Tag Archives: Talents

Optimizing Your Character’s Gear For PvP

How do you know what the best gear is for you to use in PvP? The best talent build? The optimal rotation to use?

It’s with some interest that I’m following Ask Mr. Robot’s PvP Optimization project. Ask Mr. Robot is an online PvE gear optimizer, which shows different levels of gear that should, in theory, result in the optimal PvE performance of your character and spec. I looked at it a few weeks ago, and it looked very slick – but also, as most gear and talent sites have done, ignores PvP and focuses on PvE. I think that focus is actually a good thing, since PvE optimization is more than challenging enough, so focusing on an area of the game with definite metrics for success while building a site means a cleaner product in the end. And while Mr. Robot and Elitist Jerks may not always agree on the best gear and spec for a class, the discussions around class mechanics and simulating performance, and how gear affects that performance, makes for better results overall.

But tackling PvP is an ambitious step, and one that I’m pleased to see the Mr. Robot team tackle. We do these things because they are hard!

PvE seems easier to model than PvP for one simple reason: in most cases, you are able to focus on a single variable’s output to determine success. Damage dealing is the easiest one to model, with one metric – DPS, damage per second – to measure. Healing and tanking are slightly more complicated, but reducing your optimization question to healing throughput (including damage mitigation) and threat generation gives you a concrete goal to focus on. And while I’m glossing over some important nuances here, especially for optimizing tank performance, you can simulate a fight based on these three variables – how much damage do you need done, how much damage is the raid going to take, how much threat needs to be generated to compensate for the damage being done – and optimize individual classes and entire raid groups that way.

PvP is different, and those differences make it a challenge to model.


The obvious difference between PvE and PvP – the kind of opponents you face in each activity – is only part of the challenge in optimizing for PvP. I’d argue that for modeling, it’s actually not a very big difference at all – you can evaluate performance in a neutral setting, and then modify those results situationally, according to class and environment.

I think a bigger challenge is trying to find balance between competing priorities in PvP which, frankly, don’t exist in PvE. In a typical raid environment a DPS can focus entirely on squeezing out every last drop of performance at the expense of survivability. Self-heals or resistance gear might make it easier to stay alive during specific encounters, but as long as DPS players can move out of bad things, they can delegate healing duties to the healers. Healers are expected to heal tank and raid damage as part of the encounter. DPS are expected to deliver a certain minimum amount of damage to the elements of the encounter.

Success in PvP, however, doesn’t come with optimizing solely for a single task. Generally, you can’t sacrifice your defense for offense, but neither can you emphasize your defense too much, or you won’t have the power for offense.

So what are the kinds of things that you have to take into account in PvP?

  • Survivability – You have to be able to stay alive to complete the goal of the match. In Arenas, dying means you lose. In Battlegrounds, dying means you are getting sent to a penalty box and moved around the map, possibly causing you to lose – but not always.
  • Output – You have to be able to cause damage or heal, and you have to do this job well.
  • Establishing Control – Controlling your opponents through CC abilities, interrupts, knockbacks, etc., all are essential to both staying alive and killing your opponent.
  • Regaining Control – Being able to take back control, when you lose it, through good use of trinkets and other abilities, is essential. Any discussion on optimization can’t ignore the value of a PvP trinket, and the escape abilities of a Flag Carrier are of paramount importance to success in WSG and TP.
  • Unpredictability – You are fighting a human opponent, and doing the unexpected can be the difference between victory or death. It could be simple things, like using Demonic Circle: Teleport and terrain to get melee to follow you into a bad position, or clever things, like using Barov’s Peasant Caller to keep a rogue in combat.
  • Variety – Within each class, and even each spec, there are many ways you can play it well. This lesson was drilled into me when I played a mage twink at level 19; I could build for damage OR control within the Frost tree, and it all depended on how I wanted to play the toon.
  • Environment – Different PvP activities require different emphasis and gear choices. In Arenas, you can build your class and gear around your known teammates, and can be assured of specific buffs or healing types. In Rated Battlegrounds, you have many (but not all) of the limits of Arenas, but often will need to be self sufficient – you will not have the same 1-4 people around you at all times. In regular BGs and world PvP, you may be completely on your own.

The more I think about it, the more gutsy the Ask Mr. Robot team seems for even making the attempt!


The best part about PvP gear is that, at least at the endgame, it’s pretty simple to figure out what you should be wearing. There is only one source of gear after the crafted sets – PvP vendors, no messy drops – so your endgame goals are pretty straightforward – get the best PvP gear you can afford in each slot. If you have Conquest points, get Vicious Gladiator’s Gear. If you have Honor Points, get Bloodthirsty Gear. If you don’t have any of those, get crafted gear.

But this kind of thinking is really about gear levels, not choices. It’s actually pretty easy to optimize for this, since you just have to look at your current activity level and figure out if you are able to get the next tier of gear. Instead of Heroic Modes / Raids / Heroics / Regular dungeons, you just ask Rated PvP / Unrated PvP / Crafted and you’re set. If you have Bloodthirsty gear but do Arenas, you should be looking at Vicious gear as your optimal set.

Gear levels are easy to code for. Gear choices are where we get into difficulties. Which neck piece should you get, the one with Spirit … or the one with Spell Penetration? Should you chose Mastery, Haste, or Crit? What about mixing in some PvE pieces? How much Resilience is enough? What do you enchant for? What do you gem for?

This is where the going gets tough.

