Warlock Tanking Overview (Video and Written)

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    TL;DR: This isn't about Voidwalker tanks or Affliction Warlocks Life Drain-tanking or the Twin Emperors Ahn-Qiraj fight specifically. This is about Demonology and Destruction Warlocks tanking general PvE group content. Warlocks tank enemies by spamming Searing Pain, it's really difficult until level 40, and even then it's pretty hard if you don't have a Paladin in your group and/or a specific pair of PvP gloves(known as the Dreadweave Gloves) which you can only get at level 58. But with the right type of gear and the right kind of talents, Warlocks can tank all the way up to and including raid bosses.

    /End TL;DR

    Before I get into it, I have to give a big shoutout to Caperfin who taught me almost everything I know about Warlock tanking. He makes Youtube videos and has a Twitch stream both focusing a lot on the lesser-known aspects of WoW. He has an absolutely extensive written guide to Warlock tanking that you can find here, and he's got a lot more videos and written guides both in the pipe. Please subscribe to him, he's awesome.

    DISCLAIMER: This video is heavily focused on Dungeons and Raids, and I won't comment on Solo or PvP usage (although this spec does have some unique applications there).

    DISCLAIMER: Warlock tanking is going to be really difficult for Horde Warlocks because they lack access to the Paladin's "Concentration Aura".

    DISCLAIMER: The exact formula for spell pushback is unknown, so we don't know exactly how much harder it is for Hordelocks or those without a Pally in the group to tank, but we do know that, with a Paladin, you can completely nullify spell pushback anyway.

    DISCLAIMER: I'm not going to be the judge on whether a Warlock tank is better or worse than any other tank class or spec, partially because it's been tested mostly on private servers so far. What I am going to do is lay out the facts, and I'll get to testing it myself across the entire spectrum, from levels 15 to 60, when Classic launches. I'll make a new video at that point.
    /End Disclaimers

    Anyone can tank. Not everyone should.

    There are 2 primary things that influence how well a character tanks. First is Gaining Threat, second is Mitigating Damage. You can get all the threat in the world, but if you die in one shot, you are a bad tank. You can take all the hits in the world, but if you can't gain aggro or keep threat, you are a bad tank.

    So how can a Warlock uniquely solve these 2 problems of offense and defense to become a good tank?

    Well let's check out Threat first, because that's more fun! And fire! Fire is fun!

    Gaining Threat

    Any damage-dealer or healer can steal aggro from the main tank, but how does a Warlock consistently keep that aggro?
    Well, Warlocks have this one ability called Searing Pain that has some fine print on it that reads: "Causes a high amount of threat". That "high amount of threat" subtext means a whole lot. Searing Pain actually generates twice the threat of a normal damaging ability. So if a Fireball hits for 500 damage it'll generate 500 threat, but a Searing Pain hitting for 500 damage will generate 1000 threat! (Fire Warlocks are said to be bad for PvE in a damage role because they generate "more threat than the Main Tank", but that same weakness is suddenly our greatest strength.) Searing Pain also has no cooldown, so you can spam this thing until you run out of mana.

    So if one is casting spells to gain threat, that means they get spell pushbacked from taking damage and subsequently can't cast spells as fast. Spell pushback was pretty harsh in Vanilla. This is the biggest hurdle so far, because spell pushback kills your threat generation more than most factors.

    There are 2 ways to reduce spell pushback, and if combined, you can just barely reach 100% spell pushback reduction, completely nullfying the problem. The first reduction comes from the Paladin's Concentration Aura. Yes, that prevents Horde from getting there, but some Hordelocks have attempted tanking on private servers by timing their casts of Searing Pain in between enemy attacks. However, that tactic only works well when you're tanking a single target. You also have the Sacrifice option on your Voidwalker, which (as long as it holds) will prevent spell pushback from taking damage, and the same goes for a Power Word: Shield that's tossed your way or the Uther's Strength trinket proc, but those applications are each somewhat limited. So moving forward, we're going to assume Alliance, and leave the Horde to fight their uphill battle.

    A Paladin's Concentration Aura gives 35% spell pushback reduction, which can be increased to 50% through talents. Then there are these level 58 PvP gloves with the unique effect of granting specifically only Searing Pain 50% spell pushback reduction. 50% + 50% = 100% spell pushback reduction, which means you'll be casting Searing Pain while getting wailed on as if you weren't getting hit at all. You can also mix and match these along the way to varying effectiveness: If you add in the gloves on top of an untalented Concentration Aura, you get 85% pushback reduction for example. I don't know the exact equation for threat decreases at the 3 different levels of pushback reduction and against different numbers of enemies, but when I find it out I'll link it here.

