PvE Destruction Warlock Rotation & Cooldowns

wotlk pve destruction warlock rotation cooldowns abilities

In this guide, we will go through several key points of the Destruction Warlock’s gameplay and how you can perfect your playstyle.

Destruction Warlocks specialize in raining down Fel fire upon their enemies, wreaking havoc upon their bodies and minds. These corrupt sorcerers have reached such a high mastery over the nether that they are capable of unleashing pure chaos and wild flames upon any who dare cross their paths.

Unlike in The Burning Crusade, Destruction Warlocks will find themselves quite lower on the DPS charts when compared to other casters. Nonetheless, they bring in a very fun playstyle and quite a few interesting effects for the dungeon parties and raid groups.

We can compare a Destruction Warlock to a fire mage in a sense – their gameplay is based on procs and burst damage with high critical strikes.

Single Target Rotation

Before combat starts use Life Tap to get the extra spell power. Note that this is only applicable if you make use of Glyph of Life Tap, depending on your gear level (later phase items have significantly less spirit on them relative to other stats) making Glyph of Immolate a better option. If you use Glyph of Immolate you do not need to use Life Tap before combat, or any other time aside from when you need it for actual mana.

  1. Curse Application
  2. Immolate
  3. Conflagrate
  4. Chaos Bolt
  5. Incinerate
  6. Firebolt
    • This pet spell requires manual casting (see below)
  7. Life Tap to keep the buff up/mana.

Our curses tend to be the most important spells, they either provide the raid with one of the most important debuffs for casters namely 13% extra damage dealt (curse of the elements) or one of our highest damage per cast time spells (curse of doom / Curse of Agony), both of this means we want to get our curse up as soon as possible into the fight.

Immolate is our second most important spell, not only does it deal direct damage and damage over time, but it also boosts the damage from our filler spell, namely Incinerate and enables us to use Conflagrate.

Conflagrate consumes Immolate, unless we use Glyph of Conflagrate (making it a must-have) and deals its full damage once more, split over 60% Direct Damage and 40% Damage over Time. This ability is on a 10-second cooldown and ideally, we use it as frequently as possible during our fight.

Chaos Bolt is a stronger filler spell, besides looking cool it also can not be resisted, and pieces through all absorption effects. This spell is on a 12-second (10 with Glyph of Chaos Bolt) and just like Conflagrate we want to use it as much as possible.

Incinerate is the spell we want to be using whenever all of the above is taken care of, in other words, our “filler” spell. Incinerate benefits from Immolate as it increases its base damage, whenever Immolate isn’t up on the target we want to prioritize refreshing it over using our next Incinerate.

Firebolt is the filler spell from our machine gun imp, due to how pet spells work if we let the imp to its own devices for casting (auto-cast) there will always show up a casting gap between different Firebolt casts, this can be so bad that it results in a significant amount of DPS that is left on the table by our imp. Thankfully there is a simple fix to this, when we manually cast Firebolt these gaps can be prevented, just as with our own filler spell. A simple way to do this is by adding Firebolt into spells we already cast ourselves, such as Incinerate for example.

Situational Abilities

  • Corruption – Useful, whenever you are on the move and don’t have any other instant-cast, spells you would rather be using.
  • Shadowfury – The same reason applies here as to Corruption, on top of that it also has a lot of add management benefits.
  • Life Tap – Unlike other specializations we don’t always make use of Glyph of Life Tap, depending on our gear level we might make use of Glyph of Immolate instead. Meaning we only need to use it for mana replenishment instead of every 40 seconds. Early on however we do use Glyph of Life Tap and you want to keep the spell power buff that it provides up at all times.

AoE Rotation

  1. Shadowfury
  2. Seed of Corruption
  3. Shadowflame

Just as with any specialization the predominant filler AOE spell is Seed of Corruption, in an ideal world we spam it on all of our targets as much as possible. Destruction Warlocks however also get access to Shadowfury; a fast cast and on short cooldown AOE ability, due to its fast cast we want to use this whenever possible unless we will need the stun for crowd-control / interrupting. Shadowflame also deserves a mention, whenever we are in melee range it’s a good idea to use, especially against bigger groups, as the DoT component of this spell ignores the AOE Cap.

