Tag Archives: Warlockery

Basic Destruction Warlock Guide for 5.4

1) Holy shit, these dailies go on forever. 2) No wonder so many of you were in such a fucking grumpy mood over the past year. 3) This is SO not worth my left wrist going out too. 4) I have never been happier with my decision to lock at 85 for this expansion as I was doing Glotus for the first and only time.

A friend of mine asked me for some help with her Destro warlock alt. Even though all I do these days is tend my farm and tinker in my workshop, I threw together the following guide to the basics of Destruction Warlocks at the end of Mists of Pandaria.

Let me stress: these are the basics. I’m not kidding when I say all I do is putter about on my farm these days.

CYNTHIA BLOCK’S GUIDE TO DESTRO

Okay, nugget! Listen up! Sgt. Block here to talk to you about warlocks.

Facing a warlock is like, holy fucking shit everything is on fire and then there are fucking green dragons flying at you. There’s fire out of the sky and you’re on fire and then fucking green dragons. Did I mention those fucking green dragons hurt? Hit the fucking warlock in the fucking face with your fucking shield, nugget, and don’t let her get back up. Ever.

By the fucking Light, green dragons? REALLY? Who plays around with shit like that?

Fuck that.

… wait, you mean you want to learn how to play Destro? Fuck, I’m the wrong soldier for that. I thought you wanted to know how to take OUT a Destro lock. Let me go get the wordy lady. She’ll talk your ear off.

(Nobody in their right mind lets a warlock finish casting, though. Hit them with your fucking shield until they stop moving.)

Right. Here’s the big lady. Don’t forget to salute, nugget.

Cynwise - Setting Things On Fire Is What I Do

CYNWISE’S INTRODUCTION TO DESTRUCTION

Thank you for that introduction, Sgt. Block. I think.

Destruction requires you to become awesome while on fire. This is both a joke and a literal truth; the primary way to succeed at very high DPS is to manage your Burning Embers resource (setting you on fire) while alternating between different kinds of nukes and CDs. There’s some dot management (Destro is a Warlock spec, after all) but it is only a component of your damage, not the whole thing.

Ready to be awesome while on fire? Let’s begin.

You’ll use the following spells to inflict pain.

  • Immolate
  • Incinerate
  • Conflagrate
  • Chaos Bolt
  • Rain of Fire
  • Shadowburn

Very optionally, you can add Fel Fire on to this list once you are comfortable with those six spells and you have room on your bars.

You have two resources: Mana and Burning Embers. Playing Destro means you ignore your mana. Seriously. Mana is a limiter for you casting too many of one kind of spell in a row; the only way you should be running out of mana is spamming Fel Flame or Rain of Fire or Incinerate, maybe.

Ignore mana. Look at your Burning Embers instead.

You gain Burning Embers by having things be on fire. You always have one, and it will regenerate pretty quickly out of combat. Incinerate, Rain of Fire, Immolate, Conflag, Fel Flame all generate Embers. You spend Embers on the following:

  1. Chaos Bolt (big nuke)
  2. Shadowburn (execute)
  3. Fire and Brimstone (AoE)
  4. Ember Tap (self-heal)
  5. Flames of Xoroth (pet regen)

We’ll talk about all these uses later, but only the first three will matter in a dungeon.

SINGLE TARGET

For something that is going to live for a minute or so, like a dungeon boss, you do the following.

  1. Set them on fire with Immolate. Refresh Immolate when you get a strong proc or when it’s about to fall off.
  2. Blow them up with Conflagrate. There are two charges; just hit them both to start out with.
  3. Spam Incinerate to build up Embers.
  4. When you have some Embers and/or get a good proc, let fly with some Chaos Bolts. (When your Embers are at 3.5 or so, you should start spending them to avoid capping them out.)
  5. When the boss hits < 20% health, Shadowburn is INSANE DPS. It takes the place of Chaos Bolt. Always SB, never CB when SB is available.

Right. So. Immolate, Conflag when it’s up, Incinerate as you generate Embers; Chaos Bolt and Shadowburn when you have Embers to spend.

TRASH PACKS

For a trash pack (3+ mobs), your strategy revolves around Fire and Brimstone instead of Chaos Bolt/Shadowburn. F&B turns your three primary spells (Immolate, Conflagrate, Incinerate) into AoE spells (hit all mobs around the target) at the cost of a Burning Ember and reduced damage. It acts like a toggle as long as you have Embers available; hit it once and it stays on until you are drained, or until you turn it off.

Multi-dotting is an extremely strong DPS strategy, but it does require mobs to live a *little* while. If they’re going to last more than a second or two:

  1. Start Rain of Fire over the area.
  2. Hit Fire and Brimstone.
  3. Cast Immolate to spread dots everywhere.
  4. F&B a Conflag when you have another Ember (should be very fast)
  5. If you run out of Conflag charges to F&B, Immolate and RoF are both up, but still have Embers, F&B Incinerates.
  6. As mobs start dropping in health, SHADOWBURN them. Steal those killing blows.

If trash packs are blowing up quickly, I usually drop step 3 (F&B Immolate) and do AOE Conflags instead. This has two advantages: it almost always returns a full Burning Ember, so I’m able to Shadowburn once stuff drops, and it gets some damage out on the mobs FAST.

Shadowburn returns 2 Burning Embers for the cost of 1 if the mob dies within 6 seconds of you casting it, so you should walk out of a trash pack with a full Ember Bar if you do it right. Shadowburn is the key to good trash DPS.

Cynwise - Mists Beta - Double Chaos Bolt - Dancing With Dragons

WREAKING HAVOC ON THE WINGMAN

For 2 mobs, or a boss and add, you’ll want to use Havoc. Havoc is a curse that says, “the next three things I do, do to this target too.” (Chaos Bolt counts as three things.) Here’s how you use it.

  • You are facing Mob A and Mob B.
  • Cast Havoc on Mob B.
  • Target Mob A.
  • Cast Immolate on Mob A. Both Mob A and B are now on fire.
  • Cast Conflagrate on Mob A. Both Mob A and B blow up.
  • Cast Incinerate on Mob A. Flames shoot out at both A and B.
  • Cast Conflagrate on Mob A again. You’re out of Havoc charges, so only Mob A blows up.

Unlike F&B, the spells aren’t reduced AOE versions of the spells, and they’re not limited to your top three damage spells. You can Spell Lock or Curse two mobs at once (which is fun when you’re fighting a lot of casters.) But the real fun comes from using your Burning Ember spells on two mobs at once.

  • You are facing A and B. Havoc B, target A.
  • Cast Chaos Bolt on A.
  • DOUBLE DRAGON

or, better yet:

  • You are facing A, B, and C. They’re big adds or mobs, think of the ones in Vortex Pinnacle at level.
  • Immolate everything like a good multi-dotter, then DPS focus on A.
  • When A is at about 1/3rd health, Havoc C.
  • A drops to 20% health. Shadowburn A, which hits both A and C.
  • Switch to B (which your friends have probably AoEd down to 20%. Shadowburn B, which hits C as well.
  • A, B, and C are now all dead and you have a full Burning Ember bar.

Chaos Bolt costs 3 charges, but Shadowburn only costs 1. Remember that.

I use a mouseover macro to manage Havoc. This lets me target A and mouse over B. Alternately, if I’ve set my focus (on a healer, usually) it will cast Havoc there.

/use [@focus,harm][@mouseover,harm][harm] Havoc

Practice this a lot on dummies until it becomes habit.

MANAGING PROCS AND BURST

You must have a burst macro. I fought against this for a long time as Affliction (what’s a burst?) but, no. You want to maximize your periods of burst when you get procs off your gear or enchants and when you are fully charged with Burning Embers.

Warlocks have burst now, it’s called Dark Soul. There are three different versions (one for each spec) and the Destruction one greatly increases your Critical Strike chance, which in turn makes your Chaos Bolt and Shadowburn damage AMAZING.

Here’s my pump macro.

#showtooltip
/use [spec:1] Dark Soul: Instability; [spec:2] Dark Soul: Knowledge
/use Unending Resolve
/use Volcanic Potion
/use Potion of the Jade Serpent
/use 14
/use 10

Some of this is specific to Cynwise; by specifying the [spec:1] and [spec:2] I can use the same macro for Destruction and Demonology. You can just use /use Dark Soul, I suppose. I use an Intellect potion at the same time, and trigger either my DPS trinket or Synapse Springs, whichever is off CD.

Unending Resolve has both a 40% damage reduction (which is neat) but ALSO has an 8 second immunity to Silence and Interrupts, which is … well, I’m using this in PVP. When I pop my CDs I don’t want to get Kicked into losing massive damage.

The important part is hitting this when you’ve got procs going – Lightweave, Jade Spirit, Heroism, whatever – because Dark Soul on top of those procs is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

If you use Grimoire of Service, you can add in /use Grimoire: Felhunter to this macro. GrimSac can add in /use Grimoire of Sacrifice to get more DPS if you aren’t running petless all the time (like in PvP, where you want to alternate pet/petless for double Spell Lock.)

You’ve also got Demonic Guardians (Doomguard, Infernal) on a 10 minute CD. Use them on the tough bosses. Doomguard is single target. Infernal is AoE and an AoE stun. They don’t need a keybind if you don’t have space.

Cynwise - November Bars

ABILITIES THAT SHOULD BE ON YOUR BARS

You’ll want the following:

  • Immolate
  • Incinerate
  • Conflagrate
  • Chaos Bolt
  • Shadow Burn
  • Rain of Fire
  • Fire and Brimstone
  • Havoc
  • Curse of the Elements
  • Dark Soul / Pump Macro
  • Doomguard or Infernal (These don’t need a keybind, it’s a 10 minute CD.)

These are useful and should be there, too, but have no impact on your DPS.

  • Demonic Command
  • Fear
  • Ember Tap
  • Twilight Ward
  • Flames of Xoroth (Another one that doesn’t need a keybind, but is really handy to have when you need your pet back in a hurry.)

OTHER MACROS

Shadowburn is one of those spells you want to cast IMMEDIATELY, no matter what else is going on. Use a stopcasting macro to interrupt whatever else you are casting.

/stopcasting
/cast Shadowburn

I have long had a OH SHIT macro for massive healing.

/use Dark Regeneration
/use Healthstone
/use Alliance Battle Standard
/use Ember Tap
/use Master Healing Potion

That can bring me to full from 10% in about 5 seconds. A simpler version is just using a Healthstone in conjunction with Ember Tap:

/show Healthstone
/use Healthstone
/use Ember Tap

I have a buff macro so I don’t have to worry about getting all my buffs back up when rezzing at a Spirit Healer. Adjust to suit your particular Grimoire.

/castsequence reset=5 Dark Intent, Grimoire of Sacrifice, Create Soulwell, Unending Breath, Crystal of Insanity

I like tossing out guild battle standards when they are off CD, but I only want them on bosses. So I tied them in to my Chaos Bolts.

/cast [mod:shift, @focus, harm] Chaos Bolt; Chaos Bolt
/use 10
/use Battle Standard of Coordination
/use Standard of Unity
/use Banner of Cooperation

Since Fel Flame doesn’t refresh dots anymore, and you can cast Incinerate while moving in PvE, I don’t use it as much as I used to. I do still use it for juking / fake casting in PvP though. Quick way to interrupt a cast while still doing SOMETHING.

/stopcasting
/use Fel Flame

WEAK AURAS

Here are some Weak Auras I use to help call out when to use different spells.

Cynwise - Weak Auras - November 2013

Spinning Circles: I have three circles which go around my character, center of field of vision. The inner one is “is Immolate on the target?” The next orange one is “is Conflagrate available?” and the third, big purple one is “is Shadowburn castable if so OH GOD CAST IT”. These only appear in combat.

Immolate

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Conflagrate

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Shadowburn

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Auras to be aware of: these show icons of things that you need to know about.

Dark Intent: I have been going through every alt and putting an aura of this type up whenever I can. It says: there is an essential self-buff you need to cast (almost always on my Z key.) In this case, it’s Dark Intent.

