Heroic Spine of Deathwing, 25man: I hated this fight with a passion.
At first I hated it because I could not possibly contribute as my favorite spec affliction and call it even with the rest of my guild's raid. I could pass by on normal, blaming my lack of burst for my low-metered results, but that wasn't going to cut it on heroic.
Then I started to hate the fight as I struggled to squeeze out every last drop of damage I had in me, even min-maxing my offspec demonology to progress with. Warlock hell, they called it. What a lockblock! My anger started to extend to things outside of WoW, emotionally and physically, because I was so frustrated with my apparent failure to kick some Destroyer derriere.
But the fight really opened up a lot of the finer points of DPSing an encounter. Heroic Spine reminded me that the fight isn't all about the end DPS number when the combat logs stop flowing.
A good DPS knows her gear and spec
It's easy to read the stat priorities or reforging guides and pile on the appropriate amounts of secondary stat rating. It's another to realize when -- and why -- you have to break protocol and pile on extra amounts of a stat rating.
An example is demonology on heroic Spine of Deathwing. Typically in 4.3, demonology paid attention to Corruption's haste breakpoints, ending at the 1993 haste rating one. After that, stack mastery. But on heroic Spine, it was advised to pile on more haste. The reason wasn't for some weird DoT haste breakpoint, but the old reason of fitting in more filler spells.
Demonology in 4.3 revolved around the DPS cooldowns, namely the prominent Metamorphosis. Metamorphosis had a dynamic cooldown that started at 3 minutes, but could be shortened on a chance by casting Shadow Bolt, Incinerate, or Hand of Gul'dan. In 25H Spine where two lifts were needed, that became the key to demonology's game. Burst the tendon like there's no tomorrow, but once the plate snaps shut or breaks off, work as hard as you can to reset Metamorphosis's cooldown.
The end result was a haste rating of around 2300-2400. I'd have the occasional plate where Metamorphosis would not be up until the lift was almost over, but most times I could get the cooldown to reset just prior to the plate lifting or mere seconds into the lift. To obtain this extra haste rating, I bought the valor point trinket Bottled Wishes.
Good DPS is about control, not volume
Spine is a precise DPS control fight. Bringing the burst is the easy part.
Killing Bloods that don't need to be killed could wipe out a raid member with an AoE dying burst. You could kill the entire attempt as your Amalgamation died at 8 stacks. Killing the Corruption early means short Fiery Grips, but it also means another Amalgamation to compete with for Bloods.
On normal Spine, I enjoyed being affliction despite the lack of big numbers in a short period of time because I had unglyphed Soul Swap and could literally stop DPS when called for by pulling off all of my DoTs. I had to make an adjustment in predicting raid damage to the Amalgamation when I turned to demonology for heroic mode, for I couldn't pull off Immolate or Corruption whenever I felt like it.
Similarly, one had to control your cooldowns, to make sure you had as much up as possible for the 20-second balls to the wall on each plate lift. But I was restricted to certain mobs: AoEing the Bloods resulted in healer rage as a raidful of Blood death would wipe the raid in a few concentrated hits.
We didn't wipe on 25H Spine because of the volume of damage being done. Two lifts per plate was plenty doable, even from the beginning attempts. We tried a one-lift just to try it on 25man and we managed around the 20% mark, even stacking Heroism, potions, cooldowns, and the 30% buff. The times we had to do a third lift, the plate slammed down with a nameplate health bar of 0 or 1%.
We wiped because of Fiery Grips that held on for too long. We wiped because the Amalgamation died before it hit 9 stacks or because it exploded too far from the plate. Or, even the Amalgamation exploded on the wrong side of the plate, exposing an entirely different and 100% healthy tendon. We wiped because it took too long to roll Deathwing. We wiped because of the dispelling, but we wiped more because of reckless AoE. Sometimes the AoE was a legitimate spell; sometimes it was a wrongful equipping of Cunning of the Cruel.
"Now is not the time to pad the meters with AoE. Single-target trinkets, single-target attacks only," we'd hear over Ventrilo.
The correct meters
The damage done meter means nothing when you refuse to look at the stacked bars without context. You beat the heroic Spine encounter by killing three Burning Tendons. That's it; end of story. That's the meter that matters -- Enemy Damage Taken: Burning Tendons. Reach for the skies on that meter and the shortest bar loses.
Everything else has a time and a place to die. Damage is not to be sprayed about leisurely wherever there is a health bar to be laid siege upon.
Kill enough Bloods to explode the Amalgamation, but kite the rest. Damage the Corruption enough to break the Fiery Grip, but don't cleave into it while collecting the Amalgamation from the hole. Kill the Amalgamation quickly, but not too quickly or you'll lose the opportunity to blow the plate.
The placing of mob death is obviously important, but the importance of timing is lost on non-DPS players, I feel. Every raid has its own rate of damage, derived from the classes, specs, and skills of each raid member combined. On Spine, everyone has to be one machine. Everyone slows down on the Amalgamation. Everyone switches to the tendon. Everyone assigned to the Grip Guard switches to the Corruption. Maybe you think it's difficult to get in step with a new Taker of Hits to the Face or adding a different healer to the Health Bar Brigade, but imagine waiting for 17-18 people to get in rhythm with each other.
That's wiping, folks. That's your band of DPS taking 17-18 unique minds and skills and fusing them into one, sometimes multifaceted, fount of mob massacre.
Enemy health is very important to a DPSer, probably more than one might realize. Nobody realizes this concept better than a DPSer whose damage is tuned around spending a certain period of time in an execution phase, which occurs at a certain target health percentage. Nerfing the health of a mob nerfs the time to die, but it also nerfs the time spent in the various damage phases of mob health.
Affliction was notorious for the damage jump that occurred when a mob hit 25% health and Drain Soul's damage multiplier kicked in. Less health meant less time spent in that health percent phase, which means less casts or less ticks. You saw it happen in the decline of an expansion, as players go back to dungeons in overpowered gear. The time to die decreases dramatically, and so did affliction's DPS, simply because there was less time for DoTs to be ticking.
Similarly, the Power of the Aspects buff wrecked heroic Spine for a DPSer. Decreasing the damage done by the boss is just dandy, but decreasing the health on an already tightly-tuned for trinkets and cooldowns fight? That tightens the error margin or otherwise mixes up events. Our tanks were pushing to explode the plate so as to save themselves from the eventual flood of Blood, but our DPS were screaming about lifting the plate before even one cooldown came back up.
Messing with the timing of a tightly-tuned fight is a lesson I hope Blizzard has learned, going forward. Simply lowering the health of a mob can aid in pure Patchwerk DPS races, but it can seriously harm the intended rhythm of more complex fight mechanics.
I hope that everyone has seen through the various raid encounters that the DPS role isn't just about one number on a meter (even a health meter), but is intimately woven with the flow of the fight.
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, help pick the best target for Dark Intent, and steer you through tier 13 set bonuses.