Lichborne: Death knight beta diaries, part 4: Two-handed frost and other beta minutae

Daniel Whitcomb
D. Whitcomb|09.07.10

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Lichborne: Death knight beta diaries, part 4: Two-handed frost and other beta minutae

Welcome to Lichborne, your weekly source for news, guides, tips and opinions on the death knight class.

In the latest beta patch, Blizzard was so kind as to bump the level cap up to 85, in addition to opening Uldum and Twilight Highlands, the last two major leveling zones in the expansion. Unfortunately, neither zone is itemized, but more on that later. In my testing this past week, I've delved in the long-dead, dormant spec of two-handed frost. The spec was officially killed off (at least in the sense of having competitive DPS) in the latter part of Wrath, when Blizzard decided to make frost the official spec of dual wielding. However, with the advent of Cataclysm, that is changing. With blood becoming a dedicated tanking tree, it left unholy as the only two-handed weapon tree. Recognizing that some players might dislike the pet-tending aspect of unholy, Blizzard decided to support two-handed weaponry in the frost tree once again.

That said, deciding to support it and succeeding at it are two different things, and in addition, there seems to be a lot of people who are still confused as to whether or not Blizzard plans to support it. You can put your mind at ease now though. Very recently, Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) confirmed that, yes, Blizzard is supporting the two-handed weapon playstyle for the frost tree.

Frost two-handed spec rises again

I started out with this spec. The nice thing about a two-handed frost spec is that you it only takes three talent points (for Might of the Frozen Wastes) to lock in the weapon, as opposed to six for dual wielding, leaving you slightly more freedom to choose your talents. Unfortunately, this is somewhat tempered by the fact that you have to take a relatively useless (for PvE) talent, Icy Reach, to even break into the tree, but I'm hopeful they'll switch that up before release.

As far as the playstyle goes, your basic priority system is going to be about the same as dual wield, with special attention paid to your Rime and Killing Machine procs to make sure you're getting the most use out of them. Of course, with all the runic power output, you'll be hard-pressed to keep up with churning out the Frost Strikes, especially if you have Glyph of Frost Strike (and it remains unchanged on live, which isn't a given). Overall, I found that in Deepholm quest gear, I was churning out damage in more than respectable amounts and regularly seeing massive critical strike damage on my Frost Strikes. I can report that two-handed frost is certainly at least as adequate as dual-wield frost, as far as leveling goes.

The big question as to whether it will keep viability at the endgame remains tied to the big issue that plagues death knights all over beta: GCD. If the lack of free global cooldowns constrains dual wield frost already, how much more will it constrain two-handed frost? If all the extra runic power granted by Might of the Frozen Wastes can't be converted to actual Frost Strikes, then two-handed frost has a strong possibility of languishing behind dual wield frost as they both hit the GCD ceiling.

In the immediate present, it suffers the same problem that unholy and frost dual wielding do: the health factor. The fact is, blood's amazing self-healing potential is too hard to ignore, and while two-handed frost (like dual-wield frost and unholy before) can hold up relatively well in one-on-one fights, it's blood that's going to make sure you survive and allow you to take on the hairier quests in which you can't help but pull some pretty big groups of mobs.

On Uldum and Twilight Highlands

There is one quick thing to note about Twilight Highlands: Stuff hits hard. Really hard. It's obviously meant to be the last zone you enter in game, so I'd strongly recommend heading to Uldum once you're done with Deepholm, if things stay as they are. Of course, one of the other things that may help here is zone itemization. Uldum wasn't too bad, but by midway through Twilight Highlands, it was pretty obvious that Deepholm gear was no longer cutting it. Once we get the actual quest gear in game, it may prove to equalize things a bit and make TH a little more bearable.

On power auras

One thing I do believe deserves mention is the new, in-game power auras that have been added in the latest beta patch. These make your proc abilities so much easier to see and activate, and I think a lot of death knights who never downloaded an addon like Power Auras will be surprised at what they missed. For example, when Rime procs, it not only creates a frosty aura around your character that's impossible to miss, but Icy Touch and Howling Blast light up on your hotbar so you know exactly which keys you're free to push. Unfortunately, not every proc ability has an aura yet; Killing Machine is still without an aura, for example. That said, it's still beta, so that may change, and I think this new power aura system will help a lot of death knights who have neglected their addon suites to play at a higher level. Look forward to this.

Dark Simulacrum domination

It's worth saying a few words on Dark Simulacrum, the new level 85 spell steal ability. Right now, it's actually pretty amazing. You cast it on your target, and the debuff stays for around 8 seconds and steals pretty much whatever spell the target casts, giving you a buff that lasts for 20 seconds that lets you cast a copy of the same spell on whatever target you want. But here's the thing: It not only works like Spell Reflection, it works like a souped-up Spellsteal, as well. You can copy paladin heals or mage fireballs, yes, but you can also copy a priest's Shadowform or a warlock's Felhunter or a paladin's Seal of Righteousness, as long as they cast it while you have them debuffed. This video by a beta tester shows how amazing the spell can get.

Of course, given this basic state, it's probably safe to say it's a little overpowered. Preliminary commentary from Ghostcrawler, however, suggests they might not nerf it as much as we think. For example, he says, Shadowform may even stay in a stealable option; they'll just give it a short duration, similar to how a mage's spellstolen buffs cap out at 2 minutes. If we see something as simple as that, I could see Dark Simulacrum becoming an incredibly versatile and fun ability -- something that, when used correctly, joins Anti-Magic Shell on the list of abilities whose proper use separates a good death knight from a great death knight.
We have advice for everything from PUG etiquette and buttons you should push more often to Icecrown loot and gear stat weights. Check out's DK leveling guides, and visit Lichborne every week for more death knight strategies and tips.

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