V'Ming, a lock who spends his time between Arenas laughing ominously in AV, tanking Olm with his own minions and pondering troll fashion from Zul'Aman, is away on a hellish vacation. He won't be able to brag about 8k Shadow Bolts this week because, as Amanda noted, he's acting as a practice piñata for the WoW Insider weekend interns.
Vims is away this week, so I took the opportunity to sneak into his Warlock's sanctum and play with his toys. For this week's Blood Pact, we're going to take a look at the notorious SL/SL spec that's so popular in PvP. SL/SL stands for Soul Link / Siphon Life, the two talents which are the cornerstones of this build and define its playing style.
Let's get one thing out of the way: SL/SL is not a damage build. It has no burst and it doesn't capitalize on damage talents. It is designed for high survivability, utility, and low healer maintenance; to outlast instead of outdamage. In Level 70 Resilience-centric PvP where instagibs are virtually a thing of the past, SL/SL's endurance is a force to reckon with in Arenas and wreaks complete Havoc in Battlegrounds.
As much as Warlocks depend on Stamina, SL/SL depends on it even more. The more Stamina, the longer the Warlock stays alive. The build depends on the synergy of Soul Link, which transfers 20% of all damage taken by the Warlock to her pet, and Siphon Life, which transfers life from opponents to the caster. This talent combination goes together like panna cotta and honey. Or ham and cheese. Or whatever two things you like to eat together. It's healthy and yummy and full of warlock-y goodness. Or, as Vims would put it, wonderfully OP.
The 23/38/0 build is a cookie-cutter Arena spec with a variation of one or two points, and it works extremely well. Many attest that it is the Arena spec, and with the world's top Arena Warlocks sporting the build, it's hard to argue. The spec has pretty much everything it needs to last in an Arena battle. Coupled with high Resilience and Stamina, an SL/SL Warlock can survive long enough for her non-optimal damage to eventually wear down opponents.
From the first tier of the Demonology tree, there's Demonic Embrace which increases the Warlock's Stamina by 15% and Improved Healthstone, which is about the best consumable you can take in an Arena match. From the second and third tiers, Fel Intellect, Fel Stamina, Demonic Aegis, and then Fel Domination to get to Master Summoner. Because of Soul Link, the Warlock's pet needs to be able to take some punishment, so Fel Stamina helps. Master Summoner is important because many opponents will smartly eliminate the Warlock's pet, negating Soul Link.
Unholy Power and Master Demonologist on the fourth and sixth tiers give the pet a bit more utility, which is good since you really want it to be around for the duration of the whole match. This makes the fifth tier talent Demonic Sacrifice, absolutely useless. But Warlocks need to pick it up in order to get to Soul Link. And then on the seventh tier there's Demonic Resilience which necessarily contributes to survivability. Demonic Knowledge (is it just me or are there just too many 'demonic' talents?) is pure utility because since the pet needs to be around the whole time, anyway, the Warlock might as well get a bit of punch out of it. And of course, there's Soul Link.
From the Affliction tree, there's Improved Corruption. Because SL/SL consists greatly of tanking opponents, it entails a lot of kiting, so instant cast Corruptions are part of the menu. One point goes into Suppression, to close the gap on the 4% base resist rate of equal level PvP targets (two to get a 99% spell hit rating, although this can also be obtained through gems). On the second tier, there's Improved Life Tap, which helps a self-healing Warlock to keep on fighting indefinitely. Soul Siphon, also on the second tier, makes for a more efficient Drain Life, which really is a fun thing to have while you're Fearing an opponent and sucking the life out of them at the same time. On the third tier there's Fel Concentration, which the Warlock needs because when they're not running around, they're channeling either Drain Life or Drain Mana; and Amplify Curse, which is cool, but really more important as a pre-requisite for Curse of Exhaustion, which is a kiter's staple.
On the fourth tier, there's Grim Reach, and finally on the fifth tier there's Siphon Life and the previously mentioned Curse of Exhaustion. One point is put into Shadow Embrace because it counts as an Affliction effect, thereby contributing to Soul Siphon. It is also an additional debuff, giving more important debuffs some dispel protection. The last few points are discretionary, with some Warlocks opting for two points in Nightfall, since SL/SL will have many periodic damage effects going on at the same time. Others put points into Empowered Corruption, for more damage, and still others, particularly drain-oriented Warlocks, choose to put a point into Mana Feed.
Siphon Life receives 100% of the Warlock's spell damage coefficient, which makes it an extremely efficient and powerful spell. The idea is to keep Siphon Life applied on every target, refreshing each time it expires or is removed. The more targets with Siphon Life, the more health the Warlock regenerates, easing the strain on allied healers. Care must be taken to keep the Warlock's pet alive, as it's essential to the combo. In Arenas, that pet is usually a Felhunter, which has a relatively decent amount of health as far as Warlock pet selections go. That said, 6k still isn't much, specially against other players.
In Battlegrounds, which is much more chaotic and requires much less coordination than Arena play, an SL/SL Warlock can wreak so much havoc simply by applying Siphon Life on all her enemies -- including pets. The life gain is so massive that unmolested, a Warlock will have a tough time casting spells fast enough to use up mana, Life Tap, and get life back. Even in PvE, SL/SL is the perfect farming spec, enabling the Warlock to tag numerous mobs with Siphon Life, bringing them all together (thanks to the Voidwalker, of course), and detonating a Seed of Corruption -- or two, or three -- in their midst.
As fun as that all sounds, SL/SL is not a high damage build and given the talents outlined above, is not intended for raid or 5-man DPS. There are far superior specs that can deal damage. An SL/SL lock certainly won't be shooting out 8k Shadow Bolts. It is built for endurance, and strategies will necessarily revolve around survival. This is why SL/SL works very well in a drain team set up, wearing down opponents' mana (or even health, with Drain Life) until their options are exhausted while the Warlock still has near full health and mana. While DoTs can be dispelled, Drain Mana is harder to shake off. In fact, the SL/SL Warlock coupled with a well-managed Felhunter is a mana-user's bane. Very high Stamina and self-healing also give it a fighting chance against a Warlock's natural foils such as Rogues or Warriors.
Many players consider SL/SL to be a boring spec, which doesn't require much strategy. Some criticize its lack of burst or dispel protection for its DoTs, while others simply prefer to have more weapons in their arsenal, such as Shadowburn or Unstable Affliction. To a degree, the critics are right: SL/SL is extremely -- even mind-numbingly -- simple. But that's precisely why it works. The synergy of the two talents contributes to pretty much one goal: survivability. If a player's goal is to PvP, then SL/SL is definitely worth exploring. There is no question that a Warlock without Soul Link under its portrait is an easy and tempting target for focus fire in Arenas. Want to survive in Arenas, particularly in 2v2 and 3v3? Go SL/SL.
In a nutshell, SL/SL is one of the easiest (some would say cheesiest) ways to experience Warlock power. Beyond the basics, the spec is only strengthened further by superior kiting skills and pet micro-management. Despite not having too much offensive power, DoTs must continually be applied on opponents in order to keep the pressure on them. Force heals. Encourage mana use. Mana Drain. Outlast opponents. Profit. Is it boring? That's debatable. Under the right conditions, it is an extremely fun spec to play. Is it OP, as Vims would put it? Oh, absolutely.