A Full Rotation

A lot of stuff up in the talent calculator right now is very rough.  Many classes have entries that are obviously copy pasted from existing talents without updates.  However, the Warlock section is noticeably more polished, so I don’t think it’s early to try and picture what the new rotations will be like.

Affliction

The new Affliction setup seems positively spartan compared to previous requirements.  There are three DoTs to keep up; Corruption, Unstable Affliction, and Bane of Agony (now with a 1 minute duration).  Once all three are you up channel Malefic Grasp, which does some damage on its own and increases the frequency of the DoT ticks by 100%.  As far as the basic rotation goes, that’s it.  Three DoTs and channel.

For complications, that only significant one I can see if Nightfull.  Its new design procs from Corruption or Drain Life ticks, which makes your next MG apply its full damage instantly and leave the boosted DoT effect up for 9 seconds.  In other words, it gives you a 9 second window to do other things without losing the part of MG that actually matters.  I imagine it’ll be useful for renewing DoTs, channeling Drain Soul to refill Soul Shards, or maybe even throwing out a Soul Fire or two.

It’s hard to say beyond that.  Drain Soul still does double damage to targets in execute range, but we can’t say yet if that’s a DPS gain over MG.  It’s also clear that we don’t have a complete list of what Soulburn is capable of.  One of the Dev chats mentioned an AoE application of curses, which isn’t there.  And speaking of curses, I only see two.  Good old Curse of Elements, and Curse of Enfeeblement which combines Weakness with Tongues.  I don’t even see Curse of Exhaustion anywhere.  Are they really cutting it down to just an offensive and a defensive one?  Could be.

Destruction

Things also seem streamlined with the new Destruction.  Two DoTs, Corruption and Immolate, for the less DoT focused spec.  Spam Incinerate on an Immolated target to build Infernal Embers, cast Conflagration or Soul Fire to consume the Embers for an empowered attack.  That seems to be the core of the setup.  Conflag is still instant cast with a 10 second cooldown, though it no longer requires an Immolate on the target to use.  The new passive ability Destructive Influence builds a buff every time your demon attacks that reduces the cast time of Soul Fire, and should make it instant cast if you wait long enough.  The big question is the relative weight of Conflag vs Soul Fire and which it’s better to use your Embers with.  Will we be waiting on Conflag’s cooldown to blow the Embers, or will we throwing Soul Fires with reduced but non-instant cast times when we have a good Ember stack?

What excites me a bit more is what Destro’s AoE promises.  Rain of Fire will do 50% extra damage to Immolated targets, and the Aftermath ability say it removes the channeled requirement.  I presume this would make it like Flamestrike or Earthquake.  There’s also Fire & Brimstone, a 10 second cooldown that makes your next single target fire spell hit everything in 15 yards.  Try this on for size.  F&B to Immolate everything, drop a RoF on the group, throw some Incins to build Embers, renew RoF, F&B for an empowered Conflag.  That sounds like some serious multi-target damage to me.

Demonology

I have to admit that I’m far less certain of how Demonology is going to work.  Yes, the basic outline is clear.  Your two DoTs are Corruption and Bane of Doom, Shadow Bolt is your filler attack, you build Demonic Fury until you transform and then consume it for improved abilities.  It’s the specifics of the specialized spells that are unclear to me.  Perhaps because we don’t understand enough about how Demonic Fury works yet, perhaps because they’re newer and less finished still.  A lot of the feel of the spec will likely depend on how quickly DF builds up and how long the Metamorphed Demon form lasts for.

Outside the core rotation, both Hand of Gul’dan and the new Wild Imps seem to be significant DF generators, but the current entries are very confusing.  Decimation gives you instant cast Soul Fire as long as you don’t hit anything above 25% health.  Right now Soul Fire isn’t listed as generating DF, so if that holds up it may be a choice between quick execute damage and trying to build to another transformation.  Like Afflic and Soulburn, the list of Demon form abilities seems very incomplete at the moment.