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Dark Soul: Shows your Dark Soul countdown in BIG ASS LETTERS to make sure you don’t waste it.

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Burning Rush: When Burning Rush is ON and your health drops below 50%, this reminds you that you have a speed boost on which can POTENTIALLY KILL YOU.

dyZcdaWsquTlbPTbsAFerntsPMlry2KCtqQUTGANeL9sTBG9lq9tIQ)IOFlXqbLgSaz4sQdkiogO6CGGwOOAPIslMiTCLEirKNQ6XKQNJ0ufzYiy6OUiisxg66c9nqGplLnljBhHoSIVcIyAcW8aPmsqiNxumAPA8cOtckonHRbIY9iLmmsXYaH67GeB4o5l8HbW4wn6OeWOxaujgPcLGZqsahUdfbOrsXrnB4YkDXrVZTXN6dp0acfccfUg)W(e8j4KFg5vvuKTSa0OXpq5vvuKTmieQ(dqVxwylca7NlpLKdD)fBIciLPg9f6fGpVIwdxN8btyK6KLb3ppUabOfCqzJ0UzZ(Gy40kAnCPwge7hPyQuuSO25(uuvbBray)C5PKCO7peiiyrbmksEfTgUuNSm4o5ZRO1W1jFotn6t5HJu)ifj74O4UL6hbireW(tKl(14QJaUJJI7(qMgFKicyFichf39PrPireWWUyLiq)dlKQT2(0OuKic4hRQeb6tkPqEI8PqYM8JuKmceSZ974O4ozPg3HlRp00YpsrYAC1ra3XrXDN7xJRoc4ookUtwQXD4Y6dnT8Jab7xRMm4A2pc4v0A46KzZM9fe8ZJlqaAbhu2iT7RkdbN8JuKuHerLZ95rHa2YGd3xHerfzPg3HlRVK1YpsrsEuiGDUFKIK6QHsDU)wuOt(HJkw4KzZ(kKiQ8HQgFD1qPo5tfGMc9HKqYQTCjb5MnB2FCYppUabOfCqzJ0Upmag3QrhLag9cGkXivOeCgsc4WDOianskoQzdxwPlo6DUnM9jAzWdqJgZ2a

Fire and Brimstone: Big Icon showing that, hey, you’ve got F&B on.

duJncaWsrjTlfvVwuX(ejAMIeMReA2iUPOu3MkTtfSxYUvz)a6NsQ)sf)MIHkQ0GbXWbPdcqhtsoNiPwiOwQOqlgalxvpuKKNc9yGEUstLQMmsMUWLrDDfAJiLdtPnRiBxI6BII8vfLPjrggs15fvDAPgTivnErkoPeClrkDnrjUNOGplINjsLTjkQvL8cBHfUG)jlixSaO52Iacqt6iVZm7tmG54qRF2EuWF7UH5yHRWQ5LMNP5v0f6kKsiL8ctt900YHgsBQZSqIXsjVWXLDiCzMiyHHLWxOHQkHluguEHBFjewdPtHWXLDclHVqaiCCzhqIDxbl8newEHUJKOLxHcHJl7SqzqblKWLzIJbk)2W8ctzges4YmrywkjeKy3vEHBFjew4maZykQtvwvOqy(6PPLdnuIoDHpN0MZNhklSbnNq7bMEZNRPVqiCT3xNTW47Ke(Lx4zD5vEnujKw)mqi2Jcie4VD3WCScfcxMmLRPVqiCT3xNTWXL9gdjAOcwytjKw)mqi2Jcie4VD3WCSqlfvhT5SeN47Ke(x5vi8gD9FNKW)QHkfcTYlKw)mqi2Jcie4VD3WCSWcxW)KfKlwa0CBrabOjDK3zM9jgWCCO1pBpk4VD3WCScHL1qvj60vib

That’s it. Enjoy being awesome while on fire.

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On Class Distribution in Patch 5.2

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 12.21.24 AM

I publish any graph with a great deal of trepidation; there are caveats and collection methodology and a lot of footnotes which go into serious data analysis which seem to always get lost in a single graph presented without context. But the context is often vital to avoid misinterpretation.

Patch 5.2 is coming soon, and I’ve returned to the data collection I started while writing The Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm to see how things look for Warlocks. One important thing I learned last year was that most Warcraft population sites are focused on current, not historical, data. This requires ‘snapshotting’ data at critical points to allow for trend analysis. This is the third snapshot I’ve taken so far. Furthermore, each site has quirks and variations which make it impossible to reconcile them exactly. We can use them to talk about general trends – as long as we do so skeptically.

Instead of continuing to update the file used in Decline and Fall, I’ve created a new spreadsheet for this discussion. You can follow along in the Google Doc if you like.

I’m calling this snapshot the 5.2 patch data even though we’re not officially in 5.2 yet. There won’t be any massive shifts in population in the next week or three.

CLASS POPULARITY AT ENDGAME

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 12.22.04 AM

I’ve assembled the data from 5 time periods in a summary format to see very general trends with class movement in Mists of Pandaria, with Wrath (patch 3.3.5) and Cataclysm (4.3.3) data thrown in for comparison. This has some advantages for general population trending but is also problematic in other ways, which I’ll discuss later.

This chart, and the accompanying graph at the top of this post, are the relative population component of endgame characters for a given time period. This means that the first 3 columns represent level 85s, while the last two are level 90 characters only.

When I first made this type of chart last year it compared apples to apples – namely, end of expansion population figures. Players had had time to level alts and have multiple toons at endgame, so the data represented mains and alts alike. The Mists snapshots are critically different in that they are at the beginning and middle of an expansion, when leveling time is limited and content is fresh and demanding.

Understanding this difference in data type is critical to avoid making hasty judgements based on these numbers. There’s a pretty big disconnect between the first two and last two columns because of this end-of-expac effect.

  • Wrath and Cataclysm numbers are end of expansion numbers and represent mains and alts alike.
  • Mists Pre-release represents level 85 characters before Monks or Pandaren were introduced, in patch 5.0.4. This is the final snapshot of Cataclysm, and could be considered roughly equivalent to the previous two.
  • Mists Patch 5.1.0a gives us our first level 90 data. This specific data isn’t 85-90 data – it’s level 90 data. This snapshot shows us who leveled to 90 during the first few weeks, and is probably the best data point we’ll have for divining which classes players considered to be their mains, even if they switch later on.
  • Mists Patch 5.2 is another level 90 data point, this time with additional alts and slower levelers joining the endgame. Having 3-5 level 90 characters is not uncommon in this snapshot, so now we’re seeing who else people play.

There’s an additional complication in that Monks were introduced between 5.0.4 and 5.1.0a, shifting the average popularity from 10% to 9.091%. This ~1% drop can be adjusted for with indexing popularity values, but it’s not really worth it at this stage in the expansion. It’s not worth it for two reasons: because the 5.1.0a figures represent the actual popularity of main choices, so indexing isn’t appropriate yet, and because the effort to level a Monk to 90 is still substantially higher than leveling any other class from 85 to 90. Over time this will even out (and even skew towards the Monk class as their leveling bonuses come into play), but for now the imbalance should stand.

A quick look at the data shows that since Cataclysm:

  • Warlocks got a little more popular.
  • Warriors got a lot more popular.
  • Mages and Rogues were common alts at the end of Cataclysm, but not mains, or they main switched.
  • Paladins seem to be mains but not first-tier alts, as evidenced by the relative slide in standings since 5.1. Druids (and possibly Warriors) seem to have the same issue.
  • Hunters, Warlocks, and Monks seem to be gaining popularity as alts heading into 5.2.

The drop in Rogue popularity seems to be that we’re seeing the core of the class emerge – the die hard Rogue mains who will stick with it no matter what. The Legendary daggers offered to Rogues at the end of Cataclysm artificially inflated their numbers, but we could see other players level those Rogues to 90 by the end of the expac. I feel comfortable saying this because the 85 and lower data doesn’t show a drop at all.

MORE GRANULAR DATA

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 12.29.14 AM

The above data is from realmpop. I like realmpop a lot because it allows me to go through and drill down into the data, so that if I wanted to find out how many female goblin death knights are still stuck in the starter zone I could do it. The drawback is that the results are graphical and split by region, so I have to manually copy the values and add up populations between the US and EU. The sample size is large enough that I feel comfortable using relative values like popularity, but I wouldn’t want to use them for absolute values like server population.

If you unhide the columns on the second tab of the spreadsheet you can see the raw data from each snapshot.

The reason I think Rogues aren’t in any new state of crisis is because of the data above. When you look at the class across all levels, they’re pretty solid (and don’t show any decline.) But as soon as you get past level 85, the numbers fall off precipitously. People haven’t wanted to level them – yet. Perhaps they leveled one so their guild could get the legendary daggers in Dragon Soul. Perhaps they saw how they were performing in PvP and switched (more on that later.) But they’re there – just not at the endgame.

There’s a different set of problems there, of course. Why is there this drop off? Why do people not want to level Rogues to 90 but do want to level Paladins or Shamans or Warriors instead? There are problems here, but they’re not as simple as the problems affecting Warlocks in Cata.

I’ll leave that up to the Rogue bloggers to discuss, but I expect Blade Flurry has something to do with it. My own Rogue has been stuck at level 67 forever.

PVE AND PVE SPEC BREAKDOWNS

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 11.51.51 PM

One of the other data sites I’ve come to rely upon has been World of Wargraphs; like realmpop, it pulls data directly from Blizzard’s API (not through in-game addons, like Warcraft Realms), but it presents the data in very different and interesting ways. The PvE/PvP breakdowns, in particular, are very helpful in determining what specs are over- or under-represented in high end play.

The next four tabs on the spreadsheet are dedicated to snapshotting the heroic raiding and 2200+ PvP class and spec breakdown. Some of the lists are rather long, so I’ll provide direct links here:

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 11.54.41 PM

A few things to note.

  • Guardian Druids are not present in the data as a separate spec.
  • Arms Warriors are an amazing 11.4% of all 2200+ characters surveyed. I think we found our missing Rogues.
  • There are some specs which are struggling in both environments. Unholy DKs, Demonology Warlocks, Holy Priests, Marksmanship Hunters, even Fire Mages could use a look.
  • Hunters, in general, seem to be having problems at endgame. It could be a number of reasons –  perhaps it’s that they’re easy to get to 90, but hard to master in raids and PvP alike. Perhaps they’re too complicated to play well at 90. Or perhaps it’s that they are favored alts for dailies? I honestly don’t know.
  • A few specs are doing well in both environments. Holy Paladins, Shadow Priests.

Really, the biggest story from this data is how overwhelmingly popular Warriors have become for ranked level 90 PvP, and how scarce Rogues have become in that same activity. I think these trends are absolutely related.

ON WARLOCK POPULATION NUMBERS

Overall, the changes to the Warlock class in Mists seem to have had a positive effect on relative popularity. Players are rolling Warlocks and leveling them to endgame. This is a massive improvement!

Affliction and Destruction are reasonably represented in PvE and PvP. Demonology seems to be less common in high level play, but one of the current Arena world champions won playing Demo, so I don’t know what to really say to that yet. Perhaps it’s just that it’s really tricky to master? Don’t know.

Patch 5.2 presents something we haven’t seen in a while – Warlock-only quests. There’s a lot of interest around the green fire quests which will no doubt prompt people to try leveling one to 90 to give them a try. This kind of attention can be good if the class fundamentals are sound, which I think they are again. But it’s going to skew numbers in the future.

We need to collectively remember that when looking at the class later on.

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On The Sublime Joy of Destruction Warlockery

Holy crap, I’m on fire! Abelard, I’m on fire!

Oh, wait. I’m a Warlock. A Destruction Warlock.

Setting things on fire is what I do.

(Previously. Previously.)

