Elemental, Opinion, Shaman, Spreadsheet, Theorycraft, WoW

Glyphs: Lava vs. Flametongue

Since 3.3.3, Glyph of Flame Shock is no longer a contender for our third glyph slot.  So what is?  In my last post I left the question open by just noting that Lava and Flametongue looked about the same sort of value.  This post will ask the question, “which is really better?” – and hopefully arrive at some helpful answers.

Before we start, remember that our top two glyphs are, without any doubt or question, Glyph of Lightning Bolt and Glyph of Totem of WrathGlyph of Lightning Bolt is so far ahead that even in situations where we’re firing dramatically fewer Lightning Bolts it’s still better than other options, and because Glyph of Totem of Wrath affects all our spells and abilities it’s even more robust and reliable.

So the question is between Glyph of Flametongue Weapon and Glyph of Lava.  (Glyph of Elemental Mastery never becomes competitive even with 2-piece tier 10 because of the way the cooldown reduction works.)

Glyph of Lava
Your Lava Burst spell gains an additional 10% of your spellpower.

For most of us this is about 1000 extra damage on Lava Burst – more at higher gear levels, less at lower gear levels.

Glyph of Flametongue Weapon
Increases spell critical strike chance by 2% while Flametongue Weapon is active.

This is just 2% more crit chance which should be active always, seeing as we always imbue our weapon with Flametongue.

In theorycraft these two are very close in terms of DPS value, so let’s have a look at what can make them better or worse for us.


  • Deciding factors: Stuff that affects the relative value of each glyph.
  • How to decide: A suggested course of action to evaluate the glyphs to the best of your capacity!
    • ZAP! – using ZAP! to evaluate the glyphs
    • SimulationCraft – using SimulationCraft to evaluate the glyphs
  • Concluding: So which is really better?  A potential simple answer followed by pondering through the different encounters in Icecrown Citadel.

Deciding factors

Haste: Haste affects Lightning Bolt and Flame Shock far more than it affects Lava Burst (or Chain Lightning) (but doesn’t affect our fire DPS totems at all).  Generally speaking the higher our total haste – and the more of a fight for which we have temporary haste effects like Heroism active – the better Glyph of Flametongue becomes compared to Lava.

Spellpower: This stat benefits both glyphs almost equally, but Glyph of Lava benefits slightly more from higher spellpower values.

Totems: Searing and Magma Totems both benefit from our critical strike chance, but the Fire Elemental doesn’t.  So using these totems will very slightly enhance Glyph of Flametongue.  The difference isn’t large because they don’t contribute all that much to our total damage.

Potions: Potion of Wild Magic favours Glyph of Lava (see spellpower), whereas Potion of Speed favours Glyph of Flametongue Weapon (see haste).

Area of Effect: Lava Burst is single-target only, and its contribution to our damage drops if there are multiple targets present – but crit affects all our AoE spells.  Any situation where there is more than one target present at any time will edge towards favouring Glyph of Flametongue.  The more targets and the longer they’re present, the more valuable Glyph of Flametongue becomes.   (Glyph of Fire Nova remains top for true sustained AoE, though!)

Burst damage: Crit is obviously good for burst damage, but it’s also random – we can’t control it.  The advantage of Glyph of Lava is that it’s a guaranteed 1k extra damage on every Lava Burst we cast, so it’s very powerful for on-demand burst damage.

Lag: Lag generally reduces the ratio of “filler” spells compared to Lava Bursts, so if you have any kind of high lag situation Glyph of Lava will increase in value.

Downtime: Lava Burst is one of the first spells we cast in our rotation.  If a fight is filled with long periods of doing nothing, the ratio of Lava Bursts to other casts will go up.  This greatly increases the value of Glyph of Lava.

Healing: This is a very minor concern, but worth noting that if we’re ever having to suddenly emergency off-heal, Glyph of Flametongue Weapon wins hands-down… provided you don’t swap to Earthliving imbue 🙂

How to decide

With all the above in mind, how to actually choose between the glyphs is still going to require some thought and some help.  Here’s how I suggest going about it:

  1. Sit down and think about how you play.  What spells do you use?  Do you have a lot of lag or low framerate issues – and are you good at coping with them?  Are you good at using haste cooldowns as much as possible?
  2. Think about your guild’s situation.  What fights do you struggle on and why?  For example, do you generally need more burst damage or more sustained single target DPS?
  3. Consider the list above, and how many of those apply to your situation and the kinds of fights you’re most worried about.  Which glyph seems to have the most advantages for you?

