Monday, December 13, 2010

Warlock Leveling: The New Spells

A mere 6 days after the official expansion finds me sitting pretty at 84.5 and rising.  I find myself actually feeling a bit saddened that there aren't five more levels.  The experience has flown in, and I've chewed through three zones now (Vash'jir, Deepholm, and Uldum).  I have absolutely loved how Blizzard re-focused on telling a story in each zone.  Each story varies a bit in execution and plot, but they all weave into the larger story well, and make completing each zone desirable.  Where before, it might have been easy to leave a zone after we hit a certain level, I find myself plugging ahead until the very last hub is exhausted and then thinking: "Aw, that's it?"

Questing is not the topic of today's post, however, meritorious though it may be.  I actually wanted to touch on the new spells we pick up along the way as an Affliction Warlock, and how I see them weaving into our rotation.  If you want to know what I'm using as a basic rotation, see my post here.  Otherwise, I'm going to be building upon that with the new abilities given to us.

Fel Fire
The first thing you're going to pick up is Fel Fire.  This spell represents an instant-cast, UA refreshing, green fire spewing button of fun.  It'll hit for direct damage, perhaps half of a shadow bolt, and will tack on additional time to your Unstable Affliction spell.  The add-time is variable, but I've found it to average around 3 or 4 seconds, maxing out at 6 I believe.

To me, this spell is a game-changer.  In our previous rotation, we'd rely on a manual refresh of UA when we're above 25% health (under 25% is taken care of by Drain Soul).  Since the UA spell is not instant, and has no direct damage component, we simply tried to cast as near the end of the first spell as possible for mana efficiency.  UA does not suffer from clipping any more, so there isn't a big downside to overlapping a bit.  Now, with FF, I'm questioning why we would ever want to manually refresh UA again.  I don't have the maths to back it up, but it would seem to me that using FF to refresh UA is really a no-brainer.  You get the added direct damage, and you're not stuck in a cast time (it can be done on the move!).

The trick to using FF appropriately is going to be "use it early, and use it often".  The spell refreshes quickly enough that you can almost spam it (great for kiting in PvP I'd think, along with Shadowflame slowing).  Thus, I've been trying to weave it in whenever UA gets below double digits.  I just look for a window when I either need to move, or I don't have time to squeeze in another shadowbolt before another spell will need refreshed, and tap a FF.  My uptime on UA has skyrocketed to Corruption-like levels (like 98-99% on most fights).  It has also catapulted the spell into my second most damaging spell (behind Corruption and above Shadowbolt).  With FF, there is just not reason UA should ever drop, and early refreshing isn't nearly as bad as with a non-damaging cast time spell.  Most of the time, I can weave a FF in when otherwise I wouldn't be casting (think: while avoiding the bad).

So, for now until I might see research otherwise, I'm using FF to keep UA up as long as the mob is above 25% health.  Under 25%, I let DS do the deed.  The actual UA cast is only done once at the beginning of a fight.  I would suggest just trying to weave FF in whenever UA gets low.  As I grow more comfortable with the spell, I'm going to let it tick closer to 0, but for now I've been starting to think about weaving it in any time UA is under 10 seconds, just because I don't trust myself to go lower yet.  The closer you can get to full UA uptime, the better your damage is going to be.  Just try to be clever about when to weave FF in and not get in the way of your spamming. 

Improved Soul Fire
Depending on how you spec, the second rotation-changer you should pick up is Improved Soul Fire.  This talent tacks on a "buff" component to our pre-existing Soul Fires.  It's not a new spell, but a new benefit to a spell we should have been using anyways.  With the instant-cast SFs provided by burning a shard, this is something we're going to want to try to make use of at least three times every fight.  (There is a trick to weave a fourth in, where you basically "preburn" a shard, regen it really quick before you're engaged in combat, and then lead off with an instant SF, but I'm not to that level of comfort yet.  Get down the basics first, say I). 

