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Blood Pact: The new destruction in patch 4.3

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.

This is a good week to be a warlock, my friends (although I would find myself hard pressed to find a week when it isn't). While there are all the usual means for celebration, today is a particularly special one; today is the day when we move one step closer to the ultimate dream. Yes, partially the dream of Blizzard's finally waking up to its mistake and deleting the mage class, though that one still needs a bit more work -- but I'm talking about a different dream here, the dream where warlocks are free to choose whichever spec they prefer in PVE without feelings of holding back their raid.

The latest PTR build has held a number of delicious buffs for destruction, buffs that have been long past due. Will they be enough? Will warlocks be a pure class with three -- count them, three -- viable raiding specs? That's a matter still up for debate; what's worth mentioning is that Blizzard is making an effort. This week, of course, will be dedicated to that effort: what's changed, how those changes impact the spec, and what this means for destruction come 4.3. Hold on to your demons, lovelies -- things are about to get hot. Get it? Destruction ... fire ... hot. It's a funny.

  • Soul Fire now scales with 72.6% of spell power, up from 62.5%.

  • Master Demonologist now grants a base bonus of 18.4% and 2.3% per mastery, up from 16% and 2% per mastery.
  • Impending Doom is now also activated by Soul Fire.

  • Cataclysm now increases Fire damage by 30%, up from 25%.
  • Fire and Brimstone now increases the damage of Incinerate and Chaos Bolt on Immolated targets by 5/10/15%, up from 2/4/6%.
  • Burning Embers now deals damage equal to 25/50% of Soul Fire and Imp's Firebolt, up from 15/30%.
  • Buning Embers damage cap has been raised.
  • Shadowburn now deals Shadowflame damage, instead of Shadow damage.
  • Improved Soul Fire now lasts 20 sec, up from 15sec.

The changes are relatively minor to a certain degree, but there are certainly a good number of them. Instead of going off all gung-ho on them, let's take a moment to sit in quiet reflection. Done? Good, I hate doing that. Now, from the list of changes, let's see what they all happen to add up to, shall we?

Cataclysm with Fire and Brimstone

The most basic of the changes, the buffs to Cataclysm and Fire and Brimstone, are simply fantastic. To start with the first, this is a prime example of what Blizzard intended to use the specialization mechanic for when it started with Cataclysm -- minor (or sometimes major) adjustments in order to enforce spec balance. In this manner, Blizzard is able to not only isolate destruction's (or any spec's) damage, but it is also able to do so with little to no unintended consequences.

When changing other talents or spells or abilities, there is always a risk involved. You could alter the way a secondary stat scales for the spec, sometimes in a minor way and sometimes in a more extreme manner. There a chance that you can appreciate or depreciate the value of other talents or abilities. Spell priorities can be twisted. A wide variety of unintended things can happen when you go mucking about in an effort to fix things. Specialization bonuses, however, are pure, perfect, flawless. Due to their blanket nature, they can't really have the same side effects that altering another talent or ability might.

Sure, in a case like destruction, things aren't entirely simplistic. Cataclysm only increases fire damage, yet the spec utilizes a few shadow spells as well, so those spells then depreciate in relative value to the rest of the rotation. Should, say, Corruption be close to being dropped from the rotation, then a change to our specialization could force it off the prime seat that it has. This risk, however, is relatively low, and there would have to be additional underlying problems for it to occur. If something like that were to occur (and I want to be clear that it hasn't, in this case), then it wouldn't catch you by surprise. It would be long coming.

Fire and Brimstone is roughly in the same venue, although there is more of a risk involved. The talent is great in its design because of the manner in which it works. Although the talent increases the damage done by destruction's nukes, in having that increase tied into Immolate, it prevents the DOT from falling off the priority list without directly increasing its damage -- a total win-win situation. Again, not that there is any risk that Immolate would slip, by any means -- just something that always needs to be on the mind when dealing with DOTs and nukes, particularly when a spec is designed to be nuke-heavy.

Just to be clear, nothing like this changed as a result of these buffs; it's simply a possibility when adjustments are made.

Improving Soul Fire -- see what I did there?

The changes to Soul Fire are interesting. At first, there's the general buff to the spellpower scaling, which is nice for destruction -- but it's actually a bonus for the other specs as well. Until you get four pieces of T13, there's not much of a reason to use Soul Fire as the other two specs. Affliction can use it merely because there's nothing all that better to use, but once you get tier 13 then there's little reason no to use Soul Fire, regardless of the spec that you play. A 10.1% increase in spellpower scaling might not seem like that much, but it's actually a rather good change. That's should be a solid 1,000 extra damage before you apply any other modifiers such as Cataclysm to the matter. It may not be something to write home about, but it's certainly a noticeable increase in damage.

