Warlock Complexity and the Magic Number

This post is the fourth in the Decline of Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm series.

Why are some warlocks doing well in Cataclysm while the class, as a whole, is shedding players?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question a lot since the last post in this series. While the overwhelming feedback I’ve received has been of people struggling with their Warlocks, there’s been a decided minority saying the opposite. I’m having no problems at all, I enjoy the complexity, we’re not broken.

Both kinds of feedback are important to listen to. It’s human nature to put weight into opinions which agree with our own, and dismiss those which contradict. Whatever reasons there are for the struggles of the Warlock class in Cataclysm, they have to take into account that the class did not fall apart everywhere. The mechanics and playstyle are adequate at the highest levels to not warrant immediate, urgent fixes like an across-the-board damage increase.

At the same time, we cannot dismiss the feedback of Warlock players who said, I struggled in Cataclysm. I tried everything I could and couldn’t get my DPS up to acceptable levels. I could bring in a Hunter or Mage alt and immediately do more DPS with worse gear. It’s as wrong to dismiss this feedback – just because it doesn’t fit in with our personal experience – as it is to dismiss that there are Warlocks doing well.

This conflict manifests itself in forum chatter across the Warcraft community. This class sucks faces off with L2P, noob, and there’s not a lot of middle ground given in the discourse. Either Warlocks are fine, learn to play, or Warlocks are broken, this class is underpowered, as though the other viewpoint somehow invalidates your own.

It’s not always the most civil dialogue, to be honest. It can sometimes be hard to accept divergent views on the Internet.

But if you get past all the name calling and accept both positions as valid – they’re not mutually exclusive, after all – you’re only left with a few explanations that make any sense.

  • More skill was required to do top DPS due to increased rotational complexity, thereby increasing the number of players unable to perform at the required level.
  • The penalties for failure increased due to more unforgiving, inelegant mechanics.
  • The class is highly gear dependent due to mechanics; performance decreases sharply with suboptimal gear.

It’s essential that we talk about this humanely, because each and every one of these explanations could be interpreted as a failure of the player, not the class. Each and every one of these could be, and often is, twisted into a kind of judgement upon struggling players. And that’s shameful and incorrect. It’s a terrible thing to do to another person, it’s a terrible thing to do to yourself.

And it’s wrong. I don’t mean just mean wrong in a moral sense – I mean it’s incorrect in an analytical sense. It’s a flawed judgement to make. It may be correct in individual cases, it is incorrect when considered in the aggregate.

Let’s get this out in the open. If you’re blaming a struggling player simply because they’re a Wrath Baby, you’re wrong. If you’re dismissing their problems as QQ, you’re wrong. If you’re blaming them because they need to learn how to play, you’re wrong.

And if you’re dismissing people for succeeding at playing a Warlock because they’re elitist, you’re wrong too. Only successful because they have a legendary? Wrong.

These problems are systematic problems of the class. That’s why they show up in an aggregate view of many players, not just individuals. The changes introduced in Cataclysm increased the difficulty of playing Warlocks to the point where players who previously were proficient were no longer able to keep up when performing under duress. Raising the bar of competence doesn’t suddenly make someone a “baddie” if they fail to keep up.

All it means is that the bar got raised.

Blame the person who raised the bar, not the people who could no longer jump over it.

The theory of Inelegant Complexity without Reward from the previous post talks about this indirectly, and focuses on player’s rational decisions when confronted with a class that was harder than the alternatives. In this post, I want to focus on the additional complexity and inelegance added in Cataclysm and its direct effect upon the players who played Warlocks.


George A. Miller’s “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information,” published in 1956, is a famous psychological paper which investigates human beings’ capacity for short term memory. How many items can the brain hold in short term memory at one time? Miller’s original research pointed to the idea that 7 (plus or minus 2) was the limit most humans have for the amount of data they can retain.

Miller’s number has been hotly debated since this paper’s release. Some say that it’s 6, others 4. It seems to vary according to the type of data being stored and how the test subject frames that data. (My own experience designing UI and voice systems has been that it’s really around 4, but I’m also not a psychologist.)

How we conceptualize data is important. If you presented test subjects with a list of three words (“Apple, Banana, Bicycle”) to a group of subjects, their recall is going to be dependent upon one key skill – do they speak English? If they do, then the likelihood of their remembering them is pretty high, since the letters are grouped into units – words. If it’s in a different language, then the subject has to remember 20 or so letters, spaces, and punctuation marks. (Consider the same experiment in Basque: “Sagar, Banana, Bizikleta”).

This organization of data into discrete, understandable bits is called chunking, and I think it’s a vital concept to understanding how we play video games. Chunking is taking bits of related data or actions or mental things and putting them together into a conceptual unit. When we are first learning a task our mental chunks are small – you have to consciously think about each little tiny step. How do I move, how do I target, how do I cast. You start at the primitive level of “I need to physically move the mouse this way to make this thing happen on the computer screen” and advance all the way up to “I have 3 adds don’t let Shadow Embrace fall off of any of them.”

As you get better at a task the individual steps fade into the chunks and you can better perform more and more complex actions. This is why a lot of Warlocks spend so much time at the training dummies – they are trying to internalize the routine of their casting so that when asked to perform them under duress, they can execute without thinking. When your feet are on fire and the raid leader is yelling at you to pick up adds, you don’t want to have to stop and think about how to apply DoTs; you just want to do it.

I think these concepts are important to consider when looking at how the Warlock class changed over Cataclysm. There are human limits to how many variables you can juggle in your head, and the Warlock changes may have stretched the game past that point for many players.

Let’s examine the class changes and see.


Consider Destruction’s playstyle in Wrath of the Lich King:

  1. Curse of Doom or Curse of the Elements. 1-5 minute refreshes.
  2. Immolate on the target? NO? Here Mr. Bossman, GET YOU SOME IMMOLATE.
  3. Chaos Bolt! ZAP!
  4. Conflagrate!
  5. Incinerate! BZAP!
  6. Life Tap to keep the buff up! (Through certain gear levels in ICC, then this stopped)
  7. Force cast your Imp’s fireball!

That was it. (It was enough fun to warrant the exclamation points.)

One curse, one DoT, three nukes which you had to juggle, and one spellpower buff tied in to your mana replenishment ability. There was some debate about using Corruption when you had to move, and possibly using Soulburn during an execute phase, but that was it. Your pet was the Imp; using the Doomguard at the end of a fight was a possibility but not always a good one. Force casting your Imp’s attack was through macros, it was simple.

Notice how you can chunk these actions together:

  • DoTs, debuffs, buffs: CoD/Life Tap/Immolate are a similar group of things to monitor, one which is easy to subitize (rapidly assess at a glance.)
  • Nukes: The other chunk is your nukes – Chaos Bolt if it’s up, Conflag if it’s up, then Incinerate. Conflag creates Backdraft, so you usually follow it with three Incinerates.

This left a lot of mental room for players to deal with the mechanics of various fights. Are you standing in Defile? DON’T STAND IN DEFILE. Circle down for the Valks? Shadowfury or Shadowflame on the Valks? YOUR FEET ARE ON FIRE MOVE.

The Warlock toolkit was still there for the specific encounter requirements, but the basic chunks of the rotation were easy to execute.

Compare this to Destruction’s priority rotation in Cataclysm:

  1. Improved Soul Fire buff
  2. Demon Soul on CD
  3. Infernal or Doomguard on CD, as appropriate
  4. Immolate
  5. Bane of Doom, Havok for adds
  6. Conflagrate
  7. Curse of the Elements (or some other debuff as required).
  8. Shadowflame
  9. Corruption
  10. Burning Embers
  11. Chaos Bolt
  12. Incinerate
  13. Soul Fire on Empowered Imp proc or to maintain ISF or on Soul Shard CD for T13
  14. Force cast the Imp’s Fire Bolt
  15. Dark Intent buff
  16. Fel Flame with T11 or while moving

… holy shit.

