In this post, I’ll cover a warlock’s first six levels, culminating in the acquisition of the most important spell in your arsenal. And no, I don’t mean Drain Mana.
Okay, so you’re starting your career as a warlock. You’ve picked your race, and are playing through your starting zone of choice. To some extent, your goal is to just get through these levels, because (a) there are virtually no interesting gear choices to make, and (b) your playstyle at this point bears very little resemblance to your eventual soloing playstyle (though interestingly, it bears a somewhat greater resemblance to your eventual instancing playstyle, except for, y’know, the tendency to get all stabby with the enemy.)
When you start out at level 1, you have two spells – Demon Skin (your first armor) and Shadow bolt. Put on your armor spell, then forget it for 30 minutes. Shadow Bolt is your core nuking spell. Spam shadowbolt at the mobs to bring them down. Congratulations, you’re now playing at the same level Warlocks who raided 0/21/40 in Burning Crusade did.
At level 2, you get two spells which represent precisely what a warlock is – your first DOT (Damage Over Time spell), and (the quest to obtain) your first minion. Your first DOT is Immolate, a destruction spell that does fire damage over 15 seconds. In being Destruction, and in being fire damage, Immolate is somewhat unusual for a warlock DOT, but a DOT it is nevertheless. Your imp is a tiny,annoying howitzer, who is a premier damage pet (and for Destruction warlocks, remains the primary damage pet all the way to level 80). Plan to use your imp in dungeons for the foreseeable future. You will find these first few levels immensely easier with him alongside, so do the quest to get him as soon as possible.
At level 4, you will gain your second core DOT, Corruption, and your first curse, the Curse of Weakness. You may only cast one Curse on a target at a time, and you will almost never again cast Curse of Weakness after these first few levels, because in very short order, there will be better options. For that matter, you may not want to cast it now, because you’re going to be spending more time drinking these first half dozen levels than you’re going to spend the seventy-four following it (excluding instances). So save your mana, unless you pull more than you can handle, and need to weaken them.
It is no exaggeration to say that at level 6, you get the spell that, more than any other, defines what a warlock is. Shadow priests have DOTs (as do others, but shadow priests have as many as we do). Hunters have pets. Mages have nukes. Paladins, warriors, priests, and hunters have Fears (though we have more, and a wider variety of them). But nobody else has Life Tap, and in having effectively two mana bars, a blue one and a red one, and having (particularly once you get Drain Life at level 14, whereupon the conversion goes the other way as well) the ability to almost-freely move points from one to the other, warlocks are unique. When you truly think of your mana and health bars as interchangeable, just one giant pool of health-mana, and when turning around and playing a priest or a mage brings you up short because you think “converting health to mana…uh…oops…”, you’ll know you’ve truly assimilated to playing a warlock. This is why, in the leadup to patch 3.0, when a rather substantial Life Tap nerf was on the table, warlocks (who have endured many a hit from the nerf bat relatively stoically) went absolutely ballistic. Fears get the attention, but Life Tap is where the soul of our class is.
That said, don’t be stupid. Life Tap is a wonderful spell, but part of group play is being sensitive to your fellow players, particularly your healers. Please do not be one of those warlocks who Life Taps to 5% health right before a pull. Your health bar is your mana pool. Your healer’s mana pool is not your mana pool. In an instance, Life Tap to equalize health and mana so you can eat/drink quicker. If your healer is very kind, and willing to toss a HOT on you, that’s wonderful, because while their mana pool is not yours, a very tiny expenditure of their mana (a single Renew or Rejuvenate) can return a rather massive amount of yours, which makes pulling quicker. But don’t expect it, either. If it comes down to it, ask. Your healer might be so shocked that you did them the courtesy of asking, you might make a friend forever.
Additionally, during fights, don’t Life Tap more than once at a time. First off, it’s a waste of time you could be spending doing damage (you should end a lengthy boss fight out of mana, or very close to it). But second, if you’ve ever healed an instance, then you know the mindset you get into when staring at health bars, and seeing a party member’s health bar drop precipitously is a great way to give a healer cardiac arrest. If it turns out the damage is self-inflicted, you’re likely to find yourself in the doghouse. And by “in the doghouse”, I mean “making an endless succession of graveyard walks because the healer’s not going to heal your obnoxious ass anymore.” And you’ll deserve it.