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Lichborne: Death knights remain in holding pattern in Mists of Pandaria beta


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.

When one takes a two-week vacation, one generally looks forward to things having changed, even slightly, when one returns. This is especially sure when speaking of the Mists of Pandaria beta test. Strangely, that hasn't been exactly the case for death knights. There have been changes, certainly, but not as drastic as we might have hoped -- and not as well-explained, either.

Today, we'll take a look at a few of the more important changes and what they imply for our class. In addition, we'll see what Ghostcrawler did and didn't say about death knights in a recent post.

Plague Leech and disease issues

There've been a few changes to death knights, but the most interesting one comes with Plague Leech. This first-tier talent, which replaces Vile Spew, will allow you to generate a death rune by canceling the diseases from your target.

The nice thing about this skill is that it gives us another much-needed Blood Tap replacement now that Blood Tap itself has been turned into a somewhat more restricted talent. The bad thing about this skill is that it's probably going to become mandatory for min-maxing DPS death knights. If your diseases are about to expire anyway and you can eat them for an extra death rune, it's hard to see how that won't become a DPS increase. Once we all reach level 90 and the math has been sufficiently mathed, it seems relatively obvious that Plague Leech will be considered mandatory by the hardcore PvE community, for better or for worse.

Coupled with this is the Glyph of Outbreak, which takes away the cooldown on the ability but makes it cost 40 runic power. While this seems like a nice, handy way to solve our disease-spreading issues in general, the 40 runic power is what makes this a bit hard. That makes it impossible to use as an opener, which means it's out for unholy death knights unless they want to have the awkwardness of spending runes to apply diseases and thus having an orphaned blood rune in their rotations. In addition, runic power regeneration has been cut down in a myriad of ways in Mists, meaning we may not have 40 spare runic power -- and even if we did, it means we're losing the DPS we could have gained from a Frost Strike or a Death Coil.

So really, this all feeds into a massive tangle of issues we've been dealing with for a while now. Runic power regeneration was utterly destroyed in the Mists revamp. As Plague Strike and Icy Touch have grown weaker and unholy has changed to make those attacks more awkward to use, we've needed more of a way to easily spread diseases than ever. Unfortunately, the 1-minute cooldown on Outbreak has proven to be more and more of a thorn in the side. Making it cost runic power might have worked in Cataclysm, but with the horrible stunted runic power regeneration in Mists, it probably won't work here.

The feast or famine issue with death knight runes is now more pronounced than ever. We're either overloaded with resources, or the resources refuse to come and we're sitting around with nothing to do. We need the 1-second cooldown of Unholy Presence but also the extra runic power and runic power regeneration of Frost Presence.

At this point, I really feel like Unholy and Frost Presences and their bonuses need to be rolled into one and given to DPS specs as a passive ability, while blood death knights get Blood Presence as a passive feature of their spec. It wouldn't be a perfect solution, but it would put us back to where we are currently and temporarily fix the feast or famine issues with the DPS specs.

Ghostcrawler and the search for identity

There's also been some angst over the past few weeks about the lack of feedback from the dev team about death knight issues and concerns in the Mists of Pandaria beta test. We certainly have issues, but the devs haven't specifically addressed any of them. We finally got a blue post from Ghostcrawler in which he indicated that the dev team is mostly satisfied with the state of death knights and doesn't plan to make huge changes with them this expansion.

This, of course, has sent huge ripples through the death knight community. A lot of death knights, including many well known theory crafters and raiders, certainly believe there are issues that need addressing. This thread of DK issues is a good place to start to see just some of them.

Of course, Ghostcrawler did say specifically that he believes DKs don't have spec identity problems. You could argue he's not too far off the mark. For example, unholy is well known as the pets and disease spec, focusing more on magical tricks than swordplay. Then again, this has lead to issues of its own, as unholy has been on a huge roller coaster, and Unholy Might remains a thorn in our side, an ability that doesn't scale with new item levels very elegantly and certainly leaves us in the lurch as far as scaling with weapon damage goes. Frost has similar issues with the struggle between two-handed and dual wielding damage and rotations, and blood continues to struggle with being the active tanking class that generally ends up doing twice the work for less survivability and flexibility than other tank classes.

We also tend to be a bit paranoid because we've been down this road before. Back in the Cataclysm beta, death knight testers predicted most of the issues we had in the live game, from GCD capping to rune tetris. With this in mind, there's room for concern that the issues we're uncovering in this beta test could lead to the same thing. The dev team may be similarly paranoid about trusting our findings though, as we did come out of Wrath beta testing a little overpowered, or at least with some overpowered abilities that needed to be cut or nerfed.

Needless to say, we'll all be waiting with bated breath to see what Ghostcrawler has to say in the future. There's a lot more testing to go, and with any luck, we'll have more changes to test soon.

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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