As with all examples of talent builds or point distributions, the optimum build depends largely on your playstyle (PvP, soloing, raiding, etc., or a specific combination of spells you like to use) as well as gear, party members, and other factors. The builds listed below are not for everyone, nor are they always the best. They are at worst opinions, and are usually subjective. Although with Patch 4.0.1 the number of options in the skill trees has been reduced, this information still applies, as there is still room for some customization.
If you're not sure why a specific talent was chosen, check the Priest talent analysis for pros and cons of each talent.
If you intend to level your priest mainly through solo questing, a shadow build produces high damage along with good survivability through Shadowform and Vampiric Embrace. If you intend to level your priest through instances and grouping, a holy or discipline healing build is the way to go (you should then read Leveling a Holy Priest). It should be noted that some players have found healing as Shadow possible at lower levels, but the healing capabilities are compromised with no talents to improve healing and limited mana regeneration. With 4.0.1, leveling with a hybrid build is no longer a possible option, since it is now it is mandatory to put 31 points into one skill tree before any points can be spent in another tree. The good news is that buying a second spec is much cheaper than it used to be, so you can adjust your strategy as circumstances demand.
Holy and Discipline specs also have a handful of talents that work with Smite to make them viable soloing builds.
Shadow Leveling Spec
Improved Psychic Scream, Silence and Paralysis are taken for extra survivability and utility, and because there are few other options. They are especially useful to players who level with a mixture of PvP and PvE. Shadow Word: Death and Dispersion are used periodically to give mana.
A breakdown of each tree:
- Discipline: Discipline priests are healers and damage mitigators. They are not built to be adept as the main raid healer due to lack of AoE heal spells, but fantastic tank healers. A good Disc healer will never top the healing charts - because if they time their moves and mitigate damage correctly, they'll never need to.
- Holy: Holy priests have strong AoE healing spells and high heal output, and make ideal raid healers as well as having talents for tank healing. Holy priests are the all-rounders of healing classes and can easily adapt to different situations.
- Shadow: Shadow Priests are the damage dealers of the priest class, and can take on a shadow form to improve their shadow damage even further at the sacrifice of holy (healing) spells. They have powerful DoTs but are also capable of burst damage.
- Atonement DPS/Healing build (31/3/2) [Current as of 4.0.1]
- Atonement allows for passive healing by doing damage with Smite. Smiting also reduces the cooldown of Penance, and gives stacks of Evangelism which can either be consumed for a healing buff and mana restore, or kept to increase damage from smite (and therefore increase healing from Atonement). Glyph of Divine Accuracy is a necessity for this build.
- Discipline Pure Healing build (31/8/2) [Current as of 4.2]
- This 'pure' healing build takes all the talents that directly affect your heals and does not rely on Smite whatsoever. It will suit a more traditional healing style.
- Atonement Raiding Spec (33/8/0) [Current as of 4.2]
- This is one of the best healing specs for Raiding, giving you the option to increase healing with an occasional holy fire on the boss as well as being able to raid heal with Prayer of Healing and Prayer of Mending. This build is also ideal for 5 man dungeons as a well geared (at the time of me writing this, 4.2) priest will easily be able to pull around 6K dps and 12K hps using this spec.
- Standard Holy Healing build (3/32/0)+1 [Current as of 4.0.1]
- This is a standard healing build, and since there are so few alternate options most holy builds will vary little from this. Inspiration, Circle of Healing, Guardian Spirit and the new system of Chakra and Relevations are all essential holy skills, and it is hard to imagine a holy priest without them. Blessed Resilience is not taken in this build, because the 4.0.1 version appears to be only useful for PvP. Note that there is 1 point free which the player may place as they choose. Lightwell or 1/3 Darkness from the shadow tree is recommended.
- Lightwell has been improved even further with 4.0.1. However, in some priests experiences, other players don't want to use it, and rather expect the priest to keep healing them, while they can continue to do damage.
- Body and Soul effectively makes Power Word: Shield a useful spell for a Holy Priest. Its purpose is not so much to protect you or other raid members from damage, but to increase your or their movement speed, which is useful in many encounters.
- Spirit of Redemption is a rather unusual talent, since it gives no benefit until you're dead. So you would only spend one talent point there if you die a lot - however, if you are trying new bosses and instances with your raid, dying a lot is actually not uncommon.
- Cookie-cutter Raiding Build (cata) (8/0/31)+2 [Current as of 4.2]
- This is the shadow spec for cataclysm for PvE dps. The additional points can be placed anywhere that you need to for utility, but the points already in place are all necessary to not lose dps. I suggest putting your remaining points in either inner sanctum, phantasm (only if both points go there) and mental agility.
- Cookie-cutter Raiding Build (3/0/31)+2 [Current as of 4.0.1]
- This is the basis of most PvE shadow builds.
- Note that there are 2 points free which the player may place as they choose. These may be placed in Psychic Horror for extra utility, Mental Agility for slightly better mana efficiency, or any of the remaining shadow talents for situational survivability.
- Demonic Tap Power Build (10/0/31) [Current as of 4.0.3]
- This is an alternative to the standard PvE build.
- Note Points in Veiled Shadows, Masochism, and Paralysis, used for utility (Use of Shadowfiend and Fade more often, when necessary; and as a type of Crowd control, with Paralysis) and mana conservation. Also note the use of Evangelism and Archangel, which increases both DPS and 5% Mana Instantly returned, per stack. Extremely high survival rate.
- Leveling Point Placement [Current as of 4.0.3]
- This is the Demonic Tap Power Build (see above) point placement guide. This is used to level into the build and level very fast and with maximum survivability.
- Level 10: your first points. The first tier you get, you will want to fill completely, starting with 3/3 Darkness. Next, fill Improved Shadow Word: Pain. Finally, fill Veiled Shadows. Some may doubt this, but this is not for the Fade ability, but because having Shadowfiend faster and more often will grant you mana, and improve your DPS, however little. The small DPS can mean the difference between a success and a wipe.
- Level 43, and Vampiric Embrace: From here on out, leveling gets extremely easy, and makes dungeon groups simpler for everyone, especially the healer. Put your first point into Vampiric Embrace (1/1). Now before you place your points into Masochism, let me explain. Shadow Word: Death is a very low mana consumption spell, but your DoT effects use a large amount of mana, so using Shadow Word: Death while running low on mana, redeems a fair amount to continue dealing damage with. Fill Masochism 2/2, then fill Mind Melt 2/2.
- Level 59: You now must fill Shadowy Apparition 3/3. Now, fill any two points that you do not have filled, as you need them to reach your top tier.
- Level 69: Fill Dispersion your top talent, an excellent mana regeneration tool, as well as damage mitigation.
- The rest of the points can be placed as you need.
- Suggested Major and Minor Glyphs:
- No Major and Minor glyphs offer any DPS boost, so pick for utility.
- Missing Discipline PvP build
- Basic Shadow PvP Build (57/14/0) [Current as of 4.0.1]
- All the essential PvP talents are preset, though there is room for talents to be moved around, depending on your preference. You may wish to put more or less points into Twisted Faith depending on how much hit rating or spirit is on your gear.
- Edit: Not current, as this uses the old 51 point talent trees.
You have a lot of choices on your glyphs in PvP depending on what suits your play style. Any of the following glyphs can be taken along with some of the suggested PvE glyphs.