Drain Tanking

Drain tanking is a technique used by Affliction warlocks that allows them to dispatch mobs without taking very much damage at all. When done properly, drain tanking allows affliction warlocks to enter a Kali-state, or God(dess) of Death Mode, where they slaughter mobs without ever stopping.

Remember my post on Destruction Warlock AoE Grinding? Well, if you play an Affliction warlock, you probably looked at that with a bit of amusement and, quite probably, inter-class derision. So much movement! So much jumping and flying and BAM BAM BAMing! So much damage taken! So much like a mage! Wait until you see how an Afflock handles that situation!

Well, you’ll get no argument from me. While Destro AoE grinding is a fun, quick way to kill a lot of mobs and leave them in convenient loot piles, it does suffer from several flaws. It’s mana-intensive, it doesn’t replenish any of your resources, and it requires a lot of movement before damage is inflicted and the mobs die.

(That said, when the mobs die, they die in very, very convenient heaps.)

Drain tanking is different.

The core idea of drain tanking is that the warlock will heal themselves faster than the mob can damage them. As long as this is true, warlocks do not need their demons to tank for them. Using a combination of high Stamina, Spellpower, and Life Tap, skilled drain tankers can run through a pack of mobs and emerge with full health and full mana, resulting in zero downtime. As you level, you’ll get better at this so that the only time you have to stop is to loot.


At level 14 Warlocks gain the spell Drain Life, the first core ability of drain tanking. Drain Life takes health away from the target and gives it to you via a bright green channelled spell. After you apply your DoTs (Corruption, Curse of Agony, maybe Immolate) to the target, use Drain Life to keep healing yourself while doing damage. When dealing with multiple mobs, dot them all up before using Drain Life, and don’t hesitate to Fear them away if they are causing too much damage.

Up to this point, warlocks have been squishy casters without any way to heal themselves (aside from First Aid), and their demons serve as tanks who should take and hold aggro. Drain-tanking warlocks do not worry when their demon loses aggro, because they can take the damage when it comes their way. They’ll just heal it up.

Here’s a macro you may find useful for low-level drain tanking:

/castsequence reset=target/combat,4 Curse of Agony, Corruption, Drain Life

This will allow you to quickly apply your instant dots and then move on to healing yourself. Don’t forget that Demon Skin / Demon Armor will increase healing by 20%, so make sure you have it up at all times.


At level 30 things get more interesting with Siphon Life. Siphon Life changes your Corruption spell to return 40% of damage done as healing to you, allowing you to heal on every single pull. Corruption/Siphon Life becomes your single most important DoT to place on a mob because of this healing. Curse of Agony becomes your next standard DoT, and Immolate is a third option if you need additional DPS. The addition of Siphon Life lessens your reliance on Drain Life, and consequently, makes you more mobile. You can still Drain Life when necessary, but you will often find it more effective to keep moving from mob to mob.

Siphon Life really accelerates your leveling because it lets you damage and heal with the same spell. You cast both a DoT and a HoT at the same time, which is cool, but Life Tap transforms this into a mana-regeneration spell, too. By siphoning the mob’s health and tapping it into mana, you can cast further Corruptions. The more mobs you pull the stronger you get.

It’s a beautiful cycle.

Siphon Life is affected by anything that increases Corruption’s damage, so Spellpower on gear and any Corruption-enhancing talents also enhance your drain tanking.


Siphon Life opens up a lot of options to the leveling warlock, but while grinding and questing you’re still going to be dipping into your deep bag of Warlock tricks. But at some point you’ll stack enough Spellpower and pick up enough Corruption-enhancing talents to enter Goddess of Death Mode, where you spread death and destruction wherever you go without ever stopping.

You literally never stop.

Goddess of Death Mode is when you use only instant-cast spells to kill and heal youtself while constantly moving and pulling new mobs. Your only weapons are Corruption and Curse of Agony; you chaincast them while running from pack to pack, tab-targeting as you go. Tab, dot, dot, tab, dot, dot. As the healing from Siphon Life starts rolling in, Life Tap liberally to keep your mana up.

As long as these two spells are enough to kill the mobs you’re facing – and trust me, they will be, eventually – you never have to stop. GoDM warlocks leave a trail of corpses while emerging with full health and full mama.

At very high levels, with advanced talents and the ability to take talents from other trees, Goddess of Death Mode can be an awesomely terrifying playstyle. The addition of Soul Link and Fel Synergy from the Demonology tree allows your pet to take part in this flow of damage and healing, reducing the damage you take while providing healing to your demon. Fel Synergy heals based on damage you inflict, so the more dots you have ticking, the more healing your demon receives. Even with all the damage coming over the Soul Link, your demon should not need any additional healing. Β (And if they do? Β Too bad, you’re busy killing things, they’re a Demon, you can always resummon them later.)

