Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Patched Affliction Warlock Rotation

After I wrote the quick and easy patch notes post yesterday, I pretty much figured I was going to get the following question:

How will you change your opening rotation with 3 stacks of Shadow Embrace? Haunt>SB>SB>rest of the dots? 

Thus, I did some pre-emptive theorycrafting and research to inform my answer.  Even though I expected it, I still want to say thanks to Parpa who asked it.  This is a great question.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Right?  I almost answered it with a comment, but I thought it deserved a post of its own.  So, how to answer?

First, let's scope the question.  Lay the backdrop, if you will.  Parpa correctly points out that really only the "opening" rotation will change.  That is to say, it will not change what we do later in a fight.  You should still switch to Drain Soul under 25% health.  Don't worry so much about SE then, since you're not spamming S-bolts any more.  Keeping Haunt rolling is a good idea though, so you're bound to get some stacks from that, and really should be able to keep the buff refreshed with that alone I think.  Also, this doesn't change our approach to AoE.  When we're doing our seed thing, SE doesn't really matter.  Thus, the only place it really is going to matter is in our bread-and-butter rotation.

Even then, no matter how you open up, eventually you should be working enough shadow bolts in to keep three stacks up.  Therefore, it really is only the first 15 or so seconds of the fight we're looking at here.  If you're not a bleeding-edge raider or a die-hard min/maxer, this doesn't really affect what you do.  Just do what you've been doing, and don't worry too much about it, you're still benefiting from the buff.  If you want to understand why though, please read on.

I've published my approach to a rotation as this:
Corruption > Curse > Haunt > Unstable Affliction > Shadowbolt.  Spam SB until a refresh of each disease is needed (monitor them individually with a DoT timer.  Fortex or Xperl is great for this).  Life tap as needed, but try to space 'em out so that you tap roughly once for every two haunts you cast. 

If you want to read my whole rationale behind it, check out the HAOW linked post on the left side pertaining to the rotation.  I explain a bit why I do thing this way, but in answering this question I'm going to pretty much invalidate my own rotation.  I know this.  I do my rotation as fits my playstyle, but I realize it's not the optimal way to do things.  What is optimal though?  To answer completely, we need to understand the way DoT damage is calculated.

Shadow's Embrace is a percentage modifier that increases periodic damage while reducing periodic healing effects.  Thus it buffs your DoTs and nerfs the target's HoTs.  The HoT part was modified so that there is, in essence, no change.  That may sound weird, but the point is they basically nerfed the amount done by an individual stack so that with 3 stacks the overall effect would be the same.  This mostly keeps PvP balancing as it was and doesn't really affect us PvE folks.  The DoT buff is what we crave.

So where before we maxed at 2 stacks, now we have three.  The DoT part wasn't modified, so this results in a buff since where before we had 2X, now we have 3X the effect.  As mentioned above, though, this is a percentage modifier.  As we understand it, percentage modifiers apply themselves at the time of the damage calculation (not the strength calculation).  That is to say, the percentage modifier is applied to each DoT tick individually.  

This is a key difference to understand.  Stat modifiers, like popping a trinket or the glyph of Life Tap, are integral to the strength calculation.  This means that they matter when you apply the DoT.  Upon casting of a DoT, the math is done for the strength of the spell, and that strength carries throughout the life of the DoT, to be recalculated upon refresh (with everlasting affliction, some stats can even carry through refresh.  I think Crit still does, but haste and spellpower definitely do not).  This is why you sometimes get the "a more powerful spell is active" message and why we always say to pop your trinkets and life tap before applying DoTs.

Each time a DoT ticks, though, some more math is done whereby the chance to miss, crit, resist, any defensive auras, and percentage multipliers are taken into account.  This second calculation obviously makes use of the strength of the spell when it was applied as well.  The take-away message here is that percentage modifiers are only effective so long as they are up.  They will effect ticks as long as they are up, and will not effect ticks if they are not up.  You can't trick the system into carrying a percentage effect through via refresh, you simply need to keep these effects up.

So let's get back to the rotation I use.  I like to start with Corr and a Curse, my instants.  Those each take up a GCD, but can be done on the move.  You can argue either way here, but I like leading off with them as I think it gets me started earlier.  Also, my trinkets have always been tied to my Corruption via macro, so those stat modifiers are sure to be up right away if I do things like this.  Then I follow with Haunt, getting my first SE stack in the process.  I finish with Unstable Affliction to complete my DoTs and get into Shadowbolts where I quickly will bring the stack to it's max.

