These past few weeks have bought a flurry of updates the Patch 3.2.2 PTR servers, and a lot of the updates have a lot to do with Death Knights. Since we were the most changed class in Patch 3.2, it might be expected that we got a good amount of tweaking in 3.2.2 to complement and compensate the Patch 3.2 changes. Thus, it would behoove us to take a look at said changes and see where they'll leave us coming into the likely rapidly approaching patch.
The Matter of the Heart Strike
Blood DPS, has, of course, taken a hit just from the Armor Penetration nerf, just because they do a whole ton of physical DPS. That said, they're still very solid, and probably will still edge out Unholy for single target DPS when all is said and done. One place where they are getting a nerf, though, is multiple target DPS, in the form of Heart Strike. Heart Strike, on live servers, is a cleaving ability that does full damage to two targets. On the PTR, however, it will only do half damage to the second target.
Blizzard seems to be gradually pulling back from giving Death Knights massive AE damage. In that vein, this nerf seems to be quite in line with the complete removal of the AE version of Unholy Blight, or even earlier adjustments to Howling Blast. Ghostcrawler backed that up in a post on the change, in which he said that Heart Strike needed to be balanced either for single target DPS or dual target DPS, and balancing it for dual target DPS, thus forcing a Blood Death Knight to return to Blood Strike for single target battles, seemed counter-intuitive.
Some Blood Knights argue that with Blood trailing behind Unholy and Frost for AE power, the nerf is unwarranted and will server to weaken not only DPS, but tanks looking to keep aggro on the multiple mob no-CC fights that have been the trademark of Wrath. Still, so far it looks like the change is here to stay, and has plenty of design theory to back it up. That said, Blood AE probably isn't going to suddenly become abysmal, and by all accounts, Blood DPS and Tanks alike should definitely retain their single-target supremacy among specs.
Unholy DPS II: The Scourge Strike's Back
Yeah, Unholy DPS can once again expect to be speccing back to Scourge Strike when Patch 3.2.2 goes live. This is in part to the armor penetration nerf coming our way, but there's also been some tweaks to Unholy talents that are making the difference. Firstly, Dirge no longer works for Obliterate. This means that you simply won't generate enough runic power to cast all the Death Coils you can in your rotation. Death Coils actually end up being a pretty large part of an Unholy DPSer's damage, so you should never count them. In this case, losing out on them is a bigger DPS loss than you might think.
The buffs don't stop there, of course. In addition, Subversion also affects Scourge Strike. Combine this with the Tier 9 4-piece bonus (which does, for the record, stack with Wandering Plague), and suddenly critical strike rating starts looking like a very nice stat indeed for an Unholy Death Knight, while Armor Penetration plunges down to somewhere around Agility. This also means you're going to want to spec out of frost as your secondary tree. Even Black Ice can't make up for the new subversion buff.
Interestingly enough, what doesn't look like it's going to make the grade is the new Glyph of Scourge Strike, which will go from having a chance to cause diseases, to adding up to 9 seconds to existing diseases. In theory, this is a great buff to the glyph. Diseases refreshed in this manner won't clip their damage, and it allows the Unholy DPS rotation more consistency, since you don't have to hope and pray that the glyph procs.
That said, DPS tests from the test server suggest that it just doesn't work. The Glyph of Unholy Blight (remember what I said about Death Coil?) will actually provide more DPS in place of the Glyph of Obliterate. However, what seems to be the real winner, oddly enough, is Glyph of Icy Touch. The runic power granted by the Glyph actually allows a 10 second rotation like so:
Icy Touch -> Plague Strike -> Scourge Strike -> Blood Strike -> Blood Strike -> Death Coil -> Death Coil
With this rotation, you actually end up eschewing reaping because you need the extra 10 runic power from Icy Touch every time, and there's very little room for error. Still, it's already proving to be the powerhouse for Unholy DPS. Some Death Knights are already using it on live servers to good effect. It seems like it may just be the king of rotations, until or unless Glyph of Scourge Strike gets another buff.
The big tanking change came in the form of major adjustments to the talent tanking cool downs. Bone Shield will now only last 1 minute and will only have a cool down of 1 minute, and will also (according to the patch notes) lose a charge. Vampiric Blood will last only 10 seconds, but has its cool down reduced to 1 minute. Unbreakable Armor keeps its duration and gets cut to a 1 minute cooldown. However, it will be back to a flat 25% armor boost, and the Strength buff will be down to 10%. Of course, we all get a clear unvarnished tanking buff with Frost Presence jumping to 8% damage reduction.
In large part, it seems like the dev team is sort of hoping to get Death Knights back to the days of being the amazing cool down tanks without returning to the days where we were essentially invincible as long as we rotated our cool downs well. These adjustments allow us to use cool downs more often to smooth out our damage, but mandate that we pay closer attention to when to use them, since we'll have smaller windows of use. Unbreakable Armor is perhaps the interesting change here, since it leaves Frost Tanks down one magical cool down. Perhaps the logic here is that they do get Acclimation and Improved Frost Presence, and twice as much time on their cooldown to dodge more incoming physical damage.
Edit: Here's two more tanking changes to note: Rune Strike will be added to Threat of Thassarian, thus making dual wield tanking much more viable. Also, almost all of the cooldown Glyphs for the above mentioned talented cooldowns are being nerfed in line with the new shorter durations and cooldowns, so be aware of that as well.
The Bottom Line
Yeah, we're still in a good place. It's going to be a bit of work adjusting to the new cool down timers, probably, as we feel out the best way to use them and twist them in, and Unholy DPSers have one more rotation to lock down, but so far, we're still weathering Wrath just fine. Of course, there's still Patch 3.3 to come. We'll be sure to keep an eye on any more changes coming down the pipe right here, in Lichborne at WoW.com.
Welcome to Lichborne, the new class column on the new WoW class, the Death Knight, where we discuss Patch 3.1 cookie cutter builds, basic defense gear and Heroic defense gear for the Death Knight tank, 5-man Crusader's Coliseum gear previews for tanks and DPS, and basic Death Knight statistics and mechanics. You might also want to check all the other articles in our Death Knight category.