Now that you’ve done that, it’s time to use some tools.  The more you use and the better you use them, the clearer idea you’ll get, so it is worth taking some time over.  Your goal here is to see what the value of each glyph is in theory using specific numbers, so that you can judge how important the above factors will be in making your decision.

(if you’re not interested in this bit, skip ahead to the conclusions.)


The spreadsheet is best at modelling “optimal” situations and it takes some work to figure in movement and stuff.  The first thing to do is obviously to enter your own stats, first two glyphs, set bonuses etc.  Then check through the list of raid buffs and make sure that only the ones you’ll be using are active.  You’ll see DEP numbers being reported for Glyph of Lava and Glyph of Flametongue Weapon in the glyphs list – keep an eye on those now.

Firstly, you might want to fiddle with the Fight Length.  Very few fights in Icecrown last even five minutes, and shorter fights tend to put more emphasis on temporary haste.

Next, you might want to fiddle with number of targets (don’t forget to enable Chain Lightning and/or Fire Nova!).

You might also want to play around with the Advanced Options:

Cast Delay: this models a degree of “lag”.  Most players experience between 0 and 200ms of effective casting delay.

Movement per LvB: this models very frequent movement of however many seconds you enter.  Values of 1-2 seconds are most reasonable.

As you play with these settings, observe how the DEP values for the two glyphs change, and how they compare to each other.  For example, is there any difference in which is best between no movement and high movement?  Do shorter fight lengths increase the gap between the two?  These sorts of questions will help you get a better idea of how the glyphs perform in different situations, and how what might start out as a very small difference can end up as a much larger difference if the circumstances change.


I’m not a SimC expert, so I’ll try to keep this brief.  The big advantage of SimulationCraft is that it has built-in RNG and much less artificial optimisation than a spreadsheet.  In other words, it models a good deal of “imperfection” which can be helpful to us.

The first thing to do is to start up the GUI (it’s called simcqt.exe) and click the “Options” tab.  You’ll find the same sorts of settings as in ZAP! – lag (“Cast Delay” in ZAP!), fight length, adds (i.e., number of targets) – as well as some other ones:

Fight Style: “Patchwerk” means no movement at all, whereas “Helter Skelter” is a high amount of random movement.

Vary Length: this will simulate fights of random, different lengths within the range you set.  I don’t recommend using this for glyph comparison – change the fight length instead.

Player Skill: this controls reaction time, spell use etc.  I recommend leaving it at “elite”.

Next click through to the buffs/debuffs pages and set the right combination for your situation.  You can ignore scaling and plots as we’re interested in glyphs, not stats.

Now click the “Import” tab.  You can copy-paste your armory URL into the field at the bottom and click “Import!” for your character to be loaded from the armory, or you can click the Wowhead option and use a wowhead profile instead.   You can even use a profile from Rawr if you like.

After importing, you’ll be presented with a screen full of text.  Don’t get freaked out by this, as it’s the variables you just imported from the armory (or wherever).  A few lines from the top you’ll see a line beginning “glyphs=” – this is where you can edit what glyphs you’re using.  Glyphs must be entered in lowercase as follows (without the quotes):

Glyph of Lava: “lava”

Glyph of Flametongue Weapon: “flametongue_weapon”

The actions list is the priority order of abilities to be used.  You can read through this and remove, or change, potions, chain lightning, fire totems etc.  For example, to add in fire totems you would put:



The higher up the list, the higher priority that spell is.

After you’re confident you’ve got the settings you want, click the “Simulate!” button at the bottom right and you’ll get a nice detailed readout of the simulated DPS.  Do this for both glyphs and you can compare between them.  Then go and fiddle with fight length, adds, movement and all the other stuff you want to investigate, and again compare the results.

SimulationCraft can take a lot of work to use properly, but it can be very helpful to put results in context!


If you did all that, you should now have a really good idea of both the “basic” value of each glyph in your gear, as well as how that value changes in different situations.  Now let’s make some rampant generalisations:

Glyph of Lava is heavily favoured by high movement, single-target fights or anything where burst damage is important.

Glyph of Flametongue Weapon is heavily favoured by multiple targets (AoE) and static fights, as well as high amounts of haste.

These are likely to be the biggest deciding factors.  So let’s look at the fights in Icecrown Citadel:

Lord Marrowgar: Occasional movement, some minor burst requirements.  Perhaps slightly favours Lava if you’re struggling with Bone Spikes.

