Where Did All The Warlocks Go in Cataclysm?

This is the first post in The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm series.

Where have all the warlocks gone?

I heard this question more and more often as Cataclysm progressed. Raid leaders struggled to recruit them. Players didn’t see them in LFD, or later, in LFR. Battleground appearances became increasingly rare. Leveling warlocks became an elusive beast for me to find on my own leveling tanks and healers.

It’s not like warlocks were hugely popular in Wrath of the Lich King, but I didn’t recall quite so many people asking me questions like this one. Some of the major kills of that expansion featured warlocks prominently – remember Stars doing Yogg-0 and all those Drain Soul beams? – but Cataclysm had those kinds of moments, too. I remember several Demonology warlocks in the world first Heroic Rag video. DPS was never so lackluster that it couldn’t keep up. Warlocks weren’t getting benched for playing warlocks … they just became scarce.

At the same time, I went through my own problems playing my warlock main, Cynwise. At first I thought it was due to my dissatisfaction with the PvP endgame at the end of Season 9, but as the months ticked by and I made no effort to pick up a warlock, any warlock, I found myself wondering if it was really the endgame I didn’t enjoy in Cataclysm – or warlocks. I had become one of the missing warlocks, and I didn’t even really know why.

Was it me? Was it the class? I felt very uncomfortable extrapolating my own experience out to warlocks in general. The specific incident that knocked me off my warlock main was too personal, too isolated. It didn’t really have anything to do with warlocks at all – it had much more to do with the gear transition in endgame PvP, a lack of interest in raiding, and a desire to see more of the lower brackets.

Maybe it was just perception that there were fewer warlocks out there. Just because I’ve fallen out of love with a class doesn’t mean that the class is broken, right? People change. I changed. I learned to love healing and tanking, for crying out loud! What kind of a warlock likes to tank things that aren’t the floor?

The plural of anecdote isn’t data.

I stopped playing a warlock when 4.2 was released. She went from my main to a neglected tailoring alt over the course of Cataclysm.

But the months ticked by, fewer people talked to me about the hexenfreude of playing a warlock, and more asked me what was wrong with the class. I had to wonder:

Was I the only one?

THE POPULARITY CONTEST

Are warlocks less popular now than they used to be? That’s the question we must start with – is the decline one of perception only, or is it based in fact?

Comparing WoW census figures from the end of Wrath (patch 3.3.5) and what is presumably the last patch of Cataclysm (4.3.2) indicate that the answer to this is definitively yes.

Warlocks are less popular now than they were at the end of Wrath.

This data is taken from two sources: Armory Data Mining (fortunately, not updated since 3.3.5) and World of Wargraphs. (Here’s the spreadsheet if you want to follow along.) Without knowing the methodology between these two censuses it’s difficult to assign a high certainty between comparing between different data sources, but these numbers appear to be consistent across other census sites. Let’s go with them as being at least relatively accurate.

  • Three classes experienced significant declines in their playerbase: Paladins, Death Knights, and Warlocks. All three of these had substantial changes to their mechanics in Cataclysm.
  • Two classes had statistically significant increases: Mages and Hunters. Hunters received substantial changes to their mechanics in Cataclysm; this is somewhat counter evidence to the opinion that the change to Focus from Mana was bad for the class.
  • Three classes had small gains in popularity: Shamans, Druids, and Warriors.
  • Two classes stayed about the same: Priests and Rogues.

There are several key points I’d like to raise from this data set.

Paladins and Death Knights suffered a larger decline in popularity than Warlocks (2.1% and 1.9% respectively), but because their relative popularity (#1 and #2 in Wrath) was so much higher, the loss was less noticeable.

The Wrath numbers for Death Knights and Paladins may have also been inflated by the Legendary Effect, where more players were playing classes with a current tier legendary (Shadowmourne) available for them. What’s interesting is that we don’t see a corresponding rise in warlocks competing for their legendary, which is only one raiding teir past current (and still exceptionally good), while we do see a corresponding rise in the popularity of Rogues with their legendary in this tier.

Class popularity concentrated in a few classes in Wrath, with the outliers (Paladins, DKs) skewing high. There’s a nice little clump of 6 classes between 7.5% and 9.1%, Warriors are pretty close to even at 10.1%, and then there are the popular classes (Druid, DK, Paladin.) There isn’t an absence of Warlocks, Rogues, Hunters and Shaman in this distribution – rather, there’s a lot of people playing Paladins! Players notice that there was an abundance of a certain class, not an absence.

In Cataclysm, the popular classes became less popular and – overall – classes were more evenly distributed. There’s a nice clump of 4 classes at 10-11%, a clump of 2 at 9.3% and the popular classes (Paladins and Druids) at 12-13%. There’s less of a range between those 8 classes than in the previous model.

But notice that the outliers shifted from the high to the low end. Rogues are, relatively speaking, less popular compared to Hunters and Shamans than they used to be, even if their popularity hasn’t changed. Warlocks are even worse off – not only did they decline in popularity overall, they’ve declined relative to the standard set by other classes. No longer do you notice that there are Paladins everywhere; you notice the absence of Warlocks.

The salient feature of Wrath’s class popularity distribution was the abundance of Paladins and Death Knights; the salient feature of Cataclysm’s class distribution is the dearth of Warlocks.

It’s interesting that this is both a decline in fact and in perception.

UNDERPOWERED, OVERPOWERED, OUT OF POWER

So why are Warlocks in decline? Are they particularly bad at a particular area of the game? Is this a problem of balance, or power? Is this a case where warlocks are just plain underpowered? Are people making rational choices in raiding by shunning warlocks? Are they just bad in PvP? While I hadn’t heard of any of these problems, perhaps there was a rational reason to choose another class.

I first looked at DPS in heroic raids. While heroic raids don’t represent the entire universe of PvE, they’re a good place to start when looking at DPS. I took a quick look at Raidbot’s DPSbot and 25m H encounters:

Huh. Nothing in the last two months, really. Warlocks are solidly middle of the pack performers in hard mode raiding. Unlike some classes, their three specs are pretty well balanced between each other.

Maybe we need to look further back. Let’s expand our view for the last year.

Okay, now we’ve got a lot more data, with more diversity in the data set, so we can see trends over the expansion.

  • In 4.1, Affliction is one of the top DPS specs, sharing the lead with Shadow Priests and Arcane Mages. Balance Druids, MM Hunters, and Arms Warriors are also very strong. Demo and Destro are in the second tier of DPS.
  • In 4.2, Affliction is no longer top of the DPS, but still competitive. Demonology remains mid-tier, while Destruction drops like a rock to the bottom of the charts.
  • In 4.3, Affliction, Demonology, and Destruction are all mid-tier DPS performers. If you zoom in to various displays of the data on the linked site, Affliction is still the top Warlock performer, while Destruction has improved substantially.

So the picture that emerges of Warlock DPS is … it’s fine. I know that’s a judgement call, but realistically, it hasn’t been bad, and it’s even been pretty good at times. It hasn’t been so awesome that it’s an outlier (like Fire Mages an Shadow Priests), but at the same time, it hasn’t really struggled. It’s a solid performer.

What’s interesting is that all three specs have had a pretty good run of it in Cataclysm – more so than any other pure DPS class. Mages have tended to have one superior spec in PvE at any given time, either Arcane or Fire. Hunters have had wildly erratic performance in PvE, with Survival either great or terrible, but Marskmanship and Beast Mastery lagging behind. Rogues have also been forced into Combat or Assassination, mostly Combat. Except for a period in 4.2 with Destruction falling way behind, all three Warlock specs were viable for Cataclysm raiding.

That’s pretty remarkable, isn’t it? You’d think that having viable choices for your PvE spec would be a benefit, wouldn’t it?

Nothing in the DPS rankings says that the class needed to be buffed dramatically. While there are some superior choices at specific times, there were few classes that were consistently better. Shadow Priests, maybe? Mages weren’t until they got the Fire buffs of 4.3.

So maybe there’s something more going on here than just straight DPS problems. Let’s go back to popularity and see if that sheds any light on how warlocks have done in raids.

One of the great things about the World of Wargraphs site is that it allows you to drill down to a specific environment, and compare how a class/spec combo does there, versus its overall popularity. This is important, because it allows you to avoid bias. If you looked at population distribution and said: 15% of everyone who killed 8 HM bosses was a Druid, therefore druids are overpowered in HM PVE content, you’d be making an erroneous statement. You have to compare this to the overall population – if 30% of all players played Druids, but only 15% killed HM bosses, Druids might be underpowered. Or Druids might have a disadvantage in PvE. Or there might be another class which is simply better than Druids at their tasks.

Let’s take a real example of this. Here’s the current distribution of classes of all characters who have killed at 4+ heroic raid bosses this tier.

Class Distribution in Heroic Raids, 4.3.3 (From World of Wargraphs)

Looking at only this data, you might conclude that Paladins, Priests, and Druids are better at heroic raiding, and Death Knights, Hunters, and Warlocks are worse at it. But this would be incorrect. You might have more Priests raiding than Shaman simply because there are more Priests playing the game, not because Priests have some natural advantages in raids.

When we take the data and mash it up against the global popularity percentages, we get numbers like this:

Class Popularity in 4.3.3 - 4+ Heroic Bosses Killed

4.3.3 Class Distribution - 4+ Heroic Bosses Killed

This allows us to see which classes tend to be brought to heroic raids a bit more than average (those with green Popularity Deltas) versus those who are not (those with red scores). Priests and Hunters make up about the same amount of the player base, but one gets brought to the heroic raids more often (Priests).

The remarkable thing about Warlocks? They appear to be properly represented in heroic raids. They’re appealing enough to bring at the same rate as the general lock population. No advantages, but no real disadvantages, either.

The hybrid nature of some classes might throw these numbers off, though. We’re not really being fair to hybrids by lumping them all together – you might have a great healing spec but an awful DPS spec, which would balance things out.

Okay! Let’s look at it by spec, then.

4.3.3 Class/Spec Distribution - 4+ Heroic Bosses Killed

This chart not only shows which specs are currently raiding hard modes successfully, but which ones are disproportionately good (or bad) at it. Survival Hunters make up only 3.1% of the WoW population, yet account for 7.5% of successful hard mode raiders. I think it’s safe to say that Survival is a good raiding spec. A Beast Mastery hunter, on the other hand, is scarce in hard mode raiding (only 0.3%), yet is 2.7% of the total population.

In this case, the results we see here match the results we saw looking at DPS. That’s good! This shows that for Hunters, at least, if you want to do Heroic Raids, you go for the one that produces the best DPS – which, right now, is Survival. I like it when data matches up like this, and we see it in other specs and classes, too. Fire Mage? Overrepresented. Frost Mage? Under.

Warlocks are a pretty small sample size, but we still see some parallels between the DPS scores and popularity. Each spec is equally represented, 2%-2.6%. Interestingly, Destruction is the most popular spec, and both it and Demonology are slightly more popular than their global populations. Affliction is less so. These don’t quite match the DPS figures that we saw earlier, but this might be because the current tier requires more burst, which both Destro and Demo deliver better than Affliction. The perception is that Destro was buffed and Affliction is weak right now. We find statements like the following boilerplate from the Elitist Jerks warlock guides:

With the release of Patch 4.3 the warlock class sees a number of changes, in particular the Destruction spec, along with a few changes to the Demonology spec. Following these changes we see that all 3 specs are quite close, and all have something to bring to the table. For single target DPS, the following should be true at all gear levels:

Demonology > Destruction >= Affliction

While Demonology does pull ahead in single target DPS by ~2k DPS, this is only in close to perfect conditions where there is minimal to no movement and the player is able to stand in melee range. This means that in most situations Destruction and Affliction will perform better than Demonology.

On multi-target fights with strictly 2 DPS targets Affliction and Destruction should be quite even. However once any additional targets are introduced Affliction will perform considerably better than Destruction. Heavy AoE fights are where Demonology really begins to shine, followed respectably by Affliction and then Destruction behind by a considerable margin.

As confusing as they are, I think these observations are pretty accurate. All three specs are quite close, and knowing their strengths and weaknesses is important when deciding which spec to play on which fight.

