Site Meter Curse of Senility: Affliction DPS on Trash Mobs

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Affliction DPS on Trash Mobs

NOTE: A lot of people are getting to this post after searching 'affliction dps 80' or something of that sort. And while I think this post is helpful, it's probable that you're looking for something a little more like this.

"Woe to you, affliction warlock! For your dualistic lot in life is one both of glory and of shame; for while you may top the meters on Patchwerk, never will your name be seen above rank the tenth when there is trash to clear. And so will you remain in obscurity, your true skill remaining hidden due to the lies told by 'overall damage' reports."

~Anonymous Raid Leader

I'm not one to complain about the weaknesses of my class, or the strengths of other classes. I may have suggestions for improving things, but I really do hate to bitch. That said, affliction warlocks have it bad right now as far as trash DPS goes, which in and of itself isn't a bad thing. Trash mobs are just what their name proclaims them to be--trash. If a group can't manage to tear through trash mobs with relative ease, then they really have no business attempting the bosses that come after said trash.

The problem with affliction's low trash-mob-damage comes not from any actual problems with the in-game situation, but rather, from the damage meter, and the perception it creates in peoples minds. Now don't get me wrong--damage meters are wonderful, amazing tools. If not for damage meters, I never would have found out that I was consistently one of the worst damage dealers in any group, which means I never would have sought help and never would have become the symbol of mediocrity that I have become today. Furthermore, without damage meters I would have no way to test my new rotations and specs. And hell, without damage meters, I wouldn't be able to playfully compete with my fellow DPSers for the top DPS spot.

The problem with the damage meter is that most people don't know how to use it properly. Almost everyone keeps the thing stuck on 'overall damage,' which in my experience both as a DPSer and a raid leader, doesn't do anybody any good. Far too often this method of looking at the numbers allows a small group of people to climb to the top of the meter doing trivial things such as slaughtering the trash mobs or spamming AoE on nonelites, while their actual contribution in difficult situations is frighteningly lackluster.

Furthermore, as a motivating factor, damage meters become meaningless when only overall data is used. Invariably, in any instance, a small group of people quickly establish themselves as the 'top' DPS, while other players are left in the dust. Given a boss or two, the damage meters will settle into a rather stable arrangement, that won't be changed even if the people at the top stop trying, and the people at the bottom use every trick they've got in an attempt to pull ahead.

Damn hunters! >.>

Personally, I find the most accurate way to view the data is to set your damage meter to only show the numbers for the current fight. This way, everybody has a clean state at the start of every single pull. When I've been doing well throughout the instance thus far, this forces me to 'keep it up,' in order to maintain my lead. Similarly, when I've been doing poorly, I am less likely to get discouraged, and more likely to try harder to improve my standing on the next pull.

All of that aside, I am most firmly of the opinion that even though affliction warlocks can't be expected to do good DPS on trash, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try. To that end, I've begun to play with a variety of alternate tactics for trash mobs, and while I've yet to achieve any truly great level of success, I have managed to put forth a decidedly respectable showing on individual trash pulls now and again. Once or twice even managing to get the top spot! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Before you really begin to think about how to do good damage on trash mobs, you must try to understand why it is that affliction has so much trouble with them in the first place. Affliction Warlocks are sometimes called "DOT locks," after their primary form of attack. DOT, as everyone knows, is the acronym for Damage Over Time. And that, there, is the root of the problem. Time. Affliction warlocks require some measure of time before they can really begin to do damage.

I've done extensive testing of affliction damage using things like real time graphs, as well as friends who agreed to serve as a control group of sorts. What I've noticed is that even several seconds into my rotation, my damage output is altogether pitiful when I'm using my full casting sequence. Then, about 25-35 seconds into combat, my numbers suddenly shoot up at an astronomical speed, as all my dot ticks start going off in force. Before this, however, my numbers would shame a level 65 elemental shaman.

At this point, the issue should be clear. When fighting trash mobs, each target is only going to be alive for a scant few seconds, meaning that the 'shooting up' part of my damage never happens. Ergo, it would seem reasonable to conclude that the only way to really do damage against such mobs is to either significantly alter my rotation, or respec--something I'm not willing to do when my damage output in more important situations is phenomenal.

Altering the rotation, however, is a tricky business, because it either requires memorizing every trash mob in every instance, or it requires tactical senses good enough to analyse a target mob's life expectancy after a glance at it's HP, and formulate a viable tactic based on that. Given the near impossibility of the former, I fear I am stuck with attempting the latter, even given my lackluster tactical skills.

To make things simpler, I've devised a hand full of rotations for different situations. And, whenever I find myself faced with trash pulls, I try and approximate which one of these rotations might work best for that particular pull.

Boom Theory: Seed of Corruption, Rain of Fire, and a Shadowflame now and again for good measure. If you've got a good tank, then this is by far the easiest way to go about things in larger pulls. Not just pally tanks anymore either! I've used this tactic to great success with both warrior and death knight tanks*. Be careful though, if you pull aggro you're very likely to end up dead, and if you piss the tank off, you're very likely to end up looking at a window that says "You are not in the instance group, you will be ported to [Insert Hearth Location here] in X amount of seconds."

