pve lich king affliction warlock rotation, cooldowns, and abilities

Affliction has a complex rotation centered around keeping up your DoTs (Corruption, Unstable Affliction, Curse of Agony) and Haunt on your target, while trying to use Drain Soul as much as possible during the execute (25% and below) phase.

This guide will help you become a master of damage-over-time, and unlock your true potential as an Affliction Warlock, rightfully claiming your spot at the top of the damage meters!

Spells, Cooldowns and Procs

Everything an Affliction Warlock does resolves around Corruption. The spell gets immensely boosted by various talents and Everlasting Affliction introduces interesting and fun gameplay mechanics.

The various talents and tier bonuses directly boosting Corruption are:

Note that there are also talents and debuffs that boost Shadow Damage or DoTs as well not included in the above summary.

Everlasting Affliction makes it so you will in a perfect world never need to recast Corruption. Certain bonuses are calculated at the application of a spell and the refresh from Everlasting Affliction doesn’t cause them to fall off OR get applied. This essentially means it becomes the goal to have the strongest Corruption possible for the longest time during a fight. More about how you can achieve this later on in the guide.

Corruption can also proc various Affliction Specific talents such as:

Note that Glyph of Corruption is an inferior Glyph option and just included in the above for completionist’s sake.

Unstable Affliction is an Affliction only (who would have guessed) DoT. It is also your second most powerful DoT after your buffed-out Corruption. The silence effect from dispelling doesn’t have the biggest benefit in PvE.

A notable interaction with Gear is the Devious Mind proc from our T10 four-piece bonus. Devious Mind can only proc by either Immolate or in our case Unstable Affliction. This proc plays a big role in maximizing the damage from Corruption.

Our last and lowest priority damage-over-time abilities are our curses. This provided we don’t need to apply a utility curse like curse of weakness, Tongues, or curse of the elements (only one curse per warlock can be active at a single time), note that in an ideal world this is provided by other classes equivalent spells or from a warlock which isn’t Affliction specced, seeing as Affliction Warlocks gain extra damage on their DoTs.

Curse of Agony has a unique gimmick that doesn’t apply to our other DoTs. This is the fact that the damage from the spell gradually ramps up every few ticks until it finally does its max amount of damage. This results in the biggest chunk of the spells damage being backloaded and happening in the last four ticks (last 1/3 of the duration). There is a negative side effect due to this, the fact that if Curse of Agony can’t reach its full duration/maturation it shouldn’t be used. Examples of this would include enemies that die quickly or refreshing during short execution phases (Deaths Embrace).

The Talent Improved Curse of Agony in past expansions only increased the spells base damage and did not benefit from the extra damage that spell power provides. This made this talent a rather poor option to take however, based on beta testing this is no longer the case. Improved Curse of Agony now increases the total damage of the spell, including spell power. Making it a MUST HAVE talent.

Glyph of Curse of Agony adds two additional max damage ticks to Curse of Agony. This has two benefits, it increases the DPS from the spell due to having a higher % of max damage ticks, and it increases the damage per cast time (DPCT) due to having a longer duration. However, all this combined still is “pocket change” compared to the benefit from other Glyphs.

Not a damage-over-time ability in the traditional sense, but listed here anyway. Haunt itself doesn’t deal damage over time however it increases your damage-over-time by a whopping +20% ( +23% with Glyph)! It goes without saying that you want to have this up at all times.

The debuff can only be up on one target at a time, if you cast it on a new target it will remove the previous application.

Besides being a big debuff, it also functions to apply a stack of Shadow Embrace and refresh Corruption with Everlasting Affliction.

I’ll do my best to not do any doomposting but are the glory days of Curse of Doom over? In The Burning Crusade Curse of Doom outdid Curse of Agony, at least when the fight lasts long enough. In WoTLK this is less straightforward, and things seem more close cut on first look. In order to come to any conclusion, we have to look at some of the underlying mechanics and do some quick maths.

What we know for a fact is that Curse of Agony scales better with Spell power than Curse of Doom, although CoA only has 120% scaling while Doom has 200%. The difference comes in the fact that CoA can be cast 2.5 times in the amount of time you can cast a single Doom. This means you benefit from spell power 2.5 * 120% = 300% vs Dooms 200% at the same time. This results in Curse of Agony taking over Curse of Doom in a strict Damage per Second perspective, lest we have a sufficiently high enough amount of spell damage. However, this higher DPS for our curse does come at a cost. We need to cast Curse of Agony 2.5 (60/24) times whilst we only need to cast Curse of Doom once in the same time frame. This means the Damage per Cast Time (DMG/ total cast time) is bigger for Curse of Doom.

