Drain Life nerf
I'll let you in on a little insider information -- get it, "insider," WoW Insider, it's funny -- I actually wrote that little intro when the tier bonuses first came out. You see, originally I was only going to do a writeup on those, but I felt it was just a little bit lacking, so I either wanted some more information or something else that could be added to it. I'm almost sad that I wished for it and rather love (and hate) the prophetic nature of the last statement in the opening.
There haven't been many changes for warlocks yet on the newest PTR, but the last build -- at least, the last as of this writing -- had a rather crippling effect. Drain Life's damage has been slashed by 25%. In some ways, it's an acceptable nerf. As I had said way back when, Blizzard really isn't partial to affliction's using Drain Life as a filler spell, yet that is exactly where we were heading in 4.2 with the new raiding gear. Right now, using the DL filler was already a DPS increase over Shadow Bolt; it just wasn't yet enough that it was widely popular. By the time T12 gear came out, people made the switch due to mastery and haste scaling.
As is the case with anything Blizzard doesn't like, it chose to send it straight into the ground. (That's probably why mages are so terrible -- I'm just sayin'.) The prospects of Drain Life's ever becoming the filler for affliction again are pretty low, and even if it does, I think the message that Blizzard is sending it rather clear: the developers are not going to tolerate it, and any time it crops back up, they'll simply squash it like a bad habit.
Again, I can understand this change. I do not agree with Blizzard's decision to disallow Drain Life to be the filler spell of choice for affliction, but if that is what it wants, then that is how it will design the game. I also do not agree with the side effects that this change is going to have on warlocks.
As much as players love to complain that Drain Life is a giant "Kick Me" sign in PvP, we still use it, and we use it rather frequently. It provides decent damage, it can provide additional Nightfall procs, it provides self-healing, and you can't interrupt it by moving out of LoS. Drain Life is a pretty wicked spell in PvP. Yes, you have to be cunning with its usage, and no, you don't just spam it when melee are training you -- but good warlocks do manage to get several casts off in matches.
To that end, Drain Life's damage isn't nearly as powerful in PvP as it is in PvE. The only reason that Drain Life can ever overtake Shadow Bolt in terms of damage is due to high mastery scaling. You cannot really stack that much mastery in PvP; too much of your item budget has to be spent on haste and resilience. While the more important part of the spell might be the self-healing, damage still matters, and this is a significant PvP nerf that we really shouldn't have to take.
The other problem is that Blizzard hasn't done to Drain Life what it's done to a large amount of other abilities, at least for melee, in that this damage nerf is totally across the board. Low-level affliction warlocks depend on Drain Life's damage because Shadow Bolt until you can manage to get Bane is pretty terrible. It's still higher damage, but the long cast time is really prohibative.
We know that the reason this was done was to prevent Drain Life from being affliction's filler -- Zarhym said it outright -- so why not only reduce the damage at level 80+, or even just at level 85? I can understand that it might end up being rather awkward in terms of how the damage changes while you level, but to punish low-level warlocks simply because of poor mastery design at level 85 causing unintended effects is a really bad move. Hopefully Blizzard can be convinced to at least retain Drain Life's damage at lower levels.
Tier 12 two-piece bonus
The really juicy stuff so far has been the release of newest tier bonuses. The first of the tier 12 bonus is seemingly interesting yet somewhat bland at the same time. For our first trick, we gain the ability for our DOTs to summon a Fiery Imp to attack our enemies. Sounds totally cool -- it is rather cool -- but it just turns all of our DOTs into a copy of Bane of Doom. Bane of Doom can already summon Ebony Imps when it deals damage; now all of our other DOTs can share in this joyous ability.
I would apologize for the sarcasm, but I am honestly rather unimpressed with the set bonus as it currently stands. in terms of damage, I really don't see the balance of it. The proc has an 8% chance per tick of triggering, which isn't bad when you consider that we generally have three DOTs running on a single target at any given time, and we do have a nasty habit of DOTing multiple targets when we can. This, however, is just as much a flaw as it is a brilliant balancing mechanic.
Most of the other similar set bonuses have a much higher chance to proc -- they stand around 20% -- yet all of them trigger from direct damage spells. It only makes sense that DOTs would have a lower chance to proc. By the same token, this makes the bonus feel a lot weaker on single-target encounters than on dual-target encounters when we double up on our DOT effects.
