I admit, destruction in Mists of Pandaria looks very cool. I've been leveling with it, and although a handful of buttons can get boring, I like the back-and-forth rhythm of Incinerates and Conflagrates. To top it off, Chaos Bolt looks totally badass, even if it still casts like slow fire.
But as I hit the level cap once more, I decided it was time to return to my roots: affliction. I've always loved the flow of affliction -- health is mana is health is mana is health.
To scare an affliction warlock, a master of fears, you can do something sneaky like spell reflect or spell stealing. Or you can just drain me of all my self-healing and expect me to continue tapping as normal -- that horrifies me just the same. I find myself fervently hoping that dried-up self-healing streams as affliction are just bugged.
Mana regeneration as a warlock
I've always held that good warlocks Life Tap responsibly. Life tapping to full mana and ending with little health left is best done out of combat only and, in Cataclysm, directly followed by Soul Harvest. Even if the healers still don't get it that the purple candy cane lines mean I'm healing myself, it's only polite to not waste their mana.
Destruction and demonology warlocks both take a demonology talent called Mana Feed that grants us mana when our demon performs its basic attack. But Life Tap is still necessary sometimes, and the same talent lets the tap help out our pets, too. Face it: Life Tap is our main mana regeneration method. Ask us not to tap, and you might as well ask the shadow priest not to Disperse or use his Shadowfiend.
Affliction is a bit weird compared to other casters when it comes to mana regeneration. We don't have a clearcasting mechanic or mana-reducing talents. We have to buff our destruction-based filler with talent points in the destruction tree, so we can't reach Mana Feed for our own rolling mana regeneration. While we regen our mana in chunks, the chunks are shorter and appropriately proportioned in both cost and reward smaller than the traditional Evocation or Innervate. The only talent that buffs our mana regeneration buffs Life Tap itself.
For affliction, sacrificing our health is our only mana regeneration method. Affliction warlocks must self-heal to manage their mana in a fight without causing additional stress on healers. So, naturally, we are and have been the caster kings of self-sustainability in the health department.
Alternating resources and regeneration
Historically, our spell mana costs have been higher per damage than other casters because of the periodic nature of Life Tap. It's almost as if we DoT ourselves, manually activating the ticks at staggered intervals. In Mists of Pandaria, the ebb and flow of mana is taking a different direction for warlocks.
Each warlock spec gets a unique secondary resource. For demonology and destruction, it's easy: Mana alternates with the secondary resource. There aren't any spells that use both resources at once, and often, abilities are spending one resource while building up or allowing the other to regenerate.
For destruction, mana will be drained by Incinerates, with Backdraft slowing down the eventuality of going OOM. While the 4-second cast of Chaos Bolt to spend a full ember sure does suck, you can't deny the full mana bar you find yourself with at the end of the green dragon's head splash. Life Tap is actually replaced with Ember Tap, reversing the resource-health trade-off.
For demonology, the goal is to get into Metamorphosis and then stay there as long as possible. While the current beta build as of writing has issues staying in demonic form (the fury cost of abilities is ridiculous), the opposite swinging of the mana and demonic fury bars from full to empty and back again is still working. It's largely the Demonic Fury cost issue that is the current problem, since a warlock often comes out of Meta before her mana has regenerated enough to cast spells to fill the demonic fury bar again.
But affliction's secondary resource isn't complementary to its mana bar. Soul shards in Cataclysm have been independent of the mana bar; that is, shards don't spend more mana, nor do they allow mana to regenerate while depleting themselves. Soul shards still remain largely independent in Mists with the pure utility Soulburns, and they are almost simultaneous with mana with the new twist on Haunt. There is no significant mana regeneration period; a warlock casts the 1.5-second Haunt and then gets right back to burning more mana on spells. The only time we pause to regen a chunk of mana is to Life Tap.
Healthstones still have a 2-minute cooldown, though thankfully they have charges now instead of having to re-conjure one mid-fight.
Haunt's health return is gone in Mists. That's a chunk gone.
Blizzard really doesn't want Drain Life to be anyone's filler. The devs have repeatedly stated before that they want Drain Life to be a situational tool, not the standard filler. The talented Harvest Life has received similar nerfs after it became apparent that the AoE Drain Life was overpowered and being used far too much. So we shouldn't depend on the green channel for too much.
Siphon Life is back in beta as a major glyph, but it's not going to save us any time soon. On live, Siphon Life has a decent chance to return a percentage of our total health off a Corruption tick. The beta glyph, however, returns health based on Corruption's damage done. The difference might seem slight in reading but becomes stupidly obvious in practice.
On live, it doesn't matter if Corruption gets partially absorbed or if the target dummy is Eternal 1 HP phase today, because Siphon Life procs when you deal damage. On beta, since the health return is based from Corruption's damage, it absolutely matters how much Corruption hits the target for, as I found out that it wasn't counting the overkill on the target dummy.
I sat in friendly Stormwind without taking any foreign damage and still managed to run both my mana and health bars down because my passive healing wasn't healing me at all off the Eternal 1 HP target dummy. How stupid is that?! Who needs floor fire when I can kill myself well enough?
My only solace is in choosing Soul Leech for the tier 1 talent, which heals me off Malefic Grasp's damage. I use Malefic Grasp often enough that it feels like I'm not about to keel over anytime I need a mana fix. But it doesn't do enough -- I still feel pretty squishable. Besides, wasn't Blizzard trying to avoid the mandatory talents and encourage choice instead?
It could very well be a bug, like the soul shard UI's disappearance a couple weeks back. Affliction was doing fine in self-sustaining, I thought, until quite recently.
It could be my crappy stats are out of balance at 89 as the rating-to-percentage ratio sharply climbs again. I was gaining stats in leaps and bounds, and I'm nearly decked out in all quest gear, yet I only have about 4% hit. With Glyph of Dark Soul, I can make it into double-digit haste percentages. It could simply be I'm still in the crap stages of gearing.
It could also be that I was testing it on a training dummy rather than in a group situation, like Ghostcrawler has asked warriors to do (#6). But honestly, let's face it, GC -- dying to a training dummy doesn't instill me with confidence to go try it where I'll be brushing up against real, unavoidable damage.
Where's the demo beta news?
I haven't forgotten about demonology. I admit, demo is the spec I play the least on live, so it's no surprise it's also the spec I've tested the least on beta.
I'm sure all the readers out there would prefer I write something more substantial than, "Being a purple demon any time I want is just so ridiculously awesome." I'm currently reading warlock threads on the beta forums while I catch up my premade lock to 89 for my own fiddling with demonology. (A second character means I don't have to mess up my destruction keybinds in order to test the third spec.)
Next week, I promise!
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.