Lichborne: Death knight changes for Cataclysm beta build 12942

Daniel Whitcomb
D. Whitcomb|09.15.10

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Lichborne: Death knight changes for Cataclysm beta build 12942

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

Cataclysm beta build 12942 is now on the beta servers, and with it has come a much-anticipated, huge round of death knight changes. There's some deceptively minor stuff, some incredibly game-changing stuff and a lot of in-between stuff. Let's take a look at the changes (some gleaned from in game, some courtesy of MMO Champion) and see what we can figure out about where the death knight class is headed.

  • Death Strike now heals you for 30% of the damage you have sustained during the preceding 5 sec. (minimum of at least 5% of your maximum health).
  • Improved Death Strike now also increases the healing granted by Death Strike by 25/50/75%.
  • Will of the Necropolis now cannot occur more than once every 45 seconds.
  • Rune Tap now heals you for 15% of your maximum health, down from 20%.
  • Vampiric Blood now increases the amount of health generated through spells and effects by 25% for 10 sec., down from 35%.
As you can tell, Death Strike's been nerfed pretty hard in the health department. This isn't completely surprising, as it allows blood tanking to scale properly with boss damage, healing a given percentage of the damage, which should make it more predictable and easier to balance. In theory, there's also some strategy involved in using it now, if you can find the runes to use right after a pretty massive hit. That said, it might mess up your rotation a bit too much to use it that way.

Of course, the side effect of this change is that it's a huge hit to leveling death knights. Preliminary tests suggest that blood is a lot, lot closer to the other trees in survivability now, and I'm back to needing to do a decent amount of eating even as a leveling blood death knight. That said, the blood death knight still has a hell of a lot more survival tools, such as the Rune Tap, which still isn't a slouch even post-nerf, and the blood parasites. Whether this nerf will chase some people back to frost and unholy for leveling, we'll see, but blood looks a lot less clear cut as a leveling option now.

Frost is probably the least changed of the three trees, but there are still some interesting tidbits in here. It's nice to see Festering Strike come down a few levels, if only because it gives leveling unholy knights more of an opportunity to get used to their endgame damage rotation. Whether it will be effective or not, though, depends on whether it's still effective for leveling unholy knights to use Death Strike even after the nerf.

Improved Icy Touch's going away is definitely welcome, since it was pretty much the example of the boring passive talent the dev team was trying to get rid of when they redesigned the trees. That said, it's not really clear if runic power mastery will be any better, since at the moment, it doesn't look like we'll really have much call to use that extra 30 runic power, especially since we're still facing the problem of GCD locking with both frost and unholy. In this case, I think the devs need to take another shot at replacing this talent.

The Howling Blast change is nice, but I doubt it will significantly change or overpower anything; it will just make Howling Blast a bit easier to fit into an AoE rotation. Overall, frost appears to be shaping up pretty nicely.

