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Blood Pact: Of spells and bad metaphors

Nick Whelan

A shaving of pencil lead, bark of a dead tree, the ashes of one of Kafka's short stories, bound together with a drop of writer's blood. Set it aflame, and the pact is forged! Let all who are bound by this Blood Pact be forever cursed to reconsider content distribution! Also, here's the Warlock column!

Ah, mid June. That blissful period between the end of finals, and Blizzard answering my questions. Time to sit back, unwind, and get back into my gaming and my writing. However, since I didn't spend much time in WoW during this past finals week, I found myself lacking inspiration. So, as I am wont to do now and again, I spent some time perusing the writings of my class columnist colleagues, hoping to happen upon some inspiration. And as it turned out, I stumbled across a gem of a post from the gentlemanly fellow over at Arcane Brilliance. He really is a rather dapper chap.

Sadly, I am particularly ill-suited to write a post on useless Warlock spells. You see, I have a dark and terrible secret. And not just the ones that come standard issue for all card-carrying Warlocks: this is a truly dire bit of personal arcana which I am mortified to admit in public... but here goes: I am a spell pack-rat. I use action bar supplementing addons just so I can keep every single spell or ability I've ever acquired somewhere on my screen. If my raid leader demanded that I ride my felsteed around in eleven circles, then dismount and dizzily cast a rotation made up entirely of Curse of Weakness and WANDING, then I wouldn't even need to open my spell book. Might need to find a new raid leader, but at least I wouldn't be unprepared.

Given my unseemly disability, I've decided that rather than directly emulating my esteemed counterpart, I'll simply write a column from the opposite perspective! Many spells in a Warlock's arsenal are unduly maligned as "useless" by mobs of rampaging children demanding to be buffed. It's downright unfair to call these spells useless when in fact they are only (if you'll forgive my overused joke) usefulness challenged.

The Warlock's spell book is a tool box. Some tools are needed for every project, large or small. Shadow Bolt is the hammer, Curse of Agony is the screwdriver, and demons are the various sizes of handsaw. Actually... wait, maybe it would be better if Curse of Agony was the hammer -- since it hits over and over. Shadow Bolts can be the nails. I guess the screwdriver is... Corruption? Or perhaps Corruption can be a flat-head screwdriver, while Unstable Affliction is the Philips head screwdriver, and Seed of Corruption is the electric drill!

Actually, that part of the metaphor isn't all that important. The important part of the metaphor is that in the bottom of the toolbox is a whole bunch of really weird looking tools that you never get to use. Your dad probably gave them to you in the hopes that someday you'd stop playing video games and start doing manly things instead. However these tools ended up in your possession, though, one thing remains certain: they look FUN to play with. So clearly the only thing to do is come up with a series of ill-conceived reasons to use these tools, until somebody loses an eye.

Alright, putting away the toolbox metaphor now.

First out of the box is Demonic Circle. 'Lock blink gets a lot of use in PvP, but I hear too many of my brother 'locks complain that it's only good in PvP. This is not even a little bit true! All you have to do is glance at any four random entries in one of the two guides I wrote for Naxx bosses to see that this spell can be put to any variety of creative uses which will make boss fights a great deal easier for players without best in slot gear. Demonic Circle isn't going to find its way into a casting rotation, but it can result in a DPS increase if you know how to use it. Though now that I think about it, I would love to see a casting rotation that actually did include Demonic Circle.

I think the basis of most Warlock's misevaluation of Demonic Circle is based on the linear thinking WoW forces a player into. Not that linear thinking is always a bad thing, but it won't help you with using a meta-damage spell like Demonic Circle. For Warlocks, pretty much every PvE challenge depends on the player knowing two things:
  1. How to dish out damage in their chosen spec.
  2. Which hoops to jump through for whatever fight they're in.
That's it. On any given fight, if you know those two things, you can be a valuable, or even exceptional, member of the group. But playing the game that way just feels like playing with a spreadsheet to me. It's like turning endgame into a glorified quick time event. Utility spells, and knowing how to use them, goes a long way towards improving performance and spicing up gameplay.

So where does Demonic Circle come up in wandering chain of tangential scribbles that hopefully leads to a point? Well, pretty much any boss fight that isn't a simple tank n' spank involves at least a little running around. But time spent running around is time that is not spent casting Shadow Bolt. So if you can shave a few seconds off of your running time every 30 seconds by teleporting rather than stressing your weak, spindly, spellcaster legs, then you've managed to improve your DPS by a bit. That bit of DPS may not be much. It may not even make any discernible difference in your group's ability to bring the boss down. But accolades and glory aren't why we strive for better DPS. We strive for better DPS because straining for a couple extra points of damage makes the game more challenging, ergo more fun.

