Sunday, August 5, 2012

Talent Choices for Warlocks: 45 and 60

We've already looked at level 15 and 30 talents and discussed the various situations where they might be useful, now it's time to move further down and look at the 45 and 60 talents. Sorry, I don't have a clever intro this time.

Tier 3 - Level 45

Where Tier 1 was themed exclusively around various methods of health regeneration, this tier is all about damage mitigation and, as such, can have some nice synergy with Tier 1. Again, there is no "wrong" choice here in most situations and what you pick will be based on your your level, group composition or the context of the fight mechanics. These talents had some really awesome flavor text early on in MoP development that has since been removed. I wish they'd kept it.

Soul Link
- Pro: Like Soul Leech, passive abilities without a duration or cooldown are always there if/when you need it.
- Cons: Like a Wrath-era tank stacking stamina, it can make you a bit of a mana sponge in some situations.
Very suboptimal when used with Grimoire of Sacrifice. Reduced pet HP makes it prone to tanking the floor.

Soul link has been redesigned a bit in Mists of Pandaria. The current version on live servers simply takes 20% (25% while glyphed) of the damage you take and passes it to your demon. Since most unavoidable damage in raids are AoE boss abilities and your pet is almost completely immune to them, the damage that you deal to them through Soul Link is easily healed up with Fel Synergy and pets generally sit at 100% HP. However, in Mists of Pandaria both damage and healing is equally shared between you and your pet.

There have been complaints that this talent is pointless if you opt for the Grimoire of Sacrifice in the level 75 tier, but I don't think that's true. A warlock with Grimoire of Sacrifice can still make use of Soul Link. In fact, I think it may even be more effective in certain situations, provided it would require precise timing to minimize some fairly unavoidable DPS loss. By summoning a pet and activating Soul Link, the Warlock could use the damage transfer to dump 50% of the damage he/she takes onto the pet and then Sacrifice it. Once the pet is sacrificed, the Warlock would go back to receiving 100% of the incoming healing and would not need to worry about the pet being half dead. It converts a passive damage reduction into a fairly strong 2 minute CD. It's very suboptimal for a variety of reasons, but not as "completely useless" as a Destro lock glyphing Haunt.

The biggest drawback to this talent that I see is the 50% reduction on your pets maximum health. I fully expect there to be situations where the transferred damage, combined with your pets reduced health pool, will kill your pet outright. There's also the possibility that this will make you more vulnerable to multi-dotting and cleaving against some arena compositions, but I haven't checked the numbers on that yet. However, for general leveling and dungeon running, this has some nice synergy with Soul Leech and will likely be the default choice for a lot of Warlocks.

Sacrificial Pact
- Pro: Very strong for phases of incoming burst damage. Short cooldown makes it readily available for use.
- Con: Requires your pet to be at maximum health to be most effective and can therefore range from "worthless" to "ridiculously strong".

It's hard to come up with a definitive value for this one because there are a lot of variables at play. The only real constant is that it sacrifices 50% of your pet's current health to give you a bubble worth 100% of their current health. Now, depending on your gear level, which pet you have and what buffs are available to you, this absorb shield can look like this:

Or it can look something like this:

The first picture is the absorb granted by your standard Imp (not the Fel Imp from Grimoire of Supremacy) while under the effect of his Blood Pact ability. The second is what you get from a Grimoire of Supremacy Voidlord, glyphed for Demon Training (the tooltip doesn't show it but it does currently affect his HP) and with Shadow Bulwark up. There's also always the chance that you could hit Sacrificial Pact while your pet is almost dead and only get an absorb worth 5-10K.

In general, assuming that you're using a DPS pet (not the Void Twins) and the pet is at mostly full health, you're likely to see an absorb somewhere in the 150-200K range. On a one minute cooldown, that's a pretty solid choice.

- Pro: Full damage immunity for 10 seconds is a ridiculously strong survival tool.
- Con: Ask a Fire Mage how many times they've died to Cauterize after it saved their life.

This is pretty much the largest "Oh Crap!" button that Warlocks have and functionally works just that way. While Soul Link and Sacrificial Pact are available often enough to be useful for soaking Hour of Twilights or generally entering into your strategy for boss mechanics, Dark Bargain's three minute cooldown makes it pretty strictly an emergency survival tool. The idea is similar to the Stay of Execution trinket that tanks had in Firelands, except that there is no hard cap to damage prevented, the cooldown is longer and the repaid damage is higher and slower.

