Looking Ahead to Cataclysm’s PvP Talents

Southshore slowly comes into view, much like Cataclysm’s talent builds.

I’m idly following along with Cataclysm news.  I’m not in the Beta.  I’d like to experience the story without knowing what’s going to happen.  And while I’m not actively avoiding Cataclysm news, I’m not actively seeking it out, either.  (Well, except for news on the BGs.  I’m actively looking for news on Twin Peaks et al..)

One thing I have seen, though, has been a big shift in the philosophy behind talents, particularly the split between PvP and PvE talents.  The trees are smaller (41 points at level 85, as opposed to 71 points at level 80), talents that just flatly increase damage have been (mostly) removed, and there’s an emphasis on ‘fun’ talents.

Ghostcrawler’s post on the matter, “A Few Words On Talent Tree Design,”  covers it better than I can.

… We don’t consider “bloat” a bad word. Players typically say that when there are more talents than they can possibly get. That’s the whole idea. When you run out of interesting talents, then that’s when we think we have a problem.

Related, if we do our jobs right, you are going to run out of dps talents (or healing talents if you’re a healer, or mitigation talents if you’re a tank). We don’t want every talent to feel mandatory since you are prohibited from getting them all. We want you to have choices. …

…We don’t consider every talent that doesn’t directly lead to higher dps to be a “PvP talent.” Survivability is a big deal in Cataclysm. In that vein, talents that keep you alive (or help healers conserve mana) are indirectly dps talents. 🙂 We aren’t designing PvP vs. PvE trees. Ultimately, we consider a talent specialization to be a stylistic choice. However, given the challenges of nailing both PvP and PvE balance, as a consolation prize it’s nice when at least there are no dead trees.  …

I’m a little wary about quoting just part of his post.  It’s good to read things in their context whenever possible, and this is no exception.


I was intrigued by what Ghostcrawler said, so I headed over to Wowhead’s Cataclysm Talent Calculator and fiddled around with it, trying to see how I would build Cynwise’s talents through the Warlock trees.

The results are probably not surprising.

The trees are smaller, but the philosophy I articulated for warlock talents in Wrath remains the same: take a core of Demonology for survival, then dive into your chosen tree.  Focus on talents that give you control and survivability, and then pick up DPS talents.

There are some new things in there that look very interesting – Bane of Havok, Jinx, Soul Swap – but there are also a lot of things that are missing.  Some PvP staples, like the anti-pushback talents Fel Concentration and Intensity, are now defaults.  Range extension talents like Grim Reach and Destructive Reach are gone, which, if applied uniformly across all classes, don’t present a problem.

That last part is important, don’t skip it.  Removing talents from one class while leaving them in for a different class is unfair, and could easily be considered a nerf.  Removing that talent type from all classes, however, is just rebalancing the game.  Extended range talents were inconsistent at best — mage talents extended by a certain number of yards (6, if I remember correctly) while warlocks got a percent increase (10%).  You couldn’t afford to skip these talents in PvP because the other person would probably have them, leaving you at a disadvantage, leading to an arms race.

Ghostcrawler talks a bit about this:

Related, many trees lost a lot of true PvP talents, such as dispel resistance or mechanic duration reductions. These are the kind of talents I describe as “arms races,” where you need a counter to the ability someone else is using to try to counter you. We’d rather reel the whole thing in a little and make things like crowd control or dispels as powerful or as weak as they need to be baseline rather than assuming you have talents that make them less powerful.

I approve of this kind of change.  One of the joys of low-level PvP in Wrath is that there aren’t a lot of counters available to different abilities, so those abilities actually work.  As you level this changes into moves and countermoves and counter-countermoves, all trying to get something to stick.

Don’t get me wrong – some of these changes are going to suck.  Crowd control is going to become more powerful.  Dispels are going to become more necessary.  Things are going to be different.

But different doesn’t mean worse.


One of the ideas that filtered through my Cataclysm news defenses was that there were no longer going to be PvP-only trees, that this was never a deliberate design decision and that any tree should be viable in nearly all situations. Personally, I like that goal and hope they get there, though balancing the different trees against each other in PvE is certainly a challenge I don’t think they’ll get correct out of the gate.

My hope is that the converse is true, that there will no longer be PvE-only trees.  I’d like to see more Demonology warlocks in battlegrounds.  I’d like to see more Fire mages and Arms warriors.  The fun talents that are getting added in to the trees could help with the viability of PvP specs within them… but only time will tell that.

One of the complaints that Ghostcrawler is addressing in his response is specific to PvE – namely, that in order to get to the more advanced talents in their spec, they have to take talents that would have been previously considered PvP talents, or talents that don’t directly contribute to the main specialization of the class.  DPS raiding builds are taking survival talents just to get to the next level of DPS talents, which is very much not the model used in Wrath.  The trees are big enough that you can — and probably should — spend every last talent point on maximizing your DPS.  Those few places where you don’t have any DPS options in your build (like level 3-4 of Deep Destro) forces you to take a talent that enhances survivability or control — felt like a waste.

But in Cataclysm, raiding builds will have survival talents.  There’s no way around that with the ways the trees are structured — you can pick up all the DPS talents without a problem, but you have to get some others along the way.  This feels weird to us now because it’s so antithetical to the current raiding mentality.