This leads to an interesting observation about specs. When there’s a clearly superior DPS spec for a class in raiding (e.g. Survival, Fire) players will flock to it. When two or three specs are raid viable, other considerations factor into the decision making process and muddy the water. We should not assume that having three viable raiding specs is better than only having one; Warlocks might have choices, but that isn’t drawing people to raid with the class more than, say, Survival Hunters or Shadow Priests. It may be more flexible, but it isn’t necessarily more appealing.

For Warlocks, there isn’t an easy choice of spec in raiding right now. Should you go Demo/Destro on Spine for burst, or stay Affliction? Do you have the gear to switch between Destro and Demo? Will you be multidotting, or just handling a few adds? Which spec is the player more skilled at playing?

Aside from having more spec choices than any other DPS class, there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with Warlocks in PvE raids.

Warlocks aren’t underpowered in heroic raids, but neither are they overpowered.

THE GREAT MYSTERY OF PVP AND RLS SYNERGY

If Warlocks are doing okay in PvE, perhaps poor performance in PvP is driving players away from the class.

I dunno. It could happen!

I toss this theory out because if you’ve leveled a Warlock lately in PvP, you know that battlegrounds can be tough on you. You have to have exceptionally good gear to succeed, and even then you’ll probably die a lot. I don’t think this theory holds at the endgame – warlocks have traditionally been pretty potent in PvP – but we should test it out.

The following graph presents all classes in all rated PvP environments  - Arenas, Rated Battlegrounds – with a rating of 2200+.

This is the first population chart where Warlocks are not on the bottom. Not only are they not at the bottom, Warlocks are disproportionately well represented in highly ranked PvP.

Class Distribution in 4.3.3 PvP (Season 11) - 2200+ Rating

There are classes which do better at rated PvP play than others, and Warlocks are on that list. If you look through the current 3v3 comp ratings, Warlocks are part of the dominant comp (RLS, Rogue Lock Shaman), and integral parts of most of the other comps.

3v3 Comp Popularity in Season 11 - 2200+ Ratings

The structure of 3v3 is usually straightforward: healer, controller, burst. Affliction Warlocks have the right tools to apply constant pressure on the healer, they’re hard to kill, they have great CC, and they can put out a lot of damage. What they can’t do is burst, which is why pairing them with a Rogue works so well. And Shaman healing works really well with Affliction PvP – Spirit Link totem is one of the keys to this synergy.

The PvP data on World of Wargraphs tells this story in a lot of different ways. It doesn’t matter what Arena size it is, there are a disproportionate number of ranked Warlocks in it.

  • 5v5 they are practically essential (Affliction is top spec, 12.7% of all players).
  • 3v3 they are dominant (#4, 8.5%).
  • 2v2 they’re respectable (#7, 6.1%).
  • Even rated battlegrounds, which I thought might have some falloff, sees 10.2% of all players as Warlocks – just behind Rogues.

That pretty much means every rated BG team is going to have a warlock – if they can find one.

The data tells a story about a class which is exceptionally good at ranked PvP, especially when working with several other players. They might be weak on their own, but they are very potent in a group. They are a damage support class, providing pressure everywhere. Other classes keep them alive or burn down the opponents; Afflocks provide the control and damage needed to create those openings.

Rogues are in a similar position; great PvP abilities, great PvE output, relatively low numbers. Both classes have received legendaries in Cataclysm, though Warlocks shared theirs with other caster DPS. Rogues are currently enjoying a renaissance of sorts in Dragon Soul, with their legendaries providing both class interest and top DPS for a class which has deserved some love for some time.

Hunters are in the opposite position. Terrible in ranked PvP, a single PvE spec doing well in raids after struggling for much of the expansion, and a completely reworked resource system. But Hunter popularity is up, and Warlock popularity continue to slip.

There isn’t anything wrong with the Warlock numbers.  That’s what’s so frustrating about this problem. The class isn’t out of balance, it’s not pulling in low DPS, and it’s doing really well in PvP.

So why the hell are people not playing warlocks anymore?

WHEN YOU HAVE ELIMINATED THE IMPOSSIBLE

The preceding sections tried to establish facts of the case:

  • Are Warlocks in decline? Yes.
  • Do they have DPS issues in raids? No, they even have some advantages over other pure DPS classes. DPS looks okay.
  • Are there problems in rated PvP? No. They’re part of the most dominant comp this season. Locks are consistently represented with high rankings.

The two most obvious reasons players would not choose Warlocks at the endgame – that they have performance issues in PvE, PvP, or both – are just not there. Especially when we look at the expansion as the whole, the data simply doesn’t support the idea that Locks can’t hack it. They can. They can shine.

They just aren’t.

So we must look elsewhere for answers.

My first theory about the data we’ve looked at is that it is very focused on level 85 play – and the upper tier of endgame play at that – which is why it fails to explain the lack of Warlocks. Heroic raiding and 2200+ PvP are not the activities of the majority of the player base, but they are activities which receive a lot of scrutiny from both players and developers. This upper tier endgame bias allows us to focus on the potential maximums of each spec, as well as see how a class is performing in demanding conditions, but it doesn’t represent everyone at 85, let alone everyone in the game.

PvP is not balanced around any level other than 85, and arguably it is only balanced for rated PvP play at level 85. Several detrimental changes were made to regular battlegrounds during the course of Cataclysm to solve problems that only existed in rated play. Changes were made to classes based upon their performance in Arenas, not regular battlegrounds. The emphasis of Cataclysm was getting players into Rated Battlegrounds, which meant that they were the (flawed) yardstick by which all PvP was measured.

PvE is a different beast, but the fundamental assumption is that balance still happens at 85. I think that the different buff and nerf cycles experienced in Cataclysm support this. I can’t say that they’re not looking at performances in 5-man content or daily content, but we don’t see a lot of changes aimed at fixing balance in those activities. Raids are where the logs are. Raids drive the nerfs and buffs.

So this theory surmises that the problem with Warlocks is not visible in the endgame data because the data is looking at the wrong activities. It’s looking at the endgame. Perhaps there’s something wrong with the class at endgame – people rolled warlocks, but end up not playing them at the endgame.

There could be a few things going on here.

  1. Warlocks attempt to raid/PvP at endgame, but stop for some reason other than their performance. Possible reasons include class mechanics, better buffs from other classes, easier to gear other classes through raid content/5-mans.
  2. Warlocks get to 85, don’t attempt to raid at all, but enjoy other endgame content.
  3. Warlocks get to 85, but are not played in the endgame at all, and the player rerolls or quits.
  4. Warlocks never get to 85, and therefore never get to endgame content.

The population popularity comparison is about the only data that we have to go on for the first point, but it’s telling that Warlocks are fairly represented in heroic raids compared to the general population (6.7%). If you want to raid, you can, and you can do well. If you are a serious raider leveling to 85, you’re about as likely to raid on a Warlock as a different class.

Casual raiders, of course, might have a different story. Warlocks might do well if executed perfectly, but if their rotation has less margin for error, then there could be a problem between the upper tier or raiders and the masses at 85. So we can’t rule the first possibility out just yet.

The second possibility is that people level their locks to 85 and choose to not raid on them, but do other things. Hunters and DKs appear to be in this situation – they are underrepresented in their raid popularity compared to their overall population. Warlocks, as break even, don’t seem to be here.

Three and four are different but would look the same to most of the data we have, just because the data appears to measure active 85s. We need to look at different data – in this case, realm population data across all levels, not just endgame data.

We have to find out if people are even bothering to level warlocks.

RISING THROUGH THE LEVELS

I was talking about this post with Narci from Flavor Text, and she was kind enough (thanks, Narci!) to cull the following data on class populations in different level ranges from Warcraft Realms:

Class population percentages, by leveling bracket, in 4.3.3

Let’s look at these graphed out, too.

Active Character Level Distribution by Class in 4.3.3

The Warlock line is there below everyone else. It doesn’t start there, but once it crosses the Shaman line around level 20 it never really recovers.

The introduction of Death Knights at 55 causes a population depression in all the other classes because, without warning, over a quarter of the player base is playing a DK at level 55-60. So we should ignore that anomaly, throw out the 50-69 data, and keep it in mind for the the 70-80 data. It skews comparisons for all the other classes, too, because there are only 9 classes represented at 1-10, and 10 at 85. Mages might be 11% at 1 and 11% at 85, but that’s actually an increase in popularity because of the larger number of classes at 85.

Look at Paladins! They start off behind a lot of other classes, but the loyalty shown at 85 is remarkable! There’s a 2% gain of total population share between 84 and 85, which means that people level them to 85 and play them there. Paladins like playing at the endgame. It looks like Druids – and Shaman – do this as well.

Hunters are almost the complete opposite – heavily loaded at the low levels, with a constant decline all the way up. Hunters are excellent leveling toons, and are extremely strong at low level PvP. As they get older they get more complex and less dominant, driving people to put down the class for a while.

It’s really amazing how popular Hunters are at the character selection screen. I wonder if this is because of the new races available to them? Does adding a class to a popular race increase its popularity? It’s something we have to consider when talking about class changes – Hunters got Humans and Forsaken, Warlocks got Dwarves and Trolls.

I like Dwarves, but very few people actually play them.

There are 3228 Dwarf Warlocks and 3867 Troll Warlocks on US and Euro servers versus 34,366 Human and 10,783 Forsaken Hunters (data from Warcraft Realms again).  Even if those numbers aren’t absolutely correct, they’re relatively correct. Hunters benefited more from their new races than Warlocks.

Unlike most classes, Warlocks decline as they level. There’s a slight decline from 80-84 to 85, which might represent people leveling to endgame and then dropping the character, but it’s not huge. They decline a bit (3%) through the leveling process, but that’s nothing like what happens to Rogues (5%). I think you have a stronger case for saying people have started a lot of Rogues but not gotten them to endgame than you do with Warlocks – 3% could be just noise in the system from the DK bump, plus, there’s the Rogue Legendary Carrot – but there is still something going on there. The trajectory is never one of growth, unlike Paladins.

I think if I had to break apart this data, I’d summarize it as follows:

  • Hunters and Death Knights are initially very attractive at character creation and for early leveling, but are normally represented at endgame. Death Knights are probably skewed because of farming/banking toons.
  • Rolling a Rogue is extremely popular right now, likely due to the Legendary Effect, but leveling them to endgame is a challenge.
  • Warriors and Warlocks are somewhat more popular at character creation than at endgame. There may be leveling problems with these classes.
  • Priests, Shaman, Mages, and Druids all increase their popularity  from 1 to 85. The relatively consistent numbers (or slight increases) are subject to the DK effect, making 11% at 85 mean more than 11% at level 10.
  • Paladins dramatically increase in popularity at endgame. They may not be the easiest class to level to 85, but once there, people play them.

Warlocks aren’t a popular choice at creation. I think it’s safe to say that – they’re not Hunters or Death Knights or Druids. But they are also not complete pariahs – people are choosing Warlocks at about the same rate as Priests and Shaman.

I had a theory that one of the reasons Rogues and Warlocks aren’t popular classes is because they’re the “bad guys” of the character creation screen. Both classes have evil flavor and feel to them – Warlocks perhaps even moreso than Rogues. Warlocks aren’t paragons of virtue, defenders of nature, or even very heroic – at best they’re ruthlessly efficient, at worst they’re evil incarnate.

But the data doesn’t really support that. People do choose to try out Warlocks, just not a lot of them – and even fewer make it all the way to the 85 with them.

Update: There is a followup post to the data in this section, Leveling Data on Warlocks is Worse than I Thought, based on Jason’s comment on this post. I was wrong about some of the data this preceeding section – I was overly optimistic and conservative in my interpretation of the leveling data on Warlocks, and should have been more open about how bad the situation is. Looking at the data in a different way revealed a different situation.

Thanks to Jason for his comment and guidance in building this data model.

THAT WHICH REMAINS, NO MATTER HOW IMPROBABLE

Where have the Warlocks gone?

I started this post with some ideas in my head about what caused the decline between Wrath and Cataclysm, and why Warlocks are just not getting played. The problems with the class’s unpopularity in Wrath were only exacerbated by Cataclysm. 

