We've got a pretty good set of death knight news to cover this week. While we're still definitely in the pre-expansion lull, Blizzard's been releasing little tidbits of information, mostly on twitter, and a few of the latest live server hotfixes have specifically focused on death knights. Today, we'll root through some of this new info and see how it relates to death knights, now and in the future.
DPS buffs for all
Yes, these buffs are now live, but won't show up in tool tips until the next "real" patch. These buffs aren't necessarily pretty, but they do exactly what they're meant to do: push our DPS up by a decent amount to make us competitive through the end of the expansion. Mendenbarr over at Destiny Softworks has a pretty good breakdown of the numerical changes. The short version is that dual wield frost is still king, and two-handed frost is slightly ahead of unholy, but not by much. All specs have certainly been boosted.
The changes are simple enough. By "turning the dials" and providing a straight boost to some of our most basic cornerstone passives, the team is definitely indicating we're in a holding pattern until patch 6.0. Any major balance changes are on hold until then, which is probably how it should be. By now, Garrosh has been killed many times over, and there's no more raiding to come, so simply keeping the class viable without throwing any major curve balls is good enough.
It is interesting to note that, by turning the dial on Icy Talons in specific, Blizzard has avoided significantly buffing frost's AoE. This is probably to be expected. Howling Blast has long been somewhat of a problem for frost balancing, consistently getting the nerf bat applied. Since it's part of both our single target and AoE attacks, it needs to be strong enough for single target, but not so strong it makes our AoE overpowering. When unholy had a similar problem with the original AoE Unholy Blight, they eventually removed it. Howling Blast has stayed in, but are tricky little work arounds like Icy Talons delaying the inevitable, or a clever way to keep the skill balanced? Who knows, we may see more call to replace Howling Blast with a single target ice attack in patch 6.0 to further differentiate the AoE and single target rotations of frost. Of course, Celestalon, a technical designer on WoW and defacto inheritor of Ghostcrawler's twitter crown, has tweeted that they don't expect to make any major overhauls of existing rotations in patch 6.0, so it's likely we'll just keep existing Howling Blast and remain relative kings and queens of AoE damage as frost.
Festerblight, he tweeted
Celestalon has made a few other interesting death knight relevant tweets in recent days. In one tweet, he suggested that Festerblight may not be completely dead, and may return in some form, possibly via the Necrotic Plague talent.
Festerblight, if you've forgotten, is an unholy play style wherein the player tries to get their strength up to the highest possible level, then apply their diseases. Since the game "snapshots" their stats at the time of disease application, they then need to keep the diseases refreshed so that they do that peak damage at all times. This play style reached a peak in patch 5.2, when the Fabled Feather of Ji-Kun, among other things, allowed unholy to reach new heights in their stats, if only for a few seconds.
While it's been getting weaker since them, Warlords of Draenor has been considered the ultimate death knell of the play style since DoT snapshotting is currently slated to be completely removed. It's unclear how festerblight gets past something like that. Could Necrotic Plague simply bring it back as an option? Last we saw it, this level 100 talent created a self-stacking disease that spread to nearby enemies. Of course, WoD development isn't even in alpha yet that we know of, so it's possible it's been redesigned in a relatively significant way. It's possible festerblight may still die, mind you, but it's interesting to note that this is one alternate play style Blizzard is willing to let survive, to the point of possibly designing a level 100 talent around it.
Celestalon also made a tweet that seems to indicate that Plague Leech may be here to stay. He says that since it is an optional talent, they are okay with some people considering it awkward, since they can then just not take it. I continue to be a bit confused by this stance, frankly. The whole problem with Plague Leech is that its fast becoming "non-optional," with most high end play and theorycrafting predicated on the idea that you are taking this talent.
Blizzard's theories on talents have been relatively clearly stated. A talent should never feel mandatory, and a talent shouldn't outstrip the others on its tier by a significant amount, either in utility or in raising DPS. They've scrapped talents before wholesale because of this, and even completely removed damage from the death knight's level 90 tier to avoid this. It's unclear why Plague Leech has escaped this. Regardless, here's a heads up. If you want to be one of the death knight big shots, it's probably time to learn to drop those diseases.
One final piece of death knight news to note: Acherus, the death knight IRC channel, now has forums at Son Of A Lich. Son of A Lich and Acherus have been leaders in the death knight player community for years now, producing and hosting some of our greatest theorycrafters and class analysts, so I'd expect to see a lot of great and useful discussion over at those forums, especially as more Warlords of Draenor news starts pouring in.
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.