An in depth raiding guide for Warlocks in World of Warcraft Classic. This guide was originally published by Topdps on the Crestfall forums and has been preserved here.
Warlocks are mainly brought to raids for their high damage output and the class is arguably the most competitive dps class in late 1.12 content. On top of that they bring a ton of utility to the raid; Soulstones, Curses, Blood Pact and top AoE abilities. I raided every instance in Vanilla WoW in a hardcore setting for a long time and decided to share what I learnt so far. This guide is meant for players who are new to the Warlock class and want to understand the different playstyles and talent builds the class has to offer in PvE. This post also includes a list of pre-raid gear and enchants, details about world buffs and useful consumables and so on. At the end of the guide there is also a chapter on how to tank the Twin Emperors in AQ40.
1. Race choice
Before I get into talent specs and gear I’d like to quickly talk about Race choice. The playable Warlock Races are Human, Gnome, Undead and Orc where Gnome is the only Race with a racial that benefits Warlocks in PvE. “Expansive Mind” gives you 5% increased intellect which ends up being <1% extra damage in a normal raid setting. The big differences between the races are mainly PvP-based; Stun resist (Orc), Wotf (Undead), Escape Artist (Gnome) and Perception (Human). Since this is a PvE guide I won’t waste your time discussing them but simply state that the Race you choose to play has minimal impact on your performance in a Raid.
(The Curse of Exhaustion spell is only useful on Kel’Thuzad and Curse of Agony and Amplify Curse are very situational in raids so you are free to move those talents around. The rest is pretty much mandatory, though. Also note that the only reason we spec into Siphon Life is to reach the “Shadow Mastery”-talent, it’s a very inefficient spell overall so don’t use it just because you spent a talent point on it.)
The SM/Ruin-spec is usually recommended for newly dinged level 60 players as it’s a good all-round build and uses an Imp as a pet which brings extra stamina for your party. There are several perks in the affliction tree, but the main reason you spend so many talent points there is for the “Shadow Mastery”-talent, which increases your shadow damage done by 10%. However, in larger raids where you might value damage output over versatility/survivability there is another talent build that is more focused on raw damage:
(“Improved Voidwalker”, “Improved Succubus” and “Fel Stamina” in the Demonology tree are filler talents that aren’t important for the overall build. You can exchange the four points in “Cataclysm” for the “Intensity” and “Pyroclasm” talents, the 3sec stun works great on trash packs.)
As a DS/Ruin Warlock you sacrifice your Succubus with the spell “Demonic Sacrifice” to gain a 15% increased Shadow damage buff. 15% increased damage from “Demonic Sacrifice” beats 10% increased damage from “Shadow Mastery” making this a more effective damage output build. In raids, however, there is need for both these talent specs: DS/Ruin doesn’t use an Imp so you need at least one SM/Ruin specced Warlock to provide Blood Pact for the tank group. Which talent build to use is therefore something you have to coordinate with your guild members.
There are no other good talent builds for Warlocks to use in PvE. A 30/21/0 (SM/DS) talent build lacks “Improved Shadow Bolt”, “Bane” and “Ruin” which are all very important talents. And since there are no spammable fire spells in 1.12 you can’t spec full Destruction either. The only possible PvE build that’s not SM/Ruin or DS/Ruin would be MD/Ruin (0/30/21) with a Succubus, but that’s simply a downgraded DS/Ruin build.
Debuff slots and spell rotation
Immolate, Corruption and Curse of Agony are all spells that increases your damage dealt compared to just Shadow Bolting as long as the mob doesn’t die long before the dot runs out. However, in Vanilla World of Warcraft there is a limited amount of debuff slots on bosses which means that there is a limited amount of dots you can put on a raid boss before they start to overwrite/delete each other. When you are raiding with 39 other people who all have to share a certain amount of debuff slots you’ll have to prioritize the important debuffs and there are usually more important ones than the average Warlock DoT. Warlocks in TBC are usually referred to as “Shadow Bolt-bots” since spamming only Shadow Bolt can be the most effective way to do damage, but the reason Warlocks in 1.12 doesn’t use many DoTs is because there just aren’t enough debuff slots for them.