Generally speaking, there are a few stats we need to make sure we take care of in PvP:

  • Hit: 4% spell hit, 5% melee hit, more if you’re DW)
  • Spell Penetration: 196 to cap, 240 to cap against Mages, but only for casters … and DKs.
  • Resilience: as much as possible.
  • Your primary stat: as much as possible.

But when we get down to the brass tacks of each class, how do we make a call on secondary stats? Some choices are obviously bad – Spirit does nothing for Warlocks, for instance, and Spell Penetration does nothing for Warriors – but some are not obviously bad, just not optimal. That’s where the Ask Mr. Robot algorithms can come in handy.


So one of the big changes I made in my own PvP gear this weekend was going away from PvP gear and getting the Darkmoon Card: Volcano for my warlock. This cost me 301 Resilience (0.82% damage reduction) in exchange for 321 Mastery, a 1600 Intellect proc, and damage procs that seem to happen all the time. It’s been a huge upgrade that causes my output to go through the roof, but at the expense of 1% damage reduction. I honestly think this is a better setup than what I had before, with dual PvP trinkets.

When do you make these tradeoffs? Is it on an item-by-item basis, or a overall sense of where your character is in their gear?

I think, unlike PvE, you might be better off looking at your entire set and making a judgement call. I think my biggest driver towards getting the Darkmoon Card was that my Resilience was at 3300, and that losing 1% (which brought me to like… 32%?) was a small price to pay for the gain of such a good trinket.

I’m fumbling around with the idea of a Resilience budget for each tier, instead of each item, to make these kinds of judgement calls. If you’re doing Rated PvP, you’ll want to have a certain amount of Resilience, but at some point you can make tradeoffs to do what you want to do. Perhaps it’s 80% of the total possible, or 90% – I’m not sure. But I’m pretty sure that if you just do an item-by-time analysis, you’re going to lose out on some benefits.

Of course, if Blizzard decides to apply diminishing returns to Resilience, then that changes the equation substantially.

Balance is tricky.


I actually think that it’s pretty easy to pick good gear for PvP – know which secondary stats benefit your output the most and favor them, hit the caps you need to hit, have a PvP trinket, and stack your primary stat and Resilience. Go pwn.

But good gear is not optimal gear. I guess that’s the part I honestly struggle with when discussing optimization for PvP – you’re going to need to do things that sacrifice one stat for another, and that those choices depend upon your playstyle. You could build a Destro Lock who stacked Crit and play Drakedog-style, or your could stack Haste and play Run-And-Gun. You could balance out between the two and be very successful!

But still… this is still a computer game. It follows rules which can be divined. There is a set of gear for each class which will produce optimal damage or healing while providing adequate protection, because that’s how computers work. There are a set of logical, calculable rules that are being followed here.

I think this is the point where people’s opinions diverge on optimization, be it Mr. Robot, Elitist Jerks, or any of a dozen other Warcraft think tanks. A rational analysis and simulation of optimal conditions provides a mathematical certainty about behavior; but that certainty doesn’t necessarily translate into actual gameplay. At the same time, just because gameplay is so important, it doesn’t mean you can ignore the effects of optimal gear and talent choice!

PvE, PvP, it doesn’t matter: if you come up with a set of rules to evaluate gear, there will be an optimal set of gear for your class and spec. It may not be the best set of gear for you, but it will be the best set of gear for those rules.

I know a lot of players in both PvP and PvE who break gear rules. Lufitoom (the Bloodthirsty) is a great example of a player who defies traditional wisdom with her spec and stacks Mastery as her secondary stat, to great effect.

Ask Mr. Robot is essentially trying to divine a set of rules that will produce optimal gear and talent choices in PvP. I think that’s an admirable goal – otherwise I wouldn’t have written this post. They are trying to produce a friendly tool that will help players pick the best gear by doing the math for them.

But, just like in life, the most optimal path may not be the best one. Use your own judgement.

(And if you’re an Affliction PvP warlock, Haste > Crit > Mastery, because your dots will be easily expelled, and you’re going to need to cast other things, too.)


You likely know more about PvPing on your class than I do. It takes working with a class for a while to really understand the nuances of it, and I don’t even claim to get all the nuances of all the specs of playing a Warlock. (You don’t see me Demo PvP for a reason!)

You almost definitely know more about PvPing on your class than the folks at Ask Mr. Robot. They’re building a tool to help players choose gear and talent builds, and are dipping their toes into the waters of PvP for the first time. I think this is a gutsy project, and hope that you will stop by to give them some advice on your favored class.

In the meanwhile: get the best gear you can get, but don’t think that gear is going to make you great at PvP.

Gear is just one factor to being successful.


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Looking Ahead to Cataclysm’s PvP Talents

Southshore slowly comes into view, much like Cataclysm’s talent builds.

I’m idly following along with Cataclysm news.  I’m not in the Beta.  I’d like to experience the story without knowing what’s going to happen.  And while I’m not actively avoiding Cataclysm news, I’m not actively seeking it out, either.  (Well, except for news on the BGs.  I’m actively looking for news on Twin Peaks et al..)

One thing I have seen, though, has been a big shift in the philosophy behind talents, particularly the split between PvP and PvE talents.  The trees are smaller (41 points at level 85, as opposed to 71 points at level 80), talents that just flatly increase damage have been (mostly) removed, and there’s an emphasis on ‘fun’ talents.

Ghostcrawler’s post on the matter, “A Few Words On Talent Tree Design,”  covers it better than I can.