 

With many changes obviously still to come, and important aspects like Glyphs entirely untouched, no one can put any hard numbers to these previews yet  Still, it has me itching for the Beta test.  I can’t wait to get on and try out all three specs before deciding which I’ll adopt for primary use.  I think this is the most significant overhaul of the Warlock class since I started playing back in Burning Crusade.

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A Whole New World

Seems as if I got my speculation post up just in time.  The (very very alpha) Mists talent calculator is up and my goodness, but Warlocks have gotten a significant overhaul.  I recommend checking it out yourself, but let’s look at some of the high points.

 

Talent Changes

On the Level 45 tier, Hour of Twilight (the automatic 50% damage shield) is out with Soul Link moved up to replace it.  Also Sacrificial Pact (the full damage bubble) now only eats 50% of our pet’s health instead of killing it outright.  So you’ve got your choice of passively present Soul Link, big cooldown Sacrificial Pact, or short cooldown Spell Drain.

We’ve also got all new talents in the Level 60 tier.  All defensive, all with a price.  There’s Blood Fear, which makes Fear instant cast but cost 10% of max health.  There’s Burning Rush, which gives a short 25% sprint when you Life Tap.  And there’s Dark Bargain, which is the most complex.  A 30s buff with a 30s cooldown, it creates a damage shield that absorbs up to 20% of your max health.  But if the duration runs out any unused shield is dealt to you as damage.  I’m not particularly thrilled by the sprint effect, but the other two are quite interesting.  Dark Bargain can’t be used casually, but there are times in both PvE and PvP that you know you’re about to eat 20% or more of your health.  Blood Fear has the potential to make your healers cry more than Life Tap abuse ever did, but I can easily see this being the choice talent for arena play.

 

Base Spell Changes

As expected, most of the utility powers stayed baseline.  Corruption did too, but the Banes are all spec exclusive now.  I did note two changed spells and two new spells in the list as well.  Shadow Ward is now Twilight Ward, and absorbs both shadow and holy damage.  Dark Intent is now a group buff that increases Spellpower by 6%, and scanning the Mage spell list I no longer see Arcane Intellect anywhere.  Which, my goodness, I can taste the tears already.

For entirely new spells, at 64 we’ll have Unending Resolve.  This is a 3m defensive cooldown that for 12 seconds reduces damage take by 50% and prevents spell interrupts.  Then at 88 there’s Demonic Portal which while a little  hard to parse by my reading boils down to bringing Demonic Circle effects to the whole party.  There’s a limit on uses and it’s not clear how they’re placed or if it’s a two way passage, but you can set down portals that your group members can use to transfer from one to the other.

 

Spec Spell Changes

It’s past midnight now so I’ll keep this short now and do longer examinations when I have time and have really thought it over.  So some high points only.

Affliction has finally done away with Haunt and Shadow’s Embrace.  Huzzah!  Malefic Grasp fills the role of limiting the power of multi-target DoTs.  There’s UA and CoA and MG as your core abilities, along with Soul Swap and Seed of Corruption and all the Soulburn effects.  Nightfall’s also baked in, with a nice boost to MG.  Remember, MG will be replacing Shadow Bolt entirely, I don’t think it’ll even be in our spellbook anymore.

Demonology gets custody of Bane of Doom and Hellfire and Shadowflame.  Interestingly it doesn’t have a second major DoT (like UA or Immo).  I wonder if we’re suppose to stay close enough to use Shadowflame, or if the confusingly reworked Hand of Gul’dan or the odd new Wild Imps are suppose to fill that role?  Certainly both generate Demonic Fury, which seems to be the main goal of Demo now, as it both increases damage and eventually triggers Demon form with knockback Shadowflames and other toys.  There’s also a revised Decimation, which makes Soul Fire instant cast until you hit a target with more than 25% health.  Should that happen the cast time will balloon to 4s for 30 seconds.  Good for PvE, risky for PvP.

