Destruction Warlock DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (WoW MoP 5.4)

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General Information

On this page, we list your Destruction Warlock core abilities and how they should be used together (rotation) in World of Warcraft MoP 5.4. We also explain when to use your various cooldowns. Then, we go deeper and present all the subtleties that you will need to know if you want to excel at playing a Destruction Warlock.

The other pages of our Destruction Warlock guide can be accessed from the table of contents on the right.

About Our Reviewers

This guide has been reviewed and approved by two prominent Warlock theorycrafters: Gahddo, who maintains the Warlock profiles and rotations in Simulation Craft, and Evrelia, who raids in ScrubBusters and frequently publishes video on Youtube.

1. Single Target Rotation↑top

Your single-target rotation is based on the following priority list.

  1. Cast Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn if the target is below 20% health and if
    • you have more than 3.5 Burning Embers or
    • Dark Soul: Instability Icon Dark Soul: Instability is up or
    • you have a large Intellect trinket proc or
    • you are out of mana or
    • the target is about to die.
  2. Apply Immolate Icon Immolate and keep it up.
  3. Cast Conflagrate Icon Conflagrate if you have two charges.
  4. Cast Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt if
  5. Cast Conflagrate Icon Conflagrate if you have one charge.
  6. Cast Incinerate Icon Incinerate.
  7. Cast Fel Flame Icon Fel Flame as a filler, when moving.

The idea is to keep a relatively high amount of Burning Embers, so that you can always cast Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt and Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn when they will be dealing more damage (trinket proc, Dark Soul, etc.). Note that using Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn will considerably increase your mana regeneration, but it will not affect your game play in any way.

Remember to apply and maintain Curse of the Elements Icon Curse of the Elements if no one else in your raid/party can provide the same debuff.

2. Multiple Target Rotation↑top

When fighting multiple enemies, you will always want to keep Rain of Fire Icon Rain of Fire up.

When fighting 2 or 3 enemies, stick to your single-target rotation on one of them. Keep Immolate Icon Immolate applied on them (only if the adds will live longer than just a few seconds) and use Havoc Icon Havoc on Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt (if no target is below 20% health) or Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn (if there is a target below 20% health).

When fighting 4 or 5 enemies, use Fire and Brimstone Icon Fire and Brimstone to apply Immolate Icon Immolate, and cast Conflagrate Icon Conflagrate and Incinerate Icon Incinerate (in that order of priority). When you do not have enough Burning Embers, refresh Immolate Icon Immolate manually, as a filler. Note that if you only have one Burning Ember, we suggest you to use Fire and Brimstone+Conflagrate first, since it will likely refund the Burning Ember to you immediately, allowing you to use Immolate. If you use Immolate first, you do not get the Burning Ember back and you may have to wait for a few seconds before you can start using Conflagrate. Finally, the aforementioned AoE advice about Havoc Icon Havoc, Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt, and Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn still applies for 4 and 5 enemies.

When fighting 6 or more enemies, using Havoc Icon Havoc+Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt is no longer worth it, unless damaging the boss at the same time is important. The cut off point for Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn is higher because Shadowburn only uses 1 charge of Havoc (Chaos Bolt uses 3), so you will want to stop using Havoc Icon Havoc+Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn at around 12 enemies.

Note that when fighting enough enemies (it depends on Critical Strike chance, but is usually around 7), using Fire and Brimstone Icon Fire and Brimstone+Incinerate Icon Incinerate will make you gain 1 Burning Ember per cast, which means that you will be able to (and you should) just spam Fire and Brimstone+Incinerate.

Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn usage is extremely important, so we advise you to read our more in-depth section.

Also, it may be useful to use a stopcasting macro for Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn.

3. Demon↑top

For single-target and multiple-target DPS, your demon of choice is the Felhunter (or the Observer), if you have all the raid buffs. If your raid is missing the 12% armor reduction and the +4% physical damage taken debuffs, then you are better off using the Succubus instead. If you use Grimoire of Service Icon Grimoire of Service, use the Felhunter.

For fights where you often have to switch targets (and these targets are not right next to each other), use the Imp (or the Fel Imp) or the Succubus (or the Shivarra).

