6 Ways to Increase Your Warlock’s DPS

I’ve had it with the Caraway Blood Pact posts.  I really have.  Twitter knows it and now my guild knows it as I logged on in a fury over the first way listed to increase my warlock’s DPS.

WoW Insider is regarded as a news source and a general starting point for players playing new classes.  The articles are shorter than your average blogger’s novel, and it looks meant to convey concepts either briefly or in terms that players unfamiliar with whatever the column’s topic is can understand and implement.

While his math and theorycrafting assumptions are generally correct, I feel he presents those concepts in a disastrous way.  Caraway applies the advanced maths to newer players who are not into as advanced activities as heroic raiding.  It leads to newer warlocks trying to pick up Demo because the highly visible WoW Insider guy says you should and then being turned off from playing a warlock by the steeper learning curve that is Demo finesse.

I’m sure Caraway is a fantastic moonkin, but from his warlock column writing, I wouldn’t know that he even plays his warlock that often, if at all.

I know WoW Insider column articles won’t ever be as long as this post is, but I feel like this Blood Pact post needs a little help. 

How To Make Pon Go Cold to Livid in Two Seconds

Want to play affliction or destruction? Too bad — if demonology is the reigning champion of damage, then that is the spec you will be expected to play. It’s a sad situation and one I really wish we could gravitate away from, but such as it is.

6 ways to increase your warlock’s DPS, Caraway
23 Jan 2012
WoW Insider

That is a whopper of generalized bullshit right there.

I’m a solid DPSer in my guild, which is 7/8 N in 25man on a 2-day schedule.  We’re pushing Madness this week.  Tell me I’m a bad player for not playing the top simmed spec.  I’m sorry, I can’t quite hear you over the sound of how awesome I am as an affliction player.

This does not mean that Caraway is wrong about the highest simming spec.  Demonology is technically the reigning champion on the sims, but let me show you the heroic raid gear sims.

Click on the picture for the source SimC Warlocks thread in EJ.

In the best possible heroic gear from Dragon Soul, Demo beats Destro by 1506 DPS and it beats Aff by 1631 DPS.  The gap is bigger if you look at the Tier 12 Heroic gear 4.3 sims.  What does this mean?  It means as you get better gear in Dragon Soul, the specs actually become closer in performance to almost being equal.

How much of a difference is it?  In non-mathy speak, 1-2k is lag’s difference.  It’s “I sneezed and had to wipe snot off my computer screen for 5 seconds.”  It’s “I forgot my flask” difference.  And that’s just the gear performance.  Add in player skill and a spectacular affliction player will beat an average demonology player.

So how do you become a better warlock player?  Let’s start with Caraway’s list and expand it beyond a generic How To DPS guide into something a little more specifically Warlock.

1. Know Your Spec.

Want to play affliction or destruction?  Go ahead and play it.  That’s the real advice.

I don’t go to the WoW general forums.  About the only time I go to the official WoW warlock forums is to find Dusk’s old How to BG.  I go to warlock blogs and I use my own smarts to figure things out.  I have a list of warlock resources I use and follow, and I’ve started to write up an affliction cheatsheet sort of guide on my own blog.

I particularly cross-class and am now cross-speccing to get the perspective lessons.  I’ve learned things from playing my bear tank that have made me a better warlock.  I have healers and melee DPS and other casters to learn from.  You can always be learning new things.  It doesn’t have to be hours of research, every day, every week.  You just have to pay attention and be open.

2. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Perfect practice makes for zombies who don’t know when something goes wrong or how to fix it.  But that’s just that particular version of the saying.  Caraway’s right about going to the training dummy to get your rotation out of your head and into your muscle memory.

How to practice as a warlock?  Don’t jump into the whole rotation at once.  Start small and build up.  As a warlock, when I hit up the dummy, I work my “reps” in terms of a Curse timer.  CoW/Weakness (2 minutes) for short reps and CoE/Elements (5 minutes) for long reps.

Remember to put your Dark Intent on your pet if there’s no practicing caster nearby who wants it.  I don’t like to mess with other people’s buffs without asking in case they are testing something specific.

Let’s do the affliction single-target rotation for example (have your felhunter out):

Set up Weakness.  Start with Haunt and hit Shadow Bolt as filler.  Keep Haunt up on the dummy as much as possible.  Start with casting Haunt as soon as it comes off CD, then work to find the spot where you can refresh Haunt at the last moment.

