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Blood Pact: Who is the best choice to link with Dark Intent?

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Blood Pact for affliction, demonology and destruction warlocks. For those who disdain the watered-down arts that other cling to like a safety blanket ... For those willing to test their wills against the nether and claim the power that is their right ... Blood Pact welcomes you.

If there are any of you there are like me and play the wonderful combination of both a balance druid and a warlock -- or you just happen to be one of my fans -- then you might have noticed a little snippet in the latest balance edition of Shifting Perspectives regarding Dark Intent. While half of it was tongue-in-cheek hilarity, there was a small portion of truth in there as well. I wouldn't want to make a habit of crossing subjects within Blood Pact and Shifting Perspectives, but I feel that Dark Intent honestly does deserve a good discussion.

Throughout my many adventures on all of my toons, I've noticed that warlocks seem to be in the middle of a little bit of a spat when it comes to the issue of Dark Intent -- rather, other players are having a spat and warlocks, the uncaring beasts that we are, just toss up our hands in dismay and give it to whomever wins the brawl. There are many benefits and sides to Dark Intent; it's time that we explored them all. As with many things in WoW, one size does not fit all.

A fair warning regarding this edition of Blood Pact: Thar be maths ahead! Theorycrafting will be kept to a minimum where it can, but some will be unavoidable. If this isn't your cup of tea, then you have my apologies in advance.

On DPS and gains

For the large majority, the fighting over Dark Intent is very DPS-centric; there's a wide array of specs that can make use of the ability and only a limited, few links to spread around. What's a warlock to do? Sadly, there are no easy choices, despite what a portion of the community might lead you to believe. The general rule of thumb is that shadow priests should take priority on Dark Intent, as they have the largest benefit from it; this is true to a certain degree and in some situations, but it is not always the case.

If you have not seen this thread over at MMO-Champion, then I suggest you take a quick gloss at it now; it holds a lot of valuable information. That being said, it uses Simcraft data that isn't entirely accurate and doesn't translate into the real world properly. Beyond that, this set of data doesn't take actual encounter mechanics into consideration; it's merely a basic "patchwerk" representation. Very few encounters will accurately reflect the data that is shown here.

Digging into as much of the data as I could, I've found several inconsistencies:
  • Balance's DoT damage percentage is low for single-target encounters by over 10%; the discrepancy is higher with additional targets.
  • Fire's DoT damage percentage is high for single-target encounters by approximately 2% when compared to the average parsed data; the value used is feasible, as is higher, but the average across multiple players is slightly lower.
  • Feral's DoT damage percentage is low by approximately 2%.
  • Survival's DoT damage is higher than expected since the switch to Arcane Shot over Explosive Shot.
  • Haste scaling for certain specs is inaccurate or alters depending on break points -- notably, shadow, balance, fire, feral, all hunters, and rogues.
Recalculating the data using more accurate variables from in-game consistency provides a slightly different list, although not by all too much. Shadow remains the highest with the damage relatively unchanged barring haste issues; balance ranks up to second; and feral and fire generally fight over third place. Feral does slightly better when paired with affliction, while fire does better with demonology and destruction -- which makes sense, since fire gains a higher return from the haste, while feral gains a higher return from the increased DoT damage.

This still isn't the whole of the matter, however, as there are large variances on Dark Intent gains depending upon the player's gear. As an example, should Dark Intent haste cap a survival hunter, then they take a huge leap in damage contribution and steal the top spot; balance and shadow have small distortions in haste scaling at various break points, but nothing that significant.

Who wins the brawl?

No one "wins" in the Dark Intent contest. Shadow gains the highest personal DPS for single-target encounters; fire/balance gain the highest personal DPS for multi-target and AoE encounters -- fire is highly RNG-based for AoE, so it's more difficult to parse them; and survival takes the second-best slot for AoE. On heavy movement encounters, balance shifts slightly closer to shadow, but shadow still wins out in the personal department.

For the warlock's benefit, the list in the link is accurate -- balance provides the highest return to the warlock, followed by survival (if using Explosive) and then shadow. It's worthy of note that shadow's contribution to the warlock drops significantly in AoE encounters, as Mind Sear does not proc Dark Intent despite the fact that Mind Flay does.

In my personal, unbiased opinion, I would favor specs in this manner:

Single-target
  1. Shadow
  2. Balance
  3. Fire
  4. Feral
  5. Survival (if Explosive)
  6. Assassination
  7. Survival (if Arcane)

AoE/multi-target
  1. Balance
  2. Survival (if pure AoE)
  3. Shadow (if two targets)
  4. Fire (if three or fewer targets)
  5. Feral
  6. Survival (if Explosive)
  7. Assassination
  8. Survival (if Arcane)
I know people will question this, so here is the explanation. Although a balance druid will give a warlock the highest damage in return, it isn't enough to offset the disparity of shadow's gain on single-target encounters. Although fire is a solid choice, their dependency is too RNG-dependent to favor them over balance or shadow; however, their superior haste scaling and the penalties suffered by melee makes them a better choice than feral.

Once there are at least two targets, balance's DoT damage contribution is much closer to shadow's, to the degree that they would overtake shadow. Predominately, this is due to the one-target restriction on Devouring Plague, while balance sees an increase in Eclipsed DoT damage. In a pure AoE situation such as Magmaw, survival's main source of damage is Serpent Sting, which makes them a better choice than shadow, as Mind Sear does not benefit from DI nor does it provide the warlock with any benefit.

Fire is potentially the best AoE target; however, this is highly RNG dependent. If you have a skilled fire mage who is exceptionally good at spreading all of his DoTs on AoE targets, then he is the best option; yet the fact that RNG can fall out of his favor pushes him lower on the list.

