Keeping your Spirit up
Spirit will become more important for warlocks in the upcoming "gear merge" mentioned in Blizzcast 2. The big push in the expansion is to get different specs and different classes to use similar types of gear. This means that we're very likely to share a homogenized set of cloth gear with priests and mages.
Like mages in WotLK, we are getting new talents that favor or buff Spirit - the Warlock's most neglected stat currently. It is interesting to note that good old Demonic Embrace hasn't been changed in the light of this new focus on Spirit.
Kindling Soul, at tier 8 of the Destruction tree, actually hooks Spirit up with spell damage and crit, two of our most important stats. Spell damage is buffed up to 10% of Spirit by this talent, and our crits could provide temporary boosts to Spirit, presumably adjusting the spell damage bonus as well. This talent may seem laughable with our current itemization, but with presumably more Spirit in WotLK gear, Kindling Soul may shape up to be an important talent in a destro lock's build.
Over at tier 10 in the Demonology tree, Demonic Pact increases our Spirit by up to 5% when our pet is out - in addition to the group buffs mentioned above. This seems counter-intuitive with good ol' Demonic Embrace in the same tree - the two talents are directly antagonistic, one reducing Spirit at tier 1 and the other negating it at tier 10. Demonic Embrace becomes a much less attractive talent for PvE warlocks, now that Spirit affects our DPS performance directly.
At the same time, Fel Armor has been tweaked: the current 20% heal bonus is replaced with 30% mana regeneration. Could all this be heralding the dreaded Life Tap nerf that didn't land in 2.4, since Blizzard's objective is to somewhat reduce the Warlock's survivability in the Arenas?
The Demonology tree gets a range of new talents that buff our pets' utility and survivability. Of particular note is the tier 7 Empowered Imp talent, which potentially turns the Warlock into a crit powerhouse whenever the imp crits.
At 3/3 Empowered Imp, the imp's crit has a 60% chance of making all your nukes crit for 8 seconds. Coupled with the tier 6 Demonic Empowerment, which increases the imp's crit rate by 20%, we are looking at a minimum of 20% x 60% = 12% chance of getting crit nukes every 1.5 seconds (with Improved Firebolt, eventually to be combined with Improved Lash of Pain for Demonic Power).
There's certainly a lot of DPS and hence, PvE potential with an attacking imp. The problem here is that despite the survivability buffs, the imp is still simply too fragile in a raid environment to be a reliable source of procs. I would imagine the imp cannon to be more useful in PvP (are we seeing a trend here?) and as a situational complement to our Felguards or Succubi.
I remember entertaining the idea of warlocks getting a healing pet (succubus in a nurse uniform, anyone?) in WotLK and while that didn't happen, our little minx did get some healing love with the tier 9 Love Struck. Physical attacks against the warlock and succubus can have a 15% chance of healing instead of dealing damage - possibly a rude surprise for a Love Struck melee class. Demonic Empowerment also gives the succubus a bubble and reset effect, improving her survivability in PvP. These should make our demon girl less fragile in the Arenas, although the PvE utility of these talents, again, is suspect.
In addition, we might see more incentive for raid or party healers to keep our combat pets alive due to the group buff provided by Demonic Pact. Similar to the Hunter's Ferocious Inspiration, an attacking pet can have a 35% chance to increase the party's health and damage by up to 3% for 10 seconds.
So, who's the winner?
As I have mentioned, we are merely theorycrafting based on the information we have at the moment. A lot can change in the intervening months before the launch of WotLK (and the birth of say, about 5 million death knights at the same time, but that is another story).
As it stands, the key 21-point talents in Demonology and Destruction - Demonic Sacrifice and Ruin - remain very viable in the light of the new talents. With 71 points to allocate at level 80, I foresee many PvE warlocks foregoing the situational 51-point talents to retain DS or Ruin for consistent DPS performance with 50-21 builds. On the other hand, PvP warlocks may opt for 51-20 builds, looking at the raw reset power of Metamorphosis and the metagame-changing Decimate.
Affliction seems to be getting the best of the new talents. Eradication could be phenomenal in both PvE and PvP, and Everlasting Affliction could improve DPS by effectively removing Corruption from the DoT rotation. However, if we're talking about a straight-up DPS scenario, raiding warlocks would still go deep Destruction for the usual suspects: Shadow and Flame, and Backlash.
With the nerfing of Improved Shadow Bolt debuff (it will provide a 15% increase, instead of the current 20%, to shadow damage) and a new range of fire-oriented talents, it seems that Blizzard wants warlocks to play with fire, and rely less on shadow bolt spam. Current theorycrafting suggests that shadow still tops fire in sheer DPS with the new talents, but we can only be sure when real numbers are available.
The pet durability issue has been addressed by some of the new talents, notably Fel Synergy, which gives up to 10% of your Armor, Intellect and Stamina to your pet and an up to 100% chance of pet healing for 15% of the damage done by you. But, short of giving our pets an avoidance AI, there is simply no way for pets to function in certain raid scenarios. No matter how deft you are with your pet bar or hot keys, there will be instances when your pet will gladly path through fire or other environmental hazards to come to your side.
If played intelligently, the demo Warlock probably has the most options with respect to the pet at his or her disposal at any given moment: empower? Sacrifice? Swap? Heal? This versatility lends the tree very well to PvP, and with the option of Metamorphosis, we can expect to see many 45-second dreadlords running amok in the Arenas.
We conclude our sneak peek by making some predictions that run the risk of oversimplifying things:
- the new Affliction and Demonology will both be great for general PvE and leveling;
- Demonology will continue to dominate PvP;
- Destruction will still be the 25-man raider's choice, and
- Battleground PvPers will love Atrocity, Arena PvPers will favor Metamorphosis or to a smaller extent, Decimate.
By the way, Blizzard, where is our green fire?
V'Ming is dreaming of prancing up Mount Hyjal with his 24 friends.