Before BlizzCon, I left off with the beginnings of how to put together your UI. While it would be easy to generate a post of macros and Weak Auras import strings, that wasn't my intent. User interfaces in WoW are varied and can be unique to the player, so I think it's a greater lesson to learn how you can design your UI to help you, rather than to help patchwork import settings together for you.
So while the setup of unit frames may have seemed incredibly basic to some readers, knowing where some set frames are helps you take control of how your targets are presented to you. Much like healers considering a raid frames grid to be a central part of a healing UI, having damage targets at the ready is a central if often subconscious part of a DPS UI. Today is another basic topic, but it too has a subtle effect on how a proper UI setup can aid in DPS.
Multitarget versus AoE
I use the term "multitarget" over AoE because there's a difference in method between damaging adds on Nazgrim (multidotting) and damaging adds on Dark Shaman (AoE). There's several forms of target arrangements that arise during fights, and often this is what decides which warlock spec is best for the encounter.
First, mobs can differentiate by number. Typically the question here is when to switch from single-target spells to AoE spells. However, warlocks have a bit of a middle ground between one and many.
- Single Target -- This is your bread-and-butter of DPS situations. This is also the most theorycrafted situation of targets (aka Patchwerk), so it's the most accurate between theoretical DPS and actual DPS, and thus easiest to estimate.
- Dual Target -- Two targets often becomes an extension of single target. Affliction is good at dual target because of the ability to keep Haunt going consistently on both targets. Destruction is also great at dual target with the use of Havoc. Demonology can put its DoTs on two targets, but traditionally lags behind the other two in dual target DPS when the patch doesn't favor Doom or Wild Imps for damage.
- Three or four targets -- Affliction primarily uses this distinction, for it uses multidot fairly heavily before resorting to spamming a true area-of-effect spell. Destruction may use Fire and Brimstone (FnB) to spread Immolate and will start to use Rain of Fire, but it's not quite to the level of keeping FnB on while spamming Incinerate. (Four to six targets is approximately the equilibrium point for destro to maintain embers while under FnB.) Demonology tends to have a more binary "one or many" number of mobs switch.
- Six or more -- Affliction continues to Soul Swap in patch 5.4, but would historically switch to Seed of Corruption (SoC) at this point. Destruction can often gain embers off the number of targets being hit with FnB constantly up and using Rain of Fire, which can lead to a dump of Chaos Bolts or Shadowburns on the priority target while using the AoE to generate embers. Demonology has historically been the AoE king of the warlock class, and with proper spatial arrangement of mobs, can put out some serious burst AoE on six or more targets.
- Cleave -- Cleave is what happens when the secondary target is right next to the priority target and receives splash damage from damage on the priority target. A good portion of warlock multitarget outside of multidotting is target-based or cleave-style AoE.
- Demonology has cleave with small AoE like Hand of Gul'dan (HoG) or the felguard's felstorm ability. Demonology also has Hellfire, which cleaves off the warlock herself. Destruction has powerful cleave damage in the form of FnB, which will spread Immolate, Conflagrate, or Incinerate as damage to nearby targets. Affliction has cleave in the form of Seed of Corruption, whether soulburned or not.
- True Area of Effect -- Cleave often overlaps with true AoE, but true AoE is distinct in being a static area of the room rather than a radius moving with a primary target. These are the spells with a target circle. Rain of Fire is the perfect example of this, but also some pet abilities like the fel imp's AoE dispel and the succubus's knockback are examples of true AoE.
- Distant multitargets -- Sometimes the mobs aren't necessarily physically near each other (e.g., Nazgrim's mobs or often dual-target/council-style bosses). This type of mob arrangement lends itself heavily to multidotting, which is affliction's strength using Soul Swap. Demonology and destruction can both multidot with their DoTs, but destruction is unique in that it can handle a spread of multitargets with its core direct damage spells through the use of Havoc and FnB.