If you use Grimoire of Sacrifice Icon Grimoire of Sacrifice, the demon you will sacrifice will not affect your DPS. However, bear in mind that you are given their Command Demon Icon Command Demon ability.

4. Cooldowns↑top

Dark Soul: Instability Icon Dark Soul: Instability is your main DPS cooldown. It increases your critical strike chance by 30% for. Use it on cooldown and try to max out your Burning Embers before using it, so that you can cast Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt as many times while your critical strike chance is increased. If you have trinkets from Tier 16, then you definitely need to read this section to learn how these trinkets change the way you use Dark Soul.

Summon Doomguard Icon Summon Doomguard and Summon Infernal Icon Summon Infernal share a cooldown. As such, you will have to decide which of the two you will use. These two abilities are on a 10-minute cooldown, so you will realistically only use them once per fight. Summon Doomguard Icon Summon Doomguard is better when fighting 3 enemies or less, while Summon Infernal Icon Summon Infernal is better when fighting 4 enemies or more.

If you choose Grimoire of Supremacy Icon Grimoire of Supremacy, as a Tier 5 talent, then Summon Doomguard becomes Summon Terrorguard Icon Summon Terrorguard and Summon Infernal becomes Summon Abyssal Icon Summon Abyssal.

In addition, you have a number of defensive and offensive cooldowns, the majority of which depends on your choice of talents. We detail all these cooldowns in a subsequent section.

5. Optional Read: Mastering Your Destruction Warlock↑top

Overall, playing a Destruction Warlock is not difficult, and following the priorities listed above will yield excellent results. Despite this, there are a few concepts that we feel require a bit of additional explanation for you to fully understand your class.

5.1. Burning Embers

Burning Embers Icon Burning Embers will play a major role in your play style, as you need them to cast Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt or Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn. Most of your damaging abilities generate Burning Embers.

You have 4 Burning Embers. A Burning Ember is a container with 10 graduations. When the container is full, the Burning Ember can be used and you will be able to start filling the next Burning Ember (provided that they are not all full).

Out of combat, you will always end up with exactly 1 full Burning Ember. The other 2 (or 3 with Glyph of Burning Embers) Burning Embers will slowly decay if they are filled. The first Burning Ember will slowly regenerate if it is not full.

During combat, Burning Embers are generated through the use of your core abilities.

  • Incinerate Icon Incinerate is your main Burning Ember-generating ability. It has a 2-second cast and each strike fills 10% of a Burning Ember (so, 1 graduation). Critical hits fill 20%.
  • Conflagrate Icon Conflagrate is your second source of Burning Ember. Each strike fills 10% of a Burning Ember and critical strikes fill 20%.
  • Immolate Icon Immolate is a 15-second DoT that deals Fire damage. Each time Immolate critically hits (from the initial damage or from a subsequent tick), you have a small chance of regenerating 10% of a Burning Ember.
  • Rain of Fire Icon Rain of Fire has an 8-second duration and deals AoE damage. Each hit has a 12.5% chance to regenerate 10% of a Burning Ember. Thanks to Aftermath Icon Aftermath, the ticks of the DoT left by Rain of Fire also have a chance to regenerate Burning Embers. On immolated targets Rain of Fire deals 50% more damage.

Burning Embers will mostly be consumed with the following two abilities.

  • Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt consumes 1 Burning Ember, has a rather long cast, and deals a large amount of damage. This ability will always critically strike and its damage is increased by your critical strike chance.
  • Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn consumes a Burning Ember, is instant-cast, and deals a large amount of damage, but it can only be used on targets below 20% health. It also restores 15% of your mana after 5 seconds.

Note that the Life Tap Icon Life Tap ability that other Warlock classes have is replaced with Ember Tap Icon Ember Tap, which heals you at the cost of 1 Burning Ember.

5.2. Refreshing Your DoTs

As a Destruction Warlock, a small part of your DPS comes from a DoT: Immolate Icon Immolate. Even though, DoTs are much less important to Destruction Warlocks than they are to Affliction or Demonology Warlocks, you should still know how to refresh them optimally.

