Many welcomes back once again, favored warlocks. If, like me, you are a studious creature of the night who probably has coffee flowing through his veins instead of anything closely resembling blood, then you know that late on Saturday night, Blizzard released some fun new information. My personal favorite CM (just don't tell the others), Zarhym, released the new set bonuses associated with the up-and-coming tier 13. While at first we cursed that Zar would have the audacity to post such a thing in the wee hours of night, let's take a look at what we're to expected for the next patch and the terrible implications that come with it.
All does not seem to be well in the house of warlocks, my friends. Both of our newest tier sets hold warning signs of terrible things to come. We'll be looking into those not-so-quiet rumblings and what they might hold for us in the next patch as we battle Deathwing himself.
The initial problems
First, I suppose the best start would be to actually show off those tier set bonuses, huh? If you haven't already caught the memo, here are the bonuses that are currently slated for our next raiding set.
I feel that we should probably start with the obvious that immediately sprang to everyone's mind the moment that this information hit the proverbial streets. Without a doubt, the two-piece bonus is miles ahead in power for demonology than either of the two specs; that much is obvious, yet it's far more than that. As it stands now, the Doomguard is already considered to be immensely powerful, perhaps even to the point of being a touch overpowered -- and here we have demonology, who already has a far too strong Doomguard as it is, getting a massive additional bonus that just puts the other specs to shame.
Make no mistake, if there are no other changes from the game that we are playing today, if you merely gained this set bonus as everything stands, then demonology would be the only warlock spec choice. Demonology and affliction are pretty much on equal footing in terms of the damage that they cause as it is now. This wouldn't just push demonology over the edge; it would fling it off a cliff in a catapult. The paradigm would become go demo or don't raid. Hell, if the Doomguard were usable in PVP at all, then demonology would be required there too.
There have been a few suggestions that not everything is as it seems. The set bonus mentions that affliction and destruction gain 15 additional seconds on their duration while demonology gains 45 sweet, sweet seconds to play with. A small number have thought that perhaps the additional demonology duration accounts for the gains from Ancient Grimoire. Sadly, that just doesn't seem to be the case at all. To start, this would still mean that demonology is gaining 10 more seconds than affliction and destruction on the duration increase -- less than before but still clearly favoring it -- and that doesn't even take into account that the two should be reversed to begin with. Demonology naturally gets a much better return off the set bonus even if it was just the cooldown reduction because it has the hardest hitting Doomguard. Compound that with also gaining more duration than the other specs, and this clearly does not bode well. Sadly, my friends, there is only one thing that this all could mean.
Good night, sweet prince
That's right, the Doomguard is going to get a hefty nerf bat beat down. Once Blizzard is done, you probably won't even recognize him anymore. It will be one of those situations in cop shows where the police all comment how they have to use dental or DNA to identify a victim because you can't tell anything at all by looking at them. It might be a tough pill to swallow, but there is no other reasonable explanation. The set bonus way too clearly boosts demonology over the other two specs; Blizzard is practically forcing itself to nerf the Doomguard.
To be fair, I don't think this is a bad thing at all. Look at that set bonus again. Doesn't it seem a little strange to you? A massive cooldown reduction coupled with a duration extension? Either of those alone would have been enough to make a solid set bonus, yet as they stand, it's nearly as powerful as the current elemental shaman two-piece bonus. Not to cause any mass panic, as there is another way of looking at it. The Doomguard has a 10-minute cooldown, which is prohibitively long, as many a warlock has complained for ages. With such a horribly long cooldown, the spell likely isn't going to be usable for every single attempt made; normally it is only capable of being used every other attempt. Reducing the cooldown might not be done for the potential damage that you might gain from it, but rather to allow the warlock the ability to take advantage of the bonus every single attempt.
That assumption does seem logical, but it still doesn't address the fact that the duration bonus alone (particularly that of demonology) is worth a huge bulk of DPS. The Doomguard is going to have to be nerfed, if not from a baseline perspective then at least for demonology directly, which may be how this all plays out. Blizzard could just directly nerf demonology's mastery scaling for the Doomguard in order to compensate for their additional duration gain. No matter what, something's going to happen.
