I read a pre-release version of Jazz’s post The Worthless Warlock over at Arrens’s site this weekend, and I have to admit: I get the frustration of playing a Warlock, of feeling like you are possibly the crappiest class in the entire field. You aren’t nimble like a Mage, you aren’t unstoppable like a Warrior or Death Knight, you aren’t invulnerable like a Paladin, you can’t heal, you can’t tank, you can’t even name your pets. You are particularly weak against Rogues, who gank you at every single opportunity, and the only people you get to pick on in a battlegrounds are Druids, but then they go turn into a Tree and all you can do is stare at them evily.
Yet, while you’re feeling completely ineffectual, you’re one of the most feared and hated classes in all of Warcraft. People will spit on you, gank you, teabag you, single you out for extermination above the healers. If you ride your Felsteed or Dreadsteed into battle you absolutely will get killed first.
Despite all of this, I love playing my Warlock. This complicated, crazy class is completely unique within Warcraft. It takes patience, research and practice to master. You have to embrace your limitations and use them against your opponents. And you have to adapt or die.
(Aw, who am I kidding? You’re a Warlock. You’re going to die. A LOT. It’s the first rule of Warlocking.)
THE WARLOCK WAY
I’ve finally started playing enough alts of different classes that I can articulate the philosophy behind Warlocks and the role they play in the game. Each class has a certain general role they fill — damage dealing, tanking, healing — but within those roles, there are specific concepts that make each class unique.
The core concept of a Warlock is that we will kill you from a distance while you are helpless to stop us. This is why Warlocks are hated: no matter what spec they are, the Warlock way is to take control of the opponent and kill them, be it quickly or slowly or through a pet, but to also dominate the target so they cannot stop their own death.
Warlocks can do this in many, many ways.
- DoT, DoT, Fear, Run Away. This classic early tactic and core Affliction idea loads the target up with potential damage, then takes control of them to render them impotent to stop it. If you can’t break the Fear, you can’t do anything to stop the damage or catch the Warlock from doing it again.
- You Have To Catch Me To Kill Me. Warlocks are a ranged damage class, with many, many tools to keep you from doing anything while we kill you from afar. Fear, Howl of Terror, and Death Coil send opponents away from the Warlock. The Felguard’s Intercept keeps you at a distance. Shadowfury and Seduction freezes you in place. And Curse of Exhaustion, Nightmare, and glyphed Shadowflame slow you down while we run away.
- My Death Will Not Save You. By loading up the Damage over Time spells, even killing the Warlock will not stop your own death. You might be able to catch us, you might be able to kill us, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to get you too.
- DoT Stacking. Leaving a DoT that a Warlock places on you is a very bad idea. Leaving Immolate, Corruption or Haunt up allows a Warlock to build up devastating combinations.
You’ll notice what these all share in common; establish control at a distance and inflict damage. Every single tree has these tools.
The closest class that approaches the Warlock Way is a Rogue. They too establish control over an opponent, but they do so close-up and personal, not at a distance. Sneak attacks are vital to closing the distance for a Rogue, which is why stealth is so important to them. Rogues and Warlocks are, in many ways, completely opposite expressions of the same core idea; one inflicts physical melee damage, the other ranged magical, but both take control of an opponent to prevent them from fighting back.
Mages are an interesting counterpoint to Warlocks. Both classes are relatively rare due to their fragility, both deal ranged magical damage. But Mages avoid damage by rooting, snaring, slowing their opponent, rendering them unable to move. Warlocks take over completely, stealing their victim’s volition. Compare Frost Nova to Howl of Terror, or Frostbolt to Death Coil to see the difference. Between Blink and all the tools the Frost tree gives them, Mages are slippery, elusive targets. Warlocks are not. With one exception, we can run only as fast as our feet carry us. Warlocks would rather you did the running.
The final pure DPS class is the other pet class, Hunters. The difference in the two pet classes is remarkable in how they treat their pets. Hunter pets are unique, named companions with their own talent trees. They are excellent tanks that help keep opponents at bay. Demons are tools to be used for their DPS and special abilities, to buff a certain tree or take advantage of the buffs of those trees. Hunter pets are one of their ways to keep opponents at a distance, where they excel at dealing damage. But they never take control of you to do so.