Let’s try to make some sense of that and chunk that apart.

  • DoTs, debuffs, and buffs: ISF, Bane, Curse, Immo, Corruption, Burning Embers, Dark Intent.
  • Cooldowns: Demon Soul, Doomguard
  • Nukes: Chaos Bolt, Soul Fire, Incinerate, Fel Flame (sometimes)
  • AoE: Shadowflame
  • Procs: Empowered Imp

… don’t forget to Life Tap?

I think the above chunking model might be too simple – like, if we strictly categorize our DoTs, buffs, and debuffs together it works, but there are 7 things to keep track of in that one chunk. You’re probably going to forget about Burning Embers, and maybe you can watch Dark Intent if you put it near your trinket and weapon procs. That’s really two chunks, except that there’s not really a good way to logically break it apart – maybe DoTs separate from buffs/debuffs?

Another point to consider is that because Destro gained more DoTs, refreshing those DoTs during any item procs became much more important. It’s not that you didn’t need to watch your procs in Wrath – you did – but in Cataclysm you needed to refresh more spells (Immolate, Corruption, BoD/A) and you needed to consider your cooldown usage to time with those procs.

As Destruction had a reputation for being the simple Warlock spec in Wrath, why don’t we look at something with a reputation for complexity next? Affliction fits the bill.

In Wrath, Affliction needed to deal with:

  1. Life Tap buff (3.1 through 3.3.5)
  2. Keep 2-3 stacks of Shadow Embrace up on the target (was 2 until 3.3.5).
  3. Keep Haunt on the target (Haunt on CD)
  4. Unstable Affliction
  5. Corruption
  6. Curse of Agony
  7. (Soul Siphon until 3.0.8)
  8. Drain Soul as execute ( Shadow Bolt filler (sometimes with a Nightfall proc)
  9. Force cast Felhunter’s Shadow Bite

This is complicated in practice because of the large number of DoTs, but can be chunked pretty easily:

  • DoTs and Debuffs: Shadow Embrace, Haunt, Unstable Affliction, Curse of Agony, Soul Siphon, Life Tap buff. Life Tap was really easy to maintain – it was a 40 second buff and constant healing from Soul Siphon and Fel Armor made it a straight mana/DPS gain.
  • Nukes/Drains: Shadow Bolt, Drain Soul

Affliction was rightly the DoT/debuff spec in Wrath – 4 dots and 2 debuffs is a lot to juggle. Haunt made it a bit easier, since refreshed Corruption and Shadow Embrace alike, as well as its own debuff.

Affliction received the fewest changes in Cataclysm, but that’s not to say that it was unchanged.

  1. Improved Soul Fire buff (4.0 through 4.0.6)
  2. Demon Soul on CD
  3. Doomguard on CD
  4. 3 stacks of Shadow Embrace up on the target
  5. Haunt on the target (Haunt on CD)
  6. Unstable Affliction
  7. Corruption
  8. Bane of Doom/Agony
  9. Curse of the Elements
  10. Shadowflame
  11. Drain Soul as execute ( Shadow Bolt filler (sometimes with a Nightfall proc)
  12. Optional Drain Life filler (through 4.1)
  13. Force cast Felpup Shadow Bite / Succy’s Lash of Pain
  14. Dark Intent buff
  15. Fel Flame with T11 or while moving

Affliction started out more complicated in Cataclysm than it ended up – the addition of the Improved Soul Fire buff was out of place for the spec, the Fel Flame addition in T11 was kinda meh. The Bane/Curse split didn’t affect Affliction locks as much as some, because adding a 5 minute curse on top of other DoTs really isn’t that big of a deal.

The addition of cooldowns, however, represents a new mental chunk for this spec.

  • DoTs and Debuffs: Shadow Embrace, Haunt, Unstable Affliction, Corruption, Bane of Doom/Agony, Curse of the Elements
  • Nukes/Drains: Shadow Bolt, Drain Life, Drain Soul, Fel Flame
  • Buffs: ISF, Dark Intent
  • AoE: Soul Swap, Shadowflame
  • Cooldowns: Demon Soul, Doomguard

Again, we see that the DoT/Debuff chunk starts getting big if we keep ISF/Dark Intent in the same mental space, but thankfully ISF was removed and you could relegate Dark Intent to the same chunk as watching your item procs.

Affliction’s chunks got more complicated, and there were more of them. Affliction now needed to manage cooldowns and time DoT refreshes accordingly; sometimes Haunt does not line up with your procs and you end up refreshing Corruption at the wrong time.

Demonology in Wrath was different from the other two specs; it had cooldowns. I played it extensively in 3.3.5 in ICC and found it to be highly engaging, a nice mix of DoT management, nuke choice, massive AoE potential with a few interesting CDs.

Demonology changed a lot during Wrath of the Lich King, so I’m just going to snapshot it as it was in 3.3.5:

  1. Life Tap buff
  2. Metamorphosis on CD as appropriate
  3. Immolation Aura if you could get close to the boss during Meta phase
  4. Curse of Doom
  5. Immolate
  6. Corruption
  7. Soul Fire (execute during Decimation)
  8. Incinerate (during Molten Core procs)
  9. Shadow Bolt filler
  10. Force cast your Felguard’s Cleave

Even the non-Warlocks should be able to chunk these abilities out by now.

  • DoTs, buffs, debuffs: Immolate, Corruption, Curse of Doom, Life Tap buff
  • Nukes: Soul Fire, Incinerate, Shadow Bolt
  • CDs: Metamorphosis/Immolation Aura (really a single CD used together – a chunk within a chunk!)

The challenge of Demo was that it involved some DoT management and some nuke management woven together. It was a nice balance between Affliction and Destruction, and had a very nice (and distinctive) DPS cooldown built in.

Cataclysm didn’t change the central idea of the spec (mixing DoTs and nukes), but it sure added complexity to it.

  1. ISF buff through 4.0.6
  2. Curse of the Elements
  3. Metamorphosis on variable CD as appropriate
  4. Demon Soul on CD as appropriate
  5. Doomguard on CD as approproate
  6. Immolation Aura if you could get close to the boss during Meta phase
  7. Immolate
  8. Bane of Doom
  9. Shadowflame
  10. Corruption
  11. Hand of Gul’dan on CD (tight CDs through 4.0.6)
  12. Soul Fire (execute during Decimation)
  13. Incinerate (during Molten Core procs)
  14. Shadow Bolt filler
  15. Force cast Felguard/Felpup attacks
  16. Dark Intent buff
  17. Fel Flame with T11 or while moving

Demonology gained a refresh nuke much like Affliction’s Haunt in Cataclysm, providing them with a unique spell that does damage, applies a debuff, and refreshes Immolate. The refresh mechanism ran into a lot of problems during the launch of Cataclysm, but was fixed in 4.0.6. (See Appendix A for more information on this.) This, plus the other now-standard additions to the Warlock rotation gives us:

  • DoTs and Debuffs: Immolate, Curse of Gul’dan, Corruption, Bane of Doom, Curse of the Elements
  • Nukes/Drains: Shadow Bolt, Incinerate, Hand of Gul’dan, Soul Fire
  • Buffs: ISF, Dark Intent
  • AoE: Shadowflame
  • Cooldowns: Metamorphosis/Immolation Aura, Demon Soul, Doomguard

I think the complexity of each chunk is worth noting here – each one increases by one or two variables, which in turn causes the entire spec to feel … heavier. More difficult. Used to juggling 3 nukes? Here, have a 4th. Have an additional debuff or two. Have Shadowflame in there. Have another CD that doesn’t quite match up with your normal one.

