Core abilities and player choice of spec

I was writing down the frame of my Blood Pact post. Then I took a break.

Cynwise wrote another post to the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm, this time about the dysfunctional leveling process of warlocks.

And then I wrote this monster of ~4000 words (28th April).

Writer’s notes:

And then I waited a while and it sat and sat and sat and sat in Drafts, and then a beta build came along with the actual Core Abilities for the warlock and I was all “FUCK YEAH 100% ACED THAT. WHAT. WHAT. YEAH. UH HUH. WHO’S THE WARLOCK NOW. WHAT YEAH UHHHHHHHHHHHN.” /flex

And then when I was done being so badassly proud of myself, I thought, “Welp, now this post is kinda moot and dead and not really useful to publish.”

“Except…yeah, I want to keep the parts about the rotation and how I figured some of it out. And maybe the weird thing about the more blatant sharing you do the more fucked up the specs feel. And…”

“Oh now it just looks too similar to Cynwise. Fuck. I’m not that brilliant.”

“OKOKOKOKOKOKOKFIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE.”

“Just. Um. I need to edit it a little bit. Because I *know* someone will comment on how out of date this is and I want to prevent the eventual NO FUCKING SHIT LEARN TO READ POST DATES YAMORON classic Pon reaction.”

so, without further adieu:

On Cataclysm warlock leveling

It’s really true: warlock leveling is fucked up. I cringe a little inside every time someone exclaims that now they’re excited about warlocks and want to level one now or in Mists. Shouldn’t I be excited? Sure! I’m excited for when they get to endgame, because that’s where a lot of the spec and class discussion is.

But they have to get to endgame first.

See, Poneria is my original toon. My first toon. I leveled to max level first with her. I actually didn’t start an alt (Amadruada) until Patch 3.2: Call of the Crusade almost came out (August 2009), a year and a half into my WoW-playing career (February 2008 — present), which started just before Patch 2.4: Fury of the Sunwell (March 2008). Most of my WoW knowledge started with my warlock. It now ends in various modes of play and various alts, but it all starts with my warlock.

So, naturally, I enjoy the warlock class. I’ve been playing it for four years. I had a brief hiatus when I played Amadruada more than Poneria, but Pon’s been my solid Main With a Capital M since Icecrown Citadel debuted, especially after I transferred to Elune (and got flagged for same name, hence the y/i difference) in 2010. Naturally, I enjoy affliction, since I’ve been playing affliction for almost all of my warlock’s career. I’ve had various spots of a handful attempts at demonology (SL/SL soloing, Wrath BGs, Firelands raiding) and some play with destruction (more Firelands raiding, teaching old warlocks new tricks in Cataclysm). I enormously prefer affliction, then destruction, then demonology.

But, the leveling process is pretty fucked up. Cynwise notes it: it’s out of order, really. The talents don’t match what you’ve got in your toolkit at earlier levels. You can use the wrong set of abilities for a good chunk of leveling and it’s actually either more effective than your supposed core abilities or it’s because you don’t even have your core abilities until late in the game.

Would I suggest Drain Life as a filler to a raiding warlock? I might wince fondly at the distant memories of using it as a filler, but the answer is no. Is it a perfectly valid questing filler? You betcha. Do you have to use Haunt while leveling, once you get it? No, and when I do dailies, I usually don’t. I run around chain-pulling with Corruption and Bane of Agony, with some Unstable Affliction if I feel like it, and then I drain-tank whole packs down into nice piles of loot.

Affliction’s a pretty solid leveling spec, I believe. What most people get frustrated at, and which I warn of when people ask, is that it’s the DoTtiest DoT spec, so it takes forever to kill things. I advise to chain-pull as much as you feel comfortable with when leveling and questing as affliction. I’m impatient like you, so why wait for one mob to die, when in the same amount of time with a little bit extra, you can kill three, four, five mobs?

Distinguishing by flavor or by function

Back at the beginning of Mists class speculation, there was a worry that the warlock specs with their different resources would be too different, too distinct from one another, that it would be too much work to try to know and understand how to play both or all three specs in a raiding environment. The parallel to hybrids came up, that hybrids effectively have distinctly different specs and yet do just fine or even better in terms of popularity. However, I didn’t think a comparison to druids or shaman was accurate enough.

Hybrids like druids, shaman, paladins, and soon to be monks all have 3 (druids, 4) different specs, but they also have 3 (druids, 4) different roles. A melee DPS doesn’t play like a caster DPS, despite the shared holy trinity role, so you can almost consider them different roles.