For the most part, this change feels more akin to a buff for demonology, perhaps more of Blizzard's efforts to counterbalance the nerf to Doomguard, than it does to destruction. Destruction uses Soul Fire, but only in a limited capacity. We use it with Empowered Imp and Soulburn, but the only time we actively cast the spell is when we need to refresh Improved Soul Fire on the target. Demonology, on the other hand, uses Soul Fire as its execute ability. Demonology'll get far more out of this buff than destruction will, even though it impacts both.

Burning Embers, however, is something of a double-edged sword. It's a buff, make no mistake about that, but it really isn't all that spectacular of a change, much as anything dealing with Soul Fire is. Here's the deal: Soul Fire gained an increase of just over 10% spellpower scaling, which would result in a bit more than 1,000 damage (assuming you have 10,000 spellpower, which if you don't now, you will in the next raiding tier). Burning Embers went from having a damage cap of 12.14% spellpower to a damage cap of 20% spellpower. Essentially, the damage cap on Burning Embers was raised by around 800 damage or so.

On the Imp Firebolt side of Burning Embers, that's a pretty good change. Burning Embers shouldn't ever fall off of any single target, unless nothing is able to attack that target (in which case the point is rather moot), and it deals damage every second. An additional 800 damage every second (or 800 DPS, if you prefer) is a pretty good gain. I'm not too thrilled by the fact that it was given to the Imp -- we rely a little too much on him for damage as things stand -- but it is one of the few safe ways by which destruction's damage can be increased without having any effect on our other spec's damage capabilities. It's a smart choice, if not a very popular one.

Yet adding in an additional change for Soul Fire is virtually meaningless, especially the increase in the damage percentage that is accounted for. The Imp is always going to cap out on Burning Embers; increasing the amount of damage that contributes to that does nothing more than reduces the ramp-up time on that damage ... but that too is an illusion. We're always going to open up with a Soul Fire. Soul Fire instantly hits the damage cap for Burning Embers, whether it takes 30% or 50% of that damage into account. The Imp only serves to keep that damage rolling; he doesn't actually contribute to Burning Embers damage himself. Burning Embers can take 100% of the damage into account. As long as that cap is there, then it doesn't matter.

The overall changes to Soul Fire and Burning Embers are good. Combined, the two of them should make a good 1,000 or so DPS increase to most people, possibly just from Burning Embers alone. That's not a bad deal. It isn't entirely enough, but it's a great start.

Oh look, Improved Soul Fire buff, kinda

Oh, Improved Soul Fire. I know that there are a multitude of warlocks out there who despise this talent. I frankly don't see what the fuss is even about. It's a buff to watch just like any other buff or debuff that you have to keep track of. Tracking buffs isn't exactly a new mechanic; it's just the one thing the community flails over that I will never understand. Perhaps it's all the frustration I've had to deal with when it comes to Eclipse -- and you better believe that I wanted to punch puppies at the start of Wrath due to the mechanics of that -- but Improved Soul Fire just doesn't bother me in the least. To each his own, I suppose.

The 5-second duration increase is a relatively minor change; all it does is reduce the number of Soul Fires that we have to cast during an encounter, which is fairly counterintuitive to buffing Soul Fire's damage -- but such is the mind of Blizzard. The DPS increase that results from this is pretty small, if nearly nonexistent. It is a DPS increase, again because we're casting fewer Soul Fires that have a lower DPS than our other nukes, but the rest of the changes negate a lot of that damage increase.

By increasing Soul Fire's spellpower scaling, it makes it less of a damage hit every time that you have to hard-cast Soul Fire, as well as more of a damage gain for those times when you don't have to hard-cast it. Yet we now end up hard-casting less, while the number of instant Soul Fires is only artificially increased by the four-piece bonus for T13. Until you get that bonus, you won't see any real increase in the number of Soul Fires that you cast instantly compared to hard-casting.

One thing I would say about this change is that it doesn't actually go far enough. The timing on Improved Soul Fire is not rather wonky when used in a straight DPS sequence. Soulburn has a 45-second cooldown, yet you need to refresh Improved Soul Fire at the 40-second mark. This means you either go 5 seconds without Improved Soul Fire, or you hard-cast a Soul Fire only to instant-cast it 5 seconds later. Ideally, Improved Soul Fire's duration should be increased to 25 seconds, if only to make it flow better with Soulburn.

Increasing the duration of Improved Soul Fire is a trivial thing DPS-wise. It doesn't really do anything other than perhaps remove two or three hard-cast Soul Fires from an encounter; that's a nominal DPS increase at best. Adding in another 5 seconds in order to make the rotation actually be less clunky for a change would be fantastic, and it isn't exactly going to result in some crazy, massive DPS increase.

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.

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