5.2.1. Pandemic

Pandemic Icon Pandemic is your level 90 ability. It causes the remaining duration of your DoTs to be added to the new duration when you refresh them, up to 50% of the base duration.

If a DoT has a base duration of 24 seconds and you refresh it when there are 10 seconds remaining, the new duration will be 34 seconds, thanks to Pandemic Icon Pandemic.

5.2.2. How do DoTs benefit from statistics?

DoTs benefit from your statistics at the time when the DoT was cast or refreshed. This means that the DoT will take into account your haste, spellpower, etc. at the time when you cast the DoT, and it will not be affected by any change in your stats while the DoT is running.

5.2.3. Pandemic and Statistics: When to Refresh?

The implication of Pandemic Icon Pandemic and the fact that DoTs benefit from your statistics as they were when you applied them is that whenever a DoT has less than 50% of its normal duration remaining, you should refresh it, if you have better statistics than when you cast it (trinket proc, Dark Soul, potion, encounter-specific buff, etc.). Otherwise, refresh the DoT when it is about to expire.

This is especially important during Dark Soul: Instability Icon Dark Soul: Instability because refreshing Immolate Icon Immolate with +30% critical strike chance will cause each of the ticks to have a higher chance to be a critical strike, greatly increasing your Burning Embers generation rate. In addition to Dark Soul, both Tier 16 set bonuses cause your critical strike chance to sometimes temporarily increase. The ideal Immolate is the one with the highest increase critical strike chance. That said, if your current Immolate was not applied with a very high critical strike chance and you have an Intellect trinket proc, you should refresh it.

5.3. Demons

By default, you can summon one of four demons to help you fight your foes. Except for the Voidwalker, they are all viable for raiding.

You also have two demons that you can use as DPS cooldowns: a Doomguard (Summon Doomguard Icon Summon Doomguard) for single-target damage or an Infernal (Summon Infernal Icon Summon Infernal) for AoE damage.

Finally, you have the Command Demon Icon Command Demon ability, which, if put on your action bar, will change with the demon you are using. For the Voidwalker, the Felhunter, and the Succubus, this ability will cast their manual ability. For the Imp, it will cast Cauterize Master Icon Cauterize Master.

5.3.1. Grimoire of Supremacy

Grimoire of Supremacy Icon Grimoire of Supremacy is a Tier 5 talent that improves your demons and gives them better abilities.

The Observer remains the demon with the highest DPS.

Your demon DPS cooldowns are replaced with more powerful versions: a Terrorguard (Summon Terrorguard Icon Summon Terrorguard) for single-target damage or an Abyssal (Summon Abyssal Icon Summon Abyssal) for AoE damage.

Finally, you have the Command Demon Icon Command Demon ability, which, if put on your action bar, will change with the demon you are using. For the Observer, the Shivarra, and the Voidlord, this ability will cast their manual ability. For the Fel Imp, it will cast Cauterize Master Icon Cauterize Master (as it does for the Imp).

5.3.2. Felguard/Wrathguard as Destruction

By using Flames of Xoroth Icon Flames of Xoroth, you can use a Felguard/Wrathguard as a Destruction Warlock. Spec into Demonology, summon your Felguard/Wrathguard, then spec into Destruction. Casting Flames of Xorroth will revive your Felguard/Wrathguard, but it will only last for about 25 seconds. Since it has a very powerful AoE ability, this trick can be useful in some AoE-heavy fights, where you will summon your Felguard/Wrathguard every minute.

5.4. Shadowburn

Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn is the soul and essence of the Destruction specialisation. On single-target fights with only a single boss to hit, Destruction Warlocks are already decent enough. On fights where you can cycle through many adds, including some that are below 20% health, Destruction Warlocks are probably the best specialisation in the game.

