As you probably know by now, Blizzard has drastically overhauled the talent system for patch 5.0, giving everyone a ton of automatic level-ups and then a choice between three talents every 15 levels. This week, we'll take a look at the talents they previewed for death knights at BlizzCon 2011: what they mean, how they work, what looks good, and what sort of sucks. As a reminder, these talents are all a work in progress that can and will change before patch 5.0 goes live, which could easily be over half a year from now. With that in mind, we'll focus more on mechanics and philosophy and less on math. Math can always be tweaked.
This tier brings us the return of two old favorites and a new utility move I've personally long desired. As a death knight tank, I've always been a little jealous of warriors for their ability to spread a debuff with AoE damage via Thunder Clap. Now, we have that option with Roiling Blood, which spreads Pestilence if Blood Boil hits a diseased enemy. Blood Boil provides some nice extra threat while spreading needed debuffs to a large pack of enemies.
The big problem is, however, that we have to give up Outbreak to get it. If you've been playing your death knight tank seriously, I probably don't have to tell you how important Outbreak is to our current play. Since we rely on Death Strike for survival so much, "wasting" runes to get diseases up can literally be a killer. It's the reason why Outbreak is going down to a 30-second cooldown for us.
We can apply the same issue to Corpse Explosion. Corpse Explosion here is a really nice AoE solution for unholy, which has needed one for a while, and it's just plain fun to blow stuff up like that. The problem, again, lies with Outbreak. While Outbreak isn't as essential to DPS death knights, it can still prove very integral to getting our top DPS. Since we don't have to waste runes on getting diseases up, we can use our heavy-hitting strikes more and cause more damage.
So for me, this tier is haunted by the specter of Outbreak. It's possible other patch 5.0 changes will make Outbreak more superfluous, but for now, it's hard to imagine not taking it on this tier, as the utility it provides would seem to outweigh the other two options handily. I'm hoping Blizzard relents and makes it baseline however, because I would love to grab me some Roiling Blood or Corpse Explosion.
The second tier brings us a variety of tanking cooldowns. You can either get Lichborne, which gives you some status immunity and the ability to heal yourself with death coil; Anti-Magic Zone, which gives you a much-needed raiding tank cooldown; or Bone Shield, which provides a nice, solid, long-lasting damage buffer.
Personally, as a DPSer, I'm taking Bone Shield, no question. First, having the iconic bone shield look back will be pretty sweet. Second, 20% damage reduction is just an amazing thing, and since I won't be face-tanking the mobs, it should last me a while. For tanking, I'll take it for similar reasons. A nice, consistent, 20% damage reduction is hard to pass up.
Lichborne will probably be a strong second-place contender, primarily for the Death Coil heal trick. Never underestimate the ability to take some pressure off your healers, especially since our self-healing has been significantly nerfed since our Wrath heyday. PvPers may take it for an extra get-out-of-CC-free card as well.
Anti-Magic Zone is there, and I can see people taking it for a raid cooldown, if it is what a specific fight or raid group needs. The big question is going be whether that damage reduction bubble makes up for the loss of self-defense from the other two talents.
Asphyxiate immediately draws attention here, but alas, it has been confirmed. It's not a long-term CC but instead a 5-second stun. That said, being able to act like Darth Vader and meting out a death knight version of Hammer of Justice on the enemy is nothing to sneeze at.
That said, Chilblains is going to be hard to give up. It's hard to beat being able to wrangle enemies with ease like that. If Glyph of Howling Blast still exists in some form and continues to apply Frost Fever, I can't see not taking it on my frost DPS, at least. I think you'll see most tanks and DPS take Chilblains here, with Asphyxiate as a strong runner-up. Death's Embrace, not so much.
This is the self-healing tier, and I think all tanks are just plain going to gravitate toward Vampiric Blood. The staying power and ease of use cannot be passed up for someone trying to stay alive while getting their face caved in.
For DPS, I think the choice will be between Death Pact and Death Siphon. What's interesting about Death Pact is that the current language on this talented version does not state that the ghoul targeted dies. If this is true, this might actually be a decent option for unholy death knights, especially. Your ghoul is already out, so just tap Death Pact and get a nice, large heal, then use Death Coil to heal your ghoul if worse comes to worse.
Death Siphon's downside is that it costs a death rune you could be spending on higher damage abilities -- and one that will be dearer to come by now that Blood Tap is a talent rather than a base skill. That said, it does do damage and (as of now) has no cooldown, so you can easily throw off two in a row to spend your two death runes and do more damage than you would have done spending that runic power on Death Pact. For my money, I think I'll be grabbing Death Siphon on my DPS DK.
Tier 5 may be the most elegant solution possible to the Runic Empowerment conundrum. Don't like it? Don't take it. I know I won't. No more rune tetris for me; I'll be choosing between Runic Corruption and Blood Tap.
The big issue here is whether you prefer more control or prefer to let it ride. Runic Empowerment and Blood Tap will give you more potential DPS, but you'll also have to know when to use your runes for maximum effect. If you don't, any potential DPS gain will be lost. Runic Corruption will be a nice, easy, passive DPS boost here, and while I think I may end up taking Blood Tap on my tank spec for the ability to generate runes in an emergency, my DPS spec will definitely be Runic Corruption.
This is the top tier for death knights, and I have to say I'm pretty damn happy for it. Ever since I first cast Death Grip, I've thought that I would love to have an AoE version. And here in patch 5.0, that is exactly what we get. I expect Gorefiend's Grasp will be the go-to choice for tanks on this level. Being able to pull in a group with two or three casters will be sort of god-like, and make tanking trash in both dungeons and raids (and maybe even the occasional boss fight with adds) a whole lot easier.
I could also see some DPSers taking this, if only as a way to help out their tanks. Just target your tank or your tank's current target, cast Gorefiend's Grasp, and there you go. It'd be a great way to make up for somewhat unskilled tanks in the dungeon or Raid Finder tools.
Still, I imagine most PvE DPSers will be going for Remorseless Winter. Not only do you get to feel like you're like the Lich King himself, you get a very solid AoE damage attack that ends with some nice stunning. In fact, I could even see some tanks who feel like they're already expert mob wranglers taking Remorseless Winter for that stun and the threat. This really feels exactly like what a top tier talent should be -- unique, useful, and with enough power and flavor to make us feel like the pinnacle of death knights.
Desecrated Ground is the third option here, and if nothing else, it might be picked up by some PvPers for the general crowd control immunity. It's also nice in that it provides some AoE shadow damage, but unless the numbers change (which, admittedly, they probably will), it won't really hold a candle to Remorseless Winter.
Overall, I'm pretty excited for this talent revamp, and I think the dev team's off to a good start with this first iteration. We'll see lots of tweaks though, I'm sure, and hopefully once the Pandaria beta is up, we'll all get invites and be able to test it all out for ourselves. Until then, though, I will continue to drool over the perfection of Remorseless Winter unashamedly, looking forward to the day I can use it myself.
Learn the ropes of endgame play with WoW Insider's DK 101 guide. Make yourself invaluable to your raid group with Mind Freeze and other interrupts, gear up with pre-heroic DPS gear or pre-heroic tank gear, and plot your path to tier 11/valor point DPS gear.