Festering Too Long

As I write this post, the first release candidates for Legion patch 7.2.0 are presently on the PTR and the background loader. This patch includes extensions to our Artifact traits, many of which have sewn discontent amongst Unholy Death Knights.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: our feedback has basically been cherry-picked, and it seems like some of the adjustments made over the course of this PTR have actually made existing issues worse.

While I feel like my feedback has gone as far as it can on the official forums, I find myself reimagining Unholy more extensively than I usually do. I attempted to write some suggestions for replacements for the new artifact traits… which lead to writing replacements for existing traits as well… and finally just rewriting the entire spec.

Usually my posts end up addressing one issue of Unholy at a time – our AoE, our talents, our disease interaction, and so on. Today’s going to be different, by virtue of addressing all of them at once, with a complete rework.

Naturally, the more extensive a rework suggestion becomes, the less likely it is to ever get picked up by the developers. Which is, in part, why I have this blog in the first place: to keep my own notes for suggestions for later, to get to the heart of issues, and perhaps even to offer ideas for how to move forward next expansion.

What’s ACTUALLY Wrong?

As much as I loathe saying it, the core issue with Unholy can be traced back to the unique focus it received for this expansion.

Bear with me here.

The changes made to Death Knights in Legion rendered the original version of Festering Strike obsolete; we no longer need to convert Frost and Blood runes into Death runes, and the ability to extend our diseases on a single target has virtually no meaning without snapshotting or Necrotic Plague (which itself was a problematic ability to balance around). While Festering Strike could have been eliminated entirely, the developers realized that this would have left our core rotation as simply Scourge Strike and Death Coil, cooldowns and DoTs aside. They believed that this would be “boring”, so they created a new system to keep Festering Strike around: Festering Wounds.

The basic idea behind Festering Wounds was to make Scourge Strike’s damage dependent on Festering Strike – so you hit Festering Strike to apply a buff to your next Scourge Strike. The execution could be compared to an inverted Combo Point system: you hit your Finisher first, and then you follow with your Builders to match how strong your Finisher was. While this harkened back to Scourge Strike’s old dependence on diseases for its damage and retained Unholy’s classic ramp-up, the developers wanted playstyles in Legion to be reactive to prevent being played by mindless Wrath-era rotation macros (bearing in mind that /castsequence macros simply don’t work anymore), so making Festering Wounds random was seen as a perfect fit.

This brings us to the first major issue: the expansion on the Festering Wounds system added a disproportionate amount of random elements to Unholy.
Not only do Festering Wounds improve Scourge Strike, but they function as a resource for effects like Apocalypse, Soul Reaper, and Necrotic Strike, with plans for several more abilities back in Alpha.

The trouble here is that without Blighted Rune Weapon, Wounds are a resource with completely random access. Festering Strike, Infected Claws, Castigator, and even tier bonuses all provide them in an unreliable manner, which means building up to an effect like Apocalypse can take a single GCD, or three (prior to 7.1.5 this would have been up to four).
Adding onto that are effects like Instructor’s Fourth Lesson, Castigator’s effect on Scourge Strike, and 7.2’s Black Claws, which will randomly pull more Wounds out from under you without your say. If the intent behind Festering Wounds was to prevent automation and put control of the rotation into the players’ hands, then the random and automated consumption of Wounds runs completely counter to that.

But wait, there’s more!

Not only does low Wound production penalize you on ramp-up, but high production can harm your basic rotation! Without effects that consume extra Wounds, the single-rune cost on Scourge Strike means spending twice as many global cooldowns burning off the runes that you “saved” skipping Festering Strike. This in itself is amplified by effects like Pestilent Pustules and Scourge the Unbeliever, which can refund you the rune cost of a Scourge Strike any time you Scourge Strike.
Unrelated to Wounds, we have extra GCDs and resources being added by Double Doom, Runic Tattoos, Runic Corruption, and now 7.2’s Death’s Harbinger.
(Incidentally, Festering Talons was replaced with Black Claws expressly because the resources it saves cause extra GCDs, but Death’s Harbinger was kept in place even though it generates nearly double the resources over the course of an encounter. Remember how I was saying our feedback was getting cherry-picked?)