The key is to use Havoc Icon Havoc with Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn as often as possible. Havoc allows you to cast Shadowburn 3 times before its effect runs out (against only once for Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt). So you should always focus on targets lower than 20% health so that you can use Havoc and Shadowburn. Often, you will not have enough Burning Embers to cast Shadowburn more than once or twice while Havoc is up. Even so, you should always try and use Havoc for Shadowburn and not Chaos Bolt, because one cast of Shadowburn during Havoc is worth more than a cast of Chaos Bolt during Havoc. It is acceptable to postpone using Havoc for a few seconds if an add is about to drop below 20% health.

Also, if a target dies less than 5 seconds after you attacked it with Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn, you regain 2 Burning Embers, so this is another reason why proper usage of Shadowburn is crucial. Ideally, you should try and damage every add that is about to die with Shadowburn. In turn, this will give you Burning Embers that you can use to keep spamming Shadowburn.

5.5. Backdraft, Incinerate, and Chaos Bolt

Backdraft Icon Backdraft causes your Conflagrate Icon Conflagrate spell to lower the mana cost and cast time of your 3 next Incinerate Icon Incinerates or of your next Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt by 30%.

Prior to Patch 5.4, it was advised to only use Backdraft Icon Backdraft on Incinerate Icon Incinerate, but with the buff that Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt received, you now have a lot more liberty for consuming your charges of Backdraft. This means that you should not hesitate to consume charges of Backdraft with Chaos Bolt, when you want to cast several Chaos Bolts in a short period of time. The rest of the time, simply consume your procs of Backdraft with Incinerate.

Note that at lower levels of gear, you should still optimally use Backdraft Icon Backdraft for Incinerate Icon Incinerate as often as possible.

5.6. Trinket Procs with Chaos Bolt and Shadowburn

If you have Purified Bindings of Immerseus Icon Purified Bindings of Immerseus (any version), you have a reliable Intellect trinket proc with a 115-second internal cooldown. This changes the way you want to use your abilities (namely Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt and Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn).

You will want to save Dark Soul: Instability Icon Dark Soul: Instability until the trinket procs and then drump your Burning Embers by using Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt or Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn.

Even if you do not have Purified Bindings of Immerseus Icon Purified Bindings of Immerseus, the other Tier 16 trinkets are so strong that Dark Soul: Instability Icon Dark Soul: Instability should no longer be seen as a major dumping period for Burning Embers. Without the Immerseus tirnket, you should try to maintain a relatively high level of Burning Embers during Dark Soul (1.5-2 Burning Embers, for example). This way, if a trinket procs during Dark Soul, you will have Burning Ember to spend on Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt or Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn for a massive damage increase.

5.7. More on Cooldowns

In addition to your Dark Soul: Instability Icon Dark Soul: Instability, Summon Doomguard Icon Summon Doomguard, and Summon Infernal Icon Summon Infernal, you have other defensive and offensive cooldowns, the majority of which will depend on your choice of talents. We present them in this section, but first, a we need to say more about your Doomguard and your Infernal.

5.7.1. Doomguard and Infernal

For most situations, summoning a Doomguard is your best choice. In case you are faced with a large number of enemies that you wish to use extra burst on, you should use Summon Infernal Icon Summon Infernal.

Summon Doomguard Icon Summon Doomguard/Summon Infernal Icon Summon Infernal will summon a Doomguard/Infernal to fight by your side for 45 seconds. The ability has a 10 minute cooldown, meaning that it will realistically only be usable once per fight. Your Doomguard/Infernal's damage will scale dynamically with your own Spell Power and Critical Strike Rating, so any change in your stats after your Doomguard/Infernal has been summoned will affect him.

Ideally, you need to use your Doomguard/Infernal at the pull or when your raid uses Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust/Heroism Icon Heroism/Time Warp Icon Time Warp.

Everything we said in this section is still valid for Summon Terrorguard Icon Summon Terrorguard and Summon Abyssal Icon Summon Abyssal, if you choose Grimoire of Supremacy Icon Grimoire of Supremacy as your tier 5 talent.

5.7.2. Defensive Cooldowns

You have a total of 6 defensive cooldowns, 3 of which depend on your choices of talents.

