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Useless Useful Spell / Warcraft

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Over the long history of the series, there have been spells that just aren't worth the investment. Some got buffed to correct this or removed in sequels.

Warcraft: Orcs and Humans

  • The Human Clerics' Farseeing and the Orc Necrolytes' Dark Vision both work exactly the same, costing 1/5 their total mana to remove a small patch of shroud from the map. By the time the spells are available, you could have had a basic foot soldier or worker do the scouting instead, Each vision spell requires 1500 gold to unlock, which is very steep for their marginal benefits. Part of the problem was that this was before proper Fog of War became a regular feature in Blizzard games; once an area was explored, you could see it forever, and there was no need for lookouts or rescouting. The sequels had similar spells but buffed to reveal a larger area and also act as a Defog of War for scouting your opponents, while Warcraft III often pairs these effects with True Sight for revealing invisible units.
  • The Minor Summoning spells for each faction is generally a waste of time and gold, as Major Summoning is much more powerful and important to research. Warcraft III brought back similar spells now used by certain heroes and much more useful for a variety of tasks such as scouting and harassment.
  • The Orc Necrolytes' Raise Dead ability summons frail skeletons with a weak melee attack. Like Minor Summons, skeletons are heavily overshadowed by Major Summons.

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness

  • Death Knights' Raise Dead is this once again. The skeletons' attack power is slightly better, but the mana cost is still a bit too much for the net result. Blizzard or Death-and-Decay will make quick work of any swarm of skeletons, while Knights and Ogres and especially their Magic Knight forms make skeletons a joke. Skeletons became a tertiary resource of sorts in III as the Death Knight and Lich heroes have sacrifice abilities that can be used on skeletons to reap benefits for an efficient cost (healing for the DK, mana restoration for the Lich) and heroes may buy Wands of Necromancy to raise the dead without the aid of Necromancers. Each corpse also raises two skeletons and they now benefit from Unholy Strength and Unholy Armor upgrades like your humanoid and mechanical units.
  • The Death Knight's Whirlwind spell tends to get passed up as well. While a bunch of Whirlwinds can be fun to spam and cause havoc with and thus aren't a total flop, the movements of the Whirlwinds are randomized which can mean wasted mana for each tornado that drifts somewhere unhelpful like forest or rocks. In a serious match, Death and Decay will see much more use as it's much more controllable and mana-efficient (25 mana per wave), than the 100 / 255 mana needed for each Whirlwind.
  • The Ogre-Magis' Runes (explosive traps place on the ground) look useful but in practice are undone by troublesome drawbacks, the first one being the mines reveal themselves to every player periodically, ruining the element of surprise. They are not entirely useless, as they can be area-denial tool against infiltration, but this requires that the map layout be just right, and they need to be renewed regularly, taking up your attention. The mines can hurt your units as well, which an opponent can exploit by luring your units onto them by long-range spell. Finally they cost a minimum of 200/255 mana, which would be more productively used on the devastating Bloodlust spellnote .
  • The Fireball spell that Magi start with looks like it may be handy when you want to damage a group of enemies in a line. However, most players would rather save the 100 / 255 mana it costs and wait for Blizzard to finish researching. Blizzard has a more efficient mana cost at 25 mana, providing a few seconds of ice shards raining on a randomized set of tiles around the selected spot. You can let the Mage continue casting to add another ice storm to that region, or cast elsewhere based upon changing battlefield conditions, letting Blizzard do what Fireball can do and more. To the spell's credit, while the effect's mana cost is questionable, it does work consistently which may prove useful in niche situations such as catching a fleeing unit who is severely wounded to finish them off.
  • The Magis' Flame Shield spell is another spell that has trouble competing with the much more powerful Blizzard spell. It places a wreath of flames around any unit, friend or foe, causing area damage to adjacent units. The problem is, this spell has a very short casting range so trying to cast it on enemies will just put a Mage into the line of fire while Blizzard has more than twice the range and can deal far more damage to a group of enemies with proper micromanagement. Unlike Fireball, you have to pay gold to unlock the spell so there's even less motivation to use it.
  • The Paladins' Exorcism is very restricted on valid targets, only working on Death Knights and their Skeleton minions. It's very uncommon for players to unlock Paladins anyway as Magi are much more important. This isn't helped by the fact that the Magis' Polymorph also lets you snipe Death Knights, works on living targets like Orge Magi, and cost for less mana (200 vs 240); Death Knights and Magi are the second most gold-intensive unit in the game at 1200 gold beaten only by Dragons/Gryphons who cost 2500 gold, so they're worthy targets for Polymorph. Assuming you haven't upgraded Paladins already for healing priority targets, Exorcism research requires a total of 3900 gold and 500 lumber when counting the Paladin upgrade and Church where it's researched, so you need to take out at least five Death Knights just to offset the total resources spent. However, if you've already unlocked Paladins for healing high-value units like Gryphon Riders, Exorcism can punish opponents who invest heavily in Death Knights. This was corrected in Warcraft III with the new Holy Light spell which heals the living and also harms The Undead, an entire new faction who's biological troops are all granted undeath by the Lich King, making the Paladin Graceful in Their Element.
  • The Paladins' Healing is rarely worth the micromanagement as this game predates conveniences like auto-cast spells, limiting its value to preserving high-value units like Gryphon Riders (who are very expensive at 2500 gold per Rider).
  • Troll Berserkers can have Troll Regeneration unlocked that allows them to very slowly heal back to full health. The effect costs a steep 3000 gold (plus the 1500 gold for the Berserker upgrade) and is much less helpful than the Elven Rangers' equivalent ability to gain Marksmanship (+3 damage).