… We don’t consider “bloat” a bad word. Players typically say that when there are more talents than they can possibly get. That’s the whole idea. When you run out of interesting talents, then that’s when we think we have a problem.

Related, if we do our jobs right, you are going to run out of dps talents (or healing talents if you’re a healer, or mitigation talents if you’re a tank). We don’t want every talent to feel mandatory since you are prohibited from getting them all. We want you to have choices. …

…We don’t consider every talent that doesn’t directly lead to higher dps to be a “PvP talent.” Survivability is a big deal in Cataclysm. In that vein, talents that keep you alive (or help healers conserve mana) are indirectly dps talents. 🙂 We aren’t designing PvP vs. PvE trees. Ultimately, we consider a talent specialization to be a stylistic choice. However, given the challenges of nailing both PvP and PvE balance, as a consolation prize it’s nice when at least there are no dead trees.  …

I’m a little wary about quoting just part of his post.  It’s good to read things in their context whenever possible, and this is no exception.


I was intrigued by what Ghostcrawler said, so I headed over to Wowhead’s Cataclysm Talent Calculator and fiddled around with it, trying to see how I would build Cynwise’s talents through the Warlock trees.

The results are probably not surprising.

The trees are smaller, but the philosophy I articulated for warlock talents in Wrath remains the same: take a core of Demonology for survival, then dive into your chosen tree.  Focus on talents that give you control and survivability, and then pick up DPS talents.

There are some new things in there that look very interesting – Bane of Havok, Jinx, Soul Swap – but there are also a lot of things that are missing.  Some PvP staples, like the anti-pushback talents Fel Concentration and Intensity, are now defaults.  Range extension talents like Grim Reach and Destructive Reach are gone, which, if applied uniformly across all classes, don’t present a problem.

That last part is important, don’t skip it.  Removing talents from one class while leaving them in for a different class is unfair, and could easily be considered a nerf.  Removing that talent type from all classes, however, is just rebalancing the game.  Extended range talents were inconsistent at best — mage talents extended by a certain number of yards (6, if I remember correctly) while warlocks got a percent increase (10%).  You couldn’t afford to skip these talents in PvP because the other person would probably have them, leaving you at a disadvantage, leading to an arms race.

Ghostcrawler talks a bit about this:

Related, many trees lost a lot of true PvP talents, such as dispel resistance or mechanic duration reductions. These are the kind of talents I describe as “arms races,” where you need a counter to the ability someone else is using to try to counter you. We’d rather reel the whole thing in a little and make things like crowd control or dispels as powerful or as weak as they need to be baseline rather than assuming you have talents that make them less powerful.

I approve of this kind of change.  One of the joys of low-level PvP in Wrath is that there aren’t a lot of counters available to different abilities, so those abilities actually work.  As you level this changes into moves and countermoves and counter-countermoves, all trying to get something to stick.

Don’t get me wrong – some of these changes are going to suck.  Crowd control is going to become more powerful.  Dispels are going to become more necessary.  Things are going to be different.

But different doesn’t mean worse.


One of the ideas that filtered through my Cataclysm news defenses was that there were no longer going to be PvP-only trees, that this was never a deliberate design decision and that any tree should be viable in nearly all situations. Personally, I like that goal and hope they get there, though balancing the different trees against each other in PvE is certainly a challenge I don’t think they’ll get correct out of the gate.

My hope is that the converse is true, that there will no longer be PvE-only trees.  I’d like to see more Demonology warlocks in battlegrounds.  I’d like to see more Fire mages and Arms warriors.  The fun talents that are getting added in to the trees could help with the viability of PvP specs within them… but only time will tell that.

One of the complaints that Ghostcrawler is addressing in his response is specific to PvE – namely, that in order to get to the more advanced talents in their spec, they have to take talents that would have been previously considered PvP talents, or talents that don’t directly contribute to the main specialization of the class.  DPS raiding builds are taking survival talents just to get to the next level of DPS talents, which is very much not the model used in Wrath.  The trees are big enough that you can — and probably should — spend every last talent point on maximizing your DPS.  Those few places where you don’t have any DPS options in your build (like level 3-4 of Deep Destro) forces you to take a talent that enhances survivability or control — felt like a waste.

But in Cataclysm, raiding builds will have survival talents.  There’s no way around that with the ways the trees are structured — you can pick up all the DPS talents without a problem, but you have to get some others along the way.  This feels weird to us now because it’s so antithetical to the current raiding mentality.

Consider the difference between PvP and PvE priorities here.  In PvP, you pick up survival talents, defensive talents, control talents — and then throughput talents.  A PvP Warlock goes and gets Improved Howl of Fury and skips Death’s Embrace.  The DPS talents are not an afterthought, but they’re also not a priority.  You don’t sacrifice everything else to get to them.   A Warlock should not give up Soul Link for PvP to pick up Improved Shadow Bolt, for instance.  But in raiding?  If you’re a Destruction Warlock who takes Soul Link instead of buffing your Imp’s damage, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

So while PvE’s talent builds will require a shift in thinking, not much has really changed in PvP.  A lot of talents are gone, but they’re either rolled into other abilities or no longer necessary, but the philosophy is basically the same.  The new abilities look fun, but they need to be tested in combat to see how well they’ll work.

Cataclysm won’t bring us some kind of nirvana where the same spec will perform well in both PvE and PvP.  You’ll still need to make choices to focus your talents in one direction or another, and those choices are going to be challenging ones for PvE builds.

But for PvP builds, the changes look like they’re all for the better.

Let’s see what they look like when Cataclysm launches.