Since ISF basically provides us with a 15 second haste buff, it's good to use this anytime you'd get the most out of haste.  Heroism/Bloodlust are right out, since it doesn't stack with either of those (Fixed, via comments).  Also, it can help early ramp up.  For simpilicity, you can think of it like using a trinket, or like how we used to keep the life tap buff up.  For longer fights, I don't think it's practical to try to keep it up perpetually, as most fights are longer than 45 seconds, making that impossible (or even 60 if you've managed to "cook" one).  Thus, I would shoot to use one at the beginning, then perhaps in the middle when you get a good chance to sit and spam, then one at the end right as you go into the Drain Soul phase of our rotation.  Each time, use your instant cast Soul Fire.  I don't think it's worth it to use a regular Soul Fire for the 15s buff, but theoretically you could do that to keep it up.  I just think the long cast time sort of precludes this.
Dark Intent
The final spell does not really affect our rotation, but it does require a bit of knowledge to use properly.  At 83, we get Dark Intent.  I've never been a big fan of 'lock buffs, since that's not really what we do, but Dark Intent is perfect of the spirit of our class.  It lets you "link" with one other member of your party, sharing a base haste boost.  In addition, whenever a DoT crits for one of you, you both get a stacking (up to 3x) buff that increases DoT damage in general.  This is good stuff!

In order to get the most use out of our new-found buff, we'll want to link with other dotting classes.  The more chance we get at DoT crits, the better, right?  Oh, and I forgot to mention, it doesn't just take DoTs into account, HoT's count too!  Thus, you could share this with a healer to the same potential effect as a DPS.  So which classes should we look for?  A shadow priest would be high on my list.  A Druid healer would also be great.  An unholy DK wouldn't be bad either.  Heck, try a prot or ret pally, they always seem to have a decent uptime according to my recount.  Stay away from mages!  Also, be wary of putting it on another Warlock as the effects don't seem to stack (not sure how they work if you both have try the same target).  Basically, just try to figure out who in your party might use DoTs or HoTs the most.  I think casters tend to benefit the most from haste, so I'd give them priority over melee types, though this may not always make the most sense.  The more dotty the person you link with, the better its going to be for you, and isn't it so delightfully warlocky that we wouldn't help someone else unless there was something in it for us?  Splendiferous, I tell you!

Clearly, Blizz did a great job in adding to our arsenal.  Fel Fire seems to be a great spell, and ISF (though I may cringe at essentially being forced to spec into it) gives us some interesting decisions to make.  Finally, we got another buff that is useful and properly warlocky at the same time.  What's more, we get all these things and they really do more to make our lives easier at 85 than harder.  The rotation is still challenging, but these abilities don't really add a whole lot of complication to what we already had.  Still, they will take some getting used to.  I've shuffled a few buttons around and am trying my best to get used to it now, while leveling, so I can take trained fingers straight into raiding.

All of the above is simply based on my play experience and toying around with things.  I haven't really had the chance to do in-depth numerical research yet, so if you see I've made guffaw, please let me know and point me in the right direction.  Otherwise, I think it's a pretty accurate picture of what we should be trying to do to prepare for life at 85.  After I hit 85 and feel a bit more comfortable with everything, I will be updating my rotation article linked to the left up there, but for now I'm just passing along my leveling musings.  Any other tips or new spells that I missed?


  1. A note on FF and UA refresh: casting UA is actually preferrable over using FF. FF will refresh up to 6 seconds of UA, however, if you precast UA at 1.5 seconds, it will restack UA after the next tick for the entire duration of UA again.

    I find that I use FF if I'm in a mobile situation, or there's just a lot of targets. It will buy me the time to get someplace so I can recast UA to get the full time again. Your best bet is to cast it right before the last tick to get the most effective use of FF or recasting UA.

  2. I've heard several people say that and I can't really understand why. FF does damage, UA refresh does not. You'd really only be casting 2 FF's for every UA, but you're missing out on damage even if you precast UA since that's a non-damaging cast. I understand that you'd have to use FF more often, but is that a bad thing? Especially if you can weave it in AND cast more SB's since you're not having to waste cast time on a UA.

    With how much movement I've been seeing, it's hard enough to park it just to get SB's in there... I would hate to have to use that time to recast UA. My plan right now is to extensively use FF in a fight (hopefully only casting UA once). I think I need to hit up a dummy sometime soon and see how it affects my DPS, but I can't imagine there's much of a drop if any. In fact, I suspect I might see an increase, though I could be wrong.