We have all of these resources that we can’t burn off fast enough… and to top it off, the abilities we can spend them on don’t deal nearly enough damage on their own for Unholy DKs to be competitive. The common suggestion right now is for Death Coil to consume up to twice as much Runic Power to do… several times more damage.

To come back to the “disproportionate random elements” bit for a moment, we also have randomly-applied debuffs outside of Wounds. Scourge of Worlds is a window of bonus Scourge Strike damage that is randomly applied by casting Death Coil; while this provides an interesting synergy with Double Doom, it also means it’s activated by the same ability that we’ve been conditioned for three expansions to cast when we want Runic Corruption to proc.
To be clear: We want Scourge of Worlds when we have the runes to Scourge Strike – but the window is wasted if we don’t, despite our lack of control over the window’s opening. We want Runic Corruption when we don’t have the runes to Scourge Strike – and never when we do, because of our ongoing resource overflow. They are each randomly applied by the same ability.
Guess how often you get one when you want the other. Or neither! Or both. It’s basically Morton’s Fork, and our performance is balanced around gaming it.

In earlier expansions, the tradeoff between Unholy and Frost was that Frost was supposed to be the more “reactive” of the pair, while Unholy was innately more reliable, but complex. All in all, the experiment to make Unholy more reactive ended with us being dictated by RNG more than the current iteration of Frost is, while still maintaining our classic complexity.

So why do I blame the “focus on Unholy” for these issues?

Maintaining the core trio of Scourge Strike/Festering Strike/Death Coil wasn’t actually a bad idea on its own. However, the developers had to come up with several additions to the spec to fill all of the space created by the Artifact system and Legion’s long-awaited revamp to our talent tree. I commend them for not repeating Warlords’ failure (of just adding minor passives, or taking away core functionality to give back to us later), but they attempted to build onto a freshly revamped system before they had enough time to figure out which direction to take it, or locate its organic flaws. Thus, they defaulted to universally applicable effects that “shake up the playstyle”: RNG, and extra resources.
To use a visual metaphor, the devs built a staircase to nowhere… and with 7.2, they just shrugged and wiped their hands of it.

What Can Be Done?

For the time being, the simple solution is to reduce the random elements of Unholy and cut down on sources of resource generation, making up for it with raw damage. Make Festering Strike apply 3 Wounds consistently; put Scourge of Worlds on a charge system; move Infected Claws to the same tier as Pestilent Pustules/Blighted Rune Weapon; replace Runic Tattoos, Death’s Harbinger, and Double Doom with effects that give raw throughput; increase Death Coil’s damage outright, etc.
Boom, done, solved every problem for the rest of Legion. (Except for our Tier 20 2-piece bonus that blows up our ghouls, even though they’re short-lived enough and more useful to us alive. And the massive power gap from our legendary bracers. And our weak legendary shoulders, which are screwed by the aforementioned Tier 20 bonus.)

In the long term though? Killing the Festering Wounds mechanic would be a start.

Considering it’s near the foundation of Unholy’s current design, I say “start” knowing full-well that would require a more extensive revamp unto itself. As I said before, I have zero expectation that a revamp would even be considered mid-expansion.

That being said, Unholy really has no attachment to Festering Strike. It’s not even the same ability as it was when it had a place in the kit.
The whole point of Festering Wounds is to induce a specific behavior, where players alternate between more than two abilities as part of their core rotation. The problem is, without specific talents, Wounds are just damage; they serve no mechanical purpose on their own, besides being a piece of Scourge Strike’s damage that you have to press an extra button for. If the damage of a Wound burst isn’t tuned properly, they simply don’t matter until you want to pop a cooldown – and when the damage is tuned to matter, you’re forced into Bursting Sores.

As long as players are regularly spending runes on Scourge Strike and another ability within a given 10-15 second interval, does it matter what the second ability does?
Hypothesis: No. Not as long as Scourge Strike stays 1 Rune and is cast more often.
Evidence: Festering Strike.

So why not have a worthwhile mechanic in place of Wounds?

Yes, you could just add a mechanic to Festering Wounds to give them value in themselves… but as stated before, Wounds are a (randomly generated and depleted) resource, so that’s a dangerous game.
Besides, if the current problems with Unholy are the result of belatedly tacking effects on to Wounds just to “shake up the playstyle”? It’s better to consider the mechanic separately first, and the way it can cause the spec to grow.

Revamp: Where Are We Headed?

