The Loss of the Warlock’s Soul

This is the sixth post in the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

In a role playing game, each class presents an archetype; every specialization sells a fantasy. Your character’s being is tied into what they do, in their abilities and resources. Their class is a shorthand to describe and delineate them. In Warcraft, it’s the single most important thing about your character. You can change their appearance, their gender, their race, even their faction – but their class – what they do – is unalterable.

The archetypes that WoW classes present are broad strokes: a virtuous knight, a fallen hero, a religious ascetic, an archer or rifleman. Some have common themes but subtle distinctions: servants of natural balance versus servants of the elemental forces of the world. Others present the same idea with different polarities: brawny fighters versus dexterous skirmishers, scholarly wizards versus volatile conjurers. Within each of these archetypes there is a lot of room for players’ imaginations to flourish.

The first two posts in this series dealt entirely with identifying the problem: Warlocks declined in popularity in Cataclysm more than any other class. They were the least popular class and declined further. The next three posts examined the theory of Inelegant Complexity without Reward, the idea that the Warlock class suffered from increased complication without commensurate reward while lacking leveling elegance to offset churn. These posts are focused on measuring those things which can be measured, of looking at the data and class abilities as impartially as I can and trying to make sense of one question: Why did players leave? Well, here are a bunch of things that changed between Wrath and Cataclysm, they probably all had something to do with it.

But one thing I’ve avoided talking about has been the fantasy of the Warlock, the soul of the class. For one thing, it’s too personal, too steeped in a player’s imagination to objectively measure in the aggregate without a lot of surveys. For another, I think that there’s compelling evidence that the theory of Inelegant Complexity without Reward is right, that it’s the obvious reason why players put down their Warlocks.

Yet, I don’t think it’s the only reason.

I keep looking over the Warlock changes made in the various patches and the community’s reactions to them. Warlocks were able to perform at the highest levels of the game both in PvP and PvE, yet players abandoned the class en masse over the expansion. Objectively, the class got slightly easier to play from its apex of complexity around 4.0.6, which in turn implies that it was a combination of fatigue from class complexity as well as the complexity itself which drove players away, not simply the complexity.

Subjectively, though, I think the Warlock class lost its way. Each individual spec failed to deliver the fantasy it promised. The changes made during Cataclysm exacerbated the effect of this failure, so that even if a player wasn’t affected by complexity fatigue, they found themselves wondering if this was still the class they originally chose to play.

There weren’t any substantial changes to the vision or presentation of the Warlock class in Cataclysm. The failure came from muddled mechanics.


Setting aside questions of good or evil, the core idea behind Warlocks is that they’re the tough spellcasters who can survive a beating. This is in direct contrast to Mages, who are presented as fragile but elusive spellcasters, able to escape any trap. One class emphasizes durability; the other emphasizes mobility. Each classes’ spells and mechanics emphasize this contrast. (c.f. Demonic Teleport and Blink.)

The flavor of each specialization suggests a certain kind of character, to be sure. Affliction is good if you want a hexer, a corruptor, a dark enchanter or necromancer. Demonology is the conjurer, the witch summoning dark spirits, the summoner of devils and demons. Destruction is the mad invoker, the pyromaniac. There’s flexibility for players to define their own roles within each specialization.

But mechanically, the three specializations could be summed up very simply.

  • Affliction: damage over time spells, drains.
  • Demonology: demons.
  • Destruction: direct damage spells.

Mechanics have to support the fantasy of the class and specialization, or else the class feels wrong to play.

In Cataclysm, the mechanics of each Warlock spec failed to deliver on their promised fantasy. They created a dissonance between what players thought they should be playing versus what they actually played, which in turn contributed to the flight from the Warlock class.

  • Destruction had more DoTs than Affliction or Demonology.
  • Demonology had more (and better) nukes than Destruction.
  • Demonology didn’t have much to do with demons.
  • Affliction was forced to use Destruction spells instead of drains.

Let’s look at each one in turn.


Destruction had more DoTs than Affliction in Cataclysm. Affliction had more overall debuffs to monitor, but in terms of actual damage over time spells, Destruction used more.

Destruction had 5 DoTs contributing to its PvE damage, with the player having to manage 4 of them. Affliction and Demonology had 4 DoTs, with players having to manage 3 of them.

If a player wanted to play “the DoT spec” and picked Affliction – which thematically is correct – they did it wrong. If they picked Destruction because they didn’t like juggling a lot of DoTs – well, that turned out to be wrong, too.

That’s bad. Players shouldn’t feel like they did things the wrong way, that there was a bait and switch between the fantasy of a class and its reality.

Contrast this with late Wrath’s model:

The only time Destro locks used Corruption in late Wrath was while moving, and even then only if you didn’t need to Life Tap or Death Coil was on CD. It was better than doing nothing while moving, but it was never part of the standard rotation. You wouldn’t use Corruption in a Patchwerk fight.

Destro had distinctly different damage sources before Cataclysm. Wrath Destruction had a few DoTs, Burning Crusade Destruction had a few DoTs – it’s part of the class flavor – but it was never the DoT spec.

Until Cataclysm.


Demonology had more nukes, and more useful nukes, than Destruction.

While I counted Conflagrate as a CD-locked nuke for my complexity analysis, thematically it’s not really one – you don’t stand and cast it, and it doesnt have a travel time. It’s not visceral, like shooting a sheet of fire from your fingers or hurling a meteor at your enemy.

But even if we include Conflag, I also have to point out that at current gear levels, Chaos Bolt drops out of the Destro rotation because Incinerate scales much, much better with Spellpower.

Compare it to Demo, where Shadow Bolt is a solid filler – but when Molten Core procs, Incinerate becomes a better nuke – and when Decimation procs, Soul Fire becomes the execute nuke of choice. On top of that, Hand of Gul’dan hits harder than Incinerate, provides a debuff on the target, refreshes your primary DoT, and buffs your demon’s damage.

Destro uses Soul Fire to keep up a buff and as a proc, not an execute. The signature 31-point talent nuke doesn’t add anything special, and it gets beaten out by Incinerate.