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Warlockery

A Belated Introduction to Warlock PvP in Wrath of the Lich King

As the Wrath expansion winds down, I find more and more friends are spending time in the battlegrounds.  There’s not a lot of PvE content to keep people raiding, and the impending gear reset in Cataclysm is discouraging folks from grinding out gear on their alts.  So players go to where things are interesting, and battlegrounds are always interesting.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve fought 300 battles on that map, the next one is always going to be unique.

So a lot of folks are leveling new characters and getting them ready for Cataclysm, and that includes playing BGs.  If that character happens to be a warlock, then this post is for you.

I know that with each expansion, classes change, sometimes dramatically.  But — unlike the Emblem grind, which I think is honestly futile at this point if you’re not actively raiding — I think learning how to PvP on a class gives you a solid foundation upon which to build in the next expansion.  Generally speaking, the focus and playstyle of a class won’t change so radically that the time spent learning how to PvP in one patch is lost in another.  Yes, there are some major changes coming to Warlocks.  But Affliction locks are still going to dot dot fear run away and Destruction locks are still going to seduce nuke their way out of trouble.  Demo locks… well, they’re actually going to change a lot.  But I don’t know how to play a Demo lock in PvP yet, therefore I’m not worrying about it now.

So, while it might seem a little late in the expansion to start, here’s an introduction to Warlock PvP in Wrath of the Lich King.  Why?

Because it’s never too late to start being awesome.


Most of what I wrote early on in the expansion about Warlock PvP talents still holds true.

If you have chosen the path of AFFLICTION, then go 54/17/0 to start with.  There is a little wiggleroom in this spec, basically between how much you put in Shadow’s Embrace versus Eradication vs Improved Felpup, but it has all the bases covered.

If you have chosen the path of DESTRUCTION, you have choices:

  • 0/20/51 (Improved Succubus) gives you a very fast Seduction.  This is good for 1v1 or Arena.
  • 0/17/54 (Soul Leech) gives you self-healing, good for BGs, but no Seduce nukes.
  • 3/17/51 (Suppression) gives you hit, freeing up your gear to hit a bit harder.

If you have chosen the path of DEMONOLOGY, well, I’m not sure if I’m the right person to advise you.  I love playing Demo in PvE, but in PvP?  Haven’t been able to make it work.  I’d go with a 0/58/13 deep Demo build to start off with and see how that works.


There’s some flexibility in your glyph selection.  Here are some good ones.

The only Minor glyph you should take is Unending Breath.  This gives people with your Unending Breath buff a 20% swim speed increase, which can help in AB and Twin Peaks.

If you want to know what I specifically use, I use:

  • Quick Decay, Life Tap, and Soul Link for Affliction, and
  • Incinerate, Chaos Bolt, and Soul Link for Destruction.

I used to run Incinerate, Conflagrate, and Shadowflame back in 3.2.  You may find Conflagrate better to start with instead of Chaos Bolt until you’re used to the spec.


As a Warlock:

  • Keep at range.  You’re probably the sturdiest of all the cloth classes (with Soul Link active) but you’ll still go down to a Bladestorm.
  • Keep moving.  ALWAYS KEEP MOVING.  Cast, move.  Cast while moving.  You can stop when you’re dead.
  • Fear.  Fear.  Fear.  Howl of Terror.  Fear.  Death Coil.  Guess what kind of spell you should be casting all the time?
  • You have Shadow Ward.  Use it.
  • You have Demonic Circle.  It will save your life many many times, but only if you drop the circle first.  Get in the habit of dropping one all the time.

For Affliction:

  • Your mantra:  Dot ’em up, Fear ’em away, Drain ’em down.
  • Your tools of choice: Corruption, Unstable Affliction, Haunt, a lot of Curses, Drains, and Searing Pain.  Yes, Searing Pain.
  • Your demon of choice: the Felhunter.  Get a good pet macro and use your Felpup’s abilities.  Spell Lock will save your life, or kill a healer.  Lock healers down so dots can tick.  Devour Magic is awesome.  Learn to use both abilities.
  • Your voidwalker — remember him? — is AWESOME against rogues and good against other melee.  Sacrifice gives you an absorption shield you can trigger while stunlocked.
  • Corruption is your main source of damage.  With Siphon Life, you’ll get healing back too, so spread Corruption around to as many targets as you can in a BG.
  • Haunt and Unstable Affliction should be cast in rapid succession whenever you stop moving.  Keep in mind UA is no longer just a dot – it’s a dot that hurts enemy healers.  That makes it an AWESOME dot.
  • Improved Howl of Terror is for when melee gets too close.  Get them moving away from you and then RUN AWAY.
  • Curses should be chosen according to situation — Exhaustion for melee, Tongues for casters, Agony for general damage, Elements for getting through resistances.
  • The only time you cast Shadowbolt is when Nightfall procs.  Otherwise, Drain Life / Drain Soul / Searing Pain to fill in the time.
  • As soon as you get locked out of the Shadow school, switch over to Searing Pain.  Spam it – hard.

