All Things Soulburn

Edit: The reason I didn’t know there was a SB: UA is because there isn’t one and the Wowhead comments aren’t updated. GG.

Recently, the guild chat conversation turned to beginning a warlock.  One of my guildmates started a new warlock, and had said earlier in raid that she could never get one above 20, to which I jokingly said I’d teach her.

So now we spent the next 20 minutes or so talking warlock stuff in guild chat.

She’s only 12 or so right now, but we got into what exactly soul shards and soulburn are and do.  She had a warlock back in Wrath, but it’s different now in Cataclysm, especially the whole soulburn mechanic.  As she put it, you have to relearn it all over again.

So I hit “Save Draft” on my glyphs post, and put it aside as I pulled up a fresh blank post.  Let’s talk about soul shards and soulburn.  Hold onto your cowls!

Shard History

I’m told that soul shards were basically the same until the changes in Wrath.  Soul Shards were actual items that took up bag space. They did not stack at all, so I was a tad sympathetic to jewelcrafters who rejoiced when gems became stackable.

In Patch 1.9 (Gates of AQ), shard bags became available.  Shard bags worked like any other profession-specific bag: only soul shards could be kept in them.  Otherwise your shards went into any old bag slot.  Addons crept up (I even used one!) that would maintain a certain number of shards (presumably, the size of your shard bag) in a certain bag and would delete any extra shards for you.  This allowed affliction locks to continue using their execute phase spell, Drain Soul, without having to micromanage shards on top of it.

In Wrath, some things like summoning and soulwells still cost shards, and you had to farm for them when doing things — like summoning — that used up mass amounts of shards.  Eight levels below is the lowest you can go before you grey out of experience or honor.  I remember in Naxx 2.0 hopping down to the ground where level 72 mobs were to drain some souls so I could resummon the lazy raid members who couldn’t take the first summons I handed out.  (Now my guildy readers will know why Pon is a Grumpy about summoning people after break.)  The hilarious part was when my guildmates didn’t understand that I had to be channeling a spell while the mob died in order to get a shard, so they ran around just flat-out killing things, with the whole-hearted intention of helping me out, but before I could get the channel going.

Soon after, in Patch 3.0.3 (Wrath), the Glyph of Souls (minor glyph) was changed to reduce the mana cost instead of the shard requirement of Ritual of Souls (soulwell / cookie jar).  Thus started the movement away from requiring shards for spells.

In Patch 3.1 (Ulduar), there was a maximum applied to shards in your bags: 32.  That was the size of the largest shard bag size, the Abyssal Bag, made by tailors.  You betcha I made one.

Drain Soul also got an addition that you got a chance to generate a shard on the tick rather than at the end of the cast.  This is important because we no longer had to go farm for shards in the middle of raid.  You could start casting Drain Soul mid-combat on anything (this is why trash was important to me) and get some shards off the ticks.  It wasn’t the best DPS plan, since Drain Soul then did more damage in the sub-25% health than above that mark, but we had a quality-of-life change for the better regarding shard generation.  (You could also drain off target dummies in this manner.)

Demonology got the shard cost removed from Soul Fire upon proccing their new talent Decimation.  (Demonology got a talent tree revamp in 3.1.)  Yeah, Soul Fire used to cost a shard! Now you know why I’ve never liked the stupid spell!

Everything changed in Patch 4.0 (Cataclysm).  We went from common spells requiring soul shards to operate to the system with Soulburn, which adds an effect if you use a soul shard, and you can’t use this ability all the time.  We went from a bag of shards to counting your maximum shards on one hand, literally overnight.

The shard bags that existed got turned into regular bags, including my beloved Abyssal Bag, the magnificent 32-slotter shard bag that I crafted for myself.  It also dropped 10 slots because that was the largest regular bag size (Glacial Bags) at the time of Cataclysm’s launch.

Soul Shards in Cataclysm

In Cataclysm, you can only have 3 Soul Shards at any one time. They are also now part of your health and mana bars on your character unit frames.  It’s a secondary resource for us alongside mana.  Paladins have Holy Power, Death Knights have Runes, Shaman sometimes have totems in custom unit frames, and so Warlocks have Soul Shards.

