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Blood Pact: Destruction warlock changes in the beta

Eli Khoury

Echoes of distant incantations fade through the stagnant air, announcing the warlock's departure. His maddening enslavement is no more, and fearful citizens once entrapped in darkness now fill the streets in celebration. But such revelry is hollow, for with the warlock lies the protection of his Blood Pact -- and where it is removed, destruction follows.

Greetings from the eternal dark, master summoners.

Here we are again, at the beginning of another week, and dealing with the hot mess that the beta continues to splatter all over our computer screens. It is quite the experience, let me tell you. In some ways, it is glorious and satisfying. In others, well, let's just say that I have witnessed numerous screen flickers, program crashes, and enough bugs to warrant an exterminator. And yes, I know -- such is the testing phase and I should just be happy for the opportunity to enjoy four frames per second of Cataclysm goodness while so many others just hope for an invitation. Believe it or not, I am thrilled about it. You just can't tell because, as usual, I am in an incredibly wretched mood -- I play a warlock, after all.

During our last meeting, we took to the trees to break down the interesting changes made to the once lowly but now supremely sexy demonology specialization, which has developed beyond puberty to become a stunning piece of work. This week, we shift our focus to the right. We'll be eyeing the key changes made to the least DoT-dependent of warlock specializations. Some call it the "shadow mage equivalent" and should be slapped in the face with meat cleaver. The more intelligent call it "destruction."

As is always the case with posts like these, there will be what some consider to be spoilers in the information ahead. So please, click responsibly.

Ah, glad to see that you've found the pyromaniac within.

Since The Burning Crusade, destruction warlocks have enjoyed an ironic kind of calm. Where affliction and demonology have depth in their spell rotations, destruction is relatively simple, utilizing only a few spells per encounter. Today, it remains the most user-friendly and explosive of the three talent trees and, not surprisingly, is the most popular. But that doesn't mean it is immune from change.

Much like the trees we have covered before it, destruction has been taken under the knife, given a significant talent tuck, and has received a couple of interesting implants as well. Do you want to have a look at the results? Of course you do.

From the spellbook

Fel Flame With an instant cast and no cooldown, Fel Flame is the first direct damage ability of its kind in the warlock spell book. And the green fire? Sure, that's nice and will make a lot of warlocks happy. But not all is perfect in Felville.

Fel Flame is the Glass Joe of direct damage spells, with an average base damage of 300 when first trainable at level 81. Its spell power coefficient is about 34.30 percent, so for every additional 1,000 bonus spellpower, the ability gains 343 damage. For a warlock with 4,000 bonus spellpower, Fel Flame will produce less than 1,700 overall damage. Double the bonus to 8,000 and it is barely hitting above 3,000. That is hardly super or macho, man. And, sad to say, things get a little more underwhelming from there.

In order for Fel Flame to reset Immolate and Unstable Affliction to their maximum durations, three consecutive casts would be required when the DoTS are about to expire. Alternatively, if the DoTS were reapplied directly and the remaining two GCDs produced more damage than two Fel Flames are capable of (very easy to do at this point), it would result in a DPS gain. In other words, Fel Flame will not be in destruction's standard DPS (or DPCT priority) rotation.

Of course, being the beta and all, details can change as quickly as Justin Beiber's perceived gender, so it is difficult to come to an absolute conclusion about Fel Flame. However, I think it is safe to say that the spell will serve well as a simple, spammable PvP ability (a great totem killer or offensive kiting spell) while offering a bit of mobile convenience in PvE environments, buying warlocks a bit of time while on the move.

Removed talents

Improved Shadow Bolt After Incinerate was introduced in The Burning Crusade, the Improved Shadow Bolt talent has always felt a little out of place, buffing a spell that is no longer associated with the tree. Come Cataclysm, that weirdness will be replaced with a redesigned Shadow and Flame. More on that in a flicker of green fire.

