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Lichborne: The new blood tree in Cataclysm


Welcome to Lichborne, the weekly death knight column for the class undergoing some pretty cataclysmic changes to its setup and philosophy in the new expansion.

With the Cataclysm beta out of NDA, we've had a chance to take a look at some of the new death knight changes coming our way. I'm pretty sure (and hopeful) that they're not complete yet, but there's enough of it done that we have a relatively good chance of figuring out where it's going. We'll start our more in depth look into the new sole tanking tree of the death knight class, blood. Blood is shaping up to a very interesting tanking tree. If there's one way I can sum it up, it's this: For all that Blizzard's said they want to move away from the "AoE everything down" model, it's interesting that they've done a lot of work to shore up blood's AoE talents.

Let's take a look at some of the ways blood is changing in Cataclysm.

Everything old is new again

One thing I am impressed about is that Blizzard's done a pretty good job of keeping the feel of blood with the new talents. Bloodworms and Dancing Rune Weapon are actually still in, but they've been repurposed to help tanking. Bloodworms will now "explode" and heal the party, and Dancing Rune Weapon will now provide 20% parry to the death knight while it's up. Of course, numbers on these would be nice. How long will Bloodworms stick around? How much will they heal? Will they still burst and heal if killed prematurely by AoE or cleaves? Bloodworms will probably be worth taking or not based on the answers to those questions. In a similar vein, it is hoped that Dancing Rune Weapon will appear behind the target. If it doesn't, it could be killed prematurely by cleaves or AoEs.

Of course, not everything has been kept in the same tree. Blood now has Bone Shield, but interestingly enough, it's located in the 11-point talent spot, perhaps leaving it low enough for nostalgic unholy DPSers to grab it. If there's an issue here, it may be that it's questionable if it will be worthwhile for blood tanks. Unholy used it by inflating their avoidance, but if blood means to be a more traditional high armor/high stamina tank, as seems likely, Bone Shield as it is may turn out to be a little too weak.

Strangely enough, Abomination's Might has stayed within the blood tree, and rather high up, at the 20-point mark. That 2% strength it gives might technically be decent for threat, but it might perhaps be another carrot to convince the DPSers to try the blood tree.

The strange case of Blood Boil

The real confusion with the blood tree probably comes with the incredible amount of focus placed on Blood Boil. Blizzard has said that they plan to de-emphasize AoE fights in Cataclysm in favor of the class model of crowd control. It seems strange, then, that they have dedicated so many talent points to optimizing blood's AoE ability. We start with Hemorrhagic Fever, which causes Blood Boil to reduce physical damage done by all targets by 10% for 30 seconds. It seems pretty likely that this will become sort of a mandatory debuff for blood tanks to put up. But since it's attached to a damaging AoE ability, that also means that it will break crowd control whenever you use it. The fun isn't over there, no. The Blood Boil portion of Might of Mograine has been split off into a second talent called Crimson Scourge, so you now have three more points you need to spend, and may want to spend if you need to be recasting Blood Boil often to keep an important debuff up. Luckily, they're making a new talent, Blood Swarm, which gives you a free Blood Boil whenever you use Plague Strike, for five points. That's 10 points dedicated solely to making Blood Boil a power and viable AoE and debuffing tool.

In some ways, this is a good thing, since Morbidity is now so far up the unholy tree that it'll be hard for blood to justify spending the points to get it, so having a powerful Blood Boil should make AoE tanking much easier for a blood death knight. But if Blizzard's going to curtail AoE fights as much as they claim, why are we wasting 10 points on an AoE ability? Why put such an important debuff on an AoE ability, making it pretty much necessary to charge into combat without crowd control (such as Sap) pre-cast and making it necessary to break all crowd control every 30 seconds to apply the buff? Don't get me wrong, I love AoE fights. I think requiring crowd control is overrated. But if Blizzard is truly shying away from them, it might be better if they made Hemorrhagic Fever its own ability, one that doesn't cause damage, and switch out all of these Blood Boil-buffing talents for some more single-target, threat-based stuff -- preferably buffs to Death Strike.

To compound all this is Heart Strike. Heart Strike now hits three targets instead of two, acting a bit like Chain Lightning in that it does a little less damage on each following target. Again, this is a very welcome buff for the Wrath-era tradition of little to no crowd control. If Blizzard plans to de-emphasize AoE tanking, though, should one of our bread-and-butter strikes not only do uncontrollable AoE damage, but also have to vie with Blood runes for our most important debuff? Finally, since our third mastery involves using Death Strike for extra damage absorption, it seems sort of strange that we're going to probably be using Death Rune Mastery to cast more Heart Strikes and Blood Boils for AoE damage. Overall, it feels like Blizzard's putting an awful lot of power behind AoE attacks in the blood tree, and that clashes with one of their most loudly stated dungeon design goals in Cataclysm.

The problem with Improved Blood Presence

If there's one problem Blizzard really needs to address, it's Improved Blood Presence. Since Blood Presence is essentially the Frost Presence of Cataclysm, it would seem like you could swap the function of the current live Improved Frost Presence and be done, right? Not so fast. Blizzard has instead simply made Blood Presence make the death knight uncrittable. Unholy and Frost Presences get some extra damage reduction, but I doubt you'll see a tank in those presences except in very specific fights. This means you're essentially forced to take two talent points that have no real purpose other than to make tanking baseline viable, and all those stories of a DPSer just taking their sword and going to town start to sound a lot less appealing, since they will now definitely have no protection from critical strikes. I've played a healer, and I can guarantee you, whether it's a normal dungeon or a heroic dungeon, it is a lot more difficult and annoying to heal someone with no crititical strike protection.

My feeling is that Blood Presence really needs something more, be it adding a bit more stamina or some extra damage protection. The other option is to removed Improved Blood Presence altogether and put the crit reduction on Blood Presence by default, letting the other tank talents and gear separate the DPS from the tanks. If that's not an option, put the crit reduction it on another, more useful tank talent such as Veteran of the Third War or Toughness (which, yes, is now in the blood tree). Then it would feel less like two very boring talent points you had to take, and more like something you were getting as a reward for taking the useful stuff.

The lowdown on off trees

Here's the final weirdness in the tank tree as it currently is: The complete lack of any interesting talents to take in frost and unholy. Generally, we're all agreed that loading up completely in one tree is sort of frowned upon, but currently, there are just not very many interesting, useful talents for tanks low in the other two trees. In Unholy, you could perhaps justify buffing your Plague Strike since it interacts with Blood Swarm, but then there's really nothing interesting for tanks until you get to Morbidity, requiring you to spend at total of 18 points in the tree, which may in itself be a bit too much to take and still have the points to fill out mandatory talents in Blood.

Frost is little better. You could justify getting Runic Empowerment for the flexibility, all right, and maybe Improved Icy Touch for the single-target aggro (it no longer has the slow debuff, just extra damage), but the second tier and above are all strictly pretty useless for a tank, especially since blood does primarily physical damage.

In short, it's obvious the blood tree needs at least a few passes before it's completely ready for prime time. There are some interesting ideas here, but Blizzard really needs to stop being so schizophrenic about their intentions for AoE fights, and it feels like they need some more variety and structure so that blood can feel excited about spending the extra points in the off trees. And hopefully, they'll make Improved Blood Presence a little bit more exciting, while they're at it.

Welcome to Lichborne, the weekly class column on the newest WoW class, the death knight, where we discuss PUG etiquette and Emblem of Triumph gear for the death knight, 5-man Icecrown dungeon gear 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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