I've been asked several times from either new warlocks or old warlocks who came back to the game about what addons are out there to help a PvE warlock. Recently, it's been through Twitter, which isn't exactly the best place to explain how to get the most out of your UI.
Gear is one important preparation for raiding, and I've set you up with most of those considerations. Knowing your class and spec is another, and I promise, I'll get to that. But a good buff to your spellcasting techniques is a well-done user interface, so let's talk about that.
Buffing the default UI
Do you need 100 addons to raid as a warlock? No.
Can you use the default UI as a raiding warlock? Sure. It might not be recommended, but you are technically able to.
You can use a UI compilation (ElvUI is particularly popular and well-done). You can completely redo your UI using independent addons, like I do. You can raid on something very minimalistic in addon usage like the user interface of Sparkuggz from Method. It's really up to you what addons you "need."
The default UI has gotten better than it used to be. However, it's not the most optimal way to play a warlock, at least for most of us. I do suggest you try an LFR or a dungeon on the default UI, just to see exactly what helps you most in a PvE group combat situation (or if you can play just fine on it!). When I've played on the default UI -- whether it was for beta/PTR or I had to wipe my WTF folder on a dying laptop -- I always came back to a big three of addons I wish I had:
- A better cast bar that shows channeled ticks
- A DoT timer that can handle multiple targets
- A better buff/debuffs tracker
There's plenty of options out there for each category of addons, and I'll mention several choices. I'm not going to tell you one's better than another, because different people will react differently. I prefer largely visual & symbolic cues myself, with sound cues for occasional warnings, so my UI revolves around what others may regard as pure eye candy.
These addons also overlap in many areas now. You can configure DoT timers and resource bars with a cast bar addon, and you can show buffs and debuffs with just about anything, from buff mods to aura mods to unit frame mods. But I'll name some basics and what I personally use. Please add your favorites in the comments if I don't name them here.
The most important part of the cast bar that you'd want in a mod is the latency bar. Usually colored differently from the rest of the bar, this part tells you when you could end your cast before it's technically finished and the game will still register it as going off due to your latency (specifically world latency involves casting and combat).
The minorly important part of cast bars for warlocks is seeing the ticks in a channeled spell like Malefic Grasp or Drain Soul. Since Malefic Grasp is a new spell in the 5.0 game, not all addons (including my cast bar of choice) have updated quite yet for its ticks, but the spell is quick enough that I don't quite care to go hunting for another addon to configure right now. Drain Soul is the main attraction for a channeled tick bar since you're most likely to interrupt that channel than any others.
Quartz is a an old-time favorite and still a solid choice. I switched to Gnosis when one patch Quartz was late on updating, and I've found I like Gnosis's looks and control better than Quartz. AzCastBar is also a lightweight cast bar that I've used before.
DoT timers and buffs
DoT timers come in handy when you are multidotting or when you need a dedicated watcher for your crowd control. You can also use a DoT timer for single-target use, like many do. DoT timers often have a bar format instead of an icon format, where on the bar you'll see the ticks for DoTs, including the modified haste tick periods. Warlocks care about where the last tick of a DoT is because of how DoTs are refreshed and because of Pandemic.
The classic format is bars of DoTs per target you cast on. The more targets you have DoTs on, the more bars you have on your screen. DoTimer and Ellipsis are familiar faces to me, but the most popular addon I hear about or see used is ForteXorcist. I'll also mention the compilation UI ElvUI, since many people also praise ElvUI's timers. NeedToKnow is yet another often talked about DoT timer.
I'll admit, DoT timers and buff/debuff addons overlap quite a lot. Many DoT timer addons can also track procs and buffs on you, but there are still dedicated buff bars out there. DoT timers tend to be configured for specific buffs and debuffs, while a general buff mod will show NPC or vehicle buffs and debuffs, too.
I was a longtime Satrina Buff Frame (SBF) user until Satrina stopped maintaining it and the addon almost died for updates in Cataclysm. A new maintainer has picked the addon back up, but I've since moved on to the fantastic Raven mod. Raven can also function as a DoT timer, and works wonderfully whether you like bars or icons for your buff interface.
I used Power Auras Classic for a long time, and if you prefer PA over WA, that's completely fine because it's still a good addon. I prefer Weak Auras now because of the better GUI grouping I can use and the progression textures that can act almost like a HUD.
There's a wide variety in how you can use your Auras addon. Some people use it simply as a cooldown or buff reminder and don't get into the flashy animations or progression textures. Me? Remember, I like visual cues, and especially moving visual cues get my attention.
I use Weak Auras for my rotation like Disney's Fantasia blends animation and music. (I particularly try for the Toccata and Fugue animation's feel! Abstract but so cool!) Getting one squiggly to appear when I put up Haunt, another when I use Dark Soul, and yet another aura that fades over time when Lightweave procs is part of the fun for me. I also design my Weak Auras together so that they play off each other and interlock to make fun designs.
I'm not quite as pro at manipulating Weak Auras as Kait is, but I am pretty well-versed at making diverse auras with the GUI. I'll eventually get around to sharing my specific Weak Auras on my blog, though it's been requested to do a full column on them. If anyone has any questions about how to make a particular aura, feel free to email me about it.
Pick one. Any one. They all do the same thing.
Of course, if your guild requires a specific one, go with that one. Typically guilds don't require a certain boss mod because it is the "Bestest Bester Best Boss Mod EVAR," but simply so all of their raiders are on the same page with regards to ability timers, available warnings, and updated mods. All the boss mod choices can be configured to do the same essential things; it's really eye & ear candy that distinguishes them.
Some people swear by BigWigs. Personally, I loved Deus Vox Encounters (DXE) back in Icecrown Citadel because I could use different colors for a mob-spawning timer versus a boss ability timer. But I use Deadly Boss Mods now, along with most if not all of my guild. It does the job well enough for me. I can move bars near the focus of my screen (my DoTs) and uncheck spammy warnings ("Yor'sahj has hit the tank with Void Bolt! Again!").
There is an important note about boss mods: you should still be doing the heavy lifting during the boss encounter. The timer bars and warning should benefit you noticeably, not be just background noise.
Your boss mod should work as a light reminder for the encounter's mechanics. Pay attention to the timers to anticipate events -- don't just leave the bars running on your screen because "that's what a boss mod does." Don't wait for your raid leader to call out the name of the Wildfire Spark target on Ventrilo; read the name as your boss mod prints it across your screen. If you find you're not caring about an ability's timer or warning, then get it off your screen.
Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DOTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. We'll coach you in the fine art of staying alive, help pick the best target for Dark Intent, and steer you through tier 13 set bonuses.