Why does Demonology have more interesting nukes than Destruction? It’s not that Demo shouldn’t have interesting nukes, too – it’s that Destro fails to deliver on the spec’s promise that you’ll be slinging fire. You sling it, but only after you’ve gotten all of your DoTs ticking.

If anything, Destro’s use of Incinerate/Soul Fire feels more like Affliction’s Shadow Bolt/Haunt mechanic than Demo’s nuke weaving – one nuke for damage, another one for buff refreshing.

That’s not right. It should feel fast and furious – and distinct.


Why doesn’t Demonology have more to do with demons?

It’s kind of strange to phrase it like that, but when you look at the mechanics of what Demo Warlocks use, there’s demon form on 2 minute CD, and a unique demon… which is only used in AoE situations, not on bosses. And that’s it.

For the master of demons, that’s kind of disappointing, isn’t it?

This isn’t a problem I think got dramatically worse in Cataclysm. Rather, the spec has always lacked a real emphasis upon demons. The fel flavor is there in name, but not in execution. If you look just at the mechanics, Metamorphosis and Felguard are the extent of demonic influence for the spec. Demonology lacks cosmetic features (demonic horns and wings, demonic flight form, glowing fel tattoos on the character) to emphasize the vision of the spec, while the mechanics are grounded solidly in shadow and fire magic – not conjuration.

A demon form every two minutes, and the ability to save shards while switching demons. That’s what being a master demonologist got you in Cataclysm.


Cataclysm launched with some Warlock spells being unintentionally powerful. This was usually as a result of specialization and Mastery bonuses. There was a point where Searing Pain – formerly used for PvP and Warlock tanking due to its high threat component – was the best filler spell for Destruction, which made a lot of tanks very concerned. But that was quickly nerfed to prevent tank heart attacks.

From Cataclysm’s beta through May 18th, 2011, Drain Life was inordinately good for Affliction – so good that it offered a viable alternative to the traditional Shadow Bolt filler spec. Instead of spending talent points in Destruction, Affdrain buffed pet damage in Demonology and only used Shadow Bolts on Nightfall procs or an opener to get stacks of Shadow Embrace.

Drain Life spec had a lot of things going for it.

  • It’s thematically appropriate to the class. Warlocks should be tough and durable.
  • It’s mechanically appropriate to the spec. Affliction uses DoTs and drains.
  • It was new and different for a spec which hasn’t changed much in two expansions.
  • It offered challenge with reward.

That last part is worth emphasizing – Drain Life spec required a little bit more skill to play than Shadow Bolt because of having to watch ticks and interrupt your Drain Life at exactly the right time while refreshing DoTs. But the reward for this complexity was worth it; Affdrain brought the buff of survivability to raiding Warlocks. It freed up healers to concentrate on other raid members during some of the most intense triage healing this game has ever seen – T11.

Shadow Bolt, on the other hand, is a Destruction spell, and requires Destruction talents to buff it into usability. There’s only one thing in Affliction which affects Shadow Bolt – the base line passive Shadow Mastery talent. Regular Mastery (Potent Affliction) doesn’t, all the other Affliction talents don’t. You have to take Bane to make it even usable, and Shadow and Flame to buff it. This is problematic while leveling with the new talent tree restrictions (no help until level 71, minimum) but it’s thematically bad. To quote Tyler Caraway from Blood Pact:

Blizzard spent an entire beta lamenting about how it really wanted for Shadow Bolt to be affliction’s filler, and yet there is absolutely no support for the spell in the affliction tree. Does it really come as a surprise that the spell that is supported by mastery and several talents ended up performing better than the spell that got kicked to the curb?

Simple fact: If you want Shadow Bolt to hold such a lauded position within the affliction spec, then why is there not talent support for it?

Rightly or wrongly, this did not fit in with Blizzard’s design goals for how DPS caster classes should work in Cataclysm. Greg Street, in Explanation of 4.2 Balance Changes:

We nerfed Drain Life because Affliction was forsaking Shadowbolt in PvE, which wasn’t intended. We want Drain Life to be for utility, not primarily for damage, and we want all casters to have to hard cast at least some of the time. This was done via hotfix and players won’t see a change in 4.2.

The Drain Life spec fit Affliction’s theme. It fulfilled fantasy of the spec – a strong but tough vampire-like caster, taking health from their enemy and using it to fuel their own dark magics. It offered a unique reward for mastering the most complicated class in Warcraft. It was interesting and different. But, because Drain Life was a channeled utility spell, it did not fit the intended model for DPS.

It was therefore eliminated.

I don’t know if I can underscore this point enough. The fantasy of the Affliction spec was set aside for general design principles, not balance. It wasn’t that Drain Life was too powerful — it was on par with Shadow Bolt spec — it’s that it was too useful. Raiders don’t really care if a spell is channeled or hard cast, they have to stop moving for both of them.

But it was important to Blizzard that Affliction use Shadow Bolt and not Drain Life.


Why was it so important to force Affliction to use Shadow Bolt, instead of embracing the soul of the spec and going with Drain Life?

I think this is a legitimate question to ask in light of what happened to Warlocks in Cataclysm. I believe that had Drain Life spec been allowed to flourish, Warlock popularity would not have dropped as much as it did. Inelegant Complexity without Reward would have been replaced by Inelegant Complexity with Reward.

Yes, players would still have wrestled with the complexity of the class, but they would be able to say, I make our healer’s lives easier. I make it so we can two-heal this encounter instead of three-heal it, because I can heal myself through the whole thing.

I don’t know if keeping Drain Life spec Affliction would have been enough to save the class. I honestly don’t.

But I do know it would have given Affliction a fighting chance.


OH MY GOD … they are right… I have no mana drain. Plus a bunch of other crap has been changed. I check the patch notes. UA weakened, devour magic weakend, CoE weakend, fel armour drastically weakend everyone who plays a warlocks wobby has been nerfed by 60% size reduction.(I look downstairs… MY GOD ITS TRUE… My wife is gonna be so upset) Why whyyyyyy? I dont understand… what did we do wrong?