In my personal opinion, Unholy has room enough for complexity between its minions, diseases and Shadow magic. The emphasis on Festering Wounds has taken away from these base mechanics – particularly penalizing our interaction with Virulent Plague.

The following rework is made with several goals in mind: First, to increase reliability while maintaining complexity. Second, to target the sources of our excessive resource generation, and dampen them where possible. Third, to focus on our core values as a spec; the devs said a big part of the Legion design was to make Unholy strongest in multi-target scenarios. Finally, to stay true to the history of the class, and add nothing that lacks precedent.

Baseline: Where Do We Start?

  • Festering Strike replaced with Reanimation Tortured Strike: Mark your target and summon two Tortured Spirits to haunt your target for the duration of each mark. 2 runes, 3 charges, 15 sec cooldown.
  • Scourge Strike no longer causes a Festering Wound to burst. Instead, each cast of Scourge Strike will reduce the remaining cooldown of Tortured Strike by 25%.
  • Army of the Dead no longer has a rune cost.

Something that has bugged me about Apocalypse, is that aside from Raise Dead, all of our minion summoning is limited to cooldowns.
Unholy Death Knights take most of their influence from the Warcraft 3 iteration of the class, and from the Lich King encounter – where the first and final phases simply involved the Lich King spam-summoning minions. It seems odd to have our summoning be so… bursty, especially when we’re getting mechanics like the 2-piece bonus of Tier 20 that wants to use Army ghouls as a resource, or Artifact traits that turn them into dispensaries of vital debuffs or cleave damage.

Normally I would just suggest that bursting a Wound should summon an Army minion, but that has a cornucopia of its own issues – availability as a talent meaning an opt-in system, availability as an Artifact trait coming late, limited ability to build off of it in either case, increased value on specific effects like Castigator or our (already problematic) legendary bracers that burst quantities of Wounds, etc.
Not only does making a rotational summon effect into its own ability resolve all of the above, but it also means that we don’t have to concern ourselves with the question of why we need to squeeze zombies out of our enemies’ pimples.

Tortured Strike is structured to fill the same spot in your opener as Festering Strike, and the method of restoring charges via Scourge Strike can be tuned to allow it to be cast as frequently throughout the rest of the rotation as Festering Strike once did. (Presently tuning it to 25% is ~4 sec before Haste, meaning that for every 3 Scourge Strikes, on top of our GCD, you get one Tortured Strike.) It only brings as much RNG to the base rotation as Sudden Doom does – which is to say, very little considering it’s an effect we were expecting to cast anyway, just at an accelerated rate. The only tuning necessary is for the value of Tortured Strike to be higher than two Scourge Strikes, which is dependent more on the damage of the spirits you summon than the strike itself.
I hesitate to say the spirits should deal Shadow damage, due to one of the potential talent upgrades below. As much as it would be a possibility, I would much rather say the strike itself should deal Shadow damage if it must at all. But, not up to me!

And since I mentioned Warcraft 3

  • Death Coil may once again be cast on friendly Undead targets to heal them for up to three times its damage.
  • Wraith Walk replaced with Death’s Charge: Summon your Deathcharger to ride for 3 sec, increasing movement speed by 100%. Usable while indoors, in combat, or dead. 30 sec cooldown.

… because not only are we supposed to be anti-Paladins, but we were exclusively mounted units from WC2 until Wrath.

Funny thing, really: between Cataclysm through Legion, our lack of mobility has been blamed on our heavy resistance to crowd control.
Trouble is… historically, a lot of that resistance seems to come from putting CC on ourselves.

Glyph of Pillar of Frost: Makes you immune to CC! Also roots you in place.
Desecrated Ground: Makes you immune to CC! But forces you to stand in a tiny circle.
Wraith Walk: Breaks roots and makes you immune to slows! Also prevents you from attacking.

I could understand being unable to attack if Wraith Walk was also a threat drop for Unholy and Frost or an immunity effect for Blood (by virtue of turning into a ghost), but otherwise it makes no sense to dodge one CC right into another. (Especially when only one of those two is guaranteed every time you use your sprint.)

Even so, the vitriol towards Wraith Walk doesn’t necessarily come from the inability to attack while it’s active – in more cases the issue is simply that it’s designed to break early. If someone double-taps the key or hits some server lag, it will just put the effect on cooldown before you can benefit from it; you can’t even use the effect in Shal’Aran because it simply ends inside with no explanation, and there is a constant fear that another location like that will crop up elsewhere. Hence, the call for a more conventional sprint that we can rely on.

