Which spec can I take?
When it comes to playing a warlock -- particularly a raiding warlock -- the first thing that people always ask is what spec they should play (although it is usually worded as What spec deals the highest DPS?). Despite what some detractors might say, warlocks are in a spectacular place, because they exist where skill is by and large the more important factor of damage than spec choice. While the specs are not perfectly balanced, all three are well within an acceptable margin of each other. That's fantastic. We've never seen that before in the history of WoW for any class.
I said it in a previous article and I'm saying it again now: Play the spec that is the most enjoyable to you. While the best of the best might flock to a certain spec, that is always because they need every single minor increase that they can get in order to push the edge of content. The regular player will always see a larger increase in DPS by perfecting the rotation and decreasing mistakes than by changing the rotation. Don't just take my word for it -- ask Frostheim and the hunter brigade.
That said, it's unfortunate that DPS isn't everything that a spec brings.
The matter of damage
The type of utility that each spec has is unique, generally encompassing different buffs or debuffs that can matter quite a bit in a 10-man setting but are normally covered in a 25-man setting. There is more to it than that, of course, and each spec has a widely different method of survival that makes a difference in the way you spec. Further, each spec has a different method of dealing the bulk of its damage, which can be hit or miss in certain situations.
One of the biggest things that you will notice in this raiding tier is the vast amount of adds that you'll be dealing with. Beth'tilac, Lord Rhyolith, Majordomo Staghelm, Alysrazor, and Ragnaros himself all have adds. That's five out of the seven encounters. Now, each type of add is different; they aren't all just a large wave of tiny, insignificant cretins that need to be AOEd down.
When choosing your spec, also take into consideration what you need to do within that encounter. If you need to handle the spiderlings on Beth'tilac, then it's probably best to not be affliction, while both demonology or destruction are great choices. Should you be flying on Alysrazor, then you probably don't want to be demonology, or even destruction, for that matter. Given that each spec deals its damage in a different way, some encounter mechanics will support one spec more than another. This may mean that, at times, it might be best if you switch due to your role within a fight.
Keeping yourself alive
As I have mentioned, each spec has a widely different method of survivability, which really does make a difference in certain situations. For the most part, your personal survivability isn't too much of an issue in this raiding tier. While there are still periods of heavy raid damage in which having better survivability can be beneficial, most cases are more a matter of if you mess up, you die almost without question. Even if you do manage to live, a cooldown or talent really isn't going to make the difference in that situation.
What talents can do, though, is make those periods of healing easier for your healers. Most of this is all rather basic. You know that you should be taking some of the defensive talents, regardless of which spec you are, but not all defensive talents are made equal.
Shocking as this may sound, a vast majority of the raid damage taken in Firelands is fire damage. I know, who would have thought? In most cases, this causes Nether Protection to be far more valuable than most other forms of survivability offered by other specs. Being able to reduce the damage on Flamescythe from Staghelm by 30% for 12 seconds every 30 seconds is ridiculous. Tanks would kill for that level of protection.
In most other situations, the raid damage should never be so bad as to cause survivability issues. Again, if people are dying, then it is far more likely that they somehow messed up in a way that caused them to die, and nothing could have saved them. If, however, you do find yourself in a situation in which players are dying to normal raid damage -- which can happen on Staghelm -- then seriously consider going destruction. It might be odd to consider it the survivability tree, but Nether Protection is simply that strong, and there's nothing to replace it in any other tree.
Restocking the supply
Another vast benefit of having so many add-filled encounters is that you will never want for soul shards. In fact, the only encounter which you don't have any opportunity at all to replenish your supply is Bale'roc, the only encounter this entire tier without any additional targets.
Spiderlings or Drones on Beth'tilac, Sparks or Fragments on Rhyolith, druids or ugly, bird creatures on Alysrazor, the two dogs on Shannox, Spirits of the Flame or Staghelm, and Sons of Flame on Ragnaros ... There's something in nearly every encounter that you can use to get back shards, and you really need to be doing so. Once again, I'm going to call out destruction for this. Shadowburn is a rather weak spell, but it is totally worth tossing out as one of the last hits on a dying add in order to get some shards back. If you happen to be destruction and can spare a point for it, then you might as well do so.
Sometimes you have to get a little crazy
There will be times when you might have to create your own utility -- odd, I know, but stay with me on this one. Ragnaros, as an example, has an ability called Magma Trap in his first phase. You have to detonate these traps, they can't simply be ignored. The downside of this is that whoever detonates the trap will be sent flying into the air high enough that even a rogue or druid in Cat Form is going to die from the fall damage even from full health. Normally, this would mean sending up a mage or a priest, but let's be honest -- who really wants to bring a mage along? Remember, anything a mage can do, we can do better.
Without one of the traditional methods of dealing with this mechanic, you may have to get inventive. Demonic Teleport is one such invention. Place a circle on the outside of the trap just before heading up, and then teleport right to it once you get low enough without any fear of fall damage at all. There's the DPS hit of having to constantly resummon circles, but it honestly isn't any worse than any other caster would see by using Slow Fall mechanics.
That is merely one example. Never be scared to experiment with various mechanics that might be giving your raid group trouble. How do you think we create those strategy guides to begin with? Top guilds don't have anyone else telling them how to deal with boss ability A; they just go in there and figure it out. There might be times when you simply don't have the raid composition to support the traditional strategy or you may just not have the proper players for it. Just because a strategy says to use two healers for something doesn't mean your guild will be able to pull it off. You may need a different healer; you may need different DPS. There are tons of factors.
Experimenting is half the fun of this game. Forget what people are already doing or what Blizzard expects you to do; it's doing the impossible -- and being as flashy as you can about it -- that makes up the heart of this game. Never let anyone tell you that you can't do something. There's always a way to pull it off.
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.