Set up Weakness.  Start with Haunt.  Add in a Bane, Corruption, and UA, then fill with Shadow Bolt. Bane of Doom if you are practicing boss DPS; Bane of Agony if you want to practice target switching.  These are your core DoTs that you want to keep as close to 100% uptime as you can.  Continue keeping Haunt up.  You’ll start to notice a casting pattern of SB –> Haunt –> SBs –> Haunt + UA –> SBs; that’s because Haunt refreshes Corruption and Banes are rather long-lasting.  Weave in a Life Tap if you go oom.

Set up Elements.  Start with Haunt, then hit Demon Soul, then put up Bane, Corruption, UA.  Fill with Shadow Bolt.  If you have an on-use trinket, use it with Demon Soul.  You’ll need to refresh Elements to do the exercise longer than 5 minutes.  Make sure to refresh your DoTs during the Demon Soul buff effect, and refresh them properly (just before the last tick / just before they expire) to keep the effect going.

P.S. At this point, Weakness + Weakness + Elements = 9 minutes of practice.  Let’s call it 10 minutes to account for adjusting during reps.  Practice doesn’t mean forever!

You can use Drain Soul instead of Shadow Bolt filler to practice execute phase; just make sure to keep up 3 stacks of Shadow Embrace through Haunt and Shadow Bolt (Nightfall) casts.  Interrupt your Drain Soul after ticks.

When’s the last tick?  The last tick depends on your haste. Here’s the approximate time in between ticks for particular haste points (25m raid buffed) for our main DoTs:

    • UA / Drain Soul: 2.7s (218 rating), 2.3s (2589), 2s (4951)
    • Corruption: 2.7s (21rating ), 2.4s (1993), 2.1s (3970)
    • Bane of Agony: 1.9 (0 rating) 1.7s (518), 1.6 (1499), 1.5 (2488), 1.4 (3476)
    • Bane of Doom is not affected in its tick timing by haste.

At this point, you can start paying attention to your procs.  Spellpower & Intellect procs affect all your spells.  Haste procs affect your casting speed (& casting rhythm) and certain DoTs (UA, Corr, Agony).  Crit and Mastery procs are not as important to affliction warlocks to worry about.  Use your Nightfall procs!

When it comes to Life Taps, there’s a few ways of doing it.  You can Tap only once you go oom, or you can Tap as soon as you have used 20% mana, or you can do a combination of both.  I try to keep my mana bar around 30%, because that’s about enough mana to do damage during a heavy healing phase and only need to Tap after the phase is over.  If it’s above 50% I don’t bother Tapping most times.

Now, when you feel solid in keeping the those basics up, you can add in movement (Fel Flame!), your Doomguard, Shadowflame in melee range, Soulburn+Soul Fire if you have the 4pc t13 set bonus, etc.  You can Soul Swap to another dummy for multi-target practice.

Rotation finger memory isn’t the only practice you need.  Once you’ve raided for a while, adapting to boss mechanics just becomes easier and easier, and why the bosses have been more and more complex since the early raids.  To learn those things that can’t be listed off on a class guide, you have to go and do them in an environment with at least some semblance of AI to fight against.

PvP is a great place to practice, even if your spec’s PvP rotation is different.  Old content is also great practice is you solo it or otherwise group up with as few people as possible.  Forcing yourself to adapt to the situations in front of you without a DPS or healing buffer will help you in the end.

3. Look in the mirror once in a while.

Caraway listed “reforge for optimal performance” as his #3.  It can be expanded beyond just reforging.  Remember to pull your head out of the loot chests every once in a while and look at yourself.  You can check your afflocks against my cheatsheet.  Enchants, gems, glyphs & talents, consumables, raid buffs are all important and easy to fix.

On Stat Weights

Some people swear by addons or sites like Ask Mr. Robot.  I don’t like computer optimizers as much because they depend on a stat weight set up, and most people use the generic warlock setup provided, which isn’t as great as using one tailored to you through a simulation.

It’s also depending on others doing the research for you, rather knowing what stat breakpoints you need in your gear and reforging accordingly.

And Rawr?  Warlocks use Simulation Craft more than Rawr.  Sheesh.

4. Gear Your UI Toward Awareness

DoT Timers: Warlocks are known for their DoTs, and even non-Afflocks care about DoTs.  There are a variety of DoT timers out there and in any format you want.  Icons, timer bars, just notifications, whatever you want.  Feel free to mix & match.  ForteXorcist started as a warlock mod and is now used widely as an any-class DoT & CD timer.  There’s the old-time DoTimer, which I used in Wrath.  Some people have their DoTs put on top of nameplates through Tidy Plates.