  3. I just saw your post on the Tides thread. Mai bad! :P

  4. Ha, np... it's probably better to move the discussion here anyways. :-)

  5. I think it depends on the fight's movement. I am casting FF every other UA refresh. With that said, I only get to stand around for the 2ish seconds to cast SB, and then the 3ish for the UA refresh. But, I am using the FF to be more flexible. If I just cannot stay still to recast, I will use FF more often, but I tend to try the refresh first. I've only come across 2 or 3 fights that are stand-still.
    I'm getting up to 28+ seconds of UA up when doing the UA->FF->UA combo, and it seems to work. But, I can certainly understand the allure of using FF exclusively. It does some decent damage, it's instant, and has instant availability. I'd have to seriously play around with the rotation on some dummies to really see a difference in dps. Once I get home from work, I might post up with some dummy specs; one with FF used and one with UA refresh. (As a note: these would be a pure and simple fight, no movement, and would more than likely not be indicative of a true dungeon encounter.)

  6. Right, that's the same thing I'm curious about. Either way uptime for UA has gone way up and the damage reflects this, which is good.

    Here's further napkin math on FF. So let's say 2FF = 1UA in terms of refresh. Further, let's say that 2FF = 1SB in terms of damage (which is about what it seems to be for me). Thus, if we use assume using UA to refresh, we get to do 1UA cast and 1 SB cast in a similar timeframe. OR we could do 2FF casts but no SB (if you assume we're standing and can only do two casts). Even in this worst cast, the damage comes out equal, 2FF = 1SB, and both ways UA stays refreshed.

    Napkin math to be sure, but in my napkin world, it seems like at worst using FF gives us approximately the same damage as using UA (to refresh less and thus get more SB's in). I'm not sure how well a simulator will account for this, but it seems to make the case, at least in my head, that FF's will always be better, or at least equal to using UA to refresh.

    The one caveat I see here is that if it averages 3FF to = 1 UA (if you get a bunch of low refreshes). In this case it would seem we would lose out. At the same time, if you can weave any of the FF's into times you wouldn't ordinarily be casting, they become "free" and you immprove you ratio.

    Of course, none of this takes into account mana, but I haven't really been having issues. With wanting to stack intellect, we have a much larger pool than I think I'm used to.

    Still, it would seem from a pure damage point of view that FF would be advantageous to use. At least in napkin world :-).

  7. Also, crits totally tear up my napkin too, but I wonder how much.

  8. Well, as mentioned earlier, you'd have to time the FF or refresh UA at the instant before the last tick, to get the full time for both. So, the way I figure; the ticks off UA have to be = or > the instant damage caused by FF.

    The way FF works, is that it will always refresh for 6 seconds, but depending on how many ticks you have left on the UA, it will replace whatever is left over and give it the 6 seconds.

    My haste is high enough to get my SB casts down to ~1.5 seconds and UA down to ~1.1. But, my hit is low enough to chap my arse, so, I'm taking every single ounce of crit and mastery and reforging it to hit to make up. It's worked so far, but the number is still pretty high.

    As far as napkins go, my FFs hit for around 1/3 of my SBs which are doing around 17K, 22K for crits. So, perhaps it's the way I've got my buffs, or whatever, but I like the added time a refresh gives me of UA instead of FF as an all-the-time cast. However, I have to say the instant cast is sexy.

  9. I don't think I'm clear on how you understand FF works. In my experience, both FF and UA recasting function the same way: simply adding more time to the DoT. FF is just smaller chunks by about 1/2. When I refresh using FF at say 10s, I get 16s back on UA. If I were to use UA at the same time, I believe the max to be 19s, so it'd take me there. Refreshing before the last tick would bump UA back to 6 with FF and 12 with UA, right? So I'm not sure what you're saying about "ticks off" I guess is my point. Is my understanding wrong?

    Also are you saying your FFs crits hit for 1/3 of the crits of SB? That would make sense since crit is a multiplier. My 1/2 was dealing with "normal" hits.

    Either way, the true test will be for each person to see what works best with their playstyle in a real fight. We can all do napkin math and look at simulators, but if, at the end of the day, something just works better for you... totally go with it and don't let anyone give you shit :-).

    I think the bottom line here is that it definitely warrants some observation.

  10. IIRC FF will simply add six seconds, while recasting will essentially 'reset' your counter. The way I understand the no clipping of DoTs is that you basically get a 'free' tick - so if you cast the refresh 2 seconds early you don't lose out.

