Lichborne: The latest Patch 3.3 PTR death knight changes in depth

Daniel Whitcomb
D. Whitcomb|10.12.09

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Lichborne: The latest Patch 3.3 PTR death knight changes in depth

Welcome to Lichborne,'s death knight column.

Remember when I said that it looked like Patch 3.3 was going to be relatively quiet for us? I may have spoken too soon. There's been a pretty major shakeup to Unholy DPS (again), and there's one or two other changes we might want to discuss, including news of some armor tier bonuses. Let's get to it.

Scourge Strike Rebalancing: The Neverending Story

So before we delve into this change, let's take a moment to review the star-crossed history of Scourge Strike. Scourge Strike is meant to be the basic Frost/Unholy attack of an Unholy death knight, and the hardest hitting of their attacks. In theory. Here's the thing with Scourge Strike: It does shadow damage. That means it completely bypasses all armor, meaning it does a lot more effective damage than you might guess just from glancing at the tool tip. The problem back in the early days of the class is that it was doing far too much, easily outstripping Obliterate. So, Blizzard nerfed the damage, and all was well for a while.

Then, armor penetration burst on the scene in a big way, showing up on more gear, and, as new dungeons and raids came up, in larger and larger amounts. This eventually lead to Obliterate outpacing Scourge Strike, since with enough armor penetration, that nasty physical damage barrier became less of a concern.

Now, in order to fix this the first time around and get us using Scourge Strike, the dev team took Obliterate off a key runic power generating spell, Dirge, and added Scourge Strike to a key critical strike boosting talent, Subversion. This put Scourge Strike back on the map, if only because we need its runic power generation for a full damage rotation.

Now mind you, Scourge Strike's damage, as of now, is still low. In fact, two Blood Strikes will do more damage than a single Scourge Strike. This means that Reaping is now undesirable, as those Death Runes just don't really count for any extra damage. Epidemic has also been dropped by most Unholy DPSers, as it's now more damage to simply reapply the diseases and restart your rotation after a basic run through.

That brings us to Patch 3.3, and the following change: Scourge Strike: Redesigned. The base ability now deals 50% weapon damage plus an additional amount as physical damage. However, for each disease the death knight has on the target, the target will take additional shadow damage equal to 25% of the physical damage done.

The basic theory is sound. Since physical damage is affected by armor, this addition should mean they can safely bump up the damage of Scourge Strike without making it too overpowered on low armor or sundered targets.

Now, it's difficult to properly analyze this change at the moment just because it remains sort of buggy on the test servers, so we can't say how it's shaping up. Of course, that hasn't stopped the speculation either. Some people are offering concern over possible drawbacks, specifically with the shadow damage itself. While an extra 75% shadow damage seems like a lot, a lot of it depends on what number is used to calculate that shadow damage. For example, if it only counts physical damage done after any reduction from armor or damage absorption when calculating the extra shadow damage, that 75% doesn't go as far as many might like.

However, we can look at Ghostcrawler's words on the change in a recent official forum thread. As he describes it, the shadow damage portion should work more like the current Scourge Strike than say, Necrosis. In addition, he openly states that the ultimate goal is to make sure Scourge Strike is preferable over two Blood Strikes or Obliterate for Unholy death knights.

In short, once everything is working properly on the test server, it looks like our task is to test the new Scourge Strike to make sure it lives up to the goal listed by Ghostcrawler. If it does, it seems like we can probably look forward to once again having a talent spec and rotation that works like it "should," with Epidemic, Reaping, and Scourge Strike all known all at the same time. I'd say that there's a pretty good chance that Unholy DPS may just see a sense of normalcy return with Patch 3.3.

Of course, with the physical damage component, we may be back to desiring a lot of armor penetration. Then again, said armor penetration goes away as a stat in Cataclysm, and I have to admit, I'm sort of hoping we're rebalanced back to pure shadow damage on Scourge Strike then. It just feels cooler, and it allows them to give us innate bonuses that affect more of our damage instead of just giving us innate armor penetration bonuses.

Unholy Blight

Unholy Blight: This talent now deals only 10% of Death Coil damage as a damage-over-time effect on the target.

This Unholy Blight change is one more change to yet another troubled Unholy talent. The damage nerf is mostly to counter the Scourge Strike damage buff, so it makes some sense. Still, if there's one complaint I'd have here, it's that Unholy may now have the most lackluster 21 point talent of any other tree on any class. While the basic philosophy of talents has probably changed somewhat, it used to be that the 21 point talent was supposed to provide a new, iconic, maybe even game-changing ability, such as Siphon Life for affliction warlocks or Nature's Swiftness for Restoration Druids. a 10% damage DoT based off one ability? I don't know, can't get too worked up about it. Admittedly, I'm still dreaming of the glory days of AE Unholy Blight, so maybe it's leftover bitterness from that. Still, I wouldn't mind something more potent, or at least more flashy, come Cataclysm.

Armor Set Bonuses

Before we cover the new tier 10 bonuses, it's worth noting that the tier 9 DPS bonuses got a little nerf. Namely, the four piece bonus will not allow Frost Fever to crit. It's likely that between the new plus damage function of Icy Touch and the already powerful damage of Frost Fever when buffed by deep Frost or Unholy talents, Frost Damage was just deemed far too high. Nerfing the 4 piece bonus then, keeps total damage down without nerfing the base damage of the skill, and lets Death Knights upgrade to tier 10 with confidence.

Tier 10 DPS Bonuses

Death Knight T10 Melee 2P Bonus - Your Obliterate and Scourge Strike abilities deal 10% increased damage, and your Heart Strike ability deals 7% increased damage.
Death Knight T10 Melee 4P Bonus - Whenever all your runes are on cooldown, you gain 3% increased damage done with weapons, spells, and abilities for the next 15 sec.

The 2 piece bonus is nice and straightforward. The main damaging weapon strike for each spec gets a nice, substantial damage boost. The 4 piece bonus is also pretty nice, giving an effective 3% damage boost after the first rotation, since a Death Knight should have no problem spending all their runes with that 15 second window, thus refreshing the spell. In short, these are some nice solid dependable bonuses for a set of expansion-ending tier gear.

Tier 10 Tank Bonuses

Death Knight T10 Tank 2P Bonus - Increases the damage done by your Death and Decay ability by 20%
Death Knight T10 Tank 4P Bonus - When you activate Blood Tap, you gain 12% damage reduction from all attacks for 10 sec.

The tank two-piece here is pretty nice. Almost every reasonable tank will open with Death and Decay in AE packs, and an extra 20% damage on that opening salvo will help lock down threat pretty nicely. I'm honestly pretty excited for it. Anything to help trash down quick and smoothly so we can face the bosses sooner is great in my eyes.

The 4 piece bonus follows a general tank bonus trend of taking a tertiary cool down and turning it into a new tanking button. In the case of Death Knights, Blood Tap will offer 10% damage reduction for 12 seconds. It's a nice new damage absorption tool in the arsenal for sure, although it'll probably end up mostly paired with our main talented cool down, since the usual reason a Death Knight tank presses Blood Tap is to get a free rune for that.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Bone Shield now lasts 5 minutes again. Thank goodness, it was getting pretty annoying to refresh that all the time as DPS.

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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