Warcraft III (Including The Frozen Throne)

  • The Naga Sea Witch has Mana Shield which looks like a nice way to save her from an untimely death by using mana as a shield, but if you spec into it early, then you must either give up points in Forked Lightning or Frost Arrow, two much better spells. Using your mana as Hit Points is also defeating the point of using a caster hero to begin with as it effectively takes her out of the fight that much sooner. Even if a game allows her to reach Level 8-10 and have all her spells unlocked, it's still a lackluster ability due to it reducing your mana supply; if your Sea Witch is in danger of dying, a Scroll of Town Portal or Potion of Lesser Invulnerability (both of which can be obtained by throwing a handful of gold at a neutral shop) is a much better option.
  • The Dread Lord in 1v1 has the issue of being equipped with a Quirky Bard skill set, making him very support-oriented until he can unlock his ultimate Inferno. Carrion Swarm is his main damage spell, but is most efficient against multiple targets and doesn't have any secondary benefit like healing (very important for the Undead), snaring or stunning, as with the Death Knight, Lich and Crypt Lord's nukes respectively. Sleep offers the ability put a target to sleep and potentially interrupt a critical action such as a hero's spell channeling or their retreat from battle, but the target can be awakened by simply keeping units together in an army and by any unit attacking them. Vampiric Aura has the potential to be a powerful healing effect that scales with a unit's melee damage note  but needs to be at maximum level to really shine in this regard. All of the above means taking the Dread Lord early can make you weaker early on due to delaying your Death Knight's recruitment until upgrading your Necropolis to at least a Halls of the Dead. However, once Inferno is unlocked, you have a very powerful summon at your disposal that also acts an an Area of Effect stun in the region you select to summon them, and Infernals really benefit from the aforementioned Vampiric Aura, but it will be a very bumpy ride getting to that point.
    • In team games, you'll need your team to be very aware that you're going for a fast Dread Lord and will need their support until you can unlock Inferno. If you have an Orc ally, then this is easier as the Vampiric Aura is very helpful for their melee-focused play-style and they will be able to reap immediate benefits from an Undead ally starting with a Dread Lord.
  • The Death Knight's Animate Dead spell is often regarded as one of most underwhelming ultimates in the game. It raises up to six dead (friend or foe) to fight for you under the effect of invulnerability, but it's hard to find the perfect time to use it as the units raised are still just regular units with no extra buffs and no abilities. And they last only 40 seconds before expiring, which isn't a terribly long time given the battles in the game. If you have Death Pact (that's a big if), the spell has more utility as you can cast it on the animated dead for a potentially very efficient self-heal sacrificing a unit who will eventually expire anyway. The reanimated units do also make nice mana batteries for a Lich if you happen to have them as one of your heroes, so the spell isn't a total flop. Efforts have been made to fix it, ultimately reducing its mana cost to a modest 125 down from its original steep cost of 300, making the reanimated units kill-able again so that they can tank damage instead of your other units and allowing animated dead to benefit from the Disease Cloud research (which was also buffed), allowing you to spread Disease Clouds without Abominations or Meat Wagons present.
    • Speaking of which, Death Pact usually gets passed up in the early to mid game in favor of the Death Knight's other abilities that support his army: Unholy Aura gives your army movement speed and health regen (which Undead particularly appreciate as they don't regenerate health unless standing on Blight), while Death Coil is a powerful nuke that can also heal. Death Pact, on the other hand, restores some health by killing an allied unit, but the mana would be better spent on the aforementioned Death Coil instead, and means sinking a skill point that could've been used to empower the other two more abilities. Though unlike Mana Shield, if the game goes on long enough for the Death Knight to reach Level 8-10 where Death Pact is available anyway or the Death Knight is at constant risk of being sniped, then it is at least a nice bonus emergency heal for some situations.