Depending on the raid and the patch (the amount of debuff slots is increased 8->16 in patch 1.7) there might still be room for Warlock debuffs. Which ones are going to be used is something you and your guild members have to discuss. Curse of Recklessness (CoR), Curse of Shadows (CoS) and Curse of Elements (CoE) are all mandatory to the point where you usually have three Warlocks individually dedicated to these spells to make sure they are always up on important targets. If there is still room for more debuffs on the boss then DoTs like Corruption and Curse of Agony could be used in moderation.
In later instances like AQ40 or Naxxramas where Mages are fire-specced it’s very important that there is debuff room for the Mage Fireball DoT called “Ignite”. Ignite is a huge dps boost for Mages and any Warlock DoTs that run the risk of overwriting Ignite should not be used. In instances where Mages are frost-specced (MC/BWL) people are usually more liberal with who can use which DoTs but later on there is a very strict amount of Warlock DoTs that is allowed to be used. In my old guild we used CoR, CoS and CoE and allowed three Warlocks to use Corruption. If we added a fourth player to use Corruption we risked Ignite being overwritten.
I also want to talk about the spell “Shadowburn” which shares the same characteristics as a Shadow Bolt except for that it’s shorter range, instant cast, has a cooldown and uses a Soul Shard. Normally while leveling you’d only use this spell as a finisher as you don’t get the Soul Shard back unless the enemy dies from it, but in raids you can increase your overall damage by using it mid-fight despite losing a Shard every time you do so. The main area of use for Shadowburn is when moving during a bossfight as instant-cast spells don’t require you to stand still, but its short casting time makes it a DPS-increase regardless if you have to move or not.
Note that Shadowburn doesn’t benefit as much from your +Spell Power stat as Shadow Bolt does (3/7 instead of 6/7). So if you are low geared you will see Shadowburn doing about the same damage as Shadow Bolt, but the better geared you get the more effective Shadow Bolt will become while Shadowburn will lag behind. However, it’s always a damage increase to use Shadowburn, even when standing still, so don’t hesitate to use it as long as you have enough Soul Shards stacked up.
If you are interested in knowing how much your spells benefit from your +Spell Power items here are the spell coefficients:
Corruption – 1 (1/6 per tick) Hellfire – 1/3 (1/45 per tick)
Hellfire – 1/3 (1/45 per tick)
CoA – 1 (0.0565 per tick for the first 4 ticks, 0.0835 for the next 4, 0.11 for the last 4)
Rain of Fire – 1/3 (1/12 per tick)
Life Tap – 0.8
Shadow Bolt – 6/7
Drain Soul – 0.5 (0.1 per tick)
Searing Pain – 3/7
Drain Life – 0.5 (0.1 per tick)
Soul Fire – 1
Curse of Doom – 1
Shadowburn – 3/7
Siphon Life – 0.5 (0.05 per tick)
Immolate – 0.2 for the initial damage, 0.65 for the DoT (0.13 per tick)
Death Coil – 3/14
Conflagrate – 3/7
Dark Pact – 0
Lastly, make sure to hand out Healthstones to people who need them and put some effort into Soulstoning healers. And as an SM/Ruin Warlock focus on positioning your Imp correctly so the tank gets the Blood Pact buff, that’s (one of the) main reasons you are in the raid in the first place.
Which items to gather pre-raid is highly dependant on which patch you play on so it is impossible to compile a perfect Warlock pre-raid BiS list. In the spoiler below there’s a list including all the best non-raid items from patch 1.12, which means that the some of these items might not be acquirable on your server. And even if they are, they might not yet have the same stats as in patch 1.12. Before you start the search for these items make sure that they are actually in the game so you don’t waste your time looking for non-existing equipment.
