As I'm sure you've heard by now, Blizzard treated us to a nice new chunk of news this past week with an update to the Mists of Pandaria talent calculator. Death knights received some new talents and new skills as well as adjustments to old ones that definitely deserve some analysis. We'll start by looking at the talent tiers, then move on to some of the new modified skills we're seeing in this build.
Level 15 begins our journey with a couple pieces of very welcome news. Outbreak is back to a general class skill, once again taking its place at level 81 for all three specs. In its place for tier 1 talents is the old-school Unholy Blight, in all its AoE glory. That's right, you can once again have that awesome semi-permanent damage aura. Alas, this welcome change is accompanied by the similar removal of Corpse Explosion in favor of Vile Spew, an ability that will explode an undead minion for AoE damage and disease infection.
A spark of good news
Vile Spew seems a bit iffy for sure, since it's unclear why a death knight would sacrifice a minion at all and lose the DPS it provides, but there is a spark of good news. Blizzard has noted that it might bring back some abilities via glyphs (which reminds me a bit of the Diablo III rune system, in a good way), so it may be possible we'll see a glyph that will turn Vile Spew into Corpse Explosion. Still, I'll probably take Unholy Blight on pretty much all my specs, if only because I missed it so much. Don't judge me.
Up at level 30, Bone Shield has been removed and given back to blood as a skill. This is sad news for unholy and frost death knights who wanted the cool look and the easy damage reduction, but it's good news for blood death knights who no longer have to feel like the skill is mandatory. The replacement talent on tier 2 is Icy Grip, which reduces the cooldown on Death Grip and adds a small movement speed debuff. This should be excellent news to death knight PvPers, although I could still see some taking Lichborne for the crowd control breaker. For PvE death knights, the choice is probably going to boil down to Lichborne for the Death Coil healing trick or Anti-Magic Zone for a handy raiding cooldown.
Up at level 60, Vampiric Blood is probably going to remain a lock for raiding tanks, but the other two healing abilities here have gotten some very interesting changes. Death Pact is now confirmed to no longer kill your ghoul. Instead, it only drains it for 50% of its health while healing you for 50% of your health. A 50% health heal for a single global cooldown is nothing to sneeze at, especially since you can throw a few Death Coils at your ghoul to heal it if needed afterwards, and it seems likely we'll see most unholy death knights take it.
At the same time, though Death Siphon no longer costs a death rune and remains with no cooldown, suggesting you could in fact spam it up to full health at the cost of greatly reduced DPS. I would not expect this to last and imagine it will receive a cooldown, get a cost (of runes or runic power), or both. Then again, it doesn't do that much damage and does even less healing, so maybe it will stay as is. Overall, it does look like DPS death knights will be able to choose from two solid self-heals at level 60, offering a welcome return, at least in part, to the glory days of Wrath self healing.
Tweaks and tuneups
Other changes are mostly minor numbers tweaks or expected adjustments. Runic Corruption once again has a 45% chance to trigger its haste effect, which is expected and still leaves it the superior DPS choice on its tier unless you really, really like rune tetris. Death's Advance no longer requires depleted runes to work, which should be a nice bonus for PvP death knights. Interestingly enough, Remorseless Winter's damage was slashed considerably, making it now inferior to Desecrated Ground in pure damage potential. This was probably to be expected, as Remorseless Winter comes with some heavy short-term crowd control. It'll be hard to judge if it's overdone or underdone until we have some understanding of the numbers involved once beta rolls around, of course. It's worth noting that Remorseless Winter has a quicker cooldown, which may help keep it relevant as well. Probably the big concern with these two skills is how they interact with frost and unholy masteries. Will those masteries keep them competitive with each other or just widen the gap even more?
On the skills side, we finally have our new level 87 skill, Soul Reaper, which is essentially our own version of Execute. It does 50% weapon damage and applies the Soul Reaper debuff, which does massive shadow damage if the subject is below 35% health after 5 seconds, or grants 50% haste to the death knight for 5 seconds if the target dies before the debuff expires. This looks like it should be a lot of fun, though the haste buff will likely only be useful on trash unless we get a lot of bosses with add phases in Pandaria. Since it doesn't cost any runes, you should safely be able to use it in between other strikes as long as you aren't GCD-capped (which of course can be a problem for death knights, so we'll see how useful it actually is in beta).
One other nice thing to note is that we still have Control Undead, now at level 69, which means leveling death knights may get some use out of it in Northrend. Of course, I'm still sort of hoping for some nice, juicy, Sha-controlled undead to use it on in Pandaria -- but either way, it's a fun and flavorful addition to our toolkit.
Still up in the air
Of course, some questions and concerns from our last look at Pandaria skills remain unanswered. Blood still lacks some key defensive skills like Sanguine Fortitude, and a lot of runic power generation skills are still plain gone. Still, they may be planning to deal with those deficiencies another way. Frost Presence just got a tweak to 100% runic power regeneration, which could concievably bring it back into vogue, and I could easily see Sanguine Fortitude as another ability that could come back via glyphs.
But regardless, we did get some great improvements with this build. With any luck, the March press event means the beta's imminent, so we'll soon be able to test the changes ourselves and see where it takes us as a class.
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.