Lichborne: 2012 predictions for death knights and how they actually shook out

A picture of a death knight from the Mists of Pandaria beta, standing in front of a pagoda in a bamboo forest.

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.

As it was for, to some extent, all classes, 2012 was a busy time for the death knights, as one expansion ended and another began. As the news of Mists of Pandaria began pouring in, I started making some predictions. As the Mists beta progressed, I started mentioning things that I felt, or that the death knight community felt, needed to change or would change. This week, I figured it might be interesting to look back on some of those old articles and see what exactly happened, and how far off the mark I was (or wasn't).

My crystal ball's a bit cloudy

Back in late January 2012, I made 3 predictions for the upcoming patch 5.0. The first was technically a prediction about other classes. Namely, I predicted block would be removed. This would take care of the infamous "avoidance cap," thus allowing the non-blocking tanks to worry less about being outclassed by warriors and paladins in later raiding tiers.

As someone who played a druid tank in Burning Crusade and has tanked regularly on my death knight since Wrath, this has been an issue near and dear to my heart. I didn't get it quite right this time, but I like to think I was in the ballpark. Blocking wasn't abolished outright, but by making it calculate only after dodge and parry are rolled, it makes it such that the traditional avoidance cap is not reachable by any achievable metric. That truth has held up so far, though we may need another raid tier or two to see the full extent of what it means, for death knights and others.

The second prediction I made was that two-handed frost would become a thing of the past, simply because Blizzard would grow weary of trying to balance it much as they did making every tree tanking or DPS. With the roller coaster ride that has been buffs and nerfs to Might of the Frozen Wastes, this might have almost felt like a safe bet at the time, but Blizzard did no such thing. In fact, they have done a remarkably decent job of balancing the weapons, making it so that two-handed frost gets extra damage from Obliterate, and dual wielding from Frost Strike, giving each a slightly different play style and stat outlay, and so far keeping the DPS relatively close. This was definitely a swing and a miss on my part, no two ways about it.

My final prediction was for an unholy revamp. Unholy was in a very interesting state at the beginning of 2012. It was actually relatively popular and well regarded as a raiding spec. Unfortunately, this was due to one thing: Gurthalak. The blade dropped off of Deathwing, and it had a proc of a tentacle that did shadow damage. This shadow damage could be buffed by Dreadblade. As a result, unholy death knights found themselves finally competitive with frost, but only if they had that sword.

Thus, it stood to reason that once the sword was no longer in the picture, unholy's flaws would come back to the forefront. Alas, Blizzard disagreed, and unholy, in basic mechanics, remained relatively unchanged in the Mists beta. As a result, all the problems that plagued unholy, from awkward rune spending to slow damage ramp up time, continued into Mists, and resulted in a near rogue-like exodus from the spec.

The good news here is that Blizzard's added a few unholy changes in patch 5.2. They're not exactly a complete revamp, but they do look like they'll make a good, solid run at solving some of unholy's weak points. It just took a year longer than I expected, more or less. Now we just have to hope those changes make it to live servers.

Beta lamentations

The first fix suggested was the removal of Plague Leech. Plague Leech is essentially the only first tier talent that directly translates into a damage increase. As long as you use it to remove diseases every 30 seconds or so, right when they would otherwise expire, you'll get some extra DPS by using the death rune it gives you. Weirdly enough, very few death knights have been actively happy about this, primarily because it gives us one more complicated thing to watch. Alas, Blizzard left it in place, so it is there, and it is a DPS increase if used properly. The good news is that it's slim enough that you can probably get away with skipping it if you aren't on bleeding edge content, but I doubt many death knights would mourn it if it went away.

The second fix suggested was combining DPS presences. Midway through beta, a perennial death knight issue was the fact that Frost Presence was just not useful to anyone outside of some AoE situations. The one second global cool down on Unholy Presence was just too dear for any DPS death knight to use anything else. It seemed like just giving up on Frost Presence and removing it completely would be the best option. Blizzard, instead, made the one second GCD universal, and tweaked the two presences to offer unique benefits that suited the spec they matched. So while this request wasn't fulfilled, the alternate solution Blizzard offered has turned out for the best.

The third fix suggested was a revamp of the level 90 talents. Originally, the level 90 talents off some extra damage to go with their effects. Alas, balancing that damage proved a bit much especially taking into account masteries, so Blizzard removed the damage altogether, leaving the unique effects in place. This didn't go over well with some in the death knight community, the concern being that it made the tier feel less epic and less like an exciting thing to look forward to at the level cap.

It's certainly true that other classes get solid damage abilities at level 90, and since our level 90s, without damage, are arguably just glorified reskins or slight retweaks of old abilities like Hungering Cold, it is a little discouraging they were never redesigned. Still, they have proven to be solid workhorses with genuine situational utility. One just wishes they were a bit more substantial.

The level 75 talents were the next ones I put up for a possible re-do. Our rune regeneration system, in which Runic Empowerment and its variations provide faster rune regeneration when played against our runic power generators, has always been a point of contention since it was first implemented, with many death knights saying it makes our rotation unnecessarily complicated, bringing rise to terms such as "rune tetris" to describe the elaborate dances needed to "game" the abilities. In addition, Blood Tap made it onto this tier, becoming a new rune regeneration ability instead of the old dependable standby it had been before. There was a strong movement among the death knight community for the whole mechanic to be abolished, or at least for Blizzard to stick us all on Runic Corruption and replace that talent level.

Alas, Blizzard did not cave, and thus we still have the prospect of rune tetris for the optimal play style. That said, the difference in most cases is minuscule enough that, again, a lot of death knights are just going with what feels comfortable, so again, it's a case where we're probably alright in a holding pattern. Still, when the next expansion or major balance patch rolls around, I fully expect this to be one of the major issues again.

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.