Friday, November 27, 2009

A Destructive Invitation - No Newbies Allowed!

Patch 3.3 is less than a short time away, and with it will arrive a couple of changes to the Warlock class, most notably being the return of raid-dominating DPS by the Affliction Warlock. I'm very excited to see our talent trees receive a bit more balance, as I'm sure many of you are too. Destroying raid bosses as a Destruction Warlock is great fun and very effective, but having options is a good thing... especially when Destro is a little too reminiscent of the simple "Shadow Mage" approach to DPS. And really, if I wanted to play a Mage, I would have already cut off my genitals and rolled one (did I really just say that?). But lets not digress or get too ahead of ourselves just yet... we've got some things to do before we can consider which spec to throw when standing within the gates of Icecrown Citadel.

Be it Affliction or Destruction or even Demonology, in order to hit the meters in the neighborhoods of 9-12k DPS, we're going to need the absolute best gear possible. I'm talking a full set of BiS gear, which will eventually include the somewhat-racist-looking abomination that is Warlock Tier 10 (one of the uglier Warlock sets imho). And to have a shot at all of that ethically questionable goodness, we're going to need regular, dependable raid invites. And to get those invites, we're going to need to raid now. We're going to need to raid often. And most importantly, we're going to need to raid well.

As a Warlock, there are a number of things we need and are expected to do at each and every raid that we attend. This includes showing up with a sack full of Soul Shards, calling upon a summoning portal and Soulwell whenever necessary, and dropping a Soulstone on the head of a raid member when it is available. Ignore any of these elementary requirements and we can kiss our raid invitations goodbye. But keep in mind that fulfilling them ensures you nothing, because more important than any of these principles is the amount of DPS a Warlock can produce. Excel there, and we can expect our invitations every week. Fail there, and expect to spend an eternity in Tradechat... *cough*

Here are a couple of classic ways that Destruction Warlocks can improve their DPS. Some are obvious and well-known, and others not so much, but all are very important and have allowed me to make enough of an impression to remain actively invited to guild runs as a PuG raider. Not too shabby, right? Hopefully you will gain something from this list too, and if you have something to add to it, please do so in the comments section.

(Backdraft + Rain of Fire) > Rain of Fire

We've all seen it a million times: Onyxia takes to the air in Phase 2, out come the whelps, the idiot who yelled "MOAR WHELPS! HANDLE IT!" is told to shut up, and Rogues, Mages, DKs, and Hunters shoot up with Damage Meter. Baffled Warlocks, spam-casting Rain of Fire cry out, wondering why their AoE spell of choice falls short in situations like this and how to improve it.

The answer is Backdraft, which will increase the speed of RoF ticks by a whopping 30%! The trick is to plan for it and set it up properly - have a Conflagrate ready to go and then begin bathing your targets in fire from the sky at a fantastic rate. Just be sure to have your Soulshatter ready to use too. And to add even more "umph" to your AoE, cast Shadowflame on the targets before you Conflag, as you wait for the tank to establish enough aggro to handle your hate. The raid will thank you. ;)

UPDATE: Apparently, there was a bug somewhere that was allowing Backdraft to impact channeled spells like RoF and even Drain Life, and was patched in 3.2 because it is NOT supposed to work as described above. But then what can explain this image from a raid just last week?

My Rain of Fire channeling time was a mere 4.7 seconds and was pumping out over 20k DPS! When trying to recreate this feat outside of Dalaran, however, the cast time was only impacted by my Haste rating (bring it to 6.7 seconds), and wasn't influenced by Backdraft whatsoever.

May we have stumbled upon something here or was it just a fluke?

More to come!

CONFIRMED! It is a bug, according to a WoW GM. He didn't tell me the details involved, but you better be sure that I'll be trying to recreate it come raid time this week! I will post updates in another post, also explaining how we can still up the damage from our Rain of Fire with a couple of very simple steps. In the meantime, if any of you figure out the exact bug, do tell in the comments section!

Happy 'locking.

Your Imp Needs Love Too

If you are sporting 2-piece Tier 9, you have no doubt noticed the set bonus that increases your pet's critical strike chance by 10%. This may not seem like such a big deal at first glance, and Warlock set bonuses have received quite a bit of criticism for their lack of awesomeness, but consider this: with the Empowered Imp talent (3/3), your next spell has a 100% chance to crit after your imp's Firebolt crits. In other words, increasing your imp's chance to crit also increases your chance to crit, and that's a big deal in terms of potential DPS.