  • Ebon Plaguebringer now also affects Outbreak.
  • Unholy Blight is now a tier 5 talent, up from tier 4.
  • Ravenous Dead has been replaced with Shadow Infusion: When you cast Death Coil, you have a 33/66/100% chance to empower your active ghoul, increasing its damage dealt by 10% for 30 sec. Stacks up to 5 times.
  • Resilient Infection implemented: When your diseases are dispelled by an enemy, you have a 50/100% chance to activate a Frost rune if Frost Fever was removed, or an Unholy rune if Blood Plague was removed.
  • Unholy Command is now a tier 1 talent, down from tier 2.
  • Vicious Strikes renamed Rage of Rivendare and no longer increases critical strike chance and critical strike damage bonus. Now Increases the damage of your Plague Strike, Scourge Strike and Festering Strike abilities by 15/30/45%.
  • Virulence tooltip clarification: Spells are all death knight abilities that are not direct weapon strikes.
  • Contagion *New* -- Increases the damage of your diseases spread via Pestilence by 50/100%.
  • Ghoul Frenzy is now Dark Transformation: Consume 5 charges of Shadow Infusion on your Ghoul to transform it into a powerful undead monstrosity for 30 sec. The ghoul's abilities are empowered and take on new functions while the transformation is active. / 1 Unholy, 60 yd range, Instant
  • Impurity Mastery swapped for new Unholy Might -- Increases Strength by 15%.
Dark Transformation ability changes:
  • Gnaw becomes -- Strike an enemy with a smashing attack, dealing 125% of normal melee damage and stunning for 4 sec.
  • Huddle becomes -- Unleash a fortifying roar, reducing all damage taken by 50% for 10 sec.
  • Claw becomes -- Rakes an enemy with deformed claws, dealing 150% of normal damage to the target and up to 2 additional targets.
  • Leap becomes -- Charge an enemy, interrupting spellcasting and immobilizing them for 2 sec.
Unholy is the most changed tree, possibly because it needed it the most. I have to say, I'm pretty excited about most of the changes. The addition of Unholy Might as a passive in place of Impurity is welcome because it boosts all damage, not just a few select "spells" and diseases. The addition of Dark Transformation does add a new level of complexity, but it also adds a flavor we've been sorely lacking since somewhere around mid-Wrath era, when Blizzard nerfed Unholy Blight and made Scourge Strike primarily physical. Contagion also mostly solves the problem with Outbreak's not having a short enough cooldown, by allowing us to keep our unique disease dominance and simply spread diseases between mobs. Unholy now feels like a strong tree I'd actually want to play. The challenge with playing unholy now is going to be managing your Dark Transformation cooldowns to deliver maximum DPS while your ghoul is in Unholy Transformation Mode, as well as making sure your rotation is tight enough to reach that five-stack as often as possible without sacrificing weapon strikes.

That said, there are problems that remain. Unholy still favors dual wielding and lacks the free GCDs that the devs have said we should have, even after these changes. In fact, these changes arguably bias unholy more toward dual wielding, as Unholy Might will increase dual wield weapon damage too, and Shadow Infusion will be maintained easier and Dark Transformation triggered earlier, thanks to the extra Sudden Doom procs coming from dual wielding. In addition, it still feels like unholy has a few relatively boring or not-very-useful abilities, including Unholy Command (which feels mostly superfluous), Necrosis and Virulence (which feels like it should be folded into the class just as Improved Icy Touch was). In addition, Unholy Frenzy's health drain is still arguably a bit much for the somewhat lower value haste buff it provides, and certainly it's way too risky for solo play now that death knight self-healing is so abysmally low, especially outside the blood tree. Finally, there's still that silly extra hanging blood rune that shows up when an unholy death knight has to apply diseases the old-fashioned way. Being able to spread diseases at full strength with Pestilence helps this somewhat, but the initial attack will still have that silly problem.

Where do we go from here?

Here's the long and short of it: This patch is a good start on getting death knights feeling like a "finished" class, but we really do still need more. In addition to the things I've mentioned above, Here's what I'd like to see happen next:
  1. Remove Runic Empowerment. It creates too much chaos in the death knight rotation, causing little "islands" of one-rune refreshment that often leave rotations forced to use an awkward skill, such as frost using Plague Strike to get rid of a stray unholy rune or Unholy using Icy Touch to get rid of a newly refreshed frost rune.
  2. Solve the issues with unholy dual wielding. We've discussed in the past why unholy dual wielding is so powerful in the beta, so I won't rehash the reasons here, but it is definitely an issue. Find a way to nerf dual wielding's advantages, or perhaps add a new talent (maybe replacing the supremely boring Unholy Blight, which used to be beloved but now just needs to be taken out behind the shed and put out of its misery) that gives two-handed weapons an edge in the unholy trees.
  3. Solve the issues with the GCDs. Parsing suggests that we just don't have that many free GCDs, between our massive runic power regeneration, free death coil procs and other factors. If we're meant to have more free GCDs, let's get some.

That said, this was a pretty nice patch for unholy death knights at least, and while it's pretty wince-worthy for blood leveling, we'll see where it goes. It would probably be better to have all three trees solid for leveling, and if that's going to happen, it was probably inevitable that blood's self-healing was going to see a hit. Whether it was too much is something only time and testing will tell. For now, we got a decent patch and a lot of new stuff to test, plus the hope that maybe the dev team is taking a closer look at death knights now and will give us more tweaks in the near future.
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