A Pre-Cataclysm Warlock Guide

In case you were worried, Warlocks are going to be awesome in Cataclysm.

No, really.  While the changes 4.0.1 introduced might have everyone off-balance right now, and let’s face it, things are really screwy in terms of balance – the changes to Warlocks haven’t altered the fundamental awesomeness of the class.

The end of Wrath left Warlocks in a good, balanced state.  My primary concern with the changes was: is this going to make us unbalanced again?  And more importantly, will this fundamentally change the enjoyment we have in certain playstyles?

4.0.1 introduced a lot of changes, but it didn’t fundamentally change the way you play a warlock.  Yes, there is some increased complexity in some areas and rotations.  Yes, there is a lot of simplicity in other areas.

But overall, now is a great time to either roll a new warlock, or play your favorite one.

Let’s look at the changes.


The Warlock’s Den has a great compilation of the changes in 4.0.1, but it’s all the changes.  If you’re just diving into the new patch, the changes can seem overwhelming.

The biggest news is that Soul Shards are completely revamped.  Gone is your old Soul Shard bag; in its place are three shards that you can use to empower certain spells through the new spell, Soulburn. This spell empowers other spells to either make them faster, hit harder, or give different effects.  Another new spell, Soul Harvest, regenerates both Soul Shards and your health.  Using Soul Shards creatively in combat is one of the new great challenges of playing warlocks.  It’s actually quite fun watching the bars light up when you burn a shard now!

As far as gear and stats go, you can Reforge your existing gear at a Highborne trainer near the Enchanting trainer in major cities.  Reforging allows you to swap one stat on gear, like Spirit, for another stat that isn’t on that gear, like Hit.  It costs 10g a pop and only works on ilvl 200+ gear.

You should consider reforging your gear for three reasons.  The first is that you need to get up to 17% hit to get raid bosses – not 13-14%, like before.  Why? Because all of the Hit-enhancing talents other people brought to you in raids are gone. If you’re still raiding, you’re going to need that Hit.

The second reason is that Spirit is officially useless to Warlocks again.  Life Tap’s spell and glyph have both changed, and Fel Armor has been modified, so that Spirit does nothing for you.  Reforge it or swap it out.

The third reason is a new stat: Mastery.  Mastery increases your damage according to your spec, and you can only get it via Reforging in 4.0.1. The value of Mastery depends on both your spec, your Hit, and your Haste, but in general it is a desirable stat.

Stats have been completely redone.  Intellect now gives you Spellpower, and Spellpower has been removed from most items in the game.  Intellect is now a desirable stat. How desirable?  Well, current thinking is that:

  • Leveling: Hit (until cap, 4%) > Int >  Haste > Spellpower > Stamina > Crit
  • Affliction raiding at 80: Hit (to cap, 17%) > Int >> Haste > Spellpower >> Mastery >> Crit
  • Demonology raiding at 80: Hit (to cap), Haste > Int >> Mastery = Spellpower > Crit
  • Destruction raiding at 80: Hit (to cap) >> Int >> Mastery = Haste = Spellpower >>> Crit

So take a look at your gear and consider stacking that Intellect.

Another major change is that DoTs now refresh duration instead of clipping them.  One of the major annoyances of DoTs was that you would drop your DPS if you cut them off before the final tick of damage, so you needed to let it fall off and immediately refresh.  Now, you can refresh them and just extend their duration without overwriting the last tick.  The best time to refresh a DoT is just after the second-to-last tick – this gives you the biggest time extension without reducing the overall number of DoTs. The only exception to this is Bane of Agony, which hits harder on the final ticks.

This is kinda an important change, so I’m planning a followup post to cover just how DoTs work in the new system.

You’ll notice that it’s not Curse of Agony anymore; some Curses (Agony, Doom) have been retitled Banes. Banes and Curses can both be applied to a target.  This gives you both a Bane (which causes damage) and a Curse (which applies an effect) that can be stacked onto a target, no longer forcing you to chose between damaging an opponent or cursing them.  The new names take some getting used to, but eventually they’ll stop squeaking every time we say them.

Your Infernal and Doomguard no longer displace your summoned demon, allowing you to use them as a massive DPS boost on a 10 minute cooldown. Use them every chance you can – Infernal for AoE, Doomguard for direct target.  They no longer require reagents or help in summoning.  This is a very cool change, and get used to seeing them all the time.

