When I use the word 'robot' here I don't mean to suggest that anyone is using programmed code to control their toon. I mean that it is all too easy to become rigid in our thinking and formulaic in our methods. As regular readers will know I'm a fan of theorycrafting and certainly advocate knowing strategies; as I say, these are the foundations. We need the foundations but we need more than that. We need an understanding of why we are doing things so that we can adapt to change. I also should make it clear that although I pitch this piece at raiders (and indeed, warlocks) this concept has a broader application.
As well as knowing the strategy for a fight I feel it is important to know the mechanics of the boss' abilities. This may sound obvious, but often I find people are only aware of the boss mechanics in so much as they were mentioned in the strategy. As an example, the Swarming Shadows effect on the Blood-Queen Lana'thel fight. This is listed in the strategies as being very similar to Legion Flame from Jaraxxus and that you need to move in order to drop the pools of shadow in a line, often giving suggested ways in which to run. This is quite right and accurate; however, there is a distinct difference in the two abilities. They both have two parts to the mechanic, a DoT that hurts the affected player and a 'stuff on the floor' element that hurts players stood in it. Both of these elements hurt and in both fights do equivalent damage, however, the damage taken from standing in Swarming Shadows is mostly resistible. This means that while standing in either is bad, standing in Swarming Shadows is nowhere near as bad as standing in Legion Flame.
What does that tell us? Well, when presented with the option of standing in a splat of Swarming Shadows that someone left behind, or moving closer to someone and risking splash damage from Twilight Bloodbolt, it might well be worth staying put. The damage you are likely to take is less than an affliction lock passively heals themselves for. It's by understanding how these things work that we can 'break the rules' -- and standing in 'stuff on the floor' is one of those basic rules we try never to break.
I'm certainly not about to give a shopping list of abilities that have some deeper mechanic than strats normally place on them -- that would go completely against the spirit of this article. The idea is to show that free thought and greater understanding can lead to unexpected means of improving performance. It's this free thinking that separates us from a scripted bot.
Much the same is true of spell rotations. Now, as locks we have long been aware of the concept of 'spell priority' rather than rotation -- "if this condition is met then this, otherwise that". These priorities typically inform us what spell to cast when cooldowns are up. Do we cast Haunt or Shadow Bolt? Immolate or Conflagrate? We can stand in front of a target dummy all day to get this right. In a real fight we come across more varied situations. What is best cast if we're moving? What about if the target won't live long such as Nether Portals or Blazing Skeletons? If we are threat capped?
Another situation that may call for an unusual spell choice is when raid members die. If that boomkin just got roasted do you think about whether you have a spare, or an unholy DK? If you don't you might want to swap over to Curse of Elements -- though that will depend on how long the fight has left and how many caster DPS are still standing.
If a loose mob starts making a beeline for your healer (something that can happen in any group situation) do you consider halting their progress with abilities like Death Coil, Shadowfury or Intercept? Do you look at every boss room and consider where to place your circle? It may not help execute the strategy but can it help if something went wrong?
Communication is another valuable tool that sets a good raider apart from someone just following a script. Waffling over the voice channel is a sure way to annoy everyone (typically) but a quick "swapping to elements" lets the leader know what is going on (and that you're awake).
I could go on all day but I already said I wouldn't. No doubt you have any number of examples of breaking the mould and saving the day (and I look forward to this week's comments) but think about the little things as well. We all do it but can we do it more?
A final note: I think warlocks are prone to creative thinking and wanting to use pets and abilities that they don't normally use. This is a great thing and should be encouraged, but only in the right place. You need to put these things on top of the foundations. If you just enter a fight looking to do the unusual without knowing the strategy or how to get the most out of your spec, then you 're not a robot, but then nor are you a raider.
Ooh! A final, final note. If you do pull aggro and have the boss come over to you, try and shatter while stood next to a mage. It may not help prevent a wipe but nobody will really mind as the hilarity will make it all worthwhile.
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.