Nick W.: I'd like to roll a Craft(Writing) check to make a column.
Game Master: Alright, make your check.
*Click clatter of rolled dice...*
Nick W.: I rolled a four...
Game Master: You create an episode of Blood Pact.
Nick W.: Damn!
Though it may have been watered down by the "bring the player, not the class" mantra, Warlocks are a utility class at heart. We can rock the DPS as hard as anybody else, but our real value comes in our summons, our debuffs, and our Soul Stones. That's what I'd like to talk about this week.
Proper Soul Stoning is an important topic. One which I've never seen covered to my satisfaction. The general one line of advice everybody gives to new Warlocks is "make sure the healer has a Soul Stone." But that's about as helpful as "cast spells at things to make them die." Sometimes it's not true, and even when it is true, the fact of the matter is a great deal more complicated than the single sentence of instruction can convey.
So what is proper Soul Stoning procedure? Soul Shards are easy enough to come by these days that there really isn't any excuse for not being prepared to Soul Stone whenever it's appropriate, but when is that? And when it is appropriate, who is the best candidate for having the stone cast on them? The latter question is far too often ignored, particularly in raid situations where there's more than one healer to choose from.
When To Use a Soul Stone
The answers to the first question, when to use a Soul Stone, are often considered self-evident. But like so many things that are so considered, everybody seems to think that the evidence points in different directions. Some Warlocks like to remain Soul Stoned constantly while leveling, others, only when they're attempting something difficult such as soloing an elite. Personally, I've always felt the former case to be a bit excessive, but when a Warlock is alone, what they do with their Soul Stone cooldown is between them and their shard bag.
Disagreements on Soul Stone etiquette primarily crop up when dealing with others. My personal policy is to always try to keep a Soul Stone active if I'm in a raid or instance which is roughly my level. It may seem silly to Soul Stone the healer in normal Halls of Lightning when you're in Ulduar gear--and I'll admit that I'm hardly the most devout observer of my own policy. But when the group wipes because the tank couldn't mitigate damage, or the healer couldn't heal properly, then the Warlock who didn't cast their Soul Stone is an easy target for scapegoating. I find it's best to just save myself the aggravation and make sure there's somebody Soul Stoned at all times in a larger group like that.
Even in situations where a Soul Stone would be useless for post-wipe recovery, it's good to keep a Soul Stone active on somebody in the group. Remember that Soul Stones can revive people in the middle of combat with a very respectable amount of health and mana, so if the healer goes down in the middle of a fight, they can pop back up and maybe prevent the group from wiping. And of course: you get to claim credit for everything a healer does after they use your Soul Stone.
In smaller groups of less than five people, such as groups of adventuring buddies, or groups hoping to kill an elite together, Soul Stones are not usually expected of a Warlock. All the same, it certainly never hurts to fortify your group against failure if it appears there may be difficult challenges ahead. It can be particularly helpful when running a low level character through an instance. Nothing's more frustrating than watching your friend's alt get slaughtered by some level 30 elite you didn't see, and be forced to wait while they make the long run back. Judicious application of Soul Stone can save you a lot of time.
Who to Soul Stone
Who to Soul Stone is a more difficult question, I think. As a very generalized rule, "Soul Stone the healer" does apply, but if we want to be a truly effective Warlocks, then we must to examine why we Soul Stone the healer. Most Raid Leaders don't give instructions on who specifically should be Soul Stoned, so it's up to Warlocks, as individuals, to select the target of our infernal blessing intelligently. It's rather cool, actually. Raid leaders tell Shamans when to use Bloodlust, they tell Paladins which buffs to use, but Warlocks get to apply our most coveted buff at our own discretion.
The reason we Soul Stone the healer is twofold. First, healers are some of the most essential members of any group, and allowing them to return to life after being killed (with an empty aggro table no less) can turn the tide of an encounter and lead to a victory. Secondly, healers are Soul Stoned so that, in the unfortunate event of a wipe, they can pop right back up and resurrect everybody. Saving people the annoyance of running all the way from the graveyard. But those are just two reasons to Soul Stone a healer. What if, due to circumstance, one or both of these reasons is invalidated? What if additional, better reasons exist in another situation? And even when these two reasons are sustained, raids usually have more than one healer. Should selection simply be random chance?
As with most things, it's always best if you know your group. If you know the people in your group, then you know what you can expect of them, which allows you to predict--somewhat--how your 30 minute cooldown will be spent. As an example, there's always that one player who goes and gets themselves killed every other pull. If, in your group, that player is a healer, then you probably don't want to Soul Stone them, since Soul Stones don't last through death. You'll cast your Soul Stone, they'll die 6 minutes later, the Ret Pally will rez them, and poof! You've got 24 minutes before you can Soul Stone again. It would have been better to cast your Soul Stone on the Ret Pally, even though he's just a DPSer. Because then, when your group wipes 10 minutes after your healer died, they wouldn't need to make a lengthy and disheartening corpse run.
In fact, I've found that Paladins are, as a general rule, the best people to cast Soul Stones on. In terms of healer survivability, Paladins are second to none. Regardless of whether they're healing, DPSing, or even tanking. So if there's one of them in my group, I'll usually default my Soul Stone to them. Lacking a Paladin, a Druid or a Shaman would be my second favorite. And I never Soul Stone a Priest if I can avoid it. Sorry guys, but you're so damn squishy.
Soul Stones On The Tank
Contrary to conventional wisdom, I typically use my Soul Stone on the tank, so long as they have the ability to rez. Both tanks and healers are essential to any group, and either loss means that there's about to be a wipe. Or, just maybe, something's about to happen that's worth writing in guildchat about. And it isn't hard to recognize that tanks are able to foster such epic tales a little more often than healers are--a comment which will doubtless lead to me never getting another heal again.
In my experience, healers usually only die when the tank is already dead. Of course there are numerous exceptions, but as a general rule it holds true. Which means that if you Soul Stone the healer, then usually that Soul Stone is only going to benefit the group after at least two deaths have occurred. And I've rarely seen a healer pop back up and heal a group of DPS through the remainder of a fight. On the hand, if the Soul Stone is on the tank, then in the general situation described above, it becomes available after the very first death in the party. The tank can pop right back up and, maybe, regain aggro before too much damage is caused.
Even if a few members of the party have been laid low in the time it took the tank to use his Soul Stone and regain aggro, it has been my experience that tanks are far more capable than healers of pulling a group through a rough situation without the aid of the other. Which might have something to do with the fact that it's much easier to heal as a DPS spec than it is to tank as a DPS spec, so solo-tanks end up getting a little more help from the party than solo-healers do.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to how to use Soul Stones in every situation a Warlock will find themselves in. Nor is it even really a guide at all. This is a discussion. We don't think about Soul Stones very much, but they're a vital part of being a contributing Warlock. It's important that we, as a class community, consider the best ways to use these tools to the advantage of ourselves and our fellows. These are some of my ideas...what are yours?