Soul Shatter now works. It’s now a 90% threat reduction, which is good, because aggro in the pre-Cataclysm world is a harsh mistress. Soulshatter actually working makes my head hurt to think about.  Also, your Spellstones and Firestones are gone.  Sorry about that.

So, yes. There are a lot of changes to mechanics.  But tackle them one at a time, and you’ll do fine.


All of the advice that people had on the best spec to level a Warlock with in Wrath?  Worthless.  Throw out any guide that isn’t updated for 4.0.1, because the leveling experience is completely different.

At level 10, you get to choose your specialization: Affliction, Demonology, Destruction.  Each one of them introduces a cornerstone spell immediately at level 10, allowing you to start playing that style early on, instead of waiting for those key spells in the 40s and 50s.

This change makes each spec immediately viable for leveling.

If you’re having trouble deciding which way you want to go:

  • Affliction is the route for the slow, steady, unstoppable kills.  You gain an extra DoT spell, Unstable Affliction, which combined with your improved Corruption and Bane of Agony will be enough to kill most any mob you come across.  Drain tanking is alive and well!  You’ll want to use many of your demons with Affliction, depending on situation and playstyle.
  • Demonology is if you like having something else take the damage for you.  You get a Felguard at level 10, and he is a brute.  Use him for most pulls, switch to the Voidwalker for pulls that require AoE tanking.
  • Destruction is for those who like the quick, bursty kills.  You get Conflagrate, a instant-cast explosion, which combined with Searing Pain and Incinerate will let you kill most mobs before they ever reach you.  You’ll probably favor the Imp, but your other demons will be situationally useful.

The simplified talent trees actually make leveling advice quite easy.  Take talents that make the spells you use hit harder, cast faster, or heal you.  If your using your demon for a lot of your DPS, buff it instead.

If you don’t have a Warlock, or have one you haven’t played in a while, consider rolling one.  They are huge amounts of fun at the low levels.  They’re an absolute blast.

If you’ve already leveled one, though, the next section might interest you a bit more.


Raiding at level 80, when the trees are designed for an endgame at 85, is a little strange.  But there’s still loot to be gotten and achievements to achieve, so people are figuring out how to raid at 80.

Below are some pages I’ve found extremely helpful in navigating the waters with this new raiding environment.  Especially helpful is the first link, at Elitist Jerks.  If you go no where else for raiding advice, go there.

General PVE:




I would love to find some more articles to help with raiding, but we’re well past the expiration date of the current content, and new content – with new abilities – is going to be coming up very soon.  There will be a lot more focus on raiding articles when Cataclysm drops and folks start leveling up to 85.


PvP is totally unbalanced right now, and I wouldn’t hold out much hope that it’s going to get radically better before Cataclysm strikes.  That means that casters are going to remain overpowered, Resilience values are going to go up and down as the developers try to introduce some kind of sanity to the battlegrounds, and you’ll get to experiment a lot with your ‘locks.

I don’t have any great links to share with you for PvP.  High-end PvP doesn’t tend to invite the kind of analysis that raiding does, and while there are some builds that are popular right now, folks are figuring out new and creative ways to kill each other and nothing’s set in stone.

As far as the specs:

  • Demonology seems to have made an incredible comeback in the battlegrounds.  The Felguard’s new abilities at level 80 are awesome, hitting very hard with a number of stuns and interrupts that can’t be beat. I am seeing a lot of Demo locks out there right now.
  • Destruction is having an excellent time out there, as well.  High burst damage is ruling the day, and the Imp has made an unlikely appearance on the battlefield as the Destro pet of choice.
  • The reports of Affliction’s death in PvP are wildly exaggerated.  While some of the Drain Tanking talents have been nerfed, Soul Swap and Empowered Seed are making up for it.  Sending an Empowered Seed of Corruption out into a surging mass of defenders in Wintergrasp means you are going to see a LOT of numbers come rolling through your combat text meters.  Petwise, the Succy is a little more useful than the Felhunter right now, but both have their place.

Much of this will change in the next six weeks.

But in the meanwhile, there’s a lot of fun to be had with your warlock.  (Or warlocks, if you’re crazy like I am.)

Now go out there and be awesome!


