Season of Discovery (SoD) Warlock DPS Build Guide & Best Runes

season of discovery warlock dps featured image
  • Author: Zephan
  • Date: November 22, 2023
  • Updated: April 15, 2024
  • Expansion: WoW Classic

Warlocks have consistently been staples in Classic raids, offering invaluable utility through curses that enhance raid-wide throughput, Soulstones for raid-wipe prevention/recovery, summons, and healthstones. Additionally, they stand out as one of the most potent spell casters in terms of raw numbers, boasting arguably the best Area-of-Effect (AoE) damage in the game.

The new rune system, introduced in the Season of Discovery, adds unique flavors to Warlock DPS. Warlocks are no longer confined to spamming Shadow Bolt, as a plethora of different playstyles have become valid. This includes focusing on damage-over-time abilities alongside Drain Life, playing with Fire as a Firelock, and unleashing impressive Area-of-Effect (AoE) damage with none other than the previously single-target-only Shadow Bolt, thanks to Shadow Bolt Volley. In the following guide, we’ll delve deeper into the new runes and how they impact the various DPS-focused builds available.

Build Summary

Our rotation largely depends on our specific talent build. The two choices are between Fire Destruction and Shadow Affliction. Aside from personal preference the build you want to choose depends on your raid composition, but more about this in the Talent Build section.





Demonic Tactics

  • Increases the melee and spell critical strike chance of you and your pet by 10%.

This additional 10% crit chance is extra useful for those that put talents into Improved Shadow Bolt, it is one of the few sources for spell crit chance. Additionally, if you were to take Demonic Pact this could also supplement the uptime by a small amount. On top of that extra crit chance in general is a solid amount of damage increase.

Master Channeler

  • Your Drain Life is no longer channeled, lasts 15 sec with a 15 sec cooldown, costs 100% more mana, and heals you for 50% more each time it deals damage.

The primary advantage of this rune lies in the additional damage over time ability without having to cast. Note that with the 15 sec duration also comes a 15 sec cooldown making it extra punishing when the spell misses.  Note that this rune is mostly beneficial for Affliction Warlocks or in niche situations where additional healing is required.


Shadow Bolt Volley

  • Your Shadow Bolt now strikes up to 5 targets within a chain distance of 10 yards, but for 20% reduced damage.

This rune essentially transforms Shadow Bolt into a potent AoE spell, cleaving up to 5 targets with Shadow Bolt and incorporating all the associated benefits. This includes Improved Shadow Bolt triggering additional Shadow Damage when it crits. If you also employ Everlasting Affliction, it becomes an effective method for maintaining numerous Corruptions on different targets simultaneously. Note that you can swap runes between encounters so if an AOE fight comes up it might make sense to swap to this rune for that specific fight.


  • Unleash a ghostly soul on an enemy, dealing ) damage, and increasing all Shadow damage over time you deal to that target by 20%. When the Haunt ends or is dispelled, you will be healed for all the damage it dealt to your target.

Whereas in Classic we were constrained by the limited debuff slots dictating which damage-over-time abilities we could use, this limitation has long been lifted. This rune assists us in fully embracing the damage-over-time lifestyle, providing a no-brainer decision for Affliction Warlocks to deal an additional 20% damage with all our damage-over-time effects.

Chaos Bolt

  • Sends a bolt of chaotic fire at the enemy, dealing Fire damage.  Chaos Bolt always hits, cannot be resisted, and its knowledge causes all your Fire spells to pierce through absorption effects.

Chaos Bolt deals Fire Damage, benefiting from the fire damage buff provided by Incinerate, rendering it a fantastic source of damage. However, its greatest advantage lies in the fact that Chaos Bolt cannot be resisted or miss, ensuring a consistent 100% hit chance. Given the scarcity of hit chance gear, this makes Chaos Bolt an excellent damaging spell. Additionally, Chaos Bolt causes our Fire spells to penetrate absorption effects.



  • Burn your enemy dealing damage and increase all Fire damage you deal by 25% for the next 15 sec.

The primary use of this rune for Fire Warlock is to provide us with a filler spell that doesn’t have added threat generation and provides an additional 25% fire damage dealt to enemies. This buff increases our damage throughput significantly.

