On Warlocks: Cynwise’s journey to the heart of warlockery concludes

Some time ago, noted Warlock blogger Cynwise decided to write a two-part article about the decline of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

No-one predicted what would follow.

His original article became a massive, multi-part, thirty thousand word treatise that we’ve linked to twice already and compared to no less than Hunter S. Thompson’s quest for the American Dream.

And with some justification. This is an astonishing treatise, filled with both original research and insights born of years of play and a personal struggle with the game and class he loves.

Now, it’s finished, and it finishes on an up note, as Cynwise looks into the Warlock in the upcoming WoW expansion Mists of Pandaria, and discovers that a brave new world awaits

“I find it ironic that I named this series after Gibbon’s masterpiece, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon 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.

Cynwise has also helpfully indexed all of the Decline and Fall series in one place.

If you haven’t read these pieces already, and if you’ve got even a passing interest in Warlocks, game design, or why some classes work and others don’t, I’d strongly recommend taking the time to read through it – particularly “The Loss Of The Warlock’s Soul”, which squares the circle of game mechanics versus the fantasy a game presents better than any other article I’ve read.

We’re not an accredited institution over here, sadly – because if we were, we’d definitely be awarding Cynwise a Doctorate if not a Professorship of MMO writing for this astonishing magnum opus.

Go read.

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Why Mechanics Can Kill A Class’s Atmosphere

At the end of the day, MMORPGs are a fantasy – and we play classes that offer appealing fantasies, not just the best numbers. But can the game developers accidentally kill that fantasy in the course of trying to improve their game?

Cynwise thinks they can. In his ongoing odyssey to the heart of the lack of Warlocks in current WoW, he has washed up on the shores of warlock design changes – and what he discovers is that while the game tells you one story about your class and what it represents, the way you actually end up playing gives brutally conflicting messages

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

It was therefore eliminated.

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

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


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

I’ve not made any secret of my enjoyment of Cynwise’s series so far, but I think this may be the best installment yet in his Hunter S. Thompson-like quest for the heart of the Warlockian dream. Between non-obvious killer analysis like the point above and the wonderful synergy he achieves between the theorycraft of Warlock play and the fantasy and lore of it all, this post is required reading for anyone wanting to understand the success or failure of a class in any MMO.

Various game devs have made the point recently that whilst players may obsess on mechanics, mechanics aren’t why we play the game – the fantasy, the offered role, and the escape is. And every game and every designer is groping right now toward the point where mechanics and fiction combine to create an experience that feels satisfying and true. This post is a pretty significant step toward understanding just what can go right and wrong.

What do you think? Does your class – in any game – actually feel right?

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Pet Battles, Smart Games, and Problematic Evil

As is often the case, two big discussions have overshadowed the blogosphere today, but there have been a number of great posts on non-server, non-equality related topics too! So, whether it’s pet battles, unpopular warlocks or brainy games, read on…

  • Cynwise addresses the problem of evil today, asking whether Warlocks are unpopular because they’re never the good guy“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.”
  • Shintar rounds up her experience with the Rakghoul plague event in SWTOR“I do hope that we’ll see more events like this in the future, though for now I could do with some quiet time to recover and actually focus on the main 1.2 content properly.”
  • The Grumpy Elf is feeling wierdly non-grumpy today as he finds himself suddenly interested in pet battles in WoW“So being there are wild pets to catch, achievements to earn, levels to level up and challenges to win it seems pet battles have suddenly piqued my interest. I’m starting to look forward to something I had really no intention of giving a crap about.”
  • And finally, The Brainy Gamer is asking for our help in making a list of the smartest, most thought-provoking games around“It’s hard not to see Taylor Clark’s recent Atlantic essay as a sharp slap in the face to all of us who don’t believe all video games are “juvenile, silly, and intellectually lazy” and aren’t peering at the horizon awaiting the “Citizen Kane of video games.””

What do you think is the brainiest game you’ve played lately?

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Why did Warlocks vanish in Cataclsym?

I’ve said in the past that I was going to wait until Cynwise’s current magnum opus was finished before featuring it, but it’s just too damn good – and I’m off for a week. So… Have you ever wondered where the Warlocks went in Cataclysm?

