Critical Skills – spellweaving.

Every class has skills to learn – no, not talents, skills at playing – that once learned turn you from a roboplayer to a player who is widely respected for knowing how2play. Today, we’re going to look at one such skill for the shadowpriest — spellweaving. No, not shadoweaving – that’s a talent that just ‘happens’ once you pay the points. This one…

Basically, what you’re doing is learning to work the order of your skills to maximize the effect – your dps in almost every case. What you’re working with are the casting times and cooldowns. And you can start learning this at level 10 — in fact, that’s what I’m going to use as our example for teaching.

At level 10, excluding talents and racial spells, we have the following damage spells:

  1. Shadow Word: Pain (Rank 2). Instant cast. 66 total damage over 18 seconds (in 3 second ticks). No Cooldown (GCD applies).
  2. Mind Blast (Rank 1). 1.5 second cast. 39-43 damage. 8 second cooldown.
  3. Smite (Rank 2). 2 second cast. 25-31 damage. No Cooldown.
  4. Shoot. Instant. damage depends on wand. Cooldown depends on wand. I’m going to assume you bought (or made) a Lesser Magic Wand – because you could start using it at level 5, and it’ll outdo most anything that drops for you for quite some time. This means the damage is 12-22 and the cooldown is 1.5 seconds.

Two last things to know before we take this to the table. First, the GCD – Global CoolDown. At level 10 everything you do — well, everything in combat — requires you take a 1-second pause before you do something else. This cooldown isn’t in addition to anything else, but it applies if nothing else makes the delay longer. AN IMPORTANT POINT: The global cooldown sets how long you must wait to do ANYTHING else. The spell’s cooldown sets how long you have to wait before you use THAT SPELL. hmmm. Anyway, the second you need to know about lag and how it applies.

There is a delay – ideally less than a tenth of a second, but it can be as much as a full second – in the time between when you tell your computer (the client) to do something and when the server gets the message from the client. Now there are tools and techniques to cope with this and I’ll discuss some in other posts, but right now we’re going to claim it’s immutable. What it means is that for your character time is not accurate. That 1.5 second cast time while you wait to start the next spell will stretch to 1.6, 1.7, or more. Add in human reflex and the delay is measurable. For the rest of this exercise, we’re going to plan for a 0.2 second lag which will get added to every single spell.

We’re going to set up a spellweaving plan that’s designed to get the maximum damage despite lag over a 21 second battle. (Yes, I cherry picked that time. You’ll see why.)

Our first task (well, second, but we already got damage and timing list of all spells) is to calculate the DPS – Damage Per Second. This will help us rank our spells for maximum punch over time. For those spells with a min and max, we take the average as our damage, and for both those and the absolutes we divide by the number of seconds the spell is active — EXCLUDING the cooldown. (Why? Because we can stuff other things in while the cooldown is processing. Bear with.) Oh – SW:P is an odd one. As a Damage over Time (DOT) spell it can process in the background. Don’t worry, we’ll get to it.

SW:P is 3 2/3 DPS. MB is 27 1/3 DPS. Smite is 14 DPS, and the wand is 17 DPS.

Now in a perfect and unrestricted world we’d hit SW:P, wait a second, and then start hitting the MB button every 1.5 seconds. 31 dps for 19 seconds is, at our level, sweet. Unfortunately, lag and cooldown say this isn’t possible. But it still sets up the first two spells — though not necessarily their best order.

I’m going to start with SW:P, and 1.2 seconds later start MB. MB goes off 1.7 (1.5 plus lag) later, putting us 3.9 seconds into the battle. Because it’s so big, we’re going to cast it again when the cooldown is done 8 seconds from now (lag doesn’t affect cooldown times, but due to reflexes we’ll plan it on all GCDs) – at 11.9 seconds into the battle (kicking off at 13.6 seconds). Note that I’ll not be able to use it a third time in a 20 second battle as it’s not available till 21.6 seconds. We’ll come back to that which is why I mention it.