Everlasting Affliction

This rune enables us to refresh Corruption with most of our filler spells, cast frequently enough to guarantee a 100% uptime after the initial application of Corruption. On paper, this implies that every 18 seconds of a fight, we save 1.5 seconds of casting by avoiding the need to reapply Corruption. At first glance, this appears to not be a significant efficiency gain. However, combined with Shadow Bolt Volley this has real potential. There is also the new niche item Zila which has a great synergy if you can keep the buffed spell rolling.

Demonic Pact

  • Your pet’s critical strikes apply the Demonic Pact effect to your party members for 45 sec. Demonic Pact increases spell damage and healing by 10% of your spell damage. Does not work on Subjugated demons.

Spell Damage is a great source of damage for casters. Additionally, Demonic Pact applies only to the party, unlike its Wrath of The Lich King counterpart that affects the entire raid. However, if your talent build doesn’t hinge on any of the other runes, it remains a commendable option. In caster-heavy raids, the party still benefits from all the additional spell damage, making you increase the raid-wide throughput by a significant amount.


Grimoire of Synergy

  • Recite from a dark tome, granting damage done by you or your summoned demon a 5% chance to increase the damage done by the other by 25% for 15 sec. Recitation lasts 30 min.

Of all the belt runes this one has the highest average damage increase. It increases the damage from the player and pet by a whopping 25% for 15 seconds. The proc chance will of course largely depend on the average time till you and your pet deal damage. For example, builds using the Machine Gun Imp which casts every 1 sec when done correctly will see a slightly higher uptime on the buff compared to those using other demons which on average hit every 2 seconds.


Demonic Knowledge

  • Increases your spell damage and healing by a value equal to 10% of your Demon pet’s total Stamina plus Intellect.

This rune essentially is free spell damage for the player. Our demons gain stamina and intellect based on a fraction of the player’s equivalent stats, on top of that our pets intellect and stamina can be further boosted by making sure they get the proper buffs in raids. All of this in turn comes back to us in the form of spell damage. Which also gets translated proportionally back to the pet as spell damage or attack power. This loop increases the demons damage as well as yours.


Immolation Aura

  • Burns nearby enemies with fire damage every 2 seconds, and reduces all magic damage taken by 10%. Lasts until cancelled.

Whenever we can be in melee range this provides us with essentially free damage that doesn’t require any additional effort. It should be noted that one can’t always viable be in melee range for all encounters and that time might be lost due to positioning, all things that one should consider using the rune.

Unstable Affliction

  • Shadow energy slowly destroys the target, causing damage over 15 sec. In addition, if the Unstable Affliction is dispelled it will cause damage to the dispeller and silence them for 5 sec. Only one Unstable Affliction or Immolate per Warlock can be active on any one target.

Unstable Affliction provides us with one more damage-over-time ability to use that benefits from our various Affliction talents and runes such as Haunt. However it does mean we can no longer use Immolate and consequently, from choosing the rune it also means forgoing Immolation Aura. If one can be in melee range the odds are high that Immolation Aura combined with Immolate will outperform just using Unstable Affliction even if the latter is buffed more by Affliction-specific talents and spells.



  • Your Conflagrate ability also grants 30% spellcasting haste for 10 sec.

In previous phases we did not make use of Conflagrate since it meant you needed to recast Immolate without gaining any additional damage, essentially losing 1.5s of cast time. Now with the Backdraft rune we get a 30% cast speed increase, offsetting the lost time and overall improving our throughput. As such we always want to keep up the buff from Backdraft, essentially casting Conflagrate whenever it comes off cooldown and following it with a fresh Immolate.


As Affliction Warlocks a good chunk of our damage comes from our strong damage-over-time abilities. As such it should come as no surprise that making it so that they can deal critical damage is a nice increase in our throughput. This also makes critical chance on gear slightly more valuable for us.

Talent Build


destro talents
Destruction Talents

The deep Destruction talent build is more commonly referred to as Firelock. This is because its main source of damage is fire (in comparison to vanilla where warlocks were locked into Shadow unless they were running a niche high-end variation that utilized Searing Pain which came with a lot of threat issues). The firelock rotation is fairly straightforward and produces excellent single-target throughput.

When it comes to our talents and runes we want to optimize the amount of fire damage that we can deal with, making a lot of the destruction-specific talents mandatory. However, there is some leeway. A more simple playstyle resolves around removing the Machine Gun Imp and its associated talents and instead using the Felguard (requiring you to give up on Immolation Aura) as a pet. This means you wont have to be in melee range to fully utilize Immolation Aura and that you wont have to babysit the mana from your demon, unlike the Imp on longer fights. The trade-off for doing this however is overall throughput. Talents that you would swap out are those found in the demonology tree and Imp Firebolt.

