We got a nice bit of weekend news a few days ago, as Zarhym unveiled the tier 13 class set bonuses for all to see. Tier 13, of course, will come to us with patch 4.3. They've definitely provoked a lot of discussion and debate, and the death knight bonuses are no exception. Unfortunately, the early consensus on the status of the bonuses leans toward "failed experiment." After the break, we'll delve in a bit deeper and discuss how the bonuses fail and succeed.
DPS set bonuses and the global cooldown conundrum
So the two-piece bonus, at first glance, looks pretty sweet. Who can say no to more free attacks? It's (in theory) even better for unholy, since more Death Coils mean more chances for your ghoul to Hulk out.
But here's the thing. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, the saying goes, and it's definitely true here. Sure, you don't pay any runes or runic power for that Howling Blast or that Death Coil, but you do pay in the form of one extra global cooldown. For death knights, this could be pretty close to a deal-breaker. We have a serious problem with GCD capping. It's the reason Unholy Presence has been so dominant in the Cataclysm era -- we need that reduced GCD just to keep up with our attacks. A Free Howling Blast or a Death Coil won't mean much if using the proc means we leave unspent resources on the table. If all it does is push back our resource spending by a couple of seconds, we aren't getting a free attack in actual practice because the proc just forces us to leave resources on the table, unspent.
It's possible that Blizzard is using this bonus to try to nudge us away from stacking haste, which is still far and away the best death knight DPS stat across the board. I'm not optimistic that it will work. The mudflation of patch 4.3's new item level alone may push us into GCD capping without even trying.
For the four-piece deal, it's honestly pretty hard for me to figure out what Blizzard's going for here other than "extremely underpowered." While mastery is not a completely horrible stat for DPS death knights, it's again not tops unless we're possible talking frost AOE. What makes this proc bad, though, is that the uptime is going to be pretty abysmal, meaning that in the long run, we won't be getting very much bonus mastery out of this. A 25% or 40% chance on a 45% chance is just not going to keep this proc up long enough to make a huge difference in our DPS. Depending on the itemization of the off-set pieces in the Deathwing raid, this may be the tier in which we don't need to bother getting our four-piece bonus.
Tank bonuses as an experimental playground
I'm going to be honest -- it's a bit perplexing how much the blood two-piece bonus is worse than any other tank's bonus. The other tanks get some sort of absorption shield or absorption shield bonus that can be easily triggered at any point. We get half of a Death Strike, and only if we're near death and only once every 45 seconds.
That one death rune will only really get us a new Death Strike if we have Blood Tap handy and off cooldown, and of course, we then still have to spend a global cooldown and eschew using those runes for anything else they could have been used for. It's a little disconcerting how this seems to play right into our complaints about Runic Empowerment. The death knight feedback thread over on the official forums has been an almost constant litany of tanks complaining about the damage Runic Empowerment does to any flexibility in rune usage, so this set piece might be a last ditch attempt to make us use our blood runes without taking out Runic Empowerment altogether.
The one positive thing I can sort of hope for here is that Blizzard is expecting that our tanking buffs will be so amazing in patch 4.3 that we won't need that absorption -- or that it is testing Blood Shield-like absorption for the other classes, something we already have without a set bonus. Regardless, our two-piece bonus is incredibly lackluster in comparison to other classes, and chances are we're essentially going to have bend over backwards to use that extra death rune anyway.
The four-piece bonus is interesting in a few ways. At first, it seems like a decent stopgap answer to a semi-common blood tank complaint, in that we really do not have a decent raid wall cooldown like some other tanks have. This, however, is where we do equal the other tank cooldowns. Every tank spec has a raid-wall-type cooldown four-piece set bonus where one of their defensive cooldowns is transferred to their entire raid (except for paladins, who get a cooldown reduction on Divine Guardian, their existing raid wall cooldown). This one could be, rather than an attempt to shore up a death knight tank deficiency, a sign of things to come in the Deathwing raid. A return to massive, raid-wide damage? It's possible. Of course, since this raid cooldown is now attached to a single-person defensive cooldown, will we be forced to save it until it's needed for the whole raid?
Set bonuses as a crystal ball
What's interesting about these bonuses is that they in many ways seem highly experimental. The DPS bonuses seem designed to favor unholy DPS, which currently lags behind frost in most damage tests. The tank bonuses seem to play around blood's natural aversion to blood runes and add a raid-wide cooldown that we have, in theory, been missing. Perhaps that nature gives us some indication, at least, that Blizzard is aware of our problems but is choosing to continue with the stopgaps now, waiting for another big balance patch for patch 5.0. Certainly, when it does this, one hopes it won't make a habit of using tier set bonuses as a way to balance specs within a class.
Regardless, we probably do want to test these bonuses as much as possible on the PTR. On paper, they're not amazing, and hopefully if we can provide some real-world examples of just how they lag behind, we can get a little bit of buffing to them before patch 4.3 goes live. The PTR may be live by the time you read this, so that chance may come sooner than you think.
Learn the ropes of endgame play with WoW Insider's DK 101 guide. Make yourself invaluable to your raid group with Mind Freeze and other interrupts, gear up with pre-heroic DPS gear or pre-heroic tank gear, and plot your path to tier 11/valor point DPS gear.