Warlocks have had some significant changes in 5.4. See below for details!
Tier 1: Dark Regeneration is worth considering in PVE encounters where there will be a period of very high sustained damage, such as Norushen. It will not, however, outpace Soul Leech in total damage reduction, even with Soul Leech’s nerf. Soul Leech should generally be your default. This creates a shield based on the damage you do, up to a maximum strength of 15% of your health pool. It scales with your health pool. A full 530+ geared warlock will be over 600K health with raid buffs, so that would mean you can create shields up to 90K! Very nice, still, even with the nerf (used to create shields up to 100% of your health pool, which was ridiculous.) It has its best synergy with destruction due to the fact that both Chaos Bolt and Shadowburn, two massively hard hitting spells, generate essentially capped shields when they are used. This is worth noting: Sometimes the best defense is a great offense. Harvest Life was re-worked and will work best for Affliction. This and a glyphed Drain Life will turn a warlock into a self-healing machine. It is essentially worthless for both other builds. It is also a valuable tool for demonology due to no self-harm compared to hellfire, the same fury generation, and of course its healing component on a very mana-whorish spec. But for any boss encounter, you will be VERY hard pressed to overcome the benefits of Soul Leech, even as affliction in most cases.
Tier 2: This tier was re-worked, as Howl of Terror became baseline. Very nice. Demonic Breath is trash though. You essentially pick between Mortal Coil or Shadowfury. Shadowfury brings more utility overall to the raid. Mortal Coil is an emergency self-heal. So far, Shadowfury has proven very valuable in Siege.
Tier 3: This tier became interesting. Dark Bargain is a very strong defensive CD on a very long CD. Sacrificial Pact is a strong defensive CD on a 1 minute timer. Soul Link provides sustained damage reduction. This is largely a personal choice and should be swapped based upon encounter. Personally, I’m enjoying the static damage reduction of Soul Link in most cases and running with the Glyph of Unbound Resolve which takes our defensive CD Unbound Resolve, removes its on-use, and lets us take a flat 10% less damage at all times. Between that Glyph, Soul Link, and Soul Leech, locks are tanks.
Tier 4: Largely worthless talents across the board. Blood Fear has no use in its previous or current (Blood Horror) design in PVE. PVP is a different matter, but it’s generally crap. Huge health cost for a self peel once every 30 seconds. You’ll still drop before you know what hit you with melee on you. Burning Rush does have some uses, but you MUST be careful with it due to how quickly it saps your health. Great for wipe recovery. Unbound Will has too high of a health cost in PVE. This is largely a preference tier, but I feel Burning Rush provides the most manageable benefits to us with how strong mobility is.
Tier 5: This is the only tier that is largely determined by your spec. I think it will just slightly edge out Grimoire of Supremacy with an Observer on single target fights. On Cleave fights aff will still be using Supremacy. Destruction will now default to Grimoire of Supremacy with an Observer. Destruction and Demo favor Int above all else and this reflects that. Not really a major change, contrary to popular belief, Destruction on live, now, was neck and neck with Supremacy and Sacrifice. Demonology uses Grimoire of Service. This is a major CD for demonology. You want to line it up with Dark Soul and make sure you pop out a Felguard who will throw his axe, then charge, then whirlwind. Grimoire of Sacrifice is largely a convenience talent, and could very well end up as top dog as gear levels get better.
Tier 6: This tree was re-worked, and honestly, while many locks are fleeing the class altogether, the choice is actually a choice. Keep in mind that this tier depends on your playstyle, your specialization, and how you gear your warlock. Archimonde’s Darkness is a strong single-target talent that should net you more uptime on Dark Soul as it grants our CD two charges. This has interesting implications on many levels, especially for destruction. Kil’jaeden’s Cunning had its snare removed, but now only grants movement while casting Malefic Grasp for Affliction, Incinerate for Destruction, and Shadow Bolt for Demonology. Mannoroth’s Fury was changed into a cooldown that increases your AoE range and damage on Rain of Fire, Seed of Corruption, and Hellfire/Immolation Aura. I will elaborate below in the spec sections on how gearing and spec will work with the level 90 talents.
