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Blood Pact: Demonology changes in the beta

Bloody tears stream from the eyes of the hopelessly insane, huddled silently in wait and separated from reality by the voices echoing within their minds. The whispers speak their names in bidding, and the horror lies not in their sinister calling but in knowledge of a dreaded fate if a summon were to go unanswered. This is the life, and death, of enslaved demons, warlock minions, and the Blood Pact they dare not deny their masters.

The darkest of salutations, warlocks.

Monday is upon us. You know what that means, don't you? It is time to check your kill quotas for the month, browse the local newspapers for a fine selection of newborn baby announcements (aka dinner plans) and peruse the obituary section for mage funerals to attend, corpses to desecrate and mourners to cast into mage heaven (read: a Celine Dion concert, aka warlock hell) with their fallen brethren. I hear that Julia Sunstriker is going to meet a timely, explosive, bright and violent death soon. It would be a pity to miss that party, wouldn't it?

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves with images of pain and our pleasure, Mondays also mean that we have class matters to attend to. And with the incoming Cataclysm on the not-so-distant horizon, we are going to continue processing the goodness that a lucky few of us are witnessing in the beta.

Last week, we spent a great deal of energy and saliva lusting over the devilishly delicious talents placed into the affliction tree -- I am still recovering from the loss of fluids. This week, we're going to switch specs and dissect, discuss, devour and digest the key changes made for those master summoners among us, the demonology warlocks. Needless to say, there will be what some may consider spoilers ahead, so if you're the type that wants to experience every detail of the expansion as a virgin and first hand, be careful where you click. That giant "Read more" is probably something you should stay away from.

Those of you who are yearning for more, you may want to grab some food and drink for sustenance and have a mop and bucket ready for easy cleanup, because this is going to get nasty -- in a good kind of way, of course.

Ready? Good. Let's press on.

A brief history

There is so much that can be said about the demonology tree, historically speaking. It was, to put it bluntly, the bastard child of the warlock class for years, performing horribly beyond reason in most if not all raid environments and compositions. To put it even more bluntly, it sucked -- harder than Haris Pilton and her outdated Portable Hole, even.

Those of you who began playing a warlock recently -- as in within the last year and a half or so (yes, that's recent in WoW chronology) -- probably have not had the pleasure of listening to healers complain about having to throw heals at your minions. We didn't have the luxury of keeping our little demons alive while damaging a raid boss like we do now with Fel Synergy, and man, did we hear about it.

And if they died? No big deal. It's not like they were providing much damage or utility anyway. In fact, it was better for a demonology warlock to kill his minion for a buff using Demonic Sacrifice than to keep it alive. The talent that was removed just after patch 3.1 for being a little ... oh what's the word ... lame weaksauce mage-like counterproductive, considering that demonologists were overly dependent upon their minions.

In PvP, things were not much better. The only thing more squishy than a mushroom was his minion, and since demonology warlocks were very dependent on their demons (am I getting that point across yet?), it made them laughably easy to kill. "Kill the pet, kill the warlock" was the word, and the saying rang very true. Eventually, warlocks received their moment and were buffed beyond OP near the eve of The Burning Crusade before being brought back down to earth, but you'll never see me admit to that. Ever.

So, where was I going before this turned into a nonsensical rant? Oh yes. Demonology's popularity. The tree has seen a great deal of change since the days of old, and Blizzard has done a good job of bringing it up to speed with the other specializations. Adding talents like Metamorphosis and Demonic Pact really boosted the tree's PvP and raid appeal. And thankfully, the upward trend looks to continue in Cataclysm.


Missing talents

Improved Healthstone Improved Healthstone was one of those "fill to get to the next tier" talents that, overall, offered very little substance per talent point spent -- a means to an end, if you will. That said, I know many PvPers who swear by the talent's added 856 points of restored life and will be sad to see it go. But considering how much better the new Healthstone scales with a character's base health (restoring 60 percent on use), I'm sure that they and the rest of us will make do without the talent just fine.

