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Blood Pact: Why the affliction spec needs tweaking

Tyler Caraway

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Blood Pact for affliction, demonology and destruction warlocks. For those who disdain the watered-down arts that other cling to like a safety blanket ... For those willing to test their wills against the nether and claim the power that is their right ... Blood Pact welcomes you.

So, I was a flipping through the WoW Insider posts today, as is often the case, when I stumbled across something. I'm not often a huge reader of Arcane Brilliance -- for some strange reason, the ramblings of a deranged mage don't quite appeal to me, but I figured I would take a peek just this once. As per usual, nothing written actually made sense to me; seriously, I don't think those people understand simple English, but I thought the topic Mr. Belt was trying to convey wasn't a bad one.

You see, AB has taken to looking deep into the flaws of the mage specs (if you can call them that, since I consider the entire class flawed), and it got me to thinking. As glorious as warlocks are, as near perfect we may be, I feel that we simply deserve something a little bit more. Everything can always be improved, so why not warlocks? I see no reason not to.

Dual-target damage

For all the talk that Blizzard had previously done on lowering the importance of AoE within this expansion, this simply hasn't come to pass. While AoE damage has been reduced across the board, AoE damage in and of itself has still remained a very strong factor in many boss encounters. More so than AoE, a system that has always existed is dual-target damage. There's a variety of encounters out there that have you attacking two and sometimes more primary targets at any given time.

Just off the top of my head, there are heroic Magmaw, Theralion and Valiona, phase 1/2 of Nefarian, phase 1/2 of Twilight Ascendant Council, and a few others. In these encounters, the ability to deal high levels of damage against two targets at the same time is rather significant, and we often see specs that are capable of doing this well accelerate to the top. Combat rogues, for example, perform spectacularly well on Halfus due to Blade Flurry.

For the most part, affliction is a rather strong spec when it comes to dealing with two or three targets. We have strong DoTs that we can keep rolling constantly on several enemies at once, but, sadly, it the power of this tactic and the level of work involved to make it function just isn't on par with a variety of other specs.

For a balance druid, shadow priest, or even a destruction warlock, it isn't difficult in the least to split damage between a scattered few targets. Their DoTs are innately stronger, especially in the case of balance, which has two DoTs that are virtually the most powerful in the game. Destruction has the ease of Bane of Havoc, which is simply ridiculous in double-target encounters.

Affliction, on the other hand, has to deal with a lot of convoluted mess in order to be on par with these specs. You cannot merely cast a second set of DoTs -- or use Soul Swap, as the case may be -- to get the ball rolling on a secondary target; it takes a lot more prep time than that. Beyond DoTs, you also need to keep Haunt and Shadow Embrace rolling on both targets for the damage to even be on par with the strength of others.

That's the primary issue that faces affliction in these situations. Prior to Cataclysm, one of the biggest challenges was always juggling the DoTs themselves on multiple targets, while Haunt and Shadow Embrace were ... important but less significant. Blizzard took great strides in making multi-DoTing far simpler with Soul Swap, but it seems a fear of affliction's prowess in having this ability has led to a rather difficult situation.

This amount of juggling isn't bad in the strictest sense of the meaning. The complication is that no other spec has to go through the same hoops in order to function in these types of encounters. A combat rogue merely toggles Blade Flurry on and he's set, nothing more required. A balance druid just keeps two DoTs rolling on the secondary target, and that's it. That's a disparity that shouldn't exist.

It would be one thing if the reward for the additional performance paid off, but juggling three DoTs, Haunt, and Shadow Embrace on two targets only nets you DPS on par with other specs in the dual targeting department. That's wrong. If Blizzard isn't going to equalize the difficulty between dual-target damage between specs, then those with far more complex rotations should have ample reward.

The easiest solution would be to finally make Shadow Embrace a stacking buff on the warlock instead of a debuff on the target. Why this hasn't happened already is mind-boggling. Shadow got Shadow Weaving as a stacking buff when it was still a talent, and it functioned exactly the same way. Why should we be any different? Would our DoTs really be that much more powerful if we didn't have to focus on keeping Shadow Embrace stacked on multiple targets during these situations? No.

Glyphing issues

When it comes to prime glyphs, affliction's choices are rather straightforward. You pick up Haunt, Bane of Agony, and then Lash of Pain. Now that we're switching back to the Felhunter over the Succubus, the last is replaced with Corruption. Overall, this isn't a huge deal; in fact, it's rather agreeable. BoA's glyph rather annoys me simply because the entire mechanics of BoA annoy me, but I suppose there isn't much that can be done about that.

Really, my major beef with affliction glyphing is Soul Swap. Yes, it's nice that we have a major glyph that's a really big deal -- several specs do -- but the general mechanic of the glyph is rather irksome. It's the double-edged sword of its existence that bothers me.

On the one hand, we are balanced around the factor of having this glyph. In any situation that it's expected that we keep DoTs rolling on multiple targets, we're expected to be using this glyph. Blizzard expects it; raiders expect it; it's just a given. Because of this, it seems silly that we should be required to have this glyph in order to make use of an ability that we're already talenting for. It's a talent; it should perform its basic function as a baseline.