  • Soulshatter Icon Soulshatter reduces your threat by 90% for all enemies within 50 yards. It has a 2-minute cooldown.
  • Unending Resolve Icon Unending Resolve reduces all damage taken by 40% and prevents your spells from being interrupted or silenced for 8 seconds. It has a 3-minute cooldown.
  • Dark Regeneration Icon Dark Regeneration is a Tier 1 talent that restores 30% of your health and that of your pet, and increases healing received by 25% over 12 seconds.
  • Sacrificial Pact Icon Sacrificial Pact is a Tier 3 talent that sacrifices 25% of your demon's health (or 25% of your health if you have no demon) to create an absorption shield on you for 400% of the sacrificed health.
  • Dark Bargain Icon Dark Bargain is a Tier 3 talent that prevents all damage from 8 seconds. When the effect fades, 50% of the damage prevented is dealt over 8 seconds.
  • Healthstone Icon Healthstones can be much more beneficial to Warlocks than they are to other classes, because of Glyph of Healthstone Icon Glyph of Healthstone. Do not hesitate to make good use of them!
  • Ember Tap Icon Ember Tap consumes a Burning Ember and restores some of your health.

For other Warlock specialisations, this number of defensive cooldowns can be explained by the fact that they need to often use Life Tap Icon Life Tap to regenerate mana, so having these cooldowns is a means of compensating for requiring more healing from the healers.

In the case of Destruction Warlocks, Life Tap Icon Life Tap is replaced by Ember Tap Icon Ember Tap, so these cooldowns will simply be used with survival in mind.

5.7.3. Offensive Talent Cooldowns

Grimoire of Service Icon Grimoire of Service is a Tier 5 talent that enables you to summon an additional demon to fight for you for 20 seconds. This ability should be used on cooldown and preferably when you have a trinket/weapon enchant proc or when you deal increased damage on the boss, as your demon benefits from a number of your stats.

Mannoroth's Fury Icon Mannoroth's Fury is a Tier 6 talent that enables you to greatly increase the damage and area of your AoE spells. Use it whenever you need to do heavy AoE damage. It has a 1-minute cooldown, which lets you use it many times a fight.

6. Changelog↑top

  • 20 Nov. 2013: Gahddo's improvements for the single-target rotation, multiple-target rotation, and DoT-refreshing section. Added a section regarding Tier 16 trinkets. Evrelia's advice for choosing your demon.
  • 28 Oct. 2013: Slightly improved multiple-target rotations and added mention of Felguard/Wrathguard for Destruction Warlocks.
  • 13 Sep. 2013: Several improvements.
    • Rain of Fire Icon Rain of Fire should only be used under haste effects, in the single-target rotation.
    • Fel Flame Icon Fel Flame should be used as a filler when moving.
    • Immolate Icon Immolate should only be used in the multiple-target rotation if the targets will live long enough for it to be worth it.
    • Chaos Bolt Icon Chaos Bolt was buffed in Patch 5.4, which means that you should no longer refrain from consuming your Backdraft Icon Backdraft procs with it when you want to fire off several Chaos Bolts in a short period of time.
  • 11 Sep. 2013: Patch 5.4 update: still unsure about Rain of Fire Icon Rain of Fire usage (will update the guide in the next few days if necessary).
  • 19 May 2013: Evrelia's review and Patch 5.3 update.
  • 08 Apr. 2013: Added a mention, in the section about refreshing DoTs, that refreshing Immolate Icon Immolate during Dark Soul: Instability Icon Dark Soul: Instability is extremely beneficial.
  • 22 Mar. 2013: Improved single-target and multiple-target rotations. Added a section to highlight the importance of Shadowburn Icon Shadowburn.
  • 14 Mar. 2013: Forgot to add Rain of Fire Icon Rain of Fire in the single-target rotation in the 5.2 update. It is fixed now.
  • 07 Mar. 2013: Patch 5.2 update.
    • Updated and improved single-target rotation.
    • Updated and improved the multiple-target rotation.
    • Improved advice for using Doomguard/Infernal.
    • Greatly improved section about refreshing DoTs.
    • Removed mention of Kil'jaeden's Cunning Icon Kil'jaeden's Cunning, which no longer has an active component.