Blood Pact: The problems haunting affliction

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Blood Pact: The problems haunting affliction
Blood Pact The problems haunting affliction MON
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Blood Pact for affliction, demonology, and destruction warlocks. This week, Megan O'Neill thinks that the Murphy's Law of Blood Pact is that the blues will always post when she's away from the internet for a few days. At least there's an IRL PvP tournament to save her sanity.

Mists of Pandaria beta has been a bit of an interesting ride for affliction, I think. With demonology and destruction getting almost totally reworked, affliction supposedly remained mostly the same. The only thing that was supposed to change was no more Shadow Bolt.

But we got a nerf across the class to our self-healing, Soul Shards were more integrated into the only spec that retained them, and our DoTs finally got some buffs in their damage while Haunt got nerfed in its debuff power. Haunt isn't meant to be 100%? That changes everything for us aff 'locks. But is this a good change?

Lessons learned ... or not

Matthew Rossi wrote about how "Cataclysm is where risks were taken and lessons learned." I largely agree, especially when it comes to questing and introducing players to new mechanics. The trash introduces the boss's mechanics, more explicitly so if the mechanic uses vehicles or the extra action button.

But I feel like the warlock lessons in Cataclysm were ignored. They are bandaged over in Mists but not completely solved, and some are even making worse a spec that was doing just fine.

Demonology was freed of pet twisting, but affliction received filler twisting in return. When I'm hardcasting a pet as demonology, I don't feel like I'm summoning a menacing minion. When I'm channeling Drain Soul for 4 seconds, I don't feel like I'm sucking the fragments of being from someone. I quite frankly feel like I'm wasting my time when I could be pew-pewing more.

Destruction was freed of Improved Soul Fire, and yet affliction retained Haunt in return. Haunt originally wasn't in the talent calculators back in November 2011! It was just Malefic Grasp limiting our DoT power to one target. Nightfall was a proc of a whole Malefic Grasp in one debuff effect. But then Haunt was there in the beta, with Nightfall to help out.

I especially felt like Haunt was affliction's Improved Soul Fire -- keep it up or else -- and Nightfall was affliction's version of Empowered Imp. Empowered Imp always procs when you just finished casting Soul Fire and never when you would need an instant Soul Fire, and Nightfall was following the same Murphy's Law of proccing.

You don't make a mechanic fun by playing dress up with which spec it's in. It wasn't fun all Cataclysm long, and it won't be fun in Mists.

Be careful what you wish for

Cataclysm transformed Soul Shards from an item into a unit frame resource and introduced the concept of Soulburn. Soulburn largely failed in Cataclysm. Demonology ended up using it the most due to the pet twisting, while destruction didn't get a Band-Aid for its Soulburning woes until Patch 4.3. Affliction, the most appropriately flavored spec for Soul Shards, was left with really no reason pre-4.3 to use Soulburn outside of AoE or a really small DPS boost.

In Mists of Pandaria, each warlock spec is getting its own secondary resource. Affliction is the spec that retains the Soulburn system. So we aff 'locks said to the devs, "Look. We're now the only warlock spec to use Soulburn. Now you can balance it for us without fear of screwing up the other specs. Please do this thing."

Soulburn is still there, with the instant pet summons and exploding Seeds. Soulburn expanded to curses to simulate Jinx's effect and to things like instant Fear. Eventually, the devs finally got over their love affair with the shadow DoT spec using a direct damage fire spell, and affliction dropped Soul Fire altogether.

But then all fel broke loose when they gave a Soul Shard cost to Haunt and made Nightfall proc Soul Shards. It was integrating Soul Shards into the spec, just like we asked, but balancing the mechanic between output and mechanical fun has been hard and frustrating.

Is it the DoT spec or the debuff spec?

Affliction's flavor is all about corrupting the soul, so at first, Haunt seems like a perfect fit. Well, if it were a damage over time spell, it would. Instead, Haunt is a debuff that increases our DoT damage when it's present on the target. The only problem is that the Wrath and Cataclysm Haunts are both so much of a buff to our DoTs that without it up, our DoTs are terribly weak.

Now, we've seen nerfs to Haunt and buffs to some DoTs, moving in the direction of not punishing us for not having Haunt up. Haunt is supposed to be a proc/cooldown type thing now. You can use Drain Soul in place of Malefic Grasp to save shards for more Haunt uptime in those moments that really need a burst of DPS but not necessarily all the time.

Are we finally coming back to a DoT spec now, instead of a debuff spec?


What level of uptime is Haunt being balanced around? Is 'filler twisting', where you swap in Drain soul for Malefic Grasp to get shards back above 80% target health, the intended way for Affliction to be dpsing?

Haunt is balanced around Nightfall procs. While it may currently be a small DPS upgrade (3%?) to swap Drain Soul and Malefic Grasp, the intent is that you use Drain Soul to generate shards when you need to hit a burst window or of course below 20%.

The difference between cutting-edge and casual

There's cutting edge -- the first raiders to get to heroic modes, etc. -- where more DPS, no matter how small the increase, is better. Then there's the casual side, where we'll not do certain DPS techniques because we don't feel the reward is enough for our efforts.

I've never viewed casual as "less skilled." I've viewed it as that degree of can't care enough about it for their particular situation. And that's perfectly OK; do what you've got to do to be happy with what you're doing. Forcing someone into a specific playing form of a spec isn't going to make the game suddenly more fun for them. In fact, you're more likely to make it less fun.

Ghostcrawler later elaborated on his earlier post quoted above. Filler twisting is meant for the elite warlocks, and it's only meant for certain situations. Those who want to push their DPS numbers any way they can will learn to filler twist, since it's clearly in the cards as a move to play. If it gets too easy to filler twist, the developers will nerf Drain Soul further. But, Ghostcrawler mentioned they want the elite filler twisting to happen sometimes, so Drain Soul won't end up so nerfed like Drain Life.

On the other hand, this technique of slightly higher DPS is apparently not meant for the plebs. Those who can get by without nitpicking one spell choice will be free to leave Drain Soul to execute time. The warlock class isn't meant to be wholly difficult to play anymore.

Despite the pressure to do it, filler twisting isn't meant to be a main trick in the warlock arsenal, Ghostcrawler is saying. It's meant to be the masterful trick. The warlock class is being improved in the easy-to-learn stages, but it's still supposed to have that hard to (fully) master appeal.

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 tier 13 set bonuses.
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