SWTOR 3.1.2 Serenity Shadow DPS Guide by Aelanis of The Shadowlands, with contributions from Evolixe.
Intro to Serenity Shadow
Serenity plays very similarly to the old Balance Shadow. Energy Management became somewhat easier outside of execute range, and very tight in the execute range, and the AoE rotation was almost entirely revamped. With the new Serenity Strike, and change of self-heals from triggering on periodic effect critical hits to being simply damage based, we saw a huge increase in self-healing and survivability that has made it the go-to spec for PvP.
Utility selection should go on a boss-by-boss basis, as we have a wide variety of abilities that can make certain situations go from challenging to sleep inducing.
With the loss of damage on Leeching Strike, in combination with the resultant loss of healing and the reduction of life steal from Discharge and Creeping Terror, Hatred has been hit really hard in PvE, to the point where Deception can easily tie, if not beat, Hatred in both damage and survivability. Almost all bosses are better fought in Deception at this point. This is due to Deception’s AoE damage reduction skill and the spike damage prevalent in this tier of Hard Mode Operations forcing healers to keep DPS at near full health, which means they won’t give you the time to let your now fairly meager self heals do their work. Paired with nearly equal damage to Deception, there remains almost no reason to bring a Hatred Assassin to an Operations setting.
- Single Target DPS: 7
- AoE Damage: 8
- Group Utility: 7
- Rotation Difficulty: 7
- RNG Dependent: Very Slightly
- Burst: 5 or 6
- Sub 30% Talent or Ability Buffs: Yes
Gearing & Stats Priority
- **Must Have** Accuracy: As close to 758 accuracy rating as possible.
- 5.22-6.62% Alacrity (423 to 552 Rating)
- 64-69% Surge (222 to 360 Rating)
- 0-175 Critical Rating (82 in Resurrected, 171 in Revanite)
- All other secondary stats in Power
- Augments: Willpower (Resolve)/Alacrity (50/50 mix)
- Relics: Revanite Serendipitous Assault & Focused Retribution
- Alternate Relic: Boundless Ages
- Set bonus: 6 piece new Stalker’s
- Force Technique
- Reaching the Accuracy cap should be your highest priority.
- Due to nasty diminishing returns beyond the first 250 points of Surge, Alacrity is going to be very important in 3.0, especially since it makes your periodic effects tick through faster. The split will likely end up being a 3:2 Surge:Alacrity ratio for non-augment pieces through most of 3.X, though current Best in Slot looks like a 2:2 ratio for 192 and 198 gear levels.
- Critical rating fell vastly in usefulness in 3.0. Double Strike is down 20% of its old Surge boost, and gone is our surge boost on periodic effects and Force in Balance, though we picked up 30% on Spinning Strike. A smaller portion of our overall damage now has a Surge boost, but that doesn’t make the stat completely obsolete.
- Choice of relics should be made on a fight-to-fight basis. Serendipitous Assault and Focused Retribution will give you a greater overall damage increase, while Boundless Ages will allow you to focus your burst into a short window for fights with tight burn phases.
- Getting your set bonus as quickly as possible is highly recommended. It will increase your DPS substantially enough that having lower item level armorings with the set bonus is still a better option than higher item level armorings without it.
- Despite the old 4 piece giving a substantial boost to the critical chance of a move used quite often, it is not as valuable, even with the new 2 piece, as the full new set bonus. You can PM Aelanis on the forums for these calculations.
