How many mages did world-first guilds bring to heroic Spine again? Nobody cares.
There was no panic of praying to RNG that Metamorphosis would reset before the next lift occurred. There was no cursing that the Fiery Grip held me for 0.1s past my Will of Unbinding stacks. There was no frenetic button mashing of three different macros to make sure that all my trinkets and cooldowns went off, only to realize I had the wrong pet out.
There was just myself and my four Chaos Bolts blowing up the meters for damage done on Burning Tendons. You can talk about Power of the Aspects' rise to 35% all you want, but I doubt it was the extra 5% that flipped me from bottom-middle to the #1 spot overnight.
Shredding meters 101
Whether you knew it before or not, you'll know now that I'm an affliction warlock at heart. I've been playing the spec for all four and a half years of my warlock's life, and I'm not about to stop. In Dragon Soul, I played hard to keep my DPS high as affliction, despite what others might have said about which spec ought to be winning as predicted. My view has always been to take note of what the sims say, but ultimately play how you want. Greater skill in a spec will outdo lesser skill in slightly better gear.
Tears of joy were had as I absolutely destroyed meters in this week's raid as my one true warlock spec, most especially on the burstier fights. I didn't care whether it was my heroic gear or my months of rotational practice via the beta finally paying off. It was glorious.
The only deviation was to go destruction for heroic Spine. Heroic Spine is also all about preparing for the next plate lift, which meant I wanted four full embers as soon as possible after every plate slam or pop. My demo offspec gear is reforged for pre-5.0.4 heroic Spine with extra haste so I could reset that Metamorphosis cooldown as best as I could.
But, I was curious about the haste breakpoints for destruction in 5.0.4. According to Keldion, at level 85 the raiding breakpoints for Immolate are either next to no haste (609) or go all out on your haste reforging (3051), so I did destro in my very hasty affliction gear.
Not only was the ember generation easy between plates, I had enough haste to unload Immolate, all four Chaos Bolts, and then some more Conflagrate and Incinerates in that 20-second Tendon time.
Don't tell Matt Low this, but my guild currently has three raiding warlocks total, though some nights we'll only have two of us. I'm the adamant affliction warlock with a demonology-if-I-have-to offspec. The moonkin in disguise is destruction mostly and sometimes affliction. The third guy kicks butt at any warlock spec he does, but he's currently set to demo or afflic.
Typically, there's at least two warlock specs running at once in the raid. We rarely all pick the same spec, except by Hagara in 5.0.4, we were all affliction and it stayed that way until I deviated on Spine.
Affliction had already been a solid DPS spec in practice, if supposedly third in theory, and patch 5.0.4 seemed to amplify its success. The biggest issue reported to me with destruction was movement, which is not surprising considering how dependent on long casts destro is. Havoc's shorter duration also broke some destruction's set-and-forget tricks on Morchok and Blackhorn heroics.
Unfortunately, I didn't see demonology tried out very much, and those I asked on Twitter had also stuck to affliction or destruction for the raid week. Perhaps you readers had broader experience than I?
Talent choices per boss
All three of our warlocks used Grimoire of Sacrifice for most of the night, even the instances of destruction. You can split hairs about how the sims are using the Supremacy observer for destruction, but the Sacrifice destro lock performed great anyway.
Some people say that the pet doesn't matter for Sacrifice, since you're killing it. That's mostly true: the damage buff you get for the talent is not dependent on the pet you choose. However, you get a different Command Demon ability depending on the pet you kill, so you may want to consider that in your pet choice.
For PvE raiding, the choice was clear and quite a deviation from ye olde pets of DPS role: the voidwalker. The Command Demon ability he gives is his health-buffing Shadow Bulwark. I used it on heroic Yor'sahj when we were figuring out which new MoP healing mechanics triggered Deep Corruption. I used it again on heroic Spine if I got the nasty combination of a Grip plus pulsating Amalgamation with the healing absorb debuff.
As for the other talents, I'll leave that to a boss-by-boss basis. As my guild could have been 8/8 25H this week had the bloods on heroic Madness not bugged out, I'll talk about those heroic modes. I know that some 10H fights (Zon'ozz, Hagara) can be different in execution than 25H, but I feel confident that my choices will translate well enough to 10H, normal, and LFR modes.
I talked about general talent choices earlier, and I stuck to what I said for my default: Soul Leech, Mortal Coil, Dark Bargain, Burning Rush. I chose Mortal Coil when I didn't need the CC or when healing was rough, since an extra equivalent health potion couldn't hurt in PvE.
Yor'sahj I used Soul Leech on the beginning attempts, and then as various healing mechanics were voluntarily restricted by our healing corps so as not to accidentally blow up the raid, I switched to Dark Regeneration to help them out. Burning Rush was a big help rushing to oozes.
Zon'ozz I spent most of the kill dead, honestly, because I unsuccessfully tried to save a runaway ball with Unending Resolve. Had I used the Dark Bargain that I chose for a talent, I might have survived the ball's impact, if later died due to healer ignorance of the subsequent DoT effect. (For the record, I don't blame healers yet for me dying to no heals after Dark Bargain; it's a brand-new ability for us both.) Dark Regeneration would have been great during a black phase.
I'm very hesitant to use Unbound Will on heroic Zon'ozz; I know you can step out and dispel it on 10H, but on 25H the strat ignores dispels so as not to blow up the raid or futz with the already buggy ball steering.
Hagara Again, Dark Regeneration is a butt-saving cooldown if your heals are struggling, but I found Soul Leech did the job just fine. Burning Rush is fun if you run around in Frost phase, but my guild stands in the bubble instead. On the other hand, you could use Unbound Will to cleanse yourself if you run around in Frost phase instead of asking for a dispel from a healer.
I don't want to recommend Soul Link on Hagara. Pets are already buggy with chaining lightning and I've heard that the Supremacy pets are squishy as fel, as if the AoE avoidance passive isn't factoring in. I know that Soul Link's warlock-killing beta bug should be fixed by now. However, as a warlock who knows Blizzard's track record of having pets bug out on specific mechanics ('sup, class-specific Through a Glass, Darkly) I'm suspicious of all pet mechanics on boss encounters that could damage me.
Ultraxion If you're not taking an Hour of Twilight, you can probably blind-pick your talents and be find. If you are taking an Hour of Twilight, you will need Dark Bargain, since Unending Resolve won't be up in time for your second round. Just remember to remind your healers to heavily heal you up after Dark Bargain blocks all of the Hour damage up front.
Blackhorn The biggest post-5.0.4 difference for my guild on 25H Blackhorn was the lack of spell resistance in the fire and shadow departments, so I went the usual survival route of using my shielding and health-boosting cooldowns. The floor fire hurt more to run through and big heals on Consuming Shroud one-shot the entire raid a few times. Shadowfury was also my tier 2 choice so I could stun the Sapper.
Spine I took Shadowfury for the possibility of having to help tanks out with stunning excess bloods, but we honestly got a lot less blood spawning as we finally killed heroic Spine on our first attempt on Thursday. Dark Regen and the sacrificial voidwalker's Shadow Bulwark helped me a lot. I wish Unbound Will would get me out of a Grip, but since Every Man For Himself doesn't, I don't think Will would either.
Madness Burning Rush is great for moving around with when Nozdormu can't slow the Elementium Bolt for you. Shadowfury should help with the final phase bloods on heroic Madness, but I wasn't able to really test that since nothing was affecting them for us on Thursday.
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.