Lichborne: Of Cabbages and Kings

Daniel Whitcomb
D. Whitcomb|09.27.08

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Lichborne: Of Cabbages and Kings
The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of other things...
Welcome to Lichborne, where each weekend, Daniel Whitcomb helps you keep pace with the ever-changing Death Knight class.

This week, While Death Knight tweaks continue, there's no big piece of news that really stands out. We got a nice bump in damage to our base weapon strikes, Death Coil, and the abilities that mimic them in the talent trees in the latest build. Unfortunately, poor Plague Strike still sits at a sort of dismal 30% weapon damage, meaning it still doesn't feel like it scales as well as it should. But preliminary reports are still that it's a noticeable DPS increase.

At the same time, our PvP utility and survivability was nerfed, but not in completely unexpected ways. Chains of Ice is dispellable again, as the devs felt that between it and Death Grip, it was far too hard to get away from a Death Knight. Again, this nerf is somewhat expected, if not needed, although some argue the nerf is unfair in the face of other classes that have similar abilities to ensnare and entrap opponents. I have to admit that I'm hoping we see, at the least, Chains of Ice getting put on Virulence. If nothing else, that Glyph of Blood Boil is looking a lot nicer.

Still, none of the news really jumps out and grabs me, and with the beta patches coming fast and furious, it's hard to write with any authority on something that may be changed next week. With that in mind, I've decided this week to post on a potpourri of odds and ends from around the World of Warcraft as they relate to Death Knights, both stuff that refers back to previous columns and new observations. Read on:

Tanking Weapons

We've discussed the whole dual wielding vs. two-handed weapon debate before, but there's another aspect that deserves some more discussion: tanking weapons. It seems the first instinct of many Death Knight is to head straight for the dual-wielded tanking one-handers. They generally have the defense, stamina, expertise, and hit rating that a tank needs.

But on second glance, the downsides of one-handers are pretty pronounced. The biggest problem is that they generally have a fast attack speed. This is a boon for Warriors and Paladins, as it allows more uses of Heroic Strike or more applications of a holy damage seal to build threat quickly among other things. For Death Knights, it's less of a boon, as their weapon strikes depend on weapon damage. The low damage of a fast one-hander will only lead to less threat for them. More importantly, a fast weapon speed means more chances for a mob to parry, and thus more chances for it to get the temporary haste that comes right after a parry. Even with a bit of expertise, a Death Knight with dual wielding will probably find himself taking tons of damage as his weapons allow the mob to parry constantly.

Thus, it looks like the Two hander is by far the weapon of choice for Death Knights because it avoids those two major downsides. Unfortunately, we haven't really seen tanking stats on a 2-handed weapon since the Archaic Defender, and the devs have stated that they really have no plans to create tanking-focused 2-handers, since it goes against their gear consolidation philosophy (Yes, Feral Druids get feral weapons, but they want to get rid of those eventually too).

So unless Blizzard relents and throws up some defensive 2-handers, we're going to be find ourselves both thirsty for defense stats due to having 2 fewer slots for extra defense and parry rating than most tanks. Frost Presence should hopefully make up for the lost armor and HP to some extent, but tanking Death Knights will probably be experimenting to find the weapons that provide just the right balance of DPS and protection to be optimal for Death Knight tanking -- if said blades even exist at all.

Looking like a Death Knight

While class balance debates rage, some Death Knights are focusing on what really matters: Looking good. Sure, it's great to be awesome, but being awesome just isn't as fun if you don't look awesome too. And Death Knights have a distinct brand of awesome, with dark, powerful armor, a wicked blade, and a dark steed that matches them for causing mystique and awe. Of course, what exactly looking awesome entails, and whether it really is worth the trouble, is somewhat up for debate.

We've discussed this matter a bit before: While you can get through Outland in your starting zone blues, many Death Knights feel obligated to grab upgrades such as the Helboar Carving Blade and the Battlemaster's Breastplate, and then feel annoyed as they find themselves shedding the armor and taking on the infamous clown look.

Luckily, not only is it possible to get through Outland in your quest blues, but things get a lot better in Northrend. No more clown suits here for sure. Armor gets grimmer and beefier, and individual quest rewards often end up looking like they came from the same set. Even weapons get beefier again. Overall, whoever planned the Northrend quest rewards has done a pretty nice job, and I, at least, feel like a proper armored Knight in Northrend.

