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Spiritual Guidance: Troubleshooting your DPS


Spiritual Guidance is a fickle mistress. By the light of day, it hits the outlet malls with Dawn Moore, gets Oreo McFlurries and has light-hearted discussions about last night's episode of Glee. By night, though -- Wednesday nights in particular -- it Shadowcrawls on back to Fox Van Allen for some wild flaying and searing. When you break it down, everyone likes a bad boy.

Fact: According to World of Logs, the top shadow priest DPS on a regular 10-man Lord Marrowgar kill was just over 13,000 DPS. Feel inferior? How about this, then: The top shadow priest DPS on a 25-man heroic Blood-Queen Lana'thel kill is about 27,600. I can't say for sure whether or not that's before the 20% buff went live, but when you're doing over 27k, who cares about that extra 5%?

I don't want you losing sleep comparing yourself to those fine players. For the most part, these numbers are a result of near-perfect gameplay, top-notch gear and sacrificing no fewer than eight mohawked gnome babies to the random number generating gods. Still, with all those gnome corpses piled in the corner of your room, you've gotta ask: "Why isn't my DPS as good as everyone else's?"

To those who expect one quick, simple answer, I suggest the following possible things you could be doing wrong:

  • Dude, your "6" key is totally broken.
  • You still have your fishing pole equipped, genius.
  • The eighth gnome is merely wounded, not dead.
If those suggestions are somehow less than helpful, you might want to follow me after the break to look at some of the real reasons why you might be lagging behind and a few things you can do to turn things around.

LF1M RFK, must have 5,500+ GS

I don't think you need me to tell you this, but most people in World of Warcraft automatically think that your damage is directly proportionate to your gear (or GearScore). It is true, at least, that when you give a player better gear, the player will give you better DPS in return. It's why we get excited when that Dislodged Foreign Object drops -- better gear means a better maximum theoretical DPS. What you make of the gear you have -- well, that's up to you.

As much as I hate reducing a set of gear to a single number
, let's at least take a stab at the basic question: How much damage should I be doing with the gear I have? For our little experiment, I played around on a training dummy with three different sets of gear. The first is typical of what you'd have when you're running heroics -- a mix of greens, blues, and purples (a GearScore just over 4,000). The second is a mid-tier raiding set typical of someone just starting out Icecrown (a GearScore just under 5,000). The third is an upper-tier raiding set for someone who's running heroic Icecrown (a GearScore just under 6,000). Each set was appropriately itemized for a shadow priest -- no Talismans of Resurgence were bought in the course of research for this article.

We see precisely what you'd expect -- the more powerful, ICC-level gear performs the best. I put each set of gear through three three-minute trial runs and averaged the results:

ICC heroics gear (6,000 GS) 6,420 DPS
ICC beginner gear (5,000 GS) 4,670 DPS
Heroics gear (4,000 GS) 3,615 DPS

Of course, I'm by no means perfect, and neither were my attempts on the training dummy. Still, they serve as a decent enough set of baseline figures -- heavy emphasis on baseline. Your DPS can be as much as 40% higher in a 25-man raid situation than on a training dummy on account of the raid-wide buffs you'll benefit from (such as Moonkin Aura).

The rotation -- or more specifically, your uptime

The shadow priest "rotation" is something of a myth. In a raid, we're not so much rotating as we are juggling with the goal of keeping all three of our DoT spells (Shadow Word: Pain, Vampiric Touch and Devouring Plague) active. We fill in the blanks with Mind Flay and Mind Blast.

Obviously, no one is going to have 100% uptime, and the difficulty of keeping DoTs up on your main target at all times is going to vary wildly from fight to fight. For Saurfang, World of Logs shows that 90% uptimes on most DoTs (with near 100% uptime on SW:P) is a good target to aim for; for a harder fight like Putricide 25-man heroic, it will be a challenge to see even 80% uptime on SW:P.