Now we come to one of the biggest and most common mistakes that Warlock raiders make: using Phase Shift on their little fire-cracking minion. Doing so removes the pet from the active field of play, the original intent of which was to maintain Blood Pact on the the raid or party. Phase Shift, however, is removed the moment the Imp is brought into combat, so whatever use it once had is now null and void (and made redundant by the Fel Synergy talent). What it continues to do, however, is make the imp unable to receive raid buffs pre-pull, like Kings, MotW, AI, and anything else that would increase its chance to crit, thereby increasing your own. It's a simple mistake that when prevented, can result in a nice boost to your DPS. Easy enough.

If You're Gonna Get Stoned, Get Stoned Right

Warlock stat ratings are always a hot topic of discussion at blogs and websites like Elitist Jerks and The Warlocks Den. After much number crunching and discussion, they all have pretty much decided that Haste rating is a more important stat for Warlocks than Crit rating. That should make choosing between the Spellstone and Firestone pretty simple, right?


All Destruction Warlocks should be buffing their weapon with the Firestone. Its increase in Crit percentage and overall Direct Damage results in about a 25 DPS increase over the Spellstone, even for Warlocks with sub-standard Haste ratings (below 500 - ideal is about 600-620). The only times a Warlock should ever buff with the Spellstone is if he or she is Affliction spec or has taken the Master Conjurer talent in the Demonology tree. Otherwise, stat up with the Firestone and use your gear to itemize the important stats (Hit, Spell Dmg, Haste) accordingly.

Corruption is Corrupted

Damage per Cast Time, or DPCT, is a great way to gauge the importance of spell casts relative to one another and therefore which spell is best to cast in a specific scenario. To calculate the DPCT for all Warlock spells, simply take the amount of damage a spell produces and divide it by its cast time, taking into account bonus damage and global cooldown (Haste) modifiers, of course.

For a raiding Destruction Warlock with no talent points buffing shadow spells or specific DoTS and many buffing Fire-based abilities, Incinerate has one of the highest DPCT values, easily out-classing shadow spells like Shadow Bolt and Corruption. It is a wonder then that many Destro 'locks still include Corruption in their rotations - doing so is actually a DPS decrease vs replacing it with a higher DPCT Incinerate cast. The only time Corruption should ever be cast is when the Warlock is on-the-move and casting Incinerate is not an option... only then will it result in a DPS increase.

Bask in the Flask

Back in the day of Vanilla 40-man raiding, flasking was an absolute necessity. If you didn't flask, you didn't progress, period. Blizzard began to move away from that requirement in TBC, eventually limiting flasks by number and type, and tuning encounters without even considering their use. To be honest, at that point, I stopped using them because, well, they weren't at all necessary and there weren't many other raiding 'locks to compete with.

Today it is a different story. Raiding is more accessible than ever and that means more players are vying for your raid spot than ever. Every little extra bit of effort counts, and flasking is one of those bits that pays a little towards your overall DPS and, perhaps more importantly, how your fellow raiders perceive you. Both are incredibly worth the small price to pay (about 20-30g per Flask of the Frost Wyrm), and therefore should be given attention at every opportunity.

Call of CoE Duty

I know you've been in a raid like this - one with 3 or 4 Warlocks and wondering which would be the one to cast Curse of Elements instead of the more personal-DPS-friendly Curse of Doom. You run into the encounter right behind the tank and tag the boss with CoD, internally bellowing a "not it!" as you begin your standard DPS rotation. And then it happens... 3 more CoDs appear on the boss, and CoE is no where in sight.

Assigning CoE pre-pull is incredibly important, and that importance grows with each additional magical damage caster that you have in the raid. So who should cast it? Should it be a Destruction Warlock? An Affliction Warlock? Does it matter? The simple answer to that last question is yes, it does matter... but the reasoning behind it is semi-complicated and a topic of heated discussion within the raiding community. The basic position to this argument is that the Warlock who brings the least amount of DPS to the raid should be the one to cast CoE because the raid would lose the least amount of DPS possible with him or her doing so. Many try to complicate the matter by arguing in terms of relative DPS (Affliction DPS suffers more by casting CoE than does Destruction DPS, etc.), but what is important is the overall effect of the cast on the raid, not the individual, and that is what you must consider when looking to maximize DPS.