    AoE damage is also accessible by Warlocks, and they have access to the "Intensity" talent which gives their 2 Area-of-Effect damage abilities (Rain of Fire and Hellfire) 70% pushback reduction. Both of these spells are channeled, so you only need the Paladin with the untalented Concentration Aura to get up to 100% pushback reduction. Beyond that I don't have much information on the Warlock's AoE tanking capability, though the full story is probably a bit too much information for one video at any rate. Come Classic I'll try to expand on that in the full guide.

    Also, you can cast Shadowburn or Death Coil (which are both instant-cast damaging abilities) if you need fast threat NOW or want to deal damage on the move. Death Coil does have a built-in heal and a Fear effect, but many enemies you face will be immune to Fear anyway so that makes things more controllable.

    Mitigating Damage

    Alright, moving on now to Damage Mitigation, the other half of the puzzle. A Warlock has crap armor but more health than most other classes, assuming they take the super early talent "Demonic Embrace" that increases their stamina by 15%. That means that they'll take more hits to go down, but the pressure on the healer or healers is going to be significantly greater than with high-armor tanks. Some will be unable to keep up healing the massive incoming damage, and that's when you die.

    However, Demonology Warlocks do get access to a level 39 talent called "Master Demonologist", which (as long as you have a Voidwalker summoned) gives you 10% physical damage resistance. This is a really big deal, and is one of the primary enablers of lock tanking. It's the equivalent of several thousand armor points, and combining that with your Demon Armor and a Stoneshield potion and you'll be taking a ton less damage than any other Warlock.

    On a side-note, if the damage you're taking is mostly magical, you can summon a Felhunter instead of a Voidwalker, which increases all your resistances by 60 instead of the physical damage resistance.

    But the thing that sets the Warlock apart from all other tanks comes with Soul Link at level 40, which makes your pet take 30% of all damage going your way instead of you. Not only does this increase your effective health pool by a very large amount thanks to the Voidwalker's large base health, it also means that you basically have 2 health pools. You're able to benefit from 2 of the same heal-over-time spell instead of just one (such as a Priest's Renew or a Druid's Rejuvenation), partially making up for the mana inefficiency required to heal you in the first place. You do have to make sure your voidwalker isn't getting hit by AoE damage though, because then you're taking double the damage that a normal tank would.

    You can also use "Demonic Sacrifice" (as opposed to a regular Sacrifice) on your Voidwalker to obtain a buff that regenerates almost 1% of your health every second. This healing effect also produces threat, but healing only grants half the threat as regular damage. If your health pool gets really massive, Sacrificing your Voidwalker might make sense in some circumstances. Just remember, you'll be missing out on the 3% damage buff as well as the 10% physical damage resistance from your pet-based talents. You also lose access to the regular Sacrifice ability from your Voidwalker which is a nice "Oh crap!" button, and in those situations when your pet would be hitting something and doing an extra bit of dps, well, now he ain't. Just to give a reference, if you have 10,000 health and use Demonic Sacrifice on your Voidwalker, you'll regenerate an average of 75 health every second. This generates an average of 32 threat every second. So yeah, kind of underwhelming, but it's there.


    When it comes to talents, you're gonna want to focus on either boosting Searing Pain damage OR making yourself harder to kill. Soul Link is very strong for tanking, so along the way you might want to pick up Demonic Embrace, Improved Healthstone, Improved Voidwalker (for the Sacrifice buff), Fel Stamina, and Master Demonologist. These all benefit your survivability. You can't make it all the way to Soul Link with just those though, so you've got a few other spending options. Fel Domination and Master Summoner are very nice gap-fillers because they let you Sacrifice your Voidwalker for the bubble (especially if he's already low on life) and then re-summon him right away. This tactic also acts as a full heal on your second health pool without pressuring your healer.

    After that, going into Destruction gives you a couple handy dandies like Cataclysm, but we're really here for stuff like Devastation, Improved Searing Pain, and maybe Shadowburn or Intensity. If you think you're tough enough without your Soul Link, then an alternate "super-heavy threat" build might include going all the way up to Ruin and maybe even Emberstorm (+10% threat generation sounds pretty good to me!), although that's a very risky and squishy build.


    So in the gear department you're gonna want tons of Armor and Stamina. Armor is difficult to bump upwards in numbers without a Stoneshield Potion or Mark of the Wild or other consumables and buffs, but there are a few cloth pieces here and there that have above-average armor. Take the Necro-Knight's Garb for example, which has more armor than most Leather chest pieces. Or the Ironweave set. There are also some Trinkets, Rings, Swords and Staves here and there that have +armor on them.

    Agility grants you armor too, but is hard to come by for a caster. The only Cloth-specific gear that has Agility are random Greens, so the only items you're looking at to fill the void are your cloak, 2 rings and a neck piece.

