While we still don't have a release date for Mists of Pandaria, there's a general feeling that it's coming soon, possibly by the end of the summer. With that mind, just about every class' big names and theorycrafters are scrambling to get those last few class issues and pet peeves ironed out and bought to the devs' attention.
Death knights are no exception. Some of those issues have, in fact, received recent fixes. Others have remained unchanged, and a few have gotten worse. Today, we'll take a look at the latest death knight changes in the beta and see what they've done for us, both good and bad.
Soul reaping made simple
As we've discussed before, the level 87 skill, Soul Reaper, was a matter of some contention among the death knight population. The primary reason for this was the fact that it cost a death rune. Death runes have traditionally (before Mists beta) been a sort of bonus, something you could use to smooth out your rotation and use a few more of your more damaging strikes. With Soul Reaper costing a death rune, however, it turned into a separate resource of its own, requiring cultivation and tracking -- and the use of the new talented Blood Tap to ensure death runes were available.
Luckily, the devs have heard our cry. Soul Reaper has been split into three separate spells, one for each specialization. Each of those skills will cost that spec's signature rune. This means unholy can slip Soul Reaper in place of a Scourge Strike, blood in place of a Heart Strike, and even frost can fit it into a frost rune and count on its innate death runes to pick up the slack.
While some skills and talents will still require a death rune, such as Death Siphon, this at least takes the death rune tracking out from the mandatory center of our rotation and allows some relief from the already incredibly complicated death knight resource cycle. It also takes Blood Tap down from absolutely mandatory and makes it a bit easier to justify taking Runic Corruption or Runic Empowerment.
Level 75 woes continue
Of course, that previous sentence would be true if they made no other changes. Unfortunately, they did make one other change. Blood Tap is now on the global cooldown. This was, of course, meant as a way to combat the macroing of Blood Tap to your runic power dump, which was considered about the best and most efficient way to get your rune regeneration going.
Putting Blood Tap on the global cooldown more or less prevents this, although you could in theory just put it on a cast sequence macro instead, meaning you simply replace a Frost Strike or Death Coil with Blood Tap whenever it's up.
There are two arguments to the Blood Tap controversy. One side, which includes Ghostcrawler, points out that death knights have more free GCDs by design in Mists and therefore should have enough time to throw in a Blood Tap as needed anyway. The other side, which includes most players, points out that free GCDs may not show up at the same time as you need a death rune, and anyway, those free GCDs will likely disappear as gear levels go up again. It also brings up the whole issue of the death knight priority rotation getting too complicated again.
Part of the problem here is that players felt the need to macro the ability in the first place. "Rune gaming" or rune tetris came into play with the introduction of Runic Empowerment and the new rune system in Wrath, and it's now a more or less accepted part of the class. However, I've talked to fellow DKs and read a lot of DK blogs in my time, and the number of death knights who love the idea versus the number of death knights who hate it but do it anyway for the performance boosts skews pretty majorly toward the latter group.
Right now, the level 75 talent tier has three choices. Two of those choices, Runic Empowerment and Blood Tap, are pretty much universally reviled because they require you to babysit your resources rather than pay attention to the game and play your class. The other, Runic Corruption, keeps things simple and breezy and allows players to spend time on more fun aspects of their class but also has inferior performance.
Right now, preliminary discussion and math suggests that we'll be going back to the status quo. Blood and frost death knights will take Runic Empowerment because it allows them to game the rune system for the runes they need. Unholy will take Runic Corruption because they can't afford to hold back Festering Strikes without losing DPS.
Nothing will change from live, because rune regen is so tangled up in the efficiency of the spec that serious raiding death knights will feel compelled to take the best performing choice, no matter what their personal preference. Even if you nerf one talent or the other, death knights will just gravitate to the new best performer. Personal choice won't really enter into it except for casual death knights, who will almost certainly take Runic Corruption for ease of use, despite the damage loss.
At this point, as both a way to avoid the long-term balance issues and community discontent, I feel Blizzard really needs to make Runic Corruption baseline, give us back Blood Tap as a baseline skill in its current Cataclysm-era form, and find something else to occupy the level 75 talent tier. If not, it will become a thorn in their side and in the side of death knight players.
Doing damage to blood, raising unholy hell
The latest beta patch also saw a few numbers adjustments. Blood Boil got a pretty huge tick upward in damage, which is good news for unholy and blood death knights, both of whom have been facing some low AoE damage numbers. Unholy still has the awkward issue of having orphaned frost runes on their damage rotation when using Blood Boil, which only highlights the issues with their weird rune usage, but they're in a lot better shape. Blood has also been lagging on AoE threat, so a more powerful Blood Boil can only help them.
Unfortunately, blood took a single-target DPS hit in the patch as well. While Death Strike received a much-needed weapon damage buff, Heart Strike received a weapon damage nerf, and preliminary math suggests this will lead to overall lower single-target damage. Blood's already been lagging in that department, so it's unclear why Blizzard decided to nerf Heart Strike is that way. Right now, the blood tree probably needs a few testers who can get some solid single-target DPS numbers and report on whether said numbers are comparable to the other tank classes and whether they're adequate enough to keep threat against a good DPS.
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.