This is a spec that needs some love. It had some fun times early on in Wrath with some big numbers and a lot of people flocking to its door. Not all were successful however, this was a powerful build but one that took some mastering. Many decided it wasn't worth the effort and went a hybrid demo/destro route to simpler, but slightly lower DPS scores.
These days the complexity of affliction is still there, it's a fiddly build to get right -- this is both a draw for many and a turn off for others. However, the numbers just don't make it as raid viable as destruction; if you can do well with Haunt, you can probably do better with Chaos Bolt. Affliction used to be a utility build but no more, other classes and builds are either doing it better or easier. So yes, affliction needs some love and it's getting it -- puppy love.
Wrath initially seemed to be sharing the pets out amongst the trees: Felguard for demo, Imp for destro, and Felpuppy for affliction. These days, however, affliction gets it's best DPS from the Doomguard or Succubus. This isn't a bad thing, but instead of putting points into a nice affliction talent they go over to Demonic Power for more Lashes of Pain (or a faster imp, if you're into that kind of thing). Now Improved Felhunter is getting an outright buff -- each point in it will reduce the cooldown on Shadow Bite by 2 seconds. Bear in mind that Demonic Power doubled the casts of Lash of Pain, this change triples the number of Shadow Bites your little doggie can do in the same amount of time!
Ok, we like that, it's good, but Shadow Bite doesn't do enough damage to make this anything to jump up and down or chase your tail about. There's more. Remember the 5% damage bonus Shadow Bite get from your DoTs? That's going up to 15%; another flat-out buff.
All of that makes the Felpuppy much more attractive, but it's not the only pet change affliction locks can look forward to. The Doomguard is a beast, he really puts out some damage, anyone looking at warlocks might think he would be ideal for demonology locks. This isn't the case of course; demonologists can get far more out of a Felguard. Similarly destro locks make good things happen with an imp around. It falls to the affliction warlock, with his inability to make best use of a pet, to look to a Doomguard.
Some fights are simply not safe for a Doomguard though, currently they don't benefit from the same protection Avoidance gives our other pets. This is also true of Infernals. Patch 3.3 is extending the warm glow of AoE survivability to both these guys so not only will Avoidance work for them it will also be bumped up to 90%. This is only for PvE though -- AoE damage from players will no longer be mitigated by Avoidance at all.
It remains to be seen whether these changes make affliction more desirable but it's certainly moving in that direction. It's not going to change the minds of anyone who just didn't like the fiddlyness of the spec but if you moved away from affliction because the damage went away, it might just be coming back for you.
Now I'm sure you all read the last Blood Pact article about the playing a demonology lock providing the Demonic Pact buff. Essentially sacrificing personal DPS for improved raid DPS. In the comments it was pointed out that plans were afoot to ensure that people weren't just brought for their buff but for their own damage capability. For deep demonology this would mean two things -- one, preventing the Demonic Pact buff from making Totem of Wrath redundant, and two, making demonology personal DPS better.
Well, still no sign of a nerf to the Demonic Pact effect but there are two damage buffs incoming for demonologists.
The first is for those who have gone down to Demonic Pact. The talent will now convey an extra 1% spell damage per talent point. Again, this isn't a reworking this is a straight addition to the talent giving up to 5% extra spell damage. This will work out at less than a 5% DPS increase (as your pet makes up for a good chunk of your total) but I think it will come in at around 3%. Very nice.
Decimation received a reworking though and I like it. Two things to note about the change, first off the Decimation buff will be triggered not just from Shadow Bolt but also by Incinerate and Soul Fire. "What's that?" I hear you say, "I can now weave Soul Fire with Soul Fire?" No-no, you can also forget about weaving.
For those who are unsure what I mean by weaving, it's the practice of trying to get a one-to-one cast ratio between Shadow Bolt and Soul Fire when the target is below 35% health. Since the Decimation effect only activates once the Shadow Bolt has hit your target, and dissipates when you cast Soul Fire, you need to complete your cast of SF in the time it takes your Shadow Bolt to travel. This means standing a long way from the target, which isn't always practical. It appears to have been removed in patch 3.3, the tooltip reads as such:
I found it amusing that they should spell Shadow Bolt incorrectly (never mind the comma that morphed into an 'm') when the current tooltip also uses the incorrect "Soulfires". Typo silliness aside there's an important change in the phrasing of this tooltip. Currently the Decimation effect applies to "your next" Soul Fire. This specification of the next cast has gone which indicates that it will dissipate only after 10 seconds. What that means is if you land another Shadow Bolt, Incinerate or Soul Fire within 10 seconds you will maintain the buff. No more weaving.
While this is a buff to the deep demonology builds it is also for the hybrids (0/41/30 and 0/40/31). Soul Fire already plays a big part in their DPS chart and it's about to get a whole lot easier to apply. It's early days but demonology is looking set to be the top DPS build in patch 3.3.
I guess 'buffs all round' would make for a nice story, but that's not the patch 3.3 story. Destruction has been nerfed. I presume that it's in response to seeing destruction being the de facto build in raids these days. An effort to allow warlocks to choose what spec they are comfortable with and want to play -- not what they have to play to do some damage. That said, it's not a big nerf, but next to the other trees being buffed it's gonna feel big.
The change is to Conflagrate. Currently it consumes (unless glyphed) an Immolate or (potentially) Shadowflame effect and hits instantly for the same damage as those spells would have done with their DoTs. Now though Conflag will leave a DoT of it's own for 3 seconds which will, over that time, do the same damage as one quarter of the consumed spell's total DoT damage.
That sounds like a buff, but wait, they are taking away one quarter of the instant damage when the spell consumes Immolate. So Shadowflame/Conflagrate seems to be buffed by this, but frankly I still can't see it being used except at the edge of need. Immolate/Conflagrate is the norm and while the total damage is seemingly the same the burst quality has dropped. This is certainly not going to please the PvPers but it's also not great for PvE, especially as the effect of crit is going to be less because of it.
You might also have seen Ghostcrawler's post about having haste applied to DoTs. This is obviously something that Affliction locks are going to get the most out of but depending how much it is liked it could become more pervasive.
As it stands they're looking to add glyphs that modify some "over time" spells so they tick faster. For warlocks the spell they are trying this out on is Corruption. Now, the big downside to having more haste is faster mana usage through recasting. Well, that what the other classes tell me, anyway. This isn't even a thought for your affliction lock as once it's cast, that's it; let Everlasting Affliction deal with it from there.
The one slight concern is that this might introduce a new soft haste cap for affliction locks where Corruption ticks come so fast that it fell off the target before you could refresh it with Haunt. This seems unlikely to happen though as Corruption normally runs for 18 seconds and the cooldown on Haunt is 8 seconds. My scrap of paper maths tells me that would need over 4000 haste rating to become soft capped.
This is very much a theory in trial, the reasoning for doing this with a glyph is so it's not as entrenched in the class as a talent change would be. However it shakes out, it looks like affliction now has a very nice glyph to look forward to and another buff incoming.
What about PvP?
Well, I think the world of the raiding lock is about to be shaken by all these changes. PvP playing warlocks can let their mouths hang open gapingly for a little while. It's been talked about, requested, cried and ranted over for so long now I think most had almost given up hope. But here it is, on the PTR:
I'll let you just enjoy that for a little while.
Patch 3.3 is the last major patch of Wrath of the Lich King. With the new Icecrown Citadel 5-man dungeons and 10/25-man raid arriving soon, patch 3.3 will deal the final blow to the Arthas. WoW.com's Guide to Patch 3.3 will keep you updated with all the latest patch news.