But what does all this mean? How do we determine what to use? We got to compare apples to apples, in this case, that means an equal amount of casting time. In other words, what is the total damage of 2.5 curses of agony versus 1 curse of doom (2.5-1.5 = 1.5, 1.5*1.5 cast time = 2.25 cast time more) with 0.9 (2.25/2.5) Shadow bolt (Drain Soul during execution would be even higher DPS but you might not have the time for another CoD in that case)?

The actual results of this depend on how a couple of things will be implemented come release: Does Improved Curse of Agony only affected base damage or full damage? Does Curse of Doom benefit from damage-over-time modifiers (spellstone, haunt, shadow embrace)? The only scenario where Curse of Doom would not be worthwhile is when it doesn’t benefit from those specific modifiers. Based on current beta testing there is indication that Improved Curse of Agony affects the total damage of the spell and that Curse of Doom does not benefit from DoT specific modifiers, this makes it sadly that Curse of Doom is not worthwhile to use as an Affliction Warlock.

This is our main filler spell during normal operations. You will cast this spell whenever you are not applying any of the above-listed DoTs.

Aside from dealing damage Shadow Bolt also fulfills some other needs:

Drain Soul replaces Shadow Bolt during the execute phase (sub 25% health) The reason for the swap is that Drain Soul causes four times its normal damage to targets that are low on health.

Other talents/debuffs that affect the damage are:

Corruption gets refreshed on the cast (not individual ticks) through Everlasting Affliction.

How you use Drain Soul and everything surrounding it has a big impact on your throughput. For example when to break or refresh, etc… More on this later in this guide.

What if we face more than a couple of enemies? Seed of Corruption it is.

Those of us that have raided during TBC will be more than familiar with it. Seed of Corruption applies a DoT after traveling towards the target and detonates after taking a certain amount of damage (during AoE this most often is near instant).

In raid environments, you will often be able to spam the spell on a single target (assuming the damage to cause the trigger happens fast enough).

Else (such as in dungeons) you will have to tab target Seed of Corruption around. You can also swap targets in case you are high on threat on a specific target (the detonation doesn’t affect the seeded target). More information about AoE DPS later on in the guide.

Life Tap and Dark Pact fulfill the same role. That is first to return us mana with as minimal downtime as possible, so we can keep spamming them Shadow Bolt.

The second thing they provide comes thanks to Glyph of Life Tap: A big chunk of spell power in the form of a buff. Most often we have to use either of the spells long before the 40-second buff expires (or have had to move and be able to cast it freely).

So which should you use, Life Tap or Dark Pact? You need roughly 3300 spell power for Dark Pact to return more mana. Overall the difference is small and you most likely can spend your talent point better elsewhere.

Eradication is a proc triggered by your Corruption. It increases your cast speed by 20% for 10 seconds.

This has big implications for the execution phase. The reason for this is that channeled spells such as Drain Soul snapshot the amount of cast speed/haste based on the moment of the initial cast. Meaning if you have Eradication up at the start, Drain Soul will be faster for the entire duration even if Eradication falls off. For this reason, Eradication is something you got to keep in mind during Drain Soul.

Corruption also scales with the amount of cast speed you have however, this happens manually when refreshed due to Everlasting Affliction. This isn’t something to manually worry about.

Devious Minds is the odd duck on the list. It isn’t a spell or talent. Rather a proc provided by our T10 four-piece bonus, but it has big gameplay implications. This buff provides +10 % damage for 10 seconds and gets triggered by Unstable Affliction.

This has a big impact on how strong our Corruption is, not only for 10 seconds but for as long as we can keep the spell rolling with Everlasting Affliction. The reason for this is that the +10 % damage from Devious Minds keeps “rolling over” with every refresh provided. This makes it that you want to get this proc ASAP so you have a strong version of your Corruption going for as long as possible, more about that later in the guide.

Rotation

Affliction Warlocks specialize in withering down their enemies with powerful curses and “damage-over-time” abilities, wreaking havoc upon their targets while steadily ramping up their damage.

Affliction Warlock is top of its class (and other classes) when it comes to single target DPS and cleave DPS (thanks to multi-dotting). In order to perform at the highest rate there possible, there are a lot of things to keep track of and anticipate on.