If you notice, this means that I do not get SE up right away.  In a min/max sense this is a no-no.  We could argue about the practicality of my rotation in a real environment, but I will cede to the fact that in an ideal, I'm-beating-on-a-dummy situation, we'd want to get SE up first.  Why?  Let's look at my timing.

I pop a lot of haste at the beginning (both trinkets and I usually get a black magic proc in there), but let's just do the napkin math with some easy numbers, shall we?  Let's say a GCD is 1.5s.  Haunt is 1.5s of casting, UA is 1.5s of casting, and Shadowbolts are 2s each.  Thus, it will take me 1.5 +1.5 + 1.5 + 1.5 = 6 seconds before I get to my Shadowbolts, then another 4 second before I'm up to three SE stacks.  (It took me two fewer seconds before the buff, mind you).  That's 10 seconds where of the fight where I'm less than ideal.  After those first 10 seconds, it doesn't really matter your initial order as long as you take care not to let anything drop off.  So for the scope of the question, we're only really worried about the first 10 seconds of any fight.

How many ticks would I be gimping then?  Well in my case Corruption should probably tick four times and UA might tick twice.  I think that's right (note that I'm normally on CotE duty, which isn't affected.  If you're doing CoA a lot, maybe it's a small bit higher, but remember the early ticks of CoA are small).  Therefore, I'm really only missing the SE effect on 6 ticks.   Some more napkin math might lead you to realize that's, what, maybe 200 damage lost over ten seconds (or 20DPS)?  So let's assume my math is terrible, and even then we're safely talking <50 DPS difference between my opening pattern and opening with something like Haunt>SB>SB>DoTs to get the SE effect on all the ticks.  Hence, it's less important than the decision you make whether to take the Nightfall talents (which add about 50DPS to fill up).

Still, if you want to min/max, it will always be better to be sure not to miss DoT ticks with your percentage multiplier.  I might argue that by starting with cast times, you're going to start later than me, increasing your DPS number but decreasing your overall damage done, but in any case we're talking small beans compared with high sustained damage throughout a boss fight.  If you're worried about your numbers or want to make yourself a better 'lock, focus less on how you open up and more on how to minimize DoT down time through proper usage of timers and anticipating boss abilities and the like.  

Getting back to the question of how does SE effect my rotation?

The TL;DR:  It doesn't, but I don't do it "right".  If you want to split those hairs, then, yes, you should probably open with Haunt>SB>SB>DoTS. 

Still, it's a great question and important to understand some of the way these things work, if such things matter to you.  (I'm guessing you might be mildly interested if you've made it this far anyways).   Just know that here at KeS, we subscribe heavily to the "find your own playstyle" mentality of theorycrafting.  Elitist Jerks has their maths and their "best way" to do things, but unless you take that and make it your own, you're not going to see the pay out.  Understand why it's the best way, and then figure out how that fits with how you want to play your toon to maximize your personal potential. 

I love answering questions, offering advice, and debating minutia, but I also feel it's a bit pretentious to tell you "this is how it should be done, no exceptions".  I'm all about making informed decisions, and I'm not gonna call someone a newb-cake (as happened yesterday in a PuG o' mine) if they want to play like The King.  (You know, have it their way).  As long as they've given it some thought anyways.  If your playstyle is face-on-keyboard, then it better be because you've got no bloody arms or something. 


  1. badazzdood (garithos)February 3, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    I been playing WoW casualy for about a year and became seriously and joyfully addicted to WoW the day I created my warlock 2 months ago.

    Being able to solo quests and such that would require as many as 3 - 5 others is a great indication to the power of affliction. I cant even begin to count the endless times people tell me that affliction sux and you need to go destro. Maybe this was true pre-TBC or somthing since I only been serious for a very short time now but your posts have taken my numbers up up up and then up some more.

    Im a lvl 70 affliction and I never post anything anywhere, EVER !!! But... this is an amazing site with an awsome set of posts that have not only helped me but I reccomend it to other lock friends of mine and they too found your info invaluable and some even respec'ed to afflic from destro. I also need to say that your tanking guide should be mailed to every single WoW player and until they read it they cant gain lvl's ... lol

    Thank you for putting this "QUALITY" warlock site together and keep up the great work as I will always be anxiously waiting till the next post.

  2. I think the main reason people should start off with SB is not because of the SE stacks (as it DoTs recalculate it per tick) but because of the 5% Improved Shadowbolt debuff. We all know that crit rolls on DoTs. By starting off with SB, you're refreshing your Corruption crit by 5% for the entire fight (assuming you don't let it fall off). With that in mind, you'd basically want to maximize your 'buffed' Corruption JUST BEFORE casting it.