I decide to go to outlands to take down some level 70s. But my dots are easily expelled and I have no mana drain to kill their healers and I dont have the survivablity anymore to propel their powerful lvl 70 attacks.

So I head to stranglethornvale to farm some mobs for my leatherworking. But my dots are easily expelled and i have no mana drain, so their level 30 healers make quick work of me.

Ive had enough. I log off wow.

By the end of the week my wife has left me for a new man in her life. Rodney Oboogaboo. A pygmy paupa new guinian 35 year old paper boy with a skin irritation that bleeds a smelly puss like substance. But he plays a frost mage and can pull more DPS then I can. But what can I do? my dots are easily expelled and I have no mana drain.

Your kind aint welcome here, Zhing @ Frostmourne

The 4.0.6 patch had a lot of changes for Warlocks. Most notable was the complete removal of Drain Mana from the game, which prompted the classic Warlock forum thread above. The Felhunter’s Devour Magic (offensive dispel) was given a 20 second CD, up from 8. Unstable Affliction’s silence was reduced and Fel Armor was completely redesigned.

Losing Drain Mana sucked, but not for the reasons you thought.

These changes were all PvP changes, and in hindsight they were (probably) needed. They were part of a discussion of Upcoming Class Changes which included the following analysis from Greg Street:

The larger health pools, decreased impact of Mortal Strike debuffs, and slower healing are all having the desired effect in PvP. Burst damage has its place, but doesn’t determine the outcome of every encounter. There are several individual abilities that we aren’t happy with in PvP.

We’re keeping a close eye on dispels. We still like the design of making dispels more of a commitment rather than liberally sprinkling around dispel resistance or consequences for every class. Defensive dispels (removing a debuff) generally feel good, but we think offensive dispels (removing an enemy buff) feel too powerful, especially for DPS specs. In particular, Purge and Spellsteal will probably get nerfed.

We’re also looking at crowd control, interrupts, and self-healing in PvP. It’s possible we’ll reduce the durations of some crowd control effects, especially the area effect ones, and decrease the duration of interrupts.

Priests are a little weak in PvP, especially at mobile healing. We have made some changes to glyphs and talents to enhance their survivability and instant healing.

There was an overhaul of PvP mechanics during this patch, with CC durations being standardized, interrupts and counterspells being set on a standard CD, that sort of thing. Warlocks had a lot of changes to absorb, but they adapted. You cannot look back at the PvP changes of 4.0.6 and say they made Warlocks useless in PvP. You can’t even say that they hurt them much at the top levels of the game – Warlocks were strong in rated PvP throughout the entire expansion. The really good Warlock players adapted to every change and still excelled.

But this overhaul introduced changes which contributed to the decline of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

There were two types of changes:

  • Changes which widened the skill gap between the great and the good.
  • Changes which made other classes look more attractive or easier to play.

Changes to some PvP abilities were applied across the board in this patch – consistent CC and counterspell durations. When an ability is standardized across classes, no one really complains – it feels fair. But when it’s changed for one and not another, it makes classes feel singled out. It makes players compare classes and consider questions like: would I be more effective playing something else?

Drain Mana’s removal wasn’t bad in and of itself, it was that it was removed while Mana Burn was left intact that was the problem. It wasn’t that Devour Magic got a 12 second increase to its CD, it’s that other offensive dispels didn’t get the same CD – or any CD at all. It’s not that the automatic self-healing of Fel Armor was removed, but rather that other classes didn’t see a similar reduction.

“Priests are a little weak in PvP,” noted Ghostcrawler, and in that context the removal of Drain Mana without the corresponding loss of Mana Burn makes sense. Other caster classes needed to be made more attractive in PvP, so Warlocks were made less effective. This – combined with all these other changes – made it harder for average Warlock players in PvP, who then looked at the other classes and realized they were more attractive at their skill level: easier to play, more effective abilities, fewer buttons to push.

If it wasn’t Drain Mana, it was Fel Armor. If it wasn’t this patch, it was the 12% damage nerf in 4.1. The little things piled up until players decided it wasn’t worth the hassle anymore.

At some point, people started realizing it wasn’t fun for them anymore, and either rerolled or quit.

Inelegant Complexity without Reward strikes again.


Have Group, Will Travel is an insanely useful level 21 guild perk. With it, any member of a guild can summon their entire party or raid to their location. It has a long CD, but since it’s available to everyone there are usually enough to bring any last-minute stragglers into any guild activity.

It’s easy to use, too – click on the ability and it summons your party/raid.

Compare this to the Warlock Ritual of Summoning: a single class has access to it, requires 2 other people and a bunch of clicking, but it has no CD.

Have Group, Will Travel is the superior ability. It eclipses the Warlock summons in nearly every aspect, effectively negating the class perk. This, no doubt, hasn’t helped with overall satisfaction of the Warlock class. It’s not special or unique anymore. About the best you can say is that it’s always available if you have a Warlock around. But Warlocks can’t use it on their own – it has to be part of a group.

The wrong thing to do is to remove Have Group, Will Travel so that Warlocks can feel useful about this ability again. This solves the problem of uniqueness for a small fragment of the playerbase at the cost of increased dissatisfaction for everyone. People like HGWT. It’s useful. Taking it away will just piss a lot of people off.

The right thing to do here is to make Ritual of Summoning better than Have Group, Will Travel. Make it as easy to use as HGWT – no need for a group – with a reasonable cooldown. Do it by Glyph – let Warlock players choose between a Demon TV (which can be used all the time but needs 2 other players) or a HGWT group summon with a 10 minute CD.

Don’t go backwards with quality of life improvements just to make a class feel special.

Make them feel special by giving them a better quality of life.

Next up is the final post of this series, Out of the Mists: Reclaiming Warlocks in Pandaria, where I’ll finally start looking ahead to Mists of Pandaria and the complete reworking of the Warlock class.


Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery

39 responses to “The Loss of the Warlock’s Soul

  1. I think the conflict with Drain Life and Shadow Bolt has always been an issue, even way back in Vanilla. I’ve never really understood why Blizzard has been so resistant to making Drain Life the filler for Affliction warlocks. Put in a talent or glyph that alters the damage:life ratio, if that’s so important.

    During the cataclysm beta, I posted this about the early warlock experience:

    The Imp is good, but I don’t agree with Shadowbolt. It makes the low level warlock feel too much like a mage. But then again, I’m prejudiced against Shadowbolt. I think the single worst mistake ever made by the WoW Class Dev Team was warlocks at the end of TBC. We started with a pet class with a focus on DoTs and lovely, lovely complexity. Then it was turned into a class that sacrificed the pet and spammed a single nuke.

    So yeah, putting Shadowbolt forward as the introductory warlock spell is bad. I would suggest giving level 1 warlocks Drain Life instead. It’s very different from mage spells, and is much more appropriate thematically. Warlocks don’t just blast you down, they drain the very life from you, healing themselves at your expense.

    I think it still stands. Warlocks should be about DoTs and drains, not nukes. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that Incinerate was a mistake, and Shadow Bolt should have remained the filler for Destruction.

  2. Re: summoning.

    I was running a dungeon on Mists beta with Matticus, Jed, Hestiah, and Beefyswagz/@druidleaves. Beefy & Jed were on mages, and at one point Matticus said he needed more mage food. Beefy just whips out a table, no portal clicking involved. A frickin’ party mage table. He says there’s a glyph now that it doesn’t require people to click for it.

    And we immediately said, “Now…if only they’d frickin’ do that for Soulwell. And for summoning, too. Especially since they’re taking out HGWT. Gawd.”

    Re: drain filler.

    I recall when the Mists talent calculator broke out, and we all thought Malefic Grasp was some new Demo filler because Demo was getting all tricked out. And then the Class Q&A with the devs came, and they completely blew our minds by saying no, Malefic Grasp was not only affliction’s filler, but it was channeled.

    And then several Twitter warlocks including myself were quite honestly flipping a hilariously happy shit because that’s exactly 180-degrees of what they said they wanted for affliction in the Drain Life nerf in 4.2.

    So far, so good, I think. I wish they’d get the memo that rapid filler-twisting is about as fun as pet-twisting was, but we’re nowhere near the end of development, so I’m not yet getting worked up over it.

    • They … what? They did that in the beta for tables but …

      ok. I’m going to go with it and wait and see. 🙂

      I am still deciding about Malefic Grasp. I still think that Drain Life would be a better (more thematic) filler spell for Affliction, but am glad everything is up for debate in Mists.

      Thanks for the comment. More on my Beta thoughts in the next post. 🙂

  3. Dejara Thoris

    Typo? You said three types of changes and only bulleted two.

  4. Barryhn

    I’m loving this series Cynwise, it’s been a really interesting read 🙂

    I want to make clear 2 things before i present some idea’s.

    1. i do not play, nor have i ever played, a warlock as a main class.
    2. i have never played a warlock at max level in any capacity.

    That said though, you don’t need those two things to think about the theme and feel of warlocks.

    How nice would it be, if all the demonology spells summoned or conjured minor demonic entities to attack their foes – it would still have a basic effect of a nuke or a dot – but instead of hurling a fiery ball o’ death (TM) you are shaping fel energies into a giant fiery bat o’death, or green fiery spiders. Or how about demonology spells that have secondary pet attack commands tied to them, so you have to balance your own personal dps output, with utility, attacks and bonuses for and from your minions. An interesting weaving there – not over complex and potentially dynamic enough to adapt to different situations instead of nuke spamming.

    Affliction’s baseline spell should be Drain life – to hell with blizz’s so called design concerns. Affliction isn’t about hurling balls of shadowy death at people, it’s a subtle spec, a spec that drains the life from it’s enemies and makes itself stronger for it. Tie other spell effects to drain life, make it important again – because really when you choose to play affliction – you are saying you want to play a more subtle and disruptive than outright explody destructive spec. If they want shadow bolt to be a thing, tie it to a stacking buff from drain life, so we can choose to let out a surprising hammer blow sacrificing the extra power we have built up during a fight, maybe make it an execute we use when you have weakened your foe to the point where recovery is impossible – then bang – explosion of shaow energy that consumes all the dots and does a final blast of burst damage. It’s a risky decision, if it doesn’t kill your dots are all gone and you need to finish off in a less flamboyant manner but it would make for an interesting mechanic. Instead of having it as a filler spell for a spec that is supposed to rely on dots and drains.

    Destruction, I kind of like, I’m levelling a Destro lock at the moment, not high enough level to get incinerate yet – so i’m mainly spamming soul fire once immolate etc. are ticking, but it’s fun, it does the job, but it does feel themaitcally, a little too much like a fire mage. Though it does give nice bonuses to my favourite pet – the imp. Oddly i have fewer thoughts on how to make destro feel less mage-like than i do on theme for the other classes. But it’s something i would like to see – and i think mists is doing something good with destro with the burning embers mechanic. But we’ll see, we’ll see.

    • Thanks for the comment! I like a lot of the ideas you propose in here – they’re very interesting and outside of the box.

      I’m also leveling a Destro lock both on live and in the Beta, and the Beta is much more true to the theme of the spec. It’s as much due to inelegance in leveling in the current model as anything else though. It’s much better in Mists, where you get Incinerate really early on (it replaces Shadow Bolt.)

    • “How nice would it be, if all the demonology spells summoned or conjured minor demonic entities to attack their foes – it would still have a basic effect of a nuke or a dot – but instead of hurling a fiery ball o’ death (TM) you are shaping fel energies into a giant fiery bat o’death, or green fiery spiders.”

      This is exactly the sort of thing I kept imagining when reading the post – maybe have spells like what Crypt Fiends do, shooting a stream of bugs at their target, or perhaps have regular demons pop into existence briefly around the target just to hit it a couple of times. I dunno, I bet there’s loads of things the game designers could come up with, anything to make Demo more about demons.