Another option is to remove backdraft and conflagrate from your talent build and rotation. This allows you to make use of Pandemic instead, further simplifying the rotation, however once more at the cost of overall throughput. Note that you also want to pick up 5/5 Imp corruption and want to use corruption in your rotation when doing this.

Some general personal preferences surround ISB, this is taken for AOE fights where you might opt to make use of Shadowbolt Volley rune to deal AOE damage. One could opt for Cataclysm instead to further increase single-target damage although in general, this isn’t the biggest impactful talent on a point-per-point basis.

The two points in Destructive Reach can be swapped for intensity or improved searing pain based on preferences.


affli talents
Affliction Talents

The biggest bonus of the Affliction build is the fact that it doesn’t require Incinerate and as such can bring Demonic Pact without suffering a lot in terms of throughput. Demonic Pact is so good that in essence it more than makes up for the slightly lower personal DPS of the Affliction Warlock compared to a Firelock.

Note that if Demonic Pact is already provided by another warlock such as potentially a Warlock tank, you can opt to make use of Everlasting Affliction instead which has great synergy with Zila Gular. Combining these two you can guarantee an early strong Corruption that ideally can be kept up the entire encounter. This closes the gap between Fire and Shadow for warlocks from a personal DPS perspective (ignoring the benefit Demonic Pact brings the entire raid).

Note that on AOE focused fights you can swap out Haunt for SBV and MC for DT. This provides you with a solid base to deal massive amounts of AOE damage.

Key Spells and Abilities

Filler Spells


  • Burn your enemy and increase all Fire damage you deal by 25% for the next 15 sec.

Thanks to the Incinerate Rune introduced in Season of Discovery, we gain access to a version of Incinerate with notable benefits. The significant advantage is that it increases all our fire damage by 25% after being cast. Consequently, this makes Incinerate a powerful damage-per-second buff, a must-have for the Firelock build.

Shadow Bolt

  • Sends a shadowy bolt at the enemy, causing Shadow damage.

Shadow Bolt remains the faithful filler spell that we’ve been consistently spamming in every iteration of Classic. It remains the best filler option for the Affliction talent build. On top of that, the Shadow Bolt Volley rune grants us access to a new and excellent cleave option.

Damage over Time


  • Burns the enemy with Fire damage and then deals additional Fire damage over 15 sec.

Immolate stands out as a spell with good damage per cast time, attributed to its combination of instant damage and a damage-over-time component. The added advantage of dealing fire damage means that it also benefits from the buff acquired through Incinerate, further enhancing its overall effectiveness for the Firelocks. The debuff is also required to cast Conflagrate which is an essential part of the Firelock build to activate the Backdraft rune.


  • Corrupts the target, causing Shadow damage over 18 sec.

Investing 5 points into Improved Corruption allows us to make Corruption an instant cast. While technically, allocating 1 point in the talent reduces the cast time to 0.1 seconds above the Global Cooldown, opting for the full 5 points provides the added utility of being able to instant cast it while moving. Once Corruption becomes an instant cast, it boasts one of the highest damage per cast times among all spells. This becomes especially beneficial when employing the combination of Everlasting Affliction and Shadow Bolt Volley to maintain the Damage over Time (DoT) on as many mobs as possible.

Curse of Agony

  • Curses the target with agony, causing  Shadow damage over 24 sec. This damage is dealt slowly at first, and builds up as the Curse reaches its full duration. Only one Curse per Warlock can be active on any one target.

Curse of Agony offers a respectable amount of damage per cast time. Note that you might be required to cast Curse of Recklessness instead if no other warlock provides it.


  • Unleash a ghostly soul on an enemy, dealing damage, and increasing all Shadow damage over time you deal to that target by 20%. When the Haunt ends or is dispelled, you will be healed for all the damage it dealt to your target.

Although it may not conform strictly to the notion of dealing damage over time since it directly inflicts damage, the debuff remains active on the target and enhances the damage provided by all damage-over-time effects.

Drain Life

  • Transfers health every second from the target to the caster.