The inconvenient truth of Warlocks in Cataclysm is that they objectively became more difficult to play. Their abilities spiraled out of control without real benefit to players. Not only did the number of abilities increase, but the types of abilities increased as well, requiring players to use more mental chunks trying to keep track of it all. Eventually, that put many of the players over their magic number, causing them to flounder with a class that they used to be good at.

In the last post I talked a lot about the idea that abolishing the Simplicity Tax helped drive players away – that if there are simpler options available which do equally well or better, players will abandon the complex class. We now need to consider the Warlock class as getting increasingly more difficult over time. This erodes player confidence in their abilities, distances them from their chosen main character, and eventually alienates them from the game.

This is absolutely the wrong design direction for a class. As a class gets more complicated fewer players will be able to master it, and players who had mastered it will start falling by the wayside. Don’t get me wrong – this is a balancing act. Classes don’t need to be as simple as possible. Warlocks don’t need to return to the Shadow Destruction days.

But I think we’ve seen that Cataclysm brought complexity for complexity’s sake, and that it really frustrated many players. Not only did it become a barrier to entry, it became a barrier to continue playing!

As the game rises in levels, this is an issue that absolutely has to be addressed. If new abilities are to be granted, either old ones need to be removed, obsoleted, or made so that they are obviously not useful in certain situations. The class cannot continue in this direction, period. Continuing to make a class more difficult will only result in it frustrating more and more of its playerbase. This is bad for player fun, this is bad for the bottom line.

Any evaluation of class revisions in Mists must take this inconvenient truth into account. Yes, it may be cool to have new abilities, new spells. But are they grouped coherently? Can you chunk them and make sense of them, or will you flail trying to keep track of all of the new amazing things? Will the default UI suffice, or will it require players to have highly customized UIs to display the information necessary to the class in a comprehensible manner to players?

It’s fine that Warlocks are the complex caster class. Many Warlock players enjoy that complexity, and have enjoyed the additional complexity Cataclysm brought to their class.

But this can’t continue. The class is already at a cognitive tipping point where it’s just too much. If Blizzard wants to stop the Warlock class from being actively harmful to their subscriber numbers, the class needs to get simpler and easier to play.


Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery

50 responses to “Warlock Complexity and the Magic Number

  1. Pingback: The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm « Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

  2. Pingback: Appendix A: Warlock Spell Changes in Cataclysm « Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

  3. Dejara Thoris

    Battle.net thread for this post:
    Please add comments there as well, it will be a novelty to see more civilized discussion in the forums…

  4. Worse yet they are adding complexity for complexity’s sake in MoP but for all of the Tanks. Joyous.

  5. 😀 Excellent article, as usual.

    Now, I almost want to map out my own “chunks” of DPSing.

    As for Mists, oh boy, now I want to go see if I can chunk all the abilities, despite the fact that all three spec rotations are still largely volatile in development.

    I think, actually, they’re adding yet again in Mists. Of course, having to relearn spells (& icons! for those of us who like the visual familiarity!) will suck, but with each spec getting one resource system to itself…Blizz is adding on yet again. A common early complaint about the new resources was that, oh great, now, in order to play two specs, I need to learn two completely different specs.

    The resource systems aren’t even really alike mechanically: soul shards are a integer-depletion, demonic fury is a fill-it-up bar, and embers are almost like building and spending combo points, really. It’s almost as if warlocks are going to be a hybrid class (with each spec doing its own totally different thing) while not covering hybrid roles (each spec is still DPS…for the most part.).

    • Thanks, Pon!

      I haven’t looked at Warlocks in Mist yet, and I’m a little nervous to do so because I wanted to finish this up first. This might not be possible, but, you know. Gotta try. 🙂

      • I don’t think you want to be on the beta with a warlock yet. Given the direction your series is going, I think you will just be disheartened. I’m holding out that they’ll get rid of the stupid secondary resource systems entirely. If not, we’re in for a lot f work.

  6. Re: the magic number of things to keep track of, as discussed on Twitter.

    I’d heard of Miller’s number some years ago when I wondered why all the Star Trek shows seem to have 7 main characters. It was concluded at the time that 7 main characters is really about all audiences can handle at one time. (Maybe 9, if you’re a LotR fan.) And I was all like, “okay, that’s cool.”

    You mentioned in a tweet + here that some people freak out at 3-4 choices. For me, it depends.

    I’ve found that unrelated things, I can only handle 3-4. Like grocery items: I can grab 4 different things randomly trekking across the entire store, but any more than that and I either need to browse the store systematically (aisle by aisle) and/or I need a list of the things to get. Also, chores, or homework assignments; past about 3-4, I reach for a pen and paper to make a list.

    But on related objects, I can go up to 7 or 9 most of the time. TV shows being the prime example. I can keep track of all the universes in my head, so long as they don’t go totally overboard. I noticed this when I first picked up George R. R. Martin’s series, starting with A Game of Thrones. So many characters! But he handles it brilliantly by introducing one character as the chapter POV, and then introducing other characters *in relation* to this first character. So eventually, you just string yourself along the novel until you get to the point where you’ve chunked (aha!) the major characters into the major houses.

    I feel like it’s this way with the warlock DPS rotations. You *have* to chunk, or you’ll get lost so easily in the giant list of every ability ever to use.

    I think it’s also why I love the complexity of the warlock rotation. I love looking at and examining all the little connections between things. So I end up liking complex rotations because mapping out my own chunks is the fun part for me.

  7. Tesh

    Incidentally, this “chunking” theory may well underline how well the Guild Wars limited action bars work. You only ever have a handful of abilities to deal with. There’s a big library of potential ones to deal with for the “metagame”, but in the heat of battle, the options are limited and manageable. I’ve oft thought that the *dozens* of abilities in WoW were too much, at least for normal play. I play a Druid, and I like having utility options for corner cases, but when I’m fighting, I only wind up using a handful, and even only three or so if I don’t really care about playing optimally. (And going from Cat to Bear just means I’m applying different abilities… it’s still 1, 2, 2, 2, 3, with a few outliers in the mix.)

    …which all maybe just underlines how silly “rotations” are in the first place. I’m one that’s argued before for more tactical battles with a more leisurely pace, where spatial considerations are important… but that’s more the turn-based realm, not so much WoW.

    • I’ve been playing a lot of Hero Academy and I’m struck by a few things – first, how much I miss playing chess, and second, how nice it is to have just a few abilities on each piece. It’s like, attack, heal, maybe a special thing. That’s it.

      Playing a Druid helped open my eyes to other ways of playing this game. I should write an addendum to this about the 5 button rule – could you play your class with just 5 buttons? No macros, no add-on bars, just 5 buttons.

      I could still be a pretty good Druid healer if you gave me 5 buttons and mouseover healing. I’d be a terrible Warlock.

      • Tesh

        For what it’s worth, I don’t use any add-ons or macros, and I do just fine. No raiding yet, but dungeoneering is easy.

        I’m looking forward to the five button article. 🙂

  8. Simplexity

    Excellent read first of all. You’re a very gifted writer.
    Obviously, as you outlined, our rotations and priority systems became much more complex this expansion. The only time raiding on a warlock in Wrath was somewhat challenging was Tier 7 Affliction, juggling Siphon Life, Corr, BoA, Immolate and UA, along with nukes and debuffs to manage.

    You do take it a little far though to further try to prove your point.
    First, you can’t count Curse of Elements in your rotation for Cataclysm and then omit it for Wrath (see Demo/Aff Wrath lists).