  5. Coming from a plate class, the Lock doesn’t seem to be a paragon of the ‘tough caster’. In that respect, Mages and Locks are similar, but serve different purposes. For me, the Lock’s appeal was the DoTs, but managing that is the real trick. Also, getting used to the slow ramp-up of damage for Locks can be painful too.

    Comparatively speaking, most other classes can start off with higher burst damage, especially at lower levels, and working with a Lock takes patience. A LOT of patience. In today’s MMO world, patience is a dirty word compared to the “I want it NOOOOWWWW!” environment.

    Good and evil aside, the Warlock fantasy is tied up with the demons themselves. Outside of the utility of demons in combat and the /love or /flirt with the Succubus, the demons are there as fluff. They are the reminder of where a Lock’s power comes from. One way to improve the fantasy is to make interacting with the demons more fun/interesting, and perhaps give the demons something to do instead of just following along behind the Lock. Something like having the Felhound wander over to a nearby crowd in a town and sniff around at them, or having the Succubus go over to a random person and do a /love at them. Or maybe having the Voidwalker go to a nearby Mage and start saying out loud how much it wants the energy to feed upon.

    • … I want my demons to cause random trouble in town now. SO MUCH.

      • I can’t argue with that at all. Shamans channel elemental energy, but they don’t have elementals to command; that’s Twilight’s Hammer’s job. Frost Mages get the Water Elemental, but it’s more or less a mobile fountain. (Hey kids, free water!)

        Locks, with their demons, are a different story. The demons don’t want to be there, and ought to be looking at ways to make their displeasure felt. Or, in the case of the Succubus (and maybe Shivarra), trying to find ways to seduce people to get them to help them out.

        I’d hate to think what sort of comment a Shivarra would say upon summoning, but I would fall off the chair laughing if it was something like “You thought I was just a Succubus with more hands to play with? WRONG!”

      • tacey

        There is an addon for that! PetEmote – lets you customize emotes for your pet that play randomly – they can even be specific to particular minions. So, for instance, you can create an entry saying ‘Cynwise’s pet Hignalda approaches [target]. He looks hungry.’ and a different one for the succubus: ‘Cynwise’s pet DemonGirl looks speculatively in [target]’s direction.’ My void walker is a bit of a philosopher, but the felpuppy is trouble…

        Highly configurable. H/T to BigRedKitty all those years ago for calling it the Most Important Hunter Addon.

  6. The problem with Demo is largely the problem with the Hunter BM spec, I think. GhostCrawler at one point basically said that they thought the pet contributed too much to the BM Hunter’s damage output, etc, which, you know, is like THANK YOU CAPTAIN OBVIOUS OF COURSE OUR PET IS A MAJOR CONTRIBUTOR, THAT’S WHY IT’S CALLED BEASTMASTER. But, really, the only remaining hallmark of the BM spec now is that it has special pets, exotic one, that nobody else can have.

    Sound familiar at all?

    I’d say the broader statement is that they lost focus on what the pet-based classes/specs were all about. Demo is allabout da demons, like BM is allabout da beasties. Remove that distinction, and the spec suffers.

    I don’t know if hunters at large have the same similar decline, but I’m here to tell you as both a Hunter and Warlock player, I see remarkable similarities between the two; not just the pet-heavy specs, but all three have become less distinct as time has gone by. Map MM to Destro (glass cannon), Surv to Afflic (sturdy but reliable), and BM to Demo (pet-heavy). Amusingly, the Afflic analog in the hunter world – SV – is either the top DPS spec now, or competitive with the top DPS spec (MM).

    Homogenization’s a bitch.

    • Patrick

      Cynwise, these are fantastic posts and I have really enjoyed this series!

      I feel the complete opposite regarding BM vs Demo. I think there are great thing the Demo spec can take away from the BM hunter.

      The BM signature abilities are
      1) kill command
      2) big red pet
      3) exotic pets & more pet talent points

      These can translate into the Demo spec somewhat:
      1) basic filler for Demo could be a super demon strike. So an ability the lock commands the minion to perform rather than the lock casts per say
      2) metamorph not only morphs the lock but morphs the minion into a superior version like the new talent in mists
      3) demo locks minions have an extra utility ability. Not just an extra minion

      Just some random thoughts

  7. Jacob

    Just a quick thought on the lock portal. I quit for a year (just before cata) then came back recently to Wow and found that not only is there a guild perk that makes my portal suck, but I can;t even use it in LFG to summon the guy who ported out to repair armor anymore. That to me is a -huge- nerf to the one really, really nice utility that the ‘lock used to bring to dungeon finder groups. And, though I haven’t looked, I can’t even understand that nerf as I cannot see how it could really be abused.

  8. Dejara Thoris

    I’d make an even stronger argument and extend Redbeard’s on what a ‘lock should feel like. Warlocks shoud all be about the forbidden arts, of wrestling power from unwilling victims. Affliction (ripping the life force right out of you) and Demo (breaking demons to our will) are fairly clear examples of this and don’t need a lot of new thematic development (maybe put abbreviated demon quests back in?).

    Destro is currently a problem and this is where I think that “green fire” can make a contribution. Just declare that fel fire is sentient, evil and corrupting in it’s own right (the fires of the nether! Demonic elemental fire!). This would also explain the whole burning embers effect…the warlock is actively fighting a being who’s goal is to burn him, to burn everything. The hard part becomes stopping it from doing more than the warlock intends. If you want to have red fire as an option then declare that the techniques work with normal fire as well and it is used for training new destros so a beginners mistake doesn’t burn down the city. Some destros get good enough with normal fire that they feel it isn’t necessary to move to the greater dangers of fel fire for a minimal power increase. Arguably you could write a version of this that doesn’t even involve fel fire, just elemental fire (which would require no mechanics changes), though I think the fel version is a stronger story.