Destruction seems to have misplaced Chaos Bolt.  Well, no one really loved it except for its color.  It does come with most of the fire spells, and some of the nicer PvP passives like Aftermath and Backlash.  No more Imp Soul Fire either, instead your demon’s attacks will stack a buff that reduces the cast time of Soul Fire.  The new in all but name Fire and Brimstone is a 10s cooldown ability which makes your next main attack hit all targets within 15 yards.  Which includes Immolate on the list.  And the revised Rain of Fire does 50% extra damage to Immolated targets.  I think I see Destro’s AoE woes being fixed.

 

Tomorrow I’ll have had time to digest all this, look over the spell lists again, and talk about what the rotations for the specs will probably look like.

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One Class or Three?

Well, with my built up ranting finished, let’s look at what all those delicious Mists teasers add up to.

In the Mists version of class design, there will be three different sources of abilities for a character.  There are the baseline abilities, which all three specs get at the same level.  There are spec abilities, which I believe you get every 10 levels or so.  And there are talent abilities, which are not spec exclusive and chosen every 15 levels.  We’ve already seen an Alpha list of what made it into talents, but we have no idea what sort of breakdown we’ll see between baseline abilities and spec abilities.  It’s not a minor question.

Classes where the different specs have different roles have it simple.  There’s not a great deal of overlap for Shamans between their melee spec, ranged spec, and heal spec.  All those talent-granted abilities become spec-abilities and presto, all done.  Warlocks, however, have a relatively shorter overall number of spells  The vast majority of our current talent trees are not new abilities, but passive improvements to existing ones that make them more desirable for that spec to use.  The question nagging at me right now is if the Mists design will keep using that setup, or if we’ll see a greater difference between the spellbooks for the three specs.

For example, Destro continues to cast Corruption because no matter how weak your shadow damage is it’s still enough damage for a single GCD that you can’t not cast it.  In theory, Blizzard could make this go away by simply not giving Corruption to Destro.  If it’s restricted to Affliction, or maybe Afflic and Demo both, then Destro is freed from having to juggle a DoT that generally ranks in at 4%-5% of total damage done.  It would be a major break, I know.  A Warlock without Corruption?  But we already know that Afflic will have Shadow Bolt replaced with Malefic Grasp and Destro with Incinerate.  It’s not outside the realm of possibility.

One of the balance issues for Warlocks has long been boosting one spec without the other two using the same spells to stay ahead.  I remember juggling five different DoTs in Naxx before they started culling the field.  So consider as a potential model our competitors the Mages.  They have a number of obviously baseline spells like Blink and Polymorph and Invis, but I don’t think they’ll mind if their frost and fire spells are more restricted to the corresponding specs.  We might see something similar happen to Warlocks.  All the curses (yes, curses besides Elements do exist) and Demonic Circle and Fear will be baseline.  That leaves our damaging spells to become far more restricted to the appropriate spec than they are now.

Is this a bad thing?  I don’t think so, personally.  Some clear delineations between the specs could be good, and making it easier for the Devs to tweak and balance the different specs is better for us in the long run.  It may be rather different than what we’re used to.  I’m glad the yearlong pass will give me a Beta pass to test things out, though I should point out I’m still speculating here.  But I don’t think it’s speculation without merit.

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Red and Black and On Fire

The Firelands were an interesting callback to Molten Core.  I joined far too late to play MC as current content, but I’ve run it quite a bit as a retro for the various drops to be had there, so I’m fairly familiar with it.  And Firelands does succeed in invoking many aspects of MC.  Sadly one of those aspects it capture well is being godawful monotonous.

Black rocks, red lava, and everything on fire.  An entire raid of it gets old very quickly, as does the list of fire-themed bosses.  It didn’t help that some of the bosses were tuned rather high at first, then nerfed massively pre-patch.  While I’m proud we got Alysrazor pre-nerf it was a painfully steep climb, and the fight now is almost trivial.  Most of the bosses are except Rags, who can be a real PITA if we’ve got people who haven’t learned the transition phases by heart.