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Warlocks, Trash Your Keybinds

You’ll get all sorts of advice before having your first kid. Most of it will be bad. “Get plenty of sleep now!” sounds great, but it’s really bad advice – it makes you freak out about the impending sleep deprivation while not actually helping you cope with the reality of the first year or so of raising an infant. Getting 8 hours of sleep during the second trimester does you no good when your 8 month old is still waking up every three hours and oh god could I haven’t had a complete REM cycle in forever. It’s even worse advice if you’re the one who is pregnant, because getting a good night’s sleep during the final month or so is basically impossible due to the very large, very active kicking being in your belly.

“Assemble the crib in the nursery” is a bit better, because it points out something you might not realize if you’ve assembled furniture but not cribs before – they’re too wide to fit through doors, but not so wide that you’ll immediately realize it. So if you assemble the crib out in your living room (where there’s more room) and try to get it through the door, you’re bound for frustration. But you can also probably figure this out yourself.

The best advice I got before having my first kid, and I’m now giving to you, is to start lifting light weights as soon as possible. Get some light dumbbells, curl gallons of milk or six packs of diet coke, do some pushups – whatever you can to start getting your arms ready for carrying 8-10 lbs of baby around all the time. I wasn’t prepared for that, and even with the advice (which I didn’t follow enough) I found myself still struggling with how much more physical I was going to have to be. Kids are gradually increasing weights, so you catch up – but I could have used even more of a boost.

So, I’m going to pass on something that I learned in the beta which you might not have considered. You can take it, or not, but if I had to go through the experience of picking up my Warlock all over again this is what I’d do.

Trash your keybinds.

Take everything off your bars. EVERYTHING. Take every ability off your action bars and start with a blank slate. Look over the spec you’d like to try, open up the spell book and read over the new abilities. Go to a training dummy and start, slowly, bringing stuff back onto the bars.

My initial experience in the beta was awful. It was terrible. I told Xelnath that after the first hour of trying to make sense of the changes, I nearly quit in frustration. This was before the Core Abilities tab, or the What’s Changed Tab – I was trying to set everything up like I was used to having them and it just didn’t work. Warlocks have changed too much to bridge between the patches. Your macros are probably useless. (Stop trying to cast Fel Armor, you don’t need to do that anymore!)

Start over from scratch.

My second day in the beta, I threw everything out. My intricate bindings were gone. I switched, for the first time in years, to a WASD setup, and started adding things back onto my bars. I remapped to different buttons. I looked at the spellbook and threw out what I thought I knew about playing a Warlock. It wasn’t easy. But instead of being totally frustrated with the strangeness of it all, of cursing that it doesn’t work this way and why doesn’t my buff macro work it was, oh, I have a suite of defensive CDs now, I should group them over here, and Fel Flame can always go here, and …

I was amazed at how much better this went, how much easier it was to adapt to the changes of the class. Forget that, I was amazed at how much room I had on my action bars now! By giving up mouse driving and going WASD (and eventually ESDF), by admitting that my previous strategy of having 120 potential binds wasn’t needed, I got rid of my expectations that I knew the class and got back to learning it anew.

The class is different now. Even Affliction – the spec which is the most similar – is really quite different. Don’t assume you know what you’re doing – you don’t. Not yet. That’s what this next month is for.

Start over. Nuke your whole UI if you have to, but start by jettisoning your keybinds.

Your keybinds carry expectations with them.

Today is a day to reset and start over.

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Out of the Mists: Reclaiming Warlocks in Pandaria

This is the seventh, and final, post in the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

The first few weeks of the beta release of Mists of Pandaria was filled with all sorts of amazing news about changes to Warlocks. Every class received some changes, but it really seemed like Warlocks were getting a complete overhaul. Demo and Destro got new resource systems, Affliction’s Soul Shards were revamped. New demon models were added alongside the old stalwarts. Spells were simplified or redesigned, cruft was removed. Many spells were limited to specific specs.

Then came unexpected news: Demonology as a tanking tree. Green fire through a quest. Massive changes to the class were coming. The Cataclysm Warlock was going away, and in its place was going to be a something … very different. Even as things changed and the dual bombshells of Demon Form Tanking and Green Fire were retracted, the reports from the beta showed a class getting completely gutted and rebuilt.

The changes are pretty staggering.

I remember starting this series right around the time the beta came out and feeling a huge sense of urgency to get it done. I needed to get my findings online so people could see the reason for the attention. It’s not that Warlocks can’t DPS or PvP, it’s that the class is shedding players. It’s not that other classes don’t need help too, it’s that Warlocks were vanishing. More than a quarter of them quit. The trends were all going in the wrong direction.

But I also remember glancing at the changes and wondering: will these changes really fix the problems which caused the decline of the Warlock population, or are they just bandaids? New demon forms can get people excited, but if the demons weren’t the original problem then it’s wasted effort. Cosmetic changes can help sell a spec and class, but they can’t solve underlying mechanical issues. Cosmetic changes aren’t bad, at all! But there need to be major mechanical changes, too, or players won’t stick with the class.

I’m done with Cataclysm. Let’s move on to Mists.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Holy shit. Warlocks are going to be so much fun in the next expansion.

I can’t bring myself to level my baby Forsaken Warlock on the live servers anymore. Why? Because the leveling process is so much better on beta. If you are wondering if you should level a Warlock now or in Mists, wait for Mists. Gone are the awkward talents and abilities; in their place are simple, logical spells which fit the theme of the spec. Leveling Destro, for instance, I no longer shoot Shadow Bolts and dot on the run. Instead, I:

  1. Set people on fire.
  2. Explode people and stun them.
  3. Throw fire at people.
  4. Drop fire on groups of people.

And that’s pretty much it. It’s wonderful.

Simple for leveling? Yes, and that’s great for new players and new Warlocks alike. Affliction DoTs. Demo gets demon form early and gets to use it often. Destro slings fire at everything. By the mid-40s all the new resource systems are in place and you’re starting to learn the basics of how things work at endgame.

The class is very different at endgame. If you are going from 85 to 90, mentally start preparing to learn a new class. Affliction still feels familiar, but the changes have made it faster, more frantic at times. Demonology and Destruction are completely different; not only do they have new resource systems, they have jettisoned much of the shared Warlock abilities used in Cataclysm and are focused on the fantasy of the spec again.

The biggest problem, I think, will be the transition for current endgame Warlock players. I went in not knowing any of the new systems or having read any guides and was overwhelmed by how different things were. I had to start over from scratch to get used to the new way of doing things, nuking both my UI/keybinds and my preconceived notions of how the specs should work. The transition from Wrath to Cata was easier because it was just more stuff on top of stuff I already knew; Cata to Mists is new stuff. Jettisoning old concepts is hard but vital to the changeover.

I can already see that the developers recognize this is a problem by the appearance of clear, concise in-game directions on the Core Abilities tab. It’s relatively easy to put together a clear out-of-game guide, but a bit harder to teach people in-game. The Core Abilities tab wasn’t there when I started but it’s a really useful guide. The What Has Changed tab is another recent addition which I think will be helpful in-game advice for returning Warlocks.

CORE ABILITIES

I think the Core Abilities tab is a great addition to not only the Warlock class, but to every class in the game. Each spec gets a tab in the spell book summarizing their key abilities for use so that players understand the intended way to play, like this:

I love this tab. It provides a good overview of the endgame rotation of a spec. It lets you drag the abilities down to your action bars and go, okay, I’m playing Demo, here’s what I’m supposed to do: keep Corruption and HoG on the target, cast Soul Fire when MC procs, turn into a Demon when my Demonic Fury bar is full, otherwise cast Shadow Bolt. Got it.

It seems so logical in retrospect, but if there is a way a spec is supposed to be played, it makes sense that the game should teach it. This allows new and old players alike to pick up a class and get the basics quickly, while still allowing a lot of room for player growth. Mastery of the nuances of a class won’t be taught through the Core Abilities tab, that’s not what it’s there for. You won’t see things like “time your DoT refreshes with trinket procs with Demon Soul for max damage” or “use Fel Fire while moving” in these tabs, and that’s okay.

Core Abilities are the basics. Great addition. Love it.

LIMITED SPELL SELECTION CREATES FOCUS

You’ll notice that the number of spells on the Core Abilities tab is pretty low – the page supports six, which is a good number to try to get your head around when learning any spec.

One of the things I like best about the changes to Warlock in Mists is how the Core Abilities are not just the suggested abilities for the spec, they’re usually the only abilities. Competing abilities are just not available. Looking at Demo above, you might ask what happened to Immolate? It’s not available anymore to Demo! You can’t cast it, don’t even try!

This focus is created either by only granting abilities to certain specs, or transforming basic spells when the spec is chosen. Corruption turns into Immolate for Destro, so now there’s not a choice between the two, or a possibility that Corruption will enter the rotation. It can’t.

Locking many abilities to individual specs not only reduces player confusion, it eliminates the possibility of unintended crossover and the complexity that goes with it. The number of shared Core Abilities between specs is very low – Corruption is the only one, and it’s only shared between Affliction and Demonology. Everything else is different.

While this means we will likely see the three Warlock specs drift further apart in Mists, I think this is a very good thing for the flavor of each class and reducing overall class complexity.

The Destro Core Abilities (above) are a good illustration of how much more focused each class is on a few central, thematic abilities in Mists, and not presented with the dozens of choices you have in Cataclysm. I’m reminded of Bruce Lee’s quote on expertise:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

This was drilled into me when I was learning martial arts: most black belts only really use 5-10 moves, but they know how to use them in dozens of configurations and combinations, and adapt them to any situation or environment. I feel like that’s what we’re seeing here. The cruft is being cleared away, leaving us players to focus on using those abilities we have.

MORE USEFUL SPELLS

Spells which weren’t useful in Cataclysm have either been jettisoned or made useful in Mists.

Searing Pain is gone. This was mostly a PvP spell, but Fel Flame can replace it nicely.

Shadowflame is gone. I love this spell, but it was both awkward to use and very, very mage-like. It’s been rolled into Hand of Gul’dan now.

Fel Flame generates Burning Embers and Demonic Fury now, making it an easy choice for whenever a Warlock moves. You move, you cast Fel Flame for damage or Life Tap for mana, period.

Curse of Enfeeblement takes the place of Curse of Tongues and Curse of Weakness and is actually attractive now, especially while leveling!

Demon Soul now has spec-specific iterations, decoupling it from the deployed demon and eliminating Demon Twisting.

Demons appear (and this is, of course, subject to change) to be chosen based on utility, not on spec association or DPS. Any given spec doesn’t have a specific demon that benefits it through talents or abilities, which I think is a great change.

Spells transform into new versions when Warlocks do things. Demon Form doesn’t give you new abilities, it changes the ones you have into new, related abilities. Curses become Auras. That’s clever. If you use Burning Embers to do AoE, your spells change to reflect that.

All of these things are pretty damn cool.

SIMPLER CLASS BASELINE DOES NOT MEAN A SIMPLE CLASS

That said, there’s a set of other abilities that are shared across Warlock specs that are also needed – things like Life Tap, Demon Soul, Guardian Demons – that still need to be cast. There are also talents which are independent of spec.

The division of abilities into Core/Non-Core is great for playing multiple Warlock specs because it allows players another way to chunk up their abilities. I can look at my UI and go, Core (DPS) abilities go in one place, baseline Warlock abilities (defensive, movement, utility) go in another, and maintain a great deal of consistency in layout between specs.

Compare my Affliction and Demo setups in Beta:

This is Affliction, arguably the spec with the most buttons right now. You can see that most of the Core Abilities are grouped in the lower bars and the primary 1-10 keys, while utility spells are on keys around the QWES keys, like ADFGT.

This is Demo. The utility keys are almost identical between specs, withthe only variation being different talents or glyphs I’m testing out. The Core Ability section is different, but not overwhelmingly so – there’s still a relatively uniform layout there.

I’m amazed at how much space I have with my keybindings, to be honest. I know some people have been able to play Warlocks in Cataclysm without using all their keybinds, but I have had fully loaded binds from the start. I’m a bit in shock that I won’t need 60 binds and can use WASD without feeling like I’m sacrificing valuable keybinds space to do it!

