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Lichborne: Notes from the Twitter developer chat


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

While paladins got some of the biggest bombshells in last week's big developer Twitter chat, there was still quite a bit of juicy information for death knights. Reading between the lines, it's pretty obvious we're getting some major tree revamps, especially in the frost tree, what with On a Pale Horse being added and Runic Empowerment being made baseline. The answers also bought some interesting insights into some of the various decisions being made as our class takes shape in Cataclysm. A few of the answers definitely merit some deeper discussion, so let's get to it.

Scourge Strike strikes again

With the all the difficulty the developers have had getting Scourge Strike worked out and balanced to a point where it was worth using over Obliterate without being straight-up overpowered, you'd think the developers would be content to let it alone. Instead, they've officially confirmed that they do plan to make it cost a single unholy rune. Their rationale is that they felt it seemed a little bit too like Obliterate, and they want the unholy rotation to have its own feel. They've also confirmed that they do not want said rotation to be as simple as casting an Icy Touch alongside each Scourge Strike.

Of course, while you can argue that Scourge Strike (with its large physical damage contingent) is pretty much Obliterate with a little bit of shadow damage added on right now, does switching it down to one rune help? One could argue it just leaves us as inheritors to the old blood DPS rotation, complete with the aim of converting death runes to spam a single-rune physical strike. That said, I'm game to give it a try -- but the question is how to juggle that extra frost rune?

The easiest way to solve it would be presumably to make Reaping cause Icy Touch to turn frost runes into death runes. You'd still have to cast an extra Icy Touch every so often, but in theory you'd have everything converted to let off six Scourge Strikes in a row most of the time. Still, that leaves you with only one extra Icy Touch every other round. On the other hand, diseases are slated to last between 30 and 48 seconds in Cataclysm, so you'd still be refreshing Frost Fever an awful lot that way.

So the other option would be give us some sort of frost-based nuke or weapon strike, which would handily take care of the extra frost rune but would also add a weird quasi-frost duality to unholy, which is thematically pretty focused on shadow damage. Also, if the frost-rune-based strike isn't specifically locked to the unholy tree, you have the possibility of creating weird, unforeseen synergies in the frost tree too. Then again, with this super-frost-attack, you have a perfect opportunity to entice unholy to take up a frost secondary spec by adding a frost damage buff to the first tier to replace Runic Empowerment -- you know, beside the one that already exists there with Improved Icy Touch.

Essentially, though, my initial feeling on this change is pretty close to my feeling on the new rune system: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. It seems weird that they're tinkering with such a huge base part of the unholy playstyle when it's working just fine. I'm not against trying out a new style, but I can't help but wonder if they really needed to divert so many resources to change the old one.

The death of dual-wield tanking?

With the coming switch to blood as the sole tank tree in Cataclysm, one of the concerns I've seen voiced often comes from the dual-wield tanking contingent, wondering if they'll get any support in Cataclysm. The official answer came with the latest Twitter chat, and can be summed up thus: "Kind of. Sort of. Maybe. OK, not really, but you can sort of pretend I guess." OK, the actual answer was, "It will be technically possible to dual wield and tank, but it will not be optimal threat-wise." That, to me, says about the same thing.

In other words, what it sounds like is that if you want to dual-wield tank, you should be able to put aside enough points to grab Nerves of Cold Steel in the second tier of frost, and they won't outright remove the Rune of the Nerubian Carapace -- but other than that, you're on your own. That certainly not great news for dual-wield tanks, especially in Cataclysm, where Blizzard is making a deliberate effort to scale back the dominance of the AoE tank style, which in turn suggests a need for high single-target threat.

Without Threat of Thassarian, a dual-wielding tank's single-target threat is going to be through the floor. The best you can hope for is to grab a couple of high-damage, slow one-handers (that means DPS weapons; dual-wielding tank weapons is officially dead unless you severely out-gear the content) and hope either your spell damage causes enough threat or your DPS is really good at throttling their damage. It seems like Blizzard could have been a little kinder and just taken old dual wield out behind the shed -- but hey, I guess a crappy option is better than no option. Still, if you want to do bleeding-edge content, chances are you'll need to tank with a two-handed weapon.

Another interesting note comes from another question about tank cooldowns. The developers come right out and say that "[they] like the cooldown aspect of death knight tanking and would like to preserve it." I think my main concern here is that we don't backslide to the early days of death knight tanking, when the complaint became that we were too weak when we weren't burning a cooldown. It's still a bit murky as to whether or not this complaint is legitimate, but there's sometimes something to be said for good, solid, passive tanking ability. When you're working to keep threat, it's nice to be able to stay alive even if you slip up a bit and miss a button. Still, it's sort of fun juggling cooldowns too, and we're going to have a lot of them in Cataclysm by all accounts, between Vampiric Blood, Bone Shield, Anti-Magic Shell and Icebound Fortitude. Between all that, we should be able to get a pretty decent defense rotation going regardless.

Overall, we're probably going to need a few more beta patches to get a good idea of where we're going and to see what happens with all the changes in the frost tree, but it should be an interesting ride. Where we'll be as a class on the other side is almost anyone's guess right now, but we'll keep you posted as the details emerge.

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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