  • Druids have 4 possible specs: caster DPS spec, a melee DPS spec, a tank spec, and a healer spec.
  • Shaman have 3 possible specs: a caster DPS spec, a melee DPS spec, and a healer spec.
  • Paladins have 3 possible specs: a healer spec, a tank spec, and a melee DPS spec.
  • Monks will have 3 possible specs: a tank spec, a healer spec, and a melee DPS spec.

Changing specs in a strongly hybrid class also means changing roles. I think this is easier to switch between since it completely changes the mindset. The bear’s chunks are different from the resto druid’s chunks.

My dad has a story about speaking German. He took German classes when he was younger, and still can follow German dialogue a little bit now. He preferred to follow the 2010 FIFA World Cup by listening to the German announcers through online radio/video, while I watched it on the TV with the American/European English-speaking commentators. And while he sat there with LEO up in a browser tab for reference, he can still follow most of it.

The German version of “GOOOOOOOOOAL!” is “TORRRRRRRRRRR!” though if you learned German through literature like my dad did, you probably know das Tor better as “gate” or “door” which are different if somewhat related English concepts to the modern soccer goal, I think. My dad said it made total sense, of course, when he figured it out, but it just didn’t spring easily to his mind at first hearing.

But the story happened when my dad was a grad student. He was woken up in the dead of night one time by a phone call. It wasn’t until he struggled to think of the German word for “area code” before he realized that he’d answered the phone in German, not English. It turns out that someone in Germany was trying to call someone else, but they got the area code wrong and ended up dialing my dad at o’dark thirty in the morning, who just happened to be fluent in German. Freaky, huh?

But my point is the guy started the conversation in German, so my dad’s brain, which had just woken up, started up in German immediately. It wasn’t until he had to put together a different flavor (language) of a shared concept (word) that the switch between English and German because apparent.

I think it’s the same deal with intraclass spec switching. I don’t have problems switching between bear and cat because when I’m tanking, people are expecting me to tank, and when I’m melee DPSing, the expectation is that I will melee DPS. Even when I’m catting and I shift into hero-bear to emergency tank something, my fingers just automatically switch to my tanking movements, because now I’m tanking. I’m in a different role, so I can easily do different things.

I do have problems switching between affliction and destruction, at least a little just after the switch, because both are caster DPS meant for spell damaging. My fingers keep wanting to do the affliction rotation, because that’s what I do when I’m in that mindset of flinging spells while standing at the back of the room.

The other hybrid classes to compare distinct warlock specs to are warriors, death knights, and priests which I think is a fairer if not complete comparison. Priests have a caster DPS spec, but they also have two healing specs. Warriors and death knights both have a tanking spec, but they both also have two DPS specs of the same role (melee). You start looking at the breakdown of class specs in heroic raiding, and there’s always the one DPS/healing spec over the other, much like the pure DPS classes have. It’s weird how all the same-class same-role specs have the reigning spec ranging from majority to nigh-complete representation.

Let’s see how the same-class specs of the same-role compare to each other, using GuildOx’s chart of heroic Dragon Soul raiding. (Picture because I like the colors but copypastaing takes them away.)

Using GuildOx numbers for heroic Dragon Soul.

It’s astounding to see that warlocks are the only class where the plurality spec (largest subset of all subsets) is not also the majority (subset that is half or greater of the whole set). Warlocks are also the least represented number-wise. The hybrids’ total numbers shown are skewed by eliminating the different-role spec; the true number totals are 10903 warriors, 18696 priests, and 12432 death knights.

You can argue performance and raid composition factor into these data, and they do, but they don’t serve really to support the discrepancies. Looking at RaidBots 25H Dragon Soul, holy performs better than discipline; there isn’t a gigantic gap in the performance of marksmanship hunters compared to survival; and, affliction warlocks actually receive the top average spec score of warlocks.

Finally, I asked around on Twitter about the same-class same-role specs and how much they differ from each other, ability-wise. I have alts, but I’ve only ever played a handful of specs at raiding level — all three warlock specs at one point or another, plus bear druid, cat druid, and restoration druid. I’ve dabbled a bit recently in priest healing, so I knew those were somewhat different toolkits. Mage specs are famous for each elemental flavor and appropriately flavored spells.

I knew nothing really about warriors, death knights, rogues, and hunters, so I asked about those.

