As a damage dealer, our main concern is making sure we output enough damage. Most people (myself included) copy spell priorities down from reputable sources, and just use those. Same thing goes for specs. A long time ago in wow these priorities used to be termed “rotations” and the term is still largely used today even though the collective feeling is that “priority” is a closer estimation to what the list actually is. What is it prioritizing? Well damage of course, and let’s talk about how.

Our main metric as a damage dealer is our DPS, our damage per second. How much damage can you output as a function of time spent. Damage per cast time is a a way of evaluating a spell’s opportunity cost. How much damage is this spell going to do and how long is it going to prevent me from doing something else? You can answer that with Damage per cast time. Let’s take two spells and calculate the DPCT.

First let’s look at Shadow Bolt. Simple enough spell, it does single target direct damage. Open up your spell book (you do have “beginner tool tips” turned off right?) and look at the damage it’s going to do, and then divide it by the cast time. That is your DPCT for that spell. If you want to be a little more accurate and take into account Curse of Elements being on the target, take the damage done, multiply it by 1.08 and then divide by the cast time. That’s your DPCT.

Now let’s look at Corruption. Take the damage corruption will do (from your spell book) and divide it by 1.5 for a global cool down. Now your global cool down is less than 1.5 but to make things simple divide it by 1.5 so we don’t have to get haste calculations into the discussion. That’s the DPCT of that spell. The interesting thing with Corruption is that it’s DPCT is actually going to vary dramatically in combat, depending on when you cast it. If you refresh a DoT too early, you’re effectively cutting the DPCT of that spell by a percentage. This is why clipping DoTs used to be so bad. This is a little easier now that DoTs will not overwrite their last tick on a refresh, but that only buys you the last tick.

I’d encourage you to go through and calculate the DPCT of each spell in your spell book and put them in a list with the highest DPCT up top, and the lowest DPCT spell at the bottom. That’s basically going to be your spell priority during combat. Things like spell synergy, buffs/debuffs, and even spell travel time will effect this list to a certain degree, but let’s keep things simple and say that this is our priority list.

When you want to cast something in combat, you can ask yourself from this list, what spell has the highest DPCT and then cast that one.

Enter the dreaded cooldown. Imagine a world where you have a spell that has the highest DPCT of any spell in your spell book, and this spell can be cast as much as you want. What would you do in combat? Cast nothing but that spell of course. Now imagine you deleting your Arcane Mage and rolling a much better Warlock instead. Spells likes Conflagrate and Chaos Bolt have cooldowns because they’re powerful and it’s a way for Blizzard to force you to use more spells in combat to keep things interesting.

So when you’re making a priority list you can start by making a DPCT list and ordering them that way and working from there. There’s other things to think about when putting it together, but thats a great place to start. When you’re building your character, be it through gear or through talents, or anything, you need to ask which decision is going to leave me with a higher DPCT on the collection of spells I use.