As in RotHC, gearing a DPS character will require grabbing numerous pieces. Below, I have listed below what you want to trade your token for, and why it may be a good choice. Power is rare in our set, and we require much more of it than we do crit, so pick up more of these pieces if you can. We also need a whopping 758 Accuracy rating, so Accuracy/Power pieces are incredibly valuable. Unfortunately, you’ll need to keep your eyes open for other pieces with Accuracy/Power enhancements, since we don’t get even a single one in our set bonus. You may end up getting a lot of Force Master’s boots. One more thing to remember: no offhands/main hands in this entire tier of gear have a color crystal in them, so don’t forget to add your favorite one in!
|Piece||Name||Secondary Stat||Tertiary Stat||Comment|
|Headgear||Stalker’s Headgear||Critical||Alacrity||Set Piece|
|Chest||Stalker’s Robe||Power||Surge||Set Piece (Pow/Sur)|
|Gloves||Stalker’s Handwraps||Critical||Accuracy||Set Piece(Accuracy)|
|Belt||Stalker’s Waistwrap||Critical||–||Set Piece|
|Legs||Stalker’s Legwraps||Power||Alacrity||Set Piece(Power)|
|Boots||Stalker’s Boots||Critical||Alacrity||Set Piece|
|Bracers||Stalker’s Bracers||Power||–||Set Piece|
|Main hand||Stalker’s Saberstaff||Power||Surge||Only dps staff|
|Implant 1||Stalker’s MK-X Package||Power||Accuracy||Accuracy/Power!|
|Implant 2||Stalker’s MK-V Package||Power||Surge||Surge/Power|
|Earpiece||Force Master’s Device||Power||Accuracy||Accuracy/Power!|
|Bonus||Force Master’s Boots||Power||Accuracy||Acc/Power enh!!!|
There are a few utilities that you’re going to want regardless of the fight, and a few that have situational use, but are not always mandatory. Each boss you’ll probably want a different Utility set. However, there are a few you should have for each boss fight, due to them being so strong in general.
- Celerity/Avoidance: Reduced cooldown on our stun breaker, reduced cooldown on our interrupt, and a huge (25%) reduction on Force Speed cooldown make this utility a no-brainer. (Skillful)
- Misdirection/Obfuscation: Movement speed bonuses help you increase uptime on a boss by both being able to keep up with it and close gaps between adds faster. Any time you can take a movement speed increase as a melee class, you probably should. As icing on the cake, the extra 5 stealth levels help you to sneak up closer to enemies before being detected. (Skillful)
- Force Harmonics/Audacity: As the only utility that increases your single target DPS, you should definitely take it. Despite seeming small (1 extra charge every minute and a half?) it’s actually a fairly significant boost in damage. (Masterful)
That leaves 4 more utilities to choose based on the boss.
- Shadowy Veil/Insulation: Good for if you have to take a lot of unavoidable damage. Helpful against Sword Squadron, Underlurker, Revanite Commanders, final burn phase for Revan, Torque and Blaster, as well as 2.X bosses. (Skillful)
- Lambaste: Are there significant portions of the boss where you can do AoE damage? If yes, you should really take this talent. Great on Revanite Commanders, Sparky SM, and Torque. (Skillful)
- Mind Over Matter/Disjunction: This talent is overall very strong, but gains even more use in some situations. As Evolixe has said: “For example on Torque, so you can wander the fires like nothing is going on, or on Blaster to eat the “Boss” his lazer damage for a longer than normal period of time. Bulo, for eating the minecarts without having to f-off. It can be useful on Walkers, if you intend to take risks and not move.” (Masterful)
- Egress/Emersion: This is a utility that DPS Shadows used to be very jealous of tanks for, it’s invaluable on fights where there are persistent slows, back to back roots, or enemies leaping to you. This utility, alone, makes Shadows a very attractive melee DPS on The Underlurker. (Masterful)
- Cloak of Resilience/Shroud of Madness: This talent comes in handy when you need an extra few seconds of immunity to Force/Tech attacks. Use it to eat otherwise nasty abilities so that you can keep better uptime on bosses like the Underlurker’s Rage Storm or Sword Squadron to stand right in Rapid Fire or as a backup for if you need to use Shroud again. (Heroic)
- Containment/Haunted Dreams: Very situational. In fights with non-CC immune (read: Revanite Commanders), it can be very useful to point at an enemy and insta-mez them for 8 seconds. (Heroic)
- Sturdiness/Dark Stability: Not terribly useful in Operations, as there are few times you will get stunned, which also makes Mental Defense/Shapeless Spirit a less than optimal choice, but there are lots of stuns in daily areas that can make these utilities still very useful. (Heroic)
Abilities and Rotation
The opening rotation is a chance to deal quite a bit of damage in Serenity, as well as set you up for the entire rest of the fight. Start by pre-casting Vanquish into: Force Breach > Adrenal + Relic + Force in Balance > Double Strike > Spinning Strike > Sever Force > Serenity Strike > Vanquish.