    Second, there are things that you simply don’t manage more than once a fight – I’ll call them “fire-and-forget” abilities. Dark Intent isn’t managed. It’s put on someone out of combat and you have no control of it whatsoever. You don’t manage your pet’s attacks. You keybind or macro them in. Lash of Pain, Firebolt, Shadow Bite, etc. all have auto-cast options. The only exception I believe is Felstorm. These things don’t affect your normal rotation. Casting Curse of Elements in the beginning of a fight doesn’t limit your capacity for performing your normal rotation. You can even go as far as saying you don’t even manage things like keeping up Immolate on a boss because Hand of Gul’dan accomplishes refreshing Immolate AND using HoG, but I do understand there are target switches and things like that. Also, there’s no way using Doomguard or Infernal on CD changes your rotation (I guess you could argue this with 2pc T13), but I’ll let that slide. Final little thing but still related to this topic – counting Burning Embers as something to manage as Destruction? It’s an auto-applied DoT. If your pet is attacking something, it’s going to be applied. Never has anyone ever thought, “Damn, gotta improve my Burning Embers uptime.”

    My final little qualm is that you need to grasp everything in a single timeframe – one timeframe for Wrath, one timeframe for Cata. It’s not fair to count Affliction and Demo having to keep up ISF and managing the 4pc T11 when that was not the norm for the majority of the expansion. That’s like saying WoTLK Affliction was one of the hardest specs to play perfectly, ever, when it was only challenging when you had to keep up Siphon Life and you could Immolate and UA the same target. Mechanics and rotations tend to be more static anyway towards the end of the expansion, so that seems like the best time to compare them.

    • Thanks for the feedback. A few points.

      1) You have to leave out Curse of Elements in Wrath because it was only used in very specific situations when Curse of Agony or Curse of Doom wouldn’t be used. Warlocks got to use one Curse, and if that was a DPS Curse, that’s was great for personal DPS, and if it was a debuff, it was good for Raid DPS. Counting Curse of the Elements and Curse of Agony/Doom would be double counting in Wrath.

      Things were different in Cataclysm because Curses and Banes were split apart. You could have Bane of Doom and Curse of the Elements up at the same time, so now you have two things to consider in your mental map. Do you have to do it? Not always. But it needs to go up, and stay up, and if you let it fall off just because you weren’t tracking it and forgot to refresh it in the last minute or two of a fight? That’s a personal and raid DPS loss right there.

      2) Dark Intent is not managed per se, but it should be tracked like a proc. You need to know how many stacks you have on you to optimally time your refreshes. It might be up at three stacks all the time, but it isn’t always.

      You also need to make sure that the recipient stays alive. This sounds stupid but it is something that happens a lot in later stages of the fight. You lose that DPS, you lose that buff.

      3) You missed the point with the Doomguard/Infernal; mentally, it’s one more thing to track. These little things add up. It doesn’t screw up your individual rotation and cause you a DPS loss – it’s now something you have to time correctly, and with T13 4pc you can’t ignore it.

      4) Burning Embers comes in more during multi dot, and ties in to pet wonkiness. You need to make sure it’s up on the boss or on a given add. You’re right – it’s not something that people micromanage. But it’s one more thing, and we should be asking – why is it there? Why not just make Immolate stronger, or the Fire Bolt attack stronger?

      5) The point of this series is to look at the decline of Warlock popularity over the course of Cataclysm. It is fair to look at ISF because it affected people’s initial raiding experience during the first two months of Cataclysm. Was it in place the whole expansion? Of course not. It was a PITA during the biggest PITA time in the entire expac, and it contributed to people getting frustrated and quitting. It thankfully got fixed, and I trust my readers to be able to mentally subtract something out that’s noted as only applying through 4.0.6.

      Thanks again for your comment.

    • Dornammath

      I know I’m coming in late, but to add something too. I also like to make some macros for pet-specific abilities. I do the same when I am on my Hunter. In this case, as you said, popping Felstorm off the Felguard is great for pushing up the DPS, and I do that on demand, and not auto. I also have Axe Toss and the Felhunter’s Spell Lock on demand. No sense having my Felhunter randomly casting that – I want it to trigger during my target’s casting time. I think these can also add complexity to the mix.

      As for myself, I love the complexity, though I have to admit that I haven’t mastered it yet. However, for the options, Warlock has become my favorite BECAUSE it’s not a two-button rotation with some mana management thrown in. I wouldn’t mind seeing it simplify a little bit, because I think Cynwise points out some outstanding concerns. I am also a tad worried about how this will become more muddied in MoP, but I’ve yet to do much testing in that arena.

  9. Simplexity

    Here’s how I would group it.
    WoTLK Affliction
    1. Life Tap buff
    2. Shadow Embrace
    3. UA
    4. CoA
    5. Haunt
    6. DS execute.
    7. Shadow Bolt

    Cata Affliction
    1. Demon Soul
    2. Shadow Embrace
    3. UA
    4. Haunt
    5. Shadowflame
    6. BoD/BoA
    7. DS Execute
    8. Shadow Bolt

    WoTLK Destro
    1. Life Tap buff
    2. Immolate
    3. Chaos Bolt
    4. Conflag
    5. Incinerate
    6. CoD

    Cata Destro
    1. Demon Soul
    2. Immolate
    3. Corruption
    4. Shadowflame
    5. Conflag
    6. Chaos Bolt
    7. Incinerate
    8. ISF
    9. Soul Burn SF’s or Empowered Imp procs
    10. Shadowburn
    11. BoD/BoH

    WoTLK Demo
    1. Life Tap buff
    2. CoD
    3. Immolate
    4. Corruption
    5. Meta/Immo Aura
    6. Shadow Bolt
    7. Incinerate
    8. Soul Fire (Decimation)

    Cata Demo
    1. Demon Soul
    2. Corruption
    3. Shadowflame
    4. Hand of Gul’dan
    5. BoD
    6. Meta/Immo Aura
    7. Soul Fire
    8. Incinerate
    9. Shadow Bolt
    10. Pet Swapping

    Obviously there was a skill increase and your overall point is right, but it’s not like we went to unplayable by the average player.

  10. Every time I worried I was told I needed to set up my UI to track more things. So I did adding 16 different trackers and still I was just trusting some things to work. I stood at the Targeting dummy for 3 hours and my Demo could get +/- 5k dps seemingly magicly out of no where since I was using the same rotation and trying to hit the exact same numbers each time. I was told ‘Hunters can do it, why cant you?’ and ‘Ive seen warlocks do good, you sure its not you?’. I’ve not let a raid down before and after that soulcrushing experience Im taking time off to play SWtOR.

    • I’m really sorry that you had so much trouble with your warlock. I really am.

    • Sorry to hear that. I had a similar case where I just couldn’t get anything respectable out of my Locks either. It really was a low time as a gamer. I quit wow for about 4 months…
      I was able to come back and with some massive help from fellow Locks, I started topping meters in dungeons, with lower iLvL. That said, I dont even want to think about how many hours I spent at the training dummies. Cata has been a very hard time for Locks, but I’m looking forward to the massive chanes MoP has for Locks.

  11. I think one of the most frustrating points you missed was the extreme timing that ISF could require early on before they allowed you to clip the debuff, to give an example: I have a very vivid memory of managing to line up SF at such a time I was sure that it would refresh. Then the tank turned the boss towards me, thus reducing the travel time significantly.

