Monday, March 9, 2009

"Most Complicated" DPS Rotation

Last week, I was emailed a very interesting post by Flyv making a case for how Cat Druid DPS is possibly the most complicated DPS rotation in the game. You can find the Post Here, but I wanted to make the case for warlocks.

Now, before you turn this into a contest of "who's is bigger", my point is not to try and out do the post, but only to point out that we, as warlocks, also have a very complicated rotation that should be respected.

My first comment on this discussion is that I think any spellcaster rotation is going to be more unforgiving than any melee rotation inherently. That is to say, caster classes don't have the "white noise" component of damage. We aren't up there doing melee attacks automatically, every portion of my damage comes from a specific button click. As a warlock, if I don't apply the DoT, it doesn't do damage. It's not like I can go into "auto-attack" mode at any point. Thus, if I hit the wrong button, miss a button, or just plain space out... I get ZERO damage per second (sure you can have DoTs running, but I would have had to apply them first). My point here is just that melee classes will always have some portion of their DPS which is automatic, and this makes their rotations a little more forgiving if they mess up.

On the flip side, I think the decision making issues are equivalent across most class BY DESIGN. Ideally, I don't think Blizz wants "facerollers" to put up the best numbers (except apparently with DK's... jk sorta :P). I would expect that if we looked hard enougth, most DPS classes would have at least a moderate amount of difficulty in order to put up high numbers. Again, this is how it is meant to be. DPS is NOT just a cake-walk on auto-mode. For the most part, it does take skill and brains. Thus, if someone is putting up big numbers, I will respect them as a player, regardless of class. Even hunters have to use their brains sometimes :-).

With that being said, Affliction Warlockery has long been held to be the most difficult DPS area, at least in my experience. Affliction warlocks are seen to be the brainy, theorycrafting type I think, especially with more recent rotations. Destro may sometimes have been accused of shadow-bolt spamming their way to the top, but I don't think an affliction warlock has ever been accused of facerolling to put up good numbers. Our tree just doesn't work that way, and that is what I love about it. Is this envisions sense of respect entitled? You decide, but I think we can all agree that warlock rotations have long be respected.

Here are a few things I thought about when reading the article (keep in mind this is comparing an Affliction Warlock spell rotation to a Cat Druid Melee DPS rotation as laid out in the article I referenced)

Looking at the effects a druid has to balance, I think we have to balance the same kind of things. While a druid would be looking at energy and combo points... I'm watching my mana and health bars (when to life tap, when to demon tap). Recall that 'locks are not very mana efficient by nature. This is further complicated because where druids are in complete control of their energy and combo points, my health bar can take weird spikes of damage sometimes making it very hard to judge when to use a life tap. This may get harder when a life tap glyph is introduced which gives a spirit bonus, but the point is just that I can't always control my own fate here.

Affliction warlocks have to immediately gauge how fast something will die. This is a learned skill, not something all players inherently have and will make a huge difference when it comes to trash DPS and what rotation to go into. This has to be an almost immediate decision too. Sometimes, I think melee classes are spoiled with being able to basically start every fight the same and then balance it as you go, especially when you rely on energy or rage to open up your abilities. Each playstyle has its difficulties, and I just wanted to point out that this is a skill that I think is often overlooked.

I think there are equal positioning pros and cons for melee and caster classes. In a kiting fight, its probably more difficult for a melee class. In a fight with avoidable AoE and stuff like that, the movement is on the casters. Each boss can really slant to a different strength, but I would call this area a straight wash. I don't care what class you are, you need to be aware.

The article I referenced lays out 9 different heirachal steps for Cats. Affliction warlocks currently have to manage 7 debuff timers alone. This is not inlcuding spontaneous decisions like when to life tap, when to soulshatter, or any pet management at all. Each debuff has its own priority as well. For instance, I know I can't cut off CoA, so that one has to be pretty much applied as soon as it hits its last tick in order to avoid downtime. Most of the others can be cut off with the only downside being mana inefficiency (which increases the decisions when to tap and decreases overall DPS), but balancing when they all run out is certainly a headache. We try to prioritize based on which do the most damage, but a lot of times you just paint yourself into a corner and just have to let a few drop to keep up, and that is REALLY annoying.

Oh, and did I mention how difficult it is to manage damage over time spells? This is another underappreciated skill IMO. I mean, it's one thing when you just put up the occassional DoT, but when they make up the entirity of your offensive offering, simple game mechanics can become exremely trying for you. Take, for instance, aggro drops, or any other mechanic that neccessatitates a call for "halt DPS". We can't just shut it off like a faucet, we leak a bit. There is no button to just "stop" our DPS, it takes planning and understanding of the flow of a fight. It also usually results in a lot of warlock deaths when the tank isn't ready to throw down a taunt immediately after an aggro drop. Our DoTs aren't insurmontable, but you have to be ready for them. I'm sure every Affliction warlock has bit the dust at least once when a boss dropped aggro and ran at you before the tank figured out what was going on.

Luckily, having levelled with our normal MT, she's very good at anticipating this. I just realize that that isn't neccessarily the norm... and no one likes to get called out on vent: "why'd you pull aggro?" What am I supposed to fire back with? Because I was still attacking the boss while it was impossible for anyone else including the tank to attack the boss through no fault of my own? And, as we all know, vent commands are almost always given with plenty of time to respond accordingly... yeah, right.

