With the overhaul to the warlock class coming in Mists of Pandaria, guildmates and friends have been wondering whether to revive old warlocks or not. Those without warlocks on their character screens have been asking the age-old question: Should I level one now or wait until the expansion hits?
Unless you're particularly masochistic about your leveling, my advice is to wait. Here's why.
Cataclysm: Broken world and broken leveling
Cataclysm took Wrath's talent trees of 11 tiers deep and compacted them into seven-tier trees. The idea was to simplify instead of adding another couple of tiers onto already unwieldy talent trees.
Some talents were baked into the spec as passives. Some talents were combined: Dark Arts buffs all the base pets that are used in endgame content (Felhunter, Felguard, and Imp), where in Wrath, there were four different talents to pick up to buff pet damage. Others were moved into the spellbook proper; for example, all of the spells you get for choosing a warlock spec used to be talents. Some talents are still there as they were, but in different spots -- Shadow and Flame used to be deep into the destruction tree, but now it's reachable for both affliction and demonology.
It's well known that the balancing and development focus is at endgame, not at the leveling range, but the warlocks are just a complete mess now in Cataclysm.
Destruction's tree is a good example of how flipped around the leveling process can be in Cataclysm. You learn Soul Fire at level 20 but don't get a compelling reason to use it until 29, and it's yet another 28 levels before your imp can help you out on the most frustrating buff to keep up. Destro 'locks spend a good portion of points buffing Incinerate, the filler spell, a spell they don't learn until they've almost hit the bottom of the talent tree.
The Infernal and the Doomguard share a cooldown, because they're similar DPS cooldowns, but you get the Infernal eight levels before the Doomguard. Demon Armor is used up until level 62 when we finally see Fel Armor. Affliction 'locks can talent into using Soulburn on Seed of Corruption at level 49, but they don't actually see the AoE itself until level 72.
That's just crazy.
You may or may not agree with the one-tab layout of the Mists of Pandaria spellbook, but the spell structure for warlocks will be a lot better that before.
The first big improvement to the structure of spells was eliminating the overlap between all the specs. Some players thought that completely new specs would require more learning to master and it would just turn into a giant headache trying to dual spec as a warlock. But it's a good thing for balance, I swear.
On early beta, Soul Fire was a spell for both destruction and demonology warlocks. This was a bad idea, since it was shaping up to be destruction's major nuke spell while it was demonology's execution spell. Execute spells are based around the fact that you're not supposed to be using one above 20% or so. It's not a good idea to then use the same spell as one spec's resource finisher.
So Blizzard renamed Soul Fire for destro 'locks to Chaos Bolt. That's all they did; if you logged onto the beta right away, the spell still behaved exactly like the old beta destruction Soul Fire did. All it had was a different name (and a cooler graphic). Today in the MoP beta, only Corruption is shared between two specs, and demonology only uses it outside of Metamorphosis.
That's a big victory for warlocks. Now, each spec can finally be balanced around its own needs and wants rather than always looking out for how that other spec could possibly use it.
The point of leveling is to get to endgame, but moreover, the point of leveling is to learn your class and spec. Learning how to play your spec isn't just about asking you to play 52 pickup with your spellbook. The game has a little structured learning going on if you pay attention.
You enter Azeroth as a brand new warlock with your racial abilities, an Imp guardian with the Summon: Imp spell, and Shadow Bolt. The very next spell you will learn (at level 3) is Corruption. A pet that assists you, at least one nuke, and at least one DoT -- otherwise known as the basest summary you can get of a warlock. Sure, we have utility spells like crowd control or buffs or conjured items. But as far as combat goes, every warlock spec will have at least one DoT, at least one direct damage spell (even if it's channeled), and one pet for assistance in DPS or control.
Another cool leveling upgrade in Mists is that you don't need to return to trainers anymore to train spells. When you ding, if there's empty space on your primary action bar, then the game will slide the new spell onto it. While I will miss revisiting Demisette Cloyce every few levels, it'll be great to learn new spells right there when I'm out in Desolace mid-quest with my hearthstone on cooldown.
But I think the really cool part about the automatic spellbook learning is that for warlocks, certain spells will change for you. You start out with Shadow Bolt, but if you choose destruction at level 10, you'll not only gain Conflagrate, but your Shadow Bolt spell will instantly change into Incinerate. Likewise, a young destro warlock's Corruption will automatically transform into Immolate upon dinging level 12. There will be no question about which spell you're supposed to be using, because spells you're not supposed to be using won't even be available for you.
If you choose demonology at level 10, you gain the secondary resource Demonic Fury right off the bat. It's a little weird at first, since Corruption isn't usable in Metamorphosis but you don't have Doom yet (level 36). But since you have Metamorphosis, you get Demonic Fury.
Affliction gets the floaty Soul Shard graphic at level 10, but isn't allowed to do anything until level 19 when Soulburn arrives. The basic Soulburn only really allows for Drain Life and Summon Demon. That's perfect for around level 20 when the super out-of-combat health regeneration from the baby levels levels out to normal regeneration.
Destruction, on the other hand, doesn't see their new Burning Embers for quite a while. Finally, at level 42 -- also the level for Felguards now -- destro 'locks learn both Burning Embers and Chaos Bolt. Why wait until we're nearly halfway leveled? Think about the resource; in order to spend a Chaos Bolt, a warlock needs to accumulate 10 embers. A warlock goes about this by Immolating a target and casting Incinerates. Mobs simply don't last that long until about the level 40s, chain pulling aside.
In Cataclysm, there's spots in the late 30s and mid-50s where warlocks run dry for spell-learning. The gap can be as big as eight levels if a destruction warlock doesn't take Shadowburn as a talent (then it's "only" seven levels). Also, since more warlock spells are universal in Cataclysm, sometimes it doesn't feel awesome when that level's spell isn't relevant to a warlock's interests. I just got Incinerate at level 64 -- but I'm affliction, so who cares?
In Mists, there's still a patch in the last 30s where newly passive Fel Armor is the only thing tiding a 'lock over from 36 to 42. There's also a patch in the early 70s where the imp's Singe Magic is the only thing. Except for a stretch in the 40s, a warlock player will gain a relevant spell for their spec every five to six levels. Add in talents, passives, and pet abilities, and something's happening at least every three to four levels.
Don't worry about feeling overwhelmed with so many spells; level 10 is when the most things happen at once. After that, warlocks are limited to learning two master spells plus maybe a pet spell at once. Additionally, the multiple spells always go together. For example, Fire and Brimstone and Aftermath both deal with destruction's AoE; meanwhile, Drain Soul and Soulburn both deal with Soul Shards.
So, the conclusion is ...
Wait until Mists to level your new warlock, because while there's no new race combo to roll, the warlock leveling is getting a much-needed upgrade in the new expansion.
Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DoTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. We'll coach you in the fine art of staying alive, help pick the best target for Dark Intent, and steer you through tier 13 set bonuses.