    Shadow priests can be differentiated from afflocks in that spriests could be working more with already (un)dead things where their willingness to cooperate is less at issue.

    In town, the warlock trainers should be accompanied by the local equivalent of political officers, commissars or zampolits. In the Alliance it’s more likely to be a formal position, in the Horde it is likely to be more spot checks. Both factions will use spies and infiltrators. It’s not that they don’t trust individuals, it that the energies they are working with are inherently corrupting and a moment of weakness on the warlock’s part can cause a great deal of trouble later if not stopped as soon as possible. There could be a warlock quest chain where you go to a coven and realize they are on the “wrong path” and you need to decide what you are going to do about it (attempt to fix, report, or kill). There should be flavor text that emphasizes that your methods are pulling at you to do things you may not want to do.

    As discussed in a different post, warlock motivations should be more on display, and should be more varied than straight power hunger. It should be everything from “I thought I was at the mage academy!” to “my people are in danger and I must fight for them with all the power I can reach” to the usual “all the power must be mine!”.

    I’m not sure why Blizzard has been unable to come up with a Warlock story as minimally involving as the above…it really doesn’t seem that difficult.

  9. Hamut

    I just now realized haunt itself isn’t a dot… I am suddenly very sad because I have one fewer dot than I thought I did……. (I suppose that should be a flavor win for blizz, the way they made the spell with delayed healing and a long-term debuff it feels so much like a dot I went 2 expansions without realizing it was a nuke, hell, I even tried to avoid clipping it when I could)

    On to the real point of this post though, I did like the flavor of the drain life build, but I have to agree with blizzard’s decision, being the class that didn’t ever need healing would have been rather unfair (I can see some 7 lock compositions, 2 tanks 1 healer and the guys who don’t get damaged). Unfortunately I think blizz is headed in the other direction with locks with the removal of so much self healing from the beta; now we’re the guys who need more healing, not less, because our only mana regen is life tap and there’s no health regen backing it up.

    Giving blizzard some props though, MG is awesome flavorwise and a big step in the right direction for affliction.

    • Dejara Thoris

      All they had to do is change the relative per tick heal and damage values in drain life to make it viable without over-healing. It wasn’t OP in terms of damage, so just reducing the heal component by a third would probably have worked fine.They didn’t have to make it completely unusable.

      I don’t particularly like Malefic Grasp. It’s haunt with drain graphics and drain movement limitations without actually draining. Burst in disguise with a short duration. And now they’ve taken the cast stacking away, stripping the bit that made it useable. It appears to be their solution to the warlock burst problem, but I’d rather have the old lack of burst with a more tanky playstyle enabled by affdrain speccing.

      • I think that to do such a thing would take WoW in a direction that Blizzard doesn’t want to go. There was this opportunity after Wrath where Blizz could have gone out and made things broader, more of a sandbox than it had been, but they decided that is was a) more profitable and b) more desirable to go the way that they went in Cataclysm.

        They did learn that too many quests-on-rails didn’t work so well for repeat levelers, but I think they’ve yet to figure out how to fit the big sprawling environment together into a cohesive whole. WoW is very much the victim of its own success, and small, innovative things like more class quests and all sorts of clever things that would make the world come more alive and vibrant simply cost too much money for the story they want to tell.

        If WoW spent a little less time trying to throw new subgames into the next expansion and a little more time into making the mere act of walking around Stormwind or Org more memorable, that’d be really something. But I doubt they will, since they –as well as the majority of players– have subscribed to the belief that the game only begins at max level, and some of that flavor isn’t necessary when more stuff at L85 or L90 is what’s important.

        • @Redbeard,

          Honestly, and this may be my inner cynic speaking, but I have to point out that Blizzard is run not just by gamers, but also by a bunch of programmers. And one thing that programmers love is new stuff. Fixing old stuff isn’t fun. Fixing old stuff isn’t glamorous. New things … aye, there’s the fun.

          As an example: every time the topic of test automation comes up at work, a dozen programmers run off and come up with a new test automation system that almost works. I have seven (going on eight) almost working automation systems. I just want one working one.


          Keeping the old class quests current = code maintenance = not exciting and fun. Fixing old game mechanics = code maintenance = not exciting and fun. Even making it possible to fly in Azeroth = code maintenance = not exciting and fun. You get the picture.

          Do game designers tick the same way as programmers? I have no idea, not having worked with any. But Blizz shows all the same antipatterns that make ambitious young QA engineers into surly cynics.

        • @Grimm, you were in software QA too, eh?

          Yeah, I just want the “almost works” moved to “99%” works.

          One final thing to consider is that Blizz also has –above the programmers and designers– the suits from Activision. Those suits set the budget and they want more bang and less ‘not sexy’. Getting things from 85% to 99% definitely qualifies as ‘not sexy’, and won’t directly sell new subs. However, it might just help Blizz keep those subs, but that’s not as important as new subs.

        • Dejara Thoris

          I’m assuming that contrary to the threading I’m seeing, you are responding to my comment on warlock flavour rather than the comment on MG and drain life healing.

          Most of what I outlined is theme only and could be accomplished with flavour text and placing a couple of mostly static NPCs. It isn’t necessarily a huge development effort or particularly expensive. It could even be introduced gradually. As for not the desired direction? Hardly. There are whole holidays and quest chains that are oriented to giving druids and shamans flavour. There is a city of mages and they built cathedrals for the priests and paladins. Blizzard does a lot of work making sure most of the classes have a clear place in the world and in their factions. While warlocks haven’t been completely neglected, their place in their factions hasn’t really gone much farther than their portrayal in vanilla/bc…despite being all over the place in the ranks of the various oppositions.

  10. Scathbais

    Sad to say, my first and only blue post reply in the forums was the announcement of the 25% nerf to drain life — true story (Scathbais@Mal’Ganis — US)

    I was asking why Soul Fire and Drain Life weren’t included in the 4-pc bonus (don’t remember which one). The response I got was Soul fire getting included in 4-pc and drain life getting nerfed.

    Truly a sad day in the life of an affliction warlock.