The specialization revolves around Corruption and its interaction with Everlasting Affliction. Certain stats, buffs, and debuffs roll over with refreshes and keep affecting your Corruption damage from the moment that it is placed upon the target. Knowing what keeps rolling and what doesn’t is essential to figuring out how you can get the most out of the spell, more on this in a short bit.

It is incredibly noticeable that once the enemies’ health starts dropping that the Affliction Warlocks tend to get an even greater lead on the DPS meters. In big part, this is due to Drain Soul which gains 4 times the damage when the target reaches 25% health. The fact that Drain Soul is a channeled spell also means it has some unique mechanics that Shadow Priests aren’t unfamiliar with but might be new to some of us Warlocks. More about this in a short bit.

Our rotation is mostly a priority system rather than a strict combination order of spells. But the good news is that we will be doing more overall than during previous iterations of the game and there is a bunch of things to keep track of that will influence our performance. Making for more engaging and rewarding gameplay. Especially if you can pull it off masterfully and get rewarded with a high nicely colored parse.

To prevent confusion in the following section I would like to clear up a couple of used terms:

Refresh
Refresh of corruptions duration thanks to Everlasting Affliction
Reapplication
Manual reapplication of corruption by the player casting corruption again (in an attempt to rollover better modifiers).
Rollover
Rollover refers to damage modifiers (% damage buffs, crit chance) that snapshot on application and stays after refreshes from Everlasting Affliction.

Opener

Pet

Back in The Burning Crusade Warlocks couldn’t reliably use their pet to shed out damage except for Demonology Warlocks. This time around it is different. Avoidance reduces the AOE damage received from our pets is reduced by 90% making them much more likely to survive boss fights. The pet of choice for Affliction Warlocks is the Felhunter, the combination of Shadow Bite (gains 15% damage per dot) and the plethora of Damage over Time abilities we pump out make them the best source for pet DPS. On top of that, they have the additional benefit of gaining from Ruin, Shadow MAstery, and Improved Felhunter. The Felhunter also provides the Affliction Warlock with slightly weaker versions of Spirit and Intellect buffs through Fel Intellect, this is mainly beneficial in dungeon content. Another benefit is additional spell interrupt through Spell Lock and cleansing / purging through Devour Magic.

Before Combat

Before combat you should always cast either Life Tap or Dark Pact to trigger Glyph of Life Tap.

If your raid uses a countdown before starting an encounter that allows for precasting you should cast Shadow Bolt to apply Shadow Mastery.

Using potions in combat applies Potion Sickness in WotLK, which prevents using another potion as long as you are in combat. You can technically use two potions by consuming your first right before entering combat, this still puts your potions on a normal 1-minute cooldown but allows for the use of a second once it wears off. There are two potions of interest to us:

Another thing in the same vein we can do to increase the crit chance of our initial Corruption is something called weapon swapping, which is exactly like what it sounds like. The idea behind this is to have as high as possible crit chance for your first Corruption. Whilst we can not swap our gear in combat we can swap our weapons slots (which includes your wand). You might think you want to use Grand Firestone on this weapon for that extra free +49 crit rating however, Grand Spellstone rolls. This means that if you did not have it on the weapon of your initial application you won’t benefit from it either, it is recommended atm to use Grand Spellstone on both weapons. See the BIS guide for a selection of items worth considering for swapping.

Normal Opener

  • Corruption should be applied as soon as possible once a crit debuff is up!
    Most often this is Shadow Mastery from our precast Shadow Bolt, if cast at max range we can expect the situation to line up as such that Shadow Mastery will be up after our Unstable Affliction cast. However a crit debuff can be up more quickly for example when we stand closer before combat, others precasting or a mage providing scorch, etc… in which case we want to already apply it before our other damage over time abilities in the rotation.
  1. Shadow Bolt – Cast before combat for Shadow Mastery
  2. Unstable Affliction
  3. Haunt
  4. Curse of Agony
  5. 4x Shadow Bolt combined with Hyperspeed

There are a couple of benefits to this opener, the biggest one being consistency. It gives the Shadow Bolt time to travel and apply Shadow Mastery. Another is that our first two casts increase the odds of proccing a buff which can be beneficial for our Unstable Affliction and Curse of Agony.

Tier 10 four-piece bonus opener

The reason you use Unstable Affliction first after your Shadow Bolt is that we hope to proc Devious Minds before our Corruption application, in order to maximize our odds we want to have Unstable Affliction rolling for as long as possible.

