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Spiritual Guidance: Dinosaur Pirate Explosion Carnival (or, why Shadow Orbs is lame)

After a vicious, brutal campaign, the primary election between light-side Spiritual Guidance writer Dawn Moore and the shadow-specced Fox Van Allen (your host for today's article, of course) has come to a close. Fox had built a strong lead in the polls right up until this weekend, when a confused cadre of Tea Party activists misread Dawn's fondness for Earl Grey as tacit support for a right-wing economic agenda. Stupid democracy -- it just never seems to work.

Being an international superstar, I'm constantly accosted by fans. They walk up to me on the street and they ask, "Fox, what's the best part about working for" There's an awful lot I like about writing, of course. I love that I have groupies. I love that I get to write about priests, internet dragons and magic, and then name my column something ridiculous, random and ill-fitting like "Eight simple rules for dating my teenaged shadow priest." I love that I can actually help people play the game better.

But what's the best part? The groupies. Yeah, hands down. The groupies.

The second best part, though -- I'm free to write whatever the heck I want about World of Warcraft and Blizzard. I don't have to toe a company line. When Blizzard gets it wrong, I can say they've gotten it wrong. A few weeks ago, I wrote a column called The four best things about Cataclysm for shadow priests. I touched on things like Shadowy Apparition and Paralysis, two new talents that I'm loving while leveling in the beta. "But Fox," you ask, "what about those great new Shadow Orbs? You left those off your list!" That's right, I did. I left them off because Shadow Orbs represent one of Blizzard's misses.

Master of your own (spriesting) domain

When Blizzard introduced the concept of mastery, I think most of us got overcome by that same "oh, that sounds cool" feeling. Shadow priests learned we were getting Shadow Orbs, and all of a sudden, folks started assuming we got the long end of the stick on this one (for once!). The developers didn't tell us much about them (OK, honestly, they told us next to nothing about them), but the idea that we'd be getting these bitchin' Shadow Orbs spinning around us as our special little "currency of the damned" or whatever was neat. And it still is. The idea is solid and workable. I'm not married to the orb art -- but whatever, minor quibble.

So, step one was a success. Step two -- actually figuring out what these damn orbs would do -- that was a bit tougher for the boys in Southern California.

OK, so, today: Shadow priest mastery.

Let's give them ... these orbs. Like shaman have. But shadowy.

OK, guys, sounds good. Let's call it a day.

Shouldn't we figure out how they work?

... nah. Let's go hang out in the park.
The developers at Blizzard figured out a really cool idea for a mechanic. They just had no idea how to work the mechanic into the game. The whole matter of what shadow priests would be getting as a mastery bonus remained a question mark for the longest time. I wanted to pass judgment so badly, and yet ... there was nothing to pass judgment on.

The current Shadow Orb mechanic (yawn)

Before we get too much further, let's take a look at Shadow Orbs to see exactly what we're getting. Pay attention; there may be a quiz later (or at the very least, a 60-second bonus round in which you can win a car).
You have a 10% chance for your Shadow Word: Pain and Mind Flay spells to grant you a Shadow Orb each time they deal damage. The Shadow Orb increases the damage done by your Mind Blast and Mind Spike spells by 20%. Each point of Mastery increases damage by an additional 2.5%.
Sounds good. Sorta.

I didn't notice any orbs, did you?

Shadow Orbs, we have a fundamental problem. It's best illustrated by a question I was asked by's own Matticus. He was playing around with shadow priesting in the beta and wanted to know (paraphrasing), "How do I get Shadow Orbs to work?"

An honest question with a cruel answer! How do you get Shadow Orbs to work? You don't. They're just ... there. Beyond storing up a few stacks of Shadow Orbs before an especially difficult pull, there's not much strategy to their use. You'll earn Shadow Orbs. You'll spend Shadow Orbs. Unless you're paying close attention to Power Auras or your buff bar, you won't know either happened.

I spent a few minutes working a training dummy, and I honestly have no idea how many of those damn things I generated and used. I didn't notice any ridiculously high damage ticks that made me shout, "Damn, that must have been a Shadow Orb!" It all happened quietly in the background, unnoticed. I had more important things going on, like keeping my DoTs refreshed.

That's a pretty disappointing state of affairs for one of the most promising mastery mechanics. Honestly, though, the developers just wound up painting themselves into a corner. They created something cooler in concept than could be implemented in game. It's like when I wrote my first novel, Dinosaur Pirate Explosion Carnival 2020. No matter what I put in that damn book, it could just never live up to the title. (In the end, it just wound up being about antique pottery.)

My wallet's too small for my fifties and my diamond shoes are too tight!

When push comes to shove, I feel really guilty complaining about Shadow Orbs.

Mastery is a funky animal in general. Some specs got a slam-dunk, "hell yeah" kind of mastery buff. Some got a boring one ("oh hey cool I guess my poison is better now ... um, thanks guys ... I guess"). We can't complain too much, because we actually got one of the most interesting mastery mechanics in the game. It's not a raw damage buff. There's a mechanic. Most didn't even get that.

But still, when you consider what we do have -- these glowing orbs of pure shadow that circle us -- it feels like we should be actively managing them. They're almost too good to waste on the current mechanic. But can we really add yet another active ability into the mix?

I mean, consider the spells we actively cast now in Wrath. We'll be bringing them all over to Cataclysm. Add to that Shadow Word: Death (it's not perfect, but it's definitely solid for solo mobs -- we will be casting it again). We'll be firing off Mind Spikes. We'll be managing Dark Archangel. My keybindings are already bloated and swollen in the Cata beta to the point that I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. There's little room for another actively managed ability. It would just seem unnecessary and needlessly complicated.

It looks like we're stuck. In another, different universe (one where, perhaps, you wear shoes on your hands and hamburgers eat people), Shadow Orbs could have been our nuke. They could have been some kind of great mechanism that would lure all those fence-sitters into the shadow priesting fold. (Better luck next slide, I guess.)

So, shadow priest lurkers, what's your opinion on these little shadow orbs? Are you satisfied with the way they work now? And if not, do you have any idea how to fix them?

Are you more interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? Think it's neat to dissolve into a ball of pure shadow every few minutes? Hunger for the tangy flesh of gnomes? The darker, shadowy side of Spiritual Guidance has you covered (occasionally through the use of puppets).

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