I use a combination of a buff mod that shows debuffs I placed on my target, Power Auras for important item and spell cooldowns.  When I tried Destro recently, I used IceHUD to track the Improved Soul Fire buff in conjunction with my Power Auras.

Cast Bars: Cast bar mods often show a latency bar at the end of your cast so you can chain casts together as much as possible.  It adapts to your latency fairly well unless you are having wild spikes.  Cast bars are also important for channeling spells, like Drain Soul, to see where your ticks are to interrupt to keep your debuffs up.  Quartz was a solid cast bar for a long time, but I use Gnosis now.

Boss Mods: It’s not as important what brand of boss mod you swear by.  It’s more important that you know what boss events are coming up.  Put the timers where expiring timers are easy to see.  Put the notifications in your face if you have to, not off to the side or in tiny text.

Open up your boss mod and tinker with the options.  If you don’t care about what swing Baleroc is about to do, you can turn that timer off.  If you care about when the crystal spawns, then make sure that timer is checked.

Pay attention to your boss mod.  You should be able to play without your raid lead reading off his boss mod to you, because, in guild raids, it’s likely the same mod you’re using.

Threat Meters: These are starting to lose priority with the threat changes to tanks, but some fights pick targets based on 2nd place threat (as usually 1st & 2nd place are the tanks), so you should still pick one up (like Omen, but Skada also has one built in).  Threat meters are also useful for seeing who is just below you on threat, so you don’t Shatter all over a healer if you pull early aggro.

Damage Meters: Ahhhh, the epeen meter.  Let me sum up the damage meter to you:

Anyone who cares about who has the Biggest Baddest DPS In Town,

  1. Already has a meter mod,
  2. Has it open and is staring at it, and
  3. Doesn’t need you to broadcast it to party/raid for redundancy.

That said, meter mods and logs can be useful when trying to fix your DPS.  Target choice, DoT & de/buff uptimes, and number of which casts are more important than what your specific DPS or Damage Done number was.  Recount has fancy graphs and pie charts, but I prefer Skada’s modular approach.  Meter mods versus logs are more useful when determining in between pulls the splitting of DPS for execution of specific boss mechanics.

Use the DPS number as a ballpark indicator, not an exacting judgment on your skill.

5. Learn the Encounters…in Terms of Rotation

Caraway spent three paragraphs saying “read up on the fight,” and that learning about an encounter before you pull it helps.  But what helps you?  What should you be looking for and aware of during a fight?  Things I watch for in boss videos:

The Bloodlust pointThe Bloodlust (Heroism/Time Warp) point is where everyone likes to pop Bloodlust and, usually accompanying with this all their major long CDs and potions.

By default, the Bloodlust is around the soft enrage, usually about 35-20% boss health.  Sometimes it’s at the beginning of the fight, and sometimes it coincides with a certain phase. It differs by boss fight, and even by raid strat.

Bloodlust for a raid represents the best possible 40s (its duration) of pure DPS burn time.   In rare cases it can be a boost primarily to AoE healing, but it’s often done for the benefit of the DPS.  The Bloodlust point is the point where you can be ready to do almost next to nothing, if not already nothing, but DPS.  It’s important to look for the Bloodlust point so you have a reference point to time your CDs to be up for that.

When it comes to short-term cooldowns, like Demon Soul and trinkets, you want to use these on cooldown starting on the pull.  You may have to adjust your activation times during the fight by 1-10 seconds depending on phase transitions and procs, but the general idea is to keep these on cooldown as much as possible.

Position & Movement patterns: Are there specific stack-up moments?  Are there specific spread-out moments?  If there are adds, where do they come from?  Where does your raid want the adds to be tanked/killed?  Where is the best place to put yourself for this situation?  Are there any positional dances you need to perform?

Mobs & Kill Orders: Is it an add management fight?  Can you multidot effectively or is there a determined kill order?

Damage patterns: Are there moments of heavy raid damage?  What is the avoidable damage and what is the unavoidable damage?  Are there “safe” locations where healing circles will likely be? Get your bum in a healing circle if you see one and can get in it reasonably, even if it’s shifting two steps into the edge of the circle.

6. Don’t Be Stupid

Caraway said “Relearn your ABCs” referring mainly to the Always Be Casting rule.  But there are more of generic (& warlock-specific) DPS rules that sound way too simple, but people often screw them up.

It’s not Always Be DPSing (ABD).  It’s okay to not DPS sometimes in order to time phase transitions in the raid’s favor.  It’s okay to let a mob get to where you want it to die instead of killing it in the wrong place.  It’s okay to spend the 3-second transition roleplay event to bandage yourself.

A dead DPS does zero DPS.