  12. Iffnar

    If I am not mistaken demonology in wraith started to be more common in late t7 for the spellpower buff –> at that time the specc had to put up with a mechanic we called soulfire weaving which meant that we had to/should time the moment when incinerate/soulfire hits the boss so we can use them 1:1.
    The mechanic was horrible and I wasn’t exactly happy to see it return in the form of ISF at the beginning of cataclysm with the added mockery of the imp –> oh a Soulfire procced = can I use it to refresh ISF when I wait 5 seconds ?(calculating the distance of course) … all this loops we had to jump through

    Also felflame – still a common error to refresh dots with this and the t11p4 which forced you to stay at maxrange so you can squeeze 3-4 felflames out of the procc instead of 2(this was with the FIXED buff)

    Also shadowflame … how many times was the area buffed before it was somewhat safe to hit things with this ?

    or why did they give us this t13p4: So they knew that warlocks are in the decline, they knew what bosses we will struggle with(all the burst mechanics in dragonsoul heroic especially Spine), but instead of giving us a burstprocc or something like shadowpriests got, we have gotten another loop to jump through, which I have to admit was good for destruction, but I absolutely hate the concept when I play affliction/demonology:
    Will I have to summon a new pet in the next 45 seconds?
    Will adds spawn for Soulburn:SoC?
    Also this was another buff we had to plan into our dot-refreshing minigame.

    All this “little” things add up and I can understand a warlock who just started raiding and their frustration if they do lackluster dps even if they tried

    I remember at the beginning of cataclysm I got so many whispers how to play the warlock etc… this all seems to have died down and I haven’t seen a good new warlock in a long time

    Sorry … I didn’t wanted to rant(ok maybe I wanted to)

  13. Pingback: Interesting Lock Articles From Cyewise - The Warlocks Den - WoW Warlock Discussions

  14. Cyn,

    Great job as always on the post. After reading it over I think you may have found the problem that many ‘locks could not express. It’s one of those things were you know something is wrong but you can’t put it into words or make the connections as to the obvious.

    Your post makes me think back to especially to the BC and Wrath days when all three specs seemed to have an ebb and flow. As you demonstrate, all three were a mix of simple DoT management, nuke/gcd management and buff/debuff management while managing the simple resource of converting health into mana.

    I can assume some will argue that Soulshards were a resouce to be managed as well but they were used more for a mix of utility/cooldowns and added burst damage.

    When I got to the end of your article I realized you truly had found the problem with Warlocks. I have been so busy focused on trying out the MoP Beta and reading the Blizz forums that I didn’t stop and look back and compare my notes from expansion to expansion. From vanilla to wrath I never used any addons or dot timers and never had a problem simply watching my debuffs on my target window while cycling through any of our boss rotations. However, in Cata I found myself not only running a DoT timer but also utilizing Power Aura’s to help me keep track of all the little things I couldn’t keep up with on my own because the last thing I wanted was to miss anything that would drop my already mediocre dps.

    Hopefully blizzard will see this discussion and consider these thoughts on the subject before the finalizing of the MoP Expansion and I hope it’s not too late. I agree with Poneria when she says that it seems like the Developers added another resource mechanic (shards/fury/embers) in order to just to make each spec feel different from one another and in order to just slap the word “new” on them. I realize now that the added resource mechanics are really makes them feel “clunky” and takes away their original feel and flow of when I enjoyed playing my warlock. While it appears Blizzard may have simplified, combined and even taken out some of the spells per spec I think they are missing what the real culprit is…the double resource mechanics that they are currently putting in place.

    The reason the double resource mechanic stands out as being the culprit is go and take some time and start reading the Blizzard Warlock Forums concerning the MoP Beta. You will see players complain consistently over two types of issues. They are:

    1. Blizzard removed or took out a simple spell, utility or Dot
    2. Anything that deals with the secondary Shard/Fury/Ember mechanics.

    At first, I thought that these new MoP resource systems are being despised because they are too new and players are not accustomed to them. Having also played a hunter for years I know converting from mana to a focus resource was a big change for me and there was a huge outcry when launched. It didn’t take players very long on a practice dummy to get adjusted to the new mechanic and now a majority of the Hunter community has accepted and embraced the changes and now enjoys the playstyle. Your own numbers from your previous post proves just that.

    If you think about it you will know why it became so easy for Hunter’s to convert to their new system and why that class has seen an increase in their numbers. Hunters still only have a single resource. Like warlocks, Hunters have pets to manage. Like warlocks, Hunters put up dots and buffs to manage such as Hunter’s Mark, Aspect of the Hawk, Serpent Sting, Black Arrow etc.,. Like warlocks, hunters have simple nukes such as Aimed Shot, kill command and Explosive shot. Hunters have an execute phase with Kill Shot. Like warlocks hunters have a whole array of utility abilities (some would argue they have even more than warlocks) from their traps, to specialized stings, etc.,.

    The one thing that didn’t change for Hunters was they didn’t have a secondary resource mechanic added to them. Hunters still have smooth flow to their playstyle. Granted, some may argue that BM has more of a proc based playstyle like our Wrath Destruction spec had but people still enjoy running BM with their only complaint being they hated being so dependent on procs for better dps which is something they couldn’t control unlike the other specs.

    I am far from being a WoW expert but I’m sure if you look at the classes where a single resource mechanic is in place such as Priests, Shamans, Hunters and compared them to classes where there was 2 resource mechanics in place I’m pretty sure you would find a big difference in player satisfaction with their class. Call me crazy, call me a troll, but I think what you and Poneria have touched upon rings true.

    I haven’t read if you are planning on getting in on the MoP Beta or not for testing, but I for one would enjoy to hear your thoughts on it.

    Thanks again for another night of losing about 2 hours of sleep reading and commenting on your blog! Keep up the great work.

    My Best…

  15. Fairness (Emarisea)

    Thank you for a well-written series. I had forgotten about some of the complexities I experienced during Cataclysm.

    For me, Cataclysm was definitely a step-up. I suddenly found that I needed more keybinds to perform well. I began to use macros with modifiers for keybinds. I invested in my first mouse with several thumb buttons. I spent hours figuring out Power Auras to keep track of dot timers and procs.

    I learned how to use Focus so I could cc a mob and continue dpsing. I began to learn affliction for the first time and how to maintain full stacks of Shadow Embrace on two mobs. Keeping Haunt on the boss and maintaining dots on 2-3 other mobs is something I practiced for hours and hours on the dummies.

    All of these things weren’t necessary for me to perform in Wraith. So though I am thankful now (I feel like I am a skilled warlock), it really did take a lot of time. And now after retiring from raiding, I wonder why we need so many things outside of the game in order to perform well within the game. Does that make sense?

    In the end, I learned to play all 3 specs well, I think. And that’s a good thing. It wasn’t so hard to use the same keybinds across all 3 specs. UA / HoG / Immo could all use the same keybind. S.bolt / S.bolt / Incin could share one as well for the main nukes. Drain Life / Incin / Chaos bolt were the non-main nukes but special to each spec. Soul swap / Soul fire / Soul fire could share a key bind, too.

    In Dragon Soul, I did well…but slowly saw other classes pull ahead. I don’t mind others having a turn at the top. But I often felt that I was doing everything my little fingers could do…just to keep up. And I wondered if those other classes were doing half as much as I was. Frankly, it was exhausting. Even more so when competing against someone with a legendary staff.

    I think in the end that it was this tiredness that led me to give up raiding. There were other RL reasons as well, so I’d hate to put everything on the developers shoulders. But then again, being forced to use Soulburn > Soul fire for t13 4p as affliction just irked the heck outta me. Now I had to find another space on my bars for a spell I never used for affliction.

    It is my hope that developers keep in mind spells that can potentially share keybinds across specs. It makes it easier for players to switch between them. And there is really no reason that we should be forced to buy a 12-thumb button mouse to play a game well, even though that will likely be my next purchase.

    Anyways…thank you again. I don’t think I was the only person to see guilds aggressively recruiting for warlocks later in Dragon Soul. Seemed like all of the top guilds needed one on my previous realm. Well-played warlocks are harder to find these days and I think you have found quite a few reasons to explain that. I hope the developers will take the time to read what you’ve written. Cheers.