  • The Frost Armor spell for the Lich has the makings of one of those spells that the player won't tale until Level 8. It places a shield around a target that adds a significant amount of armor and slows any melee attacker who strikes that target. However, the slow effect only works on melee attackers, the slow duration very short, and hero nuke spells will ignore the armor. It might seem like a good way to protect your Lich hero if attacked in melee but melee units getting close to your Lich usually indicates that a battle is going badly for you. Taking it early also means losing points in Frost Nova or Dark Ritual, two very good abilities that really complement one another; Frost Nova is a powerful Area of Effect nuke spell, while at max level, Dark Ritual lets you sacrifice a unit to restore mana essentially so you can use your cheap Skeleton Warriors to power more Frost Novas. However you might still benefit from putting just one point into the spell (as level 2 and 3 have much less damage reduction) if you are facing melee-centered heroes like the Blademaster and Demon Hunter (in fact, it's often a must-have against Orcs in 1v1 games since any Orc player worth their salt would grab a Blademaster as their first hero); just be aware that Frost Armor diverts mana from nuking.
  • Over the hero's history, the Pit Lord has gotten this reputation for being a strength-based melee hero with a grab-bag of spells that seem to be a way to let this hero do a little bit of everything. They have Rain of Fire to deal a channeled Area of Effect like the Human Arch-Mage hero, but this has a weird synergy with the melee hero archetype who usually does their AoE in closer quarters without channeling. Their other two regular spells, Cleave and Howl of Terror let them do AoE in melee range and debuff enemies to lose up to 50% of their damage output, the later being an unusual spell as this is something that a caster unit like the Undead Necromancer might cast (indeed, the Necromancer's and Doom Guard's Cripple spell has this effect and more). Their ultimate ability, Doom, does have nice kick to it however, silencing and disabling most abilities on a target note , and dealing 40 damage per second to the target until they die and summon an aforementioned Doom Guard which has its own collection of powerful spells including its own copy of Rain of Fire, and the aforementioned Cripple spell which stacks with Howl of Terror, though these debuffs are vulnerable to dispels so they can't always be counted upon (and to add salt to the wound, the Doom Guard itself is vulnerable to being dispelled due to not having the Infernal's spell immunity). The difficulty is reaching the point in the game where you can unlock Doom as the Pit Lord has to contend with his grab-bag of odd-job spells.
  • The Shamans' Bloodlust, Necromancers' Unholy Frenzy, and the Priest's Inner Fire look good on paper. They are able to respectively grant +40% attack speed and +25% movement speed, +75% attack speed but with 2 hitpoints lost every second, or 5 armor points and a +10% damage bonus. However, these spells could prove overpowered if the player couldn't sufficiently counter them, so in The Frozen Throne, dispels became widely available for dealing with buff spam, easily nullifying the advantage of these spells and making them Awesome, but Impractical in a lot of cases. This is especially true against the Human Alliance as their Spell Breakers can steal these buffs and potentially debuff your army with Slow in one fell swoop at a very inopportune time. Bloodlust also requires Tier 3, Unholy Frenzy requires Necromancer Adept Training, and Inner Fire also requires Tier 3, giving the opponent the opportunity to bring out Anti-Magic units. Undead players can also transform their Obsidian Statues into Destroyers to use Devour Magic and then attack with buffed attack strength, making buff/debuff spam risky here too.
    • The Nightelf equivalent — the Druid of the Claw's Roar — manages to remain a bit more useful as Roar is cast by Area of Effect so it may be reapplied very quickly to at least lure anti-magic specialists into burning out their mana (Chiefly Dryads and Shamans with their single-target dispells). This is unfortunately of lesser value against Spell Breakers, since each buff stolen is still stolen, Priests and Spirit Walkers, whose dispel is also a low-hassle Area of Effect, or Destroyers, who gain mana by eating spells and use it to power up their attack damage.
  • The Blademaster's Mirror Image often falls under the category of spells that players never put points into until level 8. While the ability to perform a Doppelgänger Spin is cool, the illusions created deal no damage and can get in the way of your other melee units. As such, keen-eyed players will often have no trouble singling out the real Blademaster in a fight by simply ignoring the ones that deal no damage. Leveling Mirror Image also means neglecting his other skills, both of which increase his damage output (which is the primary reason to use a Blademaster to begin with), in favor of an unreliable tanking/escape skill. In response, Mirror Images were finally buffed in 2023 to deal damage equal to a percentage of damage the Blademaster himself can do, opening up possible new harassment tactics but at the cost of early points in Critical Strike or Wind Walk.
  • The Pandaren Brewmaster's Drunken Brawler early is usually a poor investment as the Brewmaster has the greatest impact with his two active abilities, while his slow attack rate makes the critical hit chance a crapshoot. Storm, Earth, and Fire will also provide a great defensive advantage anyway by making the opponent deal with three different versions of the Brewmaster. If a Talisman of Evasion happens to drop, then you have a good substitute for the Evasion component and thus even less incentive to spec it early.