Artifact: How to Expand?

  • Scourge of Worlds reworked: Casting Scourge Strike now increases the damage of your next Death Coil within 10 sec, stacking up to 5 times.
  • Double Doom replaced with Vile Malady: Death Coil and Gargoyle Strike will place a Vile Malady on the target, repeating a portion of their damage dealt over 10 seconds as Shadow damage. Successive applications of Vile Malady will contribute their remaining damage to the next stack.
  • Black Claws replaced with Virulence: Vile Malady will discharge a portion of its stored damage to increase the damage of Virulent Eruption.
  • Runic Tattoos replaced with Black Claws: Each of your minions’ melee attacks on victims of Virulent Plague have a chance to cause a Virulent Eruption.
  • Death’s Harbinger replaced with Dirge: Sudden Doom may now store up to 2 charges.

Ah, now comes the tricky part: building off what’s established.

As mentioned above, Scourge of Worlds is a problematic ability because it conflicts with Death Coil’s previous function of applying Runic Corruption. Ideally, the solution would be to put it on a charge system instead so you can conserve the power and never miss a window from lack of resources.
Taking it one step further however…
I believe I’ve mentioned before on this blog, that I’ve always seen Runic Power dumps as a type of finishing move for DKs; they’re the effect that you constantly build up to, then discharge. Adding a Scent of Blood-esque effect to Death Coil would pair nicely with the call to lower Runic Power production and increase base Death Coil damage.
The stacking effect is in part to give the player some use for Death Coil in burst scenarios. Five stacks might technically be overkill, but it’s entirely for convenience and shouldn’t impact overall damage very much. In theory, firing off two Death Coils with 3 stacks each would be the same as firing off one with 5 stacks and another with only 1 stack.

This brings me to Vile Malady. Near the end of Wrath, Unholy Blight was consolidated into Death Coil as a passively-applied DoT effect with a loose stacking mechanic – if you fired off a Death Coil with 1 second left on the previous Unholy Blight, then the new Unholy Blight would have a portion of the new Death Coil’s damage plus 1 second’s worth of the previous Unholy Blight.
Having Death Coil apply an additional effect based on how strong it is when applied (even if it is a net neutral so long as you spend all stacks) provides a great opportunity for synergy. The addition of Gargoyle Strike can’t hurt Gary’s value as a burst cooldown – Bolvar knows Dark Arbiter could use some value.
Its tie-in, Virulence, is the real game-changer in my opinion. If Unholy is supposed to use diseases as a major source of damage, then Legion’s take on our disease interaction has been, quite frankly, disappointing. Having us actively build our disease damage as part of our rotation, on the other hand, feels like an opportunity we’ve been missing for a long time.
I could probably have had Death Coil and Gargoyle Strike just store partial damage onto Virulent Plague directly, but I didn’t want to deal with whatever can of worms could be created by overwriting Virulent Plague 7 times with another Outbreak. And unlike Festering Wounds, damage is constantly ticking down, so you can’t accidentally lose some by forgetting to discharge it.

To finish the loop, we can tie it back to our minion summoning: with Scourge Strike and Death Coil building up our disease, we can use our minions to discharge the disease damage. Note the plurality; the intention is for the effect to be of use on Army of the Dead minions, Tortured Spirits, as well as Timmy.

While I’m on the subject of minion summoning: I have no idea how Apocalypse should work without Festering Wounds. It could summon 6 ghouls outright; it could have a special interaction with your next 3 Tortured Strike casts; it could be something entirely new like disease interaction or raw damage instead. The point is that there are reasonable options to continue.

As for Dirge, giving Sudden Doom 2 charges was a long-standing suggestion for the past two expansions, to prevent overlapping charges. The problem with Double Doom is that it increases the rate of Sudden Doom (thereby increasing GCDs) while also being generally the weakest gold trait we have; that said, there is no reason not to have the second charge, as long as it isn’t a gold trait.

Between these changes, the hope is to increase interaction between abilities as well as providing situational tools… while also providing little opportunity to flood GCDs. (It helps that the only resource supplier left is Scourge the Unbeliever, which already work remarkably well in AoE, and could have applications in single-target as well to charge Tortured Strike.)

