Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Aff'lock Performance Indicators

I was gchatting with a fellow 'lock blogger yesterday (I'll let her identify herself in the comments, should she desire to be known as my Evil Accomplice), and we were primarily conjecturing on the nature of Affliction Warlock DPS. One of the common questions you'll get as a long time class blogger (and I'm sure I'm not alone in this) is from folks wondering "what am I doing wrong?" Generally, this question is centered around raid performance.

I've never had a rote answer, preferring instead to feel out the individual and try to see where they might be struggling. Then, I can usually offer some tailored tips. Not always, but sometimes. This approach has served me well, and--let's face it--I'm not exactly the hub of all things warlockerly. That is to say, my inbox isn't exactly overflowing with these sorts of requests, they just sometimes happen.

Now that I'm 90, I've turned my thoughts toward group performance. While you're leveling, I don't much see the need to min/max. Gear will be replaced a lot, and quests don't generally provide you a long DPS burn period with which to accurately gauge performance. Sure, you could point to your numbers in dungeons, but even then I do not think all classes level up equally, so the balance at 89 is likely different than 90.

An alternative way of saying the same thing is that we know Blizz balances at max level. Those are the numbers they're likely most concerned with. Thus, everything below that can be viewed with a level of healthy skepticism.

So, I'm now 90, I have no more excuses (manufactured or not) for disregarding my performance. But how to gauge? Whereas in Cataclysm we had about -5 changes (yes, that's a negative), MoP has revamped the class in almost all areas. The essentials like "using DoTs" are still there, but everything from the method of application to the method of refreshment has changed greatly.

The problem I've always had with simple looking at a meter and saying "well, I came in third so I have work to do" is that such an approach doesn't explain very well where you might be failing. Affliction Warlocks have always been a bastion of spell slinging complexity. Our spells are designed to weave together and provide a very level state of sustained damage. This is both blessing and curse (HA! CURSE!).

The blessing is that even when I don't have the highest DPS, I generally put out the most overall damage. The curse is that if you aren't weaving quite right, your damage can plummet pretty quickly. I always envision Warlock damage as sort of a ski-slope with damage on the "y" and execution ability on the "x." Good Warlock execution has always been rewarded by solid numbers. (Unlike, say, my old Frost DK where I felt sometimes that I could faceroll my way to solid numbers.)

Typically, my current rotation functions something like this:
  1. SB+SS to get the Big Three up.
  2. CotE
  3. Haunt
  4. MG filler
  5. Maintain DoTs
  6. Maintain Haunt
I realize folks would suggest putting CotE and Haunt up first. If you're using SB+SS to initiate, by the time that both CotE and Haunt get up, everything has ticked maybe once. Over the course of a >30s fight, one missed tick is a total wash. Do the napkin math if you don't believe me. Let me be clear: the order you initiate is NOT your biggest area of concern if you're playing at my level (read: not super hardcore, but just want to do well).

What is then? Well, quite simply: Up time. This has always been the case with Aff'locks. The closer you can get to 100% up time on your various buffs/debuffs is going to be the biggest and clearest marker of DPS performance. Feel like your DPS is low? The very first place I would check is my up time.

To facilitate discussion, Evil Accomplice and I viewed one of her logs from a very early raid where she'd just started running Affliction. Immediately, two things came to mind to look out for:
  1. She was probably not super comfortable with the rotation.
  2. She was probably not super comfortable with the fight mechanics.
In my opinion, those are the two biggest things that commonly cause a problem with up time. Impressively, her Big Three were all over 90% up time. I think (because I've not done extensive play testing yet) that this is pretty good. It used to be where I could only reliably keep Corr up over the 90% mark, and the others were generally close. On good days, keeping all the DoTs over 90% was generally a good indication of stellar performance.

With the new rotation, I think the Big Three should be easier to keep up, even when uncomfortable (it's a little easier to focus on them now, I think). The lack of comfort is going to shake it's way down to inefficient shard management and interrupted channeling. Or, more specifically, look for poor up time on MG and Haunt.

Evil Accomplice's Haunt was sub 50% and MG was something like 15%. I'm not sure what to bench mark for those. What would "good" up time look like for them? After all, they're not going to be 90%, no way. Haunt maybe, but we're definitely not going to be constantly channeling. And there's the whole sub 25% health DS thing to consider.

This has already gotten a bit long-winded, so I'm going to wrap it up with some generic advice. Should Evil Accomplice want to improve her DPS performance, I'd tell her to try to find ways to increase Haunt and MG up time. Especially Haunt.