This sets you up for a very high damage Spinning Strike, as the Vanquish ticks combined with the Force Breach ticks give you a roughly 92% chance of having Spinning Strike ready to go, and also a slightly higher chance that you have both relics (if not using a click relic) going for the auto-crit for maximum damage. Unfortunately, Serenity Strike does not fit into the opener until later as losing a relic boost on the auto-crit Spinning Strike is a damage loss over the 2% damage boost.
An opener that does not hurt your Force bar as badly, and lets you open up from further away, would be: Sever Force > Adrenal + Relic + Force in Balance > Force Breach > Double Strike > Vanquish > Serenity Strike > Spinning Strike. It does not pack the same punch as the first opener, nor does it flow into the normal rotation cleanly, but has a much easier Force recovery phase that follows.
There are two ways to look at the rotation for Serenity: Move Priority and a strict Rotation.
Rotation (previously dubbed “DoT Focus Method” by MKnightRider)
This is the method I prefer to use when I play Serenity. It’s a little tricky, but once you get used to it, it is quite easy to follow, and made life before debuff sorting much less of a hassle. Basically, your two 18 second dots will stay fixed at 2 points in your rotation, where nothing should interfere with them. This means you should have perfect uptime on Force Breach and Sever Force, and they should consume more of your stacks of Force Suppression, which is good, since they deal slightly more damage than Vanquish per tick. Your rotation framework should look very similar to this:
Force Breach > F > M* > F > Sever Force > F > M* > F > M > F > M* > F
Each F is a spot in the rotation where you will have Force in Balance rotate through, or where other things will happen that I’ll explain later. Force in Balance has a 15 second cooldown, Force Strike has a 9 second internal cooldown (a half multiple of 18 seconds), and Force Breach and Sever Force both have 18 second durations. That means that if you look at the Serenity “rotation” in an 18 second block, Force in Balance will fall back 2 spaces each rotation. Example (MA = melee attack, V = Vanquish):
FB > MA > MA > V > SF > FiB > MA > MA > MA > V > MA > MA
FB > MA > MA > FiB > SF > V > MA > MA > MA > V > MA > MA
FB > FiB > MA > V > SF > MA > MA > MA > MA > V > MA > FiB
As you can see, you’ll occasionally delay Vanquish in order to not delay Force in Balance. Previously, this would never happen, due to the 7.5 second lockout on Force Strike, but it is okay to do it now, because you can safely delay Vanquish up to 2 GCDs after its Force Strike trigger and still not miss out on Vanquish uptime. With that part of the rotation explained we go back to the framework:
Force Breach > F > M* > F > Sever Force > F > M* > F > M > F > M* > F
Those Fs in there aren’t just for Force in Balance: you’ll typically use Vanquish in there. Vanquish will, if you go from the suggested opener, land on the second and fifth F spaces, and once in a while be delayed from the second to the third F space when Force in Balance passes through. Because of its 12 second cooldown, Serenity Strike, used in the M* spaces, will never interfere with Force in Balance, Sever Force, or Force Breach, allowing for perfect usage on cooldown during the pre-execute phase. Spinning Strike and Double Strike will always fall into spaces where nothing else interferes.
