In my post How Warlock DoTs Work in Cataclysm I went into detail about how Cataclysm’s significant changes to Haste mechanics affected Warlock damage over time spells. Haste went from a simple DPS increase to adding DPCT breakpoints, Haste values where DoTs gained new ticks and dramatically increased their importance.
There were a few other smaller changes to DoTs that were made at the end of Wrath of the Lich King that I didn’t talk about in that article, as well as how the new refresh mechanics work in Cataclysm, which I should have covered. The Haste changes were so big that talking about Spellpower and Critical Strike didn’t seem as important at the time. Mea culpa; I get enough email questions about how refreshing works that I realize I should have tackled these stats, too.
UPDATING DOTS: DYNAMIC VERSUS STATIC STAT UPDATES
What happens to DoTs when your combat abilities change mid-combat? If you get a proc from Power Torrent or Eradication, what happens to your Corruption or Unstable Affliction spells? You might think that all procs are handled the same way, and that the game client updates all DoTs automatically when you get a proc.
DoTs update all player-based values – Haste, Spellpower, Crit – upon cast or refresh. When you cast the DoT, the client takes your current combat values and buffs and computes the spell duration, ticks, crit rate, and damage. These values then remain until the DoT is refreshed, at which time new values are applied.
DoTs update all enemy-based values – debuffs like Haunt, Shadow Embrace, Curse of the Elements – every tick, regardless of cast or refresh. When you gain another stack of Shadow Embrace, all of your DoTs are affected without refresh. If Haunt falls off, the next tick of Unstable Affliction will lose 20% damage.
There is a lot of confusion on this matter. One reason for the confusion is the spell tooltip for your DoTs will update dynamically for all player-based buffs. If you get a Haste proc, the duration will fluctuate if you’re mousing over the tooltip. If Dark Intent is cast upon you after casting Corruption, the duration in the Corruption tooltip will drop. If you’re testing this out on a training dummy, your WoW client will make it look like Haste procs are taking effect. But if you look at the number of ticks each DoT has, you will never gain a new tick from a Haste proc without recasting or refreshing the spell.
The only time a DoT updates for buffs on the Warlock is when it’s refreshed, either through a hard cast or a refreshing ability (i.e. Everlasting Affliction, Pandemic, or Fel Flame). This is a change from how things worked in Wrath, which contributes to the confusion.
See, in Wrath, DoT values would be set on cast, but not on refresh. Refreshing a spell maintained the values it was originally cast with, leading DPS player to prepot and trinket before entering combat, blow trinkets before refreshing DoTs, and generally making initial casts as powerful as possible so that the refresh mechanics could maintain that high damage DoT for the entire fight. Really skilled DPS learned how to reset their DoTs when big procs happened – any Warlock who cleared their Corruption with Seed of Corruption just to take advantage of the Nevermelting Ice Crystal remembers what I’m talking about. You could boost your DPS by huge amounts just by preserving a series of procs.
This was changed near the end of Wrath, in patch 3.3.5, so that an automatic refresh of the the DoT updated all combat values on that DoT. If you got a lucky proc, you couldn’t apply it for the entirety of the boss fight.
The system that exists in Cataclysm is in some ways simpler by changing how DoTs are refreshed – you could now clip the last tick of your DoT without reducing your DPS – but that mechanical change introduced a new set of decisions into optimizing your DPS.
THE TWO SECOND RULE, AND WHEN TO BREAK IT
All other things being equal, Warlocks should refresh DoTs when they hit 2 seconds or less. This rule of thumb serves for Warlocks because our only fast-ticking DoT (Bane of Agony) is also the only one that you never clip, so we can ignore it. Everything else has a 3-second or greater base tick, which Haste almost never modifies below two seconds. So Warlocks can use the two-second rule with impunity, and it will serve their DPS well by never allowing DoTs to fall off the target.
Refreshing DoTs in this way is a path to good, solid DPS. But if you want to try advanced DPS techniques, you’re going to have to engage in some creative use of game mechanics. You’ll have to know your procs well, know how to refresh quickly, and learn to juggle refreshes to give you maximum uptime when procs occur.
The general idea is to take advantage of procs with a fairly long duration – 20 seconds or so – and get your DoTs ticking with the enhanced values at the start of the proc, but then refresh them before the proc drops off, effectively doubling the duration of the proc.
This gets tricky to apply in actual usage, so let’s consider two different methods: one that follows the two second rule while triggering Demon Soul, and one that tries to optimize uptime of the proc.
We’ll use a standard Affliction DPS rotation but ignore Haste and Bane of Agony for now. (Banes are a special case we need to consider later.) Demon is the Felhunter for the 20% damage increase. The Warlock in question has all DoTs rolling on a target when she hits Demon Soul. UA has 10 seconds left, Corruption has 8, Haunt’s got 4 seconds on CD.