Oh, and just because the current iteration only gives 2% mitigation on Icebound Fortitude…

  • Deadly Durability replaced with Spellbreaker: Increase the duration and maximum absorption value of Anti-Magic Shell by X%.

… I’m thinking 15-20% per rank, just so each rank actually gives an extra second of duration.

Talents: How to Refine?

PostLegion Unholy treeI spent 3 hours making this in Paint, and damn if it doesn’t look fancy.

I disagree with the devs’ stance on “removing themed tiers” from the class. The execution of such a system meant that it was entirely possible to create what the devs have acknowledged as “very busy talent builds”, because effects that would normally be one resource generation tier were instead dispersed through multiple tiers.
It also ended with us having fewer utility-based tiers. While I’ve said previously on this blog that I would have appreciated more tiers that affected our performance, I didn’t expect the pendulum to swing so wildly in the opposite direction; throughput tiers rarely give you an actual choice in PvE once they can be accurately simmed. Yes, technically we have two utility tiers now, but with Sludge Belcher as a DPS upgrade (due to its wider AoE), we’re effectively left without a choice aside from rare circumstances. We have little in the way of raid utility outside of Raise Ally, and RA is shared with two other classes who bring other utilities.

Yes, talent builds will always have cookie-cutters as long as throughput is affected… but that doesn’t mean they should be resigned to clear winners and losers.

As for the structure of the tree itself, I took very special care to arrange the talents in a fashion that would be relevant to leveling: effects that would impact the open world the most first, effects that benefit dungeons and raids last. Yes, some talents are new, and many of those that exist have been changed.

Let’s start at the top:

  • Soul Reaper now reflects the Lich King’s version of the ability, dealing delayed damage and providing a Haste buff upfront. If the target is slain by or before the detonation, the caster’s movement speed is briefly increased.
  • Castigator no longer causes or bursts additional Festering Wounds. Instead, Scourge Strike restores a small amount of its damage as health, and critical Scourge Strikes against your primary target will restore a single charge of Tortured Strike.
  • Clawing Shadows shares Scourge Strike’s ability to reduce Tortured Strike’s cooldown in place of bursting Festering Wounds.

While leveling a Demon Hunter, I found it fascinating that they were provided very early on with choices that impact their base rotation. It was an excellent idea to allow leveling players to feel that the early talents provide meaningful choices; unfortunately, Unholy’s first tier of talents is entirely passive damage. Impacting Scourge Strike directly seemed to be the best replacement, but Unholy Frenzy has always been a problem child of the tier; it had to be balanced around being an upgrade over-time that we would constantly apply.
If Unholy Frenzy was supposed to provide the player with a choice on Haste vs Crit vs Mastery, then Soul Reaper could just as easily fit the bill. Soul Reaper provides an option that preserves Scourge Strike as-is, while providing an extra button.

While there is a subsection of Unholy Death Knights who want Soul Reaper to return to its previous design as an execute, it was always an odd choice to fill that slot, since the delay only provided an advantage for one pre-cast above the execute threshold, and more often left players with a consolation Haste buff they couldn’t use because their only target just died.
Personally, I believe that execution damage should return to Frost’s kit (like it had in Wrath) rather than Unholy. Frost and Unholy should be designed such that their core single-target damage is approximately equal – but if Unholy is supposed to have a stronger cleave than Frost, then Frost should be able to fulfill another niche.

Oh, and as an offset to Clawing Shadows’ range, it felt natural to add a conditional mobility buff to Soul Reaper. After some consideration, I came to the conclusion that the third prong to Mobility vs Range is most likely Survivability, hence the leech addition to Castigator. Even if you don’t care too much about damage as you level, you’ll certainly find a utility in the tier.

  • Sludge Belcher replaced with Unholy Command: Your Death Grip has 2 charges.
  • Asphyxiate is unchanged.
  • Debilitating Infestation replaced with Desecration: Each tick of Outbreak will also desecrate the ground beneath your target for up to 10 sec, causing all enemies within to be slowed by the grasping arms of the dead.