The main focus of this method is reapplying FB and SF right away, which you can flow right into from the suggested opener. You want to keep 3 GCDs between those two DoTs. The only time you will let either dot fall off or break your 3 GCD buffer is Spinning Strike in the execute phase, which has more priority at that point. As MK had said before, prioritizing Spinning Strike in the execute phase will definitely break the 3 GCD separation, and so at that point this method reverts to a priority method during the execute phase and moves MC up the priority. (SpS = Spinning Strike, DS = Double Strike, SeS = Serenity Strike, SaS = Saber Strike)
- FiB on CD
- FB (or SF)
- SF (or FB)
- DS/SaS (likely SaS due to Force Starvation)
Priority Method (coined by MKnightRider as well)
Most of this is quoted directly from MK’s old guide, and updated for 3.0. “The only difference in this method is it always prioritizes Vanquish reapplication instead of the rigid Force Breach and Sever Force reapplication. This means it can be a little harder to follow in an actual fight but this priority does flow perfectly into the execute phase and is exactly what you end up doing in the DoT Focus method during the execute phase anyways.
Priority is this:
- FiB on CD
- FB (or SF)
- SF (or FB)
- DS/SaS (likely SaS due to Force Starvation)
Openers will be the same as the other method, the differences show up when you get to the second DoT applications and later.
Some extra things to note about Serenity priorities and rotations
- Saber Strike usage: Saber Strike will refund you 1 Force each time any of its 3 hits actually land. With a 10% miss rate, it averages to 2.7 Force per use. You need to always make sure you have enough Force to get through your DoT application. If you leave 3 spaces between your long duration dots, you have 2 moves you can always count on in there to recover Force, as Force in Balance may be coming through. The Force in Balance + Sever Force + Force Breach combo will cost you a whopping 70 Force, and you naturally recover 60 Force over the course of the 5 GCDs. With a cost of 20 and 30 being possibly back to back, you need to start with at least 38 Force going into this block. If you have more, you may not need to Saber Strike. If you have less, you’re going to have a bad time. Keep aware of this, and use Saber Strike proactively, not reactively.
- Dot application dos and don’ts: If your target isn’t going to survive at least half the duration of your dot, don’t bother; it will be a damage loss versus just hitting it with Double Strike. Force Breach may still be useful for Force Strike triggers, but that’s it. I’ll go more into this in the AoE section.
- On Force Wave: With Force Wave now being limited to 8 targets, you generally won’t use it any more. Whirling Blow hits the same number of targets and does more damage without knocking enemies back.
- We still have Project and Telekinetic Throw? Sometimes you can’t quite stay in melee range, but want to keep doing damage. That’s when these abilities come into play. They aren’t rotational, but they have a 10 meter range, and Project can be used on the move. Useful if you have to, say, kite Raptus in the Dread Council fight.
- About Force Potency: You want Force Potency to be used on Force in Balance more than you do on Vanquish. If you have to delay activating it a few seconds, it’s not the end of the world, and will still net you more damage that way. Conversely, if you’re in an AoE situation, you want to use all but 1 stack on Force in Balance, to maximize the number of critical hits you get, because all critical hit chances are calculated before any of them remove the Force Potency stacks.
If you mess up: It’s going to cost you a chunk of damage, but freaking out and messing up more will cost you even more. If you accidentally delay an ability (like Force in Balance) or mess up dot reapplication, do what you need to in order to fix it, even if it means clipping dots on your next application or delaying Force in Balance by a global to get it back on track. Don’t let things snowball out of control, or your damage will drop sharply.
AoE rotation (Dotspread explanation and examples by Evolixe)
With the advent of 3.0, you can now spread your long duration dots from one target to up to 7 more. You must simply have one target in your Force in Balance’s range that has one of Sever Force or Force Breach (or both) applied to it, and up to 7 additional targets will become affected by those dots. With more than 8 targets, the selection becomes random and which ones you hit is out of your control, save for targets that have your Sever Force or Force Breach already on them. Please note: Vanquish will not spread to other targets (which would be hilariously more overpowered), do not waste time applying it before Force in Balance.
Case 1: You have some number of targets (Evo used 4). You hit one with Force Breach and Sever Force. After you use Force in Balance to hit them, all 4 have both dots, because none of them started with it.
