Lichborne: What Cataclysm might mean for Death Knights

Daniel Whitcomb
D. Whitcomb|08.31.09

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Lichborne: What Cataclysm might mean for Death Knights
Worgen Death Knight concept fanart
Welcome to Lichborne, the Death Knight column that dares ask the hard-hitting questions of Blizzard. Questions such as: Can I make a Worgen Death Knight now? Pretty please with sugar on top?

We've now had about a week and a half to digest all the new information from BlizzCon about the Cataclysm, and while it's not a complete picture of what we can expect from the expansion, there's enough information now that we can make some pretty good educated guesses about the direction of the game and the new theorycraft of being a Death Knight. Let's take a look at we can learn from the latest information.

New Races

The new races definitely have some pretty awesome racials. The Worgen's plus damage racial will make them a very solid choice for a DPS Death Knight, and the sprint will be excellent for closing distance in PvP, especially when paired with Lichborne or Icebound Fortitude to avoid CC. Even the skinning racial will be nice for a leveling Death Knight who decides to take some time out to level the money making gathering tradeskills.

Goblins are definitely going to be a nice little convenient race, with low buy and sell prices and a free bit of banking. Combat-wise, the Rocket Boots should be nice for closing distances or running away.

As far as whether these races will end up being the "best" races for Death Knights, I don't think I can say. Part of this is because I think the idea of a "best race" is, to at least some degree, rather subjective, but also, the devs strongly hinted they'll take a look at everyone's racial abilities as they move into Cataclysm, so its certainly possible that other races will get some new or upgraded racials that will keep pace with the awesomeness that are the new races' racials.

Stat Changes and New Systems

We'll be seeing quite a few stats either disappear off gear or vastly change in their mechanics come the expansion. While some of the stats changes, like loss of Spell Power, won't really affect us, others promise to bring up new questions and answers for our gearing and combat conundrums. Let's look at those one by one.

Armor Penetration

As you likely know if you've been following the column, my favorite DPS spec is Unholy. Unholy DPS has been having some troubles lately, specifically with Armor Penetration. Armor Penetration is now so ubiquitous on gear that our signature strike, Scourge Strike, can easily be outpaced by Obliterate with a minimum of Armor Penetration gear at level 80. Luckily, it looks like this will be a thing of the past in Cataclysm, as Armor Penetration will be gone from gear.

With this change, it seems likely they'll simply provide Armor Penetration to Blood through the new Mastery system (and possibly to Frost as well, if only for the Obliterate heavy rotations), while hopefully Unholy will get things slightly more useful to us. If they balance it out right, we should definitely be able to pick up Scourge Strike again full time in Cataclysm.

Of course this does bring up the question of Patch 3.3. Will we see Scourge Strike back on the scene before then? The devs have posted that they want Scourge Strike to be the king of Unholy DPS rotations again, but they don't yet have an elegant way to make that happen. It could be they'll hold off until Cataclysm, and we'll be obliterating our way through the raids and 5 man dungeons of Icecrown Citadel, but frankly, I'm hoping it doesn't come to that.

Regardless, this whole discussion underlines one fact: The devs definitely made the right choice in taking Armor Penetration off gear, where it can no longer trip up those classes and specs who do not need it.

Attack Power

Strength has pretty much always been superior for us for both DPS and Tanks, so the fact that we won't have to settle for attack power is definitely welcome. There's not much of a downside to this one, as long as there's enough good plate DPS gear and strength jewelry to go around.


In Cataclysm, Haste will, in addition to its current uses, cause resources to regenerate or generate faster. In our case, it will be runes. Faster regenerating runes, in theory, equals quicker damage, although it will have to be quick enough to keep up with the global cooldown, of course. If it is, a faster rotation is only a good thing. If not, we just have runes that regenerate faster then sit there as we wait for cooldowns. This is probably a case where we need to see exact values before we can judge how good it is for the class overall, but it certainly has potential, possibly paired with a switch to Unholy Presence.

Defense and Stamina

Defense is completely gone from gear, meaning that every tank class or tree will be getting a talent similar to the Druid's Survival of the Fittest to gain immunity to critical strikes. This isn't so bad a deal now that you can dual spec DPS and Tanking, and therefore offtanks can still be effective tanks and effective DPSers both as needed, but there's still some questions to clear up. Matthew Rossi covered quite a few of those questions in an article on the future of tanking, but I have a few more things to discuss from a Death Knight point of view.

Traditionally, we are able to tank in all 3 trees given that we choose the right talents. However, if we need to grab talented defense, how does that work? Unless they simply add it to the first level tanking talent of all three trees, we may find ourselves incredibly limited in our tank specs as we are forced to work down that specific tree. Of course, they could add it to Masteries, but that means that Death Knight PvE DPS may pick up a relatively useless mastery for them as they work down the tree.

In fact, that brings up a whole different point altogether: How will Death Knight Masteries work? Traditionally, we're meant to be able to tank or DPS in all 3 trees. If Masteries in one tree are tank focused, everyone will flock there for tanking and flock away from it for DPS. That said, it may be that what will happen is that we'll see more tank focused talents instead, which, when taken, will unlock tank focused masteries.

Still, let's assume they have a decent idea for how they'll implement tanking vs. DPS masteries and crit immunity that will work well enough to give us the same tank spec flexibility we have now. That still leaves us with the question of itemization.

It sounds like the developers mean to finish what they started with Burning Crusade and essentially make Stamina so ubiquitous that pretty much every character has tank-level HP. If so, at least that clears up one itemization issue. We'll, in theory, have the Stamina to tank regardless. However, high stamina alone does not a complete tank make.

Bear Druids can attest to it. Sharing your itemization with DPS classes is not fun. You're scrounging for hit and expertise, trying to find gear that still has a decent amount of stamina on it. And good luck finding dodge rating on pieces. They don't exist. That's my biggest fear: Will we run short on defensive stats as everything is itemized to be modular? It's possible this could be sidestepped if Reforging allows conversions to dodge and parry rating, but it'd be way too easy to make reforging far too restrictive for that be effective. Masteries could possibly pick up some of the slack here, but again: With the way masteries are set up, how do we assure adequate tank masteries without rewiring Death Knights so that only one tree is the tank tree?

I'm not ready to completely condemn the idea, but I get the feeling itemization is going to be a sticky subject as Cataclysm begins. Here's hoping the dev team can figure it out, but part of me thinks there may be a limit to how far you can take the "one size fits all specs" gear philosophy.

Then again, I'm still all for getting rid of some stats and firming up others. It really shouldn't take a spreadsheet and a custom made calculator to figure out if an individual piece of gear is really an upgrade for you or not, to be honest.

And the Rest

Of course, this column is hardly going to be the final word on Death Knights in the Cataclysm. We'll be discussing the Path of the Titans and which paths seem best for Death Knights, and talents are probably going to change so drastically as to completely alter how we look at certain talent builds and rotations.

The misgivings outlined above aside, I can say with confidence that I am incredibly pumped for the expansion, and very interested to see what direction the Death Knight class takes with all the redesigns and rebuilds of so many key systems in the expansion. Stay tuned to Lichborne and We'll let you know how this keeps shaking down.
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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