I’ve illustrated these two methods in a separate spreadsheet (Warlock DoT Refresh Examples 1.0) so you can follow along; each cell represents a half-second of time in game.
Method 1: Haunt on CD, 2 second rule. This straightforward method yields pretty good uptime of Demon Soul on the two DoTs, giving 24 seconds of enhanced damage to Corruption and 15 seconds to Unstable Affliction. 9 Shadow Bolts were cast during the 35.5 seconds plotted out. Considering that Corruption’s normal duration is 18 seconds, this is pretty good.
Method 2: Timed refreshes, keep Haunt up (but not cast on CD). This method is more unorthodox: instead of casting Haunt on CD and following a normal rotation, prioritize getting DoTs recast, even if that means hard casting Corruption if Haunt is on CD. Getting all DoTs rolling with Demon Soul affecting them, and refreshing them as the buff is about to drop, is more important than any of the normal filler spells with this method.
And oh boy, while you might only get 25 seconds of enhanced damage on Corruption doing it this way, you get 29 seconds of Demon Soul + Unstable Affliction with this method, all at the cost of 1 Shadow Bolt – you fire off 8 instead of 9 with method 2.
Now, in this very simple example, if the 20% damage that you’d get from those 4 extra UA ticks outweighs the damage you’d lose from the Shadow Bolt, then Method 2 yields higher DPS. If it doesn’t, then it’s not useful and you just stick to the 2 second rule.
But real DPS isn’t quite this simple.
PROC CHAINING AND BLACK BELTS
If we were only talking about a single buff, then breaking the 2 second rule isn’t very appealing, to be honest. There are a lot of adjustments that need to be made for a marginal DPS gain.
But the key is to chain procs and stack buffs so that it’s not just a single buff affecting your DoTs refreshes.
Instead of just popping Demon Soul whenever it’s on CD, time it to correspond to other buffs – Power Torrent, Metamorphosis, a trinket proc, Heroism/Bloodlust, Eradication. Macro your on-use trinkets to abilities like Demon Soul or Metamorphosis. Make sure you use those Volcanic Potions. Watch for procs off your enchants and time your CDs accordingly. Details matter.
It’s tempting to take on-use trinkets and just macro them in to your normal attack rotation. It’s a good way to ensure that your trinkets are firing all the time, so that you’re getting maximum average benefit from them. I did this myself for a long time, so that my initial casts were always potent.
But I’ve learned is that to really get the great DPS, you have to have more control over your buffs than that. Waiting 15 seconds for a Black Magic or Power Torrent proc to pop Demon Soul and a spellpower trinket really hits hard. Chaining Metamorphosis, a trinket, and a potion all that the same time – and then hitting Immo Aura – is awesome.
Also consider your spell choice. I ignored Bane of Agony in my example above, but you should ask yourself – what happens if I switch Banes and put Bane of Doom on my target during time when I’ve got 5 procs going? Bane of Doom becomes a monster DPS increase, that’s what! It takes all the buffs from short, 10-20 second procs, and applies them over the course of a minute. Bane of Agony might gain a lot during 24 of those seconds, but there will be a second BoA cast that is unbuffed during that minute. Bane of Doom absolutely should get refreshed during a proc stack.
All of these details can seem daunting when you first approach it. What procs should you look for? How should you tie them together? What if they’re not lining up well, what if I wait for the perfect storm and it never comes?
But really, it’s not that complicated. There are only so many procs and cooldowns you need to track. You probably have a weapon enchant, and a trinket or two. There’s Demon Soul and Dark Intent at endgame for CDs, and you may have an on-use trinket, too. You may be in raiding gear with a proc that enhances your damage.
Once you’ve figured out which buffs could be impacting your DoT damage, you can start chaining them together. Macro Meta + trinket or Demon Soul + trinket to make sure that your boost is as strong as it can be when you sacrifice fillers for DoTing. Time your potion use for these burn phases. Make sure your Infernal or Doomguard some out during proc chains, not after.
You may want to consider customizing your interface to help display procs better. Power Auras/Weak Auras, Need to Know, Tell Me When – there are many addons which can give you a better view into which buffs are happening now, and, more importantly, what you need to do with them.
Raid buffs can be tricky to manage, but the challenge is more in coordinating your actions with your team members’s than in knowing what buffs are coming your way. You want to have already summoned your Infernal or Doomguard before Heroism/Bloodlust so they benefit, not after. But you don’t want to blow your other CDs until after they’ve cast it and you get some random procs, too!
It can be tricky. But it’s navigable. It’s knowable.
Knowing just when to do these things is how you get your black belt in raiding, in PvP, and in warlockery.