On-use-Trinkets are often times very underrated compared to the ones passively giving stats. The reason for this is that it’s very comfortable to calculate Trinket damage in a vacuum. For example: The MC Trinket “Talisman of Ephemeral Power” gives you an extra 175 Spell power for 15 seconds, and has a 90 second cooldown. One way to calculate the overall worth of this item is to see that this trinket is active 1/6th of the time and gives 175 Spell Power so all you have to do to understand the usefulness of this Trinket is to divide 175 by 6. 175/6 = 29 Spell Power. So it’s as good as the Trinket “Briarwood Reed” then, as it also gives 29 Spell Power?
That’s not a realistic way to calculate the value of an On-Use Trinket. There are two main reasons for this:
The trinket will most likely be on cooldown even after the fight ends. If we take the MC Trinket I mentioned above as an example again, any time the fight is not exactly (N * 90s) you will get more DPS out of the trinket than you “should”. For example, if the fight is 2 minutes long you get to use the trinket twice over a 120 second period. 120/(2*15) = 1/4. 1/4 multiplied by 175 is 43,75. That makes the Trinket a clear upgrade from the Briarwood Reed 29 Spell Power Trinket. And if the fight is only 15 seconds long the Trinket gave you 175 Spell Power flat over the entire fight. Any cooldown left on your Trinket when the fight is over is a DPS increase.
When you fight a boss you don’t cast Shadow Bolt the entire time. You move around, you hide, you Life Tap or alt tab to check out some girl on Instagram. Assuming you are a decent player you only use the Trinket when you know the next 15 or 20 seconds will be spent Shadowbolting the boss, so when you later have to run to the other side of the room your Trinket cooldown is ticking down. If you play an encounter like the Four Horsemen where you dps a boss ~half of the time then your on-use Trinkets becomes twice as effective since you use them twice as much per second that you are actually dpsing. This way, your trinket becomes more effective the smarter you use it.
Don’t treat Active Trinket-effects as if they were in a vacuum. There are very few times you shouldn’t have an on-use-Trinket equipped assuming you looted Talisman of Ephemeral Power or the Zul’Gurub trinket Zandalarian Hero Charm.
In later vanilla patches there is a stat called “Decreases the magical resistances of your spell targets by XX” (also called “Spell Penetration” or “Spell Pen”) which shows up on several Ahn’Qiraj and Naxxramas item pieces. Curse of Shadows reduces the Shadow Resistances of your target by 75, but if the boss you are fighting has more Shadow Res than that then further Spell Pen is very useful. For every 1 point of Resistance your target has there’s a 0,25% chance it resists your spellcasts. If it’s a non-binary spell (Shadow Bolt for example) then the average resisted damage is 0,25%, and if it’s a binary spell (Fear for example) there’s instead a 0,25% chance the spell is completely resisted. An item with 10 Spell Pen is therefore worth almost as much as an item with 2,5% hit (assuming your target has any resistances to remove in the first place, otherwise it’s useless). It’s important to note that when you miss a spell it says “Resist”. If your target would have completely resisted your spell with actual Shadow Resistance it also says “Resist”. So you can’t know for sure if they resisted because you lacked Hit% or Spell Pen.