Consider the difference between PvP and PvE priorities here.  In PvP, you pick up survival talents, defensive talents, control talents — and then throughput talents.  A PvP Warlock goes and gets Improved Howl of Fury and skips Death’s Embrace.  The DPS talents are not an afterthought, but they’re also not a priority.  You don’t sacrifice everything else to get to them.   A Warlock should not give up Soul Link for PvP to pick up Improved Shadow Bolt, for instance.  But in raiding?  If you’re a Destruction Warlock who takes Soul Link instead of buffing your Imp’s damage, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

So while PvE’s talent builds will require a shift in thinking, not much has really changed in PvP.  A lot of talents are gone, but they’re either rolled into other abilities or no longer necessary, but the philosophy is basically the same.  The new abilities look fun, but they need to be tested in combat to see how well they’ll work.

Cataclysm won’t bring us some kind of nirvana where the same spec will perform well in both PvE and PvP.  You’ll still need to make choices to focus your talents in one direction or another, and those choices are going to be challenging ones for PvE builds.

But for PvP builds, the changes look like they’re all for the better.

Let’s see what they look like when Cataclysm launches.


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Warlockery

7 responses to “Looking Ahead to Cataclysm’s PvP Talents

  1. You’d like to see more arms warriors? I see nothing but those…

    • I don’t know what the heck I was thinking there. So tired of getting Bladestormed…

      • Sag

        Honestly, I see a lot of Prot warriors. Even with the chain stunning they can do I don’t think that they are that bad, I just can’t kill them and the fight takes forever. As a DK I blame that on DS hitting for crap on plate, and hitting for worse than crap on plate with a shield.

  2. It’s a minor complaint, but I’m mildly peeved that if I decide to take my Warlock into Battlegrounds at 80 (which I fully intend to, since BG leveling is kinda fun) I won’t have Soul Link. Okay, I get it at 81 instead, but it feels annoyingly like a step backwards to lose out on talents you had under the old system.

    But yeah, other than that things look pretty much business-as-usual from a PvP perspective.

    • That change made me grumpy too. I took Soul Link as soon as I could manage it with both Aff and Destro, but since I’m intending to level to 85, I decided to not make a big deal about it.

      But it is annoying. 😦

  3. Beryo

    Since they’re redesigning the trees, I wish they’d go for a radical break between PvP and PvE talents. I think it would solve a lot of the problems that plague both domains. I wrote more at the Den and wonder what you think of this idea.


    • I think it’s a mistake to think of this game solely in terms of PvE vs. PvP. There are a lot of facets to this game that aren’t covered when you split your gameplay that way: leveling, questing, RPing, soloing content. Saying that PvP talents, whatever those are, should only be allowed in Battlegrounds and Arenas, will actively hurt gameplay.

      Let’s take a leveling example. I recommend that Warlocks level as Affliction because of the highly efficient Drain Tanking playstyle. By using Siphon Life and Drain Life, leveling Warlocks keep themselves topped up and experience NO downtime between mob pulls. It’s a beautiful thing.

      Once they have Siphon Life, though, I think leveling Warlocks can go one of two ways. They can either go straight down to Haunt, or over to Demo for Soul Link. If they go down to Haunt, they should pick up Improved Howl of Terror for when mob pulls get out of hand. If they go Demo, spend the 11 points to get Soul Link and enjoy the massive reduction in damage.

      Here’s the thing: every single talent I listed there is a “PvP talent,” but is useful in a PvE environment. The endgame Affliction raiding build picks up Siphon Life only because it takes the burden off of healers, and completely eschews Demo in favor of 15 points in Destro for buffing Shadow Bolt. This is directly counter to a good leveling build, where the only SBs you should be flinging are when Nightfall procs — instead you should Drain Life or Drain Soul.

      When you reach the endgame, sure — these talents make less sense. You don’t need Improved Howl of Terror in a dungeon, no matter how useful it is while questing. You don’t need Soul Link, since you’re not the tank.

      But what about those PvE situations where you are the tank? I’m not just talking about doing dailies, though that’s a legitimate objection, too. What about those fights where a ranged tank is needed? Twin Emperors? Blood Princes?

      Other classes would suffer, too. Hunters are able to take extreme soloing talent builds that make their pets into amazing tanks to let them take on content meant for groups by themselves.

      PvP rewards survival and control over sheer damage or healing. PvE rewards survival, too, but in a group setting some members can sacrifice survival abilities for damage or healing. You pass the requirements for survival on to the tank and healer.

      But you’re not always in a group.

      I would argue that every talent, EVERY talent, has utility in both PvE and PvP situations. They may not be *optimal,* but they have use. You may have better places to spend your points, but it doesn’t mean that they’re useless in all situations. Improved Fear, Curse of Exhaustion, and Grim Reach all have tremendous value in a BG — but they also have tremendous value if you are making a talent build to maximize a Warlock’s Crowd Control for tricky dungeon pulls, or if you are a leveling Warlock who knows how to Fear Kite (a lost skill if ever there was one.)

      When I see the game get segregated into strict PvE and PvP I get very nervous, because people’s definitions of what those terms mean vary so wildly — and are often excluding other, similar aspects of the game. Is PvP Arenas, Battlegrounds, World PvP, Dueling? Arena, okay, so are we talking 2v2 or 5v5? BGs? So, 15-mans vs. 40? Is PvE raiding, dungeons, questing, leveling, exploring, crafting? Raiding, okay, so 25-man heroic or 10-man normal? What is true in one situation is often not the case in another. Isolating and segregating these activities is not the answer.

      A lot of people feel very strongly that someone’s chocolate ruined their peanut butter. A lot of other people are outraged that someone’s peanut butter ruined their chocolate.

      But a lot of people go, chocolate AND peanut butter? Yummy!