We've come a long way from Cataclysm's complexity for our spellcasting procedures. The warlock rotation in each of the three specs actually fits pretty well on the default action bars without needing a full page of macros, though you can use macros to fit it neatly into a couple of bars.
You can have the keybind discussion without talking about chunking, but I think knowing how your spells fit together in the dynamic finger dance of combat brings life to otherwise boring keyboard (and mouse) layouts.
Why should I care about chunking?
Chunking is to data like atoms are to matter; chunking is the unit of understanding concepts. Also, like atoms, you can break chunks down further into little specific parts, but when you want to talk chemicals or entire rotations, you're going to talk chunks not specifics for the sake of simplicity. I don't need to look up what spells you mean when you ask about my affliction uptimes -- I already know you're talking about my three DoTs.
Chunking helps you as a human being remember more stuff than you normally would listing everything out specific piece by specific piece. Chunking makes complex things seem less so.
When it comes to WoW, chunking helps you figure out what to put on your action bars and what you can stuff behind a multipurpose macro off to the side. Chunking can also allow you to write effective macros without needing to change your action bar muscle memory too much. You might have noticed in my macro article that my fillers are all on the same key. Chunking is why: it's my filler key.
As a pure DPS class, chunking also helps us learn two or more specs to play during a tier. Hybrids can differentiate between their muscle memories by switching entire roles, gear, or forms/stances. Warlocks, on the other hand, are firing from the back of the room all the time, and we even will wear the same gear between specs. Chunking helps you put similar function abilities on the same keys so when you go to reach for your filler key, it's the same no matter what.
In the spirit of my Weak Auras and macros, I'll share my own set up as a case study example. Yours may differ by a lot and that's totally OK.
Razer Naga mouse: steering and the often situational
You might have a simple two-button mouse -- that's fine. I enjoyed the Razer Naga enough that I got a second one when my first started to die, so that's what I keybind to. On the Naga, there are 12 side buttons for the thumb. The way my hand rests on my Naga influences where I put what on even that small batch of 12 keys. I put essential combat keys in the 1-6 keys, with less used abilities in the back-reaching 7-12 keys.
My Naga is reserved for my in-combat cooldowns and situational abilities like Burning Rush. The Naga doesn't add new buttons but will act like other keyboard buttons. All my Naga keys are in reality my F keys (F1, F2, F3, F4, etc.), so if my Naga dies mid-fight or I'm oddly playing without it, I can still activate often-used cooldowns easily in combat.
F1 is Soul Swap, mouseover Corruption/Fel Flame, or mouseover Havoc/Fel Flame. This is probably the most used key on my Naga, because it's where I put that one situational but highly useful damage spell. F2 is Command Demon, which covers all my pet options from sacrificed abilities to actual pet abilities. Shift+F2 is bound to /petattack, so I can still control a passive pet on select encounters without looking for my pet's action bar. F3 is my mitigation CD key with the Unending Resolve/Twilight ward macro.
Caution: if you use the F keys like me, remember not to put any [mod:alt] macros on your 4th key! My F4 in affliction is just my potion key, but in the other two specs, F4 is the AoE key. I used to have my AoE key out in space as 8, but in MoP I moved it over to my mouse since demo and destro tend to treat AoE as a binary on/off. Demo sees Hellfire/IA here, while destruction has Fire and Brimstone here. Affliction also tends to use Soul Swap more than Seed, so I can afford to have Seed out in the middle of almost nowhere. F5 is currently Snowball so I can pelt my raid leader after the wipe when I feel like it, but it's often blank in all the specs. F5 is my Crucial Whatever key, because it's where my thumb rests. Sometimes I put Sacrificial Pact or Dark Regeneration here. In raid, F5 is typically home to a specific raid macro like heroic Norushen's congo line whisper, or it might be a world flare to mark Malkorok's smashes. In PvP I might see Howl of Terror or a Fear macro there, and in Challenge Modes I often put Symbiosis there just in case. F6 is simple -- it's Dark Soul no matter what spec I roll.
F7 is Burning Rush, and since I surprisingly don't have a Weak Aura for when it's on, my eye darts over to this button quite often, especially when coming out of mind control effects. F8 is Healthstone. It used to have Soulstone on the shift modifier, but I've since moved Soulstone to just a click binding on my raid frames. F9 is my second talent tier CC all-in-one button; I just have to click once to get the icon to show correctly.
The last row is full of almost nonessential abilities, because I don't like reaching my thumb back that far very frequently.
Playing around WASD
I play with the traditional WASD with strafing baked in: W is forward, S is backpedal, with A strafe left and D strafe right. Some people move the keys over one -- ESDF -- so they have more keys to reach on either side for other abilities.
- Backpedaling is typically frowned upon, but I keep it since my brain doesn't always manage to turn with the mouse and strafe -- it just fires "OH S#$%, BACK UP, BACK UP." Backpedaling is also quite useful in lining up screenshots, and as a column writer who provides most of her own column headers, I personally appreciate the S key. Since I use S so much for screenshots, particularly on-demand to capture pretty moments in Azeroth, alt+S is an alternate binding for my screenshotting key in WoW.
Keys 1-6 are reserved for my main rotation. They are as follows:
- Boom key -- This is Soulburn, Metamorphosis/Dark Apotheosis, and Chaos Bolt. This is the important ability that's pretty crucial to using correctly. It's the button to the left of my resting state, so I can hit it quite easily.
- Filler/rest key -- Mouseover Fel Flame is here under a shift modifier, but otherwise you'll find Malefic Grasp, Shadow Bolt/Touch of Chaos, and Incinerate. This is the key my middle finger typically rests on, and I press it a lot.
- Rotational CD key -- Haunt, Hand of Gul'dan, or Conflagrate. This is the button I'll press every few seconds or so due to a small cooldown or resource limitations, but it's essential to my DPS.
- Main DoT key -- Well, that's a lie in affliction because it's Unstable Affliction, but UA is here because it's the cast-time DoT. In demonology this key is Corruption/Doom and in destruction it's Immolate.
- Moar DoTs key -- In affliction, it's Corruption. In demonology, it's a duplicate Corruption, because sometimes my muscle memory forgets I'm playing a spec with only one DoT button-wise and I mash the old affliction keybind for Corruption. In destruction, this is Rain of Fire, since I'll place it often enough for ember generation.
- Curses key -- Hey, it used to be Curse of Agony, so it still fits to have Agony there. Curse of Exhaustion is on Agony's shift modifier for affliction. Otherwise this is the Curse of the Elements/Curse of Enfeeblement key for me (7-key for affliction).
I have my end keys displayed as 0, -, and = out of habit, but I use the alternate bindings Q, R, and E, respectively. I started with Q and E, and later added R, hence the out-of-order arrangement.
- Q is Life Tap, or in the case of destro, Ember Tap. On other toons, this is my "get mana/resource back" key.
- E is for Execute key -- this is Drain Soul, Soul Fire, or Shadowburn. Enough said, but on E I can easily hit it while maneuvering in space, too.
- R is situational filler, usually -- On affliction and demonology, it's a repeat of the mouseover Fel Flame/Corruption because it's easier to press R while moving than to distort my hand to reach shift+2. On destruction, R is health funnel because I have mouseover Fel Flame in my F1 Havoc key.
Share your keybinding strategies!
You can see my redundancies in my layout, but it works for me. Keybinding is very much a personal thing, moreso than addons, because it's all about how your fingers move with whatever hardware setup you have. A full keyboard will be different than dual-wielding a Naga and a Nostromo. But hopefully recognizing spell themes will help you solidify your binding functions with your muscle memory.
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.