While I’m bitching, let me mention that I’d really like to see some upgrades the loot system.  When a 10-man raid is getting only two drops per boss it’s painful to see useless Rogue daggers again, or to kill Beth 17 times before she drops the tank trinket, or to have six people waiting on a Paladin/Priest/Warlock tier token and have only one drop in two months.  I don’t know how intelligent the loot drops can be made, I don’t know how intelligent Blizzard wants to make them, but with so few bosses to kill this tier it’s really highlighted how getting two pieces from a fairly sizable list leaves you at the whim of the RNG.

The legendary staff line has been less than inspiring.  The vast majority of it has been nothing more than collecting widgets from boss kills.  First I collected one type, then a second, and I’m about to start on a third.  There’s really very little skill or effort involved besides being locked into my main and not getting to relax with an alt.  There were a couple of interesting events at the end of the first collection stage, I’ll admit.  The special raid boss was an interesting diversion for the guild.  But the solo-quest event after that was rather less impressive.  After fighting through a Battle of Undercity type phased Nexus it ends with a boss fight.  One I spent two hours wiping on before I looked up a strat for it.  Turns out that the fight changes slightly depending on your class, and the correct stat for a Warlock is “Spec Affliction”.  Seriously, in a fight that needs purges, interrupts, self-healing, and multi-target damage the only viable way to clear it was to respec for drain-tank Affliction.  Which I did, and promptly won through easily. I can see why the Dragon Soul daggers are Rogue only.  Confining it to a single class seems to be the only way to be able to tailor the questline to require anything more complex than mindlessly grinding boss kills.

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Obedience Training

I’ve spent enough time in the Firelands now that I feel I can speak about the first couple bosses on my own knowledge, instead of just parroting what other sites tell me. So I shall.

The first boss you’ll probably engage is Shannox. He’s a hunter type who lays traps around and comes with two loyal hounds at his side. Three targets at once, the perfect situation for multi-dotting you say?

No. Stop right there. Your goal is for the raid to beat the encounter, not for you to place top on the DPS meter. That means doing the right DPS is more important than doing the most DPS.

If your DPS assignment is Rageface, you need to be on him constantly so that he breaks out of his Face Rage attack ASAP. Ideally you’ll already have a spell casting or in flight. If it’s late in the fight and your raid leader is juggling health levels of the various targets so they die in the right order and at the right time, you want to be supplying steady DPS on specific targets for a predictable burn. And those concerns aside, the targets are going to be spread out and in motion. If you’re not on the ball then you’ll actually lose damage trying to jump between them.

That all said, it isn’t like multi-dotting is forbidden. You just have to be smart about it and remember your priorities. If your current target gets caught in a Crystal Prison Trap that’s an excellent time to switch to a secondary target. If you stay aware of health levels and don’t target something your raid leader has pulled DPS off, by all means abuse Soul Swap and Bane of Havok to boost your output. Just remember to leave the Recount chasing to insecure Mages.

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Powering up the Main Gun

Yes, it’s been a month. That’s why I’m not doing this seriously. Patch 4.2 brought minimal change to Warlocks, and I’m still easing my way into Firelands. But I’ve finally had a new thought, brought on by playing my alts actually.

No class in Warcraft does its maximum output on a target without a certain amount of build time. There are DoTs to apply, debuffs to stack, and a host of unique class abilities to build up. In raids this means that target switching means a loss of performance and time off target can be crippling if you lose your stacks. Outside group play it factors heavily into how quickly you can blast through those fragile quest mobs. This is entirely intentional, of course. But no two classes have the same profile for their ramp up time.

My DK in Frost spec has a very minimal ramp up time. Two diseases, which are easily applied with Outbreak or only a small deviation from the main rotation, and a stack of Razorice, which applies quickly and automatically. If I want to be hurried about it I can skip one of the diseases for only a moderate loss in damage. The Hunter is about the same, with Hunter’s Mark and Serpent Sting being quickly applied and not required for acceptable DPS levels. Both of them take a small amount of effort to reach a high level of their potential output, and only sacrifice some damage on a fresh target.