Fewer players are playing Warlocks. People who are noticing that there aren’t as many Warlocks in game are absolutely correct. It’s not that there is something wrong with their performance at the endgame – both PvE and PvP performance is adequate at the high end – but something is driving players away.

Leveling data suggests that the character concept is not the problem. People are rolling them, albeit not as many as other classes. Something happens between rolling the character and getting them into endgame content which causes the class to fall into disfavor. It may be questing, it may be dungeons, it may be battlegrounds. It may be class mechanics.

But something happens.

Here’s the conclusion I was hoping to avoid: people simply don’t like playing warlocks. It’s not that they don’t try them; they do.

Players simply stop playing them.

Some of them, no doubt, give up on Warcraft entirely. There’s plenty of evidence that that has happened. But it’s also likely that they look at other classes and switch. It’s likely that players are migrating to the classes which they find to be the most fun.

And they aren’t finding Warlocks fun enough to stick with them.

Next week, I’ll dig into why this is happening to Warlocks, and what Blizzard is doing to address the problem.

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127 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery

127 responses to “Where Did All The Warlocks Go in Cataclysm?

  1. I’m leaning towards Warlocks being harder (and subsequently performing worse) for Casual players…or at least it is in my case.

    My warlock is as equally as geared as my mage and hunter. He doesn’t churn out quite the same numbers, quite simply because I am less skilled and practiced with him.

    I also hear a lot of complaints (and share them) about leveling with a warlock. There’s a lot of spells thrown at you while you level. Some that you shouldn’t even touch with a certain spec. So, it gets confusing, and that makes leveling them less fun.

    • (When I say “quite the same numbers” in reference to dps, I’m talking about a 4k drop in dps.)

    • The skill cap to reach equal DPS numbers is something I will be touching on next week. Just because a class is capable of putting out the numbers, doesn’t mean that everyone can do so with that class.

      • Loww

        That’s why i play a warlock, but recently i’ve been getting frustrated with just how much work it takes to stay on par with with the other dps in my raid while in the past mastering warlockery ment being a satisfying little bit in the lead on the meters. (unlucky gear drops may be a part of it, but it can’t be all)

  2. duskhawk

    I tried a Warlock in Vanilla, couldn’t get into it, deleted it at 8. When Wrath rolled around I decided to try one again and got her to 80, but she’s one of a large stable of alts. I found the rotation changes in Cata to be rather unforgiving as a member of an alt stable; I can pick up and drop my elemental shaman every couple of months and not see serious performance problems, but the lock I have trouble coming back to.

    • Not only do I hear this a lot, I’m experiencing it right now. I put my warlock down for 9 months and picking her up has involved a lot of clearing the rust off the old fingers.

  3. Interesting post, but you’ve left out one possible answer:

    Mages.

    Warlocks are very similar to mages. Cloth, ranged magical dps, same legendary, etc. And mages this expansion were very powerful and much easier to play than warlocks. Your data on population changes bears this out, with mages getting a large increase.

    My assumption would be that a significant number of warlocks switched to mages. Or new players chose to roll mage instead of warlock. You’re more or less the same in group content, only better performing, and 1-button spam.

    • Shhhh, you’re spoiling next week’s post. :)

      In all seriousness, migration to other classes is a definite possibility, but not one that is easy to quantify or prove. I know a lot of warlocks rerolled Mage or Shadow Priest, but it’s hard to definitively point to the numbers and say: they went *there*. The subscriber reduction makes it even more complicated. I was trying to stick with identifying the problem

      The easier to play/more fun argument is next week. I agree with it, but I wanted to stick with identifying the problems in this post, and talk about causes in the next one.

      • Mayaserana (Thaurissan US)

        No self respecting Warlock would even consider rerolling a Mage! The very idea sends shudders of fel misery down my spine!
        I wonder how much impact the new Scroll of Resurrection had on the population figures and if it’s even possible to account for it. I imagine most thinking players used it to bring a tough to level class to 80 quickly, but then the learning curve of priorities and rotations kicks in, I wonder if warlocks fell victim here?

  4. The sudden dip in Warlocks for 4.2 makes me wonder about Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa’s Rest. You touched on that, but in my guild, our first four recipients were:

    Mage, Mage, Shadow Priest, Ele Shaman

    We had three raiding warlocks at the time and after we selected our recipients, none of the three were in the top four. Our selection process was based on a lot of factors, but part of it was definitely performance. And towards the end of 4.1, mages and shadow priests were crazy on the meters. Maybe it was that warlocks (at least in my extremely small, anecdotal sample) were like “screw this” if they weren’t awarded a legendary?

    • I didn’t go too deep into the Legendary Carrot Effect in this post, because I couldn’t find a lot of data on possession and awards, but it’s noticeable that it *didn’t* bring more people into the class.

      This is likely due to a number of factors – large number of specs able to use the legendary, no pressure to change to an unpopular class to get it, other classes having easier rotations/more fun play styles – but the effect was clear. Dragonwrath didn’t inspire people to play their Warlocks.

      • Noodlenose

        “Through a Glass, Darkly” (one of the Legendary quests) was very difficult on a warlock (partly due to the little felpuppy bugging out sometimes) and much easier on a class that could heal or spellsteal (i.e. all the others). I dunno if this would be enough to make you give up on the spot, since your guild had already got you all the embers, but it might raise frustration levels a bit.

      • @Noodlenose I know it was enough for one of our warlocks to give up on the spot. I was actually the third choice but ended up the first & only Dragonwrath in my guild. First choice was a moonkin who had to drop out early for real life schedule changes and second choice was the destruction warlock I had thought was better than me.

        He also caved to general raiding frustrations, but before he left, he mentioned to me how frustrating the end boss of the solo dungeon there was to him as a warlock. He tried for several hours over multiple days and it would just bug the frakk out. Also, the popular solution was to go with the felhunter, so screw being destruction for it. Every mage can spellsteal regardless of spec, but not every warlock spec wants the felhunter.

        I had gotten impatient and scoured Wowhead for wtf was wrong with the felhunter, and while I was not thrilled to hold my felhunter’s hand through dispelling an essential buff, I managed to finish the quest & go on.

        @general post

        I still feel angry at how ridiculously easy it was for other classes to do their Through a Glass, Darkly boss, and yet the warlock one was foiled by a pet bugging out. It’s not an encounter that is designed for everyone; everyone had their specific version of it. I felt largely angry that Blizzard’s developers would make such a huge oversight and let it in on live (or at least not *fix* it midway).

        But also, the bug didn’t surprise me: pets bug out on multiple encounters (Nefarian they stay in the middle not attacking) or raid-wide damage isn’t actually AoE (Hagara’s lightning storm hits all players, but it is technically not an AoE spell, so it will kill your pet pretty fellin’ easily). And these are _old_ pet bugs, these didn’t just crop up in Cataclysm, so it adds to the whole warlock class feeling neglected in some areas.

      • I completely agree with the comments below — the warlocks who worked on getting that first step of the staff in my guild were all frustrated as get out with regards to the felhound getting bugged out.

        Maybe that also didn’t help any?

        And yeah, why would Dragonwrath inspire people to play a warlock when you could just play an arcane mage, as Rohan notes? I feel the poor warlocks got screwed over and, in so doing, screwed over many a raiding guild.

  5. zonteck

    I played pure warlock (no other max level char) from launch until cata, off and on. 2200ish in 2′s in tbc (sl/sl represent) but switched to pure pve in wotlk. Our guild didn’t have a warlock when I joined and eventually we killed 25 h lk. During that whole time (several tiers of content) I was the sole warlock with some warlock recruits never lasting or preforming notably well.

    Maybe the class is harder to ‘master’ than other classes and people just go back to their mains/ switch mains when they’re never topping the dps boards. I remember during a lot of wotlk, affliction was rather complicated (had to use immolate on top of aff spells) and if you didn’t have a good understanding of much more than just the priority list, you’d not preform as well as a much easier to play class. By the time affliction was made a lot easier, it was the end of ICC so people probably just sticked with what they knew.

    Interested to see what next weeks post will bring.

  6. Throughout my playing career (as a warlock :D) I have noticed that it is usually only me on one in any guild I’m in.

    Other guildies will start leveling one, ask me about how I play it, do something different and stop leveling. Mostly what I hear is how it isn’t fun.

    I think that ties in with what you eluded to.

    The warlock rotation (especially affliction) is very complicated to start. Once you get used to it it starts to become second nature, but that can be said of anything you practice enough. A large problem that I see in recent raiding is that people don’t want to work for their numbers. They want to play those 1 or 2 button specs. NONE of the warlock specs fit that bill.

    The main reason I still only raid on my warlock (besides my awesome legendary) is because she never stopped being fun. For a while in Wrath I raided as a resto druid and had a blast, even then she wasn’t nearly as much fun as my warlock. Things just got better for me in Cata with the inclusions of a dps cooldown and a way to multi-dot efficiently. I LOVE my warlock.

    As Jay said above, I am eagerly looking forward to reading the next installment.

    • I think you’re hitting a lot of the points which I feel are correct, but couldn’t substantiate with the numbers. Or, more correctly, the numbers bear out that if you can master the warlock, you can do everything other classes can do – but it takes work.

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. dangdangfool

    I appreciate the large effort into providing the facts and you’ve done a good job of summarizing what conclusions can be drawn from them. Thanks!

    You’ve obviously got a follow up, but I don’t know what you’ve chosen to explore.

    Something I’d like to see would be to concentrate on comparisons with the other DPS only non-hybrids. I’ve worked on leveling a Mage, Warlock and Hunter. (I’ve no experience with Rogue), although I was leveling them under different expansions. Beside the issue of comparing classes, there’s the complication of comparing specs. I found moving between the Mage specs much easier than the Warlock specs, for example.

    Thanks for the analysis!

    • I wish I knew what I was going to write about, too. Guess we’ll both have to wait and see. :)

      There’s an interesting subthread in here: if warlocks have three viable raiding specs, then warlock players will be expected to be able to play whichever one is on top for a given fight. That means that while you might be most comfortable as Affliction, you will have to learn Demo and Destro for the high burst fights like Spine. Other classes don’t seem to have that kind of requirement.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Dalmasca

        Likewise, I think the fact that warlocks have had three well-performing specs with little change throughout the expansion may also leave a feeling of stagnation for many players, especially those of the altaholic/flavor-of-the-month persuasion.

        I would equate this to the opposite of the Legendary Carrot effect you mentioned.

        Without having dramatic swings in performance, playstyle, or other incentives to play a class, people might simply get bored of doing the same thing over and over. I know I personally got very tired of playing my destro warlock because once the playstyle and spell priority was mastered, it didn’t really change all that much throughout the expansion (except the QoL changes following 4.2, which probably brought some people back to the spec). There was no “time to make use of my super awesome move that fits this encounter perfectly” event like there was for say Spirit Link, PW:Barrier, Combustion, etc.

        I think an extremely succinct (and probably over-generalized) way of putting it is that the warlocks at the top were comfortable in their high skill capped performance, and your average lock was frustrated for a variety of reasons that Cyn and others have touched on.

        Looking foward to the follow-up post!

  8. I’m glad you did this research. This issue has been on my mind for a while honestly. Back in BC I was a raiding demonology warlock and I adored my toon until WotLK hit. I couldn’t make numbers happen anymore after that… and she felt… wrong. I did level her to 85 and may even level her to 90 in MoP… I do have a lot of affection for that toon as it was my first real main, but I don’t foresee going back.

    I was on a much smaller server then [the lock is still there] and once death knights hit, most of the warlock population I knew ended up rolling and playing a DK for at least part of LK in place of their warlock, self included. We used to joke about them being warlocks in plate [most of us started out unholy]. I haven’t kept up with that crowd and a lot of them quit during that expansion, but it was always fascinating to me that so many of us were unhappy with our toons.

    I’m actually leveling another warlock now, mainly because I wanted to see how they work now. She’s at level 70 now… and leveling very very slowly. I shock myself every instance because I’m almost always top of the meter though granted that’s aoe… and I don’t feel like I’m doing jack. Casts feel so sluggish and weak. I even have my doubts to ever getting her to 85.

    But that’s all anecdotal of course. Thank you for finding some numbers!