Going a little deeper

An easy-to-follow list is well and good, but the honest truth is that which choice is the best vastly changes from encounter to encounter. On an encounter such as Magmaw or Maloriak, balance or survival are the best choices. This is because the encounter mechanics favor their style of AoE the most, and they would see the highest benefit due to this.

On an encounter such as Halfus in which the AoE is more limited, fire is the better choice. Much as I despise the thought of ever giving a mage DI -- especially since they would never share Focus Magic -- Halfus simply favors the use of Combustion and Impact far too much to ignore. The whelps are just too good of a target for this combination, and on heroic, fire can continue to have three Living Bombs rolling for a significant portion of the encounter, as well as spreading around Ignite and Pyroblast! DoTs.

When you get to Atra and Chim, shadow becomes the more optimal choice due to the single-target nature of the encounters that favor their benefits the most. Shadow is also the more optimal choice for Nef, Conclave of Wind, and Al'Akir.

On Valiona and Theralion, balance takes the optimal slot, with shadow close behind it due to the two-target nature of the encounter. The Twilight Ascendant Council is far more of a toss-up, however. A significant portion of the encounter has two targets, which favors balance over shadow, yet the most important portion of the encounter is purely single-target. For that reason, I would favor shadow at this point instead of balance.

Cho'gall is somewhat similar in nature yet much more of a toss-up. Single-target damage matters significantly on Cho'gall, yet there is also dual-target and AoE damage that needs to be taken into consideration. Both portions of the encounter have their merits, and it's too close of a call to say that either balance or shadow is clearly better than the other. I would say that you should go with whichever portion of the encounter your guild struggles with the most. If you have more difficulty in phase 2, favor shadow; if the adds are your issue, then favor balance or even survival.

Omnotron is the odd man out in all of this. Although the dual-target nature of the encounter would favor balance, the shield mechanics can make this a little bit tricky. Given that split target damage isn't a major contribution and single-target is predominately more important, I would say that shadow is the more optimal choice.

Damage vs. healing

One point that comes up rather frequently is the comparison between giving Dark Intent to a DPS over a healer. It can be a rather tough choice, particularly if it feels as though healing is the obstacle that is holding your raid back, so what's a warlock to do?

First and foremost, unless you are speaking in terms of either a restoration druid or a holy priest who is raid healing, the argument for favoring a healer over a DPS is excessively weak. Disc priests, restoration shaman, and holy paladins simply do not have a significant enough portion of their healing contributed to HoTs in order for Dark Intent to make a world of difference; at this point, you are predominately giving them a haste buff and nothing more while also getting far less in return.

Although haste can be a significant factor in healing output, it alone is not going to make the difference between a wipe or a kill. Increasing a healer's haste also increases his mana consumption, the price that he must pay for the increase in output. In most general terms, the largest limitation to a healer's capacity to keep players alive is going to be mana.

This is due to how healing is now broken down. All healers have a "fast" heal that isn't going to be turned into a make-or-break spell with a mere 3% haste; it merely turns into an issue of mana consumption. Although it is possible to claim that the additional haste could allow a healer to "save" a player from certain death, a healer's having 3% more haste as the primary factor in people living is more an issue of how your raid is handling the encounter, not your actual healers. In those situations, the issue is that your raid is not avoiding enough damage that could be avoided; very rarely is it that a healer simply can't get a heal off in time.

All of that aside, restoration druids and raid healing holy priests can see a significant increase in their healing via Dark Intent. Both of these specs have a huge reliance on HoTs, which both feeds the warlock as well as increases their own healing.

HoT healing and Dark Intent

There is no doubt that Dark Intent can have a significant impact on a healer's HoTs; the issue, however, becomes one of uptime. At current gearing levels, any warlock spec outside of affliction has absolutely horrid uptime on Dark Intent for their partner, and even affliction itself isn't all that stellar. Given this factor, it is very difficult to say whether or not Dark Intent is going to make a massive difference in the healing capabilities of even a restoration druid.

When the target cannot always rely on Dark Intent being there, then you cannot say that it was Dark Intent that allowed for them to have the healing required in order to keep people alive. We see the same now with DPS where it isn't entirely a matter of DoT scaling that contributes to a particular spec's reaping a higher benefit from DI, but rather it is their haste scaling that causes the largest gap. Fire and feral are perfect examples of this; feral scales better than fire from DoTs but less so from haste, which usually leads to fire gaining a larger benefit from DI than feral does.

To this end, it isn't entirely the HoT portion of DI that needs to be factored in -- although it is significant -- but rather, it is the haste that makes or breaks the impact that DI has. In these situations, it is better to take a look at haste break points for your healers more so than anything else. If giving a restoration druid or holy priest Dark Intent will push them over the next haste break point for their HoTs, then it extremely valuable to them, and they are viable targets for it. If Dark Intent will not push them to the next break point, then the effect honestly isn't going to be worth it.

A faster-ticking Rejuvenation is great, but without that additional tick, it isn't going to make a world of difference. The increased healing potential via the proc buff is spectacular, but there's no assurance that it will be up, let alone fully stacked.

Favoring a healer over a DPS for Dark Intent has it benefits and its drawbacks, and there's honestly no solid way to say "do this" or "don't do this." In the end, it will always come down to your particular raid setup and the encounter in question. For example, giving Dark Intent to a healer for an encounter such as Cho'gall is fairly viable because the healing requirements for phase 2 are rather harsh; doing so on an encounter such as Nef doesn't have the same benefit because raid damage isn't as constant or demanding.

In these situations, there's rarely a "right" or "wrong"; you just have to use your own judgment.

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, advise you on tip-top trinkets and steer you through encounters such as Blackwing Descent and The Bastion of Twilight.

Filed under: Warlock, (Warlock) Blood Pact

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