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Blood Pact: Locks tapped out

V'Ming Chew

Between Arenas, V'Ming spends his time as a lock laughing ominously in AV, tanking Olm with his own minions and pondering troll fashion from Zul'Aman. He's recently started to plumb the depths of SSC with his 0/21/40 build and bragging about 8k shadow bolts.

This has been a sad week for warlocks, ironic given that I was just celebrating the summoning changes two weeks ago. Life Tap - a class-defining spell for locks - has been overhauled on the PTR to return 15% mana for 15% health a few days ago. The Warlock community was incredulous at first - "No way, this will be rolled back like the drain mana change" - that quickly turned to dismay when Eyonix clarified how Improved Life Tap will work with respect to this change.

What's the big deal?

As explained by Daniel, the typical Stamina-stacking Warlock loses efficiency and correspondingly, DPS. The more Stamina a Warlock has, the more life he or she loses to regain the same amount of mana.

Eyonix also said, almost as a sidebar, that this change could be advantageous if warlocks stacked Intellect instead of Stamina. This "suggestion" goes against the original design of the class, as well as its current itemization.

Let's look at some Warlock-specific gear available currently:

It is obvious that our gear is biased towards Stamina, not Intellect. I guess we'd better start rolling for Mage gear when patch 2.4 goes live unless Blizzard decides to rework all Warlock gear.

This change, confirmed to be an Arena "fix", has implications far beyond PvP. It changes our high-end PvE spec choices, play style, gear strategy, as well as our enchants and gems. In both PvP and PvE, Life Tap becomes a liability - potentially crippling for a class built around it. This is another example of Blizzard's sledgehammer approach when it comes to PvP changes, given that current game development seems to be purely Arena-driven.

PvP implications

"Quite honestly, we wanted warlocks to take a larger hit to their hit points when lifetapping in PvP. While in PvP, this means they will take a bigger hit to their health," Eyonix stated, in response to the Warlock community questioning the rationale for this Life Tap nerf.

Like the water regen change, Blizzard wants to make mana a more important issue in Arenas. PvP locks generally life tap to continue fighting, making them a mana-based class that could virtually deliver an unlimited supply of damage. This change makes warlocks more reliant on their mana pool, as life tapping becomes more dangerous. A PvP Warlock with 12,000 health will lose 1,800 health every tap (since it's a percentage of maximum life), akin to shadow bolting themselves.

This change is also intended to reduce the effectiveness of Soul Link warlocks - bringing their durability down to something more in line with the other cloth classes. Understandable intentions really, especially with the Arena Tournament on the horizon. Blizzard obviously does not want any single class to break or run away with the tournament. Unfortunately, this blanket approach begs the question asked in my last Blood Sport article: is Blizzard going into overkill in its bid to retrofit WoW into an e-sport?

PvE/Raid implications

While Blizzard is insisting that this change has little implication on PvE, the community begs to differ.

The hardest hit will probably be raiding warlocks and their guilds. The Warlock, in terms of raid role, is generally a reliable source of sustained DPS. With a touch of self or external healing, we supply constant magical damage over long encounters. Warlocks are also cast in the role of tanking in certain encounters, namely SSC's Leotheras the Blind, and even Illidan.

For warlocks without Dark Pact, Life Tap is their only innate way of regenerating mana. With a less efficient and more dangerous Life Tap, we'll need to rely more on Intellect, MP5 and even Spirit - more in line with other clothie casters. Up to this point however, warlocks generally have low Spirit and zero MP5 - reflected in gear designed for the class. In fact, a favored Demonology talent for warlocks is Demonic Embrace, which trades Spirit for Stamina!

Affliction will become the tree of choice for Improved Life Tap and Dark Pact. Destruction warlocks will need to relook their build's mana problems despite the buff to Emberstorm. Demonology warlocks are screwed.

A less efficient Life Tap means less DPS, as we'll need to tap more often at the expense of doing damage. To bring it back up to pre-patch efficiency, warlocks need to sacrifice Stamina for Intellect. This directly impacts the survivability and increases healing needed for warlocks who lack "ohnoes" abilities like shields, ice block and blink.

From a raid's perspective, the Warlock's value is reduced and certain encounters can become more difficult as a result. Tanking warlocks face a dilemma - stacking Stamina for tanking actually becomes detrimental to their effectiveness as a caster. This means that raiding guilds might need to rethink their tanking strategy for the Leotheras and Illidan encounter.

The community response

While our response is muted, compared to shamans', the official Warlock forums are filled with threads expressing doom and gloom. Some non-warlock players are wondering what's the deal - "Can't you drink like other classes?" - while some are rejoicing that their hated PvP opponents are finally dealt a serious nerf. Some warlocks are apparently planning to stage a protest on the PTR by bringing Pit Lords into major hubs on both factions.

Final word

To sum up this change, Blizzard is using a sledgehammer to drive the Arena thumbtack. If this goes live, players will eventually adjust their play style, re-gear their toons, and the dust will settle. But patch 2.4 would probably be remembered as the infamous patch that not only nerfed warlocks, but changed how the class had been played and geared for three years before it, PvP or otherwise.

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