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Warlockery

21 responses to “A Pre-Cataclysm Warlock Guide

  1. I have no idea what happened to my lock (mainly because I haven’t had the time to keep up with all the changes) but I think i’ll “relevel” one once the changes to zones and quests are live. Then I can learn everything all over again in a new levelling scene :)! I might even consider trying PvP (/scared)

    • Don’t be scared! PvP is fun and exciting! Just repeat after me: Dot, Dot, Fear. 🙂

      • Joel

        Does fear break differently now? Or just in PvE? Chance to break on ANY damage or does it still have a threshold?

        • It seems to have a chance to break on ANY damage, though I haven’t tested this extensively. I’ve taken to going Fear, Curse (of Elements, usually), Corruption, Bane of Agony, then Immolate/Conflag/Shadowfury. When Immolate hits the other DoTs start ticking. I haven’t been able to ride the Fear Threshold at all since 4.0.3.

  2. Hey! Thanks for the link love and glad you found the articles helpful. I’m going to try to keep up with raiding advice and such as we go, just a lot to cover and make sure it’s right (as I’m sure you kn0w).

    I do have one general question that I’ve not been able to find a good answer for: You mention spell hit being at 17% due to lack of the 3% Suppression (old school) talent. I’m on the same page with you there. However, when I mouse over my spell hit in my character screen in game, it lays out my miss percentage for my level and the next three (effective raiding levels). All are still 0%, even though I only have slightly over 14% (was capped pre-4.0.1). What’s up with that? Are you seeing the same thing? Is there a hidden talent, bug, or should I look again to make sure I wasn’t drunk? 🙂

    Thanks in advance!

  3. I’m going to pass this on to the Warlocks in my guild. This is definitely one of the most comprehensive Warlock posts that I have been able to find.

    Rock on Cyn!

  4. Great comprehensive post and thanks for the link love!

  5. Hi thanks for all the info . wondering if you could help me out. My lock is going full wrathfull pvp but im not sure for pvp in 4.0 what to stack / cap Haste,Int ,Mastery ,Spellpower Crit could you give me some numbers on them pls thx guys.

    • Well, PvP is far less clear-cut than PvE. So much of it depends on your playstyle, your talent selections, and your teammates.

      You didn’t mention what spec you are playing, and that does matter, but in general you need enough Hit to make stuff stick (4-6%), Spell Penetration to make sure it lands (75 in BGs, 130 in Arena) and then buff what you think needs buffing. Wrathful gear tends to be very Crit heavy, and I play Affliction and prefer Haste, but you can make a Destro Crit build like Drakedog and be very successful with it.

      Heck, you can also stack Resilience and see how that turns out for you.

      • Fallen

        Thx once more sorry i did not think to tell you im demon and mostly bg pvp . what i have seen i dont need much crit due to i get off only 2 or 3 dots then let pet do the work

  6. Mikan

    Holy moly, your blog is awesome! I’ve rolled a new ‘lock, (my first) and have been looking for…well, just about everything you’ve written. Thanks for making it clear, concise and awesome.

  7. Zivanci, my level 28 Warlock says “thank you kind sir!”

    I’ve gone Destruction but I still feel left behind in Dungeons… or maybe that’s the difference between playing with scads of Haste at level 80 and switching to a character with 0 Haste. Hmmm

    I may not be very good at playing her so far. But I do secretly wonder if I might just be a Warlock at heart…

    • Try switching over to dual Swift Hands trinkets and applying Haste enchants where you can (I think only the +10 Haste to gloves is available at your level). I really prefer running with the Haste+Health trinkets, but then again, I enjoy Drain Tanking, which means I pretty much ignore mana and focus on health.

      I need to get my babydestrolock into LFD, so I can offer some constructive advice here. 🙂

      • Yeah +10 Haste to gloves is all we have access to for a good, long while.

        I’m going to have to smash my face into those stupid AT dailies to get my second Swift Hand that I realize I definitely should have gotten pre-4.x now that I see the importance (and the cost).

  8. It’s interesting to note, that since the patch with resilience nerfs and overall dps increase EVERYONE seems to feel OP. I play a DK, one of those cursed melee dps classes, that seem to have gotten short end of the proverbial stick until cata drops.

    But, even though I spend a lot of time dying, I still feel OP just based on the pure, ridiculous ammount of damage I have the potential to do. Of course, it might not be the same for every melee dps class (like all those one I repeatedly destroy), but it’ll certainly be intersting to see how everything irons out come cata. I’d *hope* that the endgame isn’t as unbalanced as it is now.