The Talent system revamp is excellent. Instead of trying to shape your character by taking certain necessary abilities, you’re choosing utility and options instead of possibly making mistakes which affect your core abilities. What I like best about the Warlock talents is that you can often tailor the complexity of the spec based on your choices – often you are selecting between another button to push, replacing an existing button, or adding a passive ability to a button. This allows Warlock players to take 3 or 4 different damage absorption CDs if they like, or just have two.

I saw this with the Glyphs, as well. The Glyph of Demon Soul is fantastic, because it gives a passive bonus when DS is not on CD, effectively allowing players who don’t want to have a burst CD to ignore it – yet still get some benefit from it. The Glyph of Wild Imps is working like this too, only in reverse! It takes a passive and adds a button with CD, which is awesome!

The abilities are simpler, but I wouldn’t call them simple. Not by a longshot. The interactions with each new resource spec are still up in the air, but there is still a lot of mental juggling going on. Affliction feels much faster now with changes to Malefic Grasp and Haunt. Destro feels very rhythmic, where you build up to this absolutely massive discharge of damage (oh god, 6 Chaos Bolts on 2 targets with Havoc and Demon Soul, be still my beating heart) and then start over again. Demonology is in the strangest place right now, with a hybrid melee-caster rotation that’s unlike anything Warlocks have seen before. Meta form is no longer just a CD you use to increase your damage, instead it’s an entirely different way of playing.

VISUALLY EXCITING ABILITIES = SPEC WISH FULFILLMENT

Near the beginning of the beta there was a report that Warlocks would get a quest which would allow them to change the color of their fire to green.

There are times that I feel like I’m in the minority because I don’t really care one way or another about green fire for Warlocks. I mean, would it be cool? Sure? But I’d rather see mechanics fixed than spell graphics updated?

Well, that’s really a crumudgeon’s attitude, and it took me playing in the Mists Beta to realize it.

I chose the screenshots above deliberately because they show off some of the very cool new spell effects that are available for Warlocks. Chaos Bolt is now a HUGE green energy dragon with a swarm of smaller dragons launched at the target. Shadow Bolt can be made to swarm in a pack of three instead of a bolt, and it’s AWESOME. Soul Fire is huge, like, HUGE. Harvest Life is wild when you can get 3-6 targets in range. These spells are great.

I was leveling my baby Warlock when I realized how much happier I was that she was slinging sheets of fire instead of shadow bolts at her targets. This is how Destro is SUPPOSED to feel! I yelled more than once at the screen.

And that’s really what the new graphics are all about; fulfilling the fantasy of a spec. The abilities have to do it, the mechanics have to do it, but the graphics have to do it, too. And the new graphics are delivering on that fantasy. They are making each spec different from each other – you will not have to wonder for long what kind of Warlock you are facing. They’re also making the class visually distinct from other classes very early on – you won’t wonder if you’ve got a Fire Mage or a Destro Lock in your group anymore. You’ll know.

I know Blizzard came out and said that green fire wasn’t happening, but given the scope of graphical changes I’ve seen in the Beta – I wouldn’t rule it out just yet.

WARLOCK TANKS

I have not seen a class community polarize faster than Warlocks did over the discovery of the Glyph of Demon Hunting, which allowed for Demon Form to work… well, to work like a tank. A real tank, not an off tank. Huge amounts of armor. Taunts. Melee attacks. Defensive cooldowns. All the basic abilities were there, they just had to be fleshed out.

Then there was lore that appeared, later – about how the Demonologists on the Council of Six Daggers went to the Demon Hunters of Outland to learn their secrets.  The reason for the name of the glyph became clear, at least.

But, after all that excitement, it was not to be.

Greg Street wrote:

Just to make our intent clear, the Glyph of Demon Hunting isn’t intended to turn Demonology warlocks into a tanking spec. You won’t be able to queue as a tank for Dungeon Finder for instance and won’t have the survivability or tools of say a Protection paladin.

Thus the dream of Warlock tanks ended.

If there was anything that indicated to me that Warlocks were really in trouble in Cataclysm, and that no idea was too wild to save them in Mists, it was this one. Tanking Warlocks represented the most outrageous thinking I’d seen yet on the class. Oh, sure, bloggers had talked about it before, but nothing had ever come out of Blizzard indicating it was a possibility. Taking a pure DPS spec and turning them into a hybrid? This is madness!

No, this is amazing.

Let’s assume for a moment that the intent really was to make Demo a tanking spec. Humor me.

Let’s consider the benefits:

  • Turns the class into a hybrid, resolving issues with the Simplicity Tax and Bring the Player, Not the Class model. This also invites players to try Warlocks who might otherwise be hesitant to roll a pure DPS character due to the needs of their raid composition.
  • Increases the number of potential tanks in the game. This both helps the general tank shortage, as well as offset the main quality of life disadvantage of a pure DPS – queue times for PvE dungeons and raids – by letting them jump in as a tank.
  • It is new and unusual, which can be quite a draw for players looking for something different. It also gives long-term Warlock players an opportunity to experience a different role in the game without rerolling.
  • Sets up the possibility of a fourth spec for other classes. Demo tanks would be an experiment in making one spec fill multiple roles (DPS/Tanking), much like Feral Druids did. If both roles are successful, spinning off a separate 4th spec becomes a logical extension of the tanking experiment, which opens up possibilities for other classes extending their specs.
  • Fits the theme and fantasy of the spec. Instead of transforming into a demon to make your spells hit harder, you turn into one to rip and tear into your enemies, using demonic magic to augment your physical prowess to be the equivalent of a giant dire bear or warrior in armor.

There are some challenges to overcome with this idea, though.

  • Automatic role determination by spec. Splitting apart Feral into two specs allows Blizzard to code LFD/LFR to only allow characters who have learned a tanking spec to queue as a tank. If this restriction comes to pass, Demo either needs to become a full-time tank spec or have the tank spec be split off from the DPS spec entirely.
  • Automatic quest reward determination by spec. If quest rewards are going to be chosen by your current spec, should Demo get DPS or tanking gear?
  • Attachment of Demo DPS players to their spec. Given the massive changes made to Demo in Mists, it doesn’t really resemble the Demo DPS spec we’ve enjoyed since Wrath, but current Demo players may not want to give up their DPS play style of choice. There is a related argument that Warlock players don’t want to be a hybrid and be pressured into tanking.
  • Balance with other classes. Demo tanks brings the number of tank classes up to 6, which can be a challenge for balancing under the Bring the Player model. There are also PvP concerns to consider, though to be frank those concerns exist with the glyphed version anyways.
  • Tank Cloth itemization. Honestly, I think this is the biggest obstacle for Warlock tanks. How will they gear for avoidance? A conversion of Intellect, Haste, Crit, Mastery into Dodge, Parry, or Expertise might be possible, but how will that work? New gear would be an easier answer, but adding in an entire new class of Tanking Cloth gear is a monumental undertaking, and fraught with the same perils as Intellect Plate.

The problem of making a cloth-wearing tank viable is an interesting one. Do you follow a Bear/Guardian model and convert Intellect into Dodge? Well, that probably needs to be coded, and only for Warlock tanks (since Agility gives Dodge already as a default).

What about health pools, do you make it so their damaging attacks suck life out of the bosses and give them a large effective health pool (but then how do they survive the big hits?) What about Parry, Expertise, melee Hit – how do you make it work, exactly, when there’s no available gear with tanking stats?

There’s also a question of theme. Demonology, as it stands today in Cataclysm, provides both the conjuror and  metamorph archetypes in one package. In some ways those concepts are at odds with each other – a conjuror summons other beings to do their dirty work for them, while a metamorph transforms to do the job themselves. Tanking stresses the latter philosophy, of internalizing the demons and becoming them, more than the former, which is more of a ranged DPS idea. Spinning off the transformation of Demonology into a separate tanking tree would allow both themes to flourish, but if only one can be chosen – I’d rather have some flexibility in my theme.

The Glyph of Demon Hunting is an interesting experiment. Because it’s a Glyph you can’t enable it in the middle of a fight, but perhaps it could be changed into an ability which allows Demo to activate tank mode for 5 minutes? That at least makes it an attractive option for tank death or tank swap fights. As it stands now, the best use will be for soloing or – as gear gets better – tanking 5-mans with a friendly guild group who likes pushing the limits.

That’s pretty cool, but I know that if there was more time in the development cycle this could be even cooler.

I would not count Warlock tanks out of the picture just yet. If not now, look for them in the expansion after Mists.

THE REBIRTH OF WARLOCKS IN MISTS OF PANDARIA

I find it ironic that I named this series after Gibbon’s masterpiece, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireGibbon assembled a wealth of material around the collapse of Roman governance in Western Europe in the third through sixth centuries, but he used it to formulate a monocausal theory – that the Roman Empire’s fall was inevitable because of the influence of Christianity. This theory overlooks much in pursuit of forwarding an Enlightenment viewpoint of the Medieval period and Christianity as bad, and the Greco-Roman classical tradition as good.

As a historian, I have always preferred the works of J. B. Bury, who did not dispute the evidence Gibbon presented, but rather interpreted them differently. Bury posits that Rome’s fall was not inevitable, but rather the result of a series of incidents which lead to a catastrophe. Internal political pressures, external migratory pressures on the Germanic tribes, inflation, increased taxes to deal with the Sassanid Empire’s threat, a series of terrible decisions by Imperial and Provincial leaders alike – all these contributed to the calamity of the fourth and fifth centuries. I recommend reading Gibbon so you’ve read him, but I recommend Bury if you want to see the vast scope of problems in Late Antiquity, and how monocausal theories need to take them all into account.

To quote Bury:

The gradual collapse of the Roman power … was the consequence of a series of contingent events. No general causes can be assigned that made it inevitable.

It’s my hope that this series has been more like Bury than Gibbon. While there has been a central theme to this work –  inelegant complexity without reward led to the decline of Warlock populations in Cataclysm – it is my firm belief that it was a series of design decisions and balance changes during the expansion which contributed to the decline of this class. Attributing it to any one specific change misses the big picture. Our personal reasons and agendas need to take a back seat to the data.

The Warlock class declined in Cataclysm. Based on what I’ve seen so far in the Mists of Pandaria Beta, it is too early to write its epitaph, but its recovery is by no means a certain thing. It is transforming into something very different what came before, and it is my sincere hope that it flourishes and thrives in its new incarnation.

Let’s see what the future holds for this great class.

THANKS

I honestly thought this would be a two-post series at the beginning. More than thirty thousand words later, I realize that I had a lot more to say about Warlocks than I thought I did, so, first and foremost, thanks to the hundreds of people who commented and shared your thoughts and opinions in comments, forums and emails, for promoting this work in the Warlock community. Thank you.

I’d like to thank Xelnath for his for his insights and convincing me to give the Mists beta a try. It’s been a delight discussing this work with you, and I can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeve next.

I have to also give many thanks to my undercover editors, Catulla and Narci of Flavor Text, for their unflagging support in the face of a mountain of text regarding a class they didn’t play. Narci deserves special mention as the one who convinced me this needed to be a series, and then stayed with the idea by reviewing every single draft, even the ones I threw away. Thank you both for your ocular fortitude.

Finally, thank you for reading. This has been a long journey, and I’m humbled and thankful that you chose to go on it with me. Thanks!

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Appendix C: Haste and the Butterfly Effect

Why did all Warlock specs become so DoT heavy in Cataclysm?

I’ve been wondering this as I’ve gone though the changes in Mists, because the difference is so startling; why did every spec start using all DoTs, all the time? Why did Destro end up getting damage from 5 DoTs and lose the nuking feel? Why did everyone end up using Corruption and Shadowflame?

Was it a deliberate design decision, or was it an accident?

I can’t answer designer intent, but I think the root of this was an innocuous quality of life change made to DoTs at the start of Cataclysm. Ironically, a small change to make DoTs easier to use ended up making the Warlock class harder to play overall.

I covered this early after Cataclysm’s release in How Warlock DoTs Work in Cataclysm, which looked at the different ways Haste affected DoTs in Wrath and Cataclysm. There were two changes:

  • You could now clip most DoTs without losing the final tick, and
  • DoTs would gain ticks of damage at certain Haste values.