This is where weaving comes in. If Haunt is not being kept up and you say "yeah, well, I just don't have enough shards." We have the chance to get shards refunded from MG, right? In a way, Haunt and MG are inextricably tied together as filler. Do poorly with one and you'll likely hurt the other. And Haunt has been buffed so that it's damage is pretty significant I think.

When we're uncomfortable, we can probably keep our Big Three up, but our filler is going to suffer. Back in the day, we used to pay attention to how many shadowbolts we squeezed in. This was a fairly decent approximation of Aff'lock performance (at least when you live somewhere between "newb" and "hardcore"). Now, I would advise aspiring 'locks to check out their MG/Haunt statistics. Improve those and see if your DPS doesn't respond accordingly.

This is all just conjecture. I'd really like to put my shadow where my mouth is (or something) and test the theory. Unfortunately, I've got quite a bit of gearing to do before I'll be invited to raids (even the LFR!). Some of you raiding 'locks out there... check this out. Let me know what you think. I may be completely wrong here, but it seems logical, right?


  1. Keep in mind I raided as Affliction from Wrath through Cata. In MoP I switched to Destro for both leveling and raiding. This fight was the only one I had done as Affliction since the changes brought about by MoP.

    Just I just outed myself :)

  2. Oooooooooh!

    But seriously, I'm curious to establish a baseline. I have no idea if those percentages are "good" or "average" or "bad."

    1. I know of a couple really good warlocks in other guilds that I am going to check the logs out on. I will get back to you on them.

  3. I didn't know there was a chance to refill your shards with MG, thought it was only DS? Maybe I missed something!

    Still trying to learn Affliction since I've been a stubborn Destro lock for ages. Having trouble making up my mind this expansion though, since everyone is saying that Destro is just so far behind the other specs. At the moment I do similar numbers with Affli and Destro, but I don't know if Affli will pull ahead with more gear/more experience at playing it.

  4. MG won't give you shards back. Only DS. But what will give you shards back pre-DS is Corruption which can proc Nightfall on its ticks, returning you a shard.

  5. Doesn't MG increase the number of ticks of Corruption? Which I guess would indirectly give you shards.

    1. Ah yes. Very true actually. Apologies. So yes, MG does generate shards. Albeit, indirectly through Corruption and Nightfall procs.

      Just make sure you have Corruption on the target though! :P

    2. LOL!! Glad we could make it true right?

    3. Yes, sorry. That was unclear. Perhaps more accurately: I have definitely noticed an increased chance to regain shards via Nightfall when using MG. I believe it is only from Corr ticks, which happen more frequently when channeling MG.

      From my point of view, the difference in shard regeneration rate seems significantly improved with MG flowing. Not to make a pun... but almost like day and night(fall). That could just be coincidence (and due to the fact that a lot more time is spent doing filler than other things).

      Relating this back to the advice, I would say that things are balanced so finely that if we're doing a poor job with MG, we will feel shard starved. We need those extra opportunities if our goal is to improve Haunt up time.

  6. Going back to the original topic, I've been raiding a bit on my Affliction Warlock and whenever I look back over my WoL parses I'm mostly looking to see if I have my big three at an uptime as close to 100% as possible. MG and DS, I check these too but if you are on a fight that involves a lot of movement, these can be difficult to channel. The KJC talent helps a bit though.

    If you want to up your game even more, after you are maxing your channelling of MG and DS as much as possible, then you can start looking at when you are using Haunt and refreshing your DOTs. It's quite easy to open up on a boss and burn through all your shards straight away. But I find you do more DPS by saving them for when you have lots of procs. That way they will be in there most powerful form. Similarly, you should really be refreshing DOTs, to max your DPS, when you have lots of procs and you can refresh them with a stronger version. Remember you can refresh them at 50% and below their remaining time without clipping. Can't remember the name of it but there is an Affliction class ability that you automatically get at lvl 90 which helps with this. There is also a brilliant addon called Affdots which helps track when is best to refresh DOTs.

    If you want a handy guide, check this out:

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  8. Oh, and remember that a dead DPSer does no DPS. Warlocks have a bunch of survivability skills so remember to use them. Your healers will love you :)

  9. Great advice Nick and thanks for the link.

    Here's something I'm unclear about in the "new" world and maybe you can help...

    When they removed the DoT clipping problem (allowing us the under 50% refresh opportunity you mention), I was under the impression that they removed the problem with proc application as well. That is, I thought each tick now calculated based on proc/buffs/debuffs AT THE MOMEMNT OF THE TICK.