Unholy Command is the majority of the reason why this tier comes so early on: leveling players want to Grip as much as possible.
Sludge Belcher is just a bad execution of a good idea; if the devs wanted it to be pure utility, they should have skipped the bells and whistles and just given us a second Grip. The only reason we default to Sludge Belcher is because it provides a minor DPS advantage in cleave scenarios, in a tier where it faces zero DPS competition. Ghouls should have Sludge Belcher’s survivability baseline (if not the cleave radius as well), and the Abomination appearance should be a glyph – too many players have been disappointed by a talent overwriting their glyphs anyway, and several have complained about being forced to deal with a minion they hate to look at.

There’s no real practical reason for the change from Debilitating Infestation to Desecration. Debilitating Infestation tries to be Unholy’s take on Chilblains, but it really doesn’t have the reach that Chilblains and Pestilence did together. Most of the reason for this listed change is simply flavor, returning to our Wrath roots.

  • Epidemic is unchanged.
  • Defile is unchanged.
  • Unholy Blight: Surrounds the Death Knight with a vile swarm of unholy insects for 10 sec, stinging all enemies within 10 yards to deal Shadow damage. While Unholy Blight is active, Scourge Strike will hit all enemies near your target. Unholy Blight’s cooldown is reduced by 1 sec each time a victim of your Virulent Plague erupts. 1 Rune, 60 sec cooldown, replaces Death and Decay.

If cleave is going to be more important for Unholy, surely we should have a tier devoted to it, no?

While I said before that throughput tiers are generally calculated a specific way, cleave scenarios change so wildly between fights that the player has as much choice with a cleave tier as they would with any utility tier. You have as many encounters where adds spawn on top of the boss as you have where adds spawn from the back of the room, or spread throughout the room, or never spawn at all. The bargaining chip with this tier isn’t the damage, it’s the mobility you have as you deal it.

Unholy Blight has long been a staple of Unholy DKs, and many of us were rather miffed when it was stripped from us and given exclusively to Frost under an alternate name.
Without diseases for Unholy Blight to apply, I took an alternative approach that fills a niche within the current system: a mobile version of Death and Decay. The ability have its cooldown reduced by Eruptions also gives it some interaction with your summoning abilities.

Otherwise, the position of Epidemic versus enhancements to Death and Decay fulfills much the same function as Soul Reaper does in the tier of enhancements to Scourge Strike. I initially considered having Epidemic become baseline, and some effect taking its place… but then I realized this tier is missing an option that preserves Death and Decay and serves a function while it is on cooldown.

  • Spell Eater is unchanged.
  • Corpse Shield replaced with Death Pact: Consume a minion to heal for a percentage of your maximum health. This heal cannot be a critical. 2 min cooldown.
  • Lingering Apparition replaced with March of the Damned: Death’s Charge removes and provides immunity to Stun, Root and Snare effects while active.

Remember what I said about adding nothing that lacks precedent? While Corpse Shield provides an interesting interaction with our ghoul, it also covers the same niche that Icebound Fortitude already does, and that Death Pact did for us from WC3 through Cataclysm. Since we’re dealing with a talent tier that is exclusive to Unholy anyway, we can skip straight back to the uncorrupted version of the effect.

While March of the Damned does seem like a PvP option, there have already been encounters throughout Legion such as Cenarius and Gul’dan, where resistance to roots and slows have been imperative. March is a more niche option than Lingering Apparition, but considering that I haven’t swapped off of Lingering Apparition since we got Wraith Walk, specifically to make up for our terrible mobility, it is better to frontload the required effects simply so we have an actual choice in the matter.

  • Shadow Infusion, in addition to its current effects, also increases the ghoul’s maximum health and causes the transformed ghoul’s Sweeping Claws to damage all targets within 10 yards.
  • All Will Serve now summons a Vargul Berserker in place of a Skeletal Archer. This melee unit will cast Shockwave, and Enrage whenever Dark Transformation is active.
  • Drudge Ghouls: Tortured Strike now summons three Army of the Dead ghouls to fight for you, but no longer marks the target for Tortured Spirits.

All Will Serve’s change is simply necessary. The archer is a terrible minion; its ability to fight at range often leaves it standing in doorways and pulling extra packs of mobs, so you have to micromanage its movement just to survive.

Drudge Ghouls directly calls back to the Lich King encounter. It allows some synergy with the Artifact weapon traits that benefit Army ghouls, such as Portal to the Underworld and Armies of the Damned. The fact that it summons an additional minion (possibly for a lower duration?) should at least make it a burstier effect, and not being limited to a marked target should also make them easier to use from target to target.

