I've dreaded the coming of 3.1 for awhile now. I love the new features of course. Being able to switch to a spec with replenishment any time my raid needs it will certainly be handy, and Ulduar will be a nice change of pace once I get in there -- even if I really wanted to get a few more Naxx achievements done before moving on. What I don't love is the new Affliction. There's so few buttons I feel like I'm playing Burning Crusade style Destruction. (Shadow Bolt, Shadow Bolt, Shadow Bolt, Shadow Bolt...)
3.0 Affliction's rotation went something akin to Shadow Bolt > Haunt > Corruption > Siphon Life > Curse of Agony > Unstable Affliction > Immolate > Shadow Bolt Spam, followed by dot refreshments as needed, and Drain Soul once the target was below 25%. There was some variation based on whether or not the group wanted Curse of Elements, or whether you liked your short duration dots to go up first, but on average that's how it was.
Now that Siphon Life has been removed as an active spell, as well as Unstable Affliction and Immolate being altered so that they're mutually exclusive on a given target, two dots are out of the rotation. I'm sure it's a welcome change for some, but I'll be referencing the period between 3.0 and 3.1 as the golden age of Affliction from now on. Oh well, such is WoW.
Losing a couple dots is hardly the only change. The glyphs for Siphon Life and Immolate were two of the best choices for Afflocks, so those need to be replaced as well. I mean...you could keep using Glyph of Siphon Life -- and I've met a frustrating amount of Warlocks in trade chat who are going to do just that -- but it's no longer a DPS increase, just a self-healing increase. And as much as I love to help out my healers, I draw the line at gimping myself across the board.
In recompense for making two of Affliction's glyphs useless though, Blizz has deigned to insert a couple of replacements into the game: the fantabularastic glyphs of Haunt, and Life Tap. Bad news is, these inscriptions are terribly hard for our inscriptor buddies to get their hands on. Glyph of Haunt appeared on my server rather quickly, just a day or two after 3.1 went live. Glyph of Life Tap, on the other hand, was only discovered early this weekend. Considering the rather extreme monopoly that was in play (only one inscriptor on the server had Glyph of Life Tap when I bought it) and the obviously very high demand, I'm pretty happy I only had to spend 300 gold getting my new Glyphs. Hopefully the prices will drop a bit before I start my post-3.1 spec experiments.
Since getting my new build in order, I've been able to sign on as a DPS for several heroics, and even a quick Naxx-10 pug. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not very good at adapting to change -- particularly subtle change. A lot of facets to playing an Affliction Warlock don't even cognitively register for me anymore. I stopped thinking about which buttons need to be pressed in which order a long time ago. It's just muscle memory now. Because of that, the new rotation has left me floundering a bit. I can't tell you how many times in the last week I've hit the '6' key, expecting to cast Shadow Bolt, and instead accidentally casting Searing Pain. It's bad enough that I've actually got nothing keybound to '6' right now.
The new rotation, as I figure it, goes roughly thus:
1) Open every combat with Life Tap, and make sure to Life Tap every 20 seconds after that, to get the glyph buff. (for me, it was roughly 80-90 spell power I think.)
2) Shadow Bolt. This is actually quite important now. In the past opening with a Shadow bolt was about as important as using the appropriate dinner fork. Now though, getting Shadow Mastery up on the target and keeping it up is paramount.
3) Haunt. Refresh whenever the cooldown is up.
4) Corruption. No need to refresh, Haunt takes care of that.
5) Curse of Agony. Refresh as needed.
6) Unstable Affliction. Refresh as needed. I find it best to begin casting when the previous cast has about 1.3 seconds remaining.
7) Shadow Bolt spam. (Or, if below 25%, Drain Soul.)
That's what I worked out, and the internet pretty much confirms it. Essentially it's just the old rotation, without the spells that no longer work, and with the extra step of casting Life Tap every 20 seconds.
One thing which surprised me, as I was poking around the internet looking to see if anybody had stumbled upon some insight I had missed, is that there seemed to be some contention about pet use. Obviously the Doomguard provides the best DPS, but we can only use that bad boy for 15 minutes out of every 30, max. Personally, I continue to use the felhunter for his Fel Intelligence buff, but I've also heard a few people talking about using the imp, or even the succubus as DPS minions, and a lot of people are advocating the placement of points into Demonic Power. This is something I must investigate further in the near future.
I'll admit, the new Affliction isn't mind numbingly simple. Remembering to hit Life Tap every 20 seconds is proving to be a bit of a struggle for me, and that's nice. Though I do worry that I'm going to become a parriah among my healing friends if I'm not careful. There are other nice little improvements as well. With the damage increase Corruption got, in conjunction with the healing properties of Siphon Life, it's a powerhouse of an instant-cast spell. I was able to run a level 45 Mage through dead-side Strat in about as much time as mount runs used to take me. The way I was pulling abominations at the end, I thought I might have accidentally logged into a Paladin.
Small things like running low level instances aren't what we spec for though, and while I hate to say it, I'm really struggling to keep my DPS at a reasonable level. I knew my DPS would be quite a bit lower after the patch went live of course, and I was fine with that. But there are bosses where I can't think of a single thing I did wrong, yet barely managed to top 2.3 DPS. A buddy of mine got his Death Knight to 80 over the weekend, and even he was a challenging opponent on the DPS meter. Granted, he's a very skilled player and it's still a pretty powerful class...but it still made me feel rather impotent.
Part of my problem, I'm sure, is just aclimating to the various Warlock changes. I often forget to Life Tap in the midst of my rotation, and until I get a bit more used to things my hands are bound to be slow. I did manage to top 3.2k on Ingvar the Plunderer earlier today, so I'll give Affliction some more time before I start looking elsewhere for my primary spec. But like I mentioned earlier, it would be nice to be able to provide replenishment for my raid group with a nice deep Destruction build. Or maybe I'll even give in to the flavor of the month and start raiding with Fel / Emberstorm.
Whatever I decide to spec in the end, so long as I'm still a Warlock, I'm content. And I've been playing this game long enough to know that the best DPS spec today could just as easily be so worthless within a year that its defining talents could be completely removed from the game.