  16. Paul

    People criticize Street for the tuning in Cataclysm, even though he wasn’t in charge of encounter design. But, he was in charge of class design, and all the complexity you point out can be squarely laid at his feet. The class complexity interacts with encounter complexity, as well: you only have so much internal mental bandwidth, so if the rotation takes up your attention it will make getting our of fire harder, and vice versa (see “psychological refractory period”).

    Street’s comments on the tuning in Cataclysm (“it wasn’t too hard; some people liked it!”) doesn’t make me thrilled about what will happen in MoP. I’m pretty much of the opinion that WoW would be better off if he were kicked off the team.

  17. I’ve been reading this series and thinking on how it intersected with my own loss of interest in the Warlock. I’m not sure that I have any conclusions but it does seem to be somewhat different than many of the other long time players. Back in Vanilla I bounced between the three cloth classes. By the time TBC was announced I was on a Priest to heal and Warlock to DPS. The Priest was replaced by a Shaman in TBC but the DPS character stayed the Warlock.

    Things started to come unhinged when 3.0 was released. Affliction went from a high mobility spec that could control enemies and your own health and mana to a spec that required more cast time spells to function. As Wrath progressed I became less and less interested in running a Warlock. Channel spells are for Shadow Priests, loss of Dark Pact rather than scaling, loss of an instant DOT to siphon health, focus shifted to casting Shadow Bolt…It just wasn’t the character that I was playing in Vanilla. The Shaman and Mage (he was still around and slowly leveled to cap each expansion) had changes but the character of the class was intact. The Warlock was different, though for a long time I wrote it off to me changing. I was more interested in the melee specs, so it’s logical that I’m not thrilled with the Warlock.

    Except that I was really interested in the Blood DK, Paladin, and Rogue post-Recuperation. They all played close to the way an Affliction Warlock did in the way-back. You controlled the fight and you controlled your resources. It felt like an echo of the Warlock from the old days. Not the same, but close enough to be fun. They had taken some of what made the Warlock enjoyable and grafted it onto other classes. The problem really wasn’t that I had changed, it was that the classes that offered the play style I wanted had changed.

    Then there were the intangibles. The mount quests, the demon quests, needing to manage soul shards, and carrying a soul bag. They added flavor to the character. I know what my Warlock thinks of each of his demons, I remember what he did to get them. The same for his mounts. It forged a connection that is largely lacking in the Warlock now.

    For me, I don’t know if this can be fixed. My Warlock is 85 but the levels were painful – done more because I want him at max if things are better in MoP because, yes, if the old school flavor is returned I’d be back on the Warlock in an instant. I can’t see it happening. There is too little similarity to the Mage, the Hunter, and the other ranged DPS classes in the old model. It will make it harder to generate balanced content if there is yet another system that needs to be considered, and right now it’s all about not having any class over-represented at the highest pinnacles of heroic raids, rated BGs, and Arena.

  18. Bertlezat

    For me this whole expansion can be summed up in one item, Moonwell Chalice. The fact that the annointed demonology rotation (and highest dps spec) was centered on a half tier lower item level trinket and required the user to “pet twist” nearly drove me from the game. This, while my raiding companions are playing such dificult specs as combat, arcane, and survival.
    If you want to sum up why people quit playing their warlocks look no further.

    My frustration lately has been related to the complexity of the rotations and the lack of utility features for heroic dragon soul fights. A good example is heroic ultraxion, on my team (10 man), my dps is usually middle of the road to low end. This is frustrating because as a warlock I don’t have the tools to contribute to the major mechanic of the fight (soaking hour of twilight), and yet I can’t even produce higher dps numbers while essentially focusing solely on dps.

  19. Bertlezat

    I think this whole issue can be summarized by one item and its place within the rotation of demonology, Moonwell Chalice. It absolutely frustrated me to no end that in 4.2 for a warlock to put forth his best numbers you needed to “pet twist” and use a trinket that had an item level 1/2 a raiding tier behind (not to mention going into 4.3 the trinket could only be replaced by the best Dragon Soul had to offer). This technique seems to fly in the face of the transparency of class design that Blizzard strives for. Its not readily apparent that a 365 trinket would out perform even the 391 trinkets from heroic version of that tier; there are no in game clues that using pets in the way that is suggested by “pet twisting” is a good idea.

    I feel like many of the fights in dragon soul have somewhat exacerbated the issue. Take Heroic Ultraxion for example, warlocks have no utilities to help their raid deal with hour of twilight. In my 10-man group, I am left to stand there and focus solely on dps. This would be ok, if I didn’t feel like I was the weak link in my raid because; not only do I not help contribute to the fight mechanic, but my dps is roughly average at best.

  20. The complexity issue was the largest part of the reason I quit from the entire game after having my lock as my main since vanilla wow.
    Mind you I wasnt a top tier player but I didnt do to bad usually in the top 10 for dps.

  21. Sith

    Disclaimer – I spammed shadow bolts in TBC Hyjal (SoC when I was ready to die)

    While raiding I want the simplest rotation possible because success has far more to do with the Boss dance than my rotation or me being a warlock. So I want attacking to not distract me from this boss’ unique mechanics.

    Raids & Runs are not cancelled due to a lack of DPS. So why would a guild/raid leader encourage someone to play a lock if a SP / eShaman / bDruid can do the same?


    My most important point is that I think it is wrong for Blizzard to focus on “warlock”. I.e., locks are not hybrids; there are three specs. Why should there not be a spec that is evocative of AMages & SBSpam and another of such intricate complexity that world class SC2 players say it is too many buttons. Regardless of whether it is complicated or simple, I think all three specs being the same “level” is a mistake. A senior Bioware developer responded to a question recently that it was an explicit design goal to have class rotations of different complexity (paraphrasing poorly from memory.)

    While the forums argue over which is better, good restaurants offer their customers a choice of steaks or salads. If the 1337 player has a complicated spec but they still begrudge me a simple alternative, then Activision-Blizzard share holders would be better served if, unlike Cataclysm, WoW designers ignored them.

  22. Jim W.

    Thanks, Cynwise, for a great series of articles…

    I have one character, Fenris\Yourdon that is the only character I’ve leveled significantly beyond level 30 in my years of enjoying the game… the reason? I am bored to death with other classes. The complexity of a warlock adds serious versatility. Since I see warlocks abilities as a general “union set” of other class dps abilities, I see other classes as a “subset of a warlock.”

    Cataclysm has caused me much frustration, however. I have tweaked and tuned and re built my spec, tested on dummys and Simulationcraft, and changed my rotations, worked out macros, swapped out trinkets, and reforges and barely pull adequate dps for my gear level. I’ve put so much work into keeping the character afloat that I’ve all but given up. I feel warlocks got marginalized a lot in Cataclysm.

    I’m not unhappy with the complexity of my class… though I don’t think it needs more, at all. I would love to see some of the nerfs warlocks took from the late Wrath days reversed (effectively restoring that simplicity tax you describe.)

  23. Doug

    Thanks for the great post. I totally agree with your comments. I have raided on a warlock since BC and abandoned it beginning with DS for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that is was no longer enjoyable and the DPS was largely sub par to equally equipped hunters or mages that enjoyed a much simpler priority system. That was not the only reason, but one of my major issues.

    Chunking is a well understood theory in education. One of the things to realize is that as peoples brains mature, they can handle larger chunks of data. Think about the differences in a high school classroom versus a college classroom. The biggest difference being the chunk size. I have often thought this is why you seldom see young gamers playing warlocks effectively.

    I was always surprised that as Blizzard continued to “dumb down” WoW, that warlocks tended to stay that complicated. Perhaps that want one class that offers more of a challenge. That would be perfectly OK by me if output was commensurate with the effort, but at least IMHO, it is not.