They actually look like the old shards did if you use the default UI, or they can be just three purple blocks if you use a custom unit frame.  You can also use addons like Power Auras to tell you when you’ve lost or retained a shard, like I do.  I have a set of Power Auras that light up with how many shards I’ve used.

Assuming you haven’t used nay shards yet upon logging in, you will start with three soul shards.  You can spend a shard by casting Soulburn.  You’ll get a purple swirly circling your feet for 15s, which is is how long you have to spend the shard before it’s lost without any benefit to you.

To get a benefit, you use a spell directly after Soulburn.  Some spells are affected by Soulburn, and some aren’t.  The most common by far is the instant pet summon effect.  I also use Soulburn regularly when I pop a Healthstone, which gives me a personal raid wall effect.  Soul Fire is also instant-cast if you burn a shard for it.

Shard Regeneration

There’s three ways to get a shard back.

There’s the obvious, which you get at level 12*, Soul Harvest. This is an out-of-combat channeled spell.  Harvest returns health (45% over the whole channel) and a shard every tick.  It’s almost universal practice for locks preparing for a fight to soulburn summon a demon (spending a shard), Life Tap down until they have full mana and then Harvest to both heal the Tap damage and generate new shards.

* I find it a bit odd that they don’t give it out at 10 with Soulburn itself.  It might be because they don’t want to overload the new player with spells (Level 10 is talent tree time), but considering Harvest is the complement to ‘Burn, wouldn’t it make more sense to introduce them together?  They could make it into another tutorial-like quest (e.g. Immolate) with info popups like when you learn a new spell.

The second way is through execution phase (sub 20-25% boss health) filler spells.  For affliction, there’s Drain Soul, which returns all your shards if the experience-/honor-giving target dies while you’re draining.  Demonology’s execution “phase” happens whenever they are in Meta form, but they can use Drain Soul if they need shards.  Destruction uses a destro-only talent, Shadowburn, which puts a debuff up on the mob, during which time the mob has to die in order to refund all 3 shards.

Soulburn’s Problem

The problem with Soulburn is that it can’t decide whether it wants to be pure utility (used every once in a while) or a Thing That Warlocks Do (used regularly with oomph).  Blizzard so far has not been able to find a balance between an overpowered shard use and piddly shard use.

Right now, I hardly use Soulburn outside of summoning my pet.  I use it for healthstone, sure, but we usually end up wiping anyway when I do that.

It doesn’t help that soul shards are obviously affliction flavored.  Drain Soul?  Affliction.  Pure shadow damage tree?  Affliction.  Corrupting people’s souls?  Affliction.  And yet, none of the current Soulburn effects do much for affliction.  I keep forgetting you can apply Soulburn to UA, but it’s not even really worth the shard and cooldown to do so.

One of the problems with PvE Soulburn, as we saw with the degradation to Soul Swap, is PvP.  In PvE, the original Soul Swap glyph was awesome to use.  It allowed affliction to catch up a bit on fast add swaps, to help with our slow ramp-up time on damage, and allowed us to multidot like never before.  It was glorious.

It was also overpowered as hell in PvP, which is the land of everlasting target swaps.  So they upped the glyph’s cooldown time until it became, in my opinion, rather stupid to use in PvE.  I ended up multidoting the old way — casting everything manually — more often than not, so I dropped the glyph from my setup.

Soulburn is the same way.  The actual damage abilities you can apply Soulburn to are mostly limited to one tree in terms of effectiveness, and even there, not amazingly desirable to use or are too situational to see much hard action.

Destruction loves instant Soul Fire, because they deal fire damage for the most part.  Their mastery buffs fire damage.  Their passive buffs fire damage.  Demonology also buffs fire damage with a passive, but not as much as destruction does.  Affliction’s passive buffs shadow damage, and our mastery — which we don’t like to begin with — buffs only periodic shadow damage.

Destro and Demo can’t even get to UA to use that Soulburn effect.  Not that affliction warlocks themselves use it anyway.  Demo & Destro also can’t get to the Seed effect, as that’s deep in the Aff talent tree.