The summoned Imp isn't yet in the game files, so we can't parse how much damage they will do, but I really don't like the factor that our set bonus damage will scale depending on the type of encounter. This makes it slightly more difficult to balance around, which is a major problem that we've seen in this expansion so far.
The damage disparity between DOT specs and more direct damage-focused specs depending on encounter type is pretty bad right now. Just look at the twin dragons. Damage between specs is pretty well balanced on encounters like Chimaeron, and you see that in the damage outputs. Yet on twin dragons where ranged DOT classes can keep DOTs rolling on two targets for the entire encounter, mechanics favor us to a ridiculous degree. This set bonus is only going to improve upon that strength even more.
On a dual-target encounter such as twin dragons, we can expect roughly double the gain in damage from our two-piece bonus, which is a rather gaping flaw in balance, in my opinion. Why would increase a disparity that already exists? It may break the flavor of the class or whatever, but I would much rather the proc be changed to work off of our primary nukes and single-target abilities instead of our DOTs. I really just don't understand the point of making us even stronger at our strongest encounters.
Tier 12 four-piece bonus
Once again, I am filled with disappointment. The four-piece bonus is rather good in terms of damage output, but by the same token it is rather bland, giving our primary nukes a 5% chance to increase our shadow and fire damage by 20% for 8 seconds.
First, the obvious flaw in this proc. DOTs do not automatically adjust themselves to this type of damage increase, meaning that we would need to re-cast all of them right off the bat. In some ways, this is pretty awesome. Since DOTs don't automatically adjust themselves, getting a single proc and casting a Bane of Doom is going to have a huge damage increase for a rather long period of time. Tht's a benefit to all of our specs.
A major drawback, however, is that DOTs do recalculate their damage upon refresh, meaning that affliction gets a rather short stick in this respects due to Corruption being auto-refreshed. A major flaw exists simply in the timing. Haunt has an 8-second cooldown; the buff lasts 8 seconds ... Seeing how this can go wrong? In reality, Haunt should always come off cooldown for every proc, but depending on mechanics, it is possible that we can "miss" the buff with Corruption, or at least be forced to either recast Corruption or use Drain Life for a single tick.
Such procs can work in two different ways: They can either proc on spell completion or once the spell lands. If it is the latter, which most of them are, it is entirely possible that your Shadow Bolt won't actually land until after your Haunt has already been cast, meaning it wouldn't benefit from the proc and it won't be off cooldown before the proc ends. We also stagger Haunt just a little bit, casting it a few seconds after the cooldown, not right on cooldown, so the buff kind of forces a slightly earlier Haunt. Not terrible, but something to think about.
In all other cases, the buff works out rather well, and it's a decent-ish bonus. I feel that there should be a few additional spells that have a chance to proc it given our rotations, however. While we do focus on our primary nukes rather heavily, we also cast a lot of other spells. There's Chaos Bolt, Hand of Gul'dan, and Soul Swap, among others. (Soul Fire would be another spell, but it was thankfully added to the proc later on.)
It seems minor, but it just feels wrong. For destruction, the set bonus makes it feel a little cheap to cast Chaos Bolt. I mean, Chaos Bolt already doesn't hit all that much harder than Incinerate, but now it also wouldn't have a chance of proccing our four-piece bonus. This doesn't really change the priority of the spell, but it does weaken Chaos Bolt a little bit.
Really, Haunt should be on that list too, but given that there's already an issue with the proc, Corruption refresh, and Haunt's cooldown, adding it to the proc would be as much of a negative as it is a positive.
All in all, this is a good set bonus, but it just isn't spectacular. In comparison to some of the others out there, it just seems a bit weak. Then again, there are just as many weak bonuses this tier as their are strong ones.
I'm not saying the set bonus is bad; it could just really use an improvement, and by improvement I mean completely changing it. I prefer "fun" set bonuses -- you know, ones that do neat and interesting things, not ones that just make your rotation silly, wonky, and sometimes frustrating. I know I'm going to love refreshing UA and then getting a proc on my next Shadow Bolt ... making me refresh UA again.
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, help pick the best target for Dark Intent, and steer you through encounters such as Blackwing Descent and The Bastion of Twilight.