Fel Vitality As with many other "increase/reduce this stat by that amount" talents, Fel Vitality is no more. Blizzard made a point of pruning these abilities out of the trees and rolling their effects elsewhere, be it another talent, passive bonus or mastery. So while this talent is important now, it will probably not be missed much later. Other talents that received similar treatment include:
Wow. Seeing the list laid out like that really puts the compactness of the new talent trees into perspective. Quite a bit of them have been removed, and some of them were seemingly specialized talents, like Demonic Resilience and its use in PvP demonology builds, for example. But at their core, all share the principle problem that the developers want removed, and so we bid them farewell.

Fel Domination One of the more common warlock requests, just below "green fire" and "new minion skins," is one for faster and/or instant minion-summoning abilities. I recall a developer stating that summoning a demon should be a big deal for a warlock, especially in PvP, where killing a pet should mean something substantial (which is why we've seen pet scaling given a great deal of attention over the past year or so). So while we get to keep talents like Master Summoner, Fel Domination is replaced with a Soulburn effect to make quick summons feel a bit more significant and perhaps even a bit more costly. Still, considering the much shorter cooldown on Soulburn than Fel Domination, this change is a very good thing.

Master Conjuror After years of trying to find an identity for themselves, the Firestone and Spellstone are no longer a part of the warlock trade. So, with them leaves the Master Conjuror talent that buffed them. This makes complete sense, of course, but why get rid of the conjured items in the first place? Normalization between classes, maybe? That's my best guess.

New talents

Dark Arts Making an appearance in the first tier of the demonology tree is a three-point talent called Dark Arts. While new, it's really just a collection of a few older talents or partial talents from each of the three talent trees conveniently rolled into one, reducing the Imp's Firebolt spell by 0.75 seconds, increasing the attack power of the felguard's Demonic Frenzy by 3 percent and increasing the damage done by the felhunter's Shadow Bite ability by 15 percent. Each of these effects have actually been buffed a bit from their original forms (the imp's Firebolt cast time decreasing from 0.5 to 0.75 seconds, etc.). What the motivation for these changes is, is hard to tell at this point, but it may simply be to establish a baseline, since the numbers are still being tweaked heavily.

Also of note (and not surprising) is that the developers placed this combination of higher-tier talents into the first tier of the demonology tree, making it available to each specialization. Since it caters to minions currently associated with each tree, this makes complete sense. And being that it is a DPS increase, I will be surprised if this talent does not find itself in a number of raiding builds. Now, just how much of a DPS increase it will account for, we'll just have to wait and see.

Impending Doom We've talked about the sexiness of Impending Doom before when we first discussed beta specializations and talents, but the ability warrants more attention because it offers some serious DPS potential.

Found in the third tier of the demonology tree, Impending Doom does three things. First, placing all three points in the talent reduces the damage effect cooldown of Bane of Doom by 15 seconds. So instead of dealing damage every 30 seconds, Bane of Doom will tick once every 15 seconds or four times a minute, doubling the produced damage as a result. And if you're still wondering if the spent talent points would be worth it, consider the fact that each Bane of Doom tick is now capable of a critical strike, meaning that it has the potential to do four times its original damage under the influence of Impending Doom. This isn't just good, it's "I tripped, fell and landed on Katy Perry" good -- I'm sure even you ladies would agree.

By the way, it is worth mentioning that Bane of Doom is currently not affected by haste. So no matter how much of the stat you are stacking, Impending Doom is the only way to increase the number of ticks per minute. And while you may want to get your fel panties in a bunch over this, don't forget that Bane of Doom can now be cast on other players. That is probably why the spell's haste limitation exists in the first place.

Moving on.

Second, the more numerous damage ticks applied to Bane of Doom increases the potential that a demon guardian (either the Infernal or Doomguard) will be summoned. What has me thinking is whether or not this summon is on the same 10-minute cooldown as a standard summon. Could it be possible to have two guardians on the field within 10 minutes of each other? Together with Ancient Grimoire, another new talent that increases a guardian's duration for 20 seconds, this has big numbers written all over it.

