Ah, affliction. How I love thee. Nothing says "warlock" more, in my mind, than slowly withering enemies away with powerful damage over time spells -- spells that will continue molesting their target long after the warlock has moved on, cursing his next victim to an eventual death with banes and profanities. Where destruction and demonology warlocks explode their targets, the affliction warlock forces them to suffer within the grief of their incoming demise. That is, in a word, pure evil (okay, two words), and the current affliction tree (live realms) is a testament to the atrocious, having stood the test of time near the top of single-target damage meters since patch 3.0 and enjoying much PvP success as well.
When early beta patches showed minimal changes to affliction, I will admit that I was a little if not completely relieved. Aside from the filler talents that I am happy to see removed from their unimportant duties, the tree has a balance to it that I hope remains undisturbed. The DPS rotation is as smooth as a mage's bottom (they all cry like babies, after all), and PvP options are aplenty.
But changes are coming, and they are coming fast. The modifications to the affliction tree that we were promised amidst the barrenness of previous beta builds are beginning to show their faces. So, are they sister's-best-friend fine or frying-pan ugly? Let's take a closer look at the major differences amongst the old and the new and find out, shall we?
Improved Drain Soul Improved Drain Soul did not make the cut this time around, and given the changes to the Soul Shard system with the introduction of Soulburn, this is no surprise. In the previous pass, the talent offered little in the form of mana generation and threat reduction. But mana hasn't really been an issue for warlocks for quite some time, and while threat management is as important as democracy, tanks will be creating enough of it so that if you are attacking what you are supposed to be attacking like a good warlock, it should be no problem at all. So, there is little to miss here.
Dark Pact Another talent gone MIA is Dark Pact, which I was surprised to see make an appearance after the first pass by the developers. This has always been one of those ex-boyfriend/girlfriend talents -- great to have around if needed, but rarely called upon for a tap, if ever.
Warlocks, and especially affliction warlocks, specialize to some degree in health regeneration -- think Soul Siphon, Siphon Life and Haunt along with the health regeneration effects of Fel Armor. And because our mana is tied directly into our health pool via Life Tap, we specialize in mana regeneration in much the same way -- warlock basics, people.
Dark Pact was simply unnecessary and took up valuable space within the pruned talent trees while failing to provide any substantial value to PvE and PvP affliction builds. I'm very glad it got the axe, as it opens the potential for a more effective talent to take its place.
Jinx Easily available in tier 2 of the affliction tree, we find a new talent, Jinx. This is a quality-of-life (or death, depending upon how you look at it) talent that applies
Currently, this application is passive, and Jinx does not actually apply the curse onto the secondary enemy targets under its effects. This leaves open the option of also applying Curse of Weakness onto off targets, if need be, which would in effect allow both curses to be "applied" to a single target. Very situational, sure, but potentially useful. We'll see if the developers are OK with it -- I'm guessing that they are not and that we'll see some limitations applied soon.
Soul Swap Named after a failed ABC reality show, I'm sure, Soul Swap reads like an affliction warlock's wet dream come true. Found in tier 4, the instant-cast ability deals direct damage to and removes the warlock's DoTs from an enemy target. The warlock then has 20 seconds to recast Soul Swap on a different target, and doing so will apply all of the DoTS removed from the previous target, refreshed to their full duration.
Yes, you read that right. Read it again if you must. It is that good.
In a single talent, affliction warlocks are given an instant, direct damage ability and instant application of Corruption, Bane of Agony and (most importantly) Unstable Affliction. Did I say it was instant? My mind is oozing with the potential that this brings to affliction's play style, especially on the PvP front. We will be able to focus cast all of our DoT goodness in one global cooldown, and on the move. After its first cast, Unstable Affliction will be uninterruptable when recast using Soul Swap, which makes an already dangerous spell even better. And perhaps best and most evil of all, Soul Swap can take advantage of the new dispel mechanics (the dispeller will use up mana even if there is nothing to dispel), causing mass confusion and mana consumption. Yummy.
When considering PvE raiding rotations and multiple targets, Soul Swap becomes far more situational, but still useful. In a transition from a dying target to a fresh one where there are not enough targets to warrant AoE attacks (2 or so enemies, depending upon their health), Soul Swap would be the greatest benefit to DPS. Otherwise, as is the case on live realms now, keeping all high-health enemies fully dotted and using a filler on the main target should be the application of choice. Still, this spell has a great deal of "win" written all over it. It'll be interesting to see where it goes from here.
Soulburn: Seed of Corruption The new tier 5 talent, Soulburn: Seed of Corruption, has me excited for a few reasons. First, it gives Seed of Corruption the ability to apply Corruption to all affected enemy targets. That is a very big deal, especially if all following Seed of Corruption detonations refresh Corruption cycles and not their ticks. That would be a substantial AoE DPS increase right there.
Second, it provides us warlocks with another Soulburn effect that is actually interesting, worthwhile and on the order of the "shardgasm" I so hoped this new mechanic would eventually become. Hopefully we will see some of the other Soulburn effects tweaked a bit to give them more substance, like this.
Finally, and probably most important, is the little piece of the talent's tooltip that comes at the end: "The Soul Shard will be refunded if the detonation is successful." This is incredibly important because it opens up the possibility that developers are actively looking into allowing our Soul Shards to regenerate during combat -- something that has only briefly been discussed in passing, until now. Now we are actually seeing it, and to me, that is a huge step, developmentally speaking, in dictating how our class will play in Cataclysm.
So there you have it -- a look at our affliction potential come Cataclysm. I had hoped that the holes in the affliction tree would be filled with liquified mage genitals, but considering their size, it could never be enough. And these new talents seem up to the task. They're different, but not different enough to change the fundamentals of the tree. Hopefully, it'll stay that way come next patch.
Next time, when I come knocking, we'll talk the inappropriateness of Gul'dan and his powerful hand. Believe me, you want him to touch you.
Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DoTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. For more information on the upcoming class changes, check out WoW.com's Guide to Cataclysm.