Some time ago, whilst going through a period of disenchantment with what was formerly his favourite class, well-known warlock blogger Cynwise wondered that question. And so he started doing some research, little knowing how deep the rabbit hole would go.

His attempt to answer a simple question has become a fascinating, statistic-rich journey into the very heart of MMORPG gaming – why people enjoy playing what they do, and what happens to make them stop

“What does Bring the Player, Not the Class have to do with the decline of Warlocks? Quite a bit.

The goal of Bring the Player is to equalize performance and utility across classes, in effect to remove the impact of class choice on common endgame activities. Raids shouldn’t be canceled or fail because you don’t have a certain class. DPS, tanks, and healers should all be relatively interchangeable.

So if all DPS classes are equal, what is the reward for mastering a complex class like the Warlock?

In many ways, this is the same question we ask when discussing pure and hybrid DPS classes, isn’t it? If all DPS specs are equal, what’s the advantage of rolling a pure over a hybrid? It’s the same concept at work, only dealing with spec complexity instead of role flexibility.

I think we need a new name for this idea that Warlocks are wrestling with. We already have the Hybrid Tax, the idea that hybrid DPS should do less damage than pure DPS because they have role flexibility. Perhaps we need a Simplicity Tax to capture this question: should complex rotations outperform simple ones?.”

It’ll surprise few regular readers when I say that Cynwise’s posts are pretty long – and there are three of them so far with more planned. Nonetheless, I’ve read every word of every one so far, and eagerly awaited the next one each time. This is really remarkable stuff – deep, insightful, data-led and research-driven writing that penetrates to the heart of far more than just why one class is less popular than others.

Did you know that the Paladin is one of the most likely classes for a player to stick with from 1-85, rather than giving up half-way? Or that warlocks are one of the few classes whose three specs are all balanced, mid-level damage dealers? Did you ever wonder how many separate factors go into a class’s popularity at maximum level? Cynwise covers a huge breadth of detail in his observations in this series, and he’s promising more to come.

I don’t think it’s an exaggaration to say that if you’re interested in how WoW works and why it works, “Where did all the Warlocks go?” is a must-read series.

Enjoyed Cynwise’s writing? Please consider sharing it!

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Roundup: New Beginnings

Well, the MMOsphere seems to be well out of sync with the actual weather right at the moment. You see, whilst in the real world we’re heading into what promises to be a pretty grim winter, in the land of MMOs, it’s starting to feel like spring is breaking out.

We’ve got a few great posts about new beginnings today, from Syp’s argument that the long winter of the MMO may be nearly over, to Syncaine being unexpectedly inspirational talking about EVE:

  • Cynwise is still pondering his restart with his main, and in doing so, he’s considering the origins of the name of the Warlock class“Warlock comes from the Old English wærloga, or oath-breaker, deciever, liar. Witch comes from wicca and wicce, and used to apply to both men and women. At some point the word shifted over to refer to primarily women, so another word had to be brought in for “male witch.”“
  • Syp has been reading all this talk of an MMO winter, and feels that we’re actually at the start of a huge MMO Spring“We first have the launch of one of the most anticipated MMOs of all time, Star Wars: The Old Republic, on December 20th, which really makes this a 2012 title for all intents and purposes. On top of that, there’s the April launches of TERA and The Secret World, Guild Wars’ beta and (hopefully) launch, WoW’s next expansion, and so on.”
  • And Syncaine’s returned to EVE, and is highlighting one truly unique element of the game – the way that older content doesn’t get left behind “Last night I was able to jump into my Rohk battleship, the same one I used in 2008, and run some level four missions with some DiS pilots out of Taru. Name an MMO where you can return after almost four years and not only pick right back up, but still have that very same content ‘viable’ in terms of rewards and player interest?”

Do you think we’re on the verge of Spring? Feel more MMOs should keep older content current? And would you prefer playing a witch to a warlock?

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Destruction Warlock spell rotation – how to get the most out of your destro lock in WoW

So, you’d like to know what the optimal Destruction Warlock spell rotation is? Guess what? There isn’t one. Strict rotations are a thing of WoW’s past. Most classes now use a priority system, and destro locks are no exception. If you’d like to know how to get the most out of the standard Destruction priority system, read on.