I think the bottom line is that for each "ying" in cat DPS there is at least a comparable "yang" for warlock DPS. Even though my bias shows in my thoughts, I really don't think one is that exceedingly tougher than the other, especially if your goal is to top the charts. It would make sense that both require a decent amount of skill to be "the best".

I do stand by the point that I think Kitty DPS is more forgiving, however. Like the author even pointed out, you can do a sub-optimal rotation that is simpler and still do decent DPS. You can't really do that on a Warlock. All of our attacks all sort of synergize together right now with stacking buffs, debuffs, etc. 3.1 may bring a simpler rotation where there will be more wiggle room to be able to keep things up, but not really a whole lot less to pay attention to; maybe one less debuff, if we're lucky, two.

I think the case Flyv was making was that when you get the difficult rotation down for a cat, you're rewarded with some impressive numbers. You HAVE preform at that level as a warlock or you're bottoming out the DPS charts in my experience. There really isn't an inbetween right now. Maybe that'll change with upcoming patches, but who knows?

The short answer though, is this: it takes skill to be a good DPS'er. Contrary to popular belief, we don't just sit back in auto-mode when compared with tanks and healers, and that should be the main point you take from this and Flyv's articles. If you're a tank or a healer, give your DPS a pat on the back sometimes when the put up good numbers. After all, if stuff dies quicker, it helps you out in the end too.


  1. All three types of jobs have complex rotations to be effective.

    Tanks~ Need to keep up an efficient rotation that not only uses cooldowns asap (96969 rotation for paladin tanks)but takes into account that if we run out of Mana, runic power, rage, etc... the raid is in BIG trouble.

    healers~ Need to keep everyone alive in predictable & unpridictible situations. They need to know when to cast what, when to conserve mana, and predict how the fight will turn out. Especially if the fight is healer intensive, if they dont cast that big heal or they go OOM, someone will die.

    This game has a nice balance throughout every aspect of every job. Everyone NEEDS to do their part and stay on their toes or you are in for a LONG night.

    just my 2 copper.

  2. I tanked a heroic once.

    By the time everything was all said and done I was top DPS.

    Tanking stuff to death sucks.

    <3 my DPS

  3. Heh. The aggro part of the post reminded me in TBC when some tanks would be complaining about 'locks needing to "watch their effin' DOTS." But, the tanks didn't always mean the same thing.

    Some meant, as in not keeping them up. Some meant, keeping them up too close to a needed halt in dps...

    And honestly, learning to gauge how quickly things will die (i.e. trash) and making adjustments to rotation based on that does take some work. No need to put up all DOTs and they aren't going to have the chance to tick and waste mana.

    Also, learning where to fit dark pact/life tap into the rotation without gimping DPS too much takes some work and practice too.

    Yeah, it's tougher than any other rotation I've done, but I Love it. :)

  4. Have played around with demonolgy and destruct but keep coming back to affliction. It keeps me mentally awake and just seems more satisfying at the end of that boss fight. Thanks for all ur input on DPS rotation. Good advice and opinion as always.

  5. Maybe it's just my long experience with Affliction, but I honestly think that the "new" Destruction rotation is harder to manage.

    Affliction DPS consists of six DoTs, one proc (Nightfall) and one cooldown (Haunt), whereas Destruction is three DoTs, two procs (Backdraft and Backlash) and two cooldowns (Chaos Bolt and Conflagerate).

    I, personally, find Affliction easier because it involves one way of thinking; i.e., DoTs, which can be managed with an add-on like DoTimer. The only variables are Haunt's cooldown and Nightfall procs — neither of which are particularly problematic, since Haunt can be clipped and Nightfall procs tend to be consumed by the shadowbolt spam we use as "filler."

    Destruction is more of a challenge for me because I'm not used to watching cooldowns; prior to WotLK, none of the spells in my arsenal were impacted by them. Also, while Backlash typically gets consumed by filler Incinerates and is trivial in the same way that Nightfall is trivial, Backdraft procs require you to make a split-second decision: to soulfire, or not to soulfire?

    One final thought: I don't bother taking Dark Pact in my Affliction spec. Someone at EJ or the Den did the math (I'm at work, so I can't look for it to link) and found that Lifetap is a better return. We should be using our demons for DPS now, anyway. (Pewpew firebolts!)

    This is all personal experience/preference, of course. Affliction is a challenge, but Destruction challenges me -- personally -- more. And after reading Flyv's description of the cat rotation, I have a newfound respect for the felines among us. :)

  6. @Ellieras - I've been actively awaiting 3.1 because I'm pretty sure they'll give us a free respec plus there will be tree changes. I have thought about getting rid of Demon Pact for a while, since I primarily Life Tap (have to do it far less what with scaling with spirit which we now get a bit of). If I keep it, it will be only because there are some fights where I seem to take a beating and feel more afraid to life tap... it's nice to have the back up "free" mana in those cases. As affliction, we pretty much stick to the felpup who DPS's on his own just fine while producing good mana regen (I wish they buffed his DPS a bit but oh well).

    I also think they've done a much better job post WotLK in making Destro less mage-like and more warlocky. I think I agree that Affliction, though having more things to watch, is more of the same type. Like I said, there are pros and cons to most DPS roles.

  7. Very interesting. I've never been a caster dps because I personally hate their rotations. Even so, you have caused me to be a lot more respectful of dps because some of them do have a difficult job. I more often tank than not and haven't really understood lock dps till now. thanks for the post.