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Blood Pact: Total destruction

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.

Getting some higher-grade medication than what I've been previously taking has seriously paid off, which is a huge benefit. I may still be a little hazy, but at the very least I have focus enough to give destruction its due. Frankly, not doing so just wouldn't be justice. As much as I am a fan of affliction, destruction holds a bit of a soft spot in my heart. Something about doing what a mage thinks he can do only better must be part of it.

While affliction has certainly been a viable choice this raiding tier -- all of our specs have, actually -- destruction has really taken the popular stance. In a general sense, it has the overall highest DPS potential of all the specs, which explains why many people play as destruction. Also, it's fun! Affliction may have multiple DoT juggling and all that business, but nothing is more exciting than watching enemies just explode in bursts of fel flames. There's just something enticing about controlling the uncontrollable blaze.

For all the good it has, nothing is perfect. Even destruction has its flaws, so let's get to work at breaking them down. In case you missed the last two weeks in the series, this is where you can find our posts on affliction and demonology.

Setting our Soul (on) Fire

Ahh, probably the chief complaint that exists about destruction -- or at least the one that shows up on the forums the most. There are lots of little missteps that Soul Fire has, but honestly, the core of the spell is rather solid. Overall, it has be said straight out that Soul Fire is certainly in a far better position now than it ever has been. I mean, it at least gets used after sitting in the dust for how long? People may not like the integration it has into the rotation, but at least it is there. That is an improvement itself.

When people complain about Soul Fire, many of the complaints focus on two big aspects: Improved Soul Fire and Empowered Imp. The prior changes to Improved Soul Fire weren't received all too well within the community, and it's understandable why, but it has become a battle that frankly isn't worth fighting anymore. Like it or not, the old Improved Soul Fire probably won't be coming back, and we must learn to live within our means on the issue. It sucks, mostly for affliction and demonology, but it's what we have.

The other side of Improved Soul Fire that bothers people is essentially the buff juggling that it creates for destruction. You want Improved Soul Fire up pretty much as often as you can get it, which will usually mean hard casting a Soul Fire in order to get it. Soulburn is effective for getting the buff up when you can use it, and that's certainly a major perk, but it cannot be used every single time that the buff drops or even more than three times on certain encounters. Again, this leads back to hard casting.

The frustration of Empowered Imp

Beyond that is Empowered Imp, which also allows for instant cast Soul Fires. It's a fantastic proc -- when you can get it. The chance for it to show up though can be a little bit low, only having a 4% chance every time your Imp attacks. This frustrates many people because there's a pretty big DPS difference when you get great strings of Empowered Imp and, well, when the RNG gods hate you.

I have a much different opposition to Empowered Imp. The fact that it is only a 4% chance to proc honestly doesn't bother me; I see the talent for what it is, a minor little perk that can be nice when you get it, but nothing that's really a core talent. The issue I have, though, is that there is a major lack of imagination in the talent. Every single warlock tree has the same vein of talent -- affliction has Nightfall which is a 4% chance for an instant Shadow Bolt, while demonology has Molten Core which is a 6% chance to boost your next few Incinerates. Seeing the trend? It's 4% across the board, all of which are based on a "DoT" in some form -- a pet, honestly, is nothing but a glorified DoT, especially for destruction.

This trend even carries over to other classes as well. Shooting Stars for balance druids? 4% chance to proc an instant Starsurge. Resistance is Futile for marksman hunters is at least an 8% chance, and Lava Surge for elemental shaman is an even higher chance to proc, but the core is there. It isn't so much the chance to proc on Empowered Imp that bothers me as it is the entire concept of the talent itself.

This talent is everywhere. Couldn't Blizzard at least try and make something a little bit different? Especially when you consider that all the warlock specs have the exact same talent? I understand it helps with balancing -- but seriously, we can do better.

Aside from that, I honestly don't have the same issues with being "forced" to hard cast Soul Fire as many other warlocks seem to. It's a break in the rotation, the proverbial wrench, if you will -- a slight change that's good. No, it isn't difficult, and I can see how babysitting the buff can feel tedious, but is it honestly any different than other rotations? Especially DoT-based rotations like affliction? DoT ... buff, minor difference -- and really, it's only a difference in perspective.

Leaning on the Imp

Speaking of Empowered Imp, there's a little bit of a miff about our rather obnoxious friend (and I use that term very loosely). Destruction gets a huge portion of its damage from the Imp, far more than most other warlock specs. It is nice to think that our pets are more meaningful toward our DPS, but this is a rather hollow change from the overall gaming perspective.

At the onset of Cataclysm, Blizzard constantly reminded players that it wanted pets to matter to a player, that it wanted them to be more than just there. Yet for destruction, this hasn't really happened at all. The Imp is exactly the thing that Blizzard said it didn't want, and it's rather shocking that it didn't even pay a hint of notice towards it.

The Imp is a fire-and-forget pet that you sic out on the boss and then do nothing more with it. Sure, you may have a macro built into Incinerate or something to make sure it attacks your target, but do we honestly care about our pet beyond that?

The Imp is a huge asset in terms of damage, but it requires absolutely no player input at all. While the same can be said for a lot of pets in the game, this isn't entirely true. Using a Felguard properly, for example, takes quite a bit of finesse. There's an understandable line between bogging a player down with needing to pay too much attention to a pet and not paying any attention to a pet, yet that is exactly where we are with destruction.