The other looking awesome question deals with the Death Knight mounts. The Death Knight's Horse has always had a very distinctive look, with an aura, a skeletal death's head, and barding draped in scourge symbols and talismans. In World of Warcraft, this look was actually made into the Forsakens' Epic land mount in addition to being the favored mount of the Death Knights of vanilla WoW.

When it came time for the Death Knight mount to be implemented, I had a sinking feeling that they'd choose a new skin. After all, just throwing an old design on the first hero class and the first new class ever to be implemented would feeling a bit sloppy to many. So I waited, all the while hoping I could just go farm Baron Rivendare for the original version of the mount.

I have to admit, I'm still planning to farm him. To me, the Deathcharger just looks too much like a human horse, which I've never quite liked. The legs seem too spindly, the armor too top heavy, and I'm not sure how much I like the weird tendency toward head armor that makes the horse look like a ram. Plus, I miss the barding. Luckily, I'll just be able to farm Baron Rivendare once or two thousand times and get a mount I can love -- unless I give up and grab a Mechanohog instead, of course. A lot of people, though, see to love our quested Deathcharger just fine, just one more illustration of how much people's view on Death Knight style can differ.

Then there's the other Death Knight mount. The old flying steed, the brave Deathchicken, was probably pretty universally disliked. I admit to having some fondness for it, since it reminded me of the first time I saw it flying around Karazhan and wished I could have one of my own. Of course, it did look pretty silly up close, even I have to admit that. Luckily, it got a nice new upgrade in looks. The new look, so far, is pretty universally liked. The armor matches our land mount pretty well, and the color of the bones and the proportions look a bit more natural than the bleached-white Deathchicken did. I'm probably still going to go for a drake myself, but it's a nice option all the same. Maybe the classic Deathchicken can still appear as a nostalgia item somewhere.

On being a Heroic Class and the lack of back data

There's a lot of basic questions about the Death Knight class that are probably asked about any class: What's the best spec for PvP, DPS, and Tanking? What's the best rune rotation? What's the best gear for a Death Knight?

While there are some preliminary answers for this question, there's two major answers that are probably the best you can give right now: "We don't know yet," and "Whatever it is, it'll be different next week." Of course, the latter answer will be less applicable when we're finally on Live servers, but the basic idea behind the first will be around for a while: Unlike most classes, which have had 70 levels and a couple of years to establish strategy, tactics, playstyles, theories, spreadsheets, and such things, we've had 25 levels and around 3 months. I read a fellow Beta tester explain this as the true meaning behind being a Hero Class a while back, and it really makes perfect sense to me.

Death Knights may really end up being a more complicated class that only gives a return equal (at best) to other classes. Not only is the learning curve shorter and steeper, but you'll have far less established research and data to draw on when figuring out the best way to play it. In addition, Death Knights definitely take some concentration to play. Figuring out the best rune rotation to use can take a bit of thought, and once you have that rune rotation decided, you still need to learn how to watch your global cooldowns and your rune cooldowns like a hawk so that you can dump your damage or threat out as efficiently as possible, while still putting aside enough for any panic buttons.

So really, the Heroism isn't really in the fact that the Death Knight is a "special" class or a "more powerful" class, but in that it has a higher learning curve and a more involved playstyle that means that you have to BE a "hero" to play it. And heck, I like thinking of myself as a hero.

The other fun part of that is that, if there's no research or data for the Death Knight class, that means we get to create it. We get to be on the cutting edge of Death Knight theorycrafting. The chance to discover the perfect tanking build, or write the Death Knight version of Cheeky's Spreadsheet or become the premiere Death Knight blogger. So there's your heroism: Not in the chance to play an "overpowered" class, but in the chance to play a challenging class, and one where you can get in on the ground floor and help to shape its lore, its history, and its community.

Of course, if you just want to jump in and play, that's cool too. Don't think that I'm trying to squirm out of posting a Death Knight Build Shop or two once the talents get more finalized. You can expect them, in fact.
Welcome to Lichborne, the new class column on the new WoW class, the Death Knight. If you haven't yet, check out our back issues, where we discuss getting ready for Wrath and gearing choices for Death Knights. You might also want to check all the other articles in our Death Knight category.
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