Nobody uses Searing Pain anymore.  Except to play threat hockey with your pet on a daily’s elite mob or for the 4-8 seconds when somebody locks you out of all your shadow spells in PvP.

In PvP, though, using the Demonic Circle: Teleport (movement speed boost) is a boost to play, but I’ve yet to use that regularly as a casual BG-er.

So.  What’s the point of using Soulburn if it’s not useful?  The spell needs to give us some special oomph in some area of play in order for it to be a Thing That Warlocks Do.

Shard-Refunding Abilities

I said there was a third way of regenerating shards, didn’t I?

The third way to get a shard back is to use an ability that refunds it.  An example is affliction’s deep-tier Seed of Corruption talent, which allows Soulburn to affect Seed.

Normally, when you cast Seed onto a mob, it puts a DoT that does a wee bit of damage.  The DoT’s not the point; Seed is an AoE spell.  Once the Seed target either dies or takes enough damage — any damage, not necessarily from the Seed or the casting warlock — it explodes and hits all targets in 15yd radius.

Soulburn: Seed of Corruption applies Corruption to every target the Seed explosion hits.  Which is fun as fel to do!  Numbers, numbers, numbers, critting everywhere!

The other bonus to SB: Seed is that if that Seed explodes, then you get the shard back.  That is, if you recast a new Seed over top of the soulburned Seed, grats, you don’t get the shard back, and you don’t get the Corruption-applying explosion, either.  Occasionally on trash I have to wait a beat for all the raid’s damage to kick in to explode the Seed before I can continue spamming my Seed button.

By far, the most attractive incentive Blizzard can give us is the ability to get the shard back after soulburning an ability correctly.

Of course, to keep the ability from being too overpowered, there needs to be a balance between the trigger to refund the shard and the effectiveness of the soulburned effect, but it’s a powerful strategy to get us to use the soul shards more.  There also needs to be a balance with the cooldown on Soulburn.  If Blizzard wants us to use it more, we need to be able to use it frequently.  But using it too freely results in being overpowered.

It’s clear, too, that they want us to use Soulburn more often.  It’s the cool gimmick that came with Cataclysm’s major revamp of class mechanics, and it would be a shame if the ability died from not being used often.  The tier 13 4-piece set bonus for warlock involves Soulburn to give us a spell power boost for 10s after using Soulburn and SB: Soul Fire will refund the shard.

Originally, the tier bonus was just this buff with using Soulburn, no refund.  Demo warlocks rejoiced, as they use Soulburn in the pet-switching they do regularly.  Destro warlocks thought it was cool too, as now they have more incentive to use an instant Soul Fire, which refreshes a vital self-buff for Destro’s rotations.

Affliction warlocks sat there with :| faces thinking, “Oh, yeah, awesome, let me use a spell I almost never use for a buff I have to have to be competitive.  I’m soooo glad I killed the instance multiple times over to win enough pieces just to get this set bonus.  /golfclap.”

After much uproar in the PTR forums, Blizzard put in the refunding shard aspect.  Suddenly, warlocks calmed down, because, hey, maybe it’s not so bad if we have a net loss of zero in the shard department.  It’s not even a loss of GCDs, since Soulburn does not trigger the GCD cooldown, so you can macro it to Soul Fire and roll out.  Even the affliction warlocks, who still grumbled because Soul Fire, really, FIRE, are you kidding me, decided they’ll use it, because the buff is a DPS increase, and technically, you’re supposed to weave in 3 instant-cast Soul Fires anyway for Word of the Sims, Holy Best DPS.

Blizzard really wants Soulburn to be a Thing That Warlocks Do.

Soul Shards in Mists of Pandaria

Soul Shards are staying in Mists, if the talent calculator Blizzard released is any indication.

Remember how I said soul shards are an affliction-flavored thing? No accident, they will become affliction-only in Mists.  Demonology and Destruction are getting revamped and will use almost combo-point systems to boost their powers.   Affliction, on the other hand, looks largely the same.