A summary of what I got back as responses:

  • Death knights are different between frost and unholy, to the point where it’s annoying to some to switch between the two. Essentially, diseases are the commonality, but “the nukes & proc management are completely different.”
  • Warriors have similar abilities between the specs, but not the same abilities. Different talents in each spec define the priorities. Also something about Slamming is a hard switch between arms and fury for someone.
  • Hunters have “a similar structure but the nitty gritty way is different.” Beast mastery is about CDs; marksmanship requires attention to timing ability use; survival has to pay attention to procs and focus.
  • While rogues share some abilities like Backstab, “different combo builders and different finishers are emphasized for each rogue spec.”
  • Enhancement shaman share some abilities with elemental, namely Shock spells and Lightning Bolt.
  • Warlocks are by far “the only class that is so consistent across specs right now.” They share the same DoTs (Banes, Corruption) for significant parts of the rotations, but they also share nukes (Shadow Bolt, Incinerate, Fel Flame) and cooldowns (Soulburn, Soul Fire, Shadowflame) across one or both other specs. Affliction and demonology share a pet while demonology and destruction switch nuke priorities on each other.

So what’s the problem with warlock flavor if the function (i.e. DPS performance) is not only just fine, but the most balanced intraclass DPS it’s ever really been?

It’s confused, that’s what. Too much sharing of spells, too much cross-contamination of those chunks that a warlock needs to string together into a virtuoso performance of damage dealing. There are too many freaking homonyms across the warlock dialects. No wonder foreign players try to speak our language and end up frustrated by garbling it.

So what do we do about it?

I’ll tell you what we’re going to do about it. We’re going to start acting like the power-hungry casters we are and keep our shiny toys all to ourselves instead of sharing in class solidarity. Sharing iz 4 durids, anyway.

On shared abilities between the specs

…Specs should have a unique feel to them. They should have a core set of abilities which define them and make them feel different. The shared toolkit of Warlocks works against them here, as does the general complexity of each spec at endgame; while leveling there just isn’t a firm direction one way or another. You can dot, you can nuke, it will pretty much all work out for you in the end.

The core abilities need to be better defined to give a sense of flavor and distinction to each class. Some shared abilities are okay – they signify that you’re playing a Warlock – but too many, and you lose the feeling that your spec choice mattered at all.

Cynwise

I arrange my caster keybinds according to affliction. (My melee keybinds tend to follow my bearcat’s example.) For the other warlock specs, I have a sometimes-CD-sometimes-utility key (1), a filler-nuke key (2), an “important but short CD” key (3), DoT keys (4,5,6), a curses key (7), an AoE key (8), a self-heal key (9), cooldown keys (0, -), and an execute spell key (=).

The warlock specs all follow this pattern for me; only the tooltip numbers and icons seem to change. In Mists of Pandaria, the specs share nothing in the core rotations, at least not at endgame.

It hit me the other day when discussing the beta’s trade of Soul Fire for Chaos Bolt with Jagoex on Twitter. Jageox posited Soul Fire as a more solid destruction flavor spell than Chaos Bolt, since Chaos Bolt didn’t come until Wrath of the Lich King and still is a secondary nuke in the spec. I liked Chaos Bolt because it is green fire and I heard it used to break paladin bubbles (in Wrath beta, but never in live). I also liked Chaos Bolt since the name spoke more to me about destruction than did Soul Fire.

But we were talking about what kind of a Chaos Bolt is in the Mists beta right now (build 15650). Jagoex didn’t like the idea of the Cataclysm Chaos Bolt being the core finishing nuke for destruction, and I agree that’s not a cool idea. But it’s not the Cataclysm Chaos Bolt in there. It looks like it — the spell animation is Chaos Bolt’s green dragon-headed missile. It feels like it — though the base cast time has been bumped up to 4 seconds, it felt like it scaled better with haste than Soul Fire was doing. But if you read the tooltip, it’s the old Mists Soul Fire in Chaos Bolt clothing.

Why change the spell? I think it has to do with how difficult it is to balance the specs.

Soul Fire was being shared in two different major directions. It was the major important filler for destruction, but it was also the main execute spell of demonology. It’s also baseline, which means affliction warlocks could use it if they wanted to (or were forced to). That’s a lot of different purposes for one spell to be balanced around. Buffing Soul Fire’s scaling in destruction’s favor would mean tinkering with demonology’s bonuses to balance it out while also making sure that it doesn’t become too attractive to affliction, like the Improved Soul Fire problem before Patch 4.0.6.

With the change of Chaos Bolt where Soul Fire was in destruction, now the spell is really only for demonology execute. Sure, it’s still available to affliction warlocks, but affliction is moving in the direction of better integrated soul shards with Haunt (although, I think it’s still heavily flawed at the moment). Although we can see that Chaos Bolt is really a copy of Soul Fire’s old Mists mechanics, it’s now a distinct spell that’s only available to destruction, which means it can be balanced separately from the other two specs.