Finally, Impending Doom gives our Shadow Bolt, Incinerate and Hand of Gul'dan abilities a 15% chance to decrease the cooldown of Metamorphosis (Demon Form) by 6 seconds. Some awkward wording in the tooltip has me scratching my head -- I find it odd that it just doesn't say "Metamorphosis" instead of "Demon Form." Anyway, 6 seconds may not seem like a very long time, but over the course of a lengthy PvE encounter or PvP match, the saved time will add up quickly and the resulting DPS increase will become noticeable, especially when Immolation Aura is in use. In its current form, together with Nemesis (another talent that reduces the cooldown of Metamorphosis), I'm fairly convinced that this will also be one of those required talents in any demonology-based raiding spec -- it just does too much to ignore.

Hand of Gul'dan First, we received his skull. And now, we receive his hand, sort of (and do I dare ask what comes next?). To fully appreciate this talent and the history behind it, you need to take a look at the image at the top of this post. If you find yourself wondering what it's all about, you need to do a couple of things before you read on. First, read up on the warlock known as Gul'dan. I don't care if you're not into lore -- every warlock should know his story. Yeah, he's the guy whose skull you have had fantasies about and wished for dearly one expansion ago (and it's still worth getting, if only for the graphical effect alone).

Second, head over to the Altar of Damnation in Shadowmoon Valley and watch the vision that occurs there -- the result of which is the mountain you'll see before you, known as the Hand of Gul'dan.

Back? Good.

So, the Hand of Gul'dan spell -- I need to clarify what the talent actually does since I wasn't as clear as possible the last time I posted about it. It is a 3-second cast hybrid spell (on a 12-second cooldown) that applies direct damage to the enemy target while immediately dropping an area of effect attack on the ground beneath him -- think a miniature Death and Decay. That AoE applies a damage-over-time spell to all enemy targets standing on top of it that, together with the new talent Cremation, has a 100 percent chance of refreshing Immolate.

Yes, you read that right. Demonologists will be refreshing Immolate with the Hand of Gul'dan and not that awful Fel Flame ability that affliction and destruction warlocks may be stuck with. That fact alone would be enough for me to spec into demonology. And if that weren't enough, the tree entices with even more goodness as it gets even better.

The addition of Hand of Gul'dan into the demonology rotation priority is incredibly smooth, fitting in right after the high-DPCT DoTs and refreshing Immolate to its maximum duration. That mechanic completely removes Immolate as a variable once it is cast the first time, so long as Hand of Gul'dan is given its proper casting priority.

Comparatively, Fel Flame currently requires two global cooldowns to refresh Immolate to its full duration -- a DPS loss.

In terms of damage, it's hard to tell exactly how much Hand of Gul'dan will do. With roughly 3,800 spellpower, the direct damage portion of the spell lands for about 6,700 damage. According to the values in the talent's tooltip, it should be less than that. Also, when the ability crits, it hits for over 24,000 damage! So, I think it is safe to say that some numbers still require some attention. We'll hold off on our damage analysis until things start adding up a bit better, but so far, things are looking good.

On the PvP front, Hand of Gul'dan's relatively longer cast time may weaken its effectiveness a bit, but it really comes down to how much damage the spell will produce in its final form and if any ability to lower its cast time will be introduced. Otherwise, this is where the instant cast Fel Flame could buy you a little extra Immolate time and without the risk of being interrupted. But, considering Fel Flame's low DPCT, that's a stretch.

Well, after four computer crashes and several copies lost, that will do it for the overview on current demonology changes on the beta. I must admit that for not being a huge fan of the demonology playstyle, I am incredibly impressed with the flow and workable complexity of the tree's spell priority. It reminds me just a little bit of what affliction used to be before it was nerfed in patch 3.1 -- and that is saying quite a bit, because I was a huge fan. Hopefully we'll see more of the same in upcoming patches, along with a working version of the hellishly inspired new talent, Inferno, which will allow us to cast our Hellfire ability while on the move. I'll save word on that for later, when it is actually working as intended.

In the meantime, look forward to our discussion on the changes to the destruction tree and in-depth analysis and theorycrafting to follow.

Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DoTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. For more information on the upcoming class changes, check out WoW.com's Guide to Cataclysm.

Filed under: Warlock, News items, (Warlock) Blood Pact, Cataclysm

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