Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. On Wednesdays, shadow priesting expert Fox Van Allen comes from out of the darkness to bask in your loving adoration (and on occasion, to be helpful, too).

Hey everyone. I'm so excited I could just puke, because BlizzCon 2011 is almost here. It's like Christmas is around the corner. I'm so excited I can't sleep. I'm also so excited that I don't want to sit down and get my work done, but to be fair, I get that feeling regardless of whether BlizzCon is around the corner or not.

I was so busy over these last few days getting ready for my trip to California that I didn't even have time to think up a super-awesome topic for today. Thankfully, my loyal minions on Twitter responded to my call for help. They were kind enough to bombard me with a ton of general questions about shadow priesting.

And since I need the money I'm such an awesome guy, I'm going to answer a bunch of them right here and now.

Before we get into the questions, let me just add this: If you're wondering about the answer to any shadow priesting question that I don't tackle here, it's not too late to ask. Send me a message on Twitter at @foxvanallen and I'll try to answer it in a future Spiritual Guidance column real soon.

OK, enough thinly veiled attempts to get you to follow me and pad my numbers. Let's get into the questions.

The sexiness of shadow priesting

@ittesi259 asks:
Why is shadowpriesting just so damn sexy?
It's sexiness by association. You're welcome.

The usefulness of Dark Intent

Oh, what's that? You want me to answer serious questions that might improve your DPS? Ridiculous. But if you insist ...

@Leemesgee asks:
Dark Intent=bad design? When it's gone, SPriests are sad - When it's there, everyone think's we're OP.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, different classes had their own unique raid buffs. It was a way to guarantee opportunities for players of each class. In The Burning Crusade, raids would bring along a shadow priest because of our Vampiric Touch ability; back then, it allowed shadow priests to grant 5% of the damage we dealt back to the party as mana restoration. Shadow priests were in demand because of that, and game designers knew it.

With Wrath of the Lich King came a new game design philosophy: "Bring the player, not the class." Vampiric Touch was redesigned; the mana return buff was standardized as Replenishment and given to retribution pallies, destruction warlocks, frost mages, and survival hunters. The buff became an essential ability, one that raids were balanced around. Strangely, though, while Blizzard has allowed multiple classes the ability to provide Replenishment (and similarly, to benefit from Replenishment) as well as most other formerly unique buffs, Dark Intent remains its own special snowflake. Only warlocks give it out. And 95% of the time, shadow priests are the beneficiaries. Our spec is balanced around it.

Is it bad design? Not when taken without context. But when you start considering that Dark Intent spits in the face of the "bring the player, not the class" philosophy, then yes, it should probably be redesigned. It's not the top problem facing shadow priests. But it sure feels wrong to have shadow priests so dependent on a specific buff. Especially one given out by a total jerk like Tyler Caraway.

The value of Shadow Orbs

Of all the questions I was asked, more were about Mind Blast than any other topic.

@Mallusof asks:
is it best to wait as long as possible for 3 orbs before using MB or should cast as soon MB is off CD, haveing at least 1 Orb?
Mind Blast is easily one of a shadow priest's most important spells. It does more damage now than ever before -- I regularly see it connect for six-digit damage when it crits. And perhaps more importantly, Mind Blast gives us two of our most important procs, Replenishment (when cast on a target with Vampiric Touch) and Empowered Shadow.

Now, obviously Mind Blast is going to be at its most powerful when you have three Shadow Orbs to burn. Each orb adds about 25% to the base damage (at level 85, depending on mastery); 3 add an approximate 75% bonus. That's a pretty nice bonus and a terrific reason to want to generate as many Orbs as quickly as possible.

That said, the bonus damage you get from consuming 3 Shadow Orbs pales in comparison to the bonus damage you get from the 15-second Empowered Shadow buff, which you get by consuming any quantity of Orbs. The buff can add a solid 25% or so to the damage done by our DOT spells (again, the exact value depends on your mastery rating). Losing Empowered Shadow it is a terrible hit to our DPS, since DOTs account for about 75% of our total damage.

In fact, the consequences of losing the buff are so dire, you always want to cast Mind Blast whenever you have at least one Orb. It's a top priority -- more important than waiting for 3 Orbs, more important than refreshing DOTs. If you can cast Mind Blast and you have Orbs up and active, cast MB, consume the Orbs, and refresh Empowered Shadow.

For characters below level 80, the bonus math isn't as generous -- Shadow Orbs are only worth a 10% bonus each to Mind Blast damage. Still, as for level 85 characters, the biggest benefit from Shadow Orbs is the Empowered Shadow buff, even though its power at lower levels is more muted.

When to cast Mind Blast

And to follow up on our previous question about Mind Blast, @lomogeek asks:
Is there a specific time to use mind blast?
To an extent, we've already answered part of this question: You should always cast Mind Blast whenever you have at least Orb to burn. But what about when you don't have Shadow Orbs available? And what about your opening rotation?

In the middle of a fight, there's a pretty good rule of thumb for Mind Blast. If all three of your major DOTs are active on your target -- that's Vampiric Touch, Shadow Word: Pain, and Devouring Plague -- then you should feel free to cast Mind Blast. In that situation, it's the most effective spell in terms of damage done versus time required to cast it.

Now, things get a bit more complex as your 15-second timer on Empowered Shadows ticks down to nothing. If you've got only a few seconds left on the ES buff and one of your DOTs seems likely to expire soon, you may want to cast Mind Flay one more time to try and generate that ever-valuable Shadow Orb. At this point, though, it's your own judgement call.

With regard to when to cast Mind Blast as an opener: In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter. Some people like to grind out that first Shadow Orb before casting Mind Blast, because they know the Empowered Shadow buff is so important. Other folks like to open with Shadow Word: Pain, start applying DOTs, and let the first Shadow Orb get generated "naturally." At the end of the day, the opening moments of a fight constitute a tiny part of your overall DPS. Do what you feel most comfortable doing.
Are you more interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? We've got more for shadow priests, from Shadow Priest 101 to a list of every monster worth mind controlling and strategies for raiding Blackwing Descent.

This article was originally published on WoW Insider.