We don't care about the Imp. We don't do anything about or with it; you just force it to attack, and it does. While the argument could be made that there has to be more interaction with the pet, I tend to disagree with that. There is the perfect level of interaction with pets now in that many have very specific utility abilities that need to be used tactically. That's a good thing.

When it comes to destruction, the problem is exclusively the damage. Many complaints are all about damage -- not that our damage is too low, but that certain spells that "feel" like they should really hurt a player fall a little flat.

You want something to blame for that? Look to your little companion. Balance is done through accounting for all sources of damage and altered on the broad spectrum. Specific spell balance really isn't done unless that spell itself has an issue -- and from Blizzard's perspective, that usually means dealing too much burst.

No matter how you feel about abilities like Chaos Bolt and Soul Fire, their damage is balanced around the entire rotation, not specifically how much those spells should hit for. For the players who are seeking to add more oomph into some of our special abilities, then you really need to be looking at that Imp. He's simply such a large factor of our damage that it does impact the relative power of our other abilities. Balance is done as a whole, not a single unit.

Shadowburn: Missing the point

You know, while I was leveling, I rather liked Shadowburn. It wasn't excessively useful, but there were plenty of level ranges where it held a certain use in a grinding rotation just because of how my damage compared to mob health. Plus, it was one of the few ways that you can reliably proc Soul Leech until you get Chaos Bolt.

Then, you know, I got past that part of the game and found that Shadowburn has no point at all. Like, seriously, none.

No, that's a lie. Shadowburn has a really great spot of utility in certain raid encounters where you can use it on adds to instantly replenish all of your Soulshards without wasting the time on Drain Soul. In that respect, it's an okay spell. But it's useless in every other situation, and it basically just replaces a niche that was already covered.

Figuring out what is wrong with Shadowburn really isn't difficult. The damage sucks, period. That's it. It just isn't worth casting in the least. Not that its damage has ever really been spectacular, but up until now it could actually be used at any time an wasn't an Execute-type spell. When you can only use an ability on a low-health target, you rather expect that it's because that spell is going to mess that target up -- you know, make it go BOOM and splatter into little, itty-bitty, gooey pieces. Just not the case here.

The easiest fix to this that is so obvious I cannot fathom why it hasn't been done is to shift Shadowburn to dealing shadowflame damage instead of pure shadow damage. With that minor tweak, Shadowburn suddenly benefits from Cataclysm and our mastery! Wow! That'd be, what, a 40% increase in damage, give or take?

Now, I'm not saying this alone is going to make the spell worth casting -- it is my shameful admission that I haven't been able to math out the exact damage increase Shadowburn would need to be viable -- but it would certainly be a really good start.

Dispel protection

I think I would be flogged and burned at the stake if I didn't take any time out to mention one of the major PvP flaws facing destruction (although, let's be honest here, chances are good that those things will happen to me anyway).

Dispel protection, particularly for Immolate, has been the single largest issue that has faced destruction since the game was pretty much created. We live and die by Immolate; not only does it deal significant damage itself, it also increases the damage of multiple other spells and allows for that little Conflag thing to be used. To sum it up nicely, without Immolate on a target, a destruction warlock is the Titanic -- and we've already hit the iceberg. In fact, we're already at the bottom of the ocean; there's already been a blockbuster hit made about us, and even a really, really terrible sequel. Maybe not quite sequel level yet -- but it's bad.

Any way you want to slice it, destruction really does need to have some form of protection for Immolate. I really cannot fathom arguing against why there shouldn't be dispel protection for Immolate, but clearly one has to exist since we don't have it yet. Giving to that, I'll attempt my best in trying out Blizzard logic.

Okay, warlocks are a heavy DoT- and debuff-based class. Although affliction relies almost exclusively on DoTs -- despite that Shadow Bolt makes up enough of their damage that I don't think it's fair to say that any more -- destruction is more about direct damage and burst. To an extent, warlocks have innate dispel protection simply by being warlocks.

Immolate can be protected through the use of Corruption, Bane of Agony, and a Curse of some form -- theoretically, Burning Embers, too. So, that's at least four other "junk" debuffs on the target just from the warlock alone; that should be more than enough to ensure that Immolate stays up on the target for a least long enough to get a few casts off.

Really, that's the only sound reasoning that I can think of, and the logic has more holes in it than a B-rated slasher flick. But honestly, I cannot think of any other reason why Immolate doesn't have a form of dispel protection.

You cannot argue that it is because the burst of Conflag is too high -- its damage isn't nearly what it used to be in relation to current health pools, and there are abilities that hit just as hard, if not harder, and require less setup. You cannot argue that the warlock's overall DPS would be too high, either. Although Immolate is vastly significant for us to deal any respectable level of damage, with Immolate on a target, we don't magically gain the ability to nuke people from orbit. Dishing out the pain still requires to get several casts off, which just isn't happening in today's PvP setting. Even in a perfect world where dispels didn't exist, a warlock isn't going to be able to Immolate a target and just go to town with Incinerates and Chaos Bolts flying out our ears.

I gave it a shot, but to ignore this issue just doesn't seem to have a logical reasoning.

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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