Case 2: You have some number of targets (Evo used 4). You hit one of them with Force Breach and another with Sever Force. After you use Force in Balance to hit them, all 4 will have both dots, since Force Breach will spread to all targets without it and Sever Force will spread to all targets without it. This method is a little trickier but a little safer. Instead of risking killing your only “host” (has all the dots) if you crit when they don’t have a lot of health, you have less chance to crit and kill both of two hosts. The spreading works just as well, and it’s slightly less likely to kill low health enemies instead of spreading your dots, it just requires more constrained placement of the Force in Balance ground target. It’s also less predictable in PvP. It can also ensure that you hit 2 different targets with Force in Balance that you want to make sure die first (or get more damage dealt to them) by forcing the game engine to select them as targets for Force in Balance.
After you spread your dots, if there are 3 or more targets, you want to spam Whirling Blow. If they all survive for 18 seconds, you can simply repeat this rotation (dot up, Force in Balance, Whirling Blow). The only thing you must remember is to let your dots fall off each enemy other than the “host” or else they won’t spread to all targets. In the case that they don’t all survive for 18 seconds, you still have a target with both dots on them and can begin you single target rotation. Some general rules of thumb for AoE: after your first rotation, if all of your targets (2 or more total) have less than ~25,000 health in a flashpoint, ~70,000 health in an 8 man raid, or ~150,000 health in a 16 man raid when Force in Balance comes off cooldown, don’t bother reapplying dots or delaying Force in Balance, they won’t survive the group’s AoE damage to make up for the lost damage. This number will go up as your group gets more geared and/or skilled.
Sample Parse Analysis
Vanquish (Demolish, dot) should be taking first or second alongside Spinning Strike. It ticks very quickly, resulting in roughly twice as many times as your other two dots independently. Depending on critical hit luck, they will alternate between parses. Like Spinning Strike, it’s worth roughly 14-15% of your damage.
Spinning Strike (Assasinate) should be one of the top two damage dealers for Serenity. You use it fairly often, it hits incredibly hard, and you use it an absurd amount in the execute phase. It’s worth roughly 14-15% of your damage.
Sever Force (Creeping Terror) takes third place. It receives a lot of damage boosts from the tree, and has very good uptime. It’s worth about 13% of your damage.
Force in Balance (Death Field) hits particularly hard, and has a very high critical chance thanks to Force Potency. Used on cooldown, it should end up in fourth place. It contributes roughly 11% of your damage.
Fifth place alternates between Double Strike (Thrash) and Vanquish (Demolish, initial hit), with Serenity Strike (Leeching Strike) following shortly after. Double Strike and Serenity Strike have a high surge bonus, and Serenity Strike hits slightly harder than Double Strike, and Double Strike is your general filler. The initial hit of Vanquish hits decently hard and very often. In total, they’ll be roughly 27% of your damage. Force Breach, with its initial hit counted, also hits for around 9-10%
The last 10% is split roughly equally between Force Technique and Saber Strike. Despite hitting very often with a very high crit chance, Force Technique and Saber Strike just don’t hit very hard.
For damage breakdown, roughly 25% of your damage (Force in Balance and Sever Force) is Internal/Elemental, while the rest is Kinetic/Energy. A further split shows that roughly 64% of your damage is Force damage, while the remaining roughly 36% is melee damage. This goes to show that your dots (and Force in Balance) are an incredibly important part of your damage. Lastly, that roughly 11% of your damage that Force in Balance is worth is Area of Effect damage. You can use this information to try to work out with your raid team what debuffs you want to try to include on your team.
About the Author
Aelanis is an avid forum-goer on the Shadow/Assassin forums, hailing from The Shadowlands. Despite having only raided Nightmare content since 2.8 released, Aelanis has put up very competitive numbers on numerous boss fights and previously held a spot on the World DPS leaderboards. If you play on the Shadowlands, you can reach him on Theraton, in Exit Area on the Imperial side, or Ellendra, in Death Mark on the Republic side.