The amount of resistance on bosses differ a lot depending on which server you play on, on Feenix server no boss had more than 70 SR (which means that resistance penetration is useless as CoS covers 75) but on VanillaGaming many bosses has as much as 145 SR. Elysium seems to be in the middle, and we don’t yet know what the state will be on CF. It’s therefore hard to say how much resistance penetration you need and you will have to do some research yourself. More information for the curious: Spell Penetration Guide
World Buffs are a big part of vanilla raiding and one of the reasons the game world feels so alive. Pre-TBC there are several long-duration buffs you can (and should!) gather prior to a raid in order to maximize your raid performance. These buffs are usually gotten far out in the world but their long duration (usually 2 hours) gives you enough time to travel to the raid instance. World Buffs give you increased survivability, movement speed and/or damage. Unfortunately they don’t last past death so you will have to avoid world PvP as much as possible after getting them, which can be a challenge on highly populated servers. World Buffs also forces you to play very safe in raids, I’d for example highly recommend saving your potion cooldown for Limited Invulnerability Potion or Protection/HP Potions instead of spending it on a Mana Potion as the safety of keeping your World Buffs is worth a lot. Dieing early on in a raid doesn’t only lose you damage on that fight, but it also lowers your damage on future bossfights as you’re now without World Buffs. Here’s a list of the most important World Buffs for Warlocks:
Rallying Cry of the Dragonslayer
Rallying Cry of the Dragonslayer (a.k.a. Head-buff) is an AoE-buff that’s gained from turning in the Onyxia or Nefarian head in Stormwind or Orgrimmar. This World Buff is usually planned by the guild beforehand (“We are popping head at 19:30”) and buffs everybody in a large area (SW/OG Gates) for two hours. It’s one of the buffs that’s leechable and infinite so if another guild is using it you can just show up and get it for no effort. This is one of the more powerful World Buffs and benefits Warlocks a lot.
Spirit of Zandalar
Spirit of Zandalar (a.k.a Heart-buff) is another AoE-buff that’s gained from turning in the Heart of Hakkar at Yojamba Isle in STV. It’s also a leechable AoE-buff that’s usually planned by the guild beforehand (“We are popping heart at 19:20”). Yojamba Isle is far from civilization but it’s the only world buff that lasts through death (up until patch 1.10, at least). Usually this is the first guild buff to be used before a mage opens a portal to SW/OG for the head-buff. Warlocks benefits from this buff the least of all classes as our dps isn’t very dependant on stats but 10% movement speed and 15% extra Intellect and Stamina is still a big deal.
At Yojamba Isle you also have the chance to gain the Spirit of Zanza potion from Rin’wosho the Trader. Bring some ZG Coins or Bijous to exchange for Zandalar Honor Token, it’s the currency used by the Zandalar trolls. Buy one Zanza, use it, then buy another one (They are unique so you can only have one in your inventory at a time). There are three Zanzas to choose from but the +50 stamina/spirit one is superior by far.
Sayge’s Dark Fortune of Damange
The Darkmoon Faire (DMF) buff is not always available but very strong if you can get hold of it. Talk to Sayge who is part of the Darkmoon Caravan outside Stormwind or Mulgore and choose the first option twice for a 2 hour +1% to +10% damage buff. You can also choose +X% Stamina or other stat increases (see here).
The Dire Maul (DM) buffs are different than the ones above as it requires you to do a Dire Maul North Tribute run before you can gather them. By avoiding to kill some of the bosses in the instance you not only gain better loot at the end but you also get the opportunity to talk to the unkilled bosses for buffs. Usually you have five people from the guild clear the instance so that the rest of the raid can run in afterwards to get the buffs for ‘free’. Note that you can only be 5 people inside the instance at a time, if someone tries to be the 6th person to enter they will get teleported to stonetalon mountains so always make sure you are next in line before entering. These buffs aren’t as gamechanging as the Head/Heart buffs mentioned above, at least not for casters, but worth the time if you have it or were going to play DM anyway.
After gaining the (de)buff from the end of the instance which makes the ogres friendly you also have the ability to speak to Stomper Kreeg near the start of the instance, he sells Gordok Green Grog if you can’t afford the better but more expensive Rumsey Rum Black Label.
The Songflower (Felwood) buff is gained from Corrupted Songflowers in Felwood. By turning in Corrupted Soul Shards or certain profession materials (Enchanting, Herbalism, Mining or Skinning) you gain Cenarion Plant Salves that are used to cleanse Songflowers for the Songflower Serenade buff. The buff only lasts an hour and you have to go to Felwood for it, but 5% Crit chance is a decent damage increase. Stack up on plant salves beforehand and make sure to stay logged out until raidstart in order to save the buff for as long as possible.