The clipping was the quality of life issue, but to make it happen, the mechanics of DoTs had to be modified.

In Wrath, Haste meant that your 18 second Corruption with 6 ticks could be done in, say, 12 seconds, at which point you’d recast it. In Cataclysm this was changed so that DoT spells would remain roughly the same duration, but add additional ticks of damage when they got fast enough. Your 15 second/6 tick Corruption could potentially become a 13.64/6 tick or 16.25 second/8 tick spell.

This was, in retrospect, a really big deal.

Haste increased DoT DPS by making ticks faster, that’s easy. But in Cataclysm, Haste also dramatically increased the DPCT (damage per cast time) of DoTs like Corruption because each cast generated more overall damage. If a Warlock with no Haste cast Corruption, that’s a GCD to cause 6 ticks of a set amount of damage. If that Warlock has enough Haste to get an additional tick or two of damage, that GCD spent casting the DoT now does 16%, 33%, 50% more damage, depending on how many additional ticks were on the spell.

With Cata’s new Haste/DoT model, Warlocks of all specs had to cast every DoT available to them. They were too good not to cast. Corruption and Shadowflame became defaults for every spec. Destro was caught in a vice because Conflagrate was based upon Immolate’s total damage, so every additional tick Haste granted increased not only their primary DoT’s DPCT, it also made their primary nuke hit much harder, giving an additional DPS boost. So they’d stack Haste to get those Immolate ticks, which would in turn improve Corruption’s DPCT, making it even more important to cast.

Sweet delicious Haste, combined with shared spells across all specs, became a trap.
I think the changes weren’t intentionally designed to make Warlocks more complicated; changes were made to DoTs/HoTs for all casters, not just Warlocks, and in general the new model really is better. It’s certainly easier to be able to clip with the 2 second rule! And the extra ticks and associated Haste Breakpoints/Plateaus make Haste a more interesting secondary stat.

I think this points towards Warlocks getting hit by Lorenz’s butterfly effect – a small initial change in one part of the game had unforeseen major consequences in another.

  • DoT/Haste interaction changes with 4.0.1 release.
  • Corruption/Shadowflame DPCT rises.
  • All Warlock specs have Corruption and Shadowflame in their priority.

Plenty of other small quality of life changes were made that had an effect upon the class’s overall complexity. Banes being separated out from Curses, for example, seemed good at first (Banes caused damage, Curses were debuffs) because you no longer needed to do advanced math to figure out if you should take the 12% damage increase from Curse of the Elements or the damage caused by Curse of Doom or Agony. But then every Warlock ended up casting a Bane – and maybe a Curse too.

The DPCT of Shadowflame has always been surprisingly good, mostly due to its short cast time, so it was interesting to see it get used so prominently in Cataclysm. I haven’t really taled about Shadowflame much before, but it’s a spell that I adore – damage, dot, and a glyphed slow. It’s also a tremendous pain in the ass to use in PvE, and takes skill to use in PvP. It has short range so you either have to run in to use it or forgo it entirely. It’s not just a DoT or an AoE, it’s a spell that requires very good placement to use. Movement matters, which adds a layer of complexity far beyond just another spell.

Corruption presents an interesting problem because it was baseline damage for all three specs. Blizzard couldn’t change how it worked without considerable effort, so all that was left was tweaking the damage. If the damage was made too low, Affliction would be neutered, but if it was kept high, Destruction would benefit too much. So talents, Mastery bonuses, general damage all got modified – but Corruption’s DPCT was too good to pass up for Destro. (Demo always wanted it for Molten Core procs, but the damage was similarly good.)

I think the fact that Haste changed all DoTs and not just Warlock DoTs points towards this being an accident. I can’t prove it, and it’s not like it was the source of all Warlock problems in Cataclysm.

It was just a little butterfly, flapping its wings.

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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.

THE WARLOCK FANTASY

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.

THE PROBLEM OF DESTRUCTION

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.

THE PROBLEM OF NUKES

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.

THE PROBLEM OF DEMONOLOGY

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.

THE PROBLEM OF DRAIN LIFE SPEC

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?

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.

THE PROBLEM OF DRAIN MANA

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.

THE PROBLEM OF HAVE GROUP WILL TRAVEL AND WARLOCK UTILITY

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.

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Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual, Warlockery

The Care and Feeding of Baby Warlocks

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

I’m struck by how limited the publicly available census data is, especially around leveling characters. It tells us things like: Hunters are hugely popular to roll and start leveling, but they decline in relative popularity well before the endgame. Priests, Paladins and Shamans seem better suited towards leveling all the way to 85. Warlocks struggle and get less popular as they level.

But it doesn’t tell us things like: Warlocks have a problem at level 25 in the leveling process.

That kind of data should exist, privately. I assume that Blizzard has attrition data that would let you see account-level details like: at what point people stop spending more than 25/50/75% of their play time on a given character? At what point people quit? Which character they were playing prior to their quit? What are the demographics of common play patterns, and are there certain patterns which players adopt before they quit?

Account-level data is the holy grail for Warcraft analysts. I would do bad things to get my hands on that data and dump it into Adobe Insight. I’m not going to lie; I would do bad things.

I’ve already talked at length about Warlocks the endgame, so let’s turn to the lower levels – to the leveling game. It’s easy to overlook this part of World of Warcraft once you’ve begun raiding, but it’s a large part of a game, and more importantly – it’s a large contributor to the health of a class. A good leveling experience can bring players into the class and keep them in it; a poor flow can drive them out, either to a different class or out of the game entirely.

Why do we stall out on leveling a class? Is it the class, or the game? It’s hard to say with current data, and analyzing our own motivation is hard. Why can’t I bring myself to log in to my level 43 resto Shaman, or pick up my level 60 Rogue? I don’t know. I really don’t, beyond vague statements of “boring” and “no clue how to play this class anymore.” Much like setting aside an endgame character, stalling out on a leveling character is probably best understood in the aggregate, in looking at trends – yet we don’t have a lot of trends to look at.

So we’re going to have to speculate a little bit.

I struggled to level a Warlock in Cataclysm. Intrigued by the introduction of specializations at level 10, I rolled a trio of them at the beginning of the expansion, and then failed to level any of them past 15 or so. I rerolled one later on and got her up to 25 or so, but the whole process feels flawed, inelegant.

Leveling is an important part of the World of Warcraft. Leveling teaches players how to play a class as they learn to play the game. It’s supposed to give people a flavor of what the class plays like at endgame while introducing abilities in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the player. As new abilities are added each expansion, players need to learn and assimilate them.

An obvious side effect of increased complexity at the endgame is that the leveling process has more work to do. There’s more stuff to teach in about the same amount of time – the number of abilities goes up, but the amount of time it takes to get to endgame is kept the same (or even decreased.) This observation isn’t just for Warlocks; it’s for all classes. It can be difficult to learn your class when abilities come too quickly to process and internalize.

Based on the previous entries in this series, I think it’s a pretty easy leap to relate endgame complexity to leveling complexity. Not so much that leveling as an activity becomes increasingly difficult, but learning to play a class becomes a bigger job. There’s more material to cover. Players may take breaks to consolidate their knowledge by locking experience – a practice I heartily endorse – or they may be able to proceed to the endgame without issue. It really depends on the player and the class.

That point is pretty straightforward, so instead of dwelling on it for another thousand words let’s move on to something new.

THE PROBLEM OF SPECIALIZATION

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Cataclysm introduced a fairly radical change to the way in which characters could level: specializations at level 10. Players were asked to choose a specialization right out of the starting area, with the implication that they are focusing on one specific aspect of a character class.

This change had several components:

  • Granted a new, signature ability of the spec
  • Gave a bonus to the core thematic abilities of the spec
  • Allowed characters to begin assigning talent points in that talent tree
  • Restricted characters from assigning talent points in other talent trees until 31 points had been spent in the primary tree.

Choosing a spec at level 10 seems to be a great idea when we look at what leveling is supposed to accomplish. It gives people a sense of the spec early on, both with playstyle and flavor. It focuses player attention on specific talents and abilities. It should provide guidance on how to gear, on how to group with others, on how to PvP. And it gives people cool toys early on in the game.

There are other benefits which we never really saw implemented in Cataclysm. In theory, the random dungeon finder could restrict queues to only hose who have talented into that role, though dual specs makes that a bit of a challenge. Queueing is not a simple problem to solve.

Specializations at level 10 are a learning tool. I think there’s a real benefit here of guiding players into learning specific roles early on, especially for hybrid classes that can tank or heal. Practice in the forgiving leveling environment helps get players ready for the harder challenges of endgame.

Even more than teaching, though, I think specialization at level 10 lets you play what you want, as soon as you want. It’s a different expression of the Bring the Player, Not the Class philosophy – not about balance, but rather about offering players choices in how they play. If you wanted to play a Fury Warrior because the idea of someone with two axes appealed to you, now you could do it right out of the starting area and continue it all the way up to endgame.

This should be contrasted with the way leveling was handled before Cataclysm, where each class generally had a spec (or two) considered best for leveling, with the other specs filling other roles. For Warlocks, Wrath leveling went something like:

  • Affliction through level 40.
  • Around level 40 Demonology became viable with the Felguard.
  • Around level 69-70 Destruction became viable with Chaos Bolt.

It’s not that players couldn’t start off and level as Destruction, it’s that it it was really clunky compared to Affliction until around level 70. Players could level as Affliction all the way to 80, but if they didn’t want to play an Affliction warlock they still had to get through 40 levels before they could switch to Demonology and get their Felguard. Destruction, frankly, didn’t even work until 64 because of a lack of nukes (Chaos Bolt and Incinerate in the mid-60s) and the wonky mechanics of Conflagrate, which needed a Glyph to be practical for the spec. (It consumed Immolate on the target without a glyph.)

Cataclysm changed this. Every spec became, in theory, a viable leveling spec. You picked your spec at level 10 and went with it.

  • Affliction got Unstable Affliction, making it a three DoT leveling spec.
  • Demonology got a separate pet with the Felguard.
  • Destruction got a CD nuke in Conflagrate (revised so no Glyph was needed).

In theory, this meant that you would have three different styles of leveling (dot, pet, nuke) that taught the basics of each spec, giving them a flavor of what was in store for them.

The theory isn’t bad. It’s really not! While I like the idea that you level as a class instead of a spec (Mage not a Frost Mage, etc.), that isn’t always practical, and it’s okay to make a choice early on and stick with it all the way through.

The problem, at least with Warlocks, came from the inelegant implementation. Flaws like:

  • Spending talents to buff abilities you wouldn’t get for 40-50 levels
  • Weak, situational abilities granted early on without obvious use, while core abilities are unavailable
  • New resource system with no real use until higher levels
  • Abilities outside of specialization being necessary part of leveling

… all contributed to making Warlocks feel clunky, hard to level, off-putting.

Much of this has been cleaned up in the Mists beta, but I think it’s worth noting that these problems were present during Cataclsym. It’s important to acknowledge the problem and recognize if it’s been fixed. The impact is hard to quantify, but that doesn’t mean it was negligible.

WASTED TALENTS

Talents got an overhaul in Cataclysm, but they still worked in a tree structure – some talents you have to take to make the spec work, others are kinda optional. There’s a larger discussion to be had about talents, but for leveling talents form a series of choices – what should I take now that makes the most sense?

You could argue that there are several ways in which this model fails – if new players don’t take an obvious talent, they might get penalized – but the way I saw it fail most for Warlocks was in one of two ways.

  • Talents affect abilities you don’t have yet.
  • Talents affect abilities you shouldn’t use.

The confluence of abilities getting handed out at certain levels and talents opening up at certain levels makes the first one difficult to talk about without specific context.

For example, at level 10 an Affliction Warlock only knows Corruption and Unstable Affliction for DoTs; they don’t learn Bane of Agony until level 12. Yet, the first tier of Affliction talents gives you a chance to buff three spells: BoA, Life Tap, or Corruption. The right choice (and yes, there is a right choice) is to buff Corruption first through level 13, then buff BoA at level 15 and 17.