There a few other instant spells that you can cast in Goddess of Death Mode – Nightfall-procced Shadowbolts are always fun, talented Howl of Terror can relieve pressure if too many mobs pile on you, and Death Coil provides a nice quick heal on the go. But these are fun little extras. Icing on the cake, if you will.

One tip I have is that it’s useful to know approximately how much damage your Corruption and Corruption/Curse of Agony combos will do when playing Goddess of Death Mode — you can quickly compare it to the mob’s health and know if you need to stop and give them a little extra something later on. Generally this is only really a problem while leveling and tackling higher-level mobs.


Drain tanking has a few key Affliction talents that you must take, and then quite a few more that help considerably.

These talents improve your Drain Life and give you the ability to drain using Corruption:

  • Soul Siphon increases the effectiveness of Drain Life based on the number of DoTs on the target.
  • Fel Concentration keeps your Drain Life from getting interrupted.
  • Siphon Life returns health when Corruption deals damage.

The following talents buff your Corruption or shadow damage, which in turn buffs your Drain Life and Siphon Life.

I don’t encourage splitting trees until after you’ve gotten the 51 point talent in it, but there are several Demonology talents which really help with drain tanking.

  • Soul Link shunts 20% of your damage over to your demon.
  • Fel Synergy heals your demon when you deal damage.
  • Demonic Aegis increases the effectiveness of your Armor.

These talents are fairly standard parts of most Affliction or Demonology builds, but if you’re building one on your own you’ll want to make sure these are part of it.


When I first started playing my warlock, I had a lot of trouble figuring out how drain tanking worked. It didn’t make sense because it was so very different from the early levels, where you send in your VW, avoid aggro, keep the mobs away from you at all cost. I had to experience it myself to see how it could work.

Well, I might not be able to let you experience it yourself without your own warlock, but I can at least provide you a video of how I do it on mine.

Happy drain tanking!


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Warlockery

28 responses to “Drain Tanking

  1. Ah, you had to go and show the part where I was going down, didn’t you? πŸ˜›

    Excellent post, Cyn.

    There are a lot of things I didn’t know about drain tanking while I was leveling. I found little snippets here and there in various blogs and forums, but nothing that really jumped right out there and told me what was going on. Well, not until my wife asked you how to do it and then I asked here at least.

    One thing that I have learned since we shot that scene in the video is that it’s important to know how much damage your spells are capable of doing so that you know how much effort you need to put into killing mobs.

    With the Ogres I fight there for instance, the mobs I was killing in other areas were dead from Corr/CoA alone almost without exception, yet you can see from the video there that I had to use Rain of Fire to finish off the packs of mobs rather than just my DoTs. On top of that, my Corruption was running off of the mobs that still weren’t dead yet so I was taking damage from some mobs that were not restoring my life for me.

    So I like that you mentioned that in the video in particular, that so long as the DoTs are sufficient for the kill then there’s no reason to ever stop. But when they aren’t enough, that’s when you need to change things up a bit and take that into consideration. For instance, sometimes it’s better to run with your Voidwalker so that you can use his Sacrifice bubble than it is to go with the Felpup.

    • It was your and Fyn’s excitement over learning how to warlock that inspired this post. So thank you both, in turn!

      I too had trouble finding information about how it was actuallY done – Wowwiki has some tips, but you are left to figure it all out on your own.

      What didn’t fit in is how Haunt and Shadow Embrace fit into all this. Haunt is a monster spell and probably deserves a post of its own.

      Thanks for the help with the video!

  2. Oh I miss drain tanking. Your post is making me want to roll another warlock.

  3. Cyn….<3 this post. I was levelling a lock a little while back (though I've fallen out of the fad) and was loving the drain-tanking aspect of it. It's nice to have a full-out guide on the different ins and outs of it, I was kind of intuiting my way around but I was definitely missing a lot of key points!

    BTW…I keep trying to stalk you on Argent Dawn but you don't seem to have gotten with the program yet. Roll an alt for the blogger guild already!

    • Glad to help! With some other classes I needed to see how it was done before it clicked (cough cough Hunters).

      I haven’t joined SAN yet mostly due to my work schedule and catching a cold. Have to decide if I’m rolling new or transferring over a Durotan toon to make room.

      You’re on the US server?

  4. skinnemuva

    Hey Cyn. I recently rolled a warlock to level through PvE in the early part of the bracket range (?0-?4) then through PvP in the latter part of the bracket range (?5-?9). He had a full heirloom set, but I really only got him to 20 and got bored with him. He was a ton of fun at 18 & 19 in WSG, but otherwise everything else seemed boring. I know it is supposed to get to the best part past 30, but he has been gathering dust at 20 for a month or so now while I have been leveling a mage. I just love the direct damage mages can do (he is at 26) but hunters chew him up so quickly! Nerf hunters plz!