Unstable Affliction has a 47.8% (15% per tick for 4 ticks = 1 – (0.85^4)) chance to proc Devious Minds in other words, this means we have an almost fifty-fifty (like the lottery) chance we will get our strongest Corruption during our pre-pot Potion of Wild Magic.

  1. Shadow Bolt
  2. Unstable Affliction
  3. Haunt
  4. Curse of Agony
  5. Corruption

Corruption

Corruption takes on a life of its own due to Everlasting Affliction. Certain modifiers, buffs, debuffs, or stats “roll over” with the new refresh and keep acting as when the DoT was initially applied. Others update dynamically based on what is currently the case at the time of the refresh. This makes it possible to have a really strong Corruption, and ultimately our aim is to do so for as long as possible.

Rolls

Corruption does not benefit from Damage buffs until reapplied but keeps rolling over when the corruption is refreshed through Everlasting Affliction.

Examples:

The critical chance of corruption is calculated at application and keeps rolling over when the corruption is refreshed through Everlasting Affliction. This includes percentage-based buffs, debuffs, and player crit rating (including temporary ones).

Examples:

Dynamic (Doesn’t Roll)

Spell Power related damage is calculated and applied when Corruption is refreshed through Everlasting Affliction and stays this way until refreshed again.

Examples:

Cast speed is calculated and applied when Corruption is refreshed through Everlasting Affliction and stays this way until refreshed again.

Examples:

Corruption’s Damage dynamically updates once a percentage damage debuff is applied.

Examples:

When to Manually Reapply Corruption

In ideal circumstances we want to manually reapply Corruption as minimal as possible. The only times this is a great idea and a must is when it would result in a stronger version of Corruption with a “rolling” component that will carry over.

There are three main situations when this happens. The first of which is when the target reaches 35 % health. This will trigger Death’s Embrace which gains you +12 % damage. However, there is an exception to this.

The second situation (and exception Death’s Embrace) occurs once we get four-piece Tier 10, this namely procs Devious Minds which gains you +10 % damage. This is procced by the tick from Unstable Affliction, we chance our opener rotation slightly to increase our odds of getting the buff sooner. It should be noted that going from Devious Minds to Death’s Embrace (+2 % damage) for the remainder of the fight most likely is not worth reapplying your corruption unless, of course, both are active seeing as they stack.

Third but definitely not least is the occurrence of encounter-specific buffs. Certain ones of these role over as well and most often these are incredibly strong making it always worthwhile to reapply.

It should be noted that all of these remain too be tested in game, but there are strong indications based on old forum posts and database effects.

Not to be confused with Empowered Darkness or Empowered Light buffs which do not role.

Drain Soul

Whilst Corruption is our biggest play mechanic for optimization, Drain soul is a close second that comes into play at 25% health. Former Shadow Priests will recognize a lot of the following, due to the similar nature of Drain Soul and Mind Flay. Both are channeled spells and both need to be clipped for optimal play.

Clipping of Drain Soul is the following, Drain Soul does a tick of damage every 3 seconds with a full cast length of 15 seconds. Clipping means you want to break your channel before it finishes the full 15-second duration, and the optimal moment to do is right after a tick has happened (minimize time not dealing damage between ticks). There are addons that indicate when channeled spells tick on the cast bar, these are highly recommended, see the addons section for recommendations.

Now you might wonder why and when you got to clip your drain soul? There are two big reasons for this.

Firstly due to the nature of Drain soul being a channeled spell the calculations for spell power and cast speed happen at application and do not get updated during the channel. Meaning if you get a new proc or buff you will want to clip to get a stronger drain soul up. This also means if strong buffs are about to run out you can refresh at the last second and get the benefit for the full duration of your new channel.

Damage Modifier Example:

Spell Power Example:

Life Tap

Whilst Life Tap does give us a gateway to infinite mana (as long as the healers’ mana pool lasts), it does come at a cost. It costs health obviously which can be risky sometimes but often isn’t an issue. However, Life Tap also triggers the Global Cooldown. This downtime reduces your damage throughput.

To reduce the amount that Life Tap affects our performance there are a couple of things that we can do. We can use Runes that do not incur a Global Cooldown? However, that is a relatively small gain in WotLK compared to previous expansions. The biggest and best thing we can do is not Life Tap when it isn’t needed. In an ideal world we end a fight with as little mana left as possible, yet being able to always cast what we have to. Another thing we can do is use Life Tap when we got to move, as this will be less impactful to our DPS as the Global Cooldown is less likely to be wasted. It’s really important to plan your mana accordingly and prevent having to Life Tap during cooldowns or buffs.