    Nice article as usual Cynwise 🙂

  11. As a side note, as far as I know CB isn’t so much left behind because of incinerates higher scaling, but rather that CB has a lower cast time, and with our current gear scaling CB’s cast time is getting shorter than 1 sec, which at which point its instantly surpassed by incinerate.

    Which really as a symptom of both warlock nukes (and which one you can’t when) being less about the nukes damage and more about its cast time. SF, incinerate and shadow bolt all do similar damage for demo (IIRC), but the last times are wildly different. This leads to a MC proc feeling less “YAY BIG DAMAGE” and more… frantic?

  12. AliPally

    To me the MOST interesting change for a long time was being able to use Drain Life rather than boring old Shadow Bolt. I didn’t use Drain Life because it was OP, I used it because it was fun and something different from everyone else’s nukes. When Blizz decided to kill that spec off, I quit playing my warlock for some time, because I was so annoyed. It wasn’t until the last Tier patch that I started playing her again.

    There ‘is’ a place for Drain Life, because Warlocks still have to Lifetap, so they are not just getting ‘free heals’. When we had a lot of stamina Lifetap made sense; now it is just a hazard in a raid. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to heal our Lifetap back up using Drain Life as our filler?
    The damage consideration was a minor one and easily changed; the fact that Blizz were so adamant that we had to use Shadowbolt is still nonsensical to me.

    As far as image is concerned, Warlock trainers were always hidden away in basements or outside of towns – people knew that Warlocks were bad or desperate people, bartering their sanity away for the powers that the Burning Legion provided for them. With the Burning Legion long gone, we are kind of obsolete lore-wise.

  13. gameldar

    I think the loss of Have Group Will Travel is not about Warlock utility. Yes it does affect it, but it is all about trying to ‘get people back into the world’. By making at least 2 people go to a summoning stone you’ve got the chance of introducing some more world pvp and you have to use it even with a lock to get the third person there. From that perspective they aren’t going to improve the lock’s closet at all to be a single person summon.

    I’d be a nice improvement if you could summon a whole party (not a full raid) with one click however and still mean that you have a bit more extended time summoning.

    But great article as always Cyn. Having not touched my lock basically since vanilla there is so much I’m learning (Destro having more dots than affliction).

    A warlock was my second character I ever created – I shied away from it first (going with a hunter first) partly because the vanilla box listed warlock as an advanced class. I actually got a lot further with my warlock before I switched servers to play with friends and went back to the hunter (via rogue) that became my first main. But I loved the feel of the lock then – the pet tanking and later the drain tanking – and that lock was a gnome (I wonder if some of the reason I haven’t picked mine back up is that my ‘new’ lock is a human)!

    I loved the affliction dot casting and dotting up multiple mobs. Part of me however looks at levelling now that I understand the ‘most efficient’ way and that really doesn’t include dots on mobs that die quickly (I was noticing on a new priest I rolled – tried multi dotting and then just healing through the damage and the dots just don’t kill quick enough versus straight up hitting a mob) – in general the numbers you are killing are so relatively few that hitting up one mob at a time with a nuke a couple of times is the more efficient way. Each of your posts makes me want to revisit my lock… I just haven’t managed to sit down and take stock of where I was at, and how things have changed (i.e. I hit the wtf does soul burn do for me being a level 37 lock). Instead I’ve been levelling a rogue… which basically hasn’t changed in forever (although that is because I really like energy as a resource…and full speed stealth)!

  14. Great follow with this…I can only hope this means your heading into Beta and testing?

  15. Gregory

    First of all, thanks for your articles on your quest to find out what is happening with the warlocks.

    As a veteran lock (raiding as lock since molten core at vanilla) and having 4 locks at 85, I want to add one thing. Warlocks were supposed to be the weird casters that pretty often sacrificed a fraction of their HP to gain something (well, it was only expressed in Life Tap) and being tough focusing on stamina. They eliminated the need to life tap (yes I find it very class defining mechanic) and they almost eliminated the need for draining.

    I want -as a lock- to feel different. The coolness factor was always one of the strong points of locks. This, with the super cool tier pieces. We missed this and we have lost our way!

  16. I absolutely agree with you. I’m a huge fan of affliction spec. I tried destruction and was horribly confused over which spells I should be casting. It’s the nuke spec, right? So I don’t need to cast all those DoTs on things? Wrong. More DoTs. How counterintuitive it feels to be casting shadow spells when my spec buffs fire damage!

    Not only is it confusing, it means there’s a dangerous lack of diversity between the specs. If I feel like a break from affliction, my alternatives are two other specs relying on keeping up a load of DoTs.

    Shadowbolt spam may have been too simplistic a playstyle but it now feels like they’ve pushed destruction spec too far the other way. We are no longer shadowmages who sac our pets and don’t cast a single DoT and that’s a good thing. It’s not so good that I feel like an affliction warlock with extra fire when I actually felt like a change from affliction spec.

    One might argue that warlocks should be a DoT-based, complex class, but you’re only going to alienate players who liked a simpler nuke spec if you take away that choice.

    As concerns drain life as a filler, yes. This. Drain-tanking and increased durability was what made me feel like an affliction warlock. That was a real ‘Why, Blizzard, whyyyy?’ moment for me.

  17. Joshua

    On your chart for cataclysm nukes, you left out drain soul for affliction. Even though this is a channeled spell, in actual situations you need to treat this spell as if it’s 5 casted spells, back to back and interrupt the channel as soon as a tick goes off to refresh a dot. So in effect, it is the exact same mechanic as soul fire for demonology. With drain soul added to the chart, it would give both destruction and affliction with the same number of nuke spells which just adds to the lack of flavor for destruction being the nuke spec.

  18. The sad thing is that there is a working model for how aff-locks could have been in Cata – the shadow priest. Unfortunately, in Blizzard-world it’s crazy-talk for a warlock to have a channelled filler, yet absolutely fine for a priest to have one.