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  6. Hi Cyn,

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I rolled a little warlock for the SAN EU branch, she’s now level 10, and am currently thinking of trying to level as draintank. It seems a nice way to level, and to me the concept is entirely new (the only warlock I ever had was Demonology for leveling, and never got past level 32) and I’m really excited to try it out. Thank you for showing me another fun way to level :> I will definately use it if it benefits that much!

    Cheers! Pieces

  7. Nice one… Really liked the Icecrown bit.

    Quick Q: what’s the addon/setting that shows the damage numbers on the screen? I can imagine how awesome that’d look on my setup with IceHUD in the middle πŸ™‚

    • That’s Mik’s Scrolling Battle Text. It’s got some funky abbreviated name on Curse but that’s the name of it.

      I like it, but I do miss watching the numbers “cloud” around a target. The additional info they give makes up for that though.

      How you been? Long time no talk!

  8. Hmm so I just watched that video and this is what I learned:

    * Cyn is male.
    * Cyn is pronounced “Sin”, not “Kin”


    • Hopefully you also learned How2Warlock, too! πŸ™‚

      I think of it as “Sin,” even though the linguist in me knows it’s wrong. It’s the same problem I have with Cicero; I know it should be “kikero” but it always comes out “sisero.”

      From what I remember from my Anglo-Saxon classes, the correct pronunciation would have been “kine-eh-wise,” or maybe just “kine-wise.” (I’ll have to dig out my primers to be sure.) At least one member of my guild goes halfway there and calls me “sine” (like the wave), which has never bothered me – but sometimes I wonder who he’s talking about.

      So I went with the Americanized version in my head, and if it’s really wrong, well, I hope old Queen Cynwise and the poet Cynewulf can forgive me. πŸ™‚

      And yeah – Cyn the player is a guy, and very different from Cynwise the warlock. (What, you didn’t watch my Destro video from a month ago?) ;-P Unfortunately my narrative voice has shifted from completely in-character to a neutral hybrid of the two of us; and while it makes it vastly easier to write about mechanics and playstyles (like this post), it blurs the line as to who is actually writing at any given time. But it would be kinda weird to rename the blog at this point, and Cynwise would totally kick my ass if I messed with her blog.

      So we’ll just leave it the way it is. πŸ™‚

      • No I didn’t watch the destro video…my wife worships at the altar of destruction (quite fervently, too) and I figured one zealot in the house was enough ;-).

        Anglo-saxon…I knew the name was familiar for some reason, now it clicks.

  9. Gaff

    Thank you.

    Oh sweet zombie Jesus THANK YOU!

    My ‘lock is lvl 50, and pve is just plain painful, i’ve never been able to drain tank, and i just respecced and re-geared him thanks to your guide and he FINALLY WORKS AS A LOCK!

    Not as some semi-mage thing!

    Thanks again πŸ˜€

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  11. AoE Grinding as afflock…

    Tab-dotting 18 shoveltusks in the Howling Fjord for your +SP buff food needs: fine…

    Tab-dotting 18 rhinos in the Storm Peaks to get enough rhino meat for the cooking daily: not so good…

    The rhinos hurt 😦

  12. Gwyzdon

    Hey Cyn,

    Thanks for this post, I’m new to the whole Warlock thing so your tips are an absolute godsend. I’ve just dinged 30 so now I have taken the Siphon Life talent I can now up my drain tanking to a whole new level.

    Thanks again to you and everyone who helped on the video.



  13. Nice guide Cyn, wish i had this back when i was first leveling my warlock many moons ago, I think drain tanking needs a new name, since now its mostly 2 dot boom!

  14. Victor

    All I can say is WOW! My main is an 80 rogue, and I leveled 1-80 sub (I know, I know, but I feel that is the most “rogue-ish” spec). After leveling the rogue, I figured I would never want to lvl a caster because of the “squishiness”. With the rogue, I could take any mob one on one, and 2 or 3 was ok… after that, though, it was time to hit vanish, and there was ALOT of time eating and bandaging.

    I made a Warlock mainly because I always had trouble against them in BG’s. The more I read, the more I liked it. Of course, I had the full heirloom set (chest, shoulders, staff, and trinkets), and spellpower on everything. Now I am almost at 40, and it just doesn’t even feel like the same game. The more I aggro, the better I get! Your video is a great example as people don’t believe me when I say I can pull a whole town of mobs at my level and come out with full HP and Mana.

    I was thinking of not even questing anymore, as with the bonus XP to kills, I may just go town to town laying waste to everything in my path.

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  18. CheersDaniel

    Wtb update for cataclysm! (After all you’re not even bothering with endgame anymore;)