Since Shadow Infusion is presently one of our weaker options, the idea is to combine it with the current DPS advantage of Sludge Belcher in order to allow it to give it an edge to compete with the other talents in the tier, at least in AoE encounters.

  • Gorefiend’s Grasp is as the Blood version of the ability.
  • Bone Spike Graveyard: The Death Knight calls forth a field of massive bone spikes. Enemies within 10 yards are impaled by the bone spikes, incapacitating them for 6 sec. Any damage other than diseases has a chance to break the bone spikes. 1 sec cast, 1 min cooldown.
  • Anti-Magic Zone is as the Honor Talent, but automatically centers on the Death Knight during formation.

If there was ever a tier that needed to be amongst all 3 specs, it would be this one. I complained before that DKs have little in the way of raid utility, despite a lot of historical precedent; this tier aims to address that.

Gorefiend’s Grasp seems like the same obvious choice it used to be… but against Anti-Magic Zone? Now you have some options. (Naturally for Blood, I expect Tightening Grasp to replace Gorefiend’s Grasp in this tier.)

Bone Spike Graveyard is literally a reskin on Cataclysm-era Hungering Cold – in fact, I fully expect a Frost version would actually be Hungering Cold itself, the callback to Marrowgar simply being applicable to the majority of specs. There were several occasions between leveling in Pandaria all the way up to Hellfire Citadel where I found the original Remorseless Winter to be a lifesaver, simply because it put surrounding enemies on lockdown; that type of snap stop would be an excellent utility for groups prone to biting off more than they can chew.

  • Dark Arbiter is unchanged.
  • Necrosis is unchanged.
  • Deathstorm: Discharge all Runic Power stored within your rune weapon, unleashing a bolt of Shadow lightning on your target that splits damage with nearby enemies. Deathstorm’s damage increases for every point of Runic Power spent. 1 min cooldown.

This tier is basically built on how the player interacts with his runic power: storing it, ignoring it, or burning it off as much as possible. I built this tier with Vile Malady specifically in mind.

Deathstorm is a case of killing two birds with one stone: the recent inflation of our runic power generation has made call for us to have a more expensive runic power dump to prevent from being GCD locked, and despite our supposed emphasis on multi-target engagements, we completely lack any way to spend runic power in cleave scenarios.
And yes, it has precedent from the “Army of the Damned” quest from Icecrown – technically, it’s an LK ability. I’d be just as happy with the Pain & Suffering spell from his encounter instead, but since he spammed it, I figure that actually works better as a visual effect for Clawing Shadows.


I’d like to repeat that the rework above is entirely a suggestion, and none of the components of it are set in stone – but they do have their own reasons. This rework is entirely based off of my own opinions and experiences.

But since this is my blog and you managed to read all the way to that disclaimer, I can only assume that you have found some point that resonates.

Legion’s iteration of Unholy did many good things that can serve as the backbone to a truly spectacular specialization… but the devs went too far in the wrong direction. I hope that something here can put the devs back on the right track.

Scattered Thoughts

  • Tortured Strike was originally supposed to be named Reanimation and summon Army ghouls directly, rather than needing a talent. I had some concerns that it would make baseline Unholy into more of a ranged spec than intended, so I looked for ways to make it an actual melee attack; when the Legion assaults started, I spotted a mob in Highmountain casting Tortured Strike, and with the Lich King’s Vile Spirits as additional inspiration… well, it certainly seems more fitting of that “haunted” Festering Strike icon than Festering Strike, no?
  • Yes, Tortured Strike marks stack. No, Scourge Strike cleave will not restore charges any more quickly. I phrased it very delicately to indicate that.
  • Dark Arbiter may be unchanged above, but it has significant AI issues on Live. Of course, this post is about the class’ design, and those fit more into the “glitchy and broken” category than any particular issue with her design. The assumption is that they will be addressed separately.
Posted in Death Knight, Just For Fun, Talents, Unholy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Rebuild of Obliteration

Legion pre-patch has finally arrived, so I no longer have to worry about mixing up tenses except when I refer to Artifact traits and abilities.