Leveling warlocks will really only need something like this if they get themselves into trouble a lot or are trying to solo a hard hitting elite. For raiding, this one will be the most useful in those fights where you're regularly running up against a soft (or hard) enrage timer and only need a few more seconds of DPS to bring the boss down. When the tanks are dead, the Rogue has down his Evasion thing, the Frost DK has booked it across the room to taunt and the boss is walking around the room killing you all one-by-one, you'll be able to hit Dark Bargain and tank the boss for a full 10 seconds without taking a single point of damage. Chain that together with Dark Apotheosis and our new baseline defensive CD and the boss will have a significantly difficult time killing you. When the floor in the Elementium Monstrosity's room is covered in blue stuff and the healers mana pools are draining fast, when Blistering Tentacles are up and your Raid Finder group decides (again) to ignore them instead of burning them down, when Chimaeron is making his way down the threat list and picking off your raid members . . . Dark Bargain will give you the moment of glory every good Warlock craves. As the boss falls over and you're the last one standing, you can be the one to stand on his corpse, /flex . . . and die.

There will be situations when this talent will shine like a thousand suns, and others where it's not quite so useful. In a fight with constant AoE raid damage you're likely to get more mileage out of Soul Link or Sacrificial Pact, but any fight when the incoming damage just gets out of hand and your raid consistently starts to drop likes flies at the end, this one may mean the difference between a wipe and a kill.

Tier 4 - Level 60

This tier is a bit odd to me in that I don't see a common theme going on between all the options, besides maybe "general utility". In any case, there are some very intriguing options here.

Blood Fear
- Pro: Instant cast means that it cannot be interrupted, can be cast on the move and negatively impacts your damage rotation less than the normal Fear.
- Con: Just not really compelling enough to compete with other options in the tier for PvE or PvP.

While I would have found this much more interesting at the start of Cataclysm when we were all making heavy use of CC in dungeons and raids, the community backlash from that tier leads me to believe that CC in PvE is, for the most part, dead and never coming back. In light of that, I just don't see much use for an instant cast Fear. For PvP, it's mostly the same problem. An instant cast Fear would certainly be useful in an arena or battleground environment, but you'd have a hard time convincing me to take it over Unbound Will. Admittedly, I'm not particularly knowledgeable about PvP so I may be wrong.

Who knows, maybe it'll be useful in Challenge Modes where mob HP and damage is buffed over standard heroics.

Burning Rush
 - Pro: We all love more movement speed.
 - Con: The health cost is pretty minor, but may add strain to already taxed healers in raid or PvP situations.

I've fallen in love with Burning Rush on the beta, to the point of often reaching for it on live servers while running around town and doing my dailies. It's great for moving between mobs in quests, trekking around indoor areas where mounts are not allowed or running back from wipes in dungeons. It's generally just a lot of fun. The virtues of movement speed enchants have been well documented, so there's no reason to get into that here.

However, the ability is a toggle rather than a short duration boost like a Feral Druid's Dash and, if you forget to turn it off, can slowly suck your HP down to nothing. It automatically deactivates when your health gets low so it won't kill you directly, but I've pissed off more than one healer so far in the beta who couldn't figure out why I was taking so much damage. If you take this talent, I would highly recommend setting up a PowerAura to let you know when it's on so you don't forget to toggle it off.

Unbound Will
 - Pro:  An extra PvP "trinket" that doesn't share a cooldown with equipped trinkets or racial abilities.
 - Con: The health cost is not insignificant and can easily get you killed in a lot of situations.

There aren't too many situations in PvE where you'll run into a "movement impairing effect" or "effect which causes loss of control of your character", especially in the leveling game. You'll find the ocassional snare or slow from a particular mob, maybe even a raid-wide fear in a boss encounter, but off the top of my head I can only think of four instances in the last two expansions where I could have used an escape trinket in PvE. The real beauty of this in a PvE setting is the complete purge of all magic effects. Bosses don't do much in the way of CC, but they love to throw out debuffs. With all healer dispells gaining a cooldown in Mists of Pandaria, there will be times when you'll need to take care of it yourself and your Imp's Singe Magic ability won't always be available (due to range or having another pet out).

As for PvP, the initial lure of an additional trinket (especially on a one minute cooldown) was incredibly tempting, but after more thought I'm not so sure anymore. The 20% health cost is pretty staggering. I think I'd still take it in an organized PvP scenario like arenas or battlegrounds where I'm likely to have a healer nearby, but It'd be second on my cast sequence macro for escape tools, rather than first. Being able to purge all magic effects is still going to be incredibly strong. It's a hard choice and that's exactly the point.

Next time we'll finish up with the level 75 and 90 talents.

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