An experienced player can look at the choices and go, you know, those levels will go pretty quickly, take Improved Corruption and move on. But I don’t think that’s obvious to a new player. Wait, Bane of Agony, what is a Bane, I get one at level 12 and one at level 20, so should I take this now or not? It’s a false choice, a point of confusion that – while navigable – is inelegant. It’s clunky. Yes, it’s only a two-level gap. But it’s still clunky.

Affliction’s first tier isn’t even really the best example of this kind of wasted talent. Destruction’s talent tree is full of places where you are buffing spells you won’t have for some time to come. Improved Soul Fire used to be a tier 2 talent, resulting in situations in the 20s and 30s where your only option was picking talents to buff spells you would not get for 20-40 levels. Emberstorm in the second tier makes sense in tier 2 because Demonology needs it at endgame, but it is completely wasted because Soul Fire wasn’t learned until level 48 and Incinerate at 64!

Leveling players notice every time a talent buffs a spell or pet ability that isn’t available. They try to make sense of the trees and do the right thing, but sometimes there is no right thing to do. Sometimes, the lack of an ability will cause someone to pass over a critical talent for the spec. Emberstorm is mandatory for Destruction, even if it did nothing before Soul Fire was lowered to level 20. Molten Core is mandatory for endgame Demonology, but it’s available at level 37 but has absolutely no effect until level 63. Jinx is available at level 19, but Curse of the Elements is learned at level 53.

These kinds of mistakes are frustrating. It’s solved by leveling and respecing, of course, but we shouldn’t ignore the inelegance of it all. I think the talents which drive players to use the wrong spells are actually a little bit worse, to be honest, because they betray a key goal of the leveling process – teach the player how the spec plays at endgame.

Should Destruction Warlocks be casting Shadow Bolt? Their specialization perk improves Fire damage, but most of their early talents also buff Shadow Bolt. For a long time, your choice of nuke was either Shadow Bolt or Searing Pain until the 40s. You can buff Searing Pain while leveling, but even buffed, it’s not that great of a spell. (I tried to make a crit-heavy Searing Pain leveling build, it sucked.)

Shadow Bolt is a fantastic spell early on. It scales well, it gets buffed by most of the early talents – and once Incinerate is available, Destro Warlocks shouldn’t use it ever again.

Doesn’t that strike you as odd?

My personal preference leveling Destro has been to ignore Immolate/Conflag – too slow – and just spam Shadow Bolt (with occasional Soul Fires thrown in) for good measure. I know that that’s personal preference, and that I could Immo/Conflag, but I don’t like the long CD and it honestly feels faster just to spam Shadow Bolts at everything. (They hit like a truck.)

But how is this teaching me how the spec will play later on? How does this capture the flavor of the spec as fire-crazed pyromaniacs?

Affliction, as the former preferred leveling spec, has fewer of these problems than the other two. Sure, you never hardcast Shadow Bolt because it’s untalented until level 71, but Drain Life is … was… a sufficient filler spell. It’s thematically appropriate and the MOAR DOTS theory embraced by the leveling tree is the correct one.

The promise of the specializations at level 10 in Cataclysm was that it would let you level how you liked. The reality was that it exposed many flaws in certain specs’s talent trees and ability distribution, which in turn were the original reason why those specs weren’t used to level with in the first place! This isn’t a Warlock-only problem – I hit problem spots on other leveling toons – but it seems to have hit Warlocks more seriously than many.

SOUL SHARDS

Soul Shards were completely revamped in Cataclysm and were … well, they freed up a bag space, which was awesome, but otherwise they were a bit of a disappointment. They had some specific uses at the endgame, but as you level the abilities are less than thrilling. Instant summon a demon: how many times does your demon die while leveling? Improved healthstones, yay? Searing Pain, even at 100% crit, tends to do less damage than Shadow Bolts cast during the same period of time. (I wanted to like Searing Pain filler, really I did.)

Pretty much it’s good for fast Drain Life and instant Soul Fires while leveling, and only once Soul Fire was brought down to level 20.

The CD on the shards is long (30 seconds), they take 9 seconds out of combat to regenerate, and they just don’t do a lot. They save you 2 seconds every 30 at the cost of 9 seconds later on, which is a net loss of 3 seconds every minute and a half.

Think about that. Sure, it’s nice to be able to cast a Soul Fire on the run, but why would you do this as part of a leveling rhythm? Soul Shards add complexity without a lot of return, but they do so inelegantly. Did you really need them at level 10?

Say you’re leveling Destro, which should be able to make good use of instant Soul Fires. But you probably have Shadow and Flame, so you try to open with Shadow Bolt whenever possible. Okay, so you stop moving to cast Shadow Bolt, then follow it up with a soul burned Soul Fire. BAM! POW! That mob is probably dead.

Now wait for another 30 seconds before you can do that again.

See, even the 10 second CD on Conflag is irritating if you’re trying to use it all the time – effectively limiting you to 1 mob pull every 10 seconds, which is actually kinda slow. The 30 second CD is understandable in the context of the endgame, but while leveling?

It’s an emergency button you’ll hit every so often.

I admit, I was more disappointed by the Soul Shard revamp on my low level Warlocks than on my 85. It wasn’t so bad at endgame, but when leveling I realized that it was … clunky. Inelegant.

Oh well. At least I got a bag slot back.

CORE ABILITIES

Quick! Which spells should all Warlocks use in Cataclysm, regardless of specialization?

  • Corruption
  • Bane of Doom
  • Shadowflame
  • Immolate/Unstable Affliction
  • Demon Soul

One theory I have for why all three Warlock specs are relatively equal in raid DPS is because they share so many of the same spells. Everyone should be running with 3-4 DoTs, a Curse, and one of 4 nukes. Few abilities are unique to a single spec; there is a lot of cross-pollination of strong abilities, with some modifiers in application and execution.

While this common base of abilities presents some issues at the endgame, it also presents issues for leveling Warlocks in that there’s no clear delineation for what abilities should be used, or not used, according to their spec. In many ways spec doesn’t matter. You should use Corruption, and Bane, Immo/UA, and Shadow Bolts until the mid-sixties. Each spec gets one or two signature additions – Haunt, Hand of Gul’dan, Conflagrate, and Chaos Bolt – but your toolkit is going to have some Affliction and some Destruction, no matter what. You can level by sending in your demon and hitting random DoTs if you really want to.

I think this is a shame. Specs should have a unique feel to them. They should have a core set of abilities which define them and make them feel different. The shared toolkit of Warlocks works against them here, as does the general complexity of each spec at endgame; while leveling there just isn’t a firm direction one way or another. You can dot, you can nuke, it will pretty much all work out for you in the end.

The core abilities need to be better defined to give a sense of flavor and distinction to each class. Some shared abilities are okay – they signify that you’re playing a Warlock – but too many, and you lose the feeling that your spec choice mattered at all.

BATTLEGROUNDS AND DUNGEONS

The distribution of Warlock abilities rendered them pretty weak in leveling battlegrounds. They were never really all that strong, but with the high burst in lower brackets, coupled by fewer escapes than many other classes, contributed to leveling frustrations with Warlocks.

Fully in the realm of anecdote now, the twink brackets I played in (19s, 24s, 70s) all considered Warlocks and Warriors to be their weakest classes. Not unplayably weak – a really skilled Warlock (or Warrior, for that matter) is a wonder to behold – but they do best with a healer behind them to compensate for their lack of escapes and solid defenses.

What I’ve seen in PvP is mostly a problem of ability distribution in any given bracket. Some classes receive powerful PvP tools right at the start (Hunters, Rogues, Mages) and others do not (Warriors, who instead are the best tanks at low levels). Warlocks gain some key PvP spells very late in the leveling process – Shadowflame, Fel Flame, Demonic Circle, Demon Soul.

Similarly, Warlocks have always seemed to struggle in leveling five mans because of their slow rampup time and poor ability synergy at early levels. This trend seemed to get worse in Cataclysm, with each spec relying on DoTs for the majority of their DPS, which results in low DPS if you can’t ramp quickly. But to be honest, I don’t know if there was really a decline in Warlock leveling 5-man performance in Cataclysm. I really don’t. I rarely saw Warlocks while leveling other characters, and when I did they didn’t have notably good or bad DPS.

The one thing I noticed while tanking or healing was just how few Warlocks that were leveling.

I think that, in leveling PvP, Warlocks fared a bit worse in Cataclysm compared to other classes. Some classes started off strong but faded as the levels piled on (Hunters), others started strong and finished strong (Rogues, Mages). Warlocks seemed weaker at all levels in comparison. I think that many of the changes which were made to balance the class at level 85 in rated PvP play had negative effects in the leveling bracket. I know that leveling PvP has never been balanced, and was not intended to be balanced, yet I think that this had a negative effect on the leveling population. For a PvP class to not be very good at PvP while leveling is kind of … odd.

That said, the flip side of it is that generally, Warlocks who leveled via PvP became excellent at it, thus perpetuating a class of players who excelled at Warlock PvP at endgame, hiding a multitude of class flaws.

THE PROBLEM OF INELEGANCE

All of these small, clunky things add up while leveling. All of the little errors of logic, of false talent choices, of no clear guidance for players, they contribute to making a class not just complicated, but also inelegant. And that inelegance matters when you’re trying to convince a player to take up a class.

Leveling is a sales job. It’s training players how to play a class, sure, but it’s also there to sell them on it, to convince them that this is the class for you, my friend. A good leveling experience draws in players and bolsters the ranks of a class. Leveling a class isn’t hard; convincing someone they want to level it is.

The promise of specialization at level 10 is the promise of leveling the way you want to play at the endgame, of training players to use the abilities they were going to need later on. I think Cataclysm didn’t do a very good job of that for Warlocks. The two specs which became viable leveling specs both suffered from learning abilities and talents at the wrong time, and in some cases essential, core abilities were absent for much of the leveling process.

The Soul Shard revamp also failed to deliver on its promise to bring something new and exciting to the class, which in turn led to abilities being learned early on with limited utility and questionable time savings.

Unlike previous posts in this series, I don’t have numbers to stand by with these assertions. I can point to flaws in the class design and say, it doesn’t make much sense to give players talents which buff abilities they don’t have yet – but I can’t quantify that impact. It doesn’t make much sense to give people a specialization but not give them the core tools of it. None of this could have helped players choosing to level a Warlock in Cataclysm.

There is some good news here. I’ve taken a look at the changes coming to Warlock leveling in the Beta of Mists of Pandaria, and many – most – of these problems have been addressed. Leveling a Warlock looks to be a lot smoother, a lot more fun.

But these problems didn’t help Warlock popularity in Cataclysm.

Next up in the series is Cataclysm Changes and the Loss of the Warlock’s Soul, where I’ll be looking at how the changes affected the theme of the class, and then we can finally look ahead to Mists of Pandaria.

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Appendix B: The Problem of Evil

I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the responses on the Decline and Fall of Warlocks in Cataclysm series. There are a lot of questions and points raised which modify my original outline to the point where it the topics need to adjust to suit. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” and all that.

As such, I have found myself writing posts which I think are related to the main thesis, but where the data doesn’t strongly support the central theme. Or, like in the following piece, I think the data is far more interesting for analyzing other classes than it is for Warlocks. I had hoped that analyzing the initial lack of appeal for Warlocks would yield some new insight into the class, but ultimately there are limitations on the publicly available data which outright prevent it.

This is a data-heavy post, which is pretty much the only reason I’m releasing it into the wild. All of the charts can be found in the 4.3.3 class distribution spreadsheet. If nothing else, this will hopefully prove a solid snapshot of class popularity at the end of an expansion.

APPENDIX B: THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

One common theory I’ve heard about the scarcity of Warlocks is that it’s because they’re the evil class of Warcraft. They personify the ends justifying the means. They rationalize using the tools of the Burning Legion against everyone, without worrying that perhaps this really isn’t a very good idea.

There are NO noble or virtuous Warlocks in lore, and Warlock characters aren’t portrayed as good or nice in the World of Warcraft. At best, no one trusts them, and at worst, they’re feared and reviled – and rightfully so! They consort with demons for fun and profit. They take delight in pain and torment. They are corruptors of the highest order.