For Destruction:

  • Your mantra: Stand still, this won’t hurt a bit.  Oh wait, yes, it did.
  • Your tools: Immolate, then Chaos Bolt / Conflagrate / Shadowfury all at once.  Incinerate as secondary nuke.  Shadowfury, Seduction and Fear to hold them in place.
  • Your pet:  Succubus or Felhunter.  Use the Succubus’s Soothing Kiss on melee classes.  Seduce and Fear share diminishing returns, so think before you use it.
  • Destro excels at stacking burst damage and suddenly knocking 75% of someone’s health off in a GCD.  Timing combos to hit all at once puts tremendous pressure on enemy healers.
  • The most basic combo is CICD: Chaos Bolt, Immolate, Conflagrate, Dead.  Chaos Bolt has travel time, so after casting it you immediately put Immolate on the target.  Depending on range and Haste, Immo will land just before or just after the Chaos Bolt hits.  Follow up with a Conflagrate, and, for extra damage, a Shadowfury.  If they’re still alive, take advantage of Backdraft and hit them with hasted Immolate/Incinerates.  (If you have the Glyph of Conflagrate, Immolate is still on the target, so you can just Incinerate away.)
  • Keep Immolate on the target as much as you can.  Never cast Incinerate if Immolate is not present.  Use Shadowburn instead (or better yet, cast Immolate!)
  • Learn to weave your Seductions and Fears in with your nukes.  If you put Curse of the Elements and Immolate on a target, then Seduce, then CICD, then Fear, then Immolate and Incinerate, then Shadowfury, then Shadowburn… well, your opponent hasn’t had much of a chance to harm you, have they?
  • Curses: Elements gives you 12% damage bonus and lowers resistances.  Tongues can be okay against casters.
  • Use Corruption as a trash debuff to protect your Immolate.
  • When fighting pet classes, try to get the pet in with your Shadowfury.
  • Chaos Bolt cuts through all bubbles.  Bubbles hate Chaos Bolt.

For Demonology:

  • I… got nothing.  I have no idea how to play Demo in PvP.  Let’s revisit them in Cataclysm, because things are looking much better there.


You’re going to want macros.  Lots and lots of macros.

I have a very popular post on warlock macros that is unfortunately starting to age a bit. Macro syntax has improved since I wrote that, and I’d like to revisit it in a lot more depth – but I’m holding off for Cataclysm.  So here are some quick updates, in no particular order.

Totem stomping macros no longer work. You used to be able to send pets after specific totems, in order… but no more.  Sad warlock.  Use this mouseover petattack macro instead:

/petattack [target=mouseover]

As Destro, I modified my Chaos Bolt to shoot rockets if CB is on cooldown:

/cast Chaos Bolt
/use 10

And changed my Immolate macro to include Soothing Kiss:

/castsequence reset=target/combat,2 Immolate, Incinerate, Incinerate
/use 13
/use 14
/cast [@pettarget] Soothing Kiss

While playing Affliction, I used the following extensively:


/castsequence reset=target/combat,3 Corruption, Curse of Agony,  Fear, Frostweave Net, Drain Life
/cast [@target] Devour Magic
/use 13
/use 14

That lets me go dot dot fear, with an optional snare at the end.  I was of two minds about having the Felhunter’s Devour Magic in there; sometimes it worked great, other times it left DM on cooldown when I needed it.  The last two lines were to fire pump trinkets (I”m still using the Platinum Disks from WG, is that sad?)

Here’s the other mainstay of my rotation in Affliction:

/castsequence [mod] Unstable Affliction; reset=target/combat,4 Haunt, Unstable Affliction, Searing Pain, Searing Pain, Searing Pain
/use 10

This is my “stand-and-cast” macro, applying the two important shadow spells and then spamming Searing Pain on the target.  It also fires rockets at the target.

As always, the official macro page and WowWiki Warlock Macro page are great places to go for inspiration.


Here are some add-ons I find helpful with my warlock.

  • NeedToKnow – lets you track buffs and debuffs in highly visible bars.  I use this to make sure that Immolate is on the target, check to see if Backdraft or Backlash have procced, and track my Shadowfury / Chaos Bolt cooldowns with it.
  • SaySapped – lets people around you know that you’ve been sapped.  Rogues, we hates them, we hates them forever!
  • OmniCC – adds a countdown to any ability that’s on cooldown.  Great for tracking mutiple CDs at once.
  • DRTracker – tracks diminishing returns on your Fear and Seduce.  Very important!

I’m a big fan of NeedToKnow.  Here’s what my setup looks like:

I put the buff/debuff timers below the casting bar, and cooldowns above it.


Ready for more?

  • My Warlockery page is a summary of the posts I’ve done on Warlocks, and there are a lot of them.
  • I must link Dusk’s Guide to Warlocks in Battlegrounds every other week on Twitter.  It’s awesome.  It’s the reason I never wrote a post like this before — he covers a lot of ground and gives great advice.
  • The Warlock Resources section of Murloc Parliament is a great collection of how-to posts for the various specs and styles.  Good collection there.
  • I’m still in love with the Destruction Duel video, and wish more videos like this got made.

All set?  Great!  Good luck, and happy warlocking!


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Warlockery

Battleground Talents 2: Warlock Talent Builds

Destruction Talent Banner.png

When I talked about evaluating talents for battlegrounds, I spoke in very broad terms, applicable to all classes in World of Warcraft.

As a quick refresher, the three criteria I evaluate my talents on are:

  1. Survival
  2. Control
  3. Output

Broad principles are good, but often they need concrete examples behind them to show how they should and shouldn’t be used. So I’m going to talk about the talent trees I know the most about, and that means we’re talking Warlock talents.

Keep in mind that talent builds are usually described by either the number of talents in each tree (e.g. 53/0/18) or by the highest level talents in each (e.g. Fel/Emberstorm). Both of these can be confusing if you’re not familiar with the class in question, but either the official talent calculator or the Wowhead talent calculator can provide some guidance.


