Monday, July 30, 2012

Talent Choices for Warlocks: 15 and 30

Part of the natural expansion cycle is the introduction of new spells, talents and abilities. Some seem really cool at first but end up being a considerable source of frustration for all involved. Others appear less useful initially, but become a staple of the warlock toolbox. Mists of Pandaria will be no different. In addition to the massive class overhaul affecting all three Warlock specs, we're also getting a new toy and a completely revamped talent system.

Opinions on the existing talent system vary heavily. Blizzard feels that it's an archaic "bad trap" that serves only to separate people by their Google-fu, rather than their skill as a player. While I tend to agree with Blizzard (I don't feel that plugging in a build that the guys at Elitist Jerks came up with and forgetting about it for the rest of the tier is compelling gameplay), there are those who are claiming that the removal of talent points as we know them is removing all sense of customization and individuality from the game. I disagree, but I at least see their point on this. No longer will we have one-off Fel Emberstorm builds or Dual Wield Unholy DK's. You will no longer be able to subspec into Affliction (instead of Destruction) as a Demonology Warlock if you want extra survivability for leveling or soloing. In any case, the old system is going away.

Rather than removing choice, the new talent system is intended to be all about choice. A lot of the options don't provide a clear DPS or survivability increase because they are all supposed to be strong in their own way. If all goes according to plan, then play style, preference and fight mechanics will affect your talent choice more than what is simply "best". Like the Hunter Pet revamp of Cataclysm, there will be no clear "best" anymore if the tuning is correct. Even still, one of the most common questions I see in Trade on the beta is still the same old "What is best?”

Due to the class revamp, I'm expecting to see a flood of new or unshelved warlocks at the start of the expansion. In light of that, I want to take some time to look at the different talents that we're getting and take a look at what talents are “best" for you as a leveling, raiding or PvPing Warlock as well as their pros and cons, whether you're level 12 or 86 or 90. At no point will I tell you to pick one talent over any other in all situations. Instead my hope is to provide context of when, for example, Burning Rush may be a better choice than Unbound Will and when it may not. This will be fairly in depth, so I've had to break it up into multiple posts (again) to keep it from being overwhelmingly long.

Beta is beta, subject to change, blah blah blah . . .

Tier 1 - Level 15

The level 15 tier is all about various methods of regenerating your health. Dark Regeneration gives you a sizable health return and increased healing. Soul Leech changes little from the version we have today and provides passive healing based on the damage you do. Harvest Life (which was totally my idea, by the way) is essentially an AoE drain life.

Dark Regeneration
 - Pro: A 30% health return for you and your pet and 12 seconds of increased healing can be lifesaving when things get out of hand.
 - Con: On a two-minute cooldown, it may not always be available when you need it.

I see Dark Regen being most useful in BC or later dungeons where mobs get powerful enough to actually cause problems if they're loose. It will also be very useful for the Warlocks who like to pet tank (now that the Voidwalker is a competent tank again, this will be much more common) as a 30% heal can mean the difference between your pet living or dying if he's holding onto 4 or 5 mobs. However, if your group has a competent tank and healer or you're only pulling a single mob at a time while questing, then Dark Regen will often be overkill or unnecessary. A cooldown not used is a cooldown wasted.

From an end game perspective, Dark Regen is going to be very powerful in situations when there is a phase of significant raid damage. Think along the lines of Blistering Tentacles on Madness or Chimaeron while everyone is stacked. PvP'ers will probably get the most use out of this in Arenas where you're more likely to have a dedicated healer, due to the boost to healing received.

Soul Leech
 - Pro: Passive healing in smaller, constant amounts is generally more useful more often than a big cooldown.
 - Con: Probably won't keep you alive in an emergency.

I feel like Soul Leech is going to be the standard choice for a lot of warlocks, simply because a passive healing effect means fewer buttons to press and fewer cooldowns to track. If you're the type that only pulls one mob at a time while questing and won't be taking a lot of damage at any given point, then Soul Leech will provide more than enough passive healing to keep you on the move. The drawback is simply that, when things get out of hand because of overpulling or tank death, it's unlikely to keep you alive for very long.

For raiding, I think this is going to be the default choice on most fights as a passive heal will help your healers out on a regular basis without requiring you to monitor and time another cooldown. Constant healing works well against constant raid damage. PvP'ers will likely find this more useful in Battlegrounds where a healer is unlikely to be nearby and you need to fend for yourself for an undetermined amount of time. At the same time however, Soul Leech scales off of damage done and, against a heavily geared opponent with a lot of PVP Defense (Resilience), will actually do very little. In the end I think it will come down to player preference and gear levels.

Harvest Life
 - Pros: Substitute AoE at low levels and visually awesome.
 - Cons: Won't be nearly as useful at end game and, being an AoE, can be downright dangerous in tight spaces.