If all Warlocks in the raid are equally specced and geared, do what I do and call for a /roll. Lowest roll casts CoE. Done. :)

Curse an Off-Target with Doom

Sticking with the curse topic for just another second, one thing that I do not see many Warlocks doing is maximizing their use of CoD and CoE as a collective group. If you find yourself on CoE duty for an encounter that has multiple targets, cast CoD on a tanked off-target for a DPS increase. As a compliment, if you are casting CoD in the same situation, cast CoE on the Doomed off-target. A perfect example of where this works perfectly is during the ToC Beasts of Northrend encounter versus Acidmaw and Dreadscale. Both should have at least one CoD and CoE applied to them.

Again, using curses in such a way takes coordination and planning, so the previous piece of advice about taking care of curse assignments applies.

Running is Bad for the Knees, and Your DPS Too

Demonic Circle is first and foremost a PvP spell, no doubt. Its main purpose is to increase the Warlock's survivability by giving him or her more mobility and a fighting chance against snares, which the ability breaks upon use. A secondary purpose, however, is PvE-related and directly impacts the amount of DPS the Warlock can produce... if only by a small amount.

As we discussed earlier, it is well-established that Incinerate has a higher DPCT value than Corruption when working within the confines of the Destruction tree. That means time spent running around the field should be limited to the absolute minimum so that Incinerate can be cast as much as possible. DC provides a great way to help make this happen and can be applied readily in a number of situations. For example, putting one down on Heigan's platform while he channels his dance and teleporting back to it when it is finished, or planting one as Icehowl prepares for his Massive Crash and teleporting to it once he begins to charge. Another great use is to place a DC by one of the Twin Val'kyr portals, and teleporting to it when they cast Vortex. Oh and of course DC is useful for when you get caught in Sapphiron's Chill and need to move out of it asap, or when Thaddius casts a Polarity Shift and you must move to the other side of him, or when... well... you get the idea.

Hellfire Isn't Completely Useless Afterall

Hellfire... what can I say about this spell? It is one of the most limited of Warlock abilities, and probably sees the least amount of use amongst Destruction spells in general. I can remember only a few occasions where the spell came in handy to me as I struggled to make it useful in some way. First, there is "Ghost Walking," when upon impending death, a 'lock would Life Tap to near empty health and then Hellfire to death. This resulted in no durability damage being applied to gear and as a result, no repair bill either - not a bad deal. Another application I remember was in Karazhan while fighting Illhoof. A Warlock would be tasked with standing between the boss and his imp portals, and spam Hellfire as heals were constantly thrown his or her way. It was an interesting approach to take through the encounter, and was the only effective significant application of Hellfire in a raid setting that I can think of... until ToC.

In what is surely a feature that will see a nerf someday, Hellfire triggers the Light Essence buff during the Twin Val'kyr encounter in Trial of the Champions. Stacking this buff to 100 results in the Empowered Light buff, which provides a huge DPS increase to the player. I'm sure you all are familiar with this and how annoying it can be... how one must wait until they have collected a certain number of Light Orbs (while dodging the Dark Orbs) that sporadically make their way throughout the field of play and only at specific times throughout the encounter. But using Hellfire, the first proc is a little less annoying to work with, as Warlocks can pre-buff the ability before the pull is even made to a point where it would only take 1 or 2 orbs to set off the Empowered Light buff. Pure win, imho. Get to it before it's gone. ;)

Spread the Hate Around, Fast!

The transition between DPS targets is elementary, but has been a very underrated mechanic in this era of OP AoE. Your raid comes across a bunch of mobs stacked up next to one another? No problem... just AoE all of them to oblivion for the win. Back in the day (I say that too much...) when 40-mans were the norm and even in TBC to an extent, trash mobs had to be CC'd and tanked carefully. AoE'ing was a no no, and individual attention was everything. This made moving from one mob to the next an art form in a way, that when done right, resulted in a seamless transition that did not break up damage produced by the raid in any way.

These days, however, I notice sloppy movement and transitions between mobs. I see Warlocks continuing to begin casts on a target that is about to die, even DoT'ing them, and having their duration or cast interrupted and losing DPS as a result. Instead, what a Warlock should do is switch to another mob before their current target is dead to ensure that damage production is constant and consistent. All this requires is a little bit of attention, and it can result in some noteworthy DPS (depending on how bad your current methodology is =P). Trust me, when you start working on this mechanic, you'll be amazed at how something that is seemingly so insignificant can render such a large impact on your performance. It really is a big deal.

So there you have them - a few items that can help elevate your performance when doing so is as important as ever as we approach 3.3 and the next expansion. If you have any tips or critiques, as always, feel free to leave them in the comments section. Happy 'locking. ;)