We will still have shards.  We will still have Soulburn.  But…the mechanics have changed just a little.

In Mists, Soulburn’s cooldown has been lowered to 15 seconds.  However, to balance out the ability use, you can only apply the Soulburn effect to a specific spell every 60 seconds.

So I can soulburn Seed of Corruption, and then I can only spam regular Seed for the next 60 seconds.  However, 15s seconds after I cast the burned Seed, I can use Soulburn again, maybe this time on my healthstone.  Blizzard is allowing us to use Soulburn specifically, more often, but limits our use of which spells we can apply it to in a short time period.

There are also new ‘burn effects to spells.

Summon X Pet is staying, which is great, because I hate it when my pet bugs out or dies in some encounter, and I’d hate to waste 10 seconds resummoning it.  Drain Life‘s faster cast is retained.  Soul Fire is still instant-cast with a shard.  Demonic Circle: Teleport still lets you move faster, but also grants immunity to snares & roots for a few seconds.

Health Funnel is getting a Soulburn effect: it restores 36% health and reduces damage taken for 10 seconds.  The wording is vague and does not specify whether you the player get the effect or your pet does, but considering HF is a you-to-your-pet experience, I’d assume it’s for the pet.

Fear is getting a Soulburn effect, which instantly horrifies your target for 4 seconds.  I don’t know whether this is supposed to be a half copy of Death Coil (which is being renamed to Mortal Coil as a talent), or if it’s a Death Coil horror effect on top of your normal Fear.

The fear-horror distinction is important as Horror effects (Psychic Horror & Death Coil) do not share diminishing returns with Fear effects (Fear, Howl of Terror, Psychic Scream etc.).  This is why a warlock will often Death Coil someone and then follow up with a Fear, as we know the Fear will get its full time since it’s technically a different effect.

I also don’t know if I would use an instant Fear effect in PvE if it would only last for a short period of time.  I might use it as an emergency interrupt, but as a crowd control ability, I’d much rather use the longer and hopefully-still-glyphed normal Fear.

Soulburn: Curse is a redux of the current talent Jinx.  It’s a shorter radius (10 yds, instead of 20/40 yds), but it applies to any curse in the affliction tree: Enfeeblement (Tongues & Weakness combined), Exhaustion, or Elements.  Currently, we use Jinx to spread the Elements effect — magic damage taken increased — but now we can have a mass slow (Exhaustion) or a mass damage done debuff (Enfeeblement).  I’m especially looking forward to using the mass slow in PvP and PvE alike.

The Future of Soulburn

All of these Mists additions are utility-based Soulburn effects.  None of them do higher damage than normal.  But each gives a bit of flavor and and interesting use.

If we get enough Soulburn effects, we might even use Soulburn on cooldown to do interesting things with our affliction rotation.  Let’s face it, putting up your DoTs and than channeling a spell is boring as fel, especially on the celebrated Patchwerk-style fights.  It’s all spam all the time.  I enjoyed my brief fling with Improved Soul Fire’s haste buff as affliction (before they fixed it deeper into the Destro tree), as it gave me something else to do during the fight.

Tying a damage boost through Soulburn into the PvE tier pieces may also work.  In PvE, especially raiding, we care more about damage than utility, and especially with Mists talents, the talents will take care of our utility well enough.  In PvP, however, affliction warlocks are great distracters with our Fears, so the PvPers will prefer more utility things like crowd control, small bursts of damage, and movement boosts.

Tying a damage boost through PvE gear in a large set bonus will let the PvErs have what they want without too much adverse effect on PvP.  If it were a 2pc set bonus, that would be too easy to stack other PvP gear and get a solid damage boost out of the select PvE gear.  However, tying a Soulburn damage boost in the 4pc set bonus requires, duh, four pieces of PvE gear, not to mention guaranteeing at least half of your major stat budget items (head, chest, legs, weapon) are the zero-resilience PvE pieces.  You also can’t benefit from a PvP set bonus at all, since you’d only have one tier slot left after four pieces, and the PvP tier bonuses (for warlocks) include a major resilience boost (valuable for irritating clothies!) and a profession bonus’s worth of Intellect boost.