Harvest Life (again, totally my idea), is not only a nice way to pull in some healing on big pulls (solo or in dungeons), but it will also be your only AoE ability at low levels as Destruction and Demonology don't see their respective abilities for a few more levels, while Affliction doesn't see Seed of Corruption until level 60. Given the AoE-zergfest that pre-Cataclysm dungeons tend to be, this one will get a lot of use from leveling Warlocks. Just be careful with this in dungeons as you have little to no control over what mobs it targets and you can easily pull multiple packs unintentionally. Unfortunately, I see it falling largely out of favor at end game by almost everyone unless there is a specific boss fight with tons of adds and a lot of AoE damage.

Outside of very specific situations, I don't see a whole lot of use for Harvest Life in raiding or PvP. It's a very flashy spell that will generally do little more than alert every enemy nearby in a BG to your presence (Kill the Warlock!). In raiding, it's generally far better to use your best AoE to get the adds down as soon as possible then it is to use a less effective AoE that brings in some self heals. That said, if your healers are having a hard time keeping people alive in a particular phase (Sons of Flame on Ragnaros) then it may be worth trying. That said, I will be forced to use Harvest Life on an AV turtle at least once just to get the screenshot.

Tier 2 - Level 30

Level 30 is where most (all?) classes are getting what is generally referred to as their "PvP talents" and Warlocks follow suit. A lot of dedicated PvE players once looked at these sort of abilities and passed them off as "worthless", but as encounters get more complicated (they are getting much more complicated), things like AoE stuns are becoming increasingly useful in a raid environment. None of these are really new and are already available to Warlocks.

Howl of Terror
 - Pro: Buys you the most time in an emergency situation, whether soloing or in PvP.
 - Cons: Fear and Horror effects break easily from damage and may not last long at all. Also very, very, very, very bad for leveling dungeons or areas with tightly packed mobs as the fleeing enemies will aggro others. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

The classic Fear Bomb, the only difference between the version we know and the iteration in Mists of Pandaria is that the instant cast is baked into the spell automatically rather than being something applied by Improved Howl of Terror. I want to say that the CD reduction from damaging attacks is also an old mechanic from a glyph or talent, but I can't find it anywhere. This will likely be the prime choice for battlegrounds and arenas. Steer clear of this while leveling through Blackrock Depths, though. The last thing you want to do is fear bomb one set of mobs and end up pulling the entire room.

Mortal Coil
 - Pro: 15% heal every 45 seconds is useful in both PvE and PvP.
 - Con: Lacks the AoE power of other options on the tier.

Basically a beefed up version of our current Death Coil, it has a shorter cooldown and heals for more. I like Mortal Coil for its use as an emergency heal, whether I'm fighting orcs in Hellfire Peninsula or oozes in Dragon Soul, but what was once barely enough to keep me alive at the start of the expansion now doesn't even force a visible change in my HP bar. Having it scale off of maximum HP in Mists of Pandaria will be a welcome change to keep the spell on my bars and used much more often.

Since bosses cannot be feared or stunned, I will personally be switching to Mortal Coil on any boss encounter that doesn't involve adds for the emergency heal. In PvP I think it will come down to preference based on whether you're dueling outside of Stormwind or in an Arena/Battleground. Leveling Warlocks will have a similar choice based strictly on preference and play style, with Mortal Coil being a good option for single mob pulls and questing.

 - Pros: An AoE stun has a lot of hidden utility for the creative user, less likely to chain aggro mobs in tight pulls.
 - Con: Less powerful as an escape tool than even a half-duration Howl of Terror.

I've had a love affair with Shadowfury since I discovered the spell at the end of Wrath. Not only is it a nice survival tool while out soloing or in PvP, but 3 seconds without tank damage in a fight like Heroic Halfus can make the difference between a wipe and a kill. Anyone who has played a tank has also learned how annoying the "get behind you" dance that mobs like to play can be while you're rounding them up, so I've found it useful to use in the first few seconds of a pull once the tank has them bunched together. Ragnoros' Sons of Flame, Magmaw's Parasites, Corrupted Bloods on Cho'Gall, Spiderlings on Beth'tilac, Rhyolith, Blood Beasts on Saurfang, etc. Almost every tier involves some sort of add that needs to be slowed, stunned, or otherwise controlled and Shadowfury has long been a wonderful tool for that. The PvP implications are also fairly obvious.

However, there will be times when Shadowfury is just plain worthless. Single target boss fights like Zon'ozz or Morchok have no need for an AoE stun, meaning that having it would serve no real purpose in that encounter. While fighting against melee in PvP, you'll want as many escapes as you can get your hands on, which means that Howl and Mortal Coil will be superior. It all really depends on the situation and your playstyle, which is exactly the point of the new system.

Next time I'll look at the 45 and 60 talents and poke at some of the synergy between tiers.

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