Molten Skin Damage reduction in PvP is the Samuel Adams of itemization: always a good decision. Personally, I didn't like Molten Skin because it gave our class passive survivability instead of actively seeing to PvP stresses. With developers refining the interaction between classes for Cataclysm, however, I am hoping for much more of the "b" word and fewer bandage talents like this one.

Cataclysm In The Wrath of the Lich King, the Cataclysm talent was useful because it reduced the number of required Life Tap casts in an encounter, increasing the number of GCDs that could be used for damage. But with the extremely sexy Soul Leech talent on the horizon (more on that down below), this talent becomes all but irrelevant.

Demonic Power The gooey imp innards that made Demonic Power important to destruction warlocks have been absorbed by the new Dark Arts talent in the demonology tree. As for the succubus, I hear that her cool whip no longer needs a talent to bring victims to their knees.

Devastation There seems to be an effort to reduce the average critical strike percentage in Cataclysm, at least for warlocks. Many in the beta are complaining of a significantly lower number of critical strikes, on the order of about 10 percent. This may be an expected after effect of the removal of passive talents like Devastation, but the impact is still considerable and noteworthy.

Pyroclasm I really enjoyed Pyroclasm and the tiny bit of variability that it brought to the tree. But with critical strike bonuses disappearing from talents, it is no surprise to see this one axed.

Improved Soul Leech Replenishment and mana regen effects have been rolled into the Soul Leech talent, so no loss there. The mana regen component for our minions, however, was not. But with Mana Feed in the second tier of the demonology tree, we have the maintenance of our pets mana pools close at hand.

The remaining "removed talents" have had their effects standardized, so technically, they aren't really missing at all -- just hiding amidst Cataclysm's inner goo. They include:
  • Ruin Ruin increased the spell critical strike bonus from 150 percent to 200 percent, now standard.
  • Intensity Intensity reduced spell casting pushback by 70 percent, which is now passive via Suppression.
  • Destructive Reach Destructive Reach increased casting range of spells, now increased directly.
  • Conflagrate Conflagrate was the 31-point destruction talent, now available immediately upon specialization.

Modified talents

Improved Searing Pain Instead of increasing the critical strike chance of Searing Pain by 10 percent, Improved Searing Pain now does so by 20/40 percent when the target is below 50 percent health. This is an interesting change, considering that we have a similar Soulburn effect that, when complimenting this talent, would increase Searing Pain's critical strike chance by 100 percent (assuming the warlock has at least 10 percent) for several GCDs worth of casts. The PvP application is strong in this one.

Backlash Where Backlash used to provide a welcomed 3 percent increase to our critical strike chance, it no longer does -- in line with the removal of passive bonuses. The instant Shadow Bolt or Incinerate component, however, remains unchanged except for the fact that 2 talent points increases the effect more than the 3rd (13/26/25 percent). So, either the first two numbers will be adjusted to compensate for a 25 percent maximum or we'll see a completely OP balanced and necessary 50 percent with the third talent point. Burn a mage and hope for the latter.

Nether Protection Nether Protection has lost a bit of sizzle, protecting the warlock from 15 percent of a school's incoming damage, down from 30 percent. The change is somewhat understandable considering the huge amounts of stamina that cloth-wearing classes will be enjoying in Cataclysm. So while it is technically a nerf, I am not losing too much sweat over it.

Emberstorm Instead of increasing fire spell damage by 15 percent (another victim of passive bonus hate), Emberstorm now reduces the cast time of Soul Fire by 1 second. The nerf to the damage component is balanced by the destruction tree's mastery stat, which increases all fire damage the warlock produces. The Incinerate component of the talent remains the same.

Soul Leech A certain fast food chain should name its next sandwich the "Soul Leech," because I am absolutely loving it (for the record, I gagged a little when I wrote that). The talent is no longer based on chance and instead returns a consistent percentage of the damage caused by Shadowburn, Soul Fire or Chaos Bolt as health and mana. Oh, and it also grants replenishment, too. A mouthful, am I right? On the downside, the percentages have been tweaked in the latest talent build, returning only 1 or 2 percent of health and mana, Still, this is a nice change overall.