Lady Deathwhisper: Some multiple target situations and a wee bit of movement, with some stand-and-nuke periods.  No obvious winner – how does your guild do the fight?

Gunship Battle: Medium burst requirements and some multi-target situations with a lot of downtime.  Lava is probably best for boarding parties.  Not exactly the toughest of encounters though.

Deathbringer Saurfang: If you’re on Blood Beast duty, Glyph of Lava is probably superior for the burst.  Otherwise Glyph of Flametongue is clearly ahead because of the highly static nature of the fight and the chance to hit several targets now and again.

Rotface: Lots of movement, only one target – probably Glyph of Lava.

Festergut: The Patchwerk of ICC, will favour Glyph of Flametongue Weapon for the majority of gear/raid buff setups.

Professor Putricide: A fair bit of movement and high burst requirements.  Although there are adds, almost all DPS is single target.  Favours Glyph of Lava.

Blood Prince Council: Single targets with a bit of movement.  No clear winner.

Blood Queen Lana’thel: Single target with a little bit of movement now and again depending on RNG.  If you’re like me you may help off-heal during phase 2.  No clear winner, but I think I’d go for Flametongue having the slight advantage.

Valithria Dreamwalker: Multiple “soft” targets with some movement, some burst and some downtime – and potentially offhealing the dragon!  Hard to say which is best here.  Probably Glyph of Flametongue.

Sindragosa: Your pathetic magic be-traaaays you!  But with the movement, burst and Unchained Magic debuff, I’d probably go for Glyph of Lava being slightly ahead.

The Lich King: This is one of those few fights where Glyph of Fire Elemental might be really useful.  And there’s a bit of everything, too – adds and AoE, movement and burst, downtime and maybe some offhealing – so it’s hard to say which glyph would be best if you don’t go for FE.  I’d say figure out what part of the fight is hardest for your guild and glyph to make it easier.


Think about the fights described above, review the factors which value/devalue each glyph, and look at what the tools say about their precise value for you specifically.  If you’ve done all that, you’ll have a really good idea as to which glyph is likely to be best in each situation.  Then you can decide which of those situations is most important to excel at.

(You could also take a stack of glyphs into ICC with you and swap for each fight, but the difference between each glyph is so small as to make that a rather extreme option.)

I’d be interested to hear other people’s opinions on which glyph to use, and how to decide between them!



17 thoughts on “Glyphs: Lava vs. Flametongue

  1. You only slightly touch on totem use, but for us who still have to drop ToW (gogo 10mans) is that not going to be enough to favor Lava?

    Posted by Ateve | March 24, 2010, 6:02 pm
    • Using searing/magma will slightly favour Glyph of Flametongue Weapon, but using any other fire totem won’t. So it’s not so much a point in Lava’s favour as a point away from Flametongue for those of us who have to drop ToW. The difference is pretty small because those totems contribute relatively little to our total DPS, and 2% crit is a relatively small boost to their damage.

      Edit: rephrased!

      Posted by Charles | March 24, 2010, 6:28 pm
  2. *flails* I tend to favour a CLess rotation, but my test dummy trials this evening have favoured a CL after LvB+FtW Glyph for pure single target dps (tow totem, no raid buffs and no heroism). Am drawing no solid conclusions yet and see how raiding goes tomorrow night, but I’m expecting to switch glyphs depending on my mood for at least a week. Bipolar Shaman FTW! (pun not intended.)

    Posted by pewter | March 24, 2010, 9:47 pm
    • Dummy tests can’t tell us anything about relative DPS values sadly: partly because we can’t simulate real fight conditions on a test dummy (raid buffs), and partly because we’d have to have a significant sample size to evaluate – which would mean thousands of perfectly controlled test sessions lasting a reasonable amount of time, parsed and evaluated appropriately.

      I’m using Glyph of Lava at the moment and struggling to be happy with it. Every time I delay LvB, or there’s AoE, or anything like that… I just feel “waaah not getting any benefit from my glyph” 😦

      Posted by Charles | March 24, 2010, 10:09 pm
      • Yeah, was just playing in order to at least try and get a feel for the new hasted FS.

        Maybe this non-choice is a good one, because at the end of the day numbers aren’t really helping us and it is going to come down for personal preference of ‘stat boost’ over ‘BIG NUMBERS’. When ToW and Lava were a lot closer (and I had 4pc t9) I went with Lava simply because I preferred the big numbers and I hated the tow mechanic.