Spells, Cooldowns and Procs

  • Immolate is a damage-over-time ability that you will want to keep on your target at all times. It enables the use of Conflagrate and also empowers your Incinerate while it afflicts your target.
  • Curse of the Elements increases all schools of magic damage dealt in a raid. This duty often falls on the shoulders of the Destruction Warlock, unless there is a Druid to provide earth and moon or a Death Knight for Ebonplague. The reason Destruction often is the optimal choice from all the Warlock specializations is that the others either get talent-specific bonuses for their curse (improved curse of agony for Affliction) or damage increasing talents in general (demonic pact for Demonology), making them the superior choice to use a damage dealing curse instead of Curse of the Elements. Of course, if this debuff slot is already taken care of, it is more than fair game to use a damage-dealing curse.
  • Curse of Agony is one of the primary curse abilities that you should maintain on the target at all times. Even as a Destruction Warlock, you must never forget to apply your dots! Curse of Agony deals Shadow damage to its target and has a slow build-up. Use this ability whenever the target doesn’t live long enough for Curse of Doom (and damage % is taken care of).
  • Curse of Doom can be considered the bigger better stronger brother of Curse of Agony, and can be used during longer fights. You can prioritize Curse of Doom due to its higher activation time, which in turn lets you use your global cooldown for direct damage spells instead of reapplying Curse of Agony. You only need to reapply Curse of Doom once every minute instead of every 24 seconds.
  • Corruption is another damage over time ability however, for Destruction it is a DPS loss to use this spell in comparison to any of our main damage over time abilities or filler spells. That being said whenever you got to move and don’t need additional mana (Life Tap) and other instant cast spells are on cooldown you can consider using this, it is better to do something than do nothing. You must reapply this ability every 18 seconds. Corruption deals Shadow damage to its target.
  • Conflagrate is one of the main abilities that you should use on cooldown. Originally, it consumes either Immolate or Shadowflame from the target in order to deal direct damage to it. However, with the use of Glyph of Conflagrate, Conflagrate will no longer consume Immolate or Shadowflame. The amount of damage Conflagrate deals is based on the amount of damage that the spell does which it consumes, in her words the more damage our Immolate does the bigger our conflagrate.
  • Shadowflame is an ability that summons demonic fire upon your enemies, in a cone directly in front of you. The direct damage part of the ability deals Shadow damage, while the damage-over-time part deals Fire damage. Whenever you find yourself forced to stay next to a pack of mobs, or close to a boss, use this ability on cooldown. You can trigger Conflagrate with the use of Shadowflame (though it will do less damage compared to Immolate).
  • Chaos Bolt is a brand new ability added in WotLK. It sends forth a bolt of pure chaos energy that cannot be resisted. You will find yourself spamming this ability on cooldown, as it can crit for significant damage.
  • Incinerate is an ability that sends forth a wave of fire towards your target. This will be your main “filler ability”. You will find yourself spamming this ability, especially since it’s affected by several procs and talent effects. You want Immolate to be up on the target as well, as this further increases the base damage health by Incinerate.
  • Seed of Corruption is our main filler spell when it comes to AOE damage. This spell has a damage over time component (which can safely be ignored) and most importantly a direct damage component. Whenever a target who has the seed debuff gets damaged enough the seed will explode causing damage to all mobs around him. When there is enough DPS seed will be exploded instantly and you can keep spamming them on the same target, if not you will need to swap targets and cast seed on a couple of different mobs.
  • Soulshatter is an ability that allows you to drastically reduce your generated threat during an encounter; it reduces your threat by 50%. Use this ability when you steal aggro from a boss, especially during raids.
  • Shadowfury is the last-tier ability of the Destruction talent tree. It allows you to stun a large group of mobs instantly, for 3 seconds. This ability is best used in dungeons or in certain raid encounters.
  • Empowered Imp doesn’t only increase the damage dealt by our imp, but also causes its critical hits to increase the chance of our next spell also being a critical hit. This in itself is a big boost to our crit chance if you take a full fight into consideration.
  • Backdraft decreases the cast time of our next three destruction spells by 30% whenever we use Conflagrate (roughly every 10 seconds). The tooltip states that it also lowers the Global Cooldown, but it doesn’t lower it any further than the 1 seconds hard cap, in other words, our Incinerate will be capped during Backdraft if it also occurs during Bloodlust, or other cast cooldown reducing buffs. In practice this doesn’t change anything for our rotation aside from some short moment of free movement but for gearing, this slightly lowers the value of haste.
  • Backlash causes our Incinerate to be instant cast, but only when we are hit by a physical attack, in an ideal world this doesn’t happen that often, however, it is a minor comfort knowing it might proc an instant cast Backlash.
  • Pyroclasm gets procced whenever we land a critical hit with Conflagrate, and in turn increases our Fire and Shadow damage by 6% (at the max rank) for the next 10 seconds. The fact that the cooldown of Conflagrate is only 10 seconds and the duration of this spell is as well and we got a lot of bonuses to our crit chance means we will see a fairly high uptime on this buff.


About the Author


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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1 year ago

Life Tap – Unlike other specializations we don’t make use of Glyph of Life Tap, meaning we only need to use it for mana replenishment instead of every 40 seconds”

But than in glyph section it says we should use glyph of lifetap? Help?

1 year ago

Usually the general advice is not to clip dots, such as Immolate. What is the situation with Curse of Agony, will it continue ticking on max dam if we clip it or rampu up restarts nevertheless it is clipped or not?

1 year ago

pretty decent guide but id prolly add shadowbalt into rotation and put the 2 points on destro for the proc chance drop / fireball as a filler all together its useless and id drop imp points and selfheal for extra int and fell armor on demo + the corruption on afly and lifetap for more mana and utility

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