    Back in the day, it used to go like this: Any percentage-based multiplier (Like Haunt and CotE) were applied per tick. It didn't matter when you originally applied the DoT, as subsequent ticks would be modified properly.

    For multipliers that were stat-based (like trinkets that provided bonus haste), that part was calculated at the time of casting. Is that still the case?

    If I were providing a "learning path" for Aff'locks, I'd envision it something like this:

    1. Learn to handle the Big Three. Get those consistently above 90% and as close to 100% as you can.
    2. Learn to weave your filler spells. Haunt, MG, DS. I don't have benchmarks for what is typical for these as far as up time, and it will vary widely based on the fight... but this would be step two.
    3. Organize and understand your procs/buffs/debuffs. Learn when to refresh to maximize damage "profit."
    4. ??? Be a badass and do ALL THE THINGS? :-)

    1. It happens at the time of cast now. So what will happen is that when you apply a DOT it snapshots your current stats along with procs, dark soul, potions, bloodlust etc and the DOT will keep that strength for its entire duration. So, this is why I mentioned that it is worth looking out for when you have procs and when DOTs are below 50% as it may be good to reapply them as a stronger version. This is something that Affdots really helps with as it colour codes each of your DOTs to say if it is a good time to reapply as a stronger version etc. Definitely worth a look.

      The only thing that will update dynamically is your Doomguard. So you can fire this off whenever and it will update dynamically as you receive procs and bloodlust etc.

      Your "learning path" looks good :)

      One other thing worth mentioning if it is of interest is Aff'lock AOE. I just follow these rules:
      - If you have less than 4 targets, just do the single target rotation on each of them, ie your 3 DOTs on each of them
      - If you have more than 4 targets, soul burn a curse of elements so it goes on them all, soul burn again with a seed of corruption to put the corruption DOT on everything and then tab between everything seeding them up normally. This is the best way I have found to max our my AoE DPS. It will more than likely make you close to OOM though so be aware of this. Normally I can just soul tap a few times to counter the mana loss and a friendly healer will top me off between pulls but just be aware so you don't annoy the healers or find yourself on low health, running in to the next trash pack (yes I have done this... )
      - I don't really use Rain of Fire much unless I am fighting low level mobs where they die really quickly and there's no point in using DOTs.

    2. Yeah. I need to update my primer on the left up there. It's old. This is great info.

      I'm pretty confident that percentage multipliers still work based on each tick. They are more like debuffs applied to the target rather than buffs applied to you. Sounds like anything that affects stats is still the same, and in that case, I will definitely be checking out Affdots. Sounds almost required because how are you going to know otherwise? I don't know about you, but I couldn't keep track of when I popped something in relation to each DoT refresh. Ugh.

      My opinion would be that Blizz should find a way to simplify this. We have enough to juggle without trying to max when things are applied. I imagine this isn't as much of a problem for other, non-DoT intensive classes. Either that, or we could go back to the "rolling" days, where as long as you kept something up, it kept the original stats. That'd be at least more of a reward if you're able to achieve awesome up time.

      Thanks for the AoE rules of thumb, too. That seems pretty similar to past thumbs. I think we may have drawn the line at 3 before.

    3. The thing is, I dunno how important it is really, to make sure you are maxing out every DOT and and it's uptime, timing Haunts and CDs perfectly and keeping DS and MG channeling as much as possible. Like you say, there is so much going on now that it's almost impossible to keep track of everything without addons. But then, it doesn't really matter if you aren't maxing out everything. Unless you are going for world firsts etc. I think there is a happy medium for non-hardcore players.

      Previously I didn't even bother using Affdots and just refreshed my DOTs when they were below 50%. And I was quite happy. I was competitive with the rest of my guild raid's DPS. It's only really my desire to perform better in the game that drove me to investigate how else I can squeeze DPS out of my character. But it may only be about 3-4k more DPS in actuality.

      I guess what I am trying to say is that don't worry about going mental tracking everything and kicking yourself when you Agony falls off and you lose all of its stacks. Just remember to play the game how you want and never lose sight that it is a game and you play it to have fun. I'm a casual player. I probably only play the game for a few hours a week now. And I ask myself this every time when I am logging in and whenever it stops being fun, I log out again. Simples. :)

    4. Right on. That mirrors my own view. It's something to consider at least. My goal is always to just try to find the handful of "most effective" things to focus on, and then forget about the rest. :-)

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