Issues with Soulburn
Oh, Soulburn, you've been nothing but trouble. There were many warlocks that were less than thrilled to see the system overhaul that Blizzard made to this resource management this expansion. Although I don't think anyone misses having to carry around bags full of nothing but annoying pink crystals, the new soul shard system just hasn't ever really held a place, nor has the spell associated with it. Right from the offset, Soulburn has been in an identity crisis. Blizzard had said directly that it doesn't want for Soulburn to be nothing more than another DPS cooldown, something that you use on cooldown, every cooldown, just like every other button out there.
The reality is that Soulburn, because of Blizzard's fear of turning it into something it didn't want, has left it as mostly nothing. Aside from destruction, Soulburn is a rather worthless ability that really isn't even used. Demonology can take some advantage of it to do some pet swapping for Demon Soul, but most of this isn't exactly how Blizzard intended for the spell to operate. Soulburn is supposed to be a form of additional utility, a quick measure to get your pet back if it dies, an extra boost on your Healthstone, a better escape tool. In terms of damage, Soulburn just hasn't even really held any importance, which it shouldn't -- but if you give players DPS options, then they will always take them.
This set bonus does exactly what it is that Blizzard had said that it wanted to avoid doing -- it turns Soulburn into nothing more than a common DPS cooldown that is pushed every cooldown just to chase that DPS high. Players are damage junkies, and things like this are our fix. The sad thing about this is how it all plays out. Destruction really doesn't mind; they're already using Soulburn on cooldown for Improved Soul Fire anyway, so there's no change for them. Affliction really doesn't care one way or another; they have no practical use for Soulburn as it stands. Demonology, though -- demonology could suffer for this.
Demonology uses the Felhunter for single-target DPS, but the Felguard is a much better choice for using Demon Soul on. What to do? Easy. Start the encounter with the Felguard out, Demon Soul, use your cooldowns, and when all of that ends, just Soulburn your pet into a puppy. You can do this again for the next Demon Soul too if you like, burning one Soulburn to bring the Felguard back and another to return to the Felhunter. If demonology has to use Soulburn on cooldown instead of when they need it, then it might not be up for when they next might make use of it -- a minor work-around, but it's still an annoyance worth showing. Soulburn isn't made to be a direct DPS cooldown.
The problem with Soul Shards
The other glaring flaw with this set bonus is that it is the absolute weakest set bonus ever. Even if you assume an unlimited number of Soul Shards, the bonus is only average at best. It should hover around a 2% DPS increase, which is fairly close to what a two-piece set bonus is usually worth, despite this being a four-piece bonus. Still, Blizzard usually does make it a habit of alternating strong set bonuses. A strong two-piece one tier means a strong four-piece the next; it helps with transition gearing. From raw numbers, the bonus isn't that bad. Then we hit a minor detail of a snag.
Warlocks don't have unlimited Soul Shards. We have three per encounter, and if the encounter happens to have any adds, then we can refresh our supply when they die. In this raiding tier, I suppose you could argue that this isn't really too much of a problem. After all, every encounter save Baleroc has an add from which you can resupply yourself. But what if the next raid isn't like that? Certain the previous raids didn't have as many adds involved in them; what's to say the next one will? If a warlock cannot regain any of their lost Soul Shards, then this is the weakest set bonus we've ever seen.
This brings up another issue: Affliction doesn't have this issue. Affliction has no purpose or need for Soulburn. They gain no special benefits from it in anyway, so what they end up using it for is rather trivial. Affliction does have one major perk though -- they have the only method of regaining Soul Shards without killing something. Seed of Corruption can be used in conjunction with Soulburn, and when it goes off, the shard used is returned. Awesome as it may seem, this does come with something of a price.
Corruption and Seed of Corruption cannot exist on the same target, so you have to go through the whole mess of using Seed of Corruption with Soulburn, waiting for it to explode, then reapplying Corruption back onto the target. In reality it isn't all that bad, but considering Corruption is usually a spell that we spend no focus on, it gets annoying.
Either Blizzard needs to change the way warlocks regeneration soul shards in the next patch, or this set bonus cannot remain as it is.
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.