Consider this, the tale of two shadow priests. One is an acquaintance of mine in a top-rated guild. The other is a top-rated spriest on World of Logs. My acquaintance did about 8,000 DPS on Putricide 25-man heroic. The top-rated shadow priest did 9,800 DPS on the same fight.

What accounts for the difference between the two? It was almost entirely uptime -- the gear is near equal between the two of them. The top-rated spriest had 87.4% uptime on SW:P and 76.7% uptime on DP. My acquaintance had only 70% uptime on DP and 68% uptime on SW:P.

Practice makes perfect. Stay on those training dummies, and for the love of everything unholy, don't clip those DoTs!

Stuck in a temporal shift

Ever have one of those days where your timing is just totally off? It happens all the time in WoW, and it's called latency. Every action you make sends data to the server, which in turn sends data back to you. In an ideal world, the back-and-forth interaction would be instantaneous. In the real world, you're losing valuable DPS time if you're waiting around to receive information back from the server.

I regularly face latency of about 200 ms. That's not too far off from the human reaction time, so I can't complain too much. Those of you sick enough to try running World of Warcraft on a dial-up internet connection can experience latency of 5000 ms (five seconds!) or worse. That makes the game an unplayable game of chess -- you're trying to push buttons based on what you think will happen several seconds in the future. It's especially bad for a shadow priest who requires precise timing to maximize his DPS.

Eager to do some research for the kind readers of Spiritual Guidance, I did a simulation. I went to Netflix and I used their instant queue to start watching Police Academy 3. As the opening credits rolled, I loaded up WoW to melt the face clear off a training dummy.

I didn't have to worry about bursting out into fits of laughter, because nothing about the movie is funny. Nor would I be distracted by a strong, well put-together plot. My enemy here would be latency. A whole 1,100 ms of it. The kind of latency pushes the limits of playability.

Bad latency a miserable experience that I know all too well. I had to start the casting of my next spell a fraction of a second after I saw the last register on my screen. Some button presses wouldn't even register, costing a precious 1.5 seconds of casting time. I was clipping DoTs left and right, and probably clipping Mind Flay at random intervals.

If you remember the baseline I set earlier, I was doing 6,420 DPS on a training dummy with 225 ms of latency. When I latency climbed to 1,100 ms, my DPS dropped down to around 5,000.

It's frustrating that something out of your control in game can be so detrimental to your progress. Short of changing internet providers, there's not much you can do about your latency. You can manage it, however.

The most important addon you'll ever get

Hyperbole aside, there's a great addon out there for those of you who are struggling with your DoTs and suffering problems with consistently bad latency. It's called Quartz, and if you haven't downloaded it and given it a try yet, I strongly encourage that you do.

For those who don't know, Quartz is a memory-friendly addon that modifies your cast bar. There are a number of options to configure it, but arguably the most useful of them is its abililty to visually display latency as a fraction of your cast bar. Essentially, Quartz tells you when to cast your next spell, even though the last one hasn't quite finished yet. It's pretty intuitive, and while it isn't the perfect solution to your internet connectivity issues, it will help.

How much? With Quartz up and running, I was able to improve my DPS to 5,875 despite having 1,100 ms latency. That's still a 500+ DPS drop from where I was without the artificially slowed connection, but it's still 800+ DPS more than what I was getting from just stabbing at keys blindly. I can almost guarantee that you'll notice a difference right away.

As if that weren't enough, Quartz also acts as a DoT timer. It takes a little getting used to, but once you do, casting the right DoT spell at the right time gets a heck of a lot easier.

There are a number of other addons that have the features involved in Quartz that you can explore if you're so inclined (such as DoTimer). Personally, though, I find Quartz to be a great all-in-one -- and as someone who likes to run addon light, that's a trait I greatly value.

Hunger for more information about bending the light to your advantage? More interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? Think it's neat to dissolve into a ball of pure shadow every few minutes? Hate gnomes? The darker, shadowy side of Spiritual Guidance has you covered.

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