Greetings, warlocks. I know that I have generally focused heavily on PvE instead of PvP, but this is more so due to the fact that PvP is a difficult subject to generalize. Strategies are specific to the composition that you run and what you're up against, and they are exceptionally difficult to define in rote patterns. That's the draw that PvP has over PvE -- it's always changing, always different, always unpredictable, at least in the good cases. Yet there is one thing I can say about PvP: Affliction is the spec of choice.
Then again, when are the few times where that hasn't been true? There might be small pockets here and there when demonology or destruction has some meager viability in the PvP world, but they've normally been rather short-lived. Affliction has generally been our default PvP spec, much as mages have relied on frost. No more! I know people are tied of hearing it, but Mists of Pandaria will fix it.
It isn't difficult to show why affliction always ends up being the dominate PvP spec. Despite all of our DoTs being trivial to dispel, they are a strong part of what makes affliction so powerful. Their ability to split high amounts of damage across multiple targets creates additional pressure and splits healer focus, and yes, Unstable Affliction can be something of a deterrent to removal.
The other side of it is that affliction regenerates a decent amount of health. A 50% chance on every Corruption tick to regenerate 2% health is pretty major when you have it rolling across three targets. Add to that the effects of Demon Armor, boosted by the Demonic Aegis talent, and you're regenerating ridiculous amounts of health on your own while also being far easier to heal than any other class in the game.
Affliction has a strong amount of survivability to it, far more than our other specs, which is the key to warlock dominance in PvP. Control is nice, and it's the benefits of going either demonology or destruction, but it isn't the same level as a frost mage. If you can't match that, then you don't really stand much of a chance. Yet everything that makes affliction PvP what it is, at least on the survivability front, is gone come Pandaria.
What's to come
That's right -- but this can't be all that much of news, I'm sure. Affliction's survivability is entirely talent-based, so with the removal of unique talents for every spec, it's only logical that whatever benefit that they held would be gone as well. Therefore, to hear that every spec is going to have somewhat more even footing within the PvP field shouldn't come all that surprising.
What might be disheartening to hear is that this equalization comes at a rather hefty price. We are not all raised to the same level of affliction's survivability, no. Instead, everything is brought down to around that of destruction's level. Bad? Potentially -- but let's look at how things have changed first.
Losses in health regeneration
The major hit that we see in the Ability to Live Department is the difference in scaling health returns. Right now, both of our major health return talents restore a portion of maximum health, which is a pretty big deal that is often glossed over. Health pools are around the 150,000 range with high-end PvP gear. This would mean that Siphon Life ticks restore 3,000 health. The MoP talent to make up for Siphon Life returns 15% of the damage of our nukes instead. In order for the two of these to be equal, each of these nukes would have to hit for 20,000 -- not entirely impossible, though I don't think that most Shadow Bolts are really hitting for that much every time now. The simple matter is, health pools generally increase more than damage as an expansion progresses.
PvP gear progression is just the same as any other -- there's more of everything on it. More damage stats, yes, but also more resilience. It isn't a perfect match, but the two do work at odds against each other to the point where we usually see health-based regeneration out-scale damage-based. As you can see, though, the difference isn't going to be all that large. The primary loss from affliction's point of view is the reliance on nukes -- or in their case, a channel instead of a DoT -- but that's all right. Siphon Life is a bit too strong in its ability to proc from multiple sources at a time.
The other major loss here is going to be from Demon Armor, which is being halfway removed. Demon Armor is mostly being renamed to Fel Armor, which is losing virtually all of its current benefits. That's not really a loss, though; the spellpower given by it was rather trivial, to be frank. Still, our new Fel Armor increases Stamina by 10% and healing received by only a meager 10%. It's better than nothing -- and certainly a benefit that Blizzard is finally realizing that Demon Armor was far too strong and Fel Armor far too weak -- but it isn't what we're used to.
Coupled with the self-healing losses, our control takes a weird turn as well that I can't quite describe as good or bad. Several of the new talents are centered around control, and each spec has a good number of baked-in control tools as well, but we're also taking a few losses. The biggest loss is that of Death Coil. Unless I'm being completely blind, there is no baseline Death Coil; instead, there's the talented Mortal Coil, which has the exact same effect. Talented Death Coil is an OK thing, but it shares its position with Shadowfury and that can be a tough choice (which I suppose is half the point). Shadowfury does have a 15-second-shorter cooldown than Mortal Coil and can hit a group of people -- although that's somewhat trivial in PvP -- but Mortal Coil does heal for a whopping 25% of your health.
There are other concerns to take into account, as well. Mortal Coil is a horror effect, which fewer other classes have access to for DR purposes, while Shadowfury is a stun, which is more common. Either way, we lose one where once we had both.
There is also the loss of Howl of Terror, which also shares the same talent tier as Mortal Coil and Shadowfury, although this is less of a concern. Howl of Terror was never quite that good of a CC effect and really only had a use for affliction, which could talent it to be instant. Outside of that, it wasn't much of a use. The sad thing is, though, that this doesn't change. Howl of Terror is still far too weak to be worth considering against the other two, so there's another loss we take.
The benefits that make it all better
For what losses we do take, there are some gains as well. There's the baseline Unending Resolve, which is an ability that I've seen many people overlook. It's a 3-minute cooldown -- but 50% damage reduction and the inability to be interrupted for 12 seconds? Sign me up for that. Yes, it does scream "CC ME!" much the same as the big red kitty did for hunters, but even if you are CCed for the entire duration, that amount of damage reduction is still way amazing and going to save your life, which is the important part of the cooldown, not that you could totally abuse the uninterruptable portion to completely refill your health bar from self-healing effects.
We can also get instant Fear, but it costs 10% of our maximum health, which can be a rather steep cost. If health scales too far above damage to the point that we can't regenerate that ourselves, then it may not be worth the cost. The upside is that we totally stole Power Word: Shield from priests, only in our own little way. Don't want instant Fear? How about a shield for 20% of your health? True, if not broken, it will damage you, but that's easily avoidable and inconsequential.
The last major change, which has also been grossly overlooked, is the new Curse of Enfeeblement. Take Curse of Weakness, super-charge it, then throw it in with Curse of Tongues, and you now have Curse of Enfeeblement. A 30% reduced physical damage and 30% cast time reduction? I would think it's a bug if it didn't say "less effective on dungeon and raid bosses." If you ever questioned why you should give up Curse of the Elements on a PvP target, this is why. Shaving 30% of a warrior's damage off? Yes, please!
Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DoTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. We'll coach you in the fine art of staying alive, help pick the best target for Dark Intent, and steer you through encounters such as Blackwing Descent and The Bastion of Twilight.