  24. Trizzy

    I partially disagree with your conclusion, let me break it down the problem.

    P1: Warlocks cannot get any more complicated
    P2: Some players like the complication of the class
    C: Warlocks need to become simpler in the next expansion


    As stated by P2, current warlocks such as myself enjoy the class complexity. This goes back to the “niche” idea, I play this class because I enjoy the complexity.
    Now, in the same way that making the class more complex cuts away player base, you’ll be facing the same problem if you make the class simpler. In fact, you can already look at some of the anger regarding the simplicity of the proposed destro rotation in the class forums. Not that the forums are particularly useful data, but they do show samples of players opinions.

    I understand why you said that the class needs to get simpler, but do you see the dilemma with making it simpler again?

    My basic disagreement with your comclusion:
    You cannot end P1 and P2 with C. Your conclusion leaves out the middle ground options that are available, and potentially desirable.

    My proposal:
    Let’s leave the class complexity as it is. We’ve watched what’s happened over an entire expansion, I don’t think the class is going to suffer any more population drop if we sustain the current difficulty. If we increase the difficulty we’ll face a population drop off the way we did at the start of Cataclysm, and if we make it easier we’re going to loose several of our niche players.

    • Eve

      I appreciate your position and realize it must be difficult to read people complaining about aspects of the class that you enjoy (i.e., the complexity). Obviously, whenever Blizzard makes a change to a class, some people are going to love it, and others will hate it. Just because most of the comments here bemoan the warlock changes in Cataclysm doesn’t mean there aren’t others like you who really enjoy it. I get that. I was a healer in Wrath – had all four healing classes maxed out and geared, and I adored every moment of that expansion, “twitchy” healing and all. It was very difficult for me to undergo the changes forced on healers in Cataclysm, when it meant I no longer loved to heal. And I know it made other healers really happy, even though I was miserable.

      The thing is, “leaving warlocks as they are now” means leaving warlocks more unpopular than any other class, by a pretty big margin, and also *more unpopular than they have ever been in the history of WoW*. It’s hard to see those numbers, and argue that warlocks should be left alone, because some people like them as they are. Frankly, more people liked them the way they *were*. I also don’t agree that just because something is a “niche” means you can’t, or shouldn’t, change it to make it more popular. Blizzard could make them even MORE complex, with even lower dps, and you could still find a few people who would say “Finally! I love it just like it is! Don’t change it!”…even as more and more warlock players abandoned the class (or even, the game). That wouldn’t be smart.

      In any case, I think you missed a little bit of the point Cynwise (and others here) have been trying to make. It’s not *necessarily* “make the class less complex!” The problem with warlocks (if I may try to sum up here) is that the class is both VERY complex while not giving the player sufficient reward for mastering the complexity. Leveling warlocks struggle because no matter how perfect they time their abilities, no matter how good their gear, they consistently perform worse than other dps in dungeons and in battlegrounds. And at max level, raiding warlocks are expected to master *three* very difficult specs and rotations, while the reward for doing so might take them from bottom-tier dps to somewhere in the middle.

      In other words, the rewards do not match the difficulty of what you are being asked to do, as compared to other classes. It’s like if Blizzard designed a very tough raid (much harder than the current tier of raiding) but the boss drops were the same ilevel as the current, easier raids (or even LOWER than the current, easier raids). Obviously, not many people would bother to run those raids. While a few guilds might relish the challenge *for the challenge’s sake*, I think we can agree that it would be a “niche” and unpopular raid.

      As they are now, warlocks are appealing to those who like complexity *for complexity’s sake*. The other rewards just are not there. And that is the main problem.

      IF Blizzard is going to keep the class this complex, they need to drastically increase the rewards for mastering that complexity. Just like if Blizzard releases harder raiding content, players expect better rewards for running it. So sure, leave warlocks complex! But then you NEED to increase our dps…by a lot. The payoff for this would be three-fold: 1) Players who love complexity would flock to the class, because their efforts and talents would be rewarded with the highest dps, 2) Players who love the warlock class but don’t love complexity could still play adequately, with middle-of-the-pack dps, and this would result in 3) A resurgence of warlock popularity across the board, both for the casuals and the hardcore.

  25. Dejara Thoris

    Browsing the forums, I found the reply: http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/4427536660#20
    Ding! Ding! Ding! That post really speaks to me and if I end up dropping the game when my annual pass runs out that will be a big chunk of the reason.

  26. Werst

    Lets not forget that T12 (and some of early T13) was dominated by demo spec’s pet twisting. This added a whole bunch more CD sync chunking on top of the already bloated list. Again, great post – Well said as a whole.

    • Nag

      Pet twisting was the nail in the coffin for demonology as far as I was concerned. I have fond memories of playing demonology when I downed Heroic LK. It was enjoyable, you had enough things to keep track of to feel engaged, but it felt clean.

      I’ve enjoyed affliction as my fallback spec, I’ve loved it ever since I rolled my warlock – long ago enough to have participated in the AQ opening events, though not quite day one. I loved the complexity of wotlk-naxx. I liked how the spec had a lot going on, but if you played it well, you were rewarded with high numbers.

      Come cataclysm affliction felt a little easier to play than back then, you had a few more buffs to keep track of, but the swap to BOD and haunt balanced things out. I’ve loved affliction in cataclysm, it’s felt like a finished spec. Shame I feel obliged to switch to demonology for multiple fights per tier.

      I was super hyped for all the warlock changes in MOP, it looked like they were aiming to fix a lot of problems with the class after years of neglect. Then I got into the beta and all three specs seem to be in varying states of bad and ugly, with very little good.

      I know beta is beta, but I’m worried for the first time since rolling a warlock in 2005 that I’m not going to have my reliable fallback spec. Affliction seems to be having far too many changes for the sake of change to what was a pretty solid state, at least by the standards warlocks are used to.

  27. Rupert

    I have to say “The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm” is the best written piece I have read on warlocks to date. Kudos to you and I look forward to your next piece.

    I have also read most of the replies and many valid points have been raised.

    Now for my 2 cents. My first toon was a pally for about 12 levels before rolling my lock and since then have rolled numerous alts most of which are somewhere between 60 and 84. I have raided on and off since vanilla, never QQ’d, taken changes as they come and adapted and always enjoyed the playstyle the warlock offers. My warlock has always been and remains my main.I play mostly PVE content and my dps has never really been an issue.

    I too have noticed a major decline in this class. With the exception of LFR where I may encounter another lock, I amost never see them in a pug group for BH, DS, FL etc. And I havent actively raided with one since my old 25 man during tier 7 and 8.

    I’ve tried to explain this to guildies at times and explain the frustration I feel but mostly I gave up and just ended up agreeing with them that locks in general suffer a complexity issue and accept the pats on the back for doing as well as I was. However my frustration was not with the complexity and never has been even during early Wrath where Siphon Life and Immolate were part of the rotation. If another dot/debuff etc is required in rotation I’d go about reorganising my UI to accomodate it and with a little practice would be good as new. When clipping used to be an issue I could roll through the rotation and maintain high 90’s percentage wise for dot uptime without clipping. I put it all down to muscle memory and and well designed UI, the latter being a must IMO for any warlock.

    The reason for my frustration has been difficult to place and if I could put it down to one reason more often than others is that the playstyle in whatever spec of warlock I played simply didnt FIT the content as well as other classes. I’d find myself making excuses and accepting that I could only be in the top 3 dps in 10M FL on 4 out of 7 fights because of basic raid mechanics. And to rub salt into it, even though on a good night I could top dps on a couple of those 4 fights and maybe even get ranked, I couldnt be consistent. The same two dps I shared the top 3 with were always in the top 3 whereas I bobbed up and down and it was just a foregone conclusion I sucked at some fights.