These World Buffs are the important ones to know about as a Warlock even if there are many more. For example; Warchief’s Blessing and the Blasted Lands buffs are mainly for melee classes so casters only have to care about the ones mentioned above, even when raiding with a hardcore guild. My recommendation is to be part of the Onyxia/Nefarian Head and Hakkar Heart buffs if your guild gets them, and grab the DMF buff if the caravan is close to one of your cities. If you really want to churn out that extra dps and got a lot of extra time before raidstart then the Dire Maul/Songflower buffs are decent damage boosts. But remember, if you die on the way to the instance or to an early trash pack then all your work was for nothing.
Tanking Twin Emperors (AQ40)
In The Temple of Ahn’Qiraj there is a specific encounter called the Twin Emperors, which is a fight that 2 Warlocks in the guild have to prepare for. The bossfight consists of two bosses; Emperor Vek’lor and Emperor Vek’nilash. Vek’Nilash is immune to all spell damage and Vek’lor is immune to all melee damage which means that a “normal” tank cannot tank Vek’lor, you have to have a spellcaster doing it. Vek’lor casts Shadow Bolts on its target so a lot of Shadow Resistance is needed for the caster tank, and since Warlocks has an easy time resisting Shadow damage and causing threat it’s the best class choice for that role.
The one tricky part with this encounter is that the two bosses cannot be close to each other during the fight since they heal very quickly if they are within a certain distance of each other. The other tricky part is that they switch positions every 30 seconds. Vek’lor teleports to Vek’nilash’s position and the other way around. This means that you need to have a Warrior tank and a Warlock tank on each side of the room (so 4 tanks in total, two of them Warlocks). Before I explain the fight in detail I’ll go through the gear needed for it.
The Shadow resistance cap is 300 and it’s highly recommended to reach it for this boss as all the damage done by the spellcasting boss is by Shadow Bolts. The buffs Mark of the Wild, Prayer of Shadow Protection and Demon armor gives you like a hundred Shadow Resistance so you need ~200 Shadow Resistance from gear. Optional: You can also respec into MD/Ruin (0/30/21) and summon a Felhunter which passively gives you +60 to all resistances.
I listed the best Twin tanking gear below. If you get them all you will end up with more SR than needed, so prioritize the ones you can get and use your best damage gear for the other slots as damage is obviously important for keeping threat.
Bring any +Stamina consumables you can and pre-pop a Greater Frost Protection Potion (against the blizzards). If you are the one pulling the boss then just run up to Vek’lor, pop Shadow Ward, cast Corruption and spam Searing Pain until the bosses switch positions. Avoid Blizzards as well as you can, they do a lot of damage so if you get targeted by one don’t just keep casting. After that keep track of the timers. Every 30 seconds the caster and the melee boss switches sides, so you have to be ready to pick up the caster boss (if he’ll be on your side) as soon as the teleport happens. Right before the switch stand as close to the melee boss as you can (right below him). Instantly after the switch you Shadowburn the boss and start to run away from him while dotting him. The caster boss does an AoE knockback so make sure to create some distance from the boss. When you are ~25 yards away from the boss start spamming Searing Pain to cause as much threat as possible. Keep spamming and avoid any blizzards. Do this until your 30 seconds of fame is over and the melee boss appears on your side. Now take your time to Life Tap to full mana and use Shadow Ward until the next teleport, and then do the same thing again. Repeat until the boss is dead.
Remember that if the bosses are awkwardly positioned it is not your job to move them. Since the caster boss has a long range spellcast it’s very hard to move the boss to where you want it and it’s usually much better to just keep aggro until the switch happens and let the Warrior tank move the boss to where it should be standing. Practice makes perfect, this is a boss fight that’s hard to explain on paper so you have to do it yourself a couple times to actually understand what’s going on. But I hope I gave you enough information about the encounter to make you ready to try it. If you are still unsure on some aspects of the fight just ask me in the thread and I’ll explain it better for you.
Shoutouts to Dhorn, Disingenuous, Rohbar, Oxyda for the knowledge and my old guild <The Argent Crusade> for the good times