Summary: specs vs mobs
So what does all this mean when it comes to deciding what to spec for a fight? Well, consider the strengths and weaknesses of each warlock spec:
Affliction rocks at single-target and its primary form of hitting up multitargets is a complete extension of how it does single-target. Affliction has strong dual-target DPS with consistent Haunt on two targets, but in patch 5.4, its strong DoTs can still powerfully take down an opponent without Haunt. Affliction doesn't have much in the way of bursty cleave or AoE, so its weakness lies in killing many short-lived targets. Affliction thrives on long-lived targets and its strength lies in DoTs not caring where the mobs stand in relation to one another.
Affliction is more tied to the UI than the other two specs. Boss frames and nameplates with a debuff widget are also recommended; most unit frame mods will let you show debuffs by a boss frame and popular nameplate addons like TidyPlates or ThreatPlates have a debuff widget that shows your DoT icons above the nameplate of every affected mob.
Demonology cares about the life expectancy of mobs only so far as putting up Doom is concerned. Demonology cares more about how many targets are around to generate fury on, and it's all the better if the targets are clumped together. A well-played demo 'lock can swing single and multidotting styles of targets with the rest of them, but demo really shines on burst cleave and burst AoE boss fights.
Demonology also benefits from a DoT/debuff arrangement with unit frames to monitor Corruption and Doom. However, demo can exist with simple nameplates just so the 'lock knows where the mobs are clumped together.
Destruction likes to use other targets in the field to either generate embers for damaging a priority target or to "bounce" damage off one mob onto another through the use of Havoc. With the fluidity between single-target, cleave (FnB), AoE (Rain of Fire), and multitarget (Havoc), destruction is incredibly versatile at different mob numbers or spatial arrangement during a single encounter. Getting the most out of destro on single-target is about lining up procs with Chaos Bolt, but rocking multitarget is about using the mobs in the field against one another, much like a fire spreads around a field by seizing and consuming anything it can.
Destruction only has one DoT, but may use nameplates to see the duration of Havoc on a mob or to aid in mouseover macros. Havoc is often cast under focus or mouseover macros to alleviate rapid target switching. Destro may wish to have additional auras or notifications that tell the warlock she's standing with Fire and Brimstone on, or how many charges Havoc has left, or whether her Rain of Fire is not out on a target (since the warlock gets a buff for RoF being out, it's easy to track).
It's often not the duration of movement alone that kills a warlock's DPS, but the combination of frequency, length, and randomness of movement. Frequency is typically what tanks your DPS when it comes to movement. Travel distance can be combated by personal port or a Gateway, and warlocks can often eat a small random voidzone or hit in order to finish up a cast before moving.
Situational awareness is what counters the problems a warlock faces with movement. Situational awareness isn't just about keeping your feet out of voidzones, but also realizing when you need to switch up gears to deal with an upcoming mechanic.
The most obvious is having your boss mod bars somewhere central so you don't need to look around for upcoming events. I recommend having your immediate boss mod bars set to 10 seconds out, for that's plenty of time (about 3-5 spells) before the mechanic happens to prepare yourself to move or pop a cooldown. Longer boss mod bars of far-future abilities can sit in a corner or on the side of your screen. Additional boss mod features like a verbal countdown or special big warnings can also help inform you of mechanics before or as soon as they happen.
Knowing the strategy is half the battle, but not just your caster DPS part. How the tanks dance around often determines the spatial arrangement of mobs, which can make or break a spec on a fight. If you know where the tanks are going to pull a mob, then you can figure out where best to position yourself to keep your damage rolling, instead of chasing the mob as it chases the tank. Take initiative as a DPS by placing yourself in range of where the damage is going to be dealt before the mob even gets there (preferably while the mob gets there, too).
For example, when the wall of elementals is about to come out on Dark Shaman, the tanks are going to move away, so you might also need to adjust your turret position then. If you take that time into account while casting, you'll be ready to move when you need to.
In order to take advantage of the various enemy health bars in the field, you'll want to minimize your damage downtime, and situational awareness is the most powerful tool you have. Be vigilant and pay attention to what your UI is telling you.
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.