    Since FF is on the GCD, you have to weigh the cost of the full duration of UA vs the damage done by your FF - because you're going to be losing that cast time anyway - especially if your UA is down to sub 1.5 sec.

    I'm fairly certain that FF is designed for a) an instant cast tag b) totem killer, and c) that move you need to keep your DOTs from falling off.

    I can't see the math working out to make it worth using in a regular rotation, since your SB damage is so much higher. Of course I've played a warlock for exactly 3 days, so I could be way off here.

  11. I believe the "freeness" of the tick depends on when you refresh, as there is some rounding involved. From what I've read, the ideal time to cast is before the last tick but not before the second to last tick to take advantage of the "free" one. Otherwise it's a moot point either way. I think.

    Adding duration would seem to me to avoid the issue altogether, though we could probably safely assume they're both affected the same by the "lack of clipping" phenomenon, and you should just shoot for a late-as-possible refresh.

    If your UA is down to sub 1.5s, then both essentially "cost" the same amount of time, namely a GCD. It seems to me that you're going to get the damage of a full UA either way... whether you do one reset or two FF casts. FF adds damage on top of that at the cost of an extra GCD. That's what I'm arguing.

    The only way I can see the math *not* working out to make it a regular part of the rotation is if 1:The fight has almost no movement (no weaving opportunities) or 2:The mana cost is prohibitive.

    In theory, with haste, you're only missing out on a *part* of a single shadowbolt cast since FF and UA can both be essentially reduced down to GCD and SB is likely > GCD, but not 2 GCD's. And that is assuming we're standing still and *can* cast an SB in lieu of a FF.

    At least this is my argument... I've not yet seen any concrete proof either way... if such proof even exists.

  12. ISF doesn't stack with blood lust/heroism.

  13. Aha! So it is. I had not seen that yet... I'll fix it now.

  14. FF for PVP is great, especially when someone tries to turn tail and run in the opposite direction. Prior to FF, the only option we had was to put DoTs up and hope they die or spec in to Destro and hope Shadowburn kills them.. but chasing them down spamming FF is a nice change.

  15. you seem to have missed demon soul, our new cooldown

  16. Fire mages are a heavy DOT, high crit spec (Living Bomb, Ignite, Pyroblast, Combustion, and maybe Frostfire Bolt), consider using Dark Intent with them.

    Arcane/Frost are 0 DOT specs

  17. @Anon 1 - Is that at 85? If so, that's because I haven't gotten there yet.

    @Anon 2 - I cannot ever advocate helping mages... :-). No, that's good info. Thanks.

  18. @ anon 1, nothing has been missed, wowinsider simply quoted wrong, the author is going over the new spells they have gotten to, at level 84 you don't have demon soul.

  19. Ha. Right on. Didn't see the WoWInsider link. Sweetness...

    Yep, haven't had the chance to muck around with Demon Soul yet. I definitely look forward to it. :-D

  20. So, I did a little testing with just warlock buffs, and both seem to be doing about the same amount of damage. The FF eeked out a little bit (maybe 20 dps) on one trial run, and then refresh UA did a little better the second run (~13 dps). So, it depends on your play style. So, enjoy whatever rotation suits you best.

  21. Cool, thanks for the hands-on testing!

    Tbh, I'm not really surprised by this. It seems to be a well balanced spell and really just an addition to our tool box. I would advocate it's usage for the simple fact that you are able to do it while moving. However, if that doesn't fit your playstyle... you're definitely not doing it wrong :-).

  22. Casting FF at < 10s remaining is close to optimal: none of the 6s boost is wasted; I don't use it much in PvE though. My favourite use for it is right before 25% if UA isn't going to last for the first tick of Drain Soul; with my current latency, and the large amount of movement in a lot of heroic fights, you just get to that drain soul tick faster.

    Resto druids are ridiculously hawt for Dark Intent, as are shadow priests and affliction locks. I find myself dropping it on the healer more often than not.

    Although it arrived before the Cataclysm, I'd add Soul Swap as a spell you have to master to get anything like good damage on group pulls. I've found swapping dots around (glyphed, of course) more effective than Seed of Corruption on almost all pulls.

  23. Yeah, FF is clutch to throw in just before your DS phase. I've found myself doing that too. For whatever reason, DS always wants to *almost* run out before you'll get a tick in.