    It’s the sheer irrationality of the changes that frustrates…

  19. Jax

    I’ve felt like locks have been in decline pretty much since the beginning of Lich King. I realize that once they got some tweaks and the proper gear they got quite strong again, but by then I’d lost interest and was tired of trying to raid with an under-performing toon. In Cata I’ve found destro to be disappointingly fiddly to play, and don’t play actively enough to keep 15-odd actions straight at all times.

    I wonder if that might be the real culprit. Not just that locks are too fiddly (they are), but that only very regular raiders play them frequently enough to get and maintain memory of all the things they need to keep going now. It may not just be a short-term memory thing. It might be a long-term one as well.

    • Mikael

      Re: memorizing gameplay. I consider myself a fairly accomplished warlock and I’ve raided extensively all through cata, favouring no spec in particular (i.e. I’ve played them all). Right now, I’ve played affliction and destruction exclusively for the past four months. Even so, after not logging in for a week and then going raiding, I’m still going “oh shit, I forgot summoning the doomguard with all buffs up or forgot to put bane of havoc on the other guy or forgot to save a soul shard for a seed of corruption for those adds”. After playing for a bit it all comes back again, but those first moments I still forget a bunch of the stuff I’m supposed to do.

      So yeah, I do think there’s something to be said about having too many things to remember, and some away time really hurts. That and the fact that you can’t just react to the stuff around you, you have to constantly think ahead and plan accordingly (this is ofc true for most classes but even more so for warlocks).

  20. Werst

    Having raided HC (T11/12) and done a casual tier (T13) and now mop beta I just feel my interest level flatlining. I’ve stuck w’ locks through quite a bit since BC days but lately its just not there for me anymore.

    The most fun I had in cata was T11 affdrain. Since then its just been a downward spiral. It was killed for no other reason than GC didn’t like it. A glyph trading dmg for healing would have remedied the “op healing” or w/e.

    I see the same flawed decision making criteria that got locks where they are in cata being applied to MoP beta. So despite the changes it doesn’t feel like things are really improving. GC/devs treat the class with a mixture of contempt and neglect which shows in their finished products. Simply put a spriest or mage are fun and functional while locks not only suffer the inferior mechanics they get to have their concerns marginalized or ignored.

    I will say the “Rube Goldberg DPS machine” of cata seems to be going away in MoP (at least for dest/demo) but lock specs are still inferior to their dps counterparts. Destro is the burst spec without burst, especially burst on demand, affliction is just a complete mess, and demo stuggles for identity though is probably the best so far. As a pure class we need a competitive toolkit for each type of fight. That isn’t going to happen with 4 sec hardcasts, mana sinks for healers, etc.

    So far I’ve seen nothing to indicate the devs want locks actually “fixed” compared to cata’s decline. After 3+ expansions with my lock and the last one pretty brutal I just don’t have another one in me. I also don’t want to reroll (I’ve got max lvl alts already) I want my class fixed. The class evolution feels like a bad relationship…(and she’s flunking rehab atm) LOL

  21. Thanks for this series of posts, Cynwise. One of the best bits of WoW blogging I’ve read. I quit playing around the beginning of T12, having played a Warlock for a long time.

    Some of the most enjoyable play I’ve had as a warlock has been with affliction using drain life. I spec affliction every time it becomes an option, and spec out as soon as the game tries to force me to use SB nukes. It seems to me that the balance issues aren’t caused by drain life but by the phasing out of life tap. The old model for warlocks was massive mana inefficiency – we were the muscle cars of the caster world, 6 litre cylinders belching clouds of black exhaust – which led to loads of life tapping, which in turn required a way to keep health up. DL filler was a necessity to maintain throughput (and to stop your healer hating you). I loved that model of taking a severe weakness (inefficiency) plus the tools to turn it into a strength (life tap + drain life), as it did exactly what your post discusses – enhanced the warlock fantasy and gave the class a soul. Even the class weakness caused by our turbulent relationship with healers had a unique tool to alleviate the problem (soulstone the healer).

    Today fuel efficiency rules and they’ve taxed the health-guzzlers off the roads. We’re all Toyota Prius casters now. Affliction’s soul depends on getting a bit of that black smoke back. I’d like to see Affliction gain a DoT that caused damage to the target AND the caster, with Drain Life ticks refreshing the DoT. While the DoT ticks damage is maximised but DL’s self-heal benefits are negated, and if the Warlock wants the healing they can do so by sacrificing a portion of damage dealt.

    Another mechanic I really enjoyed was Demo’s nuke weaving (e.g. through tier 10) – SB, Incinerate on Molten Core procs, Soul Fire for Decimate. It felt very ‘destro’, and I think something similar would make a good core destro mechanic. Perhaps Conflagrate leaving a ‘fire vulnerability’ debuff while Chaos bolt leaves a ‘shadow vulnerability’ debuff. The debuffs could be minor, as long as they make enough difference that a player that correctly weaves shadow bolts and incinerates does better than one who just sticks to incinerates. Streamline Destro’s DoT use as well, obviously.

    Demo has always been a ‘problem’ spec, even when it’s been enjoyable to play. A simple way to make it feel more demon-oriented would be to get a baseline short (or instant) summon time for demons. Demo used to have the Fel Domination/Master Summoner combo, which got removed in favour of all specs getting Soul-burned instant summons, which looks to be heading to affliction only. With a baseline 1 GCD cast, even demon twisting could become an interesting mechanic.

    Lastly, there’s the feeling of being a warlock in the world. You know how you find DK NPCs in their creepy little encampments away from everyone else? Wouldn’t warlocks gather like this too? (they used to, when we had class quests). Another ‘borrow’ from DKs – how about the ‘booing’ reaction of some NPCs towards demons if you have them out in a town? I’d love to get the feeling that the world cared if I took a demon with me if I went to the bank.

    Looking forward to your next post, and reading what your suggestions are.

  22. Ardinzul

    I see yet another cause for concern over future warlock numbers. Pandas can’t be warlocks. Nor should they be, but a disproportunate number of new toons in MoP will be pandas, and therefore not warlocks.