The first week of raiding after the release of patch 4.3 has more or less come and gone by this point, and while raiding isn't everything, it is the primary focus on this tier. Not only do we finally get to tackle with Deathwing himself, but Blizzard also introduced the Raid Finder tool in order to bring more players into the raiding game. Another part of this patch was an effort to bring destruction's damage up to par with that of our other two specs.
While there is still much more time needed in order to tell how exactly things are going to play out, for now it is time to lay down the initial impressions that raiding within this recent patch has left in my mouth. Some are good, some are bad, but the common denominator is that, hey -- at least we aren't mages.
Destruction's new state of affairs
The boost to destruction's damage has been long in coming. While destruction had a rather decent place within the first tier of raiding this expansion, it wasn't exactly dominant. Not to put that off as a bad thing, given that a perfect world would have none of our specs so clearly better than any of the others, but it's worth mention that destruction never really held the utmost position of powerful in this expansion. It had a few key fights where it really shone, but otherwise it was merely middle of the pack.
That, my friends, is exactly where destruction has returned. The buffs that Blizzard made to the spec were not enough to pull destruction out of its rut and into a strong lead, as is often the case when Blizzard attempts such adjustments. It was merely enough to make its damage more acceptable, to the point that players shouldn't feel as though they are hindering their raid by choosing to play the spec they love.
In many ways, this is a success, and I might even argue that destruction is a better or strong choice in a select few encounters. However, there is always that one small wrench in the gears that turns the entire plan up on its head.
Demonology's steady, strong hand
Demonology has been the reigning champion of this expansion thus far, and nothing in the patch has changed that. Indeed, the encounter design of this raiding tier actually does far more to solidify demonology's dominance, more so than anything else. Demonology has always been something of an awkward spec in terms of damage, and there's an extremely good reason for it, a reason that I have been complaining about long before I even took over the mantle of Dark Lord of the warlocks. That, my flock, is Immolation Aura.
Ever since its inception, Immolation Aura has been nothing but a staggering thorn in the side of demonology balance game 'round. It's a point-blank, melee-based ability that can deal significant amounts of damage. But given that warlocks are ranged casters, fight mechanics don't always support the use of it. In fact, with fights such as Staghelm in which the boss doesn't merely target players at range but focuses on ranged-classified targets (meaning that if you, as a warlock, tried to hide in a gaggle of rogues to prevent being leapt on, it wouldn't work; he'd still pick you out), I had assumed that Blizzard was pushing toward demonology's not being able to use Immolation Aura. Oh, how wrong I was.
Nearly every single encounter in Dragon Soul practically forces the entire raid to be stacked on the boss for a vast majority of the encounter. Morchok, Yor'sahj, Hagara, Ultraxion, Spine of Deathwing, and Madness of Deathwing all either permit or enforce ranged players to stand in melee for more of the fight than not.
The saddening lack of choice
Normally this wouldn't be so much of a problem, but I feel that Ultraxion is the worst of the lot. As a former top-end raider and now a slightly more casual hard-mode raider, I am willing to say that normal Ultraxion is currently overtuned in terms of DPS requirements. If you follow my writings in Ready Check, you know that this is a rather big deal for me to say; I felt that normal Firelands was vastly undertuned even before the nerfs. Ultraxion, however, is a beast and a half, well beyond the means of most average guilds out there. He's rough -- perhaps not quite as harsh in 10-man right now, but certainly for 25-man -- and that is why I have such a huge issue with Immolation Aura and demonology.
Demonology is already out strongest spec by far in any encounter where you are capable of making use of Immolation Aura. It's beyond the best spec; it blows all the others out of the water. Now toss in an encounter with a ridiculously tight enrage timer, literally a Patchwerk fight where the entire raid is stacked in melee. Unless you're in a guild full of amazing people who can easily blow through the DPS requirements for this encounter, I just can't see anyone justifying not being demonology on this encounter.
That's wrong. That's completely counter to the entire raid design that Blizzard has been pushing for, and it's something that needs to change. It isn't going to be happening this expansion, wish all that we may, but it is coming in the next, and I send praises of relief for that.
Looking toward the future
Ultraxion isn't the only encounter where I feel being any spec other than demonology is a strong disservice to the raid, either. Spine of Deathwing is a fight that centers around nothing but the short amount of burst that your raid can pull off in a short, 25-second window. Which spec excels at that in spades? There's simply no contesting the amount of damage that demonology can do in that time frame compared to affliction and destruction.
Bad as many encounters are, things could look slightly up as we transition into hard-mode content, although given that a majority of players don't play in hard modes it isn't all that much of a comfort. Morchok in hard mode will certainly see quite a bit of destruction and affliction strength. The vastly superior survivability of destruction might allow for it to be nominally useful over demonology on Yor'sahj, but beyond that, I sadly don't see much of a case for the non-demonology warlocks.
As an affliction player myself, this is making me rather upset. The superior damage, superior burst, and heavy AoE capabilities of demonology are simply too good at this point. While numbers are certainly a part of what keeps affliction and destruction down right now, it's more the lack of a signature strength that's holding them back. Spec balance relies just as much on encounter design as it does on the numbers that drive it.
Sadly, there's little that can be done for this now. Blizzard could (though it's extremely unlikely) readjust the numbers once again, but that would be a novelty change that would only serve to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. The balance is nearly there now, it's just that every encounter we come across is playing off of demonology's strengths. Hopefully, this is something we remember come time for the next expansion.
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.