And yet, they can also be the saviors of Azeroth.

Reconciling these two positions can, frankly, require some mental gymnastics.

Anti-heroes are a tough sell in a fantasy setting. Yes, there’s some appeal for those who don’t want to play a noble paragon or protector of the natural order, but it’s a limited appeal. A class based on the worst villains of WoW isn’t going to feed into people’s desire to be a hero.

I think there’s something to this idea that Warlocks are naturally an unpopular class at the character selection screen because they’re the bad guys. Even Rogues – the other anti-hero class – are a bit easier to recast in a heroic light. Sure, they’re ruthless and efficient, but you can picture them as secret government operatives, swashbuckling pirates, street urchins turned heroes. The noble Rogue is part of fantasy archetypes like The Gray Mouser or Bilbo Baggins; it’s part and parcel of the AD&D-inspired syncretic fantasy legacy Warcraft is heir to.

Warlocks are either necromancers, crazy conjurers, or wizards who crossed the line with the Dark Arts. They have their own place in a fantasy setting, but not as heroes. So it’s difficult, at character creation, to see how this character would appeal to a broad base of players.

The central questions of the previous posts in this series were concerned with the decline of the Warlock class over the course of Cataclysm. The revocation of the Simplicity Tax and additional complexity beyond the magic number introduced in Cataclysm created a situation of inelegant complexity without reward, which in turn led to a decline in Warlock popularity. These are based upon the significant changes to the class during this expansion.

The reason which I haven’t considered that the class’s character unduly affected it in Cataclysm is because I didn’t see any real change in the portrayal of the class to account for its decline. In other words – Warlocks didn’t get any worse in Cataclysm’s story. Warlocks still don’t have any sympathetic characters in Warcraft lore. All major Warlocks characters are unrepentant villains (Ner’zhul, Gul’dan) or they reform and renounce their fel ways (Drek’thar). None of this changed in Cataclysm.

That said, while I don’t think that the idea of the class caused the Warlock to decline, I absolutely agree that it doesn’t help its case to become popular.

Sadly, the data we have publicly available is limited and doesn’t let us look at things like: out of every character rolled, how many people choose a Warlock? How much time do players spend considering the class on the creation screen versus other classes?

The majority of the data we’ve considered so far has focused upon the Warlock class at endgame, level 85. It’s tempting to use popularity data from the leveling brackets (c.f. the second post in this series) to try to prove this point that players don’t choose Warlocks at the creation screen. Looking at the leveling graph again:

The important data point is in the 10-19 bracket, where players have gotten over the level 10 hurdle and are showing enough interest in the game to commit to more than an hour or two.1 Warlocks show up with a resounding 21% deficit, and it gets worse from there. It’s safe to say that they’re not popular at creation, and that points to the class not having immediate appeal. They’re the house in the nice neighborhood which lacks curb appeal.

But what’s interesting is that they’re about as (un)popular as Priests, and more popular than Shaman from 10-19! Heck, even Paladins – the most popular class in the game – are unpopular at that level, though they quickly make up ground. If it’s the Warlock’s evilness which dooms them to unpopularity, why are traditionally heroic classes also unpopular?

That doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Well, no, it doesn’t really.

The data in the 10-19 bracket represents the current number of characters in that bracket, not the sum of all characters who have passed through that bracket. It’s correct to say that Shaman are not very popular in 10-19, but that might be because they’re all moving on quickly to other levels.2 The shape of the line, and relative position, and how it ends up is more important for analysis than any specific intrabracket comparison.

Let’s look at this by directly comparing Warlocks to another popular class as they level.

Both classes experience a decline between their 30s-60s, but Paladins gain in popularity as they level. They’re almost twice as populous as Warlocks in Northrend.

When you hit Cataclysm:

Man, look at that hockey stick with the Paladin line! People love playing their Pallys at endgame.

Here are the numbers, which have also been added to the class distribution spreadsheet:

It’s tough to say, definitively, that people aren’t rolling Warlocks only because they’re the evil class with this data. It’s really tempting to say that because there’s such a small difference between Pallys and Warlocks in the lower levels, it must be because they like them equally. This is probably false.

The key isn’t in the 10-19 bracket and where they start – it’s with the overall population of each class. Character creation encompasses all characters, not just a subset of those leveling. What we see with the above graphs is that players enjoy leveling Paladins to the endgame and playing them there. They’re not rolling other alts, they level up and they play them. This is true to a much lesser degree with Warlocks, too – but the overall population of people who rolled a Paladin is much greater than the population of people who’ve rolled a Warlock.

In previous posts, I focused on endgame statistics – how many Warlocks were being brought to Heroic Raids, how many were getting 2200+ Arena ratings – which required focus on endgame, level 85 data. Determining if a class is over or underrepresented in Heroics/2200+ required a comparison between characters who could compete in an activity (because they were the correct level) and those who actually did. If we’d compared the total raiding population of a class to the entire class population, we’d draw the wrong conclusion. That’s not right.

So, let’s at total population data.3

Going back to the same source as the leveling data (Warcraft Realms), we get the following:

And let’s look at that as a graph:

There are some surprising results when you compare this data to the level 85 data for other classes – Hunters, Rogues and Shaman especially – but it’s not quite so revealing for Warlocks.

They’re still at the bottom of the barrel. This shouldn’t be surprising – leveling data puts them at low popularity, raiding data puts them scarce – but it’s good to see the data match up from different sources.

Let’s go ahead and compare the total population to the endgame populations.

This data is really interesting for other classes, but not really for Warlocks.

There are a few items to note:

  • Hunters make up 12.3% of the overall population, #2 behind Paladins. Their leveling popularity translates into a sizable active character pool, but a comparably scarce population at endgame.
  • Like Hunters, Rogues are more likely to be leveling than found at 85. This is probably due to the Legendary Carrot Effect. I think we’ll need to see Rogue data at different times to see if this really held true for Cataclysm.
  • Shaman are more likely to be 85 than leveling.
  • The massive DK population in the 50s and 60s is statistically a blip due to low populations at those levels.4

This, sadly, doesn’t really shed a lot of light on the question we’re trying to answer – is the reason for the class’s unpopularity because of their reputation as evil spellcasters, or because of other reasons?

We don’t really know. All we can say with confidence is that Warlocks are unpopular from start to finish.

There are a few ways we could test the theory of evil:

  • Add a major sympathetic Warlock character to lore in the middle of an expansion (to isolate it from expansion-basedclass changes) and see if popularity rises.
  • Conversely, add more negative Warlocks to lore and see if class popularity falls. Or rises! It all depends on the character. (…I do not really recommend this.)
  • Change the introductory class text and reskin the class to be a Friendship Wizard. See if people reroll to play with Rainbow Bolts.5
  • Survey Warcraft players to determine why they did, or did not, roll a Warlock.

Aside from those suggestions, I think this specific theory of evil driving players away is unprovable with existing data. It’s suggestive, and there’s an argument to be made for it.

But we need more evidence.

—-

(1) This data set is limited in a lot of ways – unfortunately we can’t see how many Warlocks really get rolled at the character screen. We’ll have to extrapolate initial character creation choice from the lowest level bracket, which isn’t perfect – but we’ll make due.

(2) Scroll of Resurrection toons went through it REALLY FAST.

(3) This doesn’t represent characters from all active subscribers, but a representative subset. When you look at the population of active characters across tracked realms, the sample size is statistically significant, so we can make due with it. This is one reason why I tend to deal with percentages instead of absolute character counts in this series.

(4) This shouldn’t really be a surprise. Death Knights are well represented in the endgame, but their status as a “Hero Class” makes them ideal bankers on new servers. At least a life of service to Auctioneer Jaxon is a far better fate than serving the Lich King?

(5) Mark my words, Friendship Wizards are going to dominate the DPS charts in the expansion after Mists.

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Appendix A: Warlock Spell Changes in Cataclysm

As I was writing about Complexity and the Warlock’s Magic Number I found that I had a lot to say about specific spell changes that happened within Cataclysm. There were a lot of spells which were changed in very specific, inelegant ways that only players of the class noticed. These changes added up over the course of the expansion.

However, as I dove into the arcana of a lot of these spell changes, I found that they were drowning out the main point of that post. The individual changes were problems, but it was the mental chunking which was the problem. Dwelling on the different iterations of the Improved Soul Fire buff was obscuring the main point, which was that the buff was there at all.

But Warlock players went through those changes, and each one of these spells actively contributed to a culture of complexity which plagued the class throughout Cataclysm. Instead of cluttering up the narrative with my observations, I’ve chosen to move them to the back of the book, as it were, and drop them into an appendix.

This is the first for this series. There will probably be more.

APPENDIX A: WARLOCK SPELL CHANGES IN CATACLYSM

What happens when the game gets harder for you to play?

In some ways, this has been the core problem of Cataclysm. This expansion increased difficulty … everywhere, really. Stats dropped off quickly as you leveled through those 5 levels from 80-85. Healers hit 83 and watched their healing drop off the face of the planet. Leveling through questing involved dying again, sometimes a lot of dying. Dungeons became grueling, punishing exercises in punishment. Leveling dungeons involved a brutal step up from Wrath Heroics. T11 Raids were a brick wall that broke many guilds.

Many experienced, good players got a taste of the new environment of Cataclysm and said, screw this, this isn’t fun. Others said, great, finally, a challenge.

But, you know, an awful lot of players went ahead and said, that’s it, I’m done. Sixteen percent of the playerbase voted with their wallets and decided there were more fun things for them to do than play Cataclysm. Twenty-eight percent of Warlocks decided there was something better to do or play. My opinion is that the increased difficulty of the endgame had a lot to do with that, though there were no doubt other issues at work as well.

The split in opinion on how Warlocks are faring reminds me of the split on whether Cataclysm’s increased difficulty was a good thing. Warlocks became more difficult to play in Cataclysm, which led to fewer players being able to play it at a level where it was fun.

Did it really get more difficult?

Yes, yes it absolutely did.

Looking at the changes Warlocks received in Cataclysm, a clear picture emerges of a class that added more abilities and buttons without any corresponding simplification. There may have been quality of life improvements elsewhere, but operating a Warlock in Cataclysm involved more buttons than one in Wrath.

Affliction received a few changes:

  • Soul Swap added as multi-dotting spell
  • Soul Burn: Seed of Corruption added as multi-dotting spell

Demonology got a new nuke and a DoT refresh, but the clunky refresh mechanics were really problematic:

  • Hand of Gul’dan added as fourth nuke
  • Hand of Gul’dan refresh period works awkwardly with Immolate’s new Haste mechanics (Cannot be reliable refresh with Haste effects: 12 second CD + 2 second cast time + travel time vs. 15 second Immolate)
  • Demon swapping (starting with Felhunter, swapping to Succy/Felguard) required pet juggling
  • Metamorphosis CD became variable.

Destruction had a massive overhaul, gaining 3 DoTs, a nuke, and a buff that required constant uptime:

  • Improved Soul Fire buff required, very dependent upon RNG for instant Soul Fire casts via Empowered Imp
  • Soul Fire added as third nuke
  • Corruption, Bane of Doom, and Burning Embers all added as important DoTs
  • Bane of Havoc required for multi-dotting, limited to single target


On top of those changes, every single spec gained the following:

  • Improved Soul Fire as required buff to maintain through 4.0.6 for all specs, requiring three Soul Burned Soul Fires or hard cast Soul Fires to maintain every 15 seconds. Could not refresh before it fell off due to ICD.
  • Shadowflame added to rotation, required near-melee range every 12 seconds (Teleport CD still 25 seconds)
  • Demon Soul added as a 2 minute CD
  • Dark Intent added as required buff, required reapplication if target died
  • Fel Flame added as a moving nuke/DoT refresh, but lacked DPCT to be in normal rotation without T11 4-pc bonus.
  • Guardians (Doomguard, Infernal) no longer caused regular demons to despawn, making them a required 10 minute CD on boss fights.
  • Curses and Banes were split apart, situationally adding another debuff to maintain.