When to Life Tap

  • Before combat apply your initial spell power buff (Glyph of Life Tap)
  • During forced movement
  • If buff ever runs out (can use rank 1 if the mana isn’t required)
  • Before cooldown/mana intense sections (Multi-dotting and SoC)

When to Prevent or Life Tap as Least as Possible

Area of Effect and Multi-Dotting

Multi-Dotting

There are certain situations where you would rather deal DPS to multiple targets but there either aren’t enough targets or they are spread too far to warrant using Seed of Corruption. Fights like Jormungars of Northered Beasts in ToC and Mimiron phase 4.

You want to use your highest Damage per Cast Time (DPCT) spells first on all potential cleave targets, this comes to no surprise but in our case that is Corruption. If these targets are a tanky bunch that lives long enough (and already has Corruption!) you should apply Unstable Affliction as well but only if it can endure full duration. Curse of Agony could be another option, but again only if it will last for its full duration and previous DoTs are up. Next up if all targets are fully Dotted up and you got spare time before needing to refresh things you can start casting your normal rotation on any focus target there might be.

Keeping track of all your different DoTs and Targets can be quite a challenge. You can find Macros and Addons in this section to help with this.

Seed of Corruption

Plenty of Targets closely stacked together? Seed of Corruption does the trick! Roughly around 4 to 5 targets is the tipping point where you want to use Seed of Corruption instead of dotting everything up. Something you could do on targets that live long enough is cast a couple of regular corruptions on them in hopes of getting an Eradication proc, this would boost the amount of SoC applications you can get off . Haunt should be considered in that case to refresh some of those corruptions as it will refresh plus increase the damage of the corruption itself. Additionally, consider using Inferno on stacked packs for the extra AOE damage.

What to do During Forced Movement?

Sometimes we just got to get out of the way, and of course we can’t cast a precious Shadow Bolt whilst moving, but we still want to maximize our DPS. We already talked about casting Life Tap during movement, but there is more available in our toolbelt. The first obvious things would be our instant casts DoTs; Curse of Doom/Curse of Agony and Corruption. Death Coil can be used instead of Life Tap in case we are already high on mana. Demonic Circle often also can be used to minimize the amount of downtime we have if we know about the mechanic in advance. A case can be made for taking up Shadowburn specifically for these situations. The same goes for Rocketboots to get us going. Another engineering item that should be considered is grenades and sappers. These can be used during movement or even during GCD (trigger for example by a Life Tap).

 

About the Author

Zephan

I am a Classic Warlock enthusiast and in general like theorycrafting. I am the owner and admin of the best community in the whole wide world, being the Classic Warlock Discord. This is the home of some of the best Warlocks in this game and the basis for theorycrafting and figuring out the optimal plays for us warlocks. My aim is to make sure this up-to-date information is out there everywhere to be found and to give back to the community.
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Exi
Exi
1 month ago

What about pets? I am sure there is something mentionable or do we sac them like in tbc?

Overall very nice and sweet read!

Beshi
Beshi
1 month ago

Hello,

I’m sorry for my question, but I don’t speak English and maybe I missed something in this guide.

Why don’t you make haunt after shadow bolt at the opening so that unstable affliction and corruption can benefit from haunt’s damage bonus as soon as possible?

Last edited 1 month ago by Beshi
RisingRonin
RisingRonin
17 days ago

Is immolate not worth using in the rotation? If so does that also apply to the rotation of leveling warlocks?

Lewwt@Gehennas
Reply to  RisingRonin
5 days ago

“Only one Unstable Affliction or Immolate per Warlock can be active on any one target.”
So if you were to use Immolate as Affliction, you’d be giving up UA, which we don’t want.

Pops
Pops
9 days ago

hello,

i have some questions:

  1. when the boss reaches the 35% hp treshhold you still refresh haunt, UA, and curse or keep spamming drain? and also if i get you right, the first thing to do after boss is 35% is to refresh corruption manually?
  2. Do you see a huge gap between engi and enchanting? I have to admit that i consider taking one of these (along with tailo) and i don’t know which one to max (when wotlk kicks in the enchanting would be super profitable especially with all greens from naxx – that’s the main reason i consider taking it)
jakeaintscary
jakeaintscary
4 days ago

When do I reapply CoA? I know it hits harder on the back end so do I let it fall off and then reapply?

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