Shadow Priests bear mentioning here, even as a hybrid DPS, because of their similarity to Affliction Warlocks. Shadow Priests are really the only other class that has tools that work like the Warlock, namely Psychic Scream and Mind Control. Psychic Scream is like Howl of Terror, which means it’s full of win. Mind Control certainly matches the Warlock ethos of rendering the opponent powerless, but unless you are near a cliff it does not help you kill them. Fear lets you attack and stack DoTs while the victim is running in terror.
See the theme here?
One of my biggest frustrations with playing Cynwise is when I don’t play her like a Warlock, but like something else instead. When I forget that my job in a battlefield is to be an agent of chaos and destruction, of making other players go GIVE ME BACK MY TOON, of making enemy healers curse me out because I am single-handedly taking them out of the action while everyone around them is slaughtered by my teammates — when I forget that, then I die, and die a lot. When I do any of the following:
- Think that my job is to lead the Honorable Kill, Killing Blow, or Damage Done columns,
- Charge into a pack of melee instead of running away,
- Forget that my job is to take control of you before you have a chance to stop me,
… then I am not doing what my class is best at doing.
Yes, I want to stride across the battlegrounds of Azeroth like a titan, chopping and hewing and cutting down my foes before me. But when I want to do that, I should get on my Warrior, Death Knight, or Paladin, because that’s what they’re good at.
When I want to enforce my will upon a battlefield — that is when I bring out my Warlock.
SQUISHY DOES NOT MEAN FRAGILE
One of Jazz’s chief complaints is how fragile Warlocks are. This is a valid complaint. We wear magical toilet paper for protection. Even if you follow all my gearing advice, you are still going to have trouble when facing melee.
Take the following, put it on a sticky note, and place it on your monitor.
I WILL REMEMBER TO USE DEMON ARMOR IN CLOSE COMBAT.
Yes, Fel Armor is the shit in raids; self healing and spellpower are wonderful. But Demon Armor is like throwing on a coat of mail armor in the middle of combat, plus increasing all your incoming healing by 20%. Put Demon Armor right next to Fel Armor and learn to stance dance between the two.
Got that up? Great, now take the following, put it on a second sticky note, and put it right next to the other one.
I WILL ALWAYS DROP A DEMONIC CIRCLE.
There is one single spell that goes against the Warlock Way, and is your only escape when your opponent nullifies all your Warlock tools: Demonic Circle: Teleport.
It is also completely useless if you do not have a circle dropped within range. Drop it every time you dismount, as you’re running around. Every time you stop, you should drop a circle.
I hope you have space for a third sticky note on your monitor, because you need one more to make you less squishy.
I WILL PICK UP SOUL LINK FOR PVP.
Taking 11 points in Demonology to get Soul Link, and keeping it up all the time, is the best thing you can do to increase your survivability in PvP. No matter your warlock PvP build, Soul Link gives you a massive 20% damage reduction. Your demon is not your friend, not your loyal companion. It is a tool that you can use to shunt pain to, and heal if you like.
For talents, you may find my Warlock Battleground Talents post from 3.1 useful. It’s still accurate, though deep Demonology has gotten some buffs of late.
WARLOCKS ARE FOR FITE
I have long considered writing a guide to playing a Warlock in PvP. However, I don’t think I can do a better job than Dusk from Uldum did on the official forums. Even though some of the class-specific information is a little outdated, it remains the best guide to Warlock PvP I’ve seen on the internet.
Read it. If you’re a Warlock, read all of it.
YOU ARE NOT (WAR)LOCKED IN
One piece of advice that I gave Jazz over email, and I’ll reiterate here, is that you should try other characters. I find that taking time to learn other classes pays off on my main. But also it’s good to get a break from the same old grind, the dotting and the fearing and the causing other players to howl in frustration, as rewarding as that sounds. Tanking makes you a better DPS; healing makes you a better tank. Playing a Hunter teaches you the value of a good jump shot, which you can then use for a Backdraft-induced Incinerate.
I started off saying that I understood Jazz’s perspective, and I do sympathize with him. When I really look at my warlock, though, I don’t see a weakling, a waste of time, or a class that needs to be buffed or nerfed to compete.
I see someone that, in the right situation, played the right way, can become a goddess of death, destruction, and chaos, an instrument of power to enforce my will upon my enemies — and leaving nothing in her scorched wake.
That is The Warlock Way.