Affliction saw a significant change with damage shifted away from channels and more damage shifted back to DoTs. This is our most potent build, it scales the best, and has incredible potential. So what’s the key? Essentially it’s this: http://www.curse.com/addons/wow/affdots
That add-on makes refreshing DoTs on procs (of which Aff does quite often) trivial. Combined with Tidy Plates (not threatplates) gives you essentially all you need for your UI. Keep your DoTs up, channel your Malefic Grasp or Drain Soul, and pop Dark Soul whenever possible.
The other big things to note here in 5.4 are that Fel Flame was buffed damage-wise (and nerfed hard mana-cost wise, but Aff has life tap) and the massive soul swap change that turns you into a DoT-tabbing machine. Glyph of Soul Swap (that kept your DoTs on your Soul Swap target originator) was made baseline. This means you can spread DoTs ultra-liberally now. In my brief foray into Aff, I spent most of my time soul swapping.
This is the one build that I feel the level 90 talent is kind of a no-brainer. Aff’s AoE sucks (you’re better off just soul swapping all the things.) Fel Flame isn’t a massive DPS loss over Malefic Grasp since the DoTs are so potent now without the channel. As such, I think Archimonde’s Darkness will be most useful 95% of the time.
Gearing for aff is relatively simple:
A) Get haste to 9778.
B) Stack mastery.
Hit capping isn’t even necessary, although recommended. Mastery even outpaces intellect. Make sure to google search haste break points for aff, as I assume that as gear levels increase, you may want to aim for a higher haste breakpoint.
Icy-veins on rotation:
Destruction lost uptime, but gained damage on Ember Consuming spells. It also gained a great glyph in Glyph of Havoc to help amplify cleaving. Fel Flame’s mana cost increase really forces destruction in Kil’jaeden’s Cunning in most cases, but the theorycrafting community seems to be a bit confused on what works best for the build. I spent a lot of time on Simcraft on this particular build, because I love it. It’s the most fun. It’s the most flexible in the World of Hard Target Swap Craft.
My testing has shown the following, and 50 million testing on a dummy confirmed that simcraft is functioning properly:
Hit to cap > Intellect > Haste to 4192 > Mastery > Crit > Haste.
The thing is though, the scaling plots were very tight. Meaning it doesn’t scale especially well except off Intellect. Gemming straight int is roughly a 10% loss in socket values. So you don’t really want to do that. So wat do?
Simple: Highest i-levels possible. From there set your haste threshold at 4192 then gem for as much mastery as possible, while maintaining a crit level over 20% unbuffed. Mastery increases the point value of every point of intellect on every single spell. But you need to get as much out of your sockets as possible. So gemming straight int would seem to be best, but you give up point budget (that’s for everybody) gemming straight across a primary stat. With that all said, the plots are tight. The alternative playstyle would be:
Haste > Mastery > Crit: In this case you’d use Mannoroth’s Fury and put Rain of Fire in your single target rotation, using it on procs and every time Mannoroth’s came off CD. You should have more mana regen since you are stacking haste which should also support fel flame usage. You could also take Archimonde’s Darkness which would help with Ember Generation and give you more uptime on the 30% crit buff granted.
Why don’t I play that way? Because Backdraft sucks. If Backdraft could be glyphed for crit, then yeah, haste would rule. But it can’t. So GCD clipping AHOY!
Icy-veins on rotation:
This could be the most complicated build in WoW. It has the resource management requirements of Arcane, Fury-warrior levels of CD stacking, and major mana problems. However, I am not learned enough about it to post how to play this. My small exposure on this build is only to tell you to look elsewhere for guidance. I’m not qualified. It’s exotic to me and I’ve never been very successful with it.
Icy-veins novel on “rotation:”