I want Soulburn to become a Thing That (Affliction) Warlocks Do, but it has to be done right.  I don’t want the ability to twinkle out of use and existence because a balance can’t be found for it, whether it’s a PvE / PvP war or the PvE damage specs war that kills it.  But for now, I’ll have to wait to see how Blizzard plays it out.

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13 responses

  1. EnvoyOfTheEnd

    I have to agree that so far shards have never been anything that really made a warlock, and while being less tedious than they have been in the past they are still falling short of that promise, even with the upcoming changes in mists.

    With cataclysm came the prospect of burning a shard for an optional effect, but rarely being used as more than an instant-summon of a pet has made them rather underwhelming.

    I personally thought that the Mists idea of a shorter cooldown with just a longer cooldown on individual uses was a sound idea and something which could have brought back the promise of blowing a shard meaning something.

    However it then hits a major stumbling block, the affliction restriction.

    The core idea of soul burn, the variety and optional choices it was meant to offer is not only neutered in quantity but is denied to demonology and destruction, specs which just as much as affliction could have benefitted from those options.

    An idea with potential gone down the drain.

    10 Jan 2012 at 20:09

    • Why would restricting it to affliction damage the idea? Demonology and destruction are getting their own secondary resources, so why can’t affliction have this one? Now affliction can have soulburn ideas to balance solely by itself rather than trying to make a boost that is balanced around two different schools of magic and two different playstyles. I would think restricting soul shards to affliction would concentrate the potential of Soulburn, not destroy it.

      10 Jan 2012 at 23:01

      • EnvoyOfTheEnd

        Soulburn was meant to be about optional utility, blowing a shard for a different or enhanced effect.
        A concept which especially with the often non-spec specific functionality tied to it did not ever lend itself that well to a single spec.
        The boosted healthstone and the sprint on teleport were more a victim of the mechanism itself rather than being spec specific, because there were simply better options to spend a shard on, mostly reserving for a pet-summon.
        It was only the outdated reliance on drain soul which as a throwback and out of place mechanism which gave it any sense of belonging to affliction, not least with the reintroduction on the outdated reliance on the death of a target during the channel of drain soul.
        Shards being awarded on ticks of drain soul was one of the biggest improvements I felt that the shards as a resource mechansm should have kept.
        There was never anything to balance, but simply needed to have more than 1 or 2 “effects” being viable to use.
        Now the potentially useful effects, which could have had great potential equally in any spec are are now tied only to a single one, and I feel further pushing affliction to be THE pvp spec, when the others should have been made more viable for it, not less.

        12 Jan 2012 at 03:53

        • EnvoyOfTheEnd

          The difficulty in using the sprint, or boosted healthstone as a viable choice was only due to its reliance on outdated affliction mechanics.
          The mechanism by which shards were obtained was the flaw, and that is what needed resolved.
          Something they have done in MoP with long-requested out of combat regeneration of shards, and going backwards one step with awarding shards on ticks of drain soul again.
          Drain life was meant to be an alternative to shadowbolt as a filler, a survivibility choice, so no reason why drain soul could not have had such a purpose as a utility filler when you needed a shard back.

          12 Jan 2012 at 04:04

        • I don’t see Drain Soul as outdated. I see it as part of being affliction, so much that when I flip to a different spec without a static execution filler, the world feels wrong to me.

          And I don’t see how putting shards on the ticks of Drain Soul is stepping backwards. With the limit on the shards we can use per combat, adding it to the ticks is an improvement. Sure, you have to sacrifice some DPS to get a shard back by casting a > 25% Drain Soul, but you get a shard back to do more things. If they could put in some more interesting abilities, Drain Soul’s tick mechanic would be an amazing dynamic to add to the already boring affliction rotation.

          Also, you said in your upper comment that adding shards on the ticks was the biggest improvement, but then your lower comment states that putting shards on ticks was going backwards. Which argument are you positing?