Destruction Warlock priority system

This priority system is the one generally recommended by the warlock community. It’s designed for a boss fight – your system for trash mobs will be much simpler. Take a look at our guide to Destruction warlock stats, rotation and spec to find a good talent build and more information for warlock players.

The priority system for most destro warlocks will be:

  • Soul Fire – you should open with this, and re-cast it at least every 15 seconds, to make sure that the buff from the Improved Soul Fire talent is always active.
  • Demon Soul – cast it if it’s off cooldown. On certain fights it may be worth holding off on Demon Soul until a specific moment (a DPS burn phase, for example), but with a 2 minute cooldown you can be confident of hitting this more than once per fight. As a general rule, if you’re not sure, cast it.
  • Immolate – you can afford to allow the Immolate DoT to fall off for a couple of seconds, if you really must, but make sure it’s in place again before you cast Conflagrate.
  • Conflagrate – Boom. Instant cast, instant damage. Use it whenever it’s off cooldown.
  • Bane of DoomBane of Doom lasts a full minute, and is instant cast, so keeping it up shouldn’t be very hard. Don’t be scared to refresh this before it expires – doing so will not override the current ‘tick’.
  • Corruption – instant cast, 18 second DoT. You had this in your repertoire since early levels, so you should be very familiar with it by now.
  • Shadowflame – you may wish to skip this entirely. Remember that it’s a frontal cone AoE, which won’t be appropriate in all circumstances. If you have to move more than a few steps to cast it, or if an AoE blast is not safe, don’t do it.
  • Soul Fire – If your Imp’s buff from Demon Soul is active, cast Soul Fire even if the buff from Improved Soul Fire doesn’t need to be refreshed yet. Doing so will make big numbers appear on your screen, and will cause the little green bar above the boss’s head to get smaller.
  • Chaos Bolt – that’ll leave a mark. It has a 12 second cooldown (10 seconds if you’ve bought the talent). Ideally, the cooldown for Chaos Bolt should alternate with the cooldown for Conflagrate.
  • Shadowburn – only usable when the boss drops to 20% health. Note that this comes almost at the bottom of the priority list. Don’t be tempted to cast Shadowburn in favor of other, higher-priority, spells just because it’s suddenly become active.
  • Incinerate – if you’ve absolutely nothing better to do, you might as well cast Incinerate. Be prepared to interrupt your casting to cast a higher-priority spell instead, if the better spell comes off cooldown halfway through. It’s often worth doing – the DPS loss from the missed Incinerate will be minimal.


It’s the thought that counts

Let’s talk about Dark Intent. It’s 30 minute ‘buff’ that affects you and one lucky fellow raider. It’ll increase the damage from your DoTs, and it’ll also increase the damage from your new best buddy’s DoTs (or the healing from her HoTs). The decision as to who to favor with your dark intentions is a complicated, and subjective, one. You really, really should read this thread on MMO Champion, which breaks the whole thing down and which is reproduced as part of the Elitist Jerks Destruction thread, but the basic summary is: use it on a healer unless your healers are utterly amazing, in which case you can throw it at a DPS class. The best classes to pick are Restoration Druids, Holy Priests and Restoration Shaman. If you’re targetting a DPS class, a Shadow Priest is your best bet, followed by Balance Druids and Fire Mages.

You should also consider Curse of the Elements. The chances are you won’t need to bother – many other classes and even some hunter pets provide similar buffs which won’t stack with CotE – but if nobody else is bringing the debuff to the party, be a responsible Warlock and add Curse of the Elements to your priority system. It lasts for 5 minutes, so for most fights you should be able to throw it down right at the start and then not worry about it again, but do remember to check. A 6 minute fight where the last minute is a DPS burn race is exactly the wrong fight to let CotE fall off!

Remember to check out our guide to Destruction warlock stats, rotation and spec in 4.2 for more information.

Have we got our priorities all wrong? Do you have any clever tips and tricks for Destruction Warlocks? Let us know in the comments.

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