Battleground warlocks are a fearsome lot. You can inflict massive amounts of damage coupled with excellent control spells, all while managing a pet. The only question is; are you going to kill fast, or kill slow?

There are three Warlock talent trees: Affliction, Demonology, and Destruction. Broadly, Affliction covers your DoTs and drains, Demonology buffs you and your pet, and Destruction improves your direct damage. There’s a lot of synergy between the trees to use to your advantage. For example, end-game raiding Affliction locks spend talent points in Destruction to speed up and buff their filler spell, Shadow Bolt, while raiding Destruction locks dive into Demonology to buff their Imps to increase their DPS.

Battleground locks, though, build not to maximize damage, but for survival and control. Only once they have those elements do they maximize their damage.

There are some talents which really shine in the battlegrounds. Let’s take a look.


Demonology 17-point Core.png

The core of a warlock’s battleground talent build are the early Demonology talents. These talents give your warlock the survivability that they need to excel in PvP.

The first 10 points in Demonology increase the health and mana of you and your pet, which is useful in and of itself. But it’s the 11-point talent Soul Link that is the one you really must get. Soul Link redirects 20% of all incoming damage to your demon, no matter what. By itself this is good, but in concert with many of the warlock healing talents (Fel Synergy, Siphon Life, Soul Leech) it should be on the top of your list of warlock talents.

Now, that said, you don’t see a lot of pure Demo warlocks in battlegrounds, or anywhere, really. Most Demo locks are hybrids, which have a definite role in PvE. But for PvP, you do tend to see warlocks going after a few talents in the tree, and then focusing on their main tree. Most will spend 17 points in the tree to get Fel Domination and Master Summoner, both used to quickly bring your demon back once killed. Soul Link won’t help you if your demon is AWOL.

The 17-point Demonology core looks something like this:

  • 3/3 Demonic Embrace
  • 2/2 Improved Healthstone
  • 2/2 Fel Synergy
  • 3/3 Fel Vitality
  • 1/1 Soul Link
  • 3/3 Demonic Aegis
  • 1/1 Fel Domination
  • 2/2 Master Summoner

A common Arena variant is to take 3 points from another tree and place them in Improved Succubus to improve her crowd control ability.

You’ll notice that every single talent in the core 17-point build improves either your or your pet’s survival. It skips talents like Improved Imp — a great talent for raiding Destro locks — because you have to survive to do the damage, and some of these talents are just too good to skip. Even if you only take 11 points in Demonology, your warlock will be at least 25% more durable than without those points.


As awesome as the early Demo talents are, the deeper in you go, the less useful they are for PvP.

Once you have the 17 (or 20) points for the core, the only reason to keep going into the Demo tree is for the 41-point talent, Summon Felguard. The Felguard hits like a truck and is arguably the best demon minion not on a cooldown. He’s like an undergeared warrior under your control, and he absolutely shines in PvE. He’s not bad in PvP, either.

But keep in mind that if you want him, you’ll only have 30 points to spend in buffing your own abilities, and once your Felguard goes down, you are at a serious disadvantage. Many players will ignore (or banish) the Felguard and concentrate on you, so be ready for it.

In its current state, the 51-point Demo talent Metamorphosis is not worth it for battlegrounds. It’s also not worth it for raiding, instance grinding, leveling, Arenas…

Okay, it’s good for roleplaying. I’ll grant that.

Until the 51-point talent is reworked (perhaps by eliminating the CD and allowing it to be a more-or-less permanent form), there’s no reason to go deep into the Demonology tree. If you like playing the Felguard, by all means get him. But don’t go any further.

TL;DR version: don’t spec deep Demo for PvP.


Now we start having some fun. The Affliction tree has great talents for leveling, end-game raiding, and PvP. It’s a great talent tree to work with because of this flexibility, and the damage you can churn out is phenomenal. But you have to be careful to match your talents with your playstyle, or you’ll find yourself watching a lot of that damage happen from the graveyard.

With 17 points invested in the Demonology core, you’ll have 54 points to spend in Affliction. And if you’re going to play Affliction, it’s worth spending each and every one of them in this tree.

The keys to an Affliction playstyle are to focus on DoTs, drains and fears. You kill slowly, sucking the life and mana out of your opponents, preferably while cackling evilly.

(A good cackle is really important to your battleground performance. Don’t discount it until you’ve perfected it.)

The key to Affliction in a battleground is to establish control over your opponent while setting them up to die. You have to maintain control and distance so that your spells have time to work.

Affliction 54-point Build.png

Again, we look at the talents with an eye towards survival, control, and then output. There are a few real gems in this tree, a good set of solid PvP talents, and then it’s damage optimization. Let’s start with the gems.

Siphon Life makes your primary damage-dealing spell Corruption into a healing spell, too, healing you 40% of each tick you inflict. Given the buffs Corruption gets in the Affliction tree, especially with Pandemic letting it crit, Siphon Life is one of the keys to an Affliction lock’s performace in a battleground.

The 51-point talent Haunt provides similar benefits to Siphon Life, dealing damage and healing in the same spell. It also increases all Shadow DoT damage by 20%, which means that it improves Siphon Life, too. Coupled with Shadow Embrace, Haunt turns your DoT stack into something to fear.

The 41-point talent Unstable Affliction adds much-needed dispel protection to PvP. It is a threat to any healer who tries to remove DoTs; dispel me and get silenced for 5 seconds, as well as take damage. In Arenas this is particularly powerful, because each healer is under scrutiny and this silence can be immediately taken advantage of. Battlegrounds are messier, so sometimes healers just take the damage and debuff while purging DoTs.

