Lichborne: Unholy issues in Patch 3.2

Daniel Whitcomb
D. Whitcomb|08.03.09

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Lichborne: Unholy issues in Patch 3.2
If there's one thing that researching the Death Knight class changes for patch 3.2 has done for me, it's reconfirmed my hatred of all these extra annoying little combat stats. You know expertise, armor penetration, haste, all those little things they added to the game for seemingly no other reason than to make determining best in slot gear a master's thesis level task or to make quest rewards suck worse than they first appear. Really, I long for the days when your choices were hit rating, AP, and spell power, heal power and spell or physical critical strike rating.

I mean, I guess if I sat down and thought about it, I can deal, especially since the system tweakage has also bought us more awesome stuff like consolidated spell power and critical rating. Still, times like this, I really long for the old days. In particular, I'm talking about the Unholy tree.

The Unholy tree has received the largest amount of basic play style adjustment this patch (outside of dual wielding, of course, which I plan to discuss more on patch day). While there's a few factors at play here, the big one that has to do with my rant above, is the nerfing of Scourge Strike compounded with the Introduction of a new tier of gear.

What this has essentially lead to is the possibility of Obliterate becoming just plain better for Unholy than Scourge Strike. Tests on the PTR have pretty much established that as a reality, in fact. Some point just slightly north of 20% armor penetration, it appears that going for an Obliterate/Annihilation build will start outpacing Scourge Strike altogether. The setup that's getting a lot of buzz is something akin to this 3/13/55 build, which gives Unholy a very basic Obliterate rotation and includes both Annihilation and Subversion to provide disease longevity and threat reduction.

From a strictly utilitarian viewpoint, this type of build certainly isn't bad. It brings back threat reduction, which the old 0/10/61 build has been missing. Also, since the Blood Strike buff has been rolled back, Reaping is back in the mix, so we have the flexibility that brings with it. However, the unique flavor of Unholy has been rolled back pretty significantly. Unholy Blight has been redesigned, leaving Unholy knights with Death Coil spam for rune dumps, and a Gargoyle (instead of a dancing sword) for the big button. Permaghoul, at least, remains, but now high level Unholy knights will be losing Scourge Strike.

So how do you fix this? How do we give Unholy back some of its flavor? Scourge Strike buffing is certainly a place to start. The nerf to Scourge Strike may have made sense this patch back when we were getting a big buff to Blood Strike, but now that Blood Strike is unbuffed (as is probably for the best), it seems like Scourge Strike could probably stand to come back up a little. The big problem it has though, is scaling. Since Scourge Strike can ignore armor, it does not scale as well with pure strength as Obliterate does. But now that there's enough armor penetration in game to let Obliterate ignore a decent amount of armor, this, combined with the latest class changes, lets Obliterates superior scaling overtake Scourge Strike's complete armor ignorance.

Fixing Scourge Strike scaling is probably the first step in fixing this, and the one I see very likely to happen in patch 3.3, if not sooner in an intermediate patch sometime after BlizzCon. Of course, I wouldn't complain if they fixed it by removing armor penetration altogether, but that's more of a pipe dream, there.

Beyond that, the road gets murkier. Unholy Blight could conceivably get redesigned again, but I doubt we'll see it go back to its old AE dominance/awesomeness. Maybe in the expansion, the new talents can give Unholy a bit more flavor again. But at least in the short term, we may have to be content with our Permaghoul and Gargoyle. As long as you don't abandon me, I'll be fine, Eyeleaper.

But seriously, we are coming up on Patch 3.2 pretty fast here. With multiple patches going through as bug fixes devoid of balancing over the PTR, it's safe to say that even if the patch doesn't go live this week, this is probably what we're getting balance wise. We probably didn't come out all that bad, but I am going to miss a lot of the fun and flavor of Unholy. Here's hoping Scourge Strike gets some much needed love in the next balancing patch.
Welcome to Lichborne, the new class column on the new WoW class, the Death Knight, where we discuss Patch 3.1 cookie cutter builds, basic defense gear and Heroic defense gear for the Death Knight tank, 5-man Crusader's Coliseum gear previews for tanks and DPS, and basic Death Knight statistics and mechanics. You might also want to check all the other articles in our Death Knight category.
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