Building talents into skills
To start with, we know that many talented abilities are going to be provided to the spec as normal skills that you gain while leveling up. For affliction, you should expect this to be spells such as Soul Swap, Haunt, and the ability to Soulburn Seed of Corruption -- especially considering that only affliction will retain the ability to Soulburn at all. What's you'll probably notice is that out of all the talent points you spend in the tree currently, that list is rather small.
For other classes or specs, you might also expect certain utility talents to be baked into the class as well. I recently did a post for balance druids outlining most of these, and by and large, a majority of the current talents are something that will more than likely be retained by the class. Affliction is different, though. Many of the talents that we currently take are passive benefits that really don't translate well into skills. Talents such as Shadow Embrace, Eradication, Soul Siphon, and Nightfall don't translate in the same way that, say, a balance druid's Euphoria or Earth and Moon do.
We should expect the reset mechanics of Everlasting Affliction to transition over in some manner, possibly just being added to Drain Life and Haunt as a base effect, but the other talents don't hold the same spec definition that others do; all of them are geared toward making our DoTs higher, either directly or through a proc mechanic. These aren't talents we would see transition over.
DoT damage against multiple targets
For the length of Cataclysm, a large complaint that we've heard from affliction warlocks is how weak our DoT ticks fell overall, especially in comparison to those of other classes. The reality is that our DoTs are nearly as strong as any other out there, but they require all of our debuffs to be present in order to reach that level. Other classes usually have their power right at the start. In many ways, Pandaria is looking to fix this issue in some ways.
Multi-DoTing is a large concern for Blizzard, not just in PvE (where it has long been an issue even now), but more so in PvP, where affliction warlocks in particular have often been incredibly strong at spreading damage across multiple targets. This is why we have the debuff juggling act that we do, in order to reduce our damage against several things at once. In a setup where these debuffs simply don't exist, such limitations are much harder to enforce. Enter Malefic Grasp.
The new guard of DoT inflation
While some of us, myself included, originally thought that Malefic Grasp might be a new signature nuke geared toward demonology, Blizzard confirmed that it will be a channeled ability for affliction, currently slated to dramatically increase the tick frequency of our DoTs on the target. At first this seemed rather out of place, if not confusing, but it actually makes sense in many ways.
Blizzard wants to artificially keep affliction's DoT damage down. Although DoTs should be our primary source of damage, Blizzard doesn't want them to be so strong that tossing DoTs across every single target are the only clear damage option. Yet without the talented debuff stacking that is currently used to enforce this model, something else needed to be done -- hence, our new signature nuke is geared toward increasing DoT damage. It's less to do with making affliction unique or giving warlocks a fun new mechanic to play with (although that is a brilliant side effect) but more about keeping our absurdly high DoT damage limited to a single target instead of as many targets are present.
Utility gained and lost
What concerns me more than the nature of how our rotation is going to change in the next expansion is how our utility is going to be altered as well. Making talents more focused on utility instead of raw damage was one of Blizzard's goals for Cataclysm, and the current talent trees reflect this rather well. Although there are still far too many damage-based talents, there are still a wide number of utility options that you can choose to take (and in fact are forced into taking several along the way). The new talents coming with Pandaria further expand upon this philosophy with most of them also focusing on raw utility. Yet this does little to address the utility that we're going to be losing.
Again, to go back to balance druids, boomkin currently talent for Earth and Moon in order to get the increased magical damage debuff; in the next expansion, that talent more than likely is going to be baked into the spec as a learned ability. But warlocks have Curse of the Elements at baseline already. Instead, we talented for Jinx in order to make the curse apply in an AoE field around the target. Would a talent such as this be retained? Will we in some way have this replicated in our base abilities? Without it, we would become the only class that's unable to apply the debuff in an AoE fashion.
The future of mana regeneration
Last, there's the matter of mana regeneration. Life Tap has long been the mainstay of warlock's mana recovery, and the idea of trading health for magical power is classic warlock. This isn't a mechanic that I would like to see go away; however, having every single warlock spec with the same form of mana regeneration is a little dull. A bit of variety in the matter would be excellent.
Currently, we have this. Demonology has near-limitless mana thanks to Mana Feed; destruction has decent mana returns from Soul Leech; and affliction has a much more powerful Life Tap than the other specs. This form of identity is just as important as any other.
Are we going to keep these distinctions? Will each of our specs, in some manner, be given various new ways to regenerate mana, with Life Tap as a fall-back? Time will tell, but I hope Blizzard keeps this in consideration for the future.
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.