Drain Life typically functions as a continuously channeled spell, preventing the casting of other spells during its duration. However, with the new Master Channeler rune, it transforms into an instant-cast spell that lasts 15 seconds, in contrast to the normal 5-second cast time. The mana cost is doubled with Master Channeler, and it gets a 15 sec cooldown, however it no longer requires you to stand still and channel the spell. At the same time, it heals for 50% more than damage it does.



  • Instantly blasts the target with Shadow damage. If the target dies within 5 seconds of Shadowburn, and yields experience or honor, the caster gains a Soul Shard.

Shadowburn boasts higher damage output on a per-cast-time basis compared to other filler spells. The main drawback is, of course, the consumption of a Soul Shard for each cast. Additionally, it uses a charge of Improved Shadow Bolt without the possibility of refreshing the debuff. Therefore, it is more advisable to cast Shadowburn when Improved Shadow Bolt is either not in use or has its maximum charges. Alternatively, given its instant-cast nature, it proves to be an excellent spell for on-the-move situations.

Chaos Bolt

  • Sends a bolt of chaotic fire at the enemy, dealing Fire damage.  Chaos Bolt always hits, cannot be resisted, and its knowledge causes all your Fire spells to pierce through absorption effects.

Chaos Bolt deals Fire Damage, benefiting from the fire damage buff from Incinerate and the fire damage debuff from Lake of Fire, making it a potent source of damage. However, its most significant advantage lies in the fact that Chaos Bolt cannot be resisted or missed. This means it consistently maintains a 100% hit chance. Given the scarcity of hit chance gear, Chaos Bolt stands out as an excellent and reliable damaging spell.


  • Sends a bolt of chaotic fire at the enemy, dealing Fire damage.  Chaos Bolt always hits, cannot be resisted, and its knowledge causes all your Fire spells to pierce through absorption effects.

On its own Conflagrate doesn’t increase our damage as it just deals the damage that Immolate would do on its own whilst triggering a global cooldown. However, with the addition of the Backdraft rune it does provide us with a strong buff. This increase in cast speed more than makes up for the lost in time from the global cooldown.

Example Best-in-Slot




Race Choice


Orcs, as Warlock, have two racials that can impact their performance. Command increases the damage from their demons slightly, which, while not having the most significant impact, can still be a nice bonus. Hardiness is another Orc racial that could contribute to raid performance, especially depending on the number of stun effects present in a raid. The resistance to stuns might prove valuable in certain encounters, providing additional survivability and control for the Orc Warlock.


Undead Warlocks possess two situational racial abilities that can be advantageous in raid scenarios. Let’s first delve into the benefits of Will of the Forsaken. Numerous boss encounters in Classic WoW feature Fear effects. Some of these can be avoided without any issues, others are challenging to evade without losing threat or proper positioning. In these situations, Undead Warlocks can leverage Will of the Forsaken to completely bypass one fear, enabling them to continue dealing damage. This will be especially beneficial when Horde priests don’t get a spell on the lines of Fear Ward, or when the group is missing a priest in later phases.

Shadow Resistance, although offering minimal benefits, aids Warlocks in reducing shadow damage taken from certain bosses with damaging shadow abilities. One common example is when using a Warlock to tank Emperor Vek’lor. While the impact may not be as significant as other racial abilities, Shadow Resistance contributes to the overall survivability of an Undead Warlock.

As a side note, Cannibalize provides short downtime between pulls in dungeons, with the Warlock being able to Life Tap to full mana, then consume an undead or humanoid to get a large percentage of their health back.


Gnomes are an excellent choice for Alliance Warlocks due to their racial abilities. Expansive Mind boosts Intellect, providing us with a bigger mana pool and ever so slightly more crit chance. Engineering Specialization aids in reaching the engineering skill required for items like the Deepdive Helmet or Rose Tinted Goggles in later level bracket. Additionally, Gnomes benefit from Escape Artist, offering a handy escape ability, and Arcane Resistance, which provides resistance against arcane damage—both valuable traits for various situations.


Humans receive The Human Spirit racial, which boosts Spirit. While helpful, it doesn’t quite provide a lot for Warlock. Sword Specialization potentially can be useful for Warlock who intend to do some melee weaving, though the weapon must be faster then. Humans also have other racials such as Diplomacy, Mace Specialization, and Perception. These additional racials do not offer direct advantages for Warlocks in PVE, making gnomes a generally more favorable choice for this specific role.


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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