We've covered 3.0.8 pretty extensively, between Mike Sacco's coverage of the initial round of changes and our week before last discussion, but the devs weren't done yet. With 3.0.8 likely to make it to live servers in the next week or two, this is probably a good time to discuss the Death Knight tweaks that have gone in the last few PTR updates.
So I said that when Howling Blast's cooldown went away we'd probably have to see some other adjustments to prevent dual wield 32/39 style builds from dominating in Death Knight DPS meters, and we have seen one. Killing Machine has been nerfed to a simple proc-per-minute talent instead of proccing off critical auto attacks.
In theory, this should have bought down the damage of dual wielding by making the number of procs of killing machine roughly equal between 2-handers and dual wielders. Unfortunately, some testers are reporting that this is not the cases. Right now, it's estimated that the new Killing Machine maxes out at about 5 procs per minute -- but because Killing Machine applies to each weapon individually, dual wielders are getting 10 procs per minute to a 2hand wielder's 5.
To add to this, Necrosis, one of the premiere dual wielding talents, is also getting a buff up to 20% of auto attack damage done as shadow. Once again, since dual wielders do more white damage than 2-handed weapon wielders, this is a clear dual wield build buff that easily makes up for any loss from Killing Machine. Some also argue that dual wielders were often forced to let Killing Machine procs go to waste anyway for lack of runes or runic power, so a few fewer procs won't be as much of a nerf as it first appears.
Ghostcrawler has said they'll take another look at Killing Machine to make sure it's not favoring dual wielding too much again, but the 2-handed versus dual wielding debate continues, and more and more, dual wielding seems like the victor, at least in the PvE DPS arena. More and more, there's a growing fear that this may be inevitable. Dual Wielding just plain scales better.
When Enhancement Shamans first gained the ability to dual wield, there were still quite a few 2-hander die hards who were afraid that their playstyle would fall to the wayside. This has pretty much turned out to be true. 2-handed damage just can't keep up in any way with dual wielding for Enhancement, and Blizzard's made no real move to support 2-handers for enhancement. Now, for Death Knights, Blizzard has said they want to keep 2-handers viable. But dual wielding's excellent scaling may just be too inexorable in the end.
I imagine this nerf will hardly be the last word in the attempt to balance the two, though. Even now the debate rages, with many Dual Wield disciples saying that 2-handed Death Knights should be happy that they can tank with 2-handers, and many 2-handed Death Knights saying that the developers promised that 2handers would always be competitive as a DPS method. Either way, I'm expecting another round of balancing come 3.1.
Yeah, Gargoyle got nerfed. I think everyone knew it was coming at some level. It was an amazing source of DPS, so much so that Blood Death Knights found their DPS was better if they dropped Dancing Rune Weapon and picked up Gargoyle instead.
Those days are probably over. Not only was the Gargoyle given a slight nerf to its base damage on the PTR, but its duration was sliced in half, to 30 seconds. I've yet to see enough parses to give a final verdict as to whether it's underpowered now, but it's a harsh nerf, regardless.
It may also end up being another facet of the 2hand versus dual wield debate, despite being unrelated to weaponry. Unholy is considered the only spec where a 2-handed Death Knight has a chance to keep up against Dual Wielding, and that was in large part because of the Gargoyle. Overall, there's some concern that nerfing the Gargoyle may have knocked one more 2-handed spec further down the ladder, widening dual wield's lead in the DPS meters.
Still, if the Gargoyle -- one talent -- was what we 2-handed disciples needed to pull even to dual wielding, that certain wasn't the optimal situation either. There's other adjustments that should be made to bring 2-handers in line with dual wielding, and those adjustments should certainly apply to at least Blood 2-handing as well.
Death and Decay Rune Nerfed Again
Finally, and perhaps inevitably, the Death and Decay glyph was nerfed to completely remove the cower in fear portion. Now it simply increases Death and Decay damage by 20%.
The fear portion of Death and Decay has actually been steadily weakened ever since it came out. It used to be on the spell itself, then was moved to a glyph and made weaker, and finally has been removed altogether. After a fashion, it's simple enough to see why Blizzard did it. Being crowd controlled has always been one of the major complaints from PvPers, and in glyphed Death and Decay, you had a set it and forget it Crowd Control method that made a small area around the Death Knight a no-man's land. Sure, you can argue that it's possible just to run right out of it, but Death Knights had ways of preventing that too, from Desecration and Death Grip to Chains of Ice.
In PvE, this may also be a bit of a blow as well. A Lot of tanks actually used the glyph for AE tanking, since having that fear effect both contributed more threat and more damage avoidance (mobs can't hit you if they're cowering in fear, after all). However, that extra 20% damage may end up being good enough anyway. That's a lot of extra threat, probably even more than the fear effect itself provided.
If I do have a criticism for Blizzard on this, it's that they should have seen this coming in Beta and just shut off the fear effect for good before the Death Knight class ever made it to live servers. If this fear effect was going to be overpowered in PvP no matter what, it probably shouldn't have made it live, allowing plenty of Death Knights to become used to and enamored of it before it was completely snatched away. I get the feeling that they somehow sensed it might become problematic, which is why they removed it from the base spell and sent it to the glyph.
Perhaps, though, they didn't think that everyone (or at least almost anyone seriously competing in PvP) would take the rune, making the fear portion ubiquitous anyway. It's one of those things where one isn't sure why Blizzard didn't see it coming. Maybe they were just overly optimistic?
The Removal of 2-handed tanking weapons
The removal of these weapons really shouldn't surprise anyone who's been following Blizzard's design philosophies and decisions since Wrath. 3.0.8, remember, is also the patch where they removed Feral weapons as a unique itemization type, so suddenly adding tanking 2-handers in this era of loot consolidation seems a little off. I myself predicted a while back that this was probably just a stopgap measure while implemented more loot to fix Death Knight defense itemization issues in later patches. It seems they decided that they didn't want Death Knights to get too attached to defense weaponry, which is understandable, and taking defense weapons out now instead of getting angry Death Knights demanding to know why there are no tanking 2-handers in Ulduar later is for the best in the long run.
I don't think this should affect Death Knights negatively in the long run, certainly not with the Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle, which provides 25 defense skill and +2% stamina, going in. It gives us the opportunity to go for high DPS 2-handers with high strength and high agility, giving us a lot of extra avoidance and threat. In the end, as long as we get enough defense on our other gear, I think not being limited to a couple smithed defensive weapons will be nothing but a blessing. In the meantime, you can use the mats you've been saving on a Titansteel Destroyer.
As you can see from these changes alone, and from the ones we've discussed before, Death Knights in 3.0.8 are going to have a bit of adjusting to do as they work through these changes, and likely more to do when Blizzard gets some more balancing in in 3.1 and 3.2. To some extent, as the new class on the block, this is expected. We'll probably still need a bit more help before we really find a place in game where both we and Blizzard are happy with our performance. Hopefully, we'll be able to do that with a minimum of growing pains, but either way, Lichborne looks forward to cataloguing it.