  9. I’m going to go with people don’t enjoy playing them. From my own personal armory, Warlock sits as one of two classes (the other being Priest) that I do not have (at least) one of at 85.

    I have tried leveling several. I have tried to use other incentives to make my enjoyment higher (various races, various leveling paths, starting at level 1, starting at level 60 [RAF], etc). None of them have made it past mid to late 60s.

    The only reason I can come up with that I don’t enjoy playing them is the delayed gratification thing. By that I mean casting a spell that lasts 30 seconds and watch it tick OR cast a spell that impacts and watch its damage applied all at once. The biggest counter point to that thought is my main is my rogue (and has been for this full expac, so I didn’t succumb to legendary carrot).

    I’m actually baffled at my own distaste for playing Warlocks. Hopefully what you figure out as the cause for the general reason might help with my distaste too.

    • I think there’s something to be said for either enjoying or not enjoying dot classes. That’s a legitimate play style distinction, and nothing about Cataclysm should have affected that.

      I think there’s more to it, though. There’s a problem with the leveling flow right now, where it’s not working right.

      • Dalmasca

        There’s also a significant distinction when you’re often thought of as a “support caster” in PvP. Particularly in more casual PvP settings, it’s frustrating to play a lock because you depend so much on other people to perform well.

        It’s not fun to be less capable of doing something on your own.

  10. Sunnier

    Just want to say this is a fantastic analysis. I love that you’re sticking to pure data and drawing conclusions from that. That’s very rare to see that in blogs, so this is pretty refreshing.

    I don’t know much about warlocks, but I do know many progression raiding guilds (mine included) are desperate for warlocks because of DI. And every time we get one to trial, it ends up he doesn’t have the skill to keep up with everyone else. That’s just anecdotal, but I think it reinforces what you’ve been hinting at: warlocks are just harder to play and harder to return to after a break.

    Looking forward to your next blog about this!

    • Thanks! Yes, in this first round I’m trying to keep my personal feelings and theories out of it. It turned up some things I hadn’t considered!

      Dark Intent would have worked better if a more popular class had it, say Pallys or Druids. That way the buff would have been freely available instead of forcing people to play a class they didn’t like just to buff someone else’s DPS. *Especially* when those people are normally directly in competition with warlocks for top DPS.

      Warlocks aren’t known for being generous souls. :)

  11. I’ve also noticed the drop in warlock population. I attribute it to players not wanting to have to hit 4-5 times the number of buttons other dps classes do in order to keep up versus say an arcane mage , or BM hunter who in all honesty only have to hit 3-4 buttons max. Is it a bad thing to want that? not really but is it fair to have one class that requires 15 buttons and the complexity of playing the pet twisting game to be competitive? not fair to warlocks in my eyes. Now this isnt a QQ post from me , just my thoughts on the current state, but i have a feeling MoP is gonna give locks a new lease on life.

    • I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all to want that.

      This is a safe place for raising concerns about the warlock class. I’m someone who dropped the class like a hot potato in Cataclysm, after all. I’d like to know why others did so as well.

      Thanks for the comment!

  12. Lhivera

    My wife played the game with me for several months. She tried a warlock, and gave it up at about level 12. Why? Because she, like (I suspect) many WoW players, is a novice gamer, and she had difficulty manipulating the camera while she moved to keep the Voidwalker from obscuring her view and interfering with targeting.

    I largely shelved my own warlocks because the playstyles simply felt wrong. Of the three, Destruction feels best, but doesn’t feel dramatically different from my Mages. Affliction feels frantic, which just seems stylistically dead wrong. And while I love the concept of Metamorphosis, I find the implementation to result in a highly annoying playstyle.

    That said, I think Demo tanking in MoP looks like it could be great fun.

    • This is a really interesting point, and thank you for bringing it up!

      The void walker really is hard to control at first. I remember that was a problem for me – he would always stand on my quest givers or mobs I was trying to loot. Playing on a small screen with a poor graphics card, I didn’t have a lot of space.

      I think things got better with the Felpup. I yelled at Thoglos a lot to move out of the way, got used to the whole quick repositioning to move him.

      I subbed in for a missing DPS on a DS raid last week. They hadn’t had a warlock this tier, so the RL was really confused why I kept running in to melee range on the boss, and then porting back to the ranged. We had to sit down and talk about how Meta worked and how I hadn’t actually lost my mind. :)

      I enjoy tanking. Let’s see how the Demo tanking idea goes.

  13. dakotarick

    For me it was the changes in mechanics of the Warlock. Mine has been my main since vanilla. Affliction in Vanilla, Demo in BC and Demo and Destro in Wrath. I didn’t help that I found myself playing a bunch of alts to see the new Azeroth. I have picked mine back up and am really enjoying him again as Destro. Sometimes I just wonder if I needed a break after playing him for five years.

    Great post and am really looking forward to part two.

    • Thanks!

      I find that I’m enjoying Cynwise again in a limited capacity after almost a year long break. Not enough that I’d consider her my main again, but enough that she’s not a complete stranger.

  14. Jez

    Really interesting. The lock is one of the few classes that I haven’t played at max level in at least one expansion (lock and warrior actually) and I’m trying to change that now by levelling one… I think the reason I have never levelled one to max though is because my husband has played a lock as his main since Vanilla. He started as a druid and changed to lock and loved it. I’ve always played a hunter and similarly my husband has never levelled a hunter to max level. It is only now near the end of Cata that I am levelling a lock and he a hunter. Bit of a weird reason I guess.

    I’m enjoying playing my warlock but it certainly isn’t a face roll experience. That said though, in terms of low level survival, which I would argue is a compelling factor in a newer gamer persevering with a character, the lock is quite solid. Esp once you get your blueberry. It’s like being a hunter with less pew pew and more DoTs then ;) I found my rogue and priest much harder to play at lower levels. Of course we’re talking different xpacs here and there have been some huge changes to the levelling experience over time….

    • I think those changes in the leveling experience are key. I’m working my way through leveling a lock as Destro and it’s fine – but there are pulls where I’m glad I know how to multi dot quickly.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • So, this is actually a theory I’ve considered, and not frivolously. :)

      There is something to the idea that people don’t like playing the bad guys. Some do – look at the popularity of the Forsaken! – but many look at the warlock as an antihero at best, the bad guys of the story at worse. (And they are those things. The best you can say is that they’re terribly flawed heroes.)

      I don’t know that any of the data I’ve looked at really supports or refutes this thesis. I would love to see data on character selection at the creation screen – do people look at the warlock and play around with it a bit, or do they read it and then move on? Do people roll them and delete them early on (before level 10)? Do they just not even roll them?

      We can’t see that with the current data. What we can see is that the class is relatively unpopular to start off with (21% less popular than the average at level 10-19). The only other classes which are evil/brutal like this are Rogues, currently enjoying a Legendary Carrot, and Death Knights, who are so popular at level 58 as bankers and mules it’s not even funny.

      Enjoyed the post. :)

      • Mayaserana (Thaurissan US)

        I personally feel the opposite, the reason I rolled a warlock (back in 2004/2005) was BECAUSE they were the bad guys! That’s also why I picked horde. Maybe it’s just me but it’s much more fun to explore your inner dark side in a game than be goody two shoes. (Think Fable here…) maybe that’s why I’ve never got a paladin higher than 19?

  15. If I could have posted this at work, I would have been the third comment. Oh well. So much for access of information.

    Some thoughts:
    I know three players who are warlocks, and deeply entrenched and proud of their characters. I even wrote about one friend in my “How I Met Your Warlock” tale. Your intricate, exquisite analysis is truly masterful, sir. I didn’t do this level of work until I did post-grad work. In any case, I am going to give you the “chick perspective,” and please forgive me for even using that term. Warlocks don’t come in the size I want/fits. I don’t necessarily want to be Forsaken, or Human. And not Worgen. I don’t want to be a Blood Elf one, either, I want to be what I want to be. And this enrages true, die-hard lore fans. I have had in depth conversations on both sides, and see both points-of-view. And, I am going to put this out there: there is, for me, a decided intimidation factor. I have heard since I started playing warlocks are the “most difficult class” and quite frankly, didn’t want to put my messy self out there. The warlocks I know are masters at the game, both in PvE and PvP. Any attempt I would make would fail. (Self-fulfilling prophecy, I know.) What might be interesting to also note, is all three of my comrades play rogues, too, and also equally masterfully: and, it’s another class I just can’t seem to get the hang of.

    Suppose, and this is a question of sheer pondering, that there is a nuance, a subtly to warlocks/rogues that the masses don’t understand, that perhaps those classes are not intended for “the rest of us?”

    PS I guess Dwarfs can be warlocks, too. But, well. And gnomes. Damn, why didn’t I just come out and say I want to be a Draenei/Night Elf warlock? /ducks

    Perhaps I’ll go dig up Escarlata again. Pun intended.

    • There’s been a long-standing feeling within the warlock community that it took a certain caliber of player to play them well, that to be a good lock meant you needed a black belt in WoW. I don’t know if I fully believe this, but I do think that having different play styles available for different people is a good thing.

      I think you’ve already identified that you have a self-fulfilling prophecy going on. Give your lock a try again, see how you do. :)

      • Abulurd@thunderhorn

        So what you are saying is, I’m right when I think I’m better than everyone else? Hooray!

      • Vihm

        There is something to be said about a player who enjoys and even succeeds at playing a warlock. I’ve played another popular mmo made by Sony and I played a warlock there as well(side note, I enjoy this much better). I love the slow burning of dots, the controlling of your enemies and the command of demons. Bending others to my will. However, it can be extremely frustrating. I’m not a hardcore gamer. I don’t raid often, mostly because of my lack of time to devote to it. I read, on an occasion, forums and other sites to help improve my skill and try new tactics.
        I think that the lack of players playing lock has a lot to do with instant gratification. It takes time and a considerable amount of effort to get top dps. If its a short fight more often than not other dps classes will top us. That is especially prevalent in leveling. Doing random dungeons and everyone has BOA gear and you can’t even cast immolate and corruption before the mob dies. I believe that’s why you see the drop in leveling warlocks. People see the damage a Mage is doing with all that burst they immediately jump to that. In endgame most people are geared relatively close so it comes down to ability and knowing your class. That’s the disconnect from leveling to endgame.
        To end this jumbled train of thought I enjoy the slow burn of the lock. Knowing that if you top the dps it was because your casting was perfect. I enjoy casting a bunch of different spells, switching demons, and morphing into a demon then burning the place down. I played a few other classes and I just need more to do than mash 2-3 buttons.

  16. Masith

    Really interesting analysis as many other commenters have said. I would like to focus on PvE dps as that is what I know. Personally I feel that locks are possibly one of the hardest classes to master in current raiding.

    If you drill down into the numbers a little more on raidbots for all parses on 25man normal there are 12 specs above the highest warlock and every class is represented amongst those specs.
    Even on 25man heroic there are 8 specs above the highest warlock spec, with only hybrid classes doing less dps than locks. The number of hybrid players is inflated by the healers/tanks playing them.

    Unfortunately I can’t produce any numbers for the rest of this but my thoughts on possible other reasons why locks are so rare are:

    - Lock rotation was appallingly clunky in early Cata before they fixed ISF. This may of put some people off early on and it is generally early in expansions that people reroll the most as it is easiest to catch up then

    - By far the most commonly used group PvE content is 5man groups. I suspect it is very easy to do bad dps as a new warlock in 5mans and so get insulted by the lovely WoW community. If as a brand new lock you attempted to go into a 5man and dot up one mob and then sbolt it till it died on trash your damage would be awful. Multi dotting and AoE may seem obvious to us veterans but if you are brand new to the game would you know to do this?

    • ISF was a major issue in the early game. It was too good for Affliction to pass up, and resulted in really high numbers for them with a horrible mechanic.

      5 mans are definitely another challenge point. This was always the case with warlocks – they weren’t strong in Wrath 5 mans, either, until level 80 – but it seems to have gotten worse. I’m leveling as destro in full heirlooms and not doing nearly the damage I feel I should.

  17. /zips lips until P2 gets posted.

  18. My experience leveling an Affliction Warlock via BGs is that I’d much rather pour lemon juice on a paper cut than do that again. (Apologies to Billy Crystal, but he nailed that one.)

