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Blood Pact: FinalBoss interviews Sparkuggz and Shinafae


Every week, WoW Insider brings you Blood Pact for affliction, demonology, and destruction warlocks. This week, Megan O'Neill fails at predicting patch day. Whoops.

So I was moving living spaces and then I thought it'd be only a week before the patch launched. I have the gear drops list set up, and I figured no one wanted 1000 words when the obvious numbers pass happened -- our DoTs went up and our fillers went down. But then the patch release date became September 10th instead of August 27th.

You'd think I'd have learned this by now.

What I have learned by now is to read up on other warlock things, particularly in aspects of WoW I don't personally play. I am in a 5/13 25H guild, but I doubt I'll reach world firsts any time soon, so it's fun to hear perspectives of warlockery from the likes of Sparkuggz of EU-Twisting Nether's Method and Shinafae of US-Illidan's Blood Legion. Fortunately, new video series got the chance to interview both for its third episode about warlocks in Mists of Pandaria.

Topic cheatsheet

FinalBoss is still getting into the swing of things, so they haven't yet gotten around to the popular method of listing segment topics in the video description by timecode. But fortunately, when one is taking notes for reference, one takes down the approximate times of each topic. So here's a rough cheatsheet for the warlock-centric topics over the nearly 2-hour video.

There were a few technical difficulties a few times in the episode, so if the video doesn't have proper sound or the screen blanks out to grey, it's fine on your end -- that's just how the video was edited.

Sparkuggz swears a few times, so beware if language bothers you.
  • 8m - Favorite warlock encounters or tiers
  • 10m - Warlock tanks
  • 14m - Legendary cloak proc importance for warlocks
  • 16m - How the nerf to RPPM and trinkets affects the dominance of certain specs and secondary stats
  • 23m - Legendary meta gem importance for warlocks
  • 24m - Shinafae shows how trinket proc RNG can affect her DPS on Ra-den with a World of Logs detailed page
  • 30m - Spark and Shina talk generally about the three specs of warlocks in Mists of Pandaria
  • 34m - How warlocks are designed across the three specs compared to some other caster or ranged classes
  • 37m - Addons and UI for warlocks
  • 49m - Green fire -- was it a good thing?
  • 56m - Stat priorities discussion
  • 1hr - Keldion's haste breakpoints spreadsheet makes an appearance as Spark and Shina discuss SimulationCraft's strengths and problems
  • 1hr 20m - Is spell play more of a DPS factor than gear/stats?
  • 1hr 22m - A few tips and tricks for warlocks
  • 1hr 28m - Q&A with viewer or submitted questions, starting with how warlocks have evolved since Cataclysm for better or for worse
  • 1hr 30m - Q&A: Regarding different specs per fight, how does the resource/playstyle affect warlock versatility?
  • 1hr 35m - Q&A: Discussion of the difficulty difference between demonology and destruction play
  • 1hr 38m - Q&A: Have you used destro, Shina/Spark, and do you like it?

Even if you don't have the time to watch the whole show, there are still a few topics I think are too important to miss.

SimulationCraft: Just one tool of many

SimulationCraft has been the theorycrafting software for warlocks for a long time, so while some other classes' modules may not be as accurate, the warlock module has always been strong. But unlike WoW's developers, SimC's devs are constructing the program purely on their free time. So naturally, it's going to take a bit for the modules to update.

We're in a weird lull between the PTR slowing down and before the patch goes live. Behind the scenes, the SimC module developers are most likely working very hard to make sure the damage models represent the patch as best as they can. When patches launch, SimC usually goes through a new version of itself with bug fixes once or twice a week for a couple of weeks.

SimulationCraft is a popular tool for players to predict their DPS, but the developers don't accept its results as readily. The commonly cited reason is that the developers don't have the time to debug SimulationCraft to see if the program really does represent the patch well.
Blood Pact FinalBoss interviews Sparkuggz and Shinafae MON
The other problem is that SimulationCraft doesn't pay WoW's subscription fee -- that is, SimC isn't playing the game, players are.

SimulationCraft is a program, which means whatever goes into it is what you're going to get out of it. The default settings for SimC assume a Patchwerk fight -- which doesn't exist in raid encounters in pure form anymore -- and also all buffs and debuffs available. On the other hand, players can play in imperfect raid compositions and different strategies across the same fight. SimC by default also plays the encounter to perfection, while players have to deal with lag of all kinds, including internet, graphical, and simple cognitive lag. Finally, SimC is often run with the included "best in slot" gear and play of spells, which is often not actually how most players play.

