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Lichborne: Tier 12 set bonus preview for death knights


Every week, WoW Insider brings you Lichborne for blood, frost, and unholy death knights. In the post-Cataclysm era, death knights are no longer the new kids on the block. Let's show the other classes how a hero class gets things done.

Patch 4.2 is on the PTR, and while we haven't seen any extensive death knight class changes, the one chunk of information we have is the tier 12 set bonuses. They are datamined, so it's certainly possible they won't look the same once we see them on actual gear -- and regardless, we do still have a whole test cycle for them to get changed -- but they're interesting enough that it's worth taking a look at them. Today, we'll take a look at the datamined bonuses to see how effective they are and just what they may suggest about the direction and future of our class in patch 4.2.

Tier 12 tanking bonuses

  • Two-piece bonus Your melee attacks cause Burning Blood on your target, which deals 800 fire damage every 2 seconds for 6 seconds and causes your abilities to behave as if you had 2 diseases present on the target.
  • Four-piece bonus Your Dancing Rune Weapon grants 15% additional parry chance.
The two-piece death knight tank set bonus has a pretty major downfall, namely that the second little bonus, the disease replacement, won't really be useful to death knights except on trivial trash. On bosses and even on higher-level trash, the slow and physical damage debuffs on our diseases are incredibly useful for our own survivability. In short, we'll still need to use diseases on just about any battle that counts, unless you're in a raid where others put up those debuffs for you (which is possible but not likely).

That said, the extra threat and damage is still pretty sweet. The confusing part is just with that second little addition, which feels as if it will do nothing other than tempt death knight tanks to get lazy and make their healers do more work. While some people are wondering if the disease bonus will stack to give us four diseases when we have our original diseases up, I wouldn't count on it. It would make the bonus far too overpowered for DPS. Unholy alone would probably end up going two-piece tanking instead of grabbing their DPS tier set.

The four-piece death knight tank set bonus is essentially a pretty decent defensive cooldown buff, just like the tier 11 four-piece before it. Getting 15% more parry rating on Dancing Rune Weapon means it grants a total of 35% parry every 1.5 minutes. Chances are, depending on exactly stat outlay of the gear itself, four-piece tier 12 will be a laudable goal for death knights.

Tier 12 DPS bonuses
  • Two-piece bonus Your Horn of Winter ability also grants you 3 runic power every 5 seconds for 2 minutes.
  • Four-piece bonus Your critical strikes with melee abilities deal 15% additional damage as fire damage over 4 seconds.
The two-piece DPS bonus looks mostly like a very lackluster copy of Butchery (and even then, it doesn't share Butchery's extra runic power on death). Getting 3 runic power every 5 seconds only gives you only around one extra Death Coil or Frost Strike every minute. That's not a completely horrible bonus, but it's not exciting either, and it requires a significant amount of ramp-up time on a given fight. In addition, if there's a warrior or shaman in your group, there is a chance you may not need, want, or be able to keep Horn of Winter up at all times. Considering the regeneration bonus will likely only be active during combat, I think it's safe to call this bonus somewhere between relatively unexciting and problematic.

The four-piece death knight DPS bonus is interesting, to say the least. The aim seems more or less to promote critical strike rating, which has long been rejected and reforged by most death knight DPS specs. What it seems to do in practice is widen the already huge gap between frost and unholy DPS that has sprung up in patch 4.1. Due to the many (in many cases, justifiable) buffs frost has received to close the gap with unholy, it's shot right past unholy and taken a dominant lead. This tier bonus will only make frost an even more desired option.

Essentially, this bonus synergizes pretty perfectly with Killing Machine. Since Killing Machine guarantees critical strikes, any frost death knight who can master the art of lining of a disease-supported Obliterate with a Killing Machine is guaranteed to trigger a very nice little fire DoT with four-piece tier 12. In the meantime, unholy DKs are going to have pray that their strikes crit based off normal gearing and buffs. In addition, frost has a melee strike runic power dump in Frost Strike, as opposed to unholy's non-melee Death Coil, meaning frost has one more way to get more procs off of this ability than unholy. You can tell right away that frost is just going to see more benefit out of this.

The other issue with this bonus is the fact that it comes in the form of a DoT (even a relatively short one, at 4 seconds). The fact that it's a DoT makes it incredibly likely that it will cause issues. Mages have long had to deal with "ignite munching," in which two critical strikes one after another causes the Ignite talent only to trigger once. This could be a special problem for dual-wielding death knights if, for example, Obliterate and Obliterate Off-Hand are counted as two separate critical strikes for the purpose of the ability. There's also the question of whether this will "roll." If a string of criticals overwrites the damage before it's done, that will bring down the total DPS potential of this talent for sure. Since the wording of the bonus suggests it procs primarily off weapon strikes and not auto-attacks or DoT crits, it may be that Blizzard is expecting that to naturally throttle the proc rate in order avoid this type of problem.

I imagine we'll have to see the four-piece DPS bonus change before 4.2 goes live in order to address the frost/unholy discrepancy, but hopefully Blizzard has its ducks in a row on the other possible DoT problems.

The unholy blight

As you can see, the big story of the tier bonuses is how much they highlight what may be the biggest death knight issue in the game right now -- that is, the discrepancy between frost and unholy DPS. Patch 4.2 doesn't seem like a rebalancing patch per se, but balance druids are seeing a whole lot of changes, so it may be that we'll see some unholy rebalancing in the next few weeks as Blizzard updates the PTR. If not, and the the tier bonuses remain as is, we can expect them to highlight that growing gulf more and more.

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.

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