  3. @bad - /blush ty

    @anon - This is a good point as long as we keep a couple of things in mind.

    First, the SE effect is way more added DPS than ISB. ISB is a 5% increased crit chance, and obviously a 15% straight damage increase is gonna be better than crit. I've mostly seen H>SB as previous suggestions for these reasons. If we were just going for ISB, then we'd just want to do SB once to get ISB (it procs 100% when talented to full).

    Second, ISB is a percentage multiplier, so all ticks when the buff is up will benefit from it... thus it really works the same as SE, so the stuff I said in the post still holds. Mainly, it's still probably good to get both up early if you're going from a pure min/max standpoint, but after 10s it's a moot point and starting off "perfectly" doesn't add a whole lot of damage done.

    Crit is not nearly as good as damage obviously, and it's really not that big of a boost for affliction locks anyways... Not that it's anything to scoff at either, so this is still a great suggestion... I just wanted to try and make it clear.

    Is there anything I'm missing here?

  4. Hey Fulguralis!

    Thanks for the exellent post and I really think this is a awsome answer for such a simply put question. It made me consider the "instants first to get in position" strategy. I love the frase:

    "If you're worried about your numbers or want to make yourself a better 'lock, focus less on how you open up and more on how to minimize DoT down time through proper usage of timers and anticipating boss abilities and the like.

    It made me what to improve myself in an area that has been clouded by my old "rotation" thinking.

    As badazzdood I never post anything anywhere, I'm very glad I did.

    Thank you!


  5. Hey, Fulgaris. Nice summary. For context: I raid pretty seriously, and I have primarily raided Affliction for ever. I dual-spec into Demo for some fights where Affliction is just balls, but that's fewer and fewer with this buff.

    You are correct, IMO, that the change to make Shadow Mastery a 3-stack should not alter your initial rotation. The damage buff gets applied soon enough that you're really only talking about a difference of a few hundred damage across the duration of the whole fight - insignificant.

    You are also 100% spot-on when you encourage readers to concentrate on getting as close to 100% uptime on Haunt and all DoTs as you can without ever clipping, and on managing the last 25% juggling DS ticks and DoTs. No starting rotation tweak will make up for 5 minutes of sub-optimal play.

    However, your choice to defer Shadow Bolt is predicated on your personal DPS not taking a big hit, which is not necessarily true for raid DPS, and is not always true for your personal raid DPS.

    As Anon above says, you're responsible for putting up the 5% raid-wide crit buff from ISB (Shadow Mastery). You should never (ever, ever) be required to put CoE up, because it gimps your pDPS much, but likewise your mages shouldn't be gimped by having to talent Improved Scorch and put it up, since you're always going to be using ISB as a filler. This is also the reason it's worth using any Nightfall procs during a last 25% that is longer than 30s - you lose half a tick of DS, but the raid keeps its 5% crit buff.

    The rotation gets more complicated when you introduce the officially-not-an-exploit Corruption crit exploit, and the Nevermelting Ice Crystal. While percentage modifiers are (believed to be) recalculated at every tick, and both spellpower and haste are recalculated on Corruption at refresh time (and other DoTs, obviously, on re-application), crit doesn't get recalculated. So putting ISB's Shadow Mastery buff up before applying a trinketed Corruption grants you 25% crit on Corruption for the whole fight. This is significant for a boss fight if you manage to roll that crit for the whole fight - which you should.

    The next major wrinkle is the 4-piece tier 10 set bonus, which grants a 10% player-only damage buff when UA procs it. This buff is known not to get applied to a rolled Corruption. (Which is a pain in the nads.) I only got the 4pc last night, so I haven't spent much time with a dummy yet, but my inclination is to leave my starting rotation alone, wait until the UA damage buff procs, and then use the NMIC and re-apply Corruption. Time and testing will tell.

    To summarise the factors:
    • Percentage damage debuffs on a target are applied at tick time.
    • Spellpower on a DoT is effectively fixed at application (or refresh) time.
    • Haste on a DoT is effectively fixed at application (or refresh) time.
    • Crit on a DoT is fixed at application, and not changed at refresh time.
    • Improved Shadow Bolt's 5% crit buff is raid-wide, and should go up a.s.a.p.
    • The Nevermelting Ice Crystal is a must-have trinket for Affliction locks, and its correct use is huge.
    • 4-piece tier 10 may change the use of NMIC, and currently requires a re-application of Corruption.