8 seconds, maximum damage. I’ve got a 2.2 second for 28 and a 1.2 second for 17. Using my nominal dps, I know the 1.2 second does the most damage per time, so I’d like to put it in. Unfortunately, there is NOTHING I can squeeze into the half-second cooldown, and those half seconds would add up. I’d only be able to put 5 shoots into the mix, which means there are 2 wasted seconds in the middle – – though the GCD of the last shoot, plus lag, goes to exactly 8 seconds. (17*5=85 — remember that). This may be bad — at least it sure seems it, so I’ll test an alternatives. I’ll try to work around this with a bit of tricker. I’ll alternate wand and smite. Starting with wand, I get 2 wands and 2 smites that take up exactly 7.8 seconds – again, a near-perfect fit. Since both techniques have a perfect fit, the only question is which does more damage. Our second mix does 2×17 plus 2×28 for 92 points of damage – a whopping7 points more . It’s the mix for the win.

Again, our second MB is starting 11.9 (wand/smite) and kicks its damage at 13.6 seconds. The next measure is nominally at 19.2 seconds. That’s when the SW:P ends with its last tick, and we have to decide whether to renew it or do something else. Since we’re stopping at 21 seconds this doesn’t matter – the first tic happens after that. And we won’t start a third MB till 21.6 seconds either. So we’ve got 7.4 seconds to fill. heh – that first fill? The last damage of the wand is before 21 seconds is up. And it’s still the best.

My plan for now is SW:P, MB, shoot, smite, shoot, smite, MB, shoot, smite, shoot, smite. I’m going to (nominally) do 66+41+90+41+90= 330 damage or ~15.7 dps. For a level 10 character, that ain’t too bad. But… can I make it better?

sorta. If I swap MB and SW:P (back at the very beginning), and sneak in an extra 0.2 seconds, I can drop the very first wand (17 points) and add a third MB (41 points). In the first sequence I could have dropped the last wand (17 points) to do SW:P instead, but it wouldn’t do the first 11 points till 22.2, and the MB wouldn’t trigger till the 22.5 second mark. I’d have added to the damage but only by significantly adding to the time — and with this ‘sorta’ swap I’m able to continue roughly the same sequence over the next 20 seconds or so.

So my NEW plan is: MB, SW:P, smite, shoot, smite, MB, shoot, smite, shoot, smite, MB, doing 358 damage over 21 seconds (nominal) for a dps rate of 17.

Now, this is a simple (yes, I said simple) plan. Making modifications to allow trinkets, to maximize mana recovery (the five second rule coming into play), and so forth will change it. What I’ve done is shown how by PLANNING the sequence you can get a lot better damage. Oh, I guess not. OK, let’s say you went SW:P, MB, 4x smite (yes, I know, but we’re doing it ‘quick’), MB, wand to end. You get four wands in at the end, which means your mana recovery starts early (a bonus). You do 330 points of damage – the same as the original weave. Which at first appears to moot the point – 330 works, after all.

But again, two points. First, with the spellweaving we get an increase of 8% damage. Second, this is level 10. We have yet to add mind flay. And the ability to modify our cooldown with Improved Mind Blast. And Psychic Scream and Vampiric Embrace and various racial spells and… Learn this skill early, and you’ll be outperforming your peers by as much as 25%.

Oh, before I go I MUST pass on a key point. See, this is really stage one of spellweaving. We’re winding up with what appears to be a fixed sequence. In reality, it gets more complex – but that’ll actually help you exceed when the actions of your opponents interfere. To tease with the key point – instead of sequence, you establish priority. Given any combination of spells, which do you choose first (second, third, …) so that over time you maximize the effect you want? The resulting patterns aren’t patterns. But if you’ve learned to dance across the patterns, you’ll have half the battle won.

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~ by Kirk on July 25, 2007.

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