Then you have the situation in which it's entirely possible that you actually do want to temporarily remove your DoTs. Encounters like heroic Magmaw, Chimearon, and Twilight Ascendant Council have pretty specific timing for when you want to push phase transitions. Having the ability to remove your DoTs when a call to stop DPS goes out can be pretty handy, so it's nice to have that ability at times.

While it seems a viable argument, I simply don't buy it. Being able to stop DPS is a key feature for any raider, and in general, a raid leader should know to account for DoT damage. No other class is capable of dropping its DoTs in this manner, so our doing so really is just a drop in the ocean. If DoTs are going to push a phase transition early, they're going to do it whether your DoTs are there or not.

If anything, the glyph should have the reverse function that it does now. Since having the ability to remove your DoTs is apparently this huge deal, then allow us to glyph for Soul Swap to provide that. It makes no sense whatsoever to have such a required glyph when the ability is virtually worthless without it. Even where the ability is supposed to shine -- trash encounters where your DoTs won't last their full duration -- having the glyph is far better than not.

It would be nice to be able to use a prime glyph for its true purpose of providing utility benefits instead of a DPS benefit. We've got a lot of great utility glyphs to choose from, but affliction simply can't. Shadow Bolt factors into DPS due to mana conservation; it's the same with Life Tap. Then you have Soul Swap, which is also a DPS glyph ... Why? They may be minor, but it's silly.

Shadow Bolt

Yes, I know, it's everyone's favorite subject. Personally, I still vote that Drain Life should be affliction's filler of choice, but that is neither here nor there. Instead, there's a different matter with Shadow Bolt that I take offense to.

Shadow Bolt is a destruction spell. I understand this, but it's terrible that the only talents that we pick up for Shadow Bolt are located in the destruction tree. Particularly for leveling, this really irks me. Low-level affliction is downright terrible to play until you get high enough to fill out Bane. (This is actually a factor for demonology too, but that's a different matter entirely.)

Blizzard spent an entire beta lamenting about how it really wanted for Shadow Bolt to be affliction's filler, and yet there is absolutely no support for the spell in the affliction tree. Does it really come as a surprise that the spell that is supported by mastery and several talents ended up performing better than the spell that got kicked to the curb?

Simple fact: If you want Shadow Bolt to hold such a lauded position within the affliction spec, then why is there not talent support for it? Seriously, Blizzard, get it done.

Utility madness

Before I begin this little segment, allow me to say one quick thing: I love affliction. Affliction is my warlock spec. Numbers aside, I will always choose affliction over any other spec, given the choice. As long as affliction is viable, I will play it. I do this because the spec is amazingly fun, but it has a very significant drawback.

Affliction is an utterly pointless spec. Hear me out. Break it all down, assume for a moment that affliction, destruction, and demonology all deal the exact same DPS, so there's no pressing reason to choose one over the other. Why would you go affliction? The obvious answer: It's fun.

Now, why would you go destruction? Oh -- well, it brings Replenishment, it has better protection against magical damage, it has an instant-cast AoE stun on a short cool ... Need I go on? Destruction has things; it has pretty stuff that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like you are contributing more than mere damage to a raid. And you are!

So -- demonology, then. Okay, well, you have an AoE root, and you have one of the most powerful caster buffs in the game. Can you really ask for anything more than that? Oh yes, you also gain the benefit of being far more flexible in demon summoning should you ever have to switch for utility purposes -- a rarity, and you can save Soulburn for that ... But still.

Affliction just doesn't have anything. It brings absolutely nothing at all to the table. As far as utility goes, there's Jinx, which can be picked up by any warlock spec should it be required, and then there are two single-target slows. Useful? Perhaps, but I've honestly never heard of a single use for Curse of Exhaustion in terms of PvE raiding utility. Most things that need to be slowed need to have an AoE slow on them, and affliction just isn't going to cut it for that.

Affliction is in desperate need of utility. I know it seems that utility has been handed out like candy to anyone and everyone, but I am being entirely serious when I say that affliction literally brings nothing to the table. Slightly better uptime on Dark Intent? Gone within the next raiding tier, maybe two if we're lucky.

Better survivability? Only in AoE situations when we can have Corruption rolling on 50 different targets at a time. Outside of that, destruction is better at taking punches than we are. If we can use Drain Life, then we'd be king, but Blizzard wants Shadow Bolt.

Affliction really just needs a niche to fill. It's supposed to be the disabling/survivability tree with multiple ways to generate health and more ways to make our enemies less effective, yet we have none of this. All things being equal, affliction just isn't the proper spec to choose. Why would you? You gain absolutely nothing from it, so what's the point of equalizing DPS?

The spec doesn't have to be amazing. It doesn't have to have this huge raid DPS increase or anything. There just needs to be something there so that I can say, "Oh yeah, being affliction would totally help in this situation!" Right now, we don't have that, and it makes me sad.

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, advise you on tip-top trinkets and steer you through encounters such as Blackwing Descent and The Bastion of Twilight.

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