It's been a few months since we did a roundup of the raiding builds and how the current game mechanics impact their relative DPS. With the patch 3.3.3 changes becoming public there are a couple of interesting warlock changes that are worth having a closer look at. Back in November with the coming of patch 3.3 we saw destruction lose its crown as "the best by far." Before then it was simply hard to justify any other spec unless you were giving the Demonic Pact buff to the raid, and doing so came at a personal DPS cost, so wasn't very popular.
While we've been raiding Icecrown Citadel affliction and destruction have been pretty even in their competitiveness, with demonology still trailing along behind like a wheezy fat-kid -- you still want him with you cos he has all the sweeties, but he's not one of the cool-gang. Well, times are a-changin', that kid is growing up into a real power-house.
So, first off, let's look at the actual changes that have been put in place since 3.3.
- Shadow Embrace: This effect can now stack up to 3 times, up from 2. However, the periodic healing reduction effect has been reduced from 3/6/9/12/15% to 2/4/6/8/10% per application.
- Demonic Pact: The damage bonus granted the warlock by this talent has been increased from 1/2/3/4/5% to 2/4/6/8/10%. The buff granted to a raid or party by this talent remains unchanged.
- Conflagrate: The damage-over-time effect of Conflagrate has been increased to 40% of the spell's total damage, up from 20%.
- Empowered Imp: The pet bonus damage provided by this talent has been increased to 10/20/30%, up from 5/10/15%.
- Improved Shadow Bolt: Damage done by Shadow Bolt increased by 2/4/6/8/10%, up from 1/2/3/4/5%.
At first glance that looked like a buff each for affliction and demonology and three for destruction -- but wait -- destro locks don't use shadow bolts, so that's two buffs for each spec. A veritable coup for even-handed buffage. Not all buffs are equal however and if you look at the top damage performances of warlocks in ICC (I used the World of Logs DPS rankings tool) you will see that affliction is still outperforming the others, if by a small margin.
So now we have patch 3.3.3 coming our way, what is this going to bring us?
- Demonic Pact: This effect now has a 45-second duration, up from 12 seconds, and a 20-second internal cooldown.
- Immolate: The damage-over-time component of this spell can now produce critical strikes.
The Demonic Pact change probably doesn't do much for DPS. I think the main reason for it being there is to reduce the amount of combat log data being thrown around. It should have a positive effect on the buff uptime however as a refresh (minion crit) doesn't have to occur within the next 12 seconds but somewhere within the 25 seconds after the 20 second cooldown. Essentially, that should double the chance of any one buff being refreshed. It also means any minion should be about as good at keeping the buff refreshed -- not that you want any other minion for DPS but if you wanted to pop an imp onto the Kinetic Bombs, for example, you can and still have the buff.
Another interesting feature of the cooldown is that more powerful buffs are not going to be over-written by weaker ones for at least twenty seconds. The inverse is also true but I wouldn't be surprised to find people stacking spell power abilities to trigger a more powerful DP buff at key moments (such as during Bloodlust or Heroism). This may be a step too far and almost certainly will be for many, but it's a new feature to the ability and someone will be trying it.
Immolate. Well, a buff to Immolate is a comparative nerf to affliction, isn't it? With affliction being the only spec that doesn't include Immolate in their rotation it certainly is (see affliction 101 for the basic rotation). As I said before, it seems that affliction has the edge in ICC, not by a long way but then this is only one spell change, it's not going to break affliction. Is it?
In order to get some baseline figures I went back to SimulationCraft. I didn't want to go mad with balancing gear to what is being used in ICC right now, or finding BiS gear lists etc, I just wanted to representative figures. So I used the sample tier nine profiles. Obviously the figures I get are going to be heavily impacted by the gear used in these profiles and if you want to see where you compare with your gear then you can simply import your character into SimulationCraft and run it with the default settings (I didn't change any, including Heroic Presence for the alliance guys). I wrote a brief guide to using SC a few weeks ago if you are new to the tool.
So the results: The chart below shows the base results of the simulations in the dark colors, I then made some adjustments to account for the Immolate change (multiplied the number of immolate ticks by the immolate crit rate and then by the average tick damage) -- these are represented by the lighter parts of the bars. As you can see, destruction had the lowest base DPS scores in these tests which matches the World of Logs reports I scanned. Destro also gets the biggest benefit from the Immolate change, not too surprising as destro has the higher Immolate damage per tick and a higher chance to crit with it.
- A1: 55/00/16
- d1: 00/56/15
Demonology seems to be the biggest winner here though. Not only was it looking to pull the same numbers as affliction prior to this change but it now gets a decent bump in damage. Affliction seems to have lost out somewhat and certainly on that chart it looks to be a big loss. Personally I think affliction will continue to be very competitive in Icecrown Citadel. It's high mobility and raid utility make it still very viable and it's also very popular. This means that people are prepared to invest into making the most of the spec. Destruction never really fell out of favour but certainly now I can see those who like to make things go boom feeling a lot better about their numbers again. Also, I didn't make any rotation or glyph changes, which with the Glyph of Immolate, could be significant for destro numbers.
The clear winner in all this seems to be demonology though. I'm a big fan of demonology and while it's never really had its day in the sun we can see that it is becoming really handy on the damage meters. There is still the issue of fights that buff the player and not the minion (demonology falls behind a bit on Blood-Queen Lana'thel for example) but then with one of the strongest caster buffs available and damage that is right up there I can see a lot of people changing to demo in the near future.
Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DoTs, demons, and all the dastardly deeds done by Warlocks. If you're curious about what's new with Locks since the last patch, check out WoW.com's guide to patch 3.3 or find out what's upcoming in Cataclysm from the BlizzCon 2009: Class Discussion Panel.