Hellfire is the next item in our Warlock toolbox. While rarely a good choice when engaged in an encounter aimed at your level bracket, a crafty Warlock always remembers to keep this spell in mind for other situations. Perhaps the most well known trick with Hellfire is that it won't stop causing damage to the caster mid-cast, regardless of HP. Which means that Warlocks actually have the ability to kill themselves without requiring enemies, or environmental conveniences in order to pull it off. That makes us something of a rarity, and allows us to get away with tricky things such as killing ourselves on one side of a door, running through the door while making our corpse run, then rezing on the other side of the door. It's the 'lock key!

Hellfire is also the fastest acting AoE spell Warlocks have available to them without a cooldown. It ticks once every 2 seconds, and doesn't require a targeting reticule the way Rain of Fire does. So when I'm running a buddy through a low level instance, Hellfire is my favorite method of getting stray mobs off of him in a rush. And it actually remains effective against relatively high level encounters, so long as you're significantly overleveled. For example, I remember a few years back when I was trying to two-man Scholomance with a Warlock pal of mine. When we get to Lorekeeper Polkeit she says "Hey, Nick, lets just sacrifice our voidwalkers and Hellfire the room to death."

Actually, now that I think about it, that didn't turn out too well...

The last Warlock spell most people would consider underrated is probably Death Coil. Death Coil is one of the reasons Warlocks were, in ages past, one of the most hated of PvP opponents, and with good reason. The damage is decent, it heals for a remarkably large chunk of health, and it makes our foes wet themselves to boot! Despite all of that, however, I almost never see other Warlocks using this spell in level 80 PvE.

To be fair, maybe it's because the groups I run with are good enough that casting Death Coil is rarely needed. But I've seen an epic'd-out healer let the tank die on the second pull in Heroic Utgarde Keep, so I somewhat doubt it. I think it has more to do with the fact that most Warlocks don't spend any time thinking about Death Coil's utility outside of PvP -- not to mention the taboo on causing fear effects within an instance. But I hold that Death Coil is one of the best bits of combat utility a Warlock has at their disposal! Imagine the setting: a Warlock is doing the daily heroic with a PUG, and the green-laden tank can't seem to hold aggro off of the healer. Death Coil is an instant "save the healer from a rampaging mob" card. If the tank manages to get aggro back before the brief fear wears off, then our Warlock has earned himself the title of "savior of the party."

Further imagine, if you will, an hour or so later. The same group has finally gotten themselves together after two wipes, and an unannounced sandwich break, to attempt the final boss. This is the guy that drops your quest item, so if you want that 24 gold (which by now will cover half your repairs) then you need to unleash the DPS within. But the epic'd out healer refuses to debase himself by healing any damage caused by a Life Tap. Guess good really doesn't pay. So once our Warlock has Life Tapped a bit, he throws a Death Coil at the boss to instantly return a nice little chunk of HP. If the healers won't do their jobs, we'll do it ourselves.

Lastly is Unending Breath, which has served as a good luck charm for my raiding buddies and I since we first started grouping up to farm Heroic Mechanar. Nary a wipe goes by that isn't blamed on my terrible rebuffing skills. Unending Breath does actually have a small number of uses though. Throwing it on a class with buffs that are actually beneficial will often get you repaid with Fortitude, Kings, Thorns, or any number of other buffs. I also like to use it in PUGs, either as an ice breaker (every single group has one guy that makes a joke about the dangers of drowning inside an instance,) or as a subtle way of reminding lazy Paladins to buff.

In closing, I think it's worth pointing out just how much this list has changed in the last year or so. If I had written this post last June, I'm sure I'd be struggling to find uses for Firestone. Or perhaps extolling the virtues of using Ritual of Doom when people ask for a Soul Well. Blizzard has made huge strides towards eliminating useless spells for Warlocks. And while I'll always miss the days when I could trick people into playing Healthstone Roulette, these changes have largely been for the better.

Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing dots, demons, and all the dastardly deeds done by Warlocks. If you like thinking about Warlock spells in a variety of different ways, then check out last week's post: Spelling Test. Or, if you'd like to read more PvE style information, then check out the recent Blood Pact in which I explored the Destruction tree.

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