Backdraft This talent has received a nice tweak in the latest patch: instead of limiting the spell cast reduction buff to 3 spells, Backdraft now reduces the casting time of Shadow Bolt, Incinerate, and Chaos Bolt by 10, 20, or 30 percent for 15 seconds. This means that there will be more than 3 GCDs under the effect of Backdraft, meaning a definite DPS gain.

Shadow and Flame So here is a change I am half happy with, half intrigued with -- "haptrigued," if you will. As I laid out before, Shadow and Flame replaces the outgoing Improved Shadow Bolt talent. In doing so, it no longer buffs specific spells with an additional percentage of bonus spellpower, but instead applies a flat 4/8/12 percent increased damage to Shadow Bolt and Incinerate. Nice.

What has me intrigued is the Improved Shadow Bolt effect now being a relevantly talented buff. To benefit from it in the past, destruction warlocks needed the assistance of Shadow Bolt spamming affliction or demonology warlocks. Now, however, they can cast a Shadow Bolt every 30 seconds on their own. This adds some much needed variability to the destruction rotation.

Empowered Imp While the damage bonus has been nerfed from 30 percent to 20 percent and proc rate dropped to 2 and 4 percent, Empowered Imp remains incredibly interesting for one reason: It introduces Soul Fire into destruction's rotation. Instead of granting an automatic critical strike to the warlock's next spell when his Imp's Firebolt crits, it now produces a instant cast Soul Fire. I have been wanting to see Soul Fires in destruction's rotation for ages, so I am thrilled about this change. But as fantastic as it sounds, there are a few drawbacks.

First, being triggered by the Imp, instant Soul Fires in PvP will be limited to the Soulburn mechanic, requiring a Soul Shard. Second, if a Soul Fire is being cast while the instant cast becomes available, finishing the cast cancels the buff. Hopefully that will get fixed before the changes go live. And finally, while Soul Fire produces a decent amount of damage, it is not guaranteed to produce more than a critical striking Chaos Bolt or Incinerate when considering that it still uses a GCD. Therefore this change may actually result in a DPS loss (especially if Backdraft was triggered in the latter scenario). I'll get back to you on this one after I crunch the numbers some more.

New talents

Improved Soul Fire The push to give Soul Fire a more active role in destruction has led to this enticing little talent. Improved Soul Fire increases haste by 15 percent for 15 seconds when Soul Fire damages a target above 80 percent health. This would make the ability very useful as an opener, but also introduces a lot of potential when stacked with Backdraft. Just think -- 15 percent haste and 30 percent cast time reduction? Delicious. Have your bibs ready.

Burning Embers Remember how we were just waxing about destruction being the least DoT dependent tree? Yeah, so much for that. When invested into the Burning Embers talent, causing damage with Soul Fire and the imp's Firebolt applies a DoT equal to 30 percent of the damage done each second for 4 seconds. The damage is capped, but the ticks hit very hard and are constantly refreshed so long as the imp keeps firing off his attacks. On my warlock sporting just under 4k spell damage, each tick was landing for over 4,000 damage! A nice addition, for sure.

Bane of Havoc This talent, which we have cackled over in menacing goodness before, reproduces 15 percent of the damage caused by the warlock on the target afflicted with the Bane of Havoc. The ability can only be applied to one target at a time and doesn't function when on the target receiving damage. A few limitations, yes, but this is still the bane to use when more than one body to burn is on the field of play, doing more damage on off targets than Bane of Agony or Doom, and especially so when time is a factor.

Well that will do it for our overview of the destruction tree in the beta. I am very excited at how the tree is turning out -- having instant Soul Fires and a fast ticking DoT in Burning Embers will be a nice change from the norm, separating us even further from mages in terms of awesomeness. And anything that takes warlocks further away from a mage's stench of fail, the better. Let's hope for more of the same as patch after patch brings us closer to the real thing.

Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DoTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. For more information on the upcoming class changes, check out's Guide to Cataclysm.

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