    Seriously.

    There’s only so many times you can take getting ganked 12-15-20 times in WSG before you look at questing as an alternative. Although Locks do get a boatload of spells all at once and you have to sort them out, the trouble is that a) those spells are comparatively underpowered compared to other classes (/cough Rogue and Hunter /cough) and b) their bigger CC spells don’t show up until the 40s or so.

    Right now, ol’ Adelwulf is stuck in the mid-50s because even with AV and the distribution of 40 toons per side, I got tired of simply getting killed so much.

    On the flip side, I’m amused that one of my favorite specs to play, Frost Mage, is right at the bottom of the barrel in popularity. Just goes to show that people don’t appreciate good CC like they should.

    • Jez

      Oh hahahaha I can relate! I am levelling a lock as Aflliction with no heirlooms and going into BGs in the 20s with no heirlooms is NO fun. Especially with the class imbalances. Still, I do it as a training thing. I figure playing a lock means learning to love face planting into the ground frequently and if I start learning to PVP as a lock now hopefully that will stand me in good stead later on. I hope. Please please say that it will :3

    • Someone on Twitter asked me if it was normal to top the damage meter and the deaths column at the same time.

      I was like, yep, just enjoy watching the numbers float around the BG while you’re waiting to rez. You’re doing it right.

      It’s sad that that’s my definition of “doing PvP right on a warlock.”

      Low level PvP has a lot of burst problems. Warlocks don’t get their primary mobility defenses until much later in the game (level 80 or so). It’s a bad, bad combination.

  19. Kierbuu

    I may be in the minority with this one, but for me the 3rd resource was the killer. Runes killed death knights for me. Holy Power got me to abandon my paladin. As excited as I was for finally getting the troll warlock I always wanted, soul gems as an active UI 3rd resource just bugged me. I’ld played warlocks less seriously before and I got my troll up to endgame for playing around. I could handle it, but I didn’t enjoy it.

    Really wish Blizz wasn’t this committed to giving almost every class a personal resource beyond the normal health and mana/rage/energy/focus stuff. With cooldowns and DoT or HoT timers, a 3rd resource is just too much for me.

    • This is an interesting point. Thanks for bringing it up!

      I think I was just terribly disappointed with how the soul shard mechanic was implemented. I didn’t mind that it was there, I just was like, I have to waste a button on this?

      (I ended up putting it in my demon summon macros and an instant Soul Fire, and then leaving it alone.)

  20. An Ex-Warlock

    Well, I can’t speak for others, but I can tell you why I shelved my Warlock main of many years at the end of WOTLK. I’m primarily a PvPer — and by that, I mean world PvP and BG’s, I don’t care about Arena rating, being a DoT-tossing fearbot that gets carried by those who can actually peel and protect the squishy warlock in PvP.

    Melee became heavily OP in WOTLK; we all know how it was in the beginning when Death Knights first came out, Rets were crazy, and Warriors have always been a great counter to Warlocks since they’re frequently unfearable. I had a hell of a time stopping melee from constantly making my Warlock simply explode, and Blizzard never gave warlocks any real escapes like they did for other classes. You either keep your enemy feared, or they’re all over you.

    I didn’t dislike the new soul shard resource mechanic, although it took getting used to. I just disliked how squishy locks were in PvP, the supposed “self-healing caster” was nothing like it used to be as far as survivability… which it looks like MoP might be fixing, with that Dark Regeneration talent… but I’ve sworn off ever going back to my Warlock, because I had more fun than I ever did on the lock by rolling my arch-nemesis (a Warrior) and seeing what it was like on the other side… unstoppably zipping around the battlefield and making poor little ‘locks explode instanteously. I felt bad about it at first, but then it was more along the lines of… Hey, if they’re silly enough to still be playing a warlock now… I pity them every time I see one in PvP.

    Redbeard’s comment about warlocks in BG’s is also accurate: when the popular pack of melee classes realizes there’s a squishy clothie nearby, they’re like sharks with blood in the water. Frost mages have enough escapes and survival mechanics, but Warlocks? I don’t need to tell you the green teleport does nothing and is usually easily found, if you hid it in a bush or something. Blizzard let us suffer for too long, and MoP is too late fixing that, in my opinion. I’m not touching my warlock ever again.

    • The key difference between Mages and Warlocks is that Mages are slippery – they don’t have a lot of defenses if you get close – while Warlocks don’t have a lot of escapes, but they should be able to self heal through it. We should be hugely tough bastards to bring down.

      That’s not really the case anymore. It was true in Wrath, but now you have to really position yourself well in a BG to survive.

  21. I dunno what it is. I know people that have warlock alts and just are not interested. Maybe I’ve stuck with warlock all this time because I like the dark evil characters? As I’ve told people before my favorite specs in the game are Affliction Warlock, Subtlety Rogue and Enhancement Shaman, all seen as very difficult rotations/priorities. As much as people like to talk about everything being easy and nothing being a challenge they don’t seem to go for the most challenging in practice. I’m looking at a Monk for Mists and if it is not as engaging as any of those 3 specs I will probably lose interest in it, as much as I love the archetype.

    I think it is the challenge in playing one efficiently. I kind of wish more people would pursue it, it might raise the average ability of the population to learn how to warlock.

    I will admit that it’s tough on me when I put everything I have into a fight, execute it perfectly, nail every shadowbolt I could, not waste a single second of a cooldown ready, get a doomguard with every single proc up before the hero hits, and just feel absolutely wonderful… to get 3rd place in dps on 10 man. So much effort to get mid watching this arms warrior tear it up going “lol another top 200 on WoL”.

    I love being a warlock though. I love the challenging spec. I love being 1 of 6.7% of the population. I’m proud to be a warlock too. All the haters know we’re the best class in the game.

    • I was doing casual arenas during S9 and enjoying myself a lot. I had terrible comps, was just screwing around with friends, but having a lot of fun. Like, Holy Pally/Afflock/Arms Warrior, dual Afflock, that sort of thing. Terrible comps. Good friends.

      Our warrior was out one night so we brought in our DK, who was in worse gear than I was. He tore up the damage, like 2x my total. I’m like, wait, I’m supposed to be the pressure and the damage, the heck? So I knuckled down and really started trying to just tear the place apart.

      I never got more than about 75% of his effectiveness. It was disheartening. :(

  22. neo_stythys

    we disappeared because blizzard repeatedly fucked us hard over the years, it’s as simple as that.

  23. Gregory

    I really devoured this article since I (or want to think that) am a true (in game) warlock. I totally love the class and I played it since day one in vanilla back then when we were imp and healthstones providers. From times to times I needed to stop playing my warlock and at each expansion for a different reason.

    TBC: Warlocks were kings. Dps was very strong. I started back then as affliction with the OP tailoring set and when I had the hit rating required I switched to destro. We all remember the familiar noise of the sacrificed succubus when raids was about to start. We all remember the SL/SL super OP spec that we all used to dominate. This is when I left my lock for a while, after enjoying topping the meters repeatedly and having the joy to see mages be vendor machines and nothing else.

    WotLK: I came back to lock at start. Back then I did not enjoy affliction that much and I kept playing destruction in a more proper way than TBC. I kept playing the lock till my elemental shaman took over. And that just because of the pace of the class. Elementals have fast pace, fast casts and I really like it. So ToC and Ulduar I raided as elemental. And this because I did not like the pace.

    Cata: I played lock again (traditionally was always the first char I leveled to the new cap). You are right. In Cata warlock was the most well designed class regarding to balance between specs. But people see Raidbot as well. That means that they might feel weird seeing SPriest doing more damage than affliction. We are supposed to be THE dotting class. The same with moonkins. Moonkin dps is based on DOTs. Another one that come to steal our rightful place. When I play my shadow priest I do very good damage because I am a… lock! And then mages our eternal rivals that do more damage.

    In my opinion flavor of the month/expansion plays a great role at selecting the class. Warlock is a really weird class for most people and they will get to there when it is our turn to be the OP class. But people will be happy to leave the class.

    Another thing that draws people away from locks is the pet dependency. While leveling, pet is very nice addition as it provides more dps and more safety. At endgame people want to be mages. They want to do their dps without worrying have the pet alive. And demons are not like hunter pets. They are more “expendable” and that means we have less tools to keep them alive. (our pet heal is channeled for God’s sake).

    So summing up… Priest stealing our thing, mages stealing our damage and pet dependency making the class more complicated and more to worry about.

    • Ada

      “We are supposed to be THE dotting class.”

      Precisely, glad someone brought this up. For veteran Warlock players who have long been the kings of DoTs, it’s disheartening to see the awesome DoT damage of Spriests, Moonkins, and Fire Mages (who honestly do what Destruction should’ve initially been, with how many fire DoTs they get. I constantly listened to my mage friend talk about spreading Living Bomb all over the place, and it was like… I’d like something like that, please.)

      And for the record, if Blizzard thinks green fire and reskinned demons (it took them this long to finally update our demons to the Burning Crusade models…?) is going to make me play my Warlock in Pandaria, they’re wrong.

      Or Demonology tanking? No thanks. As a female gamer, I’m not interested in turning into an unoriginal mini-Illidan dude and suffering the same thing Druids deal with as far as forms and lacking identity in being unable to see their gear, etc. Demon wings are nifty and all (friggin’ Rogues…), but it’s not enough to sell me on it.

    • I think that Warlocks have had three competitive specs is both a blessing and a curse. It’s tough enough to be a good Afflock/Destrolock/Demolock, but to have to be good at all of them to bring the best DPS to a fight is pretty challenging.

  24. Jason

    Your chart showing the trend of toon popularity would look better if you indexed them to the average (for pre-DK the avg is 11.11, and 10 after). This really drives home the trends.

    For hunters that would make their trend: 159,151,143,134,109,120,131,120,109.

    For Warlocks: 79,71,71,63,50,60,61,70,59.

    For those that don’t understand indexes, that mean that hunters were 59% more popular than the average 10-19, but only 9% above average at 85. Warlocks were only 21% below average at the start, and a whopping 41% below average at 85!

    I played a warlock to 85 starting with Cata, and I know I got frustrated with the complexity (especially compared to the mage) at higher leveles with no special reward (higher damages) for it…

    • This is an excellent suggestion – it really does show the disparity between the different classes.

      I don’t deal with indexes often, but I went ahead and updated my spreadsheet with how I understand it would work. My numbers are slightly off from yours, though – I show hunters as 62% more popular at level 10-19, not 59% – so I’m not sure what I’m missing with the formula. (Percent representation * 100 * 100)/Average representation.

      I’d love to add this in once I’m sure I understand the math completely. You’re right, it clarifies things greatly.

      • Jason

        I used the average based on the numbers you provided, which added up to more than 100. Otherwise we would match. Glad I could help.

      • Jason

        I mean to add the formula I used : (class%/tot avg)*100 – this makes the average equal to 100. So for warlock 10-19, the calculation would be : (9/11.11)*100 = 81. I did my initial calculations based on the average the numbers (which for 10-19 added up to 102,so the average would be 11.33).

      • Oh, right, rounding errors. Got it, thanks again!

  25. Brewmaster Yodawg

    I can only speak from personal experience but Blizzard ruined warlocks when they introduced the combo point/soul shard system that looked like combo points but wasn’t exactly, but was. Too effing confusing for casual people, especially if you had played for four years and you were doing just fine without combo points and now, it was vital to charge up these soul shards and use them left right up down upperpunch. Who wants to do that really? Also, they kicked affliction to the curb for a while, and everyone had to become demo and have that demonform thing. Every other class was much less confusing at this point. Easier just to switch than wait three years for Blizzard to maybe fix it, which just would have meant modifying it and not reverting it. Ugh.

    • I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the Soul Shard mechanic, both as a third resource and as something that just didn’t work with the class. My personal objection was that they weren’t really useful for all specs and all types of play. I used them in PvP sometimes – but not very often. Instant soul fires, occasional sprints, and instant demon summons. That was really it.

  26. Warlock was the first character I rolled. Affliction was my first spec, and it’s still my favorite spec/class. I wonder how much data there is on what class most people begin with. I wonder if warlocks are the least represented starting class?

    I hesitate to play the “warlocks require more skill so people don’t like them” card. I have max chars of every class and most of them present challenges that are equal to warlock ones. What I do find, is that warlocks don’t really bring much to the table that other classes don’t. I don’t feel really unique in any way other than that I’m on a warlock. I’ve done PVE and PVP since early BC (SL/SL represent hell yeah) and we’ve never been a clutch class as much as other dps. It would be nice if they put Soulstone back how it used to be, and NOT share play with battle rezzes. We’ll see what MoP brings I suppose.

    Great post, I look forward to round 2.

    • That’s an interesting perspective on the complexity card, and I’m glad you brought it up. It’s good to hear other voices on the matter.

      Thanks!

  27. What’s deterring me from playing a Mage is my Hunter. Not to say they’re the same, but I think to myself “I already have a ranged pure DPS.” Similarly, what’s deterring me from leveling a Warlock is my Priest, even though I rarely play Shadow!

    I’m a complete altoholic, with one of each class above 40 but Mage, Warrior, and Warlock. (I love the Warrior class, though. I deeply regret deleting a mid level one.)

    Might I ask you to make the case for playing a Warlock? How are they completely unique? What’s their principle charm?

    For example, what I like about playing a Hunter: Hunters are very easy to play, but difficult to master. My pet and I form a symbiotic partnership, like a mini-party. Managing focus is a quick-paced back-and-forth feel, use focus, spend focus. Hunters are unique as a ranged physical damage dealer. The Hunter community is the biggest and best.

    • I admit, I’m as interested by the responses to this post as the data which inspired it. I tried to stick purely to the problem (where are they?) and data (doing well in high end PvP, not present anywhere else), but I haven’t tried to make a case for or against playing them yet.

      More in the next post, but I’ll offer this as a reason to not count a Warlock out just yet – things are bad enough for Warlocks in Cata that they are receiving a *lot* of attention for Mists. They will probably be a heck of a lot of fun again.

  28. Kaz

    I’ll tell you why, because the rotations are all clusterf$#1@#ks.

    If you have mediocre gear you’re going to pulling crap dps on warlocks with all the effort in the world.

    • A common argument is that the rotation is very unforgiving. Fuck it up once and your DPS drops like a stone.

      • Duerma

        This is precisely why I stopped playing my lock. I raided DS/Ruin in BC, and my DPS was competitive even if I clipped my dots or was a bit slow in refreshing them. When Wrath hit, though, I went from being top-middle to rock bottom and I was dropped from my raid. I don’t know if I was casting things in the wrong order, not watching timers closely enough, etc. but I couldn’t catch up no matter how hard I tried. It was insanely frustrating and actually led me to quitting WoW for about 9 months.

        In Cata, I’ve said that the reason I swapped to resto druid was because we didn’t have enough healers, the RP was more compelling, etc. but in reality? I’m afraid I’m still going to suck in a raid situation, and I don’t want to find that out. :S

  29. Dejara Thoris

    I need to dig up references, but I seem to recall there was a major balance philosophy change at Blizzard somewhere between the start of Wrath and the start of Cataclysm. Before, they had a philosophy that executing well on harder class mechanics would get you bigger benefits. After, they switched (Greg Street’s influence maybe?) to all specs do roughly equivalent damage/heals/etc. within their role, all else is just play styles. The warlock was very much a creature of the former philosophy with it’s many buttons and careful timing to do maximum damage.

    Most players, while not full on min/maxers, will respond to the lack of incentive and just not play ‘locks. I like the affliction playstyle and lore, and I would be bored with a 3 button rotation, but I know I’m not typical. Most people want a lot of epic pew pew, and I don’t think they’re wrong.

    I’ve also been led to believe that most of the play balancing is done at the 3v3 level. If true, this would obviously lead to the situation we see in Arena vs. more solo activities. Also, the addition of more CC mechanics to WoW has made the ‘lock role in that less useful.

    I find myself wondering if the current game design team really understands the point of warlocks at all. I was at the last Blizzcon (I wish I had the video of this) and I think it was Greg Street who called the warlock class “a tanky mage” (might have been “tanky caster”). If that is really what he thinks, then it is no surprise that the ‘lock is in such a rough place.

    • Was this the “bring the player, not the class” discussion leading into Cata?

      This is an interesting comment, since I thought that philosophy was usually applied to buff redistribution and consolidation, and also to the hybrid/pure DPS discussion, but I can see your point about how more complicated specs suffer accordingly. I am going to come back to this, thank you.

      Regarding PvP… let me take a deep breath and try not to rant, I’ve kept my vulcan facade up for most of this post. : ) *Most* of the balancing is done around 3v3 in terms of class balance, which has led to classes which are skilled there and not other places. A lot of the balancing has also taken place in Rated Battlegrounds.

      The few places where Blizzard hasn’t made changes around 3v3 have not turned out well. Warlocks were nerfed several times for problems in 2v2, which infuriated both the warlock and arena community. 2v2 was not supposed to matter anymore, and then substantial changes came out to the class because of it. I’m still angry thinking about them.

      Your tanky mage comment is actually pretty spot on – the most fun I had as a warlock was when I was a Drain Tanking fiend. Have you seen my Drain Tanking video? SO MUCH FUN. We don’t dodge the hits, we take ‘em and suck your life out instead.

      Great comment. Thank you!

      • Dejara Thoris

        Do you have any pointers to the discussion in the ‘lock and arena community when the 2v2 based nerfs happened? I wasn’t pvping at the time.

        Also, I wasn’t completely clear on the tanky mage comment. I found it appalling as it 1) uses mages as a benchmark for warlocks and 2) completely misses the other part of being a “traditional” warlock: the control options. If he’d said “a control freak tanky mage” I would have felt a bit better.

        And yes, drain tanking and the affdrain spec rocked…so they nerfed them. See why i’m wondering about the levels of warlock understanding over in blizz game design? These are the same guys who thought aff, the master of dots and drains, should use *shadowbolt* as a filler. I suspect this happened partially because they wanted to do a mage like school separation on the specs (shadow, demon, fire) instead of the prior more mechanic based separation (dot, pet, nuke). Once again, using mages as a reference point instead of making ‘locks their own thing.

        I just wish they all had copies of your “The Warlock Way” pinned to their cubicles. That is about the only scenario I can think of where I get the ‘locks I really want to play. My expectation for MoP is that warlocks will be easier to play, but more like mages than before.
        (hmmm…I hadn’t realized I was this angry about it)

  30. NetherLands

    Risking sounding a bit like a broken record here, but at least in my book it’s The Shattering and the Cata Talent revamp/increase in burst, with a smattering of Pet-bore.

    The last bit is easy: if someone likes Pets, he can choose either a Warlock (only a couple of options, highly structured by level) or a Hunter (so many options whole sites are dedicated to them).

    As for the other two, interests in a class depends on two things: flavor and effectiveness.

    The Shattering removed a whole lot of the flavor from the Classes by removing the Class Quests. When a Class is rather flavor orientated like Warlocks this hurts even more. I may still have my Dread Mage Hat, but new Warlocks will have to do without all the flavor the Class Quests brought.

    “But that affects all classes!”

    True, but besides argueably to different degrees, that brings us to the other issue: effectiveness.

    Levelling Warlocks are poor-man Mages who place DoT’s on targets that are downed before the second tick sets in, thanks to the burstiness of Cataclysm, making Dungeons not fun, and who get shred to pieces before their DoT’s have done significant damage yet break their Fears in seconds in PvP, making BG’s not fun (if we forget all the other issues with PvP for a sec).

    With Group content lacking due to effectiveness, and Solo play lacking because of flavor (and of course general misere with levelling post-Shattering but I’ll let that rest) , it’s just not that much fun to play a Warlock, especially when one cares as much about Rated/Raiding content as Average Joe Gamer (ie not one bit).

    For former players, having your Class chopped up and gameplay changed (the whole new Soulstone bit and loss of Sacrifice on lower levels) didn’t help much, either.

    • I’ll talk more about game changes in the next post, but let me just toss out: Warlocks got 12% damage reduction across the board when Cataclysm launched.

      I actually thought the talent revamp was not severe enough in Cataclysm. Affliction PvP was basically unchanged – I just picked up slightly different Demo talents instead.

  31. Cynwise, ty for the great site and writing you keep up.

    I started playing WoW a year ago with a Lock, and now have DK,Druid,Rogue and Mage at 85 running with their brother.

    I can give several reasons from my personal experience:

    1) End-game raid Locking is really unforgiving, 1 mistake swings your DPS from cool to trash. Not to mention what happens if you notice ur pets death late. Simply DPS drops from 30-35K to sub 20.

    2) As if our rotion is not complicated enough, i am frequently asked to rez people in mid fight, like a top-DPSing Mage because he wants to stay more on Ultrax and dies, jeopardizing my DoT up times and DPS.

    3) DI is another issue I hate, I am always the bad guy to whomever i give it. Piss more people then i make happy.

    4) Playing a 3 button combat rogue or fire mage or boomkin should NOT be comparable DPS to much more complicated Lock rotation. Why should i bother wt it if i can do same (not to mention more) much easier with an alt, and let some other Lock rez me, boost me, summon me, and i can even have fun and be wiseass’ing him, knowing his class first hand.

    I am only waiting for MoB to fix the fun factor not to give up the achievs i have on Lock, and continue with my Mage as main.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      I tried not to say the words “Dark Intent” in this post. I have strong feelings about Dark Intent. :)

      Let’s see what happens with Mists.

  32. Pingback: Leveling Data on Warlocks is Worse than I Thought « Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

  33. Jason

    A fun story that sums up my warlock experience:

    During a run through of Hall of Origination some dude yelled “YOU ARE THE BEST WARLOCK I HAVE EVER PLAYED WITH!”. I assumed he was making fun of me, since I in no way think I am a great player. But when I asked if he was serious, he said yes, most warlocks suck and have crappy dps.

    Like I said, I don’t think I am great. I really have to have tunnel vision to maintain my rotation. I have a hard time being situationally aware of what others are doing. It probably doesn’t help that I haven’t leveleld any other class above 30, so I can’t compare classes very well. I didn’t realize how difficult it is to play a warlock compared to most classes. I actually chose warlock because I thought dots sounded easier to work with.

    • Dots have advantages – you can put them up and move on to other things – but they do require management to get the most DPS out of them.

      I mentioned that I set aside my Warlock in 4.2, and have been leveling other classes in the meanwhile. It’s good to get perspective on what they’re like after you’ve been at home on your warlock for a little while. There are a lot of good things about the class.

  34. Rob

    Really, To me at least it would seem that the biggest thing would be that (apart from a small niche in pvp) that is almost entirely UA. Locks do not do anything exceptionally well. They are as a rule midpack, and extreamly unforgiving of mistakes. just my $.02 and end of my rant.

  35. Ngita

    In wrath if I concentrate I do at best mediocre dps on my lock, I just can’t figure it out , and its HARD to do good dps, lots of things to keep track of.

    I switch my holy priest to shadow, havent touched shadow since I dinged 85, boom 30k dps in lfr, I switch my resto shaman to enhance, google rotation, talents, glyphs and again its very easy to do top dps at the lfr level. WIth 9 85.s I can do dps I am happy with on every character except my lock.

    Whichever spec I choose, their is always something I dislike, at this point the only reason the character is not completely abandoned is their has always been a Ngita since the stres test. I even logged on and re-created her a few minutes into live to make sure she never died.

    • I have had massively mixed feelings about abandoning Cynwise. I did it, and I’m not happy about it, and that very nearly led me to quitting the game.

      • Dalmasca

        I had exactly the same experience with my lock. I always think of it as my first and favorite character, but it just wasn’t fun to play anymore in Cata. Since T11, I think my warlock has been one of my least played characters (I have one of everything), barring a brief stint at the always underwhelming destro PvP.

  36. Bullet

    Two reasons. Class mechanics and class competition.

    When you play a Warlock, the DPS cycles are relative clunky compared to those of most other classes. You end up with a lot of spells that feel very unexciting and have very little personal impact. In Cataclysm, they moved all 3 specs into ” lots of dots and filler” and basically demphasized Affliction’s drain tanking and Destruction’s burst. You end up with a priority full of a ton of low damage effects and nothing to be like “whoa” that keeps your interest like other classes. Then when you want to play it at endgame, there’s clunky false complexities tagged onto each spec (Improved Soul Fire, pet twisting, Shadow Embrace) that can suck the fun out of the class for many, especially the lower skilled players. Why would you put up with that headache and complexity when there’s other options to do similar? That brings me to point 2.

    Class competition. Warlocks share a common archetype of cloth caster DPS with that of Mages and Priests. When you compare them though, it’s easy to see why many wouldn’t pick Warlock. Magi are simpler to play for generally better results, are a Pure class as well, and use the exact same armor and weapons. Your other option, Priests, is essentially a better Warlock. It’s a hybrid, has more gear variety (can use ALL types of cloth,) and has the strengths of all 3 Warlock specs. It can multidot better than Affliction, AoE better than Demonology unless it blows a bajillion cooldowns every 2 minutes, and burst better than Destruction.

    Those two points end up impacting Warlocks of all levels and skill. A raider is less likely to want to put up with the frustration of Warlock when they could just play a Priest or Mage, while a leveling player gets burnt out fast and lacks the “oooo ahhhhh” feeling of other classes when leveling.

  37. Rob

    As a midlevel long time lock, that thinks he sees what you are trying to do here. I will offer you any and all support I can. and a great big good luck to top it off. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you.

  38. Tristan

    I think there are two separate issues here; there are factors that decrease the numbers because of something that is happening in PVE and something else that is happening in PVP.

    In PVE it is quite simply the DOT mechanic that is difficult to play not because it is complicated (come on, this is a game, not rocket science; don’t be proud of yourself for playing a character well) but rather because it does not yield immediate feedback. You cannot do something and then immediately see if you’re doing well; you need to go through your priorities and keep maintaining everything in a fight and just hope you know what you’re doing because you’ll never be able to say “there, that proc at that time gave me a huge crit and if I prioritize that I’ll get high DPS” – everything has to work together for you to get good results. What this boils down to is you need to be calm and patient and focused – most people probably just don’t like this, any control system that has a laggy feedback is always a headache – its as simple as that. Maybe you like it, but I guarantee you, you are certainly then a rare kind.

    PVP suffers from a similar problem, but here patience doesn’t really help you much. Here you have a similar mechanic where you DOT somebody up and you pile on your rotation like a pro, but wait, what is this? Oh well will you look at that!? This rogue doesn’t seem at all intent on waiting for you to put 4 DOT’s on him, let alone for you to first swap to another target and pack off some CC’s! He flies at you like a bat out of hell and faceplants you. This is what happens and this is what frustrates people. And don’t show me comments from people who “pwn rogues all the time”; they just go up against bad players – match a good warlock against a good rogue… who will win? Any bets? Didn’t think so…

    And don’t say that Warlocks aren’t meant to be able to go toe-to-toe with another class… What rubbish is that? Who wants to play a class that is guaranteed to lose in certain situations. That just sucks – I’m sorry but it does; until warlocks have a way of perhaps with the same sort of focus/skill based mechanic to pack out burst; you’re always going to come second or at least feel second.

    Imagine a rogue and warlock tied for first place on damage done in a RBG; who is going to feel more satisfied? The rogue that ran around almost literally turning people inside-out or the warlock that multi-dotted everybody?

    “Yay! I do huge damage …well… a little damage to many targets …over a long time …if I concentrate really hard… Its so much fun! I can count to potato”

    And before you ask, no, I don’t play a rogue; this is pure self-experienced frustration right from the horse’s mouth. I’m not bad (definitely not the best); I can top out on the meters if I try really hard; but that doesn’t make me stop wishing I had rather spent the gearing/up-skilling effort on another class…

    And on a side note rant; another thing that is very annoying is the lack of competence from the “professional” warlock players in the world; go look for a good PVP guide or an article that nicely explains stats. They just aren’t there. The elitist jerks page is old, manaflask is old, arenajunkies is old… When will people learn that nobody gives a rat’s ass about leveling or what happened in 4.2? The wowinsider column is lack-lustre.. And the forums are filled with “experts” that all contradict each other. There are very, very few up-to-date, concise and accurate resources available to actually figure out what the hacky sack you should be doing. God knows if you try winging it without first doing a thesis on the class you’ll never get anywhere.

    In closing, however, I will say that I have found noxxic.com’s warlock pvp section to be most helpful. Can’t find anything else though.

    • Tristan

      Also wanted to say great post – as I said before it is difficult to find good resources because you can never know if what the writer is saying is true – your scientific approach is great and providing facts to backup what you say provides the comfort that I didn’t waste my time reading what you had to say.

      I realize I have not followed the same approach in my post above and can be faulted for that, but it is how I feel and I assume this is what you’re trying to uncover.

      • It’s one of many things I’m trying to do here. It’s great hearing people’s perspectives; never apologize for expressing yours with heat and passion.

        Thanks for the comments! :)

  39. Ziinaya

    My wife played a Warlock early in Cataclysm, but walked away from WoW entirely last summer. Her primary interest was random battlegrounds, and one of the chief irritations she mentioned was that every time she rezzed at a graveyard, she needed to spend several seconds summoning a pet and buffing herself before she could rejoin the battle. She also mentioned general bugginess with various pets. In short, she grew frustrated by general quality-of-life issues.

  40. kendro

    I hold to that warlocks never got a serious quality of life update for quite some time. Playing a warlock requires a good deal of attention in comparison to most other classes. In general it is unfun to play demonology. No other spec in the game requires use of almost every button in your spell book at least once per fight. The generally non-bursty dps is also extremely unattractive. Big numbers and high crits give moral boosts to players. Monotone music and voices are unattractive to people, same can be said about dps, steady state graphs are unattractive to players.

    Warlock utility also feels kinda lackluster. Have Group Will Travel trumps warlock summons for the most part.
    Health Stone, while useful for the smart players, suffers the same problems of lightwell.
    DI also causes nothing but drama.
    Demonic circle hasn’t presented any cool situations like it did in WotLK that occasionally makes it better than blink, meaning it is just a gimp form of blink this expansion.
    Soul Shards were poorly implemented and soul harvest was stuck with an evocation place holder graphic for at least a quarter of the expansion. (kinda felt like a kick in the nuts to get a mage spell place holder graphic)
    Four iterations into WoW and spell lock is still on the felpup, but warlocks are balanced around always having it at their disposal.
    VW did get better at holding threat, but still is not comparable to hunter pets.
    I could go on for literally hours on this but suffice to say, the class feels old, clunky and neglected. I came back in 4.3 after leaving two weeks before 4.2 was released and played my lock for less than a month before going back to my druid. My warlock with less gear out performs my balance druid, and I’m not bad with either class. I’m not elite, but I’m fairly better than the average player. Despite knowing that I perform better on my lock than druid, I enjoy playing my druid more.

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  42. mistrfantasy

    I think to really understand why warlocks are in decline, you need to go back to the burning crusade. In BC’s, warlocks were plentiful, because they were so OP and EZPZ(Sl/Sl and DS/Ruin were so simple they could be played with 1 button!). Beyond that, they OWNED mages. Come WOTLK, everything got flipped. Locks in PVP and PVE have an exponentially more difficult rotation(you NEED like 10 buttons minimum), and Mages OWNED Locks(spell resist from felhunter Master Demonologist was transferred to Mage Armor). These factors lead the many Warlocks rerolling a different class(i myself made a DK and a Mage). Until warlocks get a major dps buff to match Mage DPS, no one will play it. If you look at your chart, Warlocks have the least dps among the pure dps ranged classes, and are significantly weaker then their archnemesis Mage.

  43. Lock'tar

    I played a warlock as my main alt (meaning raiding at least once a week) during tier11 and 12. For me the problem wasn’t as much the dps in itself, but the way in which it works. All through tier11 and firelands, I just found myself not capable of doing what was required by the encounters so I just gave up. A couple examples:

    - On omnotron, you had to quickly dps the green slimes. Because they died to quick for dots to do anything and fel flame being so lacklustre, I just could not find a way to help out on them.

    - On Magmaw, affliction’s aoe dmg on the worms wasn’t impressive and quite slow, and demonology’s aoe on them took a massive hit because you couldn’t stand next to them

    - On Cho’gall you had the same issues as on magmaw

    - On Shannox, there was no reliable way to get people out of Face Rage’s quickly. (Destro might have been able to, but it was generally quite poor in firelands I think so never gave it a shot.

    - On lord rhyolith you wanted quick burst aoe on the fragments, which only demo really gave me. With Metamorphisis being a (on average) 2 minute cooldown, I felt really gimped for a lot of aoe’ing. Apart from that, the damage on the Spark wasn’t high enough cause it had to die as quickly as possible.

    - On beth’thilac I could not help out on spinners cause they died to quickly.

    Now I am sure that a part of this is because it was an alt and therefor my lack of knowledge and time to try out stuff was limited, which would add to the ‘warlocks are to difficult to play’ argument. I do think however you have to take a much broader view when you look at dps. Sure I can get nice dps on omnotron by ignoring the green slimes, but if my raid dies to them then what good is my average dps? Same thing for face rages, it’s cool that I get high dmg by multidotting dogs but if we die to face rages then that doesn’t help the raid at all.

  44. sam

    Just going to make a point of contention. If we look at the heroic parses for dps the way I interpret it is that, all things being fairly equal, locks are doing middle of the road damage. Why the fuck are we ok with this?

    I know blizz walked away from pure dps topping the damage spectrum vs hybrids but it’s a little ridiculous for locks to be in the bloody middle, especially given how much effort it takes to hit that mark.

    I know you intend to discuss the difficultly of our rotation next week, but we really shouldn’t be complacent with being middle of the road dps.

  45. Scathbais

    Cynwise, your articles are always great. Thanks

    I stopped raiding as of 9am this morning (no seriously last week actually) after raiding for 2 years straight on my lock (Scathbais@mal’ganis)

    I just burned out. I have raided on other classes (ele shaman, Unholy DK) and can say that spending 3-4 straight hours on progression as a warlock is mind numbing. I know you will be touching on complexity next week, but wanted to say I think complexity is the major hurdle for players. Once you do your research and understand how Warlocks are played, you can excel, but it takes a lot of research, practice, UI customization, macros and add-ons to get to that point.

  46. Dardo

    I played a Warlock as main since tBC, but recently switched to a resto shaman.
    I enjoyed playing dps as long as I was at least somewhat competitive as affliction (and by that I mean a chance to top the dps meter on at least a few fights, middle of the pack doesn’t cut it).
    I love to throw dots around, preferably on multiple targets. It’s not always easy, but getting results from a difficult playstyle can be very rewarding. I feel forced to play either the incredibly boring demonology or the “I’m not a fire mage” destruction spec. Neither of which appeal to me.
    Besides that, I feel DS especially was/is rather uninteresting for ranged dps in general. stand and nuke is only fun for so long.

  47. Ava

    Would be interesting to see how is population of locks on PvP servers compare tp non PvP servers

  48. awex

    -I’ve played lock in WOTLK arena 2200+ but always as a destro, and I loved it so much, so much fun, big burst, tons of controll, it was the best class for me, (had many other classes level capped) but than in Cataclysm the destro build wasnt really viable in PVP any more so I stopped playing and never touched my lock again.. I just find affli boring as shit and so is demo.. rather play a mage, spriest or any other class.. so that might be the reason for many other players for leaving..

    -talking about leveling, dunno what people do, but it was the fastest Ive ever done, multidotting tons of mobs while ending with full hp/mana bars was pretty cool and fun..

    -so yeah, making destro strong in pvp again would definitely put me back o my lock again :)

    • awex

      oh and making warlock easier would really dissapoint me, i think they are in a perfect spot skill wise ;)

  49. Apologies in advance for this really freakin’ long comment.

    I can’t explain why locks aren’t popular in general, but I’ve spent some time now wondering why I personally haven’t played one past about level 25. (I’ve rolled three over the years. The highest level one is Lilliallen in Punt This.)

    1. There was always a more interesting class to roll. I don’t mean that Warlocks are inherently uninteresting, just that for me personally they never stood out as the class I most wanted at the time. I have 6 level 85 toons at the moment:

    - Druid. My Druid main is the first toon I rolled, primarily because as a Druid I could try every possible role (tank, healer, melee DPS, ranged DPS) and figure out which role I enjoyed most without having to re-roll and potentially waste all the effort of leveling. There were other reasons, but that was the big one.

    - DK. I rolled a DK because I wanted a JC to compliment my Druid’s alchemy transmute, and because I wanted to save gold on gems. I figured that a DK would be quickest to level for that purpose.

    - Paladin. I rolled my Pally in late Wrath. By then I was an established Druid healer on my main. At the time Druids were dedicated raid healers and used HoTs pretty much exclusively. I rolled a Pally because I wanted to see what it was like to be a tank healer with direct heals before Cataclysm changed everything up.

    - Hunter. At the beginning of Cataclysm I had decided that I wanted a Hunter so that I could collect all the pretty pets. I was also amused by the thought of a Worgen running around with a wolf pet. (It would also be useful to have a high-level Alliance character on my server.)

    - Priest. Healing is the role that I enjoy most, and I needed a break from the pure DPS thing. This is turning into a trend for me, where I alternate between leveling pure DPS then heals. Also, I leveled her Tauren because I was amused by the Holy Cow thing and loved the look of the giant shadowy cow.

    - Mage. Here is the point at which I would have been most likely to roll a Warlock but didn’t. I wanted to play through the Goblin starting zone, and it was a toss-up for me between playing a Mage or a Warlock. In the end, Mage just seemed to suit my idea of a Goblin character better — she makes things explode as Fire or Arcane.

    - Shaman. Currently I’m leveling a Shaman because it’s time for another healer. However, Warlock is actually next on my list… unless MoP comes out soon, in which case I might be distracted by the shiny monks…

    2. Warlock pets. This isn’t a complaint about having to control them or how buggy they might be. It’s more that they’re… ugly. And I don’t get to decide which one I’m using. And I don’t get to name them. I was excited to discover you could re-name them, but it turns out that you just get another randomly generated name. That’s not sufficient. I want to be able to name them myself. In addition, I find the succubus to be far too sexualized for my taste — I feel embarrassed at having her out in public — and all the whipping and moaning sounds are really irritating. Basically, Hunters are a much better choice if you want to play a pet class.

    3. Ease of rotation. At this point, a Warlock will be my 8th+ alt. I don’t want to have to put in a massive effort to learn how to play one well. I don’t want to have to worry that a single mistake is going to completely screw up my rotation. I don’t want to find that putting her aside for a few weeks is going to mean I have no clue what I’m doing when I return to her. I understand the appeal to complex classes when playing a main, but when playing an alt it’s just painful. Give me 5 buttons over 15 any day.

    4. Fear of playing poorly. This ties into my concerns with the ease of the rotation. I try to be at least competent on all my alts, but the Warlock seems like a class I just wouldn’t be good at. I base this in part on the fact that I haven’t been able to figure out how to play a Shadow Priest well, and it seems like Warlocks would be like Shadow Priests, only more difficult. :(

    5. Melee caster? What? I don’t like the idea of having to be in melee range when I’m supposed to be a ranged class. I know that’s only one spec out of the three, (and at the moment I don’t remember which one it is…), but I know that there’s frequently a “best spec” to play, and I don’t want to feel pressured to be in melee on a lock.

    6. The Soul Shard mechanic is awkward. It’s like there are these things that Blizzard has told me I should be using, but there’s not really much use for them… From the prominent way they are displayed in the UI it feels like I’m missing or misunderstanding something, but then I hear from other Warlocks that they barely ever use them either. So it seems badly implemented.

    That’s all I can think of at the moment. I find it really sad that Warlocks have dwindled in popularity so much, because I’ve always enjoyed playing with them in groups. I love getting lock cookies and having a closet available for summons. I think some of the spell effects they have are really cool. I enjoy the lore aspect of Warlocks as well, and the tension that exists between them and the rest of society. Warlocks seem like a class that should be very fun and rewarding to play, and yet somehow it just doesn’t have the appeal the other classes enjoy. I hope the new mechanics in MoP breathe some new life into the Warlock.

  50. Verbrennen

    I think a lot of it has to do with the leveling process of warlocks.

    If you were new to the game or just trying a warlock for the first time your gonna notice a couple things first in the pve side your gonna notice there really is only 2 leveling specs either affliction or demo. The problem with destro is you don’t get Incinerate until level 64 which is pretty much the bread and butter spell of destro warlocks.

    If you decide to queue for lfg before cata dungeons mobs die so fast that using dots is almost useless and your damage output is gonna be subpar to other dps specs.

    Now on the pvp side of things for leveling warlocks lack alot of tools early on. While you get fear at level 14 it breaks on almost any damage these days. You then have to wait till 42 to get death coil and then 44 till howl of terror. Next you have to wait till 75 to get shadowflame which is a huge snare for warlocks and then 78 till we get fel portal.

    Now you compare this to a mage where they get there first snare/root at level 8 there cc at 14 (sheep) a escape ability at 16 (blink) a cone snare at 18 (cone of cold) and a immunity at level 30 (iceblock) on top of these they get a ward that absorbs magic damage at 36 and a sheild that trades damage for mana at 46.

    Really what needs to happen is they need to lower the level warlocks gain abilities that are needed for all levels. Aka fel port should be level 16 like blink shadowflame should be level 18 and Incinerate should be before level 10 like mages get frostbolt and fireball they did this for mages now its time for warlocks.

    I’m leveling another warlock up for the fun of it and pvping in the lower brackets is pretty much a joke if melee get on top of me i am dead i have no way to peel or escape and vs ranged classes without heals we pretty much kill each other and if they have heals my dots don’t even hurt them.

  51. Eve

    I will be very much looking forward to your next installment. I am a longtime lover of locks – currently leveling my FIFTH warlock to end level. Whenever I need to roll a new class to play with a friend on a new server, it’s just plain going to be a warlock! Nothing else has ever grabbed me the way the warlock did. And since I don’t *think* I have “outlier” tastes, it’s always boggled me that warlocks aren’t more popular in general. :D

    Specifically with regard to the mage comparison, I am confused. I’ve tried multiple times to roll mages and never got one beyond level 40. The class seems too squishy with fewer “escape” tools when things to go pot, and too bland to really compel me the way my warlocks do. And if you like direct damage versus dots, there’s always the bursty destro spec – my personal favorite!

    It’s possible warlocks just don’t have as many fun “extras” as mages do – we lack portals, or a warlock version of heroism/bloodlust etc. Or is it an image problem – the mage is perceived as the “good guy” while the darker warlock is seen as evil?

    Either way, I can’t wait to read your part 2. :)

  52. Pingback: Interlude: New Series on Warlocks in Cataclysm « Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

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  54. I know the pet AI change didn’t help.

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  56. I really enjoy warlocks. I miss raiding as one (Destruction in ICC meant Marrowgar spent a LOT of time chasing me), I like the mechanics (probably why I take to Shadow Priest so quickly), and yet…

    It makes me sad that there are so few warlocks about. I see them on occasion, but as the levels go up, they seem to fade away.

    I’ve had people tell me they don’t enjoy the class, they don’t like how it takes so long to ramp up their DPS (the longer a fight goes, the better the numbers get, yes, but… SO DELICIOUS), or the play style just wasn’t their thing.

    Your analysis is really interesting, especially when it seems to come down to, well… people just not liking the class. :(

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  58. Bridgelurker

    I’m curious if you’ve considered the emotional reasons behind character creation/selection. There is a lot more than just rotations that determine playerbase. In creating an online avatar there are also factors of personal taste and/or giving a tangible aspect to ones ego. I could likely write a fifty page essay on this concept alone, which is oddly attractive. I’ll let you start with the most basic tidbit of this idea: Once upon a time if you were a death-metal-loving angry teenager, the darkest most evil looking class would be the warlock. Now the brooding/dark/evil persona is shared with the death knight. I think you would be amazed to find just how much of character selection is based on emotional response compared to numerical data.

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  60. Geist

    if you ask me the problem is this. why play a class that has to work 2X as hard as others with less reward even if you play it well. and to be honest im not even sure i will play my warlock with the new changes they have ignored warlocks for far to long for me to give a dam about mine and make it my main which is sad because i use to love my lock. im happy with my death knight its fun to play i enjoy it. on that same note look at mage they use what 2-3 bottons on avg and just blow us locks out of the water. no ty RIP Warlock. it will never be my main again its just not fun to play given you bust your ass for little reward

  61. Olivia

    I am a warlock and also disappeared for a while nothing to do with Cata itself though more like guild drama and real life moving. When I rolled this char it was the first and as noob the reason was simple. She had the prettiest dress. Came back a month ago and raiding. Gettingback to the groove and organizing UI for maxdps and trying to find the best dps and talking to my rogue husband it hit me. As a destro warlock in any given raid fight just tank and spank no special job assignrd I have a min. Of 10 buttond to hit. Rogue BF has 5. Talked to other classes as well and decided to survey it nobody said a higher number than 6… Then ppl suggested me to make macros. Run into bricks here also because how do you make macros for a class that doesnt have “rotation” but more like “priorities”. Dont take me wrong I like playing warlock and I kind of “grew” up with the norm of having to deal with that many spells. But I wonder if I would have started out as lets say an arcane mage the rolling a lock would I have sticked to the lock? Couple if days ago tried aff also and though less buttons still diff rotation for starting the fight mid fight and end fight. I think we are just too complicated. Vinerva Doomhammer EU

  62. At end game, blizzard has all but destroyed the 25man raiding community in favor of 10 man guilds, however unintentional this may have been. This puts many warlocks in a situation where theyre pressured to spec Demo for DP (unless by some miracle, there is an elemental shaman). EJ numbers assume all classes have the same buffs, and the difference between being demo or not being demo + no DP is much larger than the spec swap without the buff loss.

    So? So endgame demo is flat out not fun (IMO). It casts very slow and this gives a boring feel. HoG is delayed, your entire performance is based on syncing meta with DS/trinkets + boss vulnerability stages, and if you screw up your meta you screwed up your damage potential by a large margin.

    Ontop of this, there is the absolutely unacceptable state of pet-swapping for DS.

    TL;DR: No one raids locks because of 10m pressure to be demo, and respectable demo DPS doesn’t make up for it having the most garbage playstyle in the game. No one levels locks because stuff dies too fast for Affliction and Demo in low end dungeons and makes players feel useless.

  63. Personally I don’t play a Warlock, but some of my nearest, and dearest play them, and I hope they don’t change. As a druid I crave they’re DI, and overall they can be very aggressive on DPS. The current Lock that I raid with is consistently at the top either right there with our hunter, or above them. I vote we start: 1-888-Save-a-lock

  64. I’m a casual player and I’ve played demo lock as my main since vanilla and loved it until cata 4.3. playing demo used to be fun now its a pain. 1.demo main stat : mastery will be on a cooldown with meta, (meaning after the buff your main stat has 0 value, I need to change for my other gear with haste and crit all the time) yes it does a huge amount of damage with the use of hellfire and felguard on multiple mobs, but for that I need to be beside the tanker in the dangerous zone, we are clothies not melee, mage and shawdow priest have their most powerful dps from distance. seed of corruction and rain of fire suck for demo. 2.dot will be useful if you do raiding on long fight with boss but in the 5 heroic dungeon its a waste since others players always kill the boss or mobs before you dots goes past 2 or 3 ticks, so yes if the dot goes to full it makes us having a huge dps but it rarely goes. 3. felguard is buggy will not respond many times even if on offensive or I send it to attack, I have to recast it to respond. 4. after 4.3 I decided to level a holy priest, in about 2 months I had a 85 with level 378 gear from vp and many drops from random dungeon . warlocks rarely get gears in drops and when it does most are too low or the same and vp are so long to accumulate, when I q for dungeon it takes 1 min for my priest and seems to always finish the place quickly, not so with lock 20 min waiting and once in people gets often kick out or leaving because going to slow thus q’ing again. others class seems to be able to gear faster in those dungeon. I keep my lock on and play it to save enough vp and though I’m not playing him as I use, I keep hoping panda ext will bring some change to the demo class.