(Oddly, for PvE, this really is ‘just another DoT,’ albeit one that can now crit. It’s a flexible spell — if you need the control offered by the dispel protection, it’s there, and if not, hey, it’s more damage.)

It may go without saying, but Grim Reach is an essential PvP talent. Distance is key to control and survival.

Improved Howl of Terror is another must-have talent for the battlegrounds. It turns Howl of Terror into an instant-cast AoE Fear bomb, and is essential for clearing melee away from you. Yes, fear has been nerfed in Wrath and breaks really easily, but you need every tool you can get when melee gets too close (or you get Death Gripped.) Between Howl of Terror, Fear, and Death Coil, you should be able to get away from a determined melee.

Once you’ve got distance, it’s time to make use of the last critical talent, Curse of Exhaustion. CoEx is the only real snare in the Warlock’s bag of tricks, slowing an opponent by 30%. I’m of two minds about CoEx; it keeps melee at a distance, which is essential, but it takes the place of Curse of Agony, and I like that sweet, sweet CoA damage. But the control (and implied survivability) that CoEx offers shouldn’t be discounted.

There are several other PvP talents you should take on your way through the Affliction tree, but as a general rule, you can now optimize your damage output. An Affliction battleground build would include most, if not all, of the following talents:

  • 5/5 Improved Corruption
  • 2/2 Soul Siphon
  • 3/3 Fel Concentration
  • 1/1 Amplify Curse
  • 2/2 Grim Reach
  • 3/3 Empowered Corruption
  • 5/5 Shadow Embrace
  • 1/1 Siphon Life
  • 1/1 Curse of Exhaustion
  • 5/5 Shadow Mastery
  • 5/5 Contagion
  • 2/2 Improved Howl of Terror
  • 3/3 Malediction
  • 1/1 Unstable Affliction
  • 1/1 Pandemic
  • 5/5 Everlasting Affliction
  • 1/1 Haunt

That’s 46 points. The remaining 8 points should go in the following, based on playstyle, gear, and pet preference:

  • Suppression
  • Improved Curse of Agony
  • Improved Life Tap
  • Improved Fear
  • Nightfall
  • Eradication
  • Dark Pact
  • Improved Felhunter
  • Improved Succubus

Each of these can be useful in a battleground, but they are really a matter of personal choice. (Yes, even Nightfall is optional. It adds much needed burst to the build, but the proc rate is low.)

I’ve put together a sample 54/17/0 build if you want to see how this works.


I remain amazed how talents can completely change the feeling of a class. (Warlocks are by no means unique in this.) Instead of the slow, unstoppable trickle of Affliction damage, Destruction shoves it all in your face with massive crits and devastating direct damage combos. Yes, they use some of the same spells, in a completely different way.  Destruction has fewer control abilities than Affliction, and is particularly weaker against melee opponents. But Destro excels at ranged burst damage and can burn down opponents before they have a chance to respond.

Destruction 54-point Build.png

The key talents in any Destruction build are Conflagrate and Chaos Bolt. These are great damage-dealing spells, especially the power of Chaos Bolt to ignore armor and resistances. However, the key talents in a battleground Destruction Build build on those two spells to add more control and damage mitigation. It’s not all about the damage meters, after all.

Let’s start with Shadowfury, an AoE stun grenade. Shadowfury is awesome in battlegrounds. Want to stop several people from capturing a node? Shadowfury. Multiple healers giving you problems? Shadowfury the lot, CC one, kill the other. Need an instant 2-4k damage boost? Finish off with Shadowfury. The stun+damage combo is an extremely versatile control tool; spend some time learning how to use it.

The early talent Aftermath also applies a stun affect, this one dazing your opponent for 5 seconds after Conflagrate hits. Five seconds is enough time to get off 2-3 Incinerates when Backdraft procs, which can be another 15-20k damage.

Range is always good in a battlefield, so Destructive Reach is another key talent.

Destruction doesn’t offer the same variety of healing and damage mitigation talents that Affliction does, but it does have Molten Skin to absorb some damage, Nether Protection to provide some spell resistance, and Soul Leech to get some self-healing into the tree. Molten Skin is a great talent. Nether Protection was a great talent who recently got nerfed — again — so it’s now only a good talent, but still worth taking. And Soul Leech…

Soul Leech is a talent that perfectly illustrates the difference between a battleground build and an Arena build. In the Arena, you have a partner to watch your health bars and keep you healed, so this talent becomes a mana efficiency talent for your healer. It is therefore frequently swapped out for Improved Succubus. In a battleground, though, you simply cannot rely upon a healer being present all the time. So I’m going to say that it’s a key battleground talent, even though it’s not a key Arena talent. It’s situationally useful.  These three points becomes the defining feature between the two PvP builds, and you’ll see a lot of both. All I can say is: try it out and see which works for you!

The remaining talents are really all to improve your output, leaving you with a build that looks something like this:

  • 5/5 Bane
  • 2/2 Aftermath
  • 3/3 Molten Skin
  • 5/5 Ruin
  • 2/2 Intensity
  • 2/2 Destructive Reach
  • 3/3 Backlash
  • 3/3 Improved Immolate
  • 1/1 Devastation
  • 3/3 Nether Protection
  • 5/5 Emberstorm
  • 1/1 Conflagrate
  • 3/3 Soul Leech
  • 5/5 Shadow and Flame
  • 3/3 Backdraft
  • 1/1 Shadowfury
  • 5/5 Fire and Brimstone
  • 1/1 Chaos Bolt

This leaves 1 point floating in the early part of the tree to go into either Destructive Power or Shadowburn. Some warlocks swear by Shadowburn; I am not yet one of them. I’m still working it into my rotation. It’s a bit like Dark Pact in the Affliction tree; some swear by it, others swear it’s a waste of a talent point. The only way you’ll know is to try it and find out.