    FWIW, my starting rotation was:

    R1LT - - SB - Haunt - CoA - - Corr - UA - rotation

    I think it will become:

    R1LT - - SB - Haunt - Corr - CoA - UA - rotation until UA proc - - Corr - UA - rotation


  6. Crap... I ballsed the HTML up on that rotation:

    FWIW, my starting rotation was:

    R1LT - [Pre-combat Wild Magic Potion] - SB - Haunt - CoA - [NMIC] - Corr - UA - rotation

    I think it will become:

    R1LT - [pre-combat pot] - SB - Haunt - Corr - CoA - UA - rotation until UA proc - [NMIC] - Corr - UA - rotation


  7. This is from Fulguralis via Email to me:

    @Parpa – yeah it was a good question to get me going. I’m glad it made sense to you and didn’t seem like I was trying to deflect it with the whole “you could spend more time in other places” line… but like you indicated, sometimes we can get stuck with blinders on, focusing on one small area of our rotation and miss other big ways to improve. It’s all great debate, but I’m pretty honest about my own shortcomings when it comes to execution… plus I’m a creature of habit. I need to get into a groove to do well.

    @Rali – Wow! Great info. I’m obviously no where near as serious of a raider as you. Aka, I will probably never see 4pt10 and I haven’t gotten the NMIC yet (mostly because I don’t run PoS all that much so I haven’t really had the chance, but I should make a more concerted effort). With that said…

    I definitely forgot to account for the whole “raid-wide” aspect of ISB. In any case, I should still have the buff up consistently after the first 10s, which at my level of raiding still isn’t that big of a deal… but is probably a decent amount of more damage lost. It’s worth considering.

    Regarding CoE vs CoA: Please see this article at Mystic Chicanery ( Nibuca does a great job of explaining our curse choice. If I read it right, this means I should always be doing CoE unless I’m running with another lock, or one of the other two class/specs that cover the same buff (unholy DK and I forget the other). In my raid group… this is sadly not the case.

    For the rest of the rotation stuff…. That is a great break down and the conclusions seem to take everything into account. I would feel comfortable recommending such an approach to the more serious raiders out there. You might want to throw in an extra s-bolt to get that third stack of SE up early (if you’re worried about it)… otherwise you’ll be missing some ticks of your DoTs for the bonus. It certainly does seem to get rather complicated when you take all these high level bonuses into account. I will probably continue to keep it simple for myself, I’m not sure I could execute reliably with all the extra stuff, but I suppose I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Have you tried your new rotation to see if you have any problems refreshing Corr with the “a more powerful spell is active” error thingy? It might make it really hard to minimize down time because, in my experience, when my DoTs drop off is hardly ever an idea time. It’s like, when it rains, it pours… and the “bad” finds you. :)

  8. @Ful - one more thing that should be pointed out is that by waiting on the Corruption, you're giving the raid more time to 'buff' you up. Elemental Oath/Moonkin Aura, and Totem of Wrath/Heart of the Crusader are the most notable buffs/debuffs that benefits Corruption.

    As for the NMIC, it's currently the second best trink for Afflic locks only next to heroic DFO. I ran HPOS for 3weeks just to get that trink :(

    Throwing a Seed of Corruption drops Corruption currently applied to the boss. Simply throw in your Corruption afterwards to succesfully overwrite it. (I know! Seems like Affliction is a pain)

    @Rali - you pointed out most of the things I wanted to say. As for the 4pcT10, it does make our starting sequence more complicated because now, we're waiting on a proc!

    My starting rotation:

    LT(r1) > WildMagic precombat > SB > Haunt > UA > Corr > CoA > rotation

    I would like to put UA up first and save 2 GCDs for faster proc chance. As soon as 4pc procs, I would simply pop NMIC then recast Corr. Is there a need to refresh other DoTs as well?

    Note: Death's Embrace doesn't apply to the rolling Corruption. People are suggesting that we should re-apply Corruption (again-more pain!) at 35%, which frankly I haven't bothered to try and test. There's too much PowerAuras going over my character already :(

  9. Another good point about waiting for the raid buffs. I'll have to see if my fingers can be retrained.

    It would be nice to be able to say how much each of these little things might add to your overall damage and DPS so we could pick and choose. I mean these things are all said to be good... but HOW good is what I want to know? Is it worth the complicating if it makes you screw up more? IDK.

  10. Darn, looks like I'm going to have to mess with my rotation a bit as well. I have almost everything done in that rotation, but I am putting UA after Corr. Then again, I have 0 pieces of T10 as of yet.

    I do find that when I pop NMIC before the 1st corr, I get massive crits the entire fight as long as I keep Haunt up.