    I can tell you that as a competitive person by high by nature who is methodical and analytical, this is a big issue. It bugs me no end that I can’t make my playstyle fit in the game better. I think MoP has a lot in store to change that from what I’ve seen on the beta.

    I just gave one example of content issue but I would love to hear if others get what I’m trying to explain and could perhaps offer their own insight into this issue.

    Maybe rather than looking at data of wow parses and looking at aggregates, some data could be put together on a fight by fight basis per tier per spec to look at a given warlock spec and where it places on the list. Perhaps the issue comes down to inconsistency in performance across different encounters and the need to regear and respec per encounter to remain in that midzone of performance in endgame content.

    I for one have always loved playing affliction for its consistently solid and sometimes outstanding performance in almost any encounter, something I havent felt for a long while.

    Dont want this to be a wall of text or really a rant but I think I could go on forever on this topic and again thanks Cynwise for managing to put it into such a clear and linear format.

  28. Paul V.

    Well it’s early in the beta and the warlock class is a hard one for me to call. It feels broken. I don’t understand what it is yet. Maybe it’s good, I can’t tell. I feel like I’m totally out of touch with what a Warlock’s about.

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  31. Indead

    i’m sorry, but i couldnt disagree more about saying its wrong to tell ppl to L2P or to say elitists are jerks. of course, in a perfect world that would indeed be the case, but people being people (stupid) its not how that works.
    most people (and by most i mean 99.9%) unfortunately dont approach these topics as objectively as you do. when you see a player being told “L2P noob” its because he complains about things he doesnt like and that it should be no other way but how he wants it to. they say things like “this rotation is stupid, there should be less buttons in it. blizz better give my class quality improvements” instead of “i dont like this rotation, i hope its changed to something more of my linking”. being the former, its like complaining about how crappy cheap soundboxes are and demanding for the manufacturers to up the quality instead of either buying a more expensive one or changing to something else like a headphone.

    • Here’s an analogy I didn’t think was necessary for the text, but since you bring it up I’ll use it. 🙂

      You’re competing in the high jump. Let’s say the average person can high jump, reliably, 3′. (I’m making that up, but go with it.) The bar is set at 3′ during the first heat, and half of the competitors are able to jump over the bar. The second heat the bar gets raised to 3’6″. More competitors start failing, say only a quarter are able to still make it. Third heat it’s up to 4′, and now 5% are able to make it over. Fourth heat it’s 4’6″ and less than 1% can make it over.

      As the heats go on, the difficulty increases. Could you say to the competitors who are failing, “learn to jump higher?” Sure. It’s fair advice. You want to clear the bar, you have to jump higher.

      But if you are trying to figure out why half the people used to be able to jump over the bar, and now only 10% can do it this heat – or 1% can do it – perhaps you should look at the bar getting raised. Telling people “jump higher” isn’t helpful. It isn’t fair.

      The tricky part here is that we don’t always see the bar getting moved, and that we didn’t, as a community, acknowledge that the bar for playing Warlocks got raised in Cataclysm until later on. (There’s a strong argument to be made that everyone knew it was hard as hell to play Affliction up through 4.1, but the damage was off the charts so it was worth it. That’s the Simplicity Tax from an earlier post.)

      I don’t disagree with you that there are players who just don’t get it, who flood the forums, who say 3′ is too high, nerf that fucking bar already, and that they honestly need to improve. Those players are out there.

      But I stand by what I said: it is absolutely incorrect to assign all fault the the player who can’t clear the (secretly) raised bar. The point of this article is stepping back and saying – Why are more people failing to clear the bar? Hey, the bar is higher, someone raised it.

      It may be correct in individual cases, it is incorrect when considered in the aggregate.

      That’s the crux of the argument. You might be right on an individual basis that someone is a noob or an EJ, that they are overlooking their privilege or their shortcomings in evaluating the class.

      But a quarter of the people who played this class in Wrath walked away from it in Cata. That’s not everyone forgetting how to play.

  32. bova

    Hey folks,

    First of all, I just started playing cataclysm after taking a break since the end of wotlk, so I’m not sure exactly how much has changed in the meantime. However my question is this:

    Hasn’t the warlock class always been a tougher class to play?

    I’ve been playing a warlock since vanilla wow. Take a look at leveling for starters, warlocks never had a real single ‘escape’. There are many abilities available we can use that either are not that powerful on their own or time consuming. For instance in a troubled situation, you can easily sacrifice your void (in which case you already made the decision to use it) . But it takes time to re-summon. Combined abilities in a specific situation can however easily save you, if properly applied. This takes a bit of understanding and improvisation because of the large amount of possibilities. Let’s not make it bigger than it is, every player should be able to execute this easily, however one must be willing to spent some time to get to know the class rather than change into a more straightforward class. I vividly remember a time when I got laughed at by my friend who was leveling a rogue with me back in those days. Tight spot.. almost certain death.. telling me: ‘well good luck with that’, used ‘sprint’ and let me die a most painful death.. After a while I learned to get myself out of trouble, looted all quest items, laughed and told him the exact same thing while completing my quest, leaving him to finish it on his own as well. Sweet revenge lol.

    At wotlk I was a casual player at best. Though since I had been playing the class from the start I’d like to think I understood the class pretty well. I really started to notice differences with some other locks. My gear wasn’t spectacular at all. Many times I inspected other locks at pugs or whatever and wished I still had the time… Anyway this wasn’t always portrayed by the statistics at the end of a boss fight or so. More than once I noticed my actual dmg output exceeded the other lock by quite a bit. And as I said, I wouldn’t have noticed it when it happened a few times. After whispering them I found out most did not executed the abilities in the most efficient way or stuck to a standard rotation not improvising or changing it accordingly whatsoever. Call me a fool but I don’t like a standard rotation at all, Most of the time the first casts are the same but once I start moving or have to improvise in another way, I’m calculating my next move at that particular moment for the rest of the fight. in fact I never used any kind of macro ever..
    Got a bit carried away there and since I don’t want to sound like an arrogant f*ck who thinks he knows it all, I’d like to add that the majority of locks playing end-game probably own me bigtime. However in my opinion it’s this complexity which makes it a bit chaotic for most players whom therefore miss out on the fun.

    Also I tried creating different classes along the way. At almost all other classes leveling seemed to be much easier. Less tight situations, easier escapes, more controllable cc’s, etc. What happened for me was that I was very enthusiastic and felt I could hit 70 (or whatever) in a day, but then most of the time I got really bored, really fast. I was racing thru zones doing the exact same fight over and over again. Leveling like a rocket without a feeling of challenge, is in my mind worse than instant 85. Of course this is a bit shorthanded and sure there were difficult moments, but still…
    I figured it must be because of all the nerfs since vanilla, so I started another lock. Fair it had gotten easier because of it. But I still had the feeling that leveling up took more effort or at least more time, even though I had lots of experiences with the class.

    I’m having the feeling most people don’t like the class for it’s complexity with only dps as a result in a pve environment. Making a big effort to keep cool downs, cast times, dots, etc. under control with a minimal margin for error. Personally I really love the idea that I will be punished immediately for mistakes I make during a fight, because this gives me the feeling I’m actually contributing instead of spamming one or two macros all fight long as I have seen some of my friends do. Again, I make it sound like I believe all other classes are easy peasy, I don’t and I know they’re not. In fact all classes require lots of knowledge and ability from a player in my mind. However with 3 very different dps trees and the number of abilities you’ll effectively use during a fight, it’s easy to overlook 1 or 2 resulting in a huge loss in efficiency. This is especially applies to someone who’s not that familiar yet, like someone who’s leveling up… Will he or she then stay committed or will they start another class…?

    Anyone feeling the same way or I’m I talking gibberish?

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