At the extreme other end is my Combat Rogue. He has to build up with combo points, a five stack of Deadly Poison, Expose Armor and Rupture, and Bandit’s Guile progress. To be fair, he’s got a pretty good level of basic output on a fresh target. But it’s a very steep climb to the higher output level, and target switching or too much time off target is a major setback.

Warlocks, I’d say, fall towards the slower end of the spectrum. They’re the class of DoTs and debuffs, and it shows. As Destro it’s a massive output loss if you don’t have Immolate on your target. If you don’t take the time for Curse of Elements and Improved Soulfire that’s another 16% damage lost.  Affliction is in a similar boat, where it’s inefficient to DoT and Haunt every target but doesn’t leave many options beyond Shadow Bolt spam if you don’t.

My point, if I have any, is that the best way to overcome hindrances is to recognize them and make specific counter plans. Don’t just mindlessly use your full boss rotation on every target. It’s a good idea to figure out a stripped down minimal buildup rotation for targets that die quickly. Spend ten minutes on a training dummy to find a good balance point between speed and output. It’ll make those dailies go a lot faster, and might serve you well on your next add heavy raid boss fight.

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Devil in the Details

There’s a little confusion about Shadowburn, and what the spell is actual for. So let’s lay it out simply.

Shadowburn is NOT: an execute ability. Many DPS specs have a special ability that kicks in when their target is at low health, anywhere from 20% to 35%, that that increases their damage output. Sometimes it’s just a passive multiplier like the Frost Death Knight’s  Merciless Combat. Sometime it’s a rotation change like Demo’s Decimation. Sometimes it’s both, like where Afflic benefits from Death’s Embrace and switches to Drain Soul.

With that settled, Shadowburn is none of those. It’s straight shadow damage, not shadowflame like Fel Flame, so it doesn’t benefit from any of the Destro spec fire damage multipliers. That means it does, at best, as much damage as the Incinerates you’re already throwing. And as long as Backdraft is up it isn’t even any faster.

Shadowburn is: an instant cast damage spell with no travel time that refreshes your Soul Shards if used shortly before a kill. The last clause is the important one for PvE. In the last tier of raiding, half the boss encounters had adds or other secondary targets that you could use to restock on Soul Shards if you timed your Shadowburn right. This is a very good thing for Destro, and well worth the effort.

In PvP the other two factors come into play more. Instant cast means it can be cast on the run, such as when chasing down a fleeing target you don’t trust your DoTs to finish off. The no travel time is also worth mentioning. If you cast a Chaos Bolt or Incinerate at someone and tap Shadowburn right away the two should land fairly simultaneously. That’s exactly the sort of burst damage you want to finish off a target in PvP, before someone reacts with a heal or defensive cooldown. Conflagrate is also no travel time, I should mention. But you want to be casting that on cooldown anyway.

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The Flow of Battle

As part of my series of diversions to stave off burnout till the patch arrives I’ve spent the last week trying out healing again. It’s something I occasionally feel like I should have an alt devoted to. My main is DPS, obviously, and I’ve tanked on the side since relatively early in Wrath. It was all about the paladin in ICC, but for Cataclysm she’d been mothballed in favor of my death knight. He just has so many more buttons and tricks to use. But a few days ago I had the flash that instead of trying to level up a new healer I should dust her off and spec her Holy.

It wasn’t hard to cobble together a starter set in a morning. Some rep gear, some BoEs off the AH, what JP and VP I had set aside, and a half dozen pieces crafted by a friendly blacksmith. Then I just had to reinstall Grid, run off a few glyphs, and it was into the wild world of pugs for me.

In some ways it’s very different than the last time I healed. That was also with the paladin, on an Ulduar drake run when it was a tier old. Mana conservation matters now, there are more than two buttons to push, and I have a selection of cooldowns to apply. In other ways it’s exactly the same. I stare at my little row of boxes and play Whack A Mole with Grid while the dungeon happens around me.

It took a few days to shake the rust off, and to gear up enough to get a sense of what healing is really like now. Now I can really understand why the troll dungeons had our healers pulling their hair out at first. I’m not terrible at it, and with practice I’m sure I could get fairly good. But I don’t think I’m going to do that.