I’ve rambled long enough. Here’s a sample 0/17/54 talent build if you like to look at how this all lays out.


Affliction Talent Banner.png

There is no such thing as the best spec for a battleground. There are good talents, and good talent builds, but the builds above are just two examples. The process of getting to them — evaluating your talent trees, thinking about your role in a battleground, of taking a generalist’s view at your abilities — is more important than the final build. Every patch brings with it new changes and new challenges, so you have to be fluid and adapt. Even if you don’t play in the battlegrounds, at least now you have a framework to evaluate your talents and say, “that would be great for Alterac Valley, but not for a raid. I’ll pass.”

Also, don’t let this post make you think for a moment that you have to respec to enter a battleground. You don’t. If you’re leveling and want to do some PvP to blow off steam, totally do it! Maybe you’ll be encouraged to put a few points into Howl of Terror or Shadowfury now, but they’re hardly essential to having fun in a battleground. Plus they come in handy out in the rest of Azeroth, too.

Happy talent building!


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Warlockery

Battleground Talents Part 1: Evaluating Talents


If you are going to be spending a lot of time in the battlegrounds of Azeroth, you owe it to yourself to at least consider taking some talents to help you succeed. Every class, every talent tree, has something to help you do better in a PvP environment. I run into a lot of people in Wintergrasp who are incredible raiders who struggle in the battlegrounds because they are not only in PvE gear, but also using PvE talent builds. It’s using the wrong tool for the wrong job!

If you can afford it, I really recommend springing for dual-specialization, even if you’re a pure DPS class. Hybrid classes benefit the most from it, but a secondary spec allows a pure class the freedom to try out some PvP talents without sacrificing your raid setup. It also lets you try out talent trees you wouldn’t normally have considered — I know I never would have gone Destruction if I hadn’t dual-specced. The flexibility to switch back and forth and try things out is really wonderful.

Like most people, I’m most familiar with the classes I’ve played the most often. So while I can spend hours talking about Warlock talents, I can’t say much about, say, Mage talents beyond “Fire=PvE, Frost=PvP.” But looking across the classes, it really does seem like a few general guidelines apply.

When I look at talents for battlegrounds, I judge them on three conditions:

  1. Survival. Does this talent keep me alive, either by avoiding, mitigating, or healing damage?
  2. Control. Does this talent improve my ability to affect, control or interrupt other players?
  3. Output. Does this talent increase my damage or healing? Does it give me more burst, or longer durations? Lower casting times?

I’d like to say that the priority between these is always Survival > Control > Output, but it depends on your class and playstyle.

Let me talk a little bit more about each one of these categories in turn.


The key to good PvP survival talents is working with what your class gives you. Some are better at deflecting it, others absorbing it, and others at escaping it altogether.

For example, I wear magical cloth into battle. That’s okay — that cloth gives me a good solid pool of hit points to work with and plenty of resilience, but still… it’s cloth. If I wore plate, talents that increase my armor would be worth considering. But since I wear cloth, I should assume that I’m going to take the damage and absorb it — or let my pet absorb it via Soul Link. Mages would do best to avoid the damage entirely — any talent that improves Blink or Ice Block should at least be considered.

Many of these survival talents have little or no use in endgame raiding. A raiding DPS who spends her talent points in damage mitigation isn’t spending them increasing her own DPS. A battleground DPS who doesn’t spend some of her talents in survival talents won’t live long enough to do any DPS.

So: escape, redirect, avoid, and heal that damage!


Only slightly less important than survival is establishing control over your opponents. You must nullify their ability to affect you before they do the same to you. (I consider the extended range talents to be in this category, and practically essential for PvP.)

In some battlegrounds — Wintergrasp being the prime example — control is more important than survival, especially to the side without Tenacity. Crowd Control is the best answer to 20 stacks of Tenacity — take that warrior with 130k hp and stun, fear, root, snare, sheep them into submission.

But in general, while I think control is a useful component of survival, it doesn’t trump it.  You need both to succeed.


Perhaps this goes without saying, but if you specialize in survival and control at the cost of damage or healing output, you’re not going to succeed in any battleground.

The key here is to avoid specialization.  Your job is not to do as much damage or healing as mathematically possible. It is to do enough to take out an opponent or heal a party member while not getting killed by people who are intent upon doing just that. Any raid spec concentrates on filling a very specific role within a party, and counts upon other members of the group providing the other functions. A tank can’t succeed without a healer to keep them alive and DPS to kill the boss.

Tanking, as a concept, doesn’t really exist in battlegrounds. The only place for a tank is in front of Drek and Van in AV, which is the exception to prove the rule. You need a boss to have a tank, and most bosses aren’t found in battlegrounds.

Instead, a good battleground build strikes a balance between survivability and output.  Yes, absolutely take those talents that make you do your thing better.  But topping the DPS/HPS charts is not your goal — winning the battleground is.

Next time, I’ll go further into specific Warlock talent builds for the battleground using these guidelines.

Hey, write what you know, right?


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual