Tag Archives: Warlock

Battlemaster

Cynwise - Shrine - Battlemaster Close Crop

My battleground diploma is done.

I locked at 85 to avoid the gear grind, focused on it for 6 months, and got it done.

I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of Mists of Pandaria, but I have no max level alts. I amuse myself hunting rares wearing the best gear possible. I take advantage of long BG queue times by going back to finish those old things I never did before.

I like how the Warlock class is playing in Mists; it’s so very different from Cataclysm. We are far removed from the class which inspired Decline. I really don’t have much to say about it aside from that it’s fun again.

Having a fun class again is a pretty big deal, come to think of it. Don’t take it for granted.

I don’t think I’ll unlock Cynwise anytime soon. I absolutely do not miss grinding gear to remain competitive in PvP. Having to work each and every week to keep up with my opponents isn’t for me anymore, and from the looks of things there’s going a lot of work ahead for endgame characters who want to PvP.

So.

I’d rather just play BGs and have fun with a video game.

cropped-cynwise-warsong-gulch-flag-room-persistent-ultimate-defender.png

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On The Sublime Joy of Destruction Warlockery

Holy crap, I’m on fire! Abelard, I’m on fire!

Oh, wait. I’m a Warlock. A Destruction Warlock.

Setting things on fire is what I do.

(Previously. Previously.)

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Decline and Fall, Now Available in HTML and eBook Formats

I appear to have written a small book about Warlocks in the past two months. It’s not quite NaNoWriMo volume, but there are graphs, and that evens things out, right?

Well, after some cursing at ebook format converters, I’m happy to announce that The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm is now available as a single electronic book for your reading convenience. Two files are available:

  • HTML – single web page, with original links and graphics
  • eReader Archive – a .zip file with HTML, EPUB, MOBI, and TXT versions of the series. Kindle users should try the MOBI, others the EPUB or HTML.

There’s some formatting challenges when moving from one medium to another – images go missing for no reason is my big problem. I’ve tried to smooth it out as best I could – the HTML file should be the best one to use.

Enjoy! Thanks again for reading!

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Out of the Mists: Reclaiming Warlocks in Pandaria

This is the seventh, and final, post in the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

The first few weeks of the beta release of Mists of Pandaria was filled with all sorts of amazing news about changes to Warlocks. Every class received some changes, but it really seemed like Warlocks were getting a complete overhaul. Demo and Destro got new resource systems, Affliction’s Soul Shards were revamped. New demon models were added alongside the old stalwarts. Spells were simplified or redesigned, cruft was removed. Many spells were limited to specific specs.

Then came unexpected news: Demonology as a tanking tree. Green fire through a quest. Massive changes to the class were coming. The Cataclysm Warlock was going away, and in its place was going to be a something … very different. Even as things changed and the dual bombshells of Demon Form Tanking and Green Fire were retracted, the reports from the beta showed a class getting completely gutted and rebuilt.

The changes are pretty staggering.

I remember starting this series right around the time the beta came out and feeling a huge sense of urgency to get it done. I needed to get my findings online so people could see the reason for the attention. It’s not that Warlocks can’t DPS or PvP, it’s that the class is shedding players. It’s not that other classes don’t need help too, it’s that Warlocks were vanishing. More than a quarter of them quit. The trends were all going in the wrong direction.

But I also remember glancing at the changes and wondering: will these changes really fix the problems which caused the decline of the Warlock population, or are they just bandaids? New demon forms can get people excited, but if the demons weren’t the original problem then it’s wasted effort. Cosmetic changes can help sell a spec and class, but they can’t solve underlying mechanical issues. Cosmetic changes aren’t bad, at all! But there need to be major mechanical changes, too, or players won’t stick with the class.

I’m done with Cataclysm. Let’s move on to Mists.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Holy shit. Warlocks are going to be so much fun in the next expansion.

I can’t bring myself to level my baby Forsaken Warlock on the live servers anymore. Why? Because the leveling process is so much better on beta. If you are wondering if you should level a Warlock now or in Mists, wait for Mists. Gone are the awkward talents and abilities; in their place are simple, logical spells which fit the theme of the spec. Leveling Destro, for instance, I no longer shoot Shadow Bolts and dot on the run. Instead, I:

  1. Set people on fire.
  2. Explode people and stun them.
  3. Throw fire at people.
  4. Drop fire on groups of people.

And that’s pretty much it. It’s wonderful.

Simple for leveling? Yes, and that’s great for new players and new Warlocks alike. Affliction DoTs. Demo gets demon form early and gets to use it often. Destro slings fire at everything. By the mid-40s all the new resource systems are in place and you’re starting to learn the basics of how things work at endgame.

The class is very different at endgame. If you are going from 85 to 90, mentally start preparing to learn a new class. Affliction still feels familiar, but the changes have made it faster, more frantic at times. Demonology and Destruction are completely different; not only do they have new resource systems, they have jettisoned much of the shared Warlock abilities used in Cataclysm and are focused on the fantasy of the spec again.

The biggest problem, I think, will be the transition for current endgame Warlock players. I went in not knowing any of the new systems or having read any guides and was overwhelmed by how different things were. I had to start over from scratch to get used to the new way of doing things, nuking both my UI/keybinds and my preconceived notions of how the specs should work. The transition from Wrath to Cata was easier because it was just more stuff on top of stuff I already knew; Cata to Mists is new stuff. Jettisoning old concepts is hard but vital to the changeover.

I can already see that the developers recognize this is a problem by the appearance of clear, concise in-game directions on the Core Abilities tab. It’s relatively easy to put together a clear out-of-game guide, but a bit harder to teach people in-game. The Core Abilities tab wasn’t there when I started but it’s a really useful guide. The What Has Changed tab is another recent addition which I think will be helpful in-game advice for returning Warlocks.

CORE ABILITIES

I think the Core Abilities tab is a great addition to not only the Warlock class, but to every class in the game. Each spec gets a tab in the spell book summarizing their key abilities for use so that players understand the intended way to play, like this:

I love this tab. It provides a good overview of the endgame rotation of a spec. It lets you drag the abilities down to your action bars and go, okay, I’m playing Demo, here’s what I’m supposed to do: keep Corruption and HoG on the target, cast Soul Fire when MC procs, turn into a Demon when my Demonic Fury bar is full, otherwise cast Shadow Bolt. Got it.

It seems so logical in retrospect, but if there is a way a spec is supposed to be played, it makes sense that the game should teach it. This allows new and old players alike to pick up a class and get the basics quickly, while still allowing a lot of room for player growth. Mastery of the nuances of a class won’t be taught through the Core Abilities tab, that’s not what it’s there for. You won’t see things like “time your DoT refreshes with trinket procs with Demon Soul for max damage” or “use Fel Fire while moving” in these tabs, and that’s okay.

Core Abilities are the basics. Great addition. Love it.

LIMITED SPELL SELECTION CREATES FOCUS

You’ll notice that the number of spells on the Core Abilities tab is pretty low – the page supports six, which is a good number to try to get your head around when learning any spec.

One of the things I like best about the changes to Warlock in Mists is how the Core Abilities are not just the suggested abilities for the spec, they’re usually the only abilities. Competing abilities are just not available. Looking at Demo above, you might ask what happened to Immolate? It’s not available anymore to Demo! You can’t cast it, don’t even try!

This focus is created either by only granting abilities to certain specs, or transforming basic spells when the spec is chosen. Corruption turns into Immolate for Destro, so now there’s not a choice between the two, or a possibility that Corruption will enter the rotation. It can’t.

Locking many abilities to individual specs not only reduces player confusion, it eliminates the possibility of unintended crossover and the complexity that goes with it. The number of shared Core Abilities between specs is very low – Corruption is the only one, and it’s only shared between Affliction and Demonology. Everything else is different.

While this means we will likely see the three Warlock specs drift further apart in Mists, I think this is a very good thing for the flavor of each class and reducing overall class complexity.

The Destro Core Abilities (above) are a good illustration of how much more focused each class is on a few central, thematic abilities in Mists, and not presented with the dozens of choices you have in Cataclysm. I’m reminded of Bruce Lee’s quote on expertise:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

This was drilled into me when I was learning martial arts: most black belts only really use 5-10 moves, but they know how to use them in dozens of configurations and combinations, and adapt them to any situation or environment. I feel like that’s what we’re seeing here. The cruft is being cleared away, leaving us players to focus on using those abilities we have.

MORE USEFUL SPELLS

Spells which weren’t useful in Cataclysm have either been jettisoned or made useful in Mists.

Searing Pain is gone. This was mostly a PvP spell, but Fel Flame can replace it nicely.

Shadowflame is gone. I love this spell, but it was both awkward to use and very, very mage-like. It’s been rolled into Hand of Gul’dan now.

Fel Flame generates Burning Embers and Demonic Fury now, making it an easy choice for whenever a Warlock moves. You move, you cast Fel Flame for damage or Life Tap for mana, period.

Curse of Enfeeblement takes the place of Curse of Tongues and Curse of Weakness and is actually attractive now, especially while leveling!

Demon Soul now has spec-specific iterations, decoupling it from the deployed demon and eliminating Demon Twisting.

Demons appear (and this is, of course, subject to change) to be chosen based on utility, not on spec association or DPS. Any given spec doesn’t have a specific demon that benefits it through talents or abilities, which I think is a great change.

Spells transform into new versions when Warlocks do things. Demon Form doesn’t give you new abilities, it changes the ones you have into new, related abilities. Curses become Auras. That’s clever. If you use Burning Embers to do AoE, your spells change to reflect that.

All of these things are pretty damn cool.

SIMPLER CLASS BASELINE DOES NOT MEAN A SIMPLE CLASS

That said, there’s a set of other abilities that are shared across Warlock specs that are also needed – things like Life Tap, Demon Soul, Guardian Demons – that still need to be cast. There are also talents which are independent of spec.

The division of abilities into Core/Non-Core is great for playing multiple Warlock specs because it allows players another way to chunk up their abilities. I can look at my UI and go, Core (DPS) abilities go in one place, baseline Warlock abilities (defensive, movement, utility) go in another, and maintain a great deal of consistency in layout between specs.

Compare my Affliction and Demo setups in Beta:

This is Affliction, arguably the spec with the most buttons right now. You can see that most of the Core Abilities are grouped in the lower bars and the primary 1-10 keys, while utility spells are on keys around the QWES keys, like ADFGT.

This is Demo. The utility keys are almost identical between specs, withthe only variation being different talents or glyphs I’m testing out. The Core Ability section is different, but not overwhelmingly so – there’s still a relatively uniform layout there.

I’m amazed at how much space I have with my keybindings, to be honest. I know some people have been able to play Warlocks in Cataclysm without using all their keybinds, but I have had fully loaded binds from the start. I’m a bit in shock that I won’t need 60 binds and can use WASD without feeling like I’m sacrificing valuable keybinds space to do it!

The Talent system revamp is excellent. Instead of trying to shape your character by taking certain necessary abilities, you’re choosing utility and options instead of possibly making mistakes which affect your core abilities. What I like best about the Warlock talents is that you can often tailor the complexity of the spec based on your choices – often you are selecting between another button to push, replacing an existing button, or adding a passive ability to a button. This allows Warlock players to take 3 or 4 different damage absorption CDs if they like, or just have two.

I saw this with the Glyphs, as well. The Glyph of Demon Soul is fantastic, because it gives a passive bonus when DS is not on CD, effectively allowing players who don’t want to have a burst CD to ignore it – yet still get some benefit from it. The Glyph of Wild Imps is working like this too, only in reverse! It takes a passive and adds a button with CD, which is awesome!

The abilities are simpler, but I wouldn’t call them simple. Not by a longshot. The interactions with each new resource spec are still up in the air, but there is still a lot of mental juggling going on. Affliction feels much faster now with changes to Malefic Grasp and Haunt. Destro feels very rhythmic, where you build up to this absolutely massive discharge of damage (oh god, 6 Chaos Bolts on 2 targets with Havoc and Demon Soul, be still my beating heart) and then start over again. Demonology is in the strangest place right now, with a hybrid melee-caster rotation that’s unlike anything Warlocks have seen before. Meta form is no longer just a CD you use to increase your damage, instead it’s an entirely different way of playing.

VISUALLY EXCITING ABILITIES = SPEC WISH FULFILLMENT

Near the beginning of the beta there was a report that Warlocks would get a quest which would allow them to change the color of their fire to green.

There are times that I feel like I’m in the minority because I don’t really care one way or another about green fire for Warlocks. I mean, would it be cool? Sure? But I’d rather see mechanics fixed than spell graphics updated?

Well, that’s really a crumudgeon’s attitude, and it took me playing in the Mists Beta to realize it.

I chose the screenshots above deliberately because they show off some of the very cool new spell effects that are available for Warlocks. Chaos Bolt is now a HUGE green energy dragon with a swarm of smaller dragons launched at the target. Shadow Bolt can be made to swarm in a pack of three instead of a bolt, and it’s AWESOME. Soul Fire is huge, like, HUGE. Harvest Life is wild when you can get 3-6 targets in range. These spells are great.

I was leveling my baby Warlock when I realized how much happier I was that she was slinging sheets of fire instead of shadow bolts at her targets. This is how Destro is SUPPOSED to feel! I yelled more than once at the screen.

And that’s really what the new graphics are all about; fulfilling the fantasy of a spec. The abilities have to do it, the mechanics have to do it, but the graphics have to do it, too. And the new graphics are delivering on that fantasy. They are making each spec different from each other – you will not have to wonder for long what kind of Warlock you are facing. They’re also making the class visually distinct from other classes very early on – you won’t wonder if you’ve got a Fire Mage or a Destro Lock in your group anymore. You’ll know.

I know Blizzard came out and said that green fire wasn’t happening, but given the scope of graphical changes I’ve seen in the Beta – I wouldn’t rule it out just yet.

WARLOCK TANKS

I have not seen a class community polarize faster than Warlocks did over the discovery of the Glyph of Demon Hunting, which allowed for Demon Form to work… well, to work like a tank. A real tank, not an off tank. Huge amounts of armor. Taunts. Melee attacks. Defensive cooldowns. All the basic abilities were there, they just had to be fleshed out.

Then there was lore that appeared, later – about how the Demonologists on the Council of Six Daggers went to the Demon Hunters of Outland to learn their secrets.  The reason for the name of the glyph became clear, at least.

But, after all that excitement, it was not to be.

Greg Street wrote:

Just to make our intent clear, the Glyph of Demon Hunting isn’t intended to turn Demonology warlocks into a tanking spec. You won’t be able to queue as a tank for Dungeon Finder for instance and won’t have the survivability or tools of say a Protection paladin.

Thus the dream of Warlock tanks ended.

If there was anything that indicated to me that Warlocks were really in trouble in Cataclysm, and that no idea was too wild to save them in Mists, it was this one. Tanking Warlocks represented the most outrageous thinking I’d seen yet on the class. Oh, sure, bloggers had talked about it before, but nothing had ever come out of Blizzard indicating it was a possibility. Taking a pure DPS spec and turning them into a hybrid? This is madness!

No, this is amazing.

Let’s assume for a moment that the intent really was to make Demo a tanking spec. Humor me.

Let’s consider the benefits:

  • Turns the class into a hybrid, resolving issues with the Simplicity Tax and Bring the Player, Not the Class model. This also invites players to try Warlocks who might otherwise be hesitant to roll a pure DPS character due to the needs of their raid composition.
  • Increases the number of potential tanks in the game. This both helps the general tank shortage, as well as offset the main quality of life disadvantage of a pure DPS – queue times for PvE dungeons and raids – by letting them jump in as a tank.
  • It is new and unusual, which can be quite a draw for players looking for something different. It also gives long-term Warlock players an opportunity to experience a different role in the game without rerolling.
  • Sets up the possibility of a fourth spec for other classes. Demo tanks would be an experiment in making one spec fill multiple roles (DPS/Tanking), much like Feral Druids did. If both roles are successful, spinning off a separate 4th spec becomes a logical extension of the tanking experiment, which opens up possibilities for other classes extending their specs.
  • Fits the theme and fantasy of the spec. Instead of transforming into a demon to make your spells hit harder, you turn into one to rip and tear into your enemies, using demonic magic to augment your physical prowess to be the equivalent of a giant dire bear or warrior in armor.

There are some challenges to overcome with this idea, though.

  • Automatic role determination by spec. Splitting apart Feral into two specs allows Blizzard to code LFD/LFR to only allow characters who have learned a tanking spec to queue as a tank. If this restriction comes to pass, Demo either needs to become a full-time tank spec or have the tank spec be split off from the DPS spec entirely.
  • Automatic quest reward determination by spec. If quest rewards are going to be chosen by your current spec, should Demo get DPS or tanking gear?
  • Attachment of Demo DPS players to their spec. Given the massive changes made to Demo in Mists, it doesn’t really resemble the Demo DPS spec we’ve enjoyed since Wrath, but current Demo players may not want to give up their DPS play style of choice. There is a related argument that Warlock players don’t want to be a hybrid and be pressured into tanking.
  • Balance with other classes. Demo tanks brings the number of tank classes up to 6, which can be a challenge for balancing under the Bring the Player model. There are also PvP concerns to consider, though to be frank those concerns exist with the glyphed version anyways.
  • Tank Cloth itemization. Honestly, I think this is the biggest obstacle for Warlock tanks. How will they gear for avoidance? A conversion of Intellect, Haste, Crit, Mastery into Dodge, Parry, or Expertise might be possible, but how will that work? New gear would be an easier answer, but adding in an entire new class of Tanking Cloth gear is a monumental undertaking, and fraught with the same perils as Intellect Plate.

The problem of making a cloth-wearing tank viable is an interesting one. Do you follow a Bear/Guardian model and convert Intellect into Dodge? Well, that probably needs to be coded, and only for Warlock tanks (since Agility gives Dodge already as a default).

What about health pools, do you make it so their damaging attacks suck life out of the bosses and give them a large effective health pool (but then how do they survive the big hits?) What about Parry, Expertise, melee Hit – how do you make it work, exactly, when there’s no available gear with tanking stats?

There’s also a question of theme. Demonology, as it stands today in Cataclysm, provides both the conjuror and  metamorph archetypes in one package. In some ways those concepts are at odds with each other – a conjuror summons other beings to do their dirty work for them, while a metamorph transforms to do the job themselves. Tanking stresses the latter philosophy, of internalizing the demons and becoming them, more than the former, which is more of a ranged DPS idea. Spinning off the transformation of Demonology into a separate tanking tree would allow both themes to flourish, but if only one can be chosen – I’d rather have some flexibility in my theme.

The Glyph of Demon Hunting is an interesting experiment. Because it’s a Glyph you can’t enable it in the middle of a fight, but perhaps it could be changed into an ability which allows Demo to activate tank mode for 5 minutes? That at least makes it an attractive option for tank death or tank swap fights. As it stands now, the best use will be for soloing or – as gear gets better – tanking 5-mans with a friendly guild group who likes pushing the limits.

That’s pretty cool, but I know that if there was more time in the development cycle this could be even cooler.

I would not count Warlock tanks out of the picture just yet. If not now, look for them in the expansion after Mists.

THE REBIRTH OF WARLOCKS IN MISTS OF PANDARIA

I find it ironic that I named this series after Gibbon’s masterpiece, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireGibbon assembled a wealth of material around the collapse of Roman governance in Western Europe in the third through sixth centuries, but he used it to formulate a monocausal theory – that the Roman Empire’s fall was inevitable because of the influence of Christianity. This theory overlooks much in pursuit of forwarding an Enlightenment viewpoint of the Medieval period and Christianity as bad, and the Greco-Roman classical tradition as good.

As a historian, I have always preferred the works of J. B. Bury, who did not dispute the evidence Gibbon presented, but rather interpreted them differently. Bury posits that Rome’s fall was not inevitable, but rather the result of a series of incidents which lead to a catastrophe. Internal political pressures, external migratory pressures on the Germanic tribes, inflation, increased taxes to deal with the Sassanid Empire’s threat, a series of terrible decisions by Imperial and Provincial leaders alike – all these contributed to the calamity of the fourth and fifth centuries. I recommend reading Gibbon so you’ve read him, but I recommend Bury if you want to see the vast scope of problems in Late Antiquity, and how monocausal theories need to take them all into account.

To quote Bury:

The gradual collapse of the Roman power … was the consequence of a series of contingent events. No general causes can be assigned that made it inevitable.

It’s my hope that this series has been more like Bury than Gibbon. While there has been a central theme to this work –  inelegant complexity without reward led to the decline of Warlock populations in Cataclysm – it is my firm belief that it was a series of design decisions and balance changes during the expansion which contributed to the decline of this class. Attributing it to any one specific change misses the big picture. Our personal reasons and agendas need to take a back seat to the data.

The Warlock class declined in Cataclysm. Based on what I’ve seen so far in the Mists of Pandaria Beta, it is too early to write its epitaph, but its recovery is by no means a certain thing. It is transforming into something very different what came before, and it is my sincere hope that it flourishes and thrives in its new incarnation.

Let’s see what the future holds for this great class.

THANKS

I honestly thought this would be a two-post series at the beginning. More than thirty thousand words later, I realize that I had a lot more to say about Warlocks than I thought I did, so, first and foremost, thanks to the hundreds of people who commented and shared your thoughts and opinions in comments, forums and emails, for promoting this work in the Warlock community. Thank you.

I’d like to thank Xelnath for his for his insights and convincing me to give the Mists beta a try. It’s been a delight discussing this work with you, and I can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeve next.

I have to also give many thanks to my undercover editors, Catulla and Narci of Flavor Text, for their unflagging support in the face of a mountain of text regarding a class they didn’t play. Narci deserves special mention as the one who convinced me this needed to be a series, and then stayed with the idea by reviewing every single draft, even the ones I threw away. Thank you both for your ocular fortitude.

Finally, thank you for reading. This has been a long journey, and I’m humbled and thankful that you chose to go on it with me. Thanks!

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Appendix C: Haste and the Butterfly Effect

Why did all Warlock specs become so DoT heavy in Cataclysm?

I’ve been wondering this as I’ve gone though the changes in Mists, because the difference is so startling; why did every spec start using all DoTs, all the time? Why did Destro end up getting damage from 5 DoTs and lose the nuking feel? Why did everyone end up using Corruption and Shadowflame?

Was it a deliberate design decision, or was it an accident?

I can’t answer designer intent, but I think the root of this was an innocuous quality of life change made to DoTs at the start of Cataclysm. Ironically, a small change to make DoTs easier to use ended up making the Warlock class harder to play overall.

I covered this early after Cataclysm’s release in How Warlock DoTs Work in Cataclysm, which looked at the different ways Haste affected DoTs in Wrath and Cataclysm. There were two changes:

  • You could now clip most DoTs without losing the final tick, and
  • DoTs would gain ticks of damage at certain Haste values.

The clipping was the quality of life issue, but to make it happen, the mechanics of DoTs had to be modified.

In Wrath, Haste meant that your 18 second Corruption with 6 ticks could be done in, say, 12 seconds, at which point you’d recast it. In Cataclysm this was changed so that DoT spells would remain roughly the same duration, but add additional ticks of damage when they got fast enough. Your 15 second/6 tick Corruption could potentially become a 13.64/6 tick or 16.25 second/8 tick spell.

This was, in retrospect, a really big deal.

Haste increased DoT DPS by making ticks faster, that’s easy. But in Cataclysm, Haste also dramatically increased the DPCT (damage per cast time) of DoTs like Corruption because each cast generated more overall damage. If a Warlock with no Haste cast Corruption, that’s a GCD to cause 6 ticks of a set amount of damage. If that Warlock has enough Haste to get an additional tick or two of damage, that GCD spent casting the DoT now does 16%, 33%, 50% more damage, depending on how many additional ticks were on the spell.

With Cata’s new Haste/DoT model, Warlocks of all specs had to cast every DoT available to them. They were too good not to cast. Corruption and Shadowflame became defaults for every spec. Destro was caught in a vice because Conflagrate was based upon Immolate’s total damage, so every additional tick Haste granted increased not only their primary DoT’s DPCT, it also made their primary nuke hit much harder, giving an additional DPS boost. So they’d stack Haste to get those Immolate ticks, which would in turn improve Corruption’s DPCT, making it even more important to cast.

Sweet delicious Haste, combined with shared spells across all specs, became a trap.
I think the changes weren’t intentionally designed to make Warlocks more complicated; changes were made to DoTs/HoTs for all casters, not just Warlocks, and in general the new model really is better. It’s certainly easier to be able to clip with the 2 second rule! And the extra ticks and associated Haste Breakpoints/Plateaus make Haste a more interesting secondary stat.

I think this points towards Warlocks getting hit by Lorenz’s butterfly effect – a small initial change in one part of the game had unforeseen major consequences in another.

  • DoT/Haste interaction changes with 4.0.1 release.
  • Corruption/Shadowflame DPCT rises.
  • All Warlock specs have Corruption and Shadowflame in their priority.

Plenty of other small quality of life changes were made that had an effect upon the class’s overall complexity. Banes being separated out from Curses, for example, seemed good at first (Banes caused damage, Curses were debuffs) because you no longer needed to do advanced math to figure out if you should take the 12% damage increase from Curse of the Elements or the damage caused by Curse of Doom or Agony. But then every Warlock ended up casting a Bane – and maybe a Curse too.

The DPCT of Shadowflame has always been surprisingly good, mostly due to its short cast time, so it was interesting to see it get used so prominently in Cataclysm. I haven’t really taled about Shadowflame much before, but it’s a spell that I adore – damage, dot, and a glyphed slow. It’s also a tremendous pain in the ass to use in PvE, and takes skill to use in PvP. It has short range so you either have to run in to use it or forgo it entirely. It’s not just a DoT or an AoE, it’s a spell that requires very good placement to use. Movement matters, which adds a layer of complexity far beyond just another spell.

Corruption presents an interesting problem because it was baseline damage for all three specs. Blizzard couldn’t change how it worked without considerable effort, so all that was left was tweaking the damage. If the damage was made too low, Affliction would be neutered, but if it was kept high, Destruction would benefit too much. So talents, Mastery bonuses, general damage all got modified – but Corruption’s DPCT was too good to pass up for Destro. (Demo always wanted it for Molten Core procs, but the damage was similarly good.)

I think the fact that Haste changed all DoTs and not just Warlock DoTs points towards this being an accident. I can’t prove it, and it’s not like it was the source of all Warlock problems in Cataclysm.

It was just a little butterfly, flapping its wings.

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The Loss of the Warlock’s Soul

This is the sixth post in the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

In a role playing game, each class presents an archetype; every specialization sells a fantasy. Your character’s being is tied into what they do, in their abilities and resources. Their class is a shorthand to describe and delineate them. In Warcraft, it’s the single most important thing about your character. You can change their appearance, their gender, their race, even their faction – but their class – what they do – is unalterable.

The archetypes that WoW classes present are broad strokes: a virtuous knight, a fallen hero, a religious ascetic, an archer or rifleman. Some have common themes but subtle distinctions: servants of natural balance versus servants of the elemental forces of the world. Others present the same idea with different polarities: brawny fighters versus dexterous skirmishers, scholarly wizards versus volatile conjurers. Within each of these archetypes there is a lot of room for players’ imaginations to flourish.

The first two posts in this series dealt entirely with identifying the problem: Warlocks declined in popularity in Cataclysm more than any other class. They were the least popular class and declined further. The next three posts examined the theory of Inelegant Complexity without Reward, the idea that the Warlock class suffered from increased complication without commensurate reward while lacking leveling elegance to offset churn. These posts are focused on measuring those things which can be measured, of looking at the data and class abilities as impartially as I can and trying to make sense of one question: Why did players leave? Well, here are a bunch of things that changed between Wrath and Cataclysm, they probably all had something to do with it.

But one thing I’ve avoided talking about has been the fantasy of the Warlock, the soul of the class. For one thing, it’s too personal, too steeped in a player’s imagination to objectively measure in the aggregate without a lot of surveys. For another, I think that there’s compelling evidence that the theory of Inelegant Complexity without Reward is right, that it’s the obvious reason why players put down their Warlocks.

Yet, I don’t think it’s the only reason.

I keep looking over the Warlock changes made in the various patches and the community’s reactions to them. Warlocks were able to perform at the highest levels of the game both in PvP and PvE, yet players abandoned the class en masse over the expansion. Objectively, the class got slightly easier to play from its apex of complexity around 4.0.6, which in turn implies that it was a combination of fatigue from class complexity as well as the complexity itself which drove players away, not simply the complexity.

Subjectively, though, I think the Warlock class lost its way. Each individual spec failed to deliver the fantasy it promised. The changes made during Cataclysm exacerbated the effect of this failure, so that even if a player wasn’t affected by complexity fatigue, they found themselves wondering if this was still the class they originally chose to play.

There weren’t any substantial changes to the vision or presentation of the Warlock class in Cataclysm. The failure came from muddled mechanics.

THE WARLOCK FANTASY

Setting aside questions of good or evil, the core idea behind Warlocks is that they’re the tough spellcasters who can survive a beating. This is in direct contrast to Mages, who are presented as fragile but elusive spellcasters, able to escape any trap. One class emphasizes durability; the other emphasizes mobility. Each classes’ spells and mechanics emphasize this contrast. (c.f. Demonic Teleport and Blink.)

The flavor of each specialization suggests a certain kind of character, to be sure. Affliction is good if you want a hexer, a corruptor, a dark enchanter or necromancer. Demonology is the conjurer, the witch summoning dark spirits, the summoner of devils and demons. Destruction is the mad invoker, the pyromaniac. There’s flexibility for players to define their own roles within each specialization.

But mechanically, the three specializations could be summed up very simply.

  • Affliction: damage over time spells, drains.
  • Demonology: demons.
  • Destruction: direct damage spells.

Mechanics have to support the fantasy of the class and specialization, or else the class feels wrong to play.

In Cataclysm, the mechanics of each Warlock spec failed to deliver on their promised fantasy. They created a dissonance between what players thought they should be playing versus what they actually played, which in turn contributed to the flight from the Warlock class.

  • Destruction had more DoTs than Affliction or Demonology.
  • Demonology had more (and better) nukes than Destruction.
  • Demonology didn’t have much to do with demons.
  • Affliction was forced to use Destruction spells instead of drains.

Let’s look at each one in turn.

THE PROBLEM OF DESTRUCTION

Destruction had more DoTs than Affliction in Cataclysm. Affliction had more overall debuffs to monitor, but in terms of actual damage over time spells, Destruction used more.

Destruction had 5 DoTs contributing to its PvE damage, with the player having to manage 4 of them. Affliction and Demonology had 4 DoTs, with players having to manage 3 of them.

If a player wanted to play “the DoT spec” and picked Affliction – which thematically is correct – they did it wrong. If they picked Destruction because they didn’t like juggling a lot of DoTs – well, that turned out to be wrong, too.

That’s bad. Players shouldn’t feel like they did things the wrong way, that there was a bait and switch between the fantasy of a class and its reality.

Contrast this with late Wrath’s model:

The only time Destro locks used Corruption in late Wrath was while moving, and even then only if you didn’t need to Life Tap or Death Coil was on CD. It was better than doing nothing while moving, but it was never part of the standard rotation. You wouldn’t use Corruption in a Patchwerk fight.

Destro had distinctly different damage sources before Cataclysm. Wrath Destruction had a few DoTs, Burning Crusade Destruction had a few DoTs – it’s part of the class flavor – but it was never the DoT spec.

Until Cataclysm.

THE PROBLEM OF NUKES

Demonology had more nukes, and more useful nukes, than Destruction.

While I counted Conflagrate as a CD-locked nuke for my complexity analysis, thematically it’s not really one – you don’t stand and cast it, and it doesnt have a travel time. It’s not visceral, like shooting a sheet of fire from your fingers or hurling a meteor at your enemy.

But even if we include Conflag, I also have to point out that at current gear levels, Chaos Bolt drops out of the Destro rotation because Incinerate scales much, much better with Spellpower.

Compare it to Demo, where Shadow Bolt is a solid filler – but when Molten Core procs, Incinerate becomes a better nuke – and when Decimation procs, Soul Fire becomes the execute nuke of choice. On top of that, Hand of Gul’dan hits harder than Incinerate, provides a debuff on the target, refreshes your primary DoT, and buffs your demon’s damage.

Destro uses Soul Fire to keep up a buff and as a proc, not an execute. The signature 31-point talent nuke doesn’t add anything special, and it gets beaten out by Incinerate.

Why does Demonology have more interesting nukes than Destruction? It’s not that Demo shouldn’t have interesting nukes, too – it’s that Destro fails to deliver on the spec’s promise that you’ll be slinging fire. You sling it, but only after you’ve gotten all of your DoTs ticking.

If anything, Destro’s use of Incinerate/Soul Fire feels more like Affliction’s Shadow Bolt/Haunt mechanic than Demo’s nuke weaving – one nuke for damage, another one for buff refreshing.

That’s not right. It should feel fast and furious – and distinct.

THE PROBLEM OF DEMONOLOGY

Why doesn’t Demonology have more to do with demons?

It’s kind of strange to phrase it like that, but when you look at the mechanics of what Demo Warlocks use, there’s demon form on 2 minute CD, and a unique demon… which is only used in AoE situations, not on bosses. And that’s it.

For the master of demons, that’s kind of disappointing, isn’t it?

This isn’t a problem I think got dramatically worse in Cataclysm. Rather, the spec has always lacked a real emphasis upon demons. The fel flavor is there in name, but not in execution. If you look just at the mechanics, Metamorphosis and Felguard are the extent of demonic influence for the spec. Demonology lacks cosmetic features (demonic horns and wings, demonic flight form, glowing fel tattoos on the character) to emphasize the vision of the spec, while the mechanics are grounded solidly in shadow and fire magic – not conjuration.

A demon form every two minutes, and the ability to save shards while switching demons. That’s what being a master demonologist got you in Cataclysm.

THE PROBLEM OF DRAIN LIFE SPEC

Cataclysm launched with some Warlock spells being unintentionally powerful. This was usually as a result of specialization and Mastery bonuses. There was a point where Searing Pain – formerly used for PvP and Warlock tanking due to its high threat component – was the best filler spell for Destruction, which made a lot of tanks very concerned. But that was quickly nerfed to prevent tank heart attacks.

From Cataclysm’s beta through May 18th, 2011, Drain Life was inordinately good for Affliction – so good that it offered a viable alternative to the traditional Shadow Bolt filler spec. Instead of spending talent points in Destruction, Affdrain buffed pet damage in Demonology and only used Shadow Bolts on Nightfall procs or an opener to get stacks of Shadow Embrace.

Drain Life spec had a lot of things going for it.

  • It’s thematically appropriate to the class. Warlocks should be tough and durable.
  • It’s mechanically appropriate to the spec. Affliction uses DoTs and drains.
  • It was new and different for a spec which hasn’t changed much in two expansions.
  • It offered challenge with reward.

That last part is worth emphasizing – Drain Life spec required a little bit more skill to play than Shadow Bolt because of having to watch ticks and interrupt your Drain Life at exactly the right time while refreshing DoTs. But the reward for this complexity was worth it; Affdrain brought the buff of survivability to raiding Warlocks. It freed up healers to concentrate on other raid members during some of the most intense triage healing this game has ever seen – T11.

Shadow Bolt, on the other hand, is a Destruction spell, and requires Destruction talents to buff it into usability. There’s only one thing in Affliction which affects Shadow Bolt – the base line passive Shadow Mastery talent. Regular Mastery (Potent Affliction) doesn’t, all the other Affliction talents don’t. You have to take Bane to make it even usable, and Shadow and Flame to buff it. This is problematic while leveling with the new talent tree restrictions (no help until level 71, minimum) but it’s thematically bad. To quote Tyler Caraway from Blood Pact:

Blizzard spent an entire beta lamenting about how it really wanted for Shadow Bolt to be affliction’s filler, and yet there is absolutely no support for the spell in the affliction tree. Does it really come as a surprise that the spell that is supported by mastery and several talents ended up performing better than the spell that got kicked to the curb?

Simple fact: If you want Shadow Bolt to hold such a lauded position within the affliction spec, then why is there not talent support for it?

Rightly or wrongly, this did not fit in with Blizzard’s design goals for how DPS caster classes should work in Cataclysm. Greg Street, in Explanation of 4.2 Balance Changes:

We nerfed Drain Life because Affliction was forsaking Shadowbolt in PvE, which wasn’t intended. We want Drain Life to be for utility, not primarily for damage, and we want all casters to have to hard cast at least some of the time. This was done via hotfix and players won’t see a change in 4.2.

The Drain Life spec fit Affliction’s theme. It fulfilled fantasy of the spec – a strong but tough vampire-like caster, taking health from their enemy and using it to fuel their own dark magics. It offered a unique reward for mastering the most complicated class in Warcraft. It was interesting and different. But, because Drain Life was a channeled utility spell, it did not fit the intended model for DPS.

It was therefore eliminated.

I don’t know if I can underscore this point enough. The fantasy of the Affliction spec was set aside for general design principles, not balance. It wasn’t that Drain Life was too powerful — it was on par with Shadow Bolt spec — it’s that it was too useful. Raiders don’t really care if a spell is channeled or hard cast, they have to stop moving for both of them.

But it was important to Blizzard that Affliction use Shadow Bolt and not Drain Life.

Why?

Why was it so important to force Affliction to use Shadow Bolt, instead of embracing the soul of the spec and going with Drain Life?

I think this is a legitimate question to ask in light of what happened to Warlocks in Cataclysm. I believe that had Drain Life spec been allowed to flourish, Warlock popularity would not have dropped as much as it did. Inelegant Complexity without Reward would have been replaced by Inelegant Complexity with Reward.

Yes, players would still have wrestled with the complexity of the class, but they would be able to say, I make our healer’s lives easier. I make it so we can two-heal this encounter instead of three-heal it, because I can heal myself through the whole thing.

I don’t know if keeping Drain Life spec Affliction would have been enough to save the class. I honestly don’t.

But I do know it would have given Affliction a fighting chance.

THE PROBLEM OF DRAIN MANA

OH MY GOD … they are right… I have no mana drain. Plus a bunch of other crap has been changed. I check the patch notes. UA weakened, devour magic weakend, CoE weakend, fel armour drastically weakend everyone who plays a warlocks wobby has been nerfed by 60% size reduction.(I look downstairs… MY GOD ITS TRUE… My wife is gonna be so upset) Why whyyyyyy? I dont understand… what did we do wrong?

I decide to go to outlands to take down some level 70s. But my dots are easily expelled and I have no mana drain to kill their healers and I dont have the survivablity anymore to propel their powerful lvl 70 attacks.

So I head to stranglethornvale to farm some mobs for my leatherworking. But my dots are easily expelled and i have no mana drain, so their level 30 healers make quick work of me.

Ive had enough. I log off wow.

By the end of the week my wife has left me for a new man in her life. Rodney Oboogaboo. A pygmy paupa new guinian 35 year old paper boy with a skin irritation that bleeds a smelly puss like substance. But he plays a frost mage and can pull more DPS then I can. But what can I do? my dots are easily expelled and I have no mana drain.

- Your kind aint welcome here, Zhing @ Frostmourne

The 4.0.6 patch had a lot of changes for Warlocks. Most notable was the complete removal of Drain Mana from the game, which prompted the classic Warlock forum thread above. The Felhunter’s Devour Magic (offensive dispel) was given a 20 second CD, up from 8. Unstable Affliction’s silence was reduced and Fel Armor was completely redesigned.

Losing Drain Mana sucked, but not for the reasons you thought.

These changes were all PvP changes, and in hindsight they were (probably) needed. They were part of a discussion of Upcoming Class Changes which included the following analysis from Greg Street:

The larger health pools, decreased impact of Mortal Strike debuffs, and slower healing are all having the desired effect in PvP. Burst damage has its place, but doesn’t determine the outcome of every encounter. There are several individual abilities that we aren’t happy with in PvP.

We’re keeping a close eye on dispels. We still like the design of making dispels more of a commitment rather than liberally sprinkling around dispel resistance or consequences for every class. Defensive dispels (removing a debuff) generally feel good, but we think offensive dispels (removing an enemy buff) feel too powerful, especially for DPS specs. In particular, Purge and Spellsteal will probably get nerfed.

We’re also looking at crowd control, interrupts, and self-healing in PvP. It’s possible we’ll reduce the durations of some crowd control effects, especially the area effect ones, and decrease the duration of interrupts.

Priests are a little weak in PvP, especially at mobile healing. We have made some changes to glyphs and talents to enhance their survivability and instant healing.

There was an overhaul of PvP mechanics during this patch, with CC durations being standardized, interrupts and counterspells being set on a standard CD, that sort of thing. Warlocks had a lot of changes to absorb, but they adapted. You cannot look back at the PvP changes of 4.0.6 and say they made Warlocks useless in PvP. You can’t even say that they hurt them much at the top levels of the game – Warlocks were strong in rated PvP throughout the entire expansion. The really good Warlock players adapted to every change and still excelled.

But this overhaul introduced changes which contributed to the decline of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

There were two types of changes:

  • Changes which widened the skill gap between the great and the good.
  • Changes which made other classes look more attractive or easier to play.

Changes to some PvP abilities were applied across the board in this patch – consistent CC and counterspell durations. When an ability is standardized across classes, no one really complains – it feels fair. But when it’s changed for one and not another, it makes classes feel singled out. It makes players compare classes and consider questions like: would I be more effective playing something else?

Drain Mana’s removal wasn’t bad in and of itself, it was that it was removed while Mana Burn was left intact that was the problem. It wasn’t that Devour Magic got a 12 second increase to its CD, it’s that other offensive dispels didn’t get the same CD – or any CD at all. It’s not that the automatic self-healing of Fel Armor was removed, but rather that other classes didn’t see a similar reduction.

“Priests are a little weak in PvP,” noted Ghostcrawler, and in that context the removal of Drain Mana without the corresponding loss of Mana Burn makes sense. Other caster classes needed to be made more attractive in PvP, so Warlocks were made less effective. This – combined with all these other changes – made it harder for average Warlock players in PvP, who then looked at the other classes and realized they were more attractive at their skill level: easier to play, more effective abilities, fewer buttons to push.

If it wasn’t Drain Mana, it was Fel Armor. If it wasn’t this patch, it was the 12% damage nerf in 4.1. The little things piled up until players decided it wasn’t worth the hassle anymore.

At some point, people started realizing it wasn’t fun for them anymore, and either rerolled or quit.

Inelegant Complexity without Reward strikes again.

THE PROBLEM OF HAVE GROUP WILL TRAVEL AND WARLOCK UTILITY

Have Group, Will Travel is an insanely useful level 21 guild perk. With it, any member of a guild can summon their entire party or raid to their location. It has a long CD, but since it’s available to everyone there are usually enough to bring any last-minute stragglers into any guild activity.

It’s easy to use, too – click on the ability and it summons your party/raid.

Compare this to the Warlock Ritual of Summoning: a single class has access to it, requires 2 other people and a bunch of clicking, but it has no CD.

Have Group, Will Travel is the superior ability. It eclipses the Warlock summons in nearly every aspect, effectively negating the class perk. This, no doubt, hasn’t helped with overall satisfaction of the Warlock class. It’s not special or unique anymore. About the best you can say is that it’s always available if you have a Warlock around. But Warlocks can’t use it on their own – it has to be part of a group.

The wrong thing to do is to remove Have Group, Will Travel so that Warlocks can feel useful about this ability again. This solves the problem of uniqueness for a small fragment of the playerbase at the cost of increased dissatisfaction for everyone. People like HGWT. It’s useful. Taking it away will just piss a lot of people off.

The right thing to do here is to make Ritual of Summoning better than Have Group, Will Travel. Make it as easy to use as HGWT – no need for a group – with a reasonable cooldown. Do it by Glyph – let Warlock players choose between a Demon TV (which can be used all the time but needs 2 other players) or a HGWT group summon with a 10 minute CD.

Don’t go backwards with quality of life improvements just to make a class feel special.

Make them feel special by giving them a better quality of life.

Next up is the final post of this series, Out of the Mists: Reclaiming Warlocks in Pandaria, where I’ll finally start looking ahead to Mists of Pandaria and the complete reworking of the Warlock class.

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Appendix B: The Problem of Evil

I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the responses on the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm series. There are a lot of questions and points raised which modify my original outline to the point where it the topics need to adjust to suit. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” and all that.

As such, I have found myself writing posts which I think are related to the main thesis, but where the data doesn’t strongly support the central theme. Or, like in the following piece, I think the data is far more interesting for analyzing other classes than it is for Warlocks. I had hoped that analyzing the initial lack of appeal for Warlocks would yield some new insight into the class, but ultimately there are limitations on the publicly available data which outright prevent it.

This is a data-heavy post, which is pretty much the only reason I’m releasing it into the wild. All of the charts can be found in the 4.3.3 class distribution spreadsheet. If nothing else, this will hopefully prove a solid snapshot of class popularity at the end of an expansion.

APPENDIX B: THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

One common theory I’ve heard about the scarcity of Warlocks is that it’s because they’re the evil class of Warcraft. They personify the ends justifying the means. They rationalize using the tools of the Burning Legion against everyone, without worrying that perhaps this really isn’t a very good idea.

There are NO noble or virtuous Warlocks in lore, and Warlock characters aren’t portrayed as good or nice in the World of Warcraft. At best, no one trusts them, and at worst, they’re feared and reviled – and rightfully so! They consort with demons for fun and profit. They take delight in pain and torment. They are corruptors of the highest order.

And yet, they can also be the saviors of Azeroth.

Reconciling these two positions can, frankly, require some mental gymnastics.

Anti-heroes are a tough sell in a fantasy setting. Yes, there’s some appeal for those who don’t want to play a noble paragon or protector of the natural order, but it’s a limited appeal. A class based on the worst villains of WoW isn’t going to feed into people’s desire to be a hero.

I think there’s something to this idea that Warlocks are naturally an unpopular class at the character selection screen because they’re the bad guys. Even Rogues – the other anti-hero class – are a bit easier to recast in a heroic light. Sure, they’re ruthless and efficient, but you can picture them as secret government operatives, swashbuckling pirates, street urchins turned heroes. The noble Rogue is part of fantasy archetypes like The Gray Mouser or Bilbo Baggins; it’s part and parcel of the AD&D-inspired syncretic fantasy legacy Warcraft is heir to.

Warlocks are either necromancers, crazy conjurers, or wizards who crossed the line with the Dark Arts. They have their own place in a fantasy setting, but not as heroes. So it’s difficult, at character creation, to see how this character would appeal to a broad base of players.

The central questions of the previous posts in this series were concerned with the decline of the Warlock class over the course of Cataclysm. The revocation of the Simplicity Tax and additional complexity beyond the magic number introduced in Cataclysm created a situation of inelegant complexity without reward, which in turn led to a decline in Warlock popularity. These are based upon the significant changes to the class during this expansion.

The reason which I haven’t considered that the class’s character unduly affected it in Cataclysm is because I didn’t see any real change in the portrayal of the class to account for its decline. In other words – Warlocks didn’t get any worse in Cataclysm’s story. Warlocks still don’t have any sympathetic characters in Warcraft lore. All major Warlocks characters are unrepentant villains (Ner’zhul, Gul’dan) or they reform and renounce their fel ways (Drek’thar). None of this changed in Cataclysm.

That said, while I don’t think that the idea of the class caused the Warlock to decline, I absolutely agree that it doesn’t help its case to become popular.

Sadly, the data we have publicly available is limited and doesn’t let us look at things like: out of every character rolled, how many people choose a Warlock? How much time do players spend considering the class on the creation screen versus other classes?

The majority of the data we’ve considered so far has focused upon the Warlock class at endgame, level 85. It’s tempting to use popularity data from the leveling brackets (c.f. the second post in this series) to try to prove this point that players don’t choose Warlocks at the creation screen. Looking at the leveling graph again:

The important data point is in the 10-19 bracket, where players have gotten over the level 10 hurdle and are showing enough interest in the game to commit to more than an hour or two.1 Warlocks show up with a resounding 21% deficit, and it gets worse from there. It’s safe to say that they’re not popular at creation, and that points to the class not having immediate appeal. They’re the house in the nice neighborhood which lacks curb appeal.

But what’s interesting is that they’re about as (un)popular as Priests, and more popular than Shaman from 10-19! Heck, even Paladins – the most popular class in the game – are unpopular at that level, though they quickly make up ground. If it’s the Warlock’s evilness which dooms them to unpopularity, why are traditionally heroic classes also unpopular?

That doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Well, no, it doesn’t really.

The data in the 10-19 bracket represents the current number of characters in that bracket, not the sum of all characters who have passed through that bracket. It’s correct to say that Shaman are not very popular in 10-19, but that might be because they’re all moving on quickly to other levels.2 The shape of the line, and relative position, and how it ends up is more important for analysis than any specific intrabracket comparison.

Let’s look at this by directly comparing Warlocks to another popular class as they level.

Both classes experience a decline between their 30s-60s, but Paladins gain in popularity as they level. They’re almost twice as populous as Warlocks in Northrend.

When you hit Cataclysm:

Man, look at that hockey stick with the Paladin line! People love playing their Pallys at endgame.

Here are the numbers, which have also been added to the class distribution spreadsheet:

It’s tough to say, definitively, that people aren’t rolling Warlocks only because they’re the evil class with this data. It’s really tempting to say that because there’s such a small difference between Pallys and Warlocks in the lower levels, it must be because they like them equally. This is probably false.

The key isn’t in the 10-19 bracket and where they start – it’s with the overall population of each class. Character creation encompasses all characters, not just a subset of those leveling. What we see with the above graphs is that players enjoy leveling Paladins to the endgame and playing them there. They’re not rolling other alts, they level up and they play them. This is true to a much lesser degree with Warlocks, too – but the overall population of people who rolled a Paladin is much greater than the population of people who’ve rolled a Warlock.

In previous posts, I focused on endgame statistics – how many Warlocks were being brought to Heroic Raids, how many were getting 2200+ Arena ratings – which required focus on endgame, level 85 data. Determining if a class is over or underrepresented in Heroics/2200+ required a comparison between characters who could compete in an activity (because they were the correct level) and those who actually did. If we’d compared the total raiding population of a class to the entire class population, we’d draw the wrong conclusion. That’s not right.

So, let’s at total population data.3

Going back to the same source as the leveling data (Warcraft Realms), we get the following:

And let’s look at that as a graph:

There are some surprising results when you compare this data to the level 85 data for other classes – Hunters, Rogues and Shaman especially – but it’s not quite so revealing for Warlocks.

They’re still at the bottom of the barrel. This shouldn’t be surprising – leveling data puts them at low popularity, raiding data puts them scarce – but it’s good to see the data match up from different sources.

Let’s go ahead and compare the total population to the endgame populations.

This data is really interesting for other classes, but not really for Warlocks.

There are a few items to note:

  • Hunters make up 12.3% of the overall population, #2 behind Paladins. Their leveling popularity translates into a sizable active character pool, but a comparably scarce population at endgame.
  • Like Hunters, Rogues are more likely to be leveling than found at 85. This is probably due to the Legendary Carrot Effect. I think we’ll need to see Rogue data at different times to see if this really held true for Cataclysm.
  • Shaman are more likely to be 85 than leveling.
  • The massive DK population in the 50s and 60s is statistically a blip due to low populations at those levels.4

This, sadly, doesn’t really shed a lot of light on the question we’re trying to answer – is the reason for the class’s unpopularity because of their reputation as evil spellcasters, or because of other reasons?

We don’t really know. All we can say with confidence is that Warlocks are unpopular from start to finish.

There are a few ways we could test the theory of evil:

  • Add a major sympathetic Warlock character to lore in the middle of an expansion (to isolate it from expansion-basedclass changes) and see if popularity rises.
  • Conversely, add more negative Warlocks to lore and see if class popularity falls. Or rises! It all depends on the character. (…I do not really recommend this.)
  • Change the introductory class text and reskin the class to be a Friendship Wizard. See if people reroll to play with Rainbow Bolts.5
  • Survey Warcraft players to determine why they did, or did not, roll a Warlock.

Aside from those suggestions, I think this specific theory of evil driving players away is unprovable with existing data. It’s suggestive, and there’s an argument to be made for it.

But we need more evidence.

—-

(1) This data set is limited in a lot of ways – unfortunately we can’t see how many Warlocks really get rolled at the character screen. We’ll have to extrapolate initial character creation choice from the lowest level bracket, which isn’t perfect – but we’ll make due.

(2) Scroll of Resurrection toons went through it REALLY FAST.

(3) This doesn’t represent characters from all active subscribers, but a representative subset. When you look at the population of active characters across tracked realms, the sample size is statistically significant, so we can make due with it. This is one reason why I tend to deal with percentages instead of absolute character counts in this series.

(4) This shouldn’t really be a surprise. Death Knights are well represented in the endgame, but their status as a “Hero Class” makes them ideal bankers on new servers. At least a life of service to Auctioneer Jaxon is a far better fate than serving the Lich King?

(5) Mark my words, Friendship Wizards are going to dominate the DPS charts in the expansion after Mists.

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