Spec by spec summary:

  • Affliction: 1 buff, 1 melee AoE, 2 long CDs. ISF through 4.0.6, Fel Flame through T11. were removed.
  • Demo: 1 nuke on short CD with refresh issues, 1 buff, 1 melee AoE, 2 long CDs. Demon swapping in 4.06 through 4.2, ISF through 4.0.6, Fel Flame through T11.
  • Destro: 1 nuke, 3 dots, 2 buffs, 2 long CDs, 1 melee AoE. Fel Flame through T11.


To sum up:All Warlocks rotations were made more complicated in Cataclysm. Nothing was made simpler.

It doesn’t matter if we look at other classes and see if Warlocks fared better or worse compared to them; this isn’t a complexity sweepstakes. The fact that abilities were added without any corresponding simplification of the existing rotation is the important one. If you take a complex class which was doing relatively well in Wrath (well in terms of fun and player acceptance) and then add more buttons to push, have you really added anything? Or just made the class harder to play?

Only focusing on player skill and ability, this design direction is disturbing. If you have a class which is reasonably complicated to play well, but has some variation between the different specs, and then you make them all uniformly more complicated and demanding, aren’t you going to alienate some of those players who previously enjoyed it? If you introduce mechanics which require absolute precision in execution for substantial portions of the class’s output, aren’t you going to cause some players who formerly worked within a more forgiving rotation to struggle?

Additional complexity might be acceptable if it translates into something that’s more fun or better output. But if it doesn’t and it’s just complexity for complexity’s sake, then players will rightly become dissatisfied and look around for simpler options.

I think this is what happened to Warlocks in Cataclysm. The rotations got both more complicated and less forgiving in this expansion, with no option for a more forgiving spec. It is still possible to master this class and these rotations; the performance of Warlocks in Heroic mode raiding attests to that. But it is more work. It is harder to master.

And under the Bring the Player model, there’s not a lot of incentive to overcome the additional complexity.

I’m going to discuss a few of these changes so non-Warlock players understand what kind of complexity was imposed upon the class.

Soul Swap

Soul Swap is a spell which allows Affliction Warlocks to take their DoTs from one target and apply it to another. When Glyphed, it leaves the DoTs behind on the original target but introduces a cooldown on the spell. In PvP, this is awesome for keeping pressure up on targets. In PvE this is used to apply DoTs on multiple targets.

The original implementation of the spell and glyph was fantastic because it had a 6 second CD. Soul Swap was a valuable, welcome addition to the Affliction toolkit, useful in dungeons, questing, raids, PvP – everywhere. I used it a lot while doing Tol Barad dailies because it allowed me to spread DoTs quickly between multiple mobs as I pulled through the various areas, much like how Drain Tanking used to work. It was also really great in PvP, allowing you to maintain pressure across an entire team with relative ease. If your DoTs were expelled, you could quickly reapply 3 of them and keep the healers Purging/Cleansing.

Soul Swap was exceptionally powerful in PvP, so the cooldown was increased – first to 10 seconds, then to 20, then to 30. Each increase made it less useful as a spell. Soul Swap is a convenience spell – it saves you time over reapplying DoTs individually, and allows you to move while doing it. The time to reapply UA, Corruption, and Bane of Agony is 4 seconds. Soul Swap triggers the GCD, so it’s 3 seconds to inhale and exhale, or a 1 second improvement over manually dotting (plus the movement bonus, which is actually pretty cool). With a 6 second CD, you gain 10 seconds every minute; with a 30 second CD, you gain 2.

It was neat to have on your bars at first, but as the CD lengthened it just became clutter.

Hand of Gul’dan

Hand of Gul’dan was the new, distinctive nuke added into the Demonology tree. It’s a pretty cool spell that summons a meteor and surrounds the target with a circle of demonic black flame. It hits hard, increases pet damage, snares mobs, and refreshes Immolate on the target.

It also brought the number of nukes Demolocks had to worry about to 4. They already use Shadow Bolt and Incinerate as filler nukes, depending on Molten Core procs, and Soul Fire as an execute. Another button, another thing to track.

But HoG’s real problem lay in the Immolate refresh mechanic during the early days of Cataclysm. Because of the way DoTs were changed in Cata, the timing on using Hand of Gul’dan to refresh Immolate was really hard, and sometimes impossible.

Immolate has a 15 second duration. Hand of Guldan has a 12 second CD and a 2 second cast time. This leaves 1 second for a player to refresh it. However, as a nuke, there’s travel time on the spell, so there’s another .5 seconds, with possible latency on top of that. So, without any Haste, Demo Warlocks are going to have to hit HoG as soon as the CD comes up to keep Immolate on the target.

Haste makes it worse by making ticks happen faster, reducing the duration of the DoT until a new tick was added. So if you don’t have enough Haste for to just get that additional Immolate tick, Immolate is going to have less than 15 second duration – sometimes as low as 13.5 or so. During the early stages of Cataclysm, there was enough Haste to shorten Immolate’s duration but not enough to shorten HoG’s cast time to use it to refresh.

Having a spell you have to hit on CD to refresh a vital debuff isn’t a lot of fun, and it’s even less fun when it doesn’t work. There’s no choice here – either you bang out a 2 second cast every 12 seconds, or you lose DPS by letting Immolate drop or using Fel Flame to refresh it.

Work THAT into your rotations. :(

When this first came up in the Cataclysm Beta, a lot of theories were proposed of how to deal with it. (I supported lowering HoG’s CD to 10 seconds, thinking that any changes to Immolate would adversely affect Destruction.) It was a problem for the very beginning or Cataclysm.

A few months after Cataclysm’s release, Blizzard made a stealth change to the Inferno talent to extend Immolate’s duration by 6 seconds in 4.0.6. This provided two extra ticks and smoothed out the refresh mechanic.

Thank goodness.

Improved Soul Fire

Improved Soul Fire is a neat idea that was executed horribly. I mean, sorry, objectively it was implemented in such a way that required multiple redesigns and impacted all three specs and quite possibly is one of the biggest problems raiding Warlocks faced in T11.

Subjectively, it was executed horribly.

The basic idea is that casting Soul Fire put a buff on the Warlock, mirroring the nuke-for-a-damage buff behavior of Affliction (Shadow Embrace) and Demonology (Curse of Gul’dan). Improved Soul Fire was a little different because it 1) was on the Warlock, not the target, and 2) granted Haste instead of damage or Crit. Since the Imp was now granting instant Soul Fires, it might as well be used for something, right?

Well, the problem at the start of Cataclysm was twofold:

  1. The Improved Soul Fire buff was low in the Destruction tree, making it available to Affliction’s and Demonology’s raiding builds.
  2. ISF was originally designed to be used at the start of the fight, not the whole thing.

See, ISF was originally a reverse execute – only worked at > 80% target health – so having it be available to all three specs wasn’t terribly burdensome. It made good use of the new Soul Shard mechanic by demanding instant Soul Fires – really, the only use for Soul Shards for those two specs – and allowed them to start with powerful openers.

In 4.0.1 ISF was changed to a buff that would be up all the time, creating a situation where now Affliction (which doesn’t use Fire spells) and Demo (which does) needed to keep the buff throughout the entire fight – without the benefit of Empowered Imp procs. So Afflocks added Soul Fire to their bars, and all Warlocks tried to weave in a 2.5 second nuke and another buff that had to be maintained to their rotations.

Further complicating things, the buff had a 15 second internal CD – you couldn’t refresh it by hitting Soul Fire while the buff was up. You couldn’t refresh it, requiring Destro Warlocks to try to hold Empowered Imp procs until the last moment, adding another element of RNG to their rotation.

This lasted from 4.0.1 through 4.0.6. Practically, it didn’t affect Warlocks until after 4.0.3 (only available at level 85), but it was in effect for the formative first two months of Cataclysm raiding. In 4.0.6 it was removed from Affliction and Demo’s rotations as part of the massive class balance overhaul of that patch

ISF was not a good design for 2 of the 3 specs. Even though it was present for only a few months in progression raiding, it was during the initial launch period and contributed to the initial difficulty of the expansion. Warlocks who raided in early T11 did so with the clunkiest, most complicated mechanics possible.

Shadowflame

Shadowflame is an AoE cone that can be glyphed to provide a slow. In Wrath it was primarily a PvP spell for this reason, but the damage was buffed and the spell entered into every spec’s rotation. If you could do it safely, standing in melee range and hitting Shadowflame was a DPS increase.

The challenge is that getting this DPS increase involved a lot of positioning tricks to use correctly. Warlocks either needed to charge in (forcing them to cast instants) and teleport out (wasting a GCD), position themselves with the melee and stay there, or forego use of the spell until it was only situationally viable.

I love Shadowflame. I really do. But I’m also a PvPer, and I remember seeing it first pop up in the PvE Destro rotation in 4.0.1 with some surprise. Adding this spell into the rotation is more complicated than just adding another DoT to maintain – it added range and positioning to the list of things a Warlock needed to consider in a fight.

Demon Soul, Demon Swapping, and Demon Guardians

Warlocks got a new 2-minute cooldown in Cataclysm, Demon Soul, which gave Warlocks some … while I can’t call it burst, exactly, it did give the class a DPS boost every 2 minutes.

My original opinion was that this was a good ability to bring into the Warlock toolkit. This was a missing ability, something that was usually filled in with On Use trinkets in Wrath. It requires proper attention to procs to maximize its utility, it’s interesting and challenging and it offers a direct reward for proper usage – a DPS spike.

I wanted to put Demon Soul out there as an ability that added complexity, but with immediate reward. A 2 minute DPS cooldown is pretty straightforward, offers a clear benefit, and is interesting without being overwhelming (especially since the class lacked one before.) The idea of it is great. The implementation of it was somewhat lackluster.

The effect depends entirely upon which demon was currently deployed, so at different times it could be advantageous to start off with one demon (say, the Felhunter), pop Demon Soul, then switch to a different demon (Succubus or Felguard) using a Soul Shard, and repeat as necessary. That was a complicated concept, a clunky mechanic, and probably not the best way to construct an optimal DPS rotation. But it was a side effect of pet balancing issues interacting poorly with this spell.

The other long cooldown spell that was added in Cataclysm was the revamped Demon Guardians, or the old Doomguard and Infernal. The biggest change was that summoning these two behemoths no longer despawned your regular demon, which was a vast improvement over the previous model. The Guardians became a long (10 minute) cooldown you could use once a boss fight.

All these things add up. Either you use all the tools in the toolbox, or your DPS will suffer.

Both of these changes were prima face benefits to the class. In hindsight, I think they actually caused more trouble than they were worth by adding additional mental complexity – an entire new chunk for Warlock players to have to juggle. Had they been added in isolation, they might have been good benefits.

But in addition to the other changes each spec underwent, this was just more fuel on the fire.

Pet Management

I’m not sure what to say about the state of Demons in Cataclysm.

The numerous changes to the pet AI in Cataclsym caused a lot of problems – demons not chasing feared units, demons randomly switching targets, demons randomly slipping into Passive or ignoring /petattack commands. Given that demons are a substantial part of a Warlock’s DPS, these bugs require players devote mental energy to managing their demon.

A lot of attention. SO NEEDY.

The nice thing about chunking theory is that you can just add this in as one more chunk that you have to worry about now, that you didn’t have to worry about then. It’s not that players can’t micromanage their demons – it’s that they have to do it in the first place which causes the problem.

There were periods when players had to swap out demons mid-fight for DPS gains, and those are splashy examples that are nice to point at as problems of elegance. But the persistent pet bugs represented a more insidious problem, one where a major component of your DPS would just randomly stop.

Demons would bug out on platforms. They’d bug out on Ultrax. They’d bug out on Magmaw. They’d bug out trying to finish the legendary quest.

I’m not someone who enjoys micromanaging their pet. I want them to attack when I attack and attack the target I ask them to attack, until I tell them to stop.

Pet management is a big problem if 1/4-1/3 of your DPS comes from your pet.

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