Lichborne: Unholy and the state of the Cataclysm beta talent trees

Daniel Whitcomb
D. Whitcomb|09.28.10

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Lichborne: Unholy and the state of the Cataclysm beta talent trees

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

With this week's Lichborne, I was hoping to have run a few heroic Cataclysm dungeons so I could report back to you on how death knights play through them -- but alas, it was not to be, as my beta client refuses to log in to the game without crashing. Luckily, there are plenty of things to discuss apart from that. This week, I'd like to discuss our talent trees as they currently are in the beta and where things are headed for us as the release date draws nearer.

Unholy: The first finished Cataclysm talent tree?

Unholy's been getting a lot of love lately. We got a nice, pumped-up Ghoul, a replacement for Necrosis that also wiped out Runic Empowerment, and the latest change, an addition to Unholy Presence of a global cooldown reduction of 0.5 seconds. Now that we've had some time to digest, absorb and test all of this, we're forced to come to one conclusion: We may finally have a death knight tree that looks pretty much finished and fun.

For most of the Cataclysm beta, there have been three major problems with the unholy tree. First, we were GCD-capped. The whole point of the rune system change was to provide us more breathing room, and instead, it kept us locked into a rotation that was (if possible) even tighter than live version. Second, we strayed far too far into dual-wielding territory. Between talents like Sudden Doom and Necrosis, among other things, dual wielding was just plain pulling ahead of two-handed weapon damage. Of course, some death knights welcomed this -- but not all, by far (I may be biased here, as I tend to be a die-hard two-handed weapon unholy death knight when I have my choice). In addition, Blizzard made it clear it wanted unholy to be exclusively for two-handed weapons. Third, Runic Empowerment just made our rotation random and hard to assess. For a tree that's generally known for a solid, predictable rotation, this got a little bit confusing and frustrating for unholy death knights used to a certain playstyle.

That's where Runic Corruption comes in. Runic Corruption replaces Necrosis. Due to the higher auto-attack damage of dual wielding, Necrosis was a huge factor in dual wielding's damage supremacy, since it added extra shadow damage to said auto-attack damage. With Necrosis nowhere in sight, suddenly dual wielding isn't so hot anymore, and in fact, preliminary number crunching suggests that the removal of Necrosis may by itself have re-established the dominance of two-handed weapons, at least at current gear levels. Now, mind you, we're not out of the woods yet. There's still a chance that Sudden Doom could tip the scales. Still, for the first time since beta started, two-handed weapon diehards can breathe easier.

Runic Corruption also ended up saving the day for the Runic Empowerment issue. Since it replaces Runic Empowerment's rune refresh proc with a quick burst of faster rune regeneration, it removes the randomness from our rotation, replacing it with a quick burst of refreshment that speeds up our rotation without disrupting it. Of course, the big problem here is that between that and the fact that it makes Death Coil cheaper, it also exacerbates our GCD issues.

Luckily, that's where the latest change comes in. As of a recent beta build, Unholy Presence will knock our global cooldown down by 0.5 seconds. That 0.5 seconds allows us to use our abilities faster. That means more opportunities to fire off Sudden Doom procs or drain our runic power pool, more opportunities to churn out strikes, and so on. Right now, preliminary math and preliminary dummy tests on the beta and PTR would suggest that this more or less fixes the GCD issue, even with Runic Corruption.

So what does that mean? Does it mean unholy is perfect? I'd say it's not quite there, but it's good enough. That is, it'll be a good, solid tree coming into Cataclysm (assuming proper numbers balancing), and it has a lot of varied and fun mechanics, with the last few nagging issues not being deal breakers. But as for those nagging issues, I break them down like this. First, we still have Virulence, which is a completely boring ability that feels like it should possibly just be passive. Second, there is still that weird hanging blood rune when (or if) you apply diseases with Plague Strike and Icy Touch. Luckily, we should be able to mostly avoid that by using Outbreak and Pestilence, but in cases where Outbreak is on cooldown and Pestilence can't be used because it would break crowd control, this may get a little annoying. Third, Sudden Doom still has the potential to push dual wielding back over the top and should probably be changed to a proc-per-minute mechanic to prevent this.

The follies of frost, the bad times of blood

Of course, even beyond those little niggling things, there's one other problem that won't go away so easily. Blood and frost are still death knight trees, and they still need work. Frost, for example, still needs a solution to its GCD woes. Thanks to the massive amount of runic power the spec generates, especially with two-handed weapons, it's nearly as bad as unholy was before the presence change. If frost is going to use Frost Presence, that probably should change somehow. Blood, in the meantime, mostly needs less reliance on the RNG. Making Runic Strike independent of dodges or parries would help here, as would making the various tanking cooldowns either free or costing Runic Power in order to free up runes. It would also be helpful if the confusion between Heart Strike and Death Strike could be cleared up as well (namely, that Blood Rites promotes the use of Heart Strike, while Blood Shield promotes the use of Death Strike).

Still, my guess is that we still have at least another two months or so in the development cycle, so they have plenty of time to tweak stuff. Right now, it's important to note that even as we have problems, there is forward movement being made. We have at least one solid tree. Now we just need to tighten up the other two.
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