Monday, January 3, 2011

Leveling A Priest 101

Happy New Year everyone, and I hope the new year looks as good to you as it does to me. In my travels away from keyboard, I put in some long hours last year and ended up with a sparkling good review and a hefty bump in pay. This will come in handy with daughter number two now being imminent (beginning of February). Looks like some daddy-daughter fishing time will be back in session next month. I might not even be 525 then, so we can ding Illustrious Grand Poobah fishing together.

Also before getting into today's topic, I'd like to share some podcasts I have found recently. As you know, I am a regular listener to The Instance and The AIE Podcast, but I've added Rawrcast, All Things Azeroth, Circle of Healing, and Matticast to my regular playlist. Rawrcast and All Things Azeroth are both similar to The Instance, but it's just a different set of voices and that can be refreshing in a new year. Rawrcast can be a bit NSFW with language, in case that bothers you. Of more concern to this blog are the other two podcasts. Circle of Healing is back again and is trying to be more regular, so I wish them the best in their endeavors to give healers something to listen to every week. And as if Matt Low did not have enough going on (including being a co-host of Circle of Healing), he has started his own podcast focused on healing and that should be very good seeing how he puts his heart into everything he does. If you have any other suggestions for a playlist, the time is open because college football season and sportswriting ended for me this weekend.

So let's say you want to play a priest. How should you level that priest? Although my leveling experience on Ekaterinae from 1-70 was at the end of The Burning Crusade, everyone has relearned the leveling game for Catclysm, even if it is to a lesser extent. Now there are even more options and tools to level your character including Looking For Group and Looking For Battleground. While many of these options are fair alternatives, I believe there is an optimal way to level from 1-85.

Once you hit level 10 and start getting talent points, you should definitely begin in the shadow tree for open world questing. The key to the first two tiers of talents 10-30 is to improve damage output, and the best options you have are in shadow with improved damage-over-time talents buffing both of your key DoT's. Then the real game begins at level 31 with the third tier of talents and dual spec. There are now two approaches you can take.

If you want to be the most efficient, you should choose shadow and discipline as your two talent trees. At level 31, shadow priests receive shadowform, which really ramps up shadow damage output and synergizes the rest of your talents in that tree all the way to Cataclysm content. Discipline will offer you the ability to quest in healer form for something different and also heal. The key to your Discipline leveling spec is the second-tier talents Evangelism and Archangel and (most importantly) two ranks of third-tier talent Atonement. Atonement allows you to heal a party member at the lowest health for as much as you smite an enemy for (half if it heals you), and smite happens to be the go-to DPS spell in discipline spec. Smite also activates Evangelism, which increases smite damage and healing further for each stack, leading to a big Archangel for empowered healing and a little mana regeneration when necessary. When solo questing, the Atonement healing after level 33 will normally be enough with Power Word Shield to make a priest invincible as long as the mana bar stays above 0%. While not quite as fast as shadow spells at killing mobs, the lessened downtime for not having to heal yourself does make a difference towards overall efficiency. Furthermore, discipline is a good low-level spec to heal dungeons thanks to the same Atonement talent (which usually heals the tank as you help the DPS burn down the enemies).

If you want to really hone in on your healing skills and don't prefer questing, then you should focus on holy and discipline as your two specs. For discipline, the same atonement-evangelism plan is in effect. For holy, there are very few early talents that can help your DPS (smite only), but you will power up your healing to extents even more than discipline in the 10-60 range. This will make you even more of a desirable healer if you choose to enter dungeons and battlegrounds a lot. One mid-level talent not to miss is Spirit of Redemption, which only activates on death but can be a group-saver in dungeons and a real force in battlegrounds where you are usually targeted first. Holy/discipline will allow you to hone the skills necessary to be an endgame healer or jack of all priest trades long before you get to endgame.

When you get to Cataclysm levels, I would recommend going back to Shadow/Discipline, which is what I am using now. The same strategy applies as above, although Mind Spike must be picked up immediately upon hitting level 81. With Mind Spike, the rotation changes completely for shadow and becomes even better as the damage-over-time spells are highly mana-inefficient from 80-85. After 81, the rotation becomes shield up, mind spike twice, cast mind blast as an instant spell and then turn to vampiric touch and mind flay, with Shadow Word Death as a finisher to gain back some mana via the Spirit Tap glyph. Shadow Orbs will also help the damage output. The only faux pas to avoid is leading with DoT's because Mind Spike clears all DoT's. That is not a good thing to do, especially when the DoT spells are inefficient to begin with!

I have been Discipline healing some 5-man normal instances during the leveling process as well, and Atonement is excellent because you can improve a group's DPS and therbey lessen the burden on your healing. Always switch back to Penance and Greater Heal when you need to, and keep shield and Prayer of Mending up as much as possible, but jumping from smite-spam and back (using archangel when jumping back to use healing spells to improve healing output) is a fun and different way to play that healing priests have not seen before.

Another tip for leveling: if the varied options already discussed are getting old, take up Archaeology and/or a gathering talent. Each of these professions gives experience for every node/flower picked or every fragment surveyed out of the ground. Especially in the cataclysm levels, a quick dose of archaeology is a good way to see some of the old world and have a chance at nifty rewards like the skeleton fossil pet. With 310% flight, the travel between dig sites is not so bad either. Perhaps not as efficient as leveling via questing (and each of these activities sucks up rested time), but a nice change of pace and a good way to play the lottery or make some major money in the process.

If you want to read further into my personal talent choices, check out Ekaterinae on the Armory. There's sure to be some mistakes, but that is all part of the learning process. Whatever spec or method of leveling you choose, enjoy the journey because even if endgame is "half the game", the first half of the game is worth enjoying.

POSTNOTE - If you wonder what the artwork above means, then stay tuned. The next Illuminati guild event is on the way and one of our more talented artists rendered Ekaterinae and some other guild members for the event. Very nifty work and I look forward to helping Soph bring the rest of the guild something truly entertaining in February (baby duty notwithstanding!)

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