.

    And with the forthcoming MoP changes, orb generation’s RNG factor was cut in half by guaranteeing orbs on every MB cast (and SW:D casts sub20% as well as far I know…I think the last build tweaked that to all SW:D casts but dammit if I haven’t been so consumed with Diablo3 to check it out)…the RNG remains in which we can spec into random free MBs. I’m actually looking forward to MoP Spriesting. 😀


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