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.
LOW LEVEL DRAIN TANKING
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.
GODDESS OF DEATH MODE
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. (And if they do? 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.
- Improved Corruption, Empowered Corruption, Contagion, Malediction, Everlasting Affliction all increase your Corruption damage (and Siphon Life healing.)
- Shadow Mastery increases all shadow damage, which is nice of it, don’t you think?
- Pandemic allows Corruption to critically strike.
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.
SHOW ME DON’T TELL ME
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!