Minions -- can't live with them, and can't live without them. Faithful friend, loquacious lackey, silent scapegoat -- like any typical villainous class, we've got cannon fodder for our plans. It's an important step in a warlock's proper training to know about your minions and what they do so that you can steer clear of any typical villain muck-ups in the future.
Cataclysm brought improvements to the pet intelligence. Instead of full pet functionality at level 1 to confuse new players, pets act like guardians for a time, even though the pet bar still looks like it's usable by the player. For the next nine levels, the pet follows the player around, auto-casting everything and attacking whatever trouble the player gets into.
At level 10, warlocks get Control Demon, which is just a passive saying, "Congratulations! Have another 10 buttons to absentmindedly pull aggro with!"
In Patch 4.2, all pet users lost the Aggressive stance (where pets would attack any available nearby targets) and had it replaced by the Assist stance, which will attack the player's target upon start of combat. The Assist stance had the bonus of switching a pet's target if the player switched targets. Players also gained the command of Move To (a specific targeted spot) in place of Stay.
They're getting smarter
In Mists of Pandaria, all minions have the constantly regenerating focus now instead of mana. Is this a huge change? Not really, just that the pet DPS balancing will be a bit easier now without having to take into account mana regeneration rates.
There was a small change I noticed when I was out questing. Auto-cast no longer means on cooldown regardless of what's happening, but each ability can have certain criteria. A voidlord will use Void Shield when being attacked but not Shadow Bulwark until its health hits 20%. The shivarra's Mesmerize ability will target active enemies of the player, not just any old random enemy target.
It's not just the greater minions with advanced intelligence. Similar to the shivarra, the imp's magic cleanse will activate when the player is hit with a magical CC ability. Felguards will charge between enemies automatically, and voidwalkers will taunt targets off the player.
Guardian pets are picking up nerd glasses as well. The Doomguard has long been the single-target king, and the Infernal stands as the AoE terror. Previously, the doomguard has been drawn to the Baned target, and I assume that's going to continue. He would attack my targets in an assisting fashion whenever I tested him out on the beta. The Infernal, on the other hand, will be especially drawn to the area it was summoned upon, rather than relying on a debuff's presence.
Minions are support for the role at hand, and finally, they will be. Gone is pet twisting, for the pet no longer determines what kind of a DPS cooldown the warlock gets. Now, you really can do demonology with the succubus if you really want to.
The classic pets still do what they do best, so let's sum up the new Supremacy minions and their new special abilities. Each of the greater minions upgrades an ability or gains a new one through the placeholder Command Demon ability, which will transform based on which pet is out.
- The fel imp gets a HoT for the warlock at a small initial health dip.
- The voidlord can disarm enemies now. Its shield ability also absorbs all damage, not just physical damage.
- The shivarra just has a change in roleplay. Since she doesn't wield a whip, she can't literally whiplash, but it's the same AoE knockback. She also can crowd control much better than the baseline succubus.
- The observer's upgrade of spell lock damages as well as locking up spell schools. He also no longer just eats a magic buff but steals it for himself.
- The wrathguard spins the same as the felguard, but his single-target strike will reduce more healing than before.
- The upgraded guardians are the Abyssal for the Infernal and the Terrorguard for the Doomguard, and they just do more damage.
The popular demon-specific situational glyphs have been combined into one monster: Glyph of Demon Training. I'll add that the imp's firebolt cast time is definitely reduced but not below his GCD, so other pets should still be competitive for those stronger master-minion bonds. The glyph also carried over to the Supremacy pets; at least, my fel imp's fel firebolt cast was that much shorter.
They're ripe for sacrificing
I think I've grown soft over the years. I've actually come to love my felhunter like a beloved puppy. He's served me so faithfully throughout the years. I'd just hate to see him die. But warlocks are for causing pain to others, most especially those who serve under us.
The vampiric give and take of warlocks, despite Blizzard's gutting of our self-healing nature, is still there in our abusive relationship with our minions. Although I imagine the voidwalker would be the popular choice to make a sacrificial pact with, it's there for any pet choice.
Grimoire of Supremacy is the more visible talent choice due to the popularity of newer, stronger minions. To retain the feeling of choice in the talent trees, the developers will have to balance a greater minion's output with either a burst of double minions or a burst of greater master output sans minion.
The main sticking point with the Sacrifice option is getting the demon back. Sure, Grimoire of Sacrifice is a longer buff, but the first 15 seconds are a greater boost. Demon summons are still long at 5 seconds and not something we'd like to be doing mid-combat if we can help it. But Blizzard's already thought about that, for each spec has a way to get a minion back instantly. Affliction warlocks can burn a shard; demonologists have the old Rebirth method; destruction 'locks can bring back their pet with the other side of a special sacrificial ability.
I'm glad that we've come a ways from my pet depsawning as soon as I dropped off Gluth's pipe into Gluth's room. While some despawning ranges still bug me, I'm mostly OK with how pet life is. But I still want to see improvements to the pet system, particularly the artificial intelligence.
The stances -- Assist, Defensive, and Passive -- will override whatever commands -- Attack, Follow, Move To -- are given. This is seen most prominently with the Move To option. Players have reported having to set their minion to passive before the Move To command will be obeyed in combat. Result? I use Move To to get my pet out of lovely screenshots, but that's about it.
Isn't that backwards? Wouldn't you want a command to override the standard operating procedure? I know I would.
Even Assist has its flaws -- there's no control like flipping between /petattack and /petpassive macro commands. While Assist is fine for newer players who can't or don't want to micromanage their pet's every move, it's a waste of space for more advanced players. I've taken off commands and stances on my hunter since all I hit are Attack and Passive.
My biggest issue with pets is the ever-present problem with pets and vehicles. I realize that the framework has pets and vehicles as almost the same thing -- after all, your player portrait appears in the pet portrait spot whenever you're in a vehicle. This means sad things happen when you're a warlock trying to DPS on a camel. It's either get that wonderful casting while moving or keep your pet -- a DPS loss either way.
The most annoying is when I go over to MoP beta to do the awesome SI:7 quests in Jade Forest, and my vehicle bar doesn't appear the first few times I try to do the quest since I have a pet out. Or when I get out of a vehicle, my extra action bars are missing, and sometimes even my pet bar too, until I reload my UI with a console command.
Unfortunately, I do believe the vehicle-pet problem is a framework awkwardness that will go with us to WoW's grave. I can't really offer any solutions if that's just how it's got to be.
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.