        Unfortunately there is no mechanic or awkward totem dropping to avoid here 😦

        Posted by pewter | March 25, 2010, 10:15 am
      • Heya Charles,

        After playing around with Lava longer, how are you liking it? Are you still having trouble being happy with it? I tried it out tonight and I’m not sure how I like it yet. I’ll have to run Flametongue next week and try to get a comparison going, but I’m not quite sure what I think.

        Posted by Shkarn | March 31, 2010, 6:57 am
      • I’m actually feeling good about it! Especially as our last Lich King poke was floundering on the Valks in phase 3 and Lava seems the perfect glyph for that. I’m aware I’m losing out on damage in phase 1 but honestly, AoE there is entirely unnecessary anyway.

        Basically at the moment all the “tough” fights seem to me to favour Lava… but if I really wanted to whore the meters I’d definitely swap to Flametongue for higher overall DPS.

        Posted by Charles | March 31, 2010, 3:41 pm
  3. The other day I said I was going to go with Glyph of Lava, but I’ve decided on Flametongue instead. Flametongue affects everything, and Lava doesn’t. My burst damage may be important, but it’s excellent with or without Glyph of Lava–and, to be honest, as of 3.3.3, Elemental Shaman doesn’t have the best burst anymore. Moonkins do! Imagine that.

    Posted by Bergg | March 25, 2010, 5:06 am
  4. I like this situation we have. Instead of having our major glyphs set in stone, we have some flexibility with at one of our major glyph slots.

    That reminds me…I don’t recall swapping out my FS glyph yet. Engineer AH in Dal was fubar on Tuesday, and I’ve totally forgotten about it. Oops! 😛

    Posted by Kazgrel | March 25, 2010, 2:47 pm
  5. I’ve decided to go with Flametongue.

    The main reason is, maxing out Glyph of Lavaburst’s potential requires extremely tight play. Maxing out Glyph of Flametongue’s potential requires you just to do your usual thing.

    It’s next to impossible to play elemental shamans perfect, and even harder not to screw up on progress. But maxing matters most on progress. I don’t easily trade dps for easier play (I still play CL on CD), but this is one of the situations where the gain is just not worth it.

    Posted by Aanzeijar | March 25, 2010, 9:27 pm
  6. So what would be best in a PvP setting?

    I can think of a few ups and down to Lava, but I can’t really see any downsides to Flametongue, since it affects all spells.

    Lava is great for burst, as you said, but Flametongue, will affect every single dmg spell that I use, and I can’t seem to figure it out.

    Any ideas? 🙂

    Posted by Tons | March 29, 2010, 5:39 am
    • I’m afraid I don’t PvP, so can’t really answer this personally. Lava seems to me like it’d probably be most sensible though? Honestly though I have no idea 🙂

      Posted by Charles | March 30, 2010, 9:13 pm
    • Lava Burst is your big bang attack in pvp, and against decent opponents you won’t have much more time to stand still and cast anything after LvB. Combined with having to almost always move, and I favor Lava along with LB and Stoneclaw in my pvp setup. The Thunder glyph (for reducing the cooldown on Thunderstorm) could be considered, too.

      Posted by Kazgrel | April 1, 2010, 1:33 pm
  7. Might be worth noting that, since LvB is a 100% crit, its one part of your rotation that is completely unaffected by the Flametongue glyph. Whether or not it changes mechanics much, I don’t know – but it’s more to the point that Flametongue is really only affecting 3/4 of your usual rotation, versus consideration as 100% uptime.

    Posted by Manchego | April 14, 2010, 6:26 pm
  8. I found Charles’ comment about his slightly less technical feeling about his Glyph of Lava interesting because I have a similar/opposite un-technical feeling when I use Flametongue. I just keep thinking…”In 100 LBs/CLs I only get 2 measly little extra critted ones…how long does it take me to cast 100 of them? or even 50 to get *any* benefit!…factoring in LvBs and movement (assuming no primo AE opportunities), how can that be worth it!”
    I am excited there is now numbers out there that support me carrying around stacks of glyphs so I can feel cool when we’re doing (ex.)H-Saurfang, and everyone else is re-speccing/glyphing, and I can finally say “wait, I need to re-glyph!”

    Posted by Acariel | April 16, 2010, 6:58 pm


  1. Pingback: zomg 3.3.3! « Storm, Earth, and Fire – Tales of an Elemental Shaman's Journey - March 25, 2010

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