Well. It's been a hell of a week on the PTR for warlocks, hasn't it? A few of the original patch notes have been changed for the better again in response to player feedback on the forums.
Don't get me wrong, Patch 5.4 is still largely a depressing bunch of nerfs for warlocks. But let's go over the changes and make sure we have everything straight. The usual disclaimer of "things can and may change" still applies to all of these patch notes.
Kil'jaeden's Cunning: Reverted, but still nerfed
Kil'jaeden's Cunning (KJC) is going back to being a passive! There is no movement penalty, but the talent only allows casting while moving for the cast-time filler spells of each spec: Malefic Grasp, Shadow Bolt, and Incinerate.
All specs still have major spells that we would really like to keep moving while casting for. Affliction appreciates being able to cast Malefic Grasp while moving, but would like the same for Drain Soul, since Drain Soul is basically just the execute version of Malefic Grasp. Demonology appreciates the ability to cast Shadow Bolt while moving, but casting Soul Fire below 20% they might like as well, for the same reasons affliction wants Drain Soul movement back. Destruction is lucky Shadowburn is instant, but that doesn't blind them from the fact that Chaos Bolt is rendered standstill.
PvP-oriented warlocks are also concerned about no more Fear on the move, but the changes to level 30 talents will help that. Howl of Terror is no longer a talent, but baseline for all warlocks and still learned at level 30. PvP warlocks will rejoice, as they can now choose an ability like Shadowfury without missing a melee peel like Howl of Terror, and either a tier-2 talent or Howl itself can act as an interrupt cover for our main CC. In Howl's place, our familiar conal snare is back under the name Demonic Breath.
However, the most recent change to KJC is only a compromise. Being able to cast a filler on the move alleviates some of the damage nerf from the talent change, but Blizzard still wants to encourage smart positioning and smart movement for casters. As Xelnath has pointed out on his game design blog, movement is the most basic counter for all DPS. Melee are limited by range to the target while casters are limited to only some abilities on the move. Being able to fire off enough abilities at ranged for melee or being able to cast everything all the time for casters just leads to too many encounters becoming tank-and-spank or reduced to a "many adds, handle it" style rather than interesting movement obstacles.
Fel Flame: Reverted, but still buffed
While PvE players were not enthused by a non-instant Fel Flame but similarly not really bummed, PvP warlocks were screaming about the crappiness of a cast-time Fel Flame. Fel Flame is a dual-spell school, which means if it got spell-locked via an interrupt, it would lock warlocks out of absolutely everything, except for a PvP trinket. That's a really bad idea for what was at the time the only movement option outside of activating Kil'jaeden's Cunning.
So Fel Flame is back to being instant -- hooray! Fel Flame is retaining its damage buff (up by 13%), however, to help again with the limited moving spells. The base mana cost was reduced by 2%, to help with frequent green fire jabs at the enemy. Fel Flame is also back to its Cataclysmic plain direct damage life: it will not refresh or extend any DoTs.
Ghostcrawler provided some developer aims on Twitter regarding Fel Flame:
As long as locks don't become backpedaling FF spamming machines, we think this change should work.- Greg Street (@Ghostcrawler) June 18, 2013
We're going to try keeping Fel Flame as an instant, slightly buffed, with no dot refeshing. Intent wasn't to nerf FF on top of nerfing KJC.- Greg Street (@Ghostcrawler) June 18, 2013
This is a buff or a nerf depending on what a warlock is trying to do. For destruction, this is an all-around buff. Affliction PvE likes this change, but affliction PvP will miss the ability to shardlessly keep DoTs up on a target while moving. Demonology is mostly OK with this change until they realize that this means Void Ray will not refresh Corruption anymore.
But overall, between Kil'jaeden's Cunning and Fel Flame, this is a victory for player feedback in the forums.
What about the other level 90 talents?
Mannoroth's Fury (MF) is still an activated talent for Patch 5.4. The only change is now that the ability will also buff the main AoEs of each spec by 100% in addition to area coverage for 10 seconds on a 1-minute cooldown.
This still isn't that much of a nerf, except possibly a minor nerf to PvP. Destro 'locks like to place Rain of Fire as stealth detection but also as a slight counter to pillar-humping enemies. The bigger the area, the more the stealth detection or area of the pillar backside that the 'lock can cover. The warlock can still do this, just not cover as much area as often as she could previously.
The other problem for Archimonde's Vengeance is that it shares the current problem of tanky-type Vengeance, where it encourages players to intentionally stand in really unpleasant floor effects in order to get more oomph out of the ability. Ghostcrawler tweeted that this method of boosting damage will not work for both tanky and warlock Vengeances in Patch 5.4. However, warlocks remain skeptical of the talent's usefulness until we see some major damage buffs to it. Almost no one takes the talent in endgame content anymore because it's very weak compared to the other two choices.
It goes downhill from here
Unfortunately, the warlock section of the Patch 5.4 PTR notes is full of nerfs. It's not shaping up to be a very fun patch for warlocks.
Demonic Gateway has been nerfed heavily in its group use. The debuff one receives after stepping through a gate on live realms is 15-seconds long, but Patch 5.4 wants to extend the debuff to a full minute. This would definitely impede Gateway's use on some encounters like Iron Qon that allow a portion of the raid to skip a phase's mechanic. Personally, I would rather a compromise of 30 seconds; that' s the cooldown for Demonic Circle: Teleport, so it would put Gateway at the level of merely a party-only teleport option for others and only a threat reduction for warlocks.
We already know that Rain of Fire received a nerf to ember generation, but we weren't sure how exactly. The patch notes say that Rain of Fire will have a reduced chance to generate embers, specifically. This might be like the chance-on-a-chance tweak to the tier 16 2-piece set bonus where it's a chance on a crit for Conflagrate, when a critical strike itself is a chance. (By the way, the 4-piece set bonus was nerfed for affliction and demonology where the percent chances were reduced to 8% instead of 20%.)
On the survivability front, Fel Armor is losing its 10% damage reduction in line with the similar moonkin and shadow priest stance nerfs. On the other hand, that's nothing compared to the Soul Leech nerf, which took the tier 1 talent down from a shield the size of 100% of a warlock's health to a maximum of 15%. I don't really care if it activates off a Shadowburn now; that is one sick nerf.
What is on the PTR right now?
Mannoroth's Fury has the AoE damage boost and Fel Flame is instant. The Demonic Gateway gives you a minute-long debuff, Fel Armor lost its flat damage reduction, and Soul Leech caps out at 15% of my health.
However -- Kil'jaeden's Cunning is still a 10-second duration on a 1-minute cooldown. Perhaps "soon" the newest changes to Kil'jaeden's Cunning will be available on the PTR for testing.
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.