    If you want more threat, just equip some more +spell damage or +fire damage pieces. Unfortunately, Searing Pain only benefits from 42% of spell damage bonuses (compare to Shadow Bolt which benefits from 85%). If you're having mana issues, swap out for more Intellect. And if you're going up against a magic damage boss, pump up that stamina and magic resist.

    Fun Facts & Tips

    If you can get some really really really tanky gear, you can use Demonic Sacrifice on an Imp to increase your personal threat generation (the Demonic Sacrifice will grant you 15% increased Fire damage).

    Warlocks have a chance to Dodge incoming attacks just like other tanks, but casting spells prevents you from dodging. So really, they don't have any of the regular mitigation abilites that normal tanks do - they can't block or parry, and most of the time they can't dodge. The Defense stat still increases the chance for an enemy to miss a Warlock though, but similarly to agility, there are no cloth items that provide Defense.

    The PvP gloves that grant pushback reduction for Searing Pain require PvP Rank 7 (which is "Knight Lieutenant" for the Alliance, and "Blood Guard" for the Horde). This means they aren't available at the launch of Classic WoW but will become available whenever Blizzard decides "phase 2" will begin. However, if you'd prefer to go into battlegrounds for ranking up in PvP, you'll have to wait until "phase 3", which is when Warsong Gulch and Alterac Valley are supposed to open up. The gloves are purchasable with gold.

    Your Voidwalker should normally just be using his basic attack for a little extra dps when there isn't any AoE damage to worry about. He can be sent to grab attention from a mob or two on his own as an off-tank, but it'll probably be an uphill battle to gain aggro unless you have him start building threat specifically from the start of a fight.

    Tanklocks do have a hard time when more than one mob runs away to attack your buddies, as their Searing Pain is single-target. They also have no hard Taunt abilities like they had in Wrath of the Lich King, which means that losing aggro is far more dangerous than with other tanks because it'll take a few seconds for the lock to re-establish themselves at the top of the threat list. Not to mention, if you're at a range from your target you need to apply even more threat than normal to re-acquire aggro.

    When clearing small groups of enemies, it may be beneficial to open up on all mobs with Curse of Agony before anything, so that the healer doesn't immediately gain aggro with the first heal. From there, you can Searing Pain each focus target down until everything's dead. Depending on your talents, positioning, and the enemies facing you, Hellfire or Rain of Fire might be a valid consideration (to establish your threat faster than the curse), although neither of these spells scale well with spell damage. And of course, Hellfire will deal damage to you as well, which makes things harder on your healer.

    Soul Fire is a good choice to start a fight or pull with, because it builds up a large amount of single-target threat via damage up-front.

    Howl of Terror is a decent "We're getting swamped and are all gonna die anyway" button, because it's mass crowd control - yet very uncontrollable. If you're lucky, it might save the group. If you're unlucky, you'll pull more mobs which will lead to your deaths anyway. If you're taking too many hits to cast it because of spell pushback, you can Sacrifice your Voidwalker before casting.

    And yes, when you're not doing any of the above in a fight, just spamming Searing Pain usually nets you the most threat output.

    Because most of your threat comes from Fire damage, don't try tanking Fire-resistant enemies until you get enough Spell Penetration gear.

    And that's it for now! Thank you so much for reading. If you have any questions, ask away!

    About the Author

    I make videos about the lesser-known ways you can play the 9 classes of Classic World of Warcraft. I'm also a big fan of level 19 twinking. If you would like a video made about something, feel free to let me know!


  • Druid Horde Partner

    The flexibility here makes this a very fun concept. Demonic Sacrifice and Master Demonologist provide so many options for different situations.

    Even if you don't main tank dungeons with this, the build is so similar to your regular raiding or PvP builds that you can selectively tank in dungeons like taking on caster mobs from a pack, or caster-type bosses. Especially since throwing on some resistance gear against an enemy that mainly deals spell damage gives you just as much base mitigation as other tanks because armor doesn't matter. Defensive Stance gives 10% mitigation against spells, but Soul Link takes the heat off you by 30%. Could be highly useful for speed runs and other challenges. For example you can run timed Baron runs for the mount after you all are Naxx geared, with a very geared warlock tank and a geared healer able to keep them up, clearing AOE packs super fast.

  • Founder Shaman Horde

    Love it! Great job @GideonAI!

  • @Phayge said in Warlock Tanking Overview (Video and Written):

    Defensive Stance gives 10% mitigation against spells, but Soul Link takes the heat off you by 30%.

    I'd like to ward people away from looking at it this way. With Soul Link, your Voidwalker/Felhunter acts more like an extension of your life total - if he dies, you lose that 30% "damage reduction". If he goes low in health, he needs to get some heals just like anyone else or you lose both the Soul Link +3% damage bonus and the Master Demonologist damage resistance.