I am not comfortable making such direct comparisons between any two specs, but in this case it has become rather unavoidable. Destruction has been moving more and more toward fire, while fire has been drifting toward destruction, for a long time now. Destruction is made to be the warlock's nuking spec, but there is no way that they could completely ignore DOTs -- they are still warlocks after all. At the same time, Blizzard seems to be making fire into the mage DOT spec by adding more and more DOTs to their tool kit over time. The line between the two is getting heavily blurred, and with the oncoming expansion, I want to see that line made more defined, if not pushed far, far away.
What it means to be destruction
First things first. Even though the traditional talent system is going away, it simply isn't possible for Blizzard to get rid of certain talents. Talents such as Backdraft, Empowered Imp, and, yes, Improved Soul Fire are far too integral to the spec to merely toss out the window completely. These abilities are what give the rotation variation; they create the entire backbone of the playstyle. Yes, much may not change without Backdraft, but it's massive haste boost is a key element to the rotation as a whole.
Can you remove these talents? Of course. Any spec can be balanced around anything you want. But without the talents that we have today, every spec's rotation get's vastly less interesting. The new talents that we get are all neat, but they don't exactly have much of an impact on the way that we play. Your first four choice are all about life draining and control, which are important but don't make their way into your standard rotation. Current talents aren't like that. Some of them are flat, boring, while others may be more defensively oriented, but there are still key talents for every spec that create the essence of that spec.
What I'm meaning in saying this is that you shouldn't expect for these talents to go away entirely. We already know from the abilities preview of fury warriors that both Titan's Grip and Single Minded Fury are trainable abilities that they get at whatever level, so it is likely to assume that other specs will do the same. What then does destruction have? I've mentioned Backdraft and Improved Soul Fire, but does that really define our spec?
Redefining the undefinable
A problem that destruction is rather struggling with now is that it has no true defining talents or mechanics. Destruction has Backdraft and it has Conflag; other than that, there really isn't much else. Improved Soul Fire exists to give any purpose at all to the spell, and Empowered Imp is there to add in a measure of RNG. But none of these things really define what destruction is. Ever since The Burning Crusade, the definition of destruction has been off. While it has always been the burst warlock spec, it was also somehow changed into the fire spec as well. I feel this needs to change.
Warlocks are not the same as mages, and fire should not be so closely related to destruction as it is. To this end, I suggest we attempt to be the reverse of fire. Fire is a spec based around the factor of unstable nukes creating DOTs. I want to see destruction have such powerful, fel-infused DOTs that they empower our nukes. Fire and Brimstone essentially does this, but that's a flat, boring increase. I want it to be epic.
Destruction isn't fire, there's nothing in it that labels it's primary abilities as being related to fire. It's about destruction, chaos, ruination! Destruction should be about abusing fel magic to such a degree that it is completely unstable. Affliction is the mastery of diseases, disables, and curses that all warlocks have access to. Demonology focuses on the warlock's innate ability to control -- what else? -- demons. Destruction? Destruction should focus on the chaotic nature of the fel energies that warlock's attempt to control.
The magic of destruction should feel as though it is something that the warlock is barely able to contain or control. That they are but moments away from losing it all. Mechanically, the spec needs to be redefined in such a way that it legitimately stands apart from fire. The two are just far too similar as it stands now, and they're only looking to get more alike in the next expansion. Perhaps an alternative solution is to make destruction the buff-juggling spec. Affliction focuses on maintaining multiple debuffs on a target in order to boost and deal their damage; perhaps destruction should mirror that, relying on multiple personal buffs to boost our damage.
A different outlook
To be honest, the spec is rather close to being in such a state with the way Backdraft and Improved Soul Fire already function. Streamlining these abilities to be far better could be a good way of balancing out destruction. We had talked previously about how various parts of the game define burst and how I thought it would be best if destruction was moved to a burst model where the damage wasn't so much front-loaded as it came from multiple, excessively quick spells that were nigh impossible to interrupt. I feel that we could potentially build upon thus concept.
Improved Soul Fire is wonky, and I understand that many players don't like the mechanic. What if, however, we had a mirror of Shadow Embrace? What if instead of a stacking debuff on a mob, we gained a stacking buff on ourselves? Say, with every Conflag or Chaos Bolt cast? If done correctly, it could be fairly interesting. You could go the common, every Conflag and Chaos Bolt reduces the cast time of Soul Fire by so much, allowing for a more consistent, instant-cast use of the spell that isn't as cumbersome.
In the end, it doesn't really matter what Blizzard does just so long as it finds a way to push destruction farther away from the fire system. I'm a warlock, not a mage.
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.