(*No offense is intended to my feral druid buddies--I just haven't run with one since Karazhan, so I can't speak from experience.)

The Resilient Trash Mob: Some trash pulls are almost like mini-bosses in terms of how much HP they have, but that still doesn't mean you're going to be able to get your full rotation off. So I abbreviate it: Curse of Elements, Haunt, Corruption, Followed by Shadow Bolt spam, and a re-cast of Haunt whenever it's up. After the first 7 seconds of combat or so, all your casting time will be spent on direct damage casting, so you won't be losing any global cooldowns on dots that won't finish. I sometimes modify this to include Unstable Affliction as well, if the mobs are particularly hearty.

Humanoids Got No HP Humanoid trash mobs last only barely longer than nonelites do in most instances. For these, the AoE approach is by far the preferable one, but if there's only one humanoid left, or if your tank isn't comfortable with the threat created by your AoE, then your best bet is to just sit there spamming the Shadow Bolt button. These mobs will likely go down so fast that even Curse of Elements will be a waste of valuable shadow bolting time. I've considered trying to use Searing Pain on these mobs, given its shorter cast time, but the significantly lower amount of damage it does, and the significantly higher amount of threat that it pulls, makes me dubious that it will be more successful than straight up SB spam.

An example of the 'Resilient Trash Mob' tactic

I've found that, in a general sense anyway, one of these three approaches will almost always serve well enough to get the job done, and keeping available tactics down to three also helps avoid confusion. I think it was Bruce Lee who said that a person shouldn't try and learn too many ways to react to a single situation, because if they do, then when they're in that situation they'll find themselves paralyzed with indecision about which way to react. Something to that affect anyway.

So that's how I deal with trash DPS as a level 80 affliction warlock. It's not great, it's not even 'very good' if I'm trying to out DPS a hunter, rogue, or kitty druid. However, the results I've got from it are certainly respectable enough that I can rest assured my performance on the boss will be noticed, and my actual skill--good, bad, or mediocre--can be judged at least somewhat accurately by the rest of the group.


  1. This is a big problem for Affliction locks. I am happy to see that someone is trying to work around the mechanics of their talents and class instead of QQing.

    Keep it up Cos!

  2. Thanks so much for the encouragement! That really does mean a lot to me.

    It is true that this is a real problem for affliction locks, but honestly, once dual specs comes out it won't be. My diabolical plot is to spec fire-destro for my second spec (demonstrably the best trash DPS spec) then switch back and forth for trash and bossfights. It'll also allow me to stick with fire destro for boss fights that affliction warlocks can't do--such as Anub'Arak (when the boss keeps disappearing, and we have to keep starting over, it's as bad as doing trash mobs.)

  3. Note: I changed the title of the post back to the the original, non-witty title, because I noticed that apparently said title of this post almost doubled my traffic yesterday during the 3 or 4 hours that it was up before I changed it.

    I'm a whore like that.

  4. Very nice article. Esspecially the use of DPS meters is something that had to be said.

  5. Thanks for the feedback Entombed. It's good to know that there are others out there who agree with my damage meter philosophy.

    Now if I could just convince the average raider to listen...=P

  6. I really liked this thread. I do fairly decent imo on boss fights, and possibly single target trash pulls regardless of how fast they die. But i am looking to maximize my overall damage. This thread helped me out.

    And then not to be mean to the guy who posted about dual-specs, but while that would be awesome I don't think your raid group is going to give you the time to switch specs before/after a boss fight just to maximize your dps.

  7. Thanks for your comment, I really appreciate the feedback.

    As for the frequent switching thing, I have a few points to make. Firstly, that was posted before the details of switching were announced. I was under the impression it would be something a single person could do quickly.

    Second, I think you might end up being surprised. I actually got the idea to have a 'trash spec' and a 'boss spec' from one of the tanks I raid with. There are a lot of people who might want to change back and forth semi frequently. And besides, there's always a minute or so before and after bossfights for re-buffing / passing out loot anyway.

    But really, it's still too early to say anything for certain.

  8. I'm the blog's author, by the way, if that was unclear.

  9. Rain of Fire on trash. That is all ye know on earth, and that is all ye need to know.

  10. Thanks for this article. I sense that my dps is much higher on the bosses than the trash, and the trash is holding down my dps.

    I need to measure the boss dps separately and see how I'm doing.

  11. This is a nice little article and all, but only applies to pugs. If your actually in a somewhat decent guild then you'd know that your overall dps throughout an entire instance is worthless. As long as your dps is decent on bosses and more importantly you move when need be t avoid dying, your fine. But you are right for the most part on everything you posted, but id group less with people that are in the category of "OMG EPEEN #1 on the damage meter" and find some people that actually know what there doing. I hope this makes sense its late and im tired.

  12. I would argue that it's still important to try and do well, even when you're out of your element, but by and large you're correct.

    Thing is, you don't always get to run with the guild. Sometimes they're just not online.

  13. we could always cheat and just not dps on trash at all :P in a 25man raid im sure nobody would notice you wernt casting at all and then only your boss dps would show