Cataclysm Class Changes: Death knight analysis

Daniel Whitcomb
D. Whitcomb|04.10.10

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Cataclysm Class Changes: Death knight analysis
I'll be completely honest: If I were to describe the death knight update with three words, it would be these: We need more. PvP-focused death knights will likely be pleased with the new revealed skills, but for PvE death knights, all three hold little to no PvE applicability. The new rune system's original explanation is somewhat convoluted, and while I think I have a handle on it after some extensive testing and theorycrafting, we really can't say much about how well it will work until we know more about how our abilities will be rebalanced. The talent discussion mostly focused on telling us what we learned a few days ago when we were told blood will be the only tanking tree.

Essentially, given this update, a large part of me wishes they had just held off until the beta. Right now, we just don't have enough information to make anything more than vague educated guesses about how the new rotations and abilities will play off of each other. That said, it's still worth a look at what's going down, so let's start it up and see what we can surmise.
New Skills

Outbreak (level 81): Outbreak infects the target with both Frost Fever and Blood Plague at no rune cost. This ability allows death knights to apply diseases quickly when they are switching targets or when their diseases have been dispelled.

Outbreak is free with a 1-minute cooldown. It's not supposed to completely replace Plague Strike and Icy Touch.

Outbreak looks like an excellent way to quickly reapply diseases while switching targets, but in PvE, there's one major issue: We already have Pestilence. For the most part, at least currently, we have Pestilence and separate AoE rotations that will make Outbreak more or less not needed. Pestilence should have your back in most cases. That said, if we see more encounters that require crowd control, and thus where AoE is inadvisable, we may see more usage of Outbreak. Still, the one-minute cooldown will probably constrict usage in PvE.

On the other hand, it should shine in PvP, since it's harder (if not impossible) to keep a rotation going there. Just killed the healer? Hit Outbreak on the DPS, and you got enough runes to hit him with three quick frost/unholy strikes and ruin his day. Assuming our frost/unholy strikes do more damage than a combined Icy Touch and Plague Strike, Outbreak could become a very valuable burst damage tool.

Necrotic Strike (level 83): Necrotic Strike is a new attack that deals weapon damage and applies a debuff that absorbs an amount of healing based on the damage done. For context, imagine that the death knight can choose between doing 8,000 damage outright with a certain ability, or dealing 6,000 damage and absorbing 4,000 points in incoming heals with Necrotic Strike -- the burst is smaller, but a larger overall amount of healing would be required to bring the target back to full health.

This ability is meant to bring back some of the old flavor from when death knights could dispel heal-over-time (HoT) effects. It also gives the class a bit more PvP utility without simply replicating a Mortal Strike-style effect.

While the concept of this strike is honestly sort of bad-ass, in that it's a mortal strike and yet not a mortal strike, the whole reverse Power World: Shield thing is sort of fun. The big problem is that it will probably be very niche in PvE. I would bet real money that the debuff won't stack, so only one death knight in a given group or raid will use it, and even then it will probably be weak enough that it will only be worth using in encounters where a mob can be healed.

Again, this will see a lot more use in PvP. It should especially help suppress healing in a somewhat unique way. It seems that a healer who has to deal with this has two choices: Either heal through the debuff, or dispel the debuff. Considering that dispelling is being rebalanced to be a serious choice in Cataclysm and not just something you spam, I can easily see this becoming a thorn in any healer's side and a great way to finish off an enemy by severely limiting his chance to be healed.

Dark Simulacrum (level 85): The death knight strikes a target, applying a debuff that allows the death knight to copy the opponent's next spell cast and unleash it. Unlike Spell Reflection, Dark Simulacrum does not cancel the incoming spell. In general, if you can't reflect an ability, you won't be able to copy it either.

Once again, this is a skill that will shine brightest in PvP. By putting it on a caster, you give him a choice: Dispel it, or cast a damage spell and absorb the return damage. While there is a high chance any serious PvP caster will be able to notice this buff and simply cast a "less desirable" spell to clear it, the fact that Cataclysm spells will always be at their highest damage means at the least, he can't just quickly press a rank 1 Earth Shock to save himself.

Its usefulness in PvE will be primarily determined on how, exactly, it works. For tanks, it will be primarily extra threat, since it doesn't reflect the spell and instead gives the full brunt to the death knight, by all indications. Assuming the GCD allows it, I could see a lot of Anti-Magic Shell/Dark Simulacrum combinations for absorbing damage and causing massive threat.

For PvE DPS, it will certainly be another tool for solo death knights, but in group play, you don't get hit. That said, it's possible that the wording of the spell may save us here. Since the debuff apparently simply "copies the opponent's next spell cast," it's more than possible that the death knight can apply the debuff and cast the spell, regardless who the target is. If it does work like this, this may be the one new skill with clear usefulness for PvE DPS. If you apply the buff on a runic dump GCD and it stays up long enough for the mob to cast a spell, that's good extra damage.

But the bottom line is that two of the new abilities are almost exclusively for PvP situations, with the third being only conditionally useful, depending on whether the skill works a certain way. So while I'm sure PvP death knights are pretty excited over this stuff, as someone who focuses on the PvE game, I am mostly overwhelmed from a utility perspective. With any luck, some existing talents and skills will be revamped enough to provide some excitement for PvE death knights, though.

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