Has Mists beta done any better yet?

Warlock core abilities in Mists of Pandaria (beta)

A few days ago, MMO-Champion datamined core ability strings. The “core abilities” show up as a bottom tab on the spellbook pane, and will list 5-6 abilities and a description of what you should do with them for each spec. Right now (28th April), everyone gets a snapshot of some warrior abilities. But I decided it would be fun to guess the abilities from the datamined strings.

Edit: Obviously shit has changed from the 28th of April when I originally wrote this to its posting on the 9th of May. Don’t give me shit for the changes like a moron, please.

Of course, then it hit me that the same abilities are probably also the ones on the talent pane summaries. So I used that to double-check my sets of core abilities.

As I thought through my choices and then double-checked myself with the talent panes, I found myself disagreeing more than agreeing with the choices, mainly on why a spell was/n’t listed as a core ability.

  • WARLOCK_AFFLICTION_CORE_ABILITY_1 – Keep applied to the target.
  • WARLOCK_AFFLICTION_CORE_ABILITY_2 – Keep applied to the target.
  • WARLOCK_AFFLICTION_CORE_ABILITY_3 – Keep applied to the target.
  • WARLOCK_AFFLICTION_CORE_ABILITY_4 – Use when the above spells are applied to the target.
  • WARLOCK_AFFLICTION_CORE_ABILITY_5 – Cast to generate Soul Shards.
  • WARLOCK_AFFLICTION_CORE_ABILITY_6 – Cast when you have Soul Shards.

1-3 are obviously the DoTs: Unstable Affliction, Corruption, and Agony. 4 is Malefic Grasp because 6 is Haunt5 is Drain Soul.

The talent pane shows I’m 5 of 6 correct. The only difference is Soulburn for Haunt.

Technically, I’m wrong: you should use Soulburn when you have soul shards. But I think of “core abilities” as being the abilities I would use a lot and not applying to utility. I think of Soulburn as a two-part process, and Soulburn in my mind gets lumped into utility or solid rotational use depending on the ability it gets used with. While I imagine beginning aff’locks will need to know about Soulburn: Seed of Corruption or Soulburn: Curse, by far they would be burning soul shards on the DPS debuff Haunt, not Soulburn.

Affliction hasn’t really changed a whole lot on beta from Cataclysm. Sure, there’s new spells, but the playbook is still very predictable.

  • WARLOCK_DEMO_CORE_ABILITY_1 – Passive. Generated by your spells and demon attacks.
  • WARLOCK_DEMO_CORE_ABILITY_2 – Keep applied to the target.
  • WARLOCK_DEMO_CORE_ABILITY_3 – Keep applied to the target.
  • WARLOCK_DEMO_CORE_ABILITY_4 – Cast when you have nothing else to cast.
  • WARLOCK_DEMO_CORE_ABILITY_5 – Cast when Molten Core occurs.
  • WARLOCK_DEMO_CORE_ABILITY_6 – Transform into a demon when you have 1000 Demonic Fury.

1 is Demonic Fury2 & 3 are DoTs like Hand of Gul’dan and Doom. 6 is Meta(morphosis). 5 is Soul Fire4 is…probably Shadow Bolt.

Either I’m really bad at matching strings, the datamined string are wrong, or the talent pane summary for demonology isn’t updated. I’m 2 of 6 for it. Ouch.

I’m leaning on the talent pane isn’t updated or the strings are placeholder, because there’s no way the Molten Core string isn’t about Soul Fire. Wild Imps is a passive now, so it’s not even an “ability” that you can drag to an action bar and press a button for.

Oddly, the talent pane is what I would expect to see. The selling point of the new demonology spec so far has been the emphasis on Metamorphosis play. I expect to see lots of about demony things. Here they are, Hand of Gul’dan, Wild Imps, Demonic Leap, and Summon Felguard. But here’s the interesting thing: Ghostcrawler mentioned that Demonic Leap is meant to be fun, since the devs have backed off on demonology as a melee caster. If it’s supposed to be a cool thing for shits and giggles, why is it listed under the heavily important core abilities?

This is what I fear is the problem of demonology: the shiny fun toys are going to misguide new players as to what demo is really supposed to be about. The spec will be pitched to players about all the cool toys you can do as a purple Illidan, but then players will level and play the warlock and find out that purple Illidan is only half or less of the whole spec’s playstyle. Either the devs need to make demo live up to the shiny expectation and design a kickass Metamorphosis playstyle, or they need to present demonology as the true caster/demon hybrid it really is.