    We're raiding Yogg right now (he's the lone boss of Wrath we never got down) - at least until we hit 85 and start heroics - and so I threw it on our S-priest last night. I may try the resto druid next time. Yogg isn't really a good fight to analyze numbers though (wayyyy too much going on).

    When I hit 85, I'm going to update my linked guides with this stuff, and Demon Soul. I'll try to remember Soul Swap there too (I think I've already mentioned it but it deserves more of a mention). As you say, it's something any aff'lock worth his fel ash will want to master.

  24. I have yet to see a drawback from Dark Intent. I've never had the Intent buff drop off me for more than 2 seconds in any dungeon. I end up tagging priests or druids and I never see it drop off.

    I've found the best way to use FF is for those extremely mobile fights (think: Steelbender) where you just don't have any more than 2 to 3 seconds to squeek out a cast.

    But, if anybody can find a good macro or a good rotation to use Soul Swap, that'd be awesome. It seems like an impressive ability, but I haven't been able to really see any effective use from it thus far.

  25. Agreed on DI.

    I haven't found the need to macro SS, though I think I've been using it effectively when I can. The problem is, it's not really useful in questing or doing anything where you're OP because stuff dies to fast. When it first came out, I started using it in ICC on trash and it was perfect. Whenever you have a kill order, it keeps you rolling from target to target with no down time. I just have it keybound to something out of they way but that I can hit once a fight. I usually do it right before I go into DS stage, because the inhale persists long enough that you can get right on the next mob. It's great for that and the numbers backed me up (normally we sucked on trash and now I was tops!).

    Another good use was on any boss fight with adds. I've always felt rather useless on adds because of my slow ramp up time. With SS, I generally stick on the boss but do a quick SS to the add that's being burned. With my three main DoTs (and other's DPS), they go down quickly and I've only used really two GCDs and a quick glance away from the boss. Great if you have only a few larger adds. Heck, I've done it where I just use SS to refresh the DoTs on the adds every time it's off cooldown, effectively letting me DPS two targets at once. That'd been hugely effective.

    In short, I'm not sure if there's a way to "macro" it effectively, since it's largely situational. The trick is to be able to identify the situations in which it's useful: non-AoE trash (or even AoE trash that's long living it can be better than SoC spam), boss fights with adds, any sort of target switching or secondary target(s) really.

  26. You shouldn't be putting DI on another warlock (unless your feeling really mean), while the 3% haste stacks, the 9% increased damage/healing over time does NOT stack.

    Also, please do not 'test' FF refreshing using dps tests on dummys, the number of things that can influence it are just far to large, without even considering the human factor. At least do some maths based around it.

    And yes, if we do use it rotationally to refresh dots, then it _has_ to be done when your going to get the full 6 seconds from the refresh, that's where the majority of its DPCT comes from. On its own, its ridiculously weak.

  27. Ah, I didn't even think about that. You should probably only do another Warlock if there are no other DoT/HoT users (so you get at least one buff out of it). Furthermore, what happens if you both try to do the same person? I only run with me as the purple nameplate, but I'm curious now.

    I don't have any more faith in "maths" than "dummy tests"... they both don't accurately reflect a real situation. For me, it'll be comparing subsequent actual raid nights. Maybe even the same fight (on wipe nights it's perfect to try different things). That will be the true test as far as I'm concerned.

    /agree with full refresh. Unless of course you're kiting something or chasing down a running away PvP'er or some fringe situation like that. Then go to town :-). #Pewpewgreenfire.

  28. The problem is if you compare raid nights where things don't chance you can notice differences in the damage of a single spell of up to a thousand damage averaging over a fight, or the whole night.

    I haven't actually tried DIing the same target as another warlock yet, but I don't think it will stack. I could be wrong though.

  29. I fixed the part about DI'ing another Warlock, just for the record.

  30. Interesting. I made it all the way to the end of the 30-or-so comments, and no one mentioned you get DI at 83, not 84! :) I just picked it up last night, or honestly very early this morning.

    Going a bit slower, but enjoying Deepholm at the moment. Will still need to go back and finish off the starting areas (50% through Vash'jir). At least I have a ton of rested bonus!

  31. Ha... details details... (fixed) :-)