Simply put, SimC is an imperfect representation of players in World of Warcraft raid content. Imperfect doesn't mean it' s not useful once you analyze and really dig into the controls and knobs of the program. Imperfect just means that linking one run of SimC on default without analysis is not a solid enough reason for the devs to listen to your outrage over the latest change to your favorite spell.
Blood Pact FinalBoss interviews Sparkuggz and Shinafae MON
RaidBots is the newest third-party tool used by players that the developers have started to reject for simple complaint linking. RaidBots has the same problem as SimC: it have the potential to be a powerful tool to dial down and analyze the entire population of combat logs on World of Logs, but most people stop too often at the pretty default graphs rather than thinking about what the lines mean.

World of Logs, on the other hand, displays the raw events in a fight in a format that's better comprehensible by humans than the miles-long line-by-line combat log file. World of Logs is a tool for the developers to read what is actually going on in a fight, while RaidBots and SimC start to bleed into the subjective realms by trying to interpret meanings or causalities from fights.

SimC and RaidBots can help predict what's going on and narrow down what points of interest theorycrafters should be looking at for likely problems, but like most of science, raw data in the actual environment like World of Logs serves a better thought-out reason to change than results derived from formulae developed with an outside model.

Fighter jet pilots and their cockpits

But an unexpected benefit of my hand injury and experimentation is that it jolted me out of the context of users who can master a UI as complicated as a fighter jet cockpit.
- Cynwise, "A Thousand Cuts: Cognitive Fatigure in the Warcraft UI"

I laughed when Sparkuggz referred to playing WoW like flying a jet plane, because that's exactly how Cynwise referred to the WoW UI a couple weeks ago. Both top warlocks go over their UI setups briefly in the episode, and you can see how Sparkuggz's UI is set up differently than Shinafae's. Even my UI is changing all the time: for example, it's similar and yet different still from this old screenshot (Omen is gone, TipTac is on the other side now, my unit frames are lower, etc.).

Blood Pact FinalBoss interviews Sparkuggz and Shinafae MON

Sparkuggz uses AffDots but Shinafae doesn't. Sparkuggz uses the default action bars, but Shinafae has hers reclustered in the center. Sparkuggz uses the PvP-like centering of the unit frames while Shinafae uses a HUD more reminiscent of RealUI. Shinafae recommends no scrolling battle text in your face since how hard your spell is critting isn't going to affect your next spell play, but Sparkuggz plays with the floating damage text popping up in the field from his DoT targets.

Sparkuggz and Shinafae both iterate a concept over and over again: it's less about which addon you are using than how your UI is set up. Shinafae says, "You want your UI to work with you and with what you need, not to work against you" (41m). The focus point for most players is the feet of your character (the center of your screen) for good situational awareness, so arrange your UI so that what's important is nearest your eyes and character and what's less important is towards the peripherals of your vision.

There is a certain amount of base cognitive fatigue with the Warcraft UI as Cynwise says because it's a game designed to be played with the mouse and keyboard combination, which comes with a plethora of buttons available for use. But since WoW's UI is so incredibly flexible and moddable, you should arrange your UI to work for you as much as possible so you can focus on the job at hand the next time you engage in battle. Like fighter pilots, you should still be able to fly your plane if your instrumentation starts to break; your UI should enhance your play not constrict it.

Blood Pact FinalBoss interviews Sparkuggz and Shinafae MON

Versatility versus overpowered

Sparkuggz describes warlocks as versatile rather than specifically overpowered. It's true, the warlock class has been a great raider this past tier, whether you think our damage is ridiculous of you think we bring too much utility to certain fights. I agree with Sparkuggz in the warlocks aren't particularly overpowered in one aspect, but we are incredibly flexible with how we approach a fight, which allows us to change with just spec or even within a spec over a raid.

It's not nearly as bad as it was in Cataclysm, but warlocks still have a little bit of a ramp-up time to our damage. Warlocks don't really have a solution to true short-term burst, like what happens when you kill adds of low health. We do very well when targets last a long time because of how all three specs' resources and spells play, so we naturally make great boss-killing machines.

Sparkuggz and Shinafae go over the elements of warlock versatility, strengths, and weaknesses in the Q&A section of the show. In the end, I feel like the conclusion is that warlocks are not necessarily overpowered -- OK, yes, Demonic Gateway is a little ridiculous at the moment but it's being nerfed well enough in patch 5.4. Skilled warlocks can get a lot of out the spec because they know how to fly the jet plane through all the trick loop maneuvers, but it's not necessarily an obvious or easy thing to do.

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.

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