“I fear” mainly because I’m not a demonology player, for the most part. I get my kicks off with affliction and destruction, and I’ve never really had fun playing demonology, nor have I ever really cared a lot about it. This is not to say that I hate demonology — I don’t — it’s more that I’m solidly neutral about the spec with the problem of having very little experience with the spec. Therefore, I don’t feel confident in positing changes to the spec on beta, because I feel like I don’t quite have the base understanding of where it’s supposed to go and how it’s supposed to get there.

  • WARLOCK_DESTRO_CORE_ABILITY_1 – Passive. Generated by your damaging spells.
  • WARLOCK_DESTRO_CORE_ABILITY_2 – Keep applied to the target.
  • WARLOCK_DESTRO_CORE_ABILITY_3 – Cast in order to speed up the casting of Incinerate.
  • WARLOCK_DESTRO_CORE_ABILITY_4 – Cast to generate a Burning Ember.
  • WARLOCK_DESTRO_CORE_ABILITY_5 – Cast when you have a Burning Ember.
  • WARLOCK_DESTRO_CORE_ABILITY_6 – Cast when your target is below 20% health.

1 is Burning Embers2 is Immolate3 is Conflagrate, because it procs Backdraft. 4 is Incinerate, though you can also currently generate embers with Fel Flame. 5 was Soul Fire which now looks like and is called Chaos Bolt, but mechanically still functions like Soul Fire (except it appears to scale better with haste/Backdraft). 6 is Shadowburn, but it currently requires an ember.

According to the talent pane, I’m 5 of 6 again, with Shadowburn being traded for Chaotic Energy. Except I’m positive that Chaotic Energy’s relevant string isn’t there.

The FF way to generate embers is faster and I use FF almost exclusively in dungeons because Incinerate takes too long. I’ve also been using Fel Flame in place of Auto Wand, and I happily note that Auto Wand isn’t mentioned at all on the core abilities! But we have a problem here, because Fel Flame’s history and Ghotscrawler’s direct statement about the Mists demo rotation is that Fel Flame is a movement-only spell, when in reality, it’s better than most of everything else. Incinerate needs more tweaking; perhaps it should generate more tenths of an ember per hit.

At first, I thought it was stupid for Shadowburn to cost an ember.

I get why it costs an ember. Shadowburn is instant, and needs an extra restraint to keep it from being spammed sub-20% target health. Priority/Rotational restraints usually come in the forms of either cooldowns or resource cost. On live, Shadowburn has no resource cost other than mana and a 12 second cooldown. On beta, Shadowburn has no cooldown but a 1 ember cost. On both live and beta, Shadowburn can’t be spammed sub-20%. Cool beans.

You know what else costs an ember? Our friend Chaos Bolt. (Also other things like Ember Tap and Fire & Brimstone, but Chaos Bolt is the one we care about most.) Chaos Bolt always crits and hits pretty hard since it consumes a hard-earned ember. I can tell you right now that Shadowburn better hit harder sub-20% than Chaos Bolt does, or I guarantee you’ll never see it in a DPS rotation. Why? Because Chaos Bolt will be the better bang for ember buck. If Shadowburn worked like on live, with no additional resource cost but a cooldown, you’d be using both Chaos Bolt and Shadowburn in the execute-range health percentages.

But with Mists, Shadowburn is shaping up to be an execute-range change on ember spending. But it makes sense, because the other warlock specs are doing the same structure. Affliction uses Malefic Grasp primarily (*grumbles about filler-twisting*), then switches to Drain Soul at 25%. Demonology uses Shadow Bolt/Demonic Slash primarily, but will use Soul Fire when Decimation procs at 25%. Destruction, then, will use Chaos Bolt primarily until the 20% mark where it switches to Shadowburn.

Stupid long post later, how are warlocks looking, Pon?

People have been asking me this question. My answer is “still in development.”

If Mists went live right now, I’d have more than a lot of issues with it. That’s not to say that progress hasn’t been made.

The three specs are distinct from each other now. Each has its own flavor. The spells on my action bar completely change when I switch specs, and that’s a good thing. Some shared abilities like Dark Soul even change flavors when you switch specs. That’s really good for the class! Shared abilities that do the same type of thing — Dark Soul is ALWAYS a DPS cooldown no matter the spec — but do it differently based on the spec — it’s haste/mastery/crit depending on you’re aff/demo/destro — are just awesome.

But the specs are far from done. There are definitely miles to go before we sleep.

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