          13 Jan 2012 at 15:32

          • EnvoyOfTheEnd

            By Stepping Backwards I meant in the sequence of events.
            Blizzard give us shards on ticks of drain soul, remove it, and then give it back again.

            Not the best description I will admit. Try this one.

            The major issue I saw was difficulty in obtaining shards at a sufficient rate to realistically allow blowing a non-refunded shard for anything but an instant pet summon.
            By reverting to a prior mechanism whereby shards were awarded on ticks of drain soul, I felt that the survivibility vs dps filler choice could have then had an additional choice, of utility.
            Where during your opportunity to use a filler you would choose dps (shadow bolt/incinerate), survivibility (drain life), or utility, as in a shard generation (drain soul).
            Drain soul as an alternative spammable filler would have been as valid as drain life as one is now in any spec for the above reason, and therefore would equally fit any spec, affliction or not.

            16 Jan 2012 at 06:20

            • I freely use Drain Life as a filler when I believe my health is in danger, or even when I know a big wave of raid damage is about to hit. Screw the sims, I’ll do more damage continuing to be alive with an eeny spell than for the split second I’ll die with my regular powerful priorities.

              So, maybe, that’s why it’s not hard for me to flip to Drain Soul mid-fight for one second if I want another soul shard. It doesn’t have to be the Named Filler to still be important to the spec.

              16 Jan 2012 at 14:57

              • EnvoyOfTheEnd

                Which is my point, in that you can switch filler from dps to survivibility without issue, so why not from dps to utility.
                It is not so different switching from shadow bolt to drain life as it is from shadow bolt to drain soul, which we already do during the execute phase, so why not earlier as when circumstances demand it and mirroring the use of drain life.
                There have been a portion of the warlock community who enjoyed the extra complexity of more DoTs, so this would be an ideal compromise in that respect.
                Real choices, but not extra complexity that would penalise the lesser skilled, only reducing their options.

                24 Jan 2012 at 13:21

  2. Hmm, reading your article, I just realized that I am playing my demo lock, as if he was still primarily Destro. I use the soulburn mechanic 90% of the time to get the instant cast Soul Fire. You helped me realize that I am no longer getting the ISF dot, but I guess it is a nice dps bonus, if only a small one. Otherwise, demo does get a free new pet if lost during combat, it’s just nice to be able to swap between puppy and big guy depending on the fight.

    10 Jan 2012 at 20:40

  3. I miss the simplicity and general different feeling that holding/farming shards presented: the good along with the bad of it. Too much instilled purpose these days.
    A great walk through the history of this game mechanic.

    11 Jan 2012 at 21:51

  4. I remember way back when mobs greyed out at 12 levels. That meant that before MC raids my warlock would hang out killing the spiders in Searing Gorge. If not for the bag space problem, I think I liked the old shard mechanic. Though raid leaders always got mad that the last 30 seconds of every boss resulted in a bunch of purple streams and no DPS.

    12 Jan 2012 at 11:22

    • Jem

      I remember the trail of dead spiders in Searing Gorge :) I used to go up to Azshara and herb and shard farm at the same time after a raid. And all the helpful ppl would kill everything before I started channeling :)

      My issues with the original system of shards revolved around the bag space and issues of trying to give a 40man raid healthstones (unique, can’t stack them in your bag like mage food) and the fact that about 30% of summons wouldn’t go through but cost you a shard anyway. Having to summon 30 ppl to a raid zone, nothaving enough shards to summon half the raid that got split by trash respawn etc. It was frustrating.

      I find soulburn lacking in Cata, SoC is the only fun thing to do with it really for me. It’s clunky and limited. The T13 original bonuses were meh at best for afflcition, and with the revamp it still isn’t overwhelming in design intent in my mind. Affliction has to cast a fire spell, that’s like expecting arcane mages to cast fireball to proc their tier bonus. I don’t think that happens.

      It will be nice if MoP makes soulburn a more active part of the playstyle for affliction, but I’m disappointed thye are moving the other two specs to totally different resource mechanics. I think they are overcomplicating things in a class that is already said to be too complex for ppl to learn and that is the reason for low class numbers.

      13 Jan 2012 at 18:58

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