I wasn’t kidding about the dungeon happening around me. It’s not just that healing is a mostly reactive role. It’s that I have little to no control over the flow of the fight.

As the tank I’m the conductor in front of the orchestra. I assign the CC, position the mobs, tap my Skull hotkey to control the kill order, and pop defensive abilities to counter the boss. As DPS I’m a dancer hitting my marks. I interrupt casts, throw stuns, improvise with CC and cooldowns when things go bad, and push my performance to its maximum output.

What I feel like as the healer… you know the comedy bit, where there’s a bunch of breakable objects falling and the guys has to run around and stretch out all his limbs to try and catch all of them and he’s always just one short? When things go wrong there’s nothing I can do to fix it, only try and keep everyone else standing long enough for them to fix it. I’m removed from the fight and reacting to what other people are doing instead of controlling what happens myself. And I’ve got far too much of a need to be running the show and making sure things go “right” to be comfortable with that.

So hats off to you, braver healers. I’ll do whatever I can to make your job easier, because I certainly don’t want it for myself.

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Dragonwrath Details

This is something I’d been speculating on a little to myself, so it’s nice to have the official Word Of Blue on it.

Dragonwrath is designed to be DOT-friendly. Simply put, it has a chance to copy each tick of a DOT spell. There is no internal cooldown, since we want it to be good for warlocks and Shadow priests.

Furthermore, the proc chance is adjusted favorably for pet specs that derive a significant portion of their DPS from pets.

Our goal is to tune Dragonwrath in such a way that you can give it to any caster without anticipating certain classes or specs getting a bigger benefit than others.

The first part is something I was pretty sure of already. The only way for it to work as well for Affliction, to say nothing of Warlocks in general, was for the special power to proc off DoT ticks with no cooldown. The second part I hadn’t thought of, but that shows why I’m not a game developer. It makes complete sense though. As Destro my imp is a good 20% of my DPS.

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The Legions we Command

Again, I’d like to expand on something I touched on briefly in my last post. Namely, the current situation for our pets.

Jealousy is an ugly thing. The gods warn us not to look too longingly at what our neighbors posses, or count too little what we already have. If you need an illustration of the dangers of that just ask a Mage what he thinks of his current class balance. And yet, and yet… I’ve been leveling a Hunter alt the last week. An excuse to see the revised Azaroth and kill some time before the patch. But it’s shown me why Hunters value their pets so much.

A tanking pet actually holds threat, and is damned durable while doing so. Pet damage is normalized enough that you can switch to get the group buff or special ability you want without a massive DPS loss. There’s a wide choice of pet species and model so that you can customize to fit your tastes and theme. It’s a great deal of fun.

Now, maybe Hunters cry in their drinks over what Warlocks have that they lack. Pet choices that make a meaningful difference, not having to run to the stable to switch what you have available, and other things we take for granted. That doesn’t make comparisons any less inevitable, as we’re the two pet classes with some choice over what pet to use.

It may be unreasonable to expect the same wide open choice that Hunters have. Warlocks have pet-specific talents that constrain our selection of demons, and I’m not saying those should be gotten rid of. But it would be nice to have some elements of customization. Blizz has hinted at intentions for that in the past. After the great name reset debacle they muttered about giving us a limited renaming capacity at some point. And there was an offhanded mention of summoning an incubus instead of a succubus at some point, which suggested an ability to reskin our demons.

Nothing has materialized on those yet. Which isn’t surprising, additions with new art always take far more effort and man hours than just tweaking a few number on already existing material. I remember how long Druids were waiting for their upgraded animal forms. Still, it’s something to keep in mind and bring attention to every so often.

Also? The voidwalker is completely worthless as-is. Too many stunts like tanking Sarth-3D with one have seen it nerfed into irrelevance. Either it needs to be restored to a useful pet-tank for soloing or it should be reworked entirely. Right now it’s just an embaresment.

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