As long as World of Warcraft has been around, there has been a very obvious divide between the usefulness of ranged DPS against that of Melee. As early as Molten Core, the distinction was obvious. The fact that it was often limited to a single melee group shows that there has never been a time when melee DPS is as favourable as ranged.
Even now, while mostly doable with any composition, there are still times when the melee heavy raid setup that my guild runs with struggles, and Warmaster Blackhorn heroic is close to impossible. (At the time of publishing, Blackhorn had just gone down, but only due to switching to a ranged heavy setup, that was vastly undergeared compared to the Melee mains.)
The only time Melee DPS is preferable is Asira Dawnslayer in the Hour of Twilight. There seems to be a lack of design ideas forthcoming from Blizzard concerning how to incentivise melee DPS, without making ranged completely redundant.
The Birth of the Melee Caster…
Until Cataclysm, there was a very clear divide between the two. Sometimes ranged were required to stack within melee range, but it neither benefited nor hampered their performance. That is, until Shadowflame. This warlock spell, on the face of it, is not a big deal. But it can serve to make a Warlock’s life quite awkward. Fights such as Warlord Zon’ozz, which need a distinction between the ranged group and the melee group can prove awkward at best. Do we take a DPS hit and stay where we’re told, or get right up there in the melee group regardless? Ideally, you’d like to think that Raid Leaders would accommodate this as best they can, but sometimes, it’s unavoidable to play a Warlock from ranged.
Shadowflame and Hellfire seem to go completely against the most natural behaviour for a clothie; stay as far away from the angry boss as is physically possible. It goes against our natural self-preservation instinct, why bother to summon evil in its physical form to protect you, if you are going to dive face first at the boss anyway?
The Birth of the Tank Caster…
When the Mists Beta rolled around, Blizzard through a curve ball into this debate, with the introduction of Glyph of Demon Hunting. For a time, the idea of tanking as a warlock seemed a very real possibility. There are countless videos around of Warlocks tanking, and tanking easily on the Beta.
So does this mean we have Demonolgy finally getting a niche of it’s own within the Warlock toolkit. Not being overly reliant on spells from other schools and cooldowns, but rather having a purpose of it’s own? Or is adding a sixth tank into the equation, a tank that has entirely different mechanics to anything seen before, too much to handle?
…and the Death!
Alas, it would seem that the melee caster, and the tank caster, are to go the way of the dodo. The Glyph of Demon Hunting was fixed (see: nerfed) to allow us to tank in a pinch, to the same level of effectiveness as an Arms Warrior slapping on a shield in Defensive Stance. ie. Not very much.
Ghostcrawler addressed the problem of Warlocks in melee range here;
“You aren’t intended to be a melee caster in Meta. Things like Demonic Leap, Carrion Swarm and Immolation Aura are more situational and fun toys than core rotational spells you need on a challenging raid boss. We did experiment with Demo spending more time in melee earlier on, but we have backed off of that for some of the reasons you guys mention.”
It is clear then, that in Blizzard’s opinion at least, the idea of a caster DPS being permanently in melee range is not a feasible idea. And this isn’t really a surprise, given their recent history of really defining what each spec is meant to do, locking you into the spec in Cataclysm, and cutting spells and abilities from other specs altogether in Mists.
Personally, I think the idea of a tanking Warlock would be a wonderful dynamic, something new and exciting. Almost an experiment, akin to that of the Death Knight in Wrath. It would also be a much needed shot in the arm to an otherwise dying class.Yet, it would seem that the tanking Warlock is going to become a piece of WoW folklore, akin to the Moonkin tanking Gruul or the Rogue tanking Illidan in the glory days of WoW experimentation that was The Burning Crusade.
Also, thanks to Amijade from Warlockery for the plug in the recent blog post over there.