With the basics out of the way, it’s time to discuss a topic that has a bit more weight to it – Soul Fragments.
Soul Fragments function as a resource for all Demon Hunters, but where they are a healing mechanic for Havoc, serving no other purpose, for Vengeance, they are a cornerstone of our gameplay.
Soul Fragments come in two flavors – normal and Lesser. Mostly, when you see a Vengeance DH talking about fragments, they’re talking about Lesser Soul Fragments. Soul Fragments (the normal, larger ones) only generate on target death, so unless you are dealing with a lot of adds, you won’t see them during a fight.
You can generate Lesser Soul Fragments two ways with your base abilities – Shear, which has a chance to carve one off of your target, and Soul Carver, your artifact ability, which generates two Lesser Soul Fragments immediately and 3 more over its duration on your target. As you upgrade your Aldrachi Warblades, you’ll gain a higher chance for Shear to generate fragments via Shatter The Souls, at least while you’re below 50% health. Given that we frequently dip and climb in health totals, this is highly beneficial and not nearly as scary as it sounds! Shear transforms into Sever while you are in Metamorphosis, which guarantees a Soul Fragment on every use. You can have a maximum of 5 Soul Fragments out at once – any generated over this simply replace others. They do age and expire relatively quickly – you have 20 seconds to use a soul fragment before it is gone forever. Our passive ability Shattered Souls gives us a 20% damage dealt increase when consuming a Soul Fragment from a Demon, but this only works with the full-size fragments, and not lesser.
Similarly to Gift of the Ox orbs for Brewmaster Monks, we have two choices baseline for how to use our Soul Fragments – you can pick them up manually by walking into them, or you can use Soul Cleave, rounding them all up and using their healing (in 7.2, the artifact empowerment will also introduce a trait that makes fragments consumed via Soul Cleave also do damage to your target.)
This forms the basis of our healing-mitigation style gameplay. You spam Shear, when something higher priority is not available, allowing you to generate fragments, which you then consume via Soul Cleave to heal yourself up from the damage you have been taking.
Our artifact weapon adds to this gameplay, in addition to Shatter the Souls adding more fragments, we also get Painbringer, a gold trait which grants us a 3% damage reduction per fragment consumed (this works with walking over them, Soul Cleave vacuuming them, or Soul Barrier – but NOT with Spirit Bomb, which we’ll discuss momentarily). This maxes out at a 15% damage reduction due to the limit of 5 fragments we have.
Talents also add complexity to Soul Fragments, if that is something you desire. The talents Fallout and Fracture give you the ability to generate more fragments, Fallout doing so passively via Immolation Aura usage, and Fracture adding an active ability to generate more fragments. Fallout has a chance to generate fragments, but generally, I’ve found that I usually net at least 1 per usage of Immolation Aura. Fracture is a guaranteed 2 fragments, along with a substantial amount of damage – this is one of our standout talents.
In addition, two talents allow us other ways to spend our fragments – Spirit Bomb and Soul Barrier.
Spirit Bomb, in addition to allowing you a chance to re-enact some Dragon Ball Z in WoW, is a strong AoE burst of damage. It consumes 1 Soul Fragment to deal a burst of damage to your target and any other enemies nearby, and places a debuff called Frailty on them, healing you for 20% of all damage you deal to those targets. This is potent, as it increases our HPS to near lazy healer levels, while double-dipping on healing abilities like Soul Cleave and all healing from fire damage via Charred Warblades. You can also spam it with multiple fragments to deal pretty strong AoE damage, and, after the first Spirit Bomb, more healing! This ability is our only means of spending fragments which does not trigger Painbringer, so if you are planning to use a full-stack Painbringer as a mitigation mechanism, be warned.
Soul Barrier is our other option via talents that allows for expenditure of fragments. It provides an excellent absorption shield that scales with attack power, and further scales with the number of Soul Fragments consumed. At 5 fragments, this is a massive increase in survivability, further improved by the fact that it cannot be reduced below a certain level (scaled by attack power and your max health).
So in general, how do I manage Soul Fragments?
I try to avoid capping fragments so I don’t lose any to waste. This can involve running over strays, at least if I’m not the active tank. If you are not playing with Fallout or Fracture, you typically will have a harder time capping fragments in the first place, so generally, you just need to be cautious of this during Soul Carver. Since I use a build that has all of the talents mentioned here, I like to use Fracture specifically when I need to use either Spirit Bomb or Soul Barrier. I keep Soul Barrier on cooldown, unless there is a big damage spike upcoming I know about and can mitigate this way, while also ensuring Frailty is up on all targets in melee range of me at all times. Lastly, Soul Cleave is my primary healing ability, and I use it at 60 Pain as often as possible. If I know I am about to need a big Painbringer buff, I’ll typically use Fracture to generate the missing fragments prior to a Soul Cleave. Lastly, you typically want to keep Soul Carver on cooldown – it is potent damage and the fragment generation sets you up for a strong Soul Cleave very well.
Next up in this series, we’ll talk about Sigils!