The pre-expansion patch is coming for the PTR, and while I'll be stuck with the MoP beta client, we all still need a post about what's changing for warlocks. There's still a strong sense of familiarity when playing in Mists of Pandaria, but things have definitely changed. It'll be nice to know what to look out for when the pre-expansion patch goes live.
I haven't come close to talking about everything yet, so here's a chance to see where I'm going or to suggest your own ideas.
Action bar space
Ever since my first character -- my warlock -- I've activated all action bars upon starting a new character. I learned from my warlock that I might need them, even if they sit off to the side or invisible until that certain niche situation when they become incredibly important. To figure out what I should be pressing, I drag anything and everything onto my action bars and move the abilities around or off as I need to.
The first thing I noticed on MoP beta was that I had space left over. I might expect this on a brand new character without many abilities, but here I was at 85 with space left over. I had this eternal feeling that I'd gone out to the movies and left the stove on at home. But now I might actually have macro space, now that I don't need to jam an entire class's abilities within constant finger reach.
What you're not supposed to be pressing in Mists of Pandaria as a warlock, you don't actually have. Bad affliction warlocks won't immolate anymore. Demonology won't need a third-party simulation software to figure out that it needs to use Shadow Bolt as filler. Even if Improved Soul Fire were still in the game, destruction wouldn't care because Soul Fire is demonology-only.
Now that we have a beta build where all the major functions of a spec actually work -- who needs in-combat resource regeneration to test boss fights, anyway? -- I can stop dallying with minor spells and situational uses, instead getting to the meat of boss spell priorities.
Talents and glyphs
I've talked about the level 90 talents before, but you won't see those until you hit max level after Mists of Pandaria releases. I'll talk about the other five talent tiers next.
The one everyone's noticed the most is tier five, the Grimoires, which is the pet talent tier. The Grimoires bring the most controversy to the table regarding Blizzard's talent philosophy of "meaningful choice." Balancing Supremacy's pet bonus with the other two is the main argument, but there's also the point that choosing Grimoire of Sacrifice solidly limits the player to Dark Bargain in tier 4.
The level 15 and level 45 tiers go together, I think -- self-healing and mitigation, respectively. Harvest Life will probably have the old problems of Drain Life, where Blizzard needs to again find the balance between the decent utility spell and the go-to AoE spell. These tiers are more likely to fluctuate based on the fight, though I imagine Soul Leech and Sacrificial Pact will remain default favorites.
The remaining two tiers go less well together, but both regard utility, with level 15 being the controversial splitting of our crowd control and level 60 being self-utility. PvPers don't like this at all, but the thought of being able to use a stun in a boss fight as affliction makes me a little happier. I started with Unbound Will in dungeons as a guard against healer inattention to dispelling, but soon the "whee!" factor of Burning Rush won me over both in and out of parties.
There are plenty of cosmetic or quality-of-life glyphs now, enough that you might want more than three minor glyph slots. Demo 'locks will notice that Hand of Gul'dan now follows its target, but if they want the old specific place on the ground back, they can glyph for it. My personal favorite is the Kilrogg glyph, which allows me to climb unclimbable surfaces better. Transmogrification junkies can stayed tuned for a post later about options to trick out your Felguard.
Unlocking demons from specializations
It pains me when I do the occasional Raid Finder and see a warlock blissfully mixing Conflagrates with Shadow Bites. I physically harm myself with a solid facepalm when they argue seriously that destruction really does use the Felhunter.
Come Mists of Pandaria, it will be jarring but technically OK for that to happen. Pets are unattaching from certain specs, leaving warlocks with either utility or cosmetic options for faithful combat companions. The Felguard is still a perk of demonology, but if you really want to fling fire alongside the shivarra, you'll be allowed to do it -- at least, until the theorycrafters show that you shouldn't.
Gear and stats
Wands are main-hand weapons now and have been buffed to compensate for stats. There was an Auto Wand ability previously, but I don't see it anymore in the spellbook. That's fine, because I wasn't a proponent of wanding as a regular deal, anyway.
Stat rating-to-percent ratios change with every new level, but now the target percents will change a little, too. Keldion is already working on the DoT haste break points for warlocks and other DPS classes (for the curious, Binkenstein is covering the healer break points). But the new hit cap will be 15% instead of 17%. The other minor notes is that spell penetration gets renamed to PvP Power. I'm not sure if PvP Power will have a hard cap like spell pen did, but I'm sure our PvP columnist Olivia Grace will tell us later.
As we get closer to release and the stat favorings become more distinct, I'll visit which factions and dungeon bosses provide the coolest gear for the various warlock specs. I've already started looking at my options with the dungeon journal.
When it comes to deciding how to gear, there are two choices a warlock has. On the one hand, warlocks can look at in-game abilities such as Dark Soul; affliction like haste, demonology likes mastery, and destruction likes crit. On the other hand, the warlock's main choice of theorycrafting software, Simulation Craft, sees a slightly different preference. Affliction and demonology have almost equalities with haste and mastery, with their expected favorites higher, while destruction has almost no clear favorite (though haste technically leads).
Who to believe? Player theorycrafters or official developers?
The big issue with SimC versus devs is whether the theoretical methods of play line up with practice. In past experience, SimC lines up pretty closely with actual player performance. Recently, Ghostcrawler commented on the SimC numbers, and warlock theorycrafter Zakalwe fiddled with SimC to see if he could match Blizzard's numbers. Replication was possible by stripping the simulation profile down to a frighteningly very basic rotation. By "very basic," I mean Core Abilities page and that's it.
The huge difference in profile setups is unsettling. Cataclysm's decline in warlocks isn't because the class doesn't have shiny spells to attract players. The decline is because there's a big difference in both play and performance between a good warlock and a new warlock, and it's not a nice, smooth learning curve. The solution isn't to dumb down the rotation until it's boring; it's to make the complicated rotation still entertainly complicated but more forgiving of mistakes. The opposite of "clunky" is not actually "easy" but "fun."
Warlocks are enjoying the revamping of their class, but we don't want to just be the next flavor of the month. We don't want to be John Effing Madden, nor do we want to be mages. (We'd much rather be Madden than mages.) Perhaps some forum posters are explaining this in a whiny, less than optimal way, but it's a legitimate concern.
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.