Everyone's excited about the warlock tanking glyph for demonology. I'm cautiously excited. It's one of those things we warlocks always put on our wish lists, alongside green fire and warlock flying mounts.
While we still wait on the flying mount, EU CM Wryxian noted that green fire might be in the works! As soon as I saw the glyphs that change cosmetic things like the felguard's weapon or the color of a bear's fur, I went hunting in the datamines for green fire. I didn't see one, but Wryxian says there's "hope" that we'll get a quest for green fire. I do hope it involves Gorzeeki Wildeyes or Mor'zul Bloodbringer as a throwback to the old Dreadsteed epic mount quest chain.
I'm also aware that this is beta, and betas are for testing things, not for setting things in stone. Like Wryxian's statement about fel fire coloring, things can and will change. I want to be realistic about demo tanking. I don't want the hype surrounding warlock-style tanking to lead to disappointment. Looking at some of warlock and tanking mechanical history, I have some major caveats that Blizzard would need to address if warlocks are to become tanks.
Conditions matter for conclusions
Josh covered this nicely in his Beta Testing 101 post: Betas are very volatile things. Crazy stuff happens all the time. You won't really have pets as large as the Hindenburg that is the Observer pet right now. You won't really be able to summon multiple minions at the same time -- at least, not outside of special abilities like Stampede.
Josh mentions that transferred characters sometimes currently have ridiculously inflated stats. Inflated stats allow you to do things you couldn't otherwise do. Most of us know this as overgearing something. My warlock overgears normal modes of Cataclysm by three raiding tiers, so yes, I can go back and solo Throne of the Tides regular if I really feel like it. That doesn't mean I could tank it in the appropriate gear at the appropriate progression level. I'd very much go splat in a few instants.
A video was passed around on Twitter of a warlock Meta-tanking End Time. He maintains threat by Hellfiring everything. But what concerns me are his Hellfire ticks, which you can see by the floating combat text. They're hitting for 20k to 30k. Seriously?! His Shadow Bolt (or Demonic Slash) later on in the Murozond fight crits for 80k to 100k.
I doubt that's normal for appropriate End Time tanking output. I was also most disappointed that they skipped showing how the warlock tanked the hard-hitting melee mobs in Murozond's trash packs.
Let's say warlocks could tank and held threat while putting out massive amounts of damage. Let's brainstorm for a bit: What would we need to tank as warlocks?
That method of threat management wouldn't stay in game for very long. It would certainly mess with PvE balance. Why take a regular tank with lower DPS when you can clearly take a warlock tank with higher DPS? It would be disastrous in PvP, where a demonology flag carrier would be nigh-unkillable while decimating his enemies (with moving Hellfire!). Didn't Blizzard nerf Vengeance for tanks in PvP, specifically for the ridiculousness that was blood DKs?
There are other concerns with the glyph that converts demonology to a tanking spec.
The ghost of intraspec balance reeks of the feral druid talent tree and shared gearsets. There is a reason the feral tree is being split in twain. It would be odd to sell two roles to a warlock tree in the same move and expect the balancing to be somehow easier.
A 2-minute taunt isn't very useful. It's not useful for tank switching, and it's not useful for when the DK really wants to Death Grip that mob away from you. It may make sense with an AoE taunt, and as Soulshatter is AoE threat reduction normally, that might be the case. But then, we'd still be out a single-target taunt on a short cooldown.
The glyph actually leans this way by providing Twilight Ward to work for all magic schools, but knowing the current Shadow Ward's weak shield, they better buff it. With our buffed health pools, Shadow Ward currently absorbs an approximate amount of "oh, it tickles."
I don't think self-healing would be enough, either. The popular opinion is that Mists self-healing for warlocks is less than it is currently. Currently, my affliction self-heals manage enough to cover my Life Tap and then a little more if I do my normal rotation. If I flip to Demon Armor and actively Drain Life, I can do a lot more. Mists has a bit of Demon Armor built into the new Fel Armor, but the Demon Armor doesn't do the healing, and Drain Life isn't meant to be the demo filler.
Glyphs don't make emergency tanks, since true emergency tanks would be able to switch in combat. Glyphs will only be switchable out of combat. Glyphing means a warlock either better tank something and be useful or have inadequate DPS for the entire fight. Glyphing does not allow for amazing normal DPS during most of the fight, but stance-dancing with Meta to a tanking role. The glyph affects demonic fury, not just Metamorphosis, so it's no longer increasing a 'lock's damage done when outside of Meta. If the glyph is designed correctly to balance out the tanking warlock compared to other tanks, demonology tank DPS with it will be neutered.
Disillusionment: Through a Glass, Darkly
When friends try warlocks and later set them aside, I always wonder about why. The common complaints that I hear are two flavors of the same problem: Warlocks have too many abilities, and warlocks are more complicated to play while achieving lower DPS as one would get on a hunter or mage.
Cynwise wrote a great post recently about the lack of warlocks everyone is starting to notice. It's long, but in traditional Cynwise fashion, it's very much worth reading. It's a part one (part two later this week), and it covers the statistical census side of how many warlocks are really out there. The statistics come back with a really odd but true conclusion: There's nothing wrong with warlock performance in endgame.
But I feel it's a different reason. Most warlocks I know who attempted the Dragonwrath quest line were most frustrated by the boss at the end of the solo dungeon encounter quest, Through a Glass, Darkly.
Spoilers, if you haven't done it! Each class got a slightly different encounter tailored to the abilities of the class. Essentially, the boss had a win-or-die mechanic -- a buff that healed him ridiculously fast if the player didn't purge it. All mages can Spellsteal. All shaman can Purge. All priests can dispel magic offensively. The buff isn't even in the encounter for moonkin.
Only one pet for warlocks can devour the buff, and this pet bugs out on the platform since the boss never quite lands, much like Ultraxion's trash. The encounter is designed to suit warlock abilities, and Blizzard couldn't get it right. Some warlocks, including the destruction warlock choice before me in guild, were so utterly frustrated by this and even felt cheated that they could not finish the first part of the whole legendary -- not because of skill but because of buggy and clunky mechanics.
This is my greatest fear about warlock tanking, that it will be a niche thing, a hard thing, and while those of us mad enough to demonically tank will sell our souls to do it, it will kill the interest if Blizzard doesn't take care. I fear that all this wonderful hype about a truly cool thing will go to waste if Blizzard either can't work the bugs out or can't balance it with other tanks and DPS.
Metamorphosis tanking would be totally awesome, and I would love to try it out. But I would rather see it not done at all than to have some half-done specter of it linger in Nerfed Hell, much like Soul Swap and Drain Life filler did.
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 tier 13 set bonuses.