Don’t kill yourself with Life Tap, aka, be aware of your health bar. (Warlock corollary to Dead DPS)

Eat your cookies.  Use your bandages.  Stand in healing circles.

Don’t stand in the fire.

Control your pet.  Include a /petattack macro in your main cast DoT (UA for Aff, Immol for Demo/Destro) if needed.  If asked to pull off DPS, put your pet on Passive.

Click the lightwell.

Especially if you want to Life Tap, click the lightwell.  (My corollary to Click the Lightwell.)

Gear is what you should be able to do.  Skill is what you are capable of doing.


And…that’s it for now.

6 Ways to Increase Your Warlock’s DPS

6 thoughts on “6 Ways to Increase Your Warlock’s DPS

  1. I am still leveling my Lock,my first one, I am at level 75 now, playing Destro at the moment, cant really get into Afflic or demo,I have tried but so far it does not feel so “normal” like Destro so for now I will stick with Destro.
    I come from a Prot Warrior, so this all DPS caster is still new to me, especially Locks, that have so many spells ,comparable to the others classes, thanks for the useful information you provided here, and I agree with you in several points, but one in particular, play what you like, even if its not considered the “must play spec”.
    Looking forward to read more of your blog.

  2. Excellent post. I play all 10 classes and at the moment Warlocks are what I suck most at. I seem to already be doing the “rotation” correctly based on what you suggest and the non class specific things, like much of your post that could fit any DPS class, I know from playing other classes. I just can not get it “feeling” natural.

    My lock sits at a 316 item level and I do a horrible 7K DPS. I never tried with him after I hit 85 because I was not having fun with it. So with that said I am no expert at all but I might give it another try thanks to your guide. It proves I am not doing it wrong, I just need more practice. I gave up because I felt I was doing it wrong and being I was not having fun playing a lock it was not worth the effort to try and get better.

    Which goes to my next statement when it comes to DPS that fits what you said at the beginning.

    You will always do more DPS in a spec you enjoy and are more comfortable with.

    If the specs are that close and you are comfortable with Afflic then you will do better than someone that only switched to Demo because Demo simmed highest.

    Never underestimate player comfort of a spec when it comes to DPS. It is a huge factor that no sim can figure in correctly.

    1. Raiding affliction and dungeoneering affliction (since your lock is 316) tend to act a little differently. Raiding affliction can keep up with the storm most times, but dungeoneering affliction actually tends to get worse as the expansion goes on.

      At the start of dungeon tiers — when things are new and everybody’s at the correct gear level for it — affliction does on par or better. But as everyone gears up, affliction DPS — especially on trash — tends to go down, actually. I’ve found it especially true if I’m grouped with a ton of melee versus a ton of casters. Your DoTs just don’t have enough time to tick as much.

      So don’t be discouraged if you walk into a dungeon and only do 7k DPS if the other guys are doing 20k. Especially if you’re only 316. Dungeoneering relies more on being able to multidot well and how fast you can spam Seed.

  3. Despite my misgivings about 6 months ago, Demo has been a lot of fun to play. Running End Time last night, I had 4 pets fighting with me (fel puppy + doomguard + ebon imp + fiery imp). It was (IMHO) absolutely a blast.

    With regards to addons, I was really surprised last night on results. He was running recount, I was running Skada. (I am trying a different talent tree) The DPS counts he broadcast was completely different from that that my meter shown on the same boss fight. On mine, I beat his DPS by 2k, so I agree, the meters are only good for epeen. Nothing else.

    In addition, I’ve stopped watching omen almost all together. Only when the tank died last night, have I ever had to worry about threat coming my way. Sure, they fling things my way, but with even a mediocre healer, I haven’t been worrying about health.

    Awareness I think is the biggest DPS increase. (PowerAuras helps some, DBM helps for the rest). Knowing when to cast a specific spell, and when to get out of the way. Watch DBM, and see when a movement piece is coming (fel flames coming!) refresh your dots. Trinket procs, spam major spell, etc. It’s not what (class/build/spec) you play, but how you play.


  4. You took the words right out of my mouth. I don’t much care for Caraway’s articles. I’m quite skilled at all 3 trees in Warlock, but Affliction is my favorite. While sims and World of Logs show Demonology generally at the top ranking-wise, Affliction still wins in most cases simply because of all the movement and multi-targeting involved in Dragon Soul. If you’re bad at juggling that, then of course Affliction comes out low, but if you can get a handle on it, you’re golden. I’m unbeatable in LFR, not just against other locks, but period. My average iLvl is only 392.

    Again, great post.

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