Before Wrath of the Lich King, one of the biggest DPS-boosting buffs around was Blessing of Salvation. This buff made you less interesting to mobs and essentially allowed you to do up to 30 percent more damage. It didn't help you do the damage, but it stopped you being so limited by the threat generated by the tank. Warlocks who didn't have a paladin to grant this buff were wise to be very cautious with their Shadow Bolts of massive critability.
These days, the tanks innately generate more threat. As such, the fear of having your damage capped by their threat generation abilities is much reduced. However, it is still possible to be threat-capped and if this happens, then anything that reduces your threat is suddenly your best ally. At level 66, you can learn Soulshatter, an unassuming little ability that sits quietly in your spell book until you really need it.
What does it do?
So what exactly does shattering this soul do for you? The tooltip says:
This is wholly correct but assumes you know how threat works. I did cover the basics back in November when Blood Pact was talking about voidwalkers, but here's a boiled-down version. Threat is the amount a mob wants to hit you. Mobs focus on only one player at a time; this player is said to have aggro from that mob. If your threat level exceeds that of the player with aggro by enough, then the mob will target you -- you will gain its aggro."Reduces threat by 50% for all enemies within 50 yards."
There are various methods of measuring threat. You could use the in-game threat display that gives you a percentage value until you take aggro (at 100%, the mob turns to you). Alternatively you might choose to use an addon such as Omen or Skada to track absolute threat values. I prefer to use Skada so I can see the threat of all the group and then, once combat ends, it tells me how much damage we did (or healing, etc.). These addons show your threat level as a percentage of the person with aggro; this value can go to 130% before you actually take the aggro from them (110% if you are within melee range).
You gain threat on a mob by doing damage. There are various things that affect how much threat you do with each damaging ability, but if you consider every point of damage as a point of threat, you won't be far wrong. Soulshatter halves the amount of threat points a mob remembers you have generated with it. This means that the more threat points you have generated (the more damage you have already done to the mob), the more effective Soulshatter will be.
This is important when deciding when best to use Soulshatter.
When to use it
With a three-minute cooldown, Soulshatter isn't an ability you can work into your rotation. You need to pick your moment. This isn't as obvious as you may think. It would be easy to just say, "Use it just before you pull aggro." That's pretty good advice, but there is more to it than that. If you start nuking on a mob and get a crazy run of crits right away, you might very well find yourself pushing the tank's threat levels. However, using Soulshatter within the opening moments of a fight won't dump very much threat overall (as you haven't done much damage yet). You would be better off either easing off on your DPS for a few seconds (reposition, Life Tap, /dance) to let the tank establish a decent lead.
Waiting until the last moment might also mean that you are forced to use Soulshatter just when you need to maximize your damage. Soulshatter activates the global cooldown (GCD) so is actually a damage loss to cast; this can be important when you enter a burn phase or the like. If you are going to become threat-capped (having to stop damage because otherwise you would pull aggro), then it may be better to pop Soulshatter a little earlier and be able to fully open up when needed. Times you want to try and avoid having to shatter could be:
- boss burn phase (such as the last 30% of Saurfang)
- execute phases such as when you can use Decimation or Drain Soul
- during Bloodlust or Heroism
- during trinket procs or just after taking a potion
Similarly, don't cast Soulshatter just after taking the aggro. Yes, this will probably mean that the target will most likely go after someone else, but there's a good chance that won't be the tank. So unless there is a mage next on the threat table, always shatter before you break the 130% threat barrier.
You also want to be aware of any environmental impacts on people's threat. Several boss encounters include a mechanism that either reduces the threat a tank has or resets all threat back to zero. Using Soulshatter before the tank's threat is reduced may be vital, but using it just before a reset is pointless.
So when is the best time to Soulshatter? Nobody can tell you. It will depend on your DPS, your tank, the fight you are in and many other factors. This spell is a massive DPS boost when you need it, none at all when you don't. As with "when to pop Metamorphosis," I'm not about to say that it's an art form, but it can be very complicated. Making the most of Soulshatter can be the difference between being good and being great.
Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DoTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. If you're curious about what's new with 'locks since the last patch, check out WoW.com's guide to patch 3.3 or find out what's upcoming in Cataclysm from the BlizzCon 2009: Class Discussion Panel.