Since the internet went out at my house to prevent me from playing, I figured I’d take the time to write an update post about an issue that has bothered me with Legion’s version of the class for some time. And so, today’s irregularly scheduled topic, rarely seen on this blog due to my personal distaste for it: Frost spec.

The title seems appropriately angsty enough for what comes next.

There was a discussion in #Acherus earlier, that the Frost players felt as if they were being pushed into other specs’ themes. Between the Hypothermia talent copying the effects of Virulent Plague, and the passive Artifact effect summoning additional rune weapons similarly to Dancing Rune Weapon, multiple additions to the Frost kit feel out of place.
My instant reply was a simple “no” – Frost isn’t copying other specs’ themes, it’s copying their mechanics with its own superficial icy theme plastered over. If it was copying themes from Unholy, Frost might build a stronger thematic base of its own to define its similarities and contrasts.

The thing that bothers me about Frost in Legion – as I have mentioned in posts before – is primarily a result of the pruning in recent expansions: Frost, as a spec, is defined almost entirely by ice.
I know that seems painfully obvious, but hear me out.

In Legion, our themes have been boiled down basically to the bone:

  • Unholy is distinguished by minion summoning, Shadow damage (with a splash of Physical), and diseases as a source of cleave damage.
  • Blood is distinguished by vampirism and tethering effects, anatomical manipulation (including bone), on-demand cleave, and Physical damage (with a splash of Shadow).
  • Frost is distinguished by a blend of Frost and Physical damage, and passively dual-wielding.
  • The one factor that unites all specs, and defines the class is… rune weapons. (“Disease” isn’t special; every damage spec in the game has a DoT to maintain.)

While Unholy’s playstyle branches out to emphasize multiple aspects of the theme, and Blood itself is fairly defined (in spite of its tenuous connection to a “death” theme, at least it tries), Frost’s thematic base feels weak by comparison because it’s primarily aesthetic; a vehicle for a bursty, reactive playstyle, which stands out so much that it doesn’t seem to belong.

Compare this to Wrath, long before any major pruning. In addition to now:

  • Unholy was defined by its use of Unholy runes, amplified magical damage, turning an enemy’s magic against them, and using corpses as a resource.
  • Blood was defined by its use of Blood and Death runes, and using health as a resource.
  • Frost was defined by its use of Frost runes and runic power, critical and execution damage, and raw mitigation. It was also suggested at one point that Frost would have increased damage against snared targets, although this didn’t happen.
  • All specs were capable of performing necromancy as well as frost and blood magic, with varying weight placed on each based on each spec’s use of its runes. Each spec also had access to the same core diseases (barring Unholy’s extras), a multitude of core strikes for variety (with incentives to use a particular few for one spec), and increased effectiveness against diseased targets.

It puzzles me that so much of the playerbase agrees the Lich King must have been the basis for a Frost Death Knight, simply because his weapon has “Frost” in the name and his seat of power has “Ice”; over the years, Unholy has received more of (or greater focus upon) the Lich King’s abilities than any other spec.
There were more Death Knights flinging fire spells than ice prior to Wrath’s release. In truth, Frost’s main influences were other Scourge units – specifically, caster units like Liches and Frost Wyrms. Given Frost’s origins, it’s surprising in some ways that Unholy remained the most magically-oriented spec by Wrath’s release (in spite of its early focus on pets already limiting its reliance on weapon damage).

I’m surprised that Legion didn’t take the opportunity to make Frost’s connection to the class deeper, to explain why Unholy DKs have any connection to Frost magic or to better define what path Frost takes in regards to the class as a whole beyond “arctic wind”. Blood is a vampire, Unholy is a necromancer, Frost is… a guy in plate armor who shoots wind at people.
Literally the only talents that even bother trying to imply there is anything more to Frost’s identity, are Frostscythe and Breath of Sindragosa (a combined Frost Wyrm theme with its active Artifact power). Of course I must emphasize, these are just talents (and a singular late artifact power) – in terms of base functionality, it’s just “I can make a winter wonderland”.

This is (what’s left of) the spec that gets (what’s left of) Frostmourne.

To me, Frost feels like it misses some serious opportunities by focusing just on its namesake – some more cosmetic than others, but all equally important (after all, Blood’s “bone” effects are almost entirely cosmetic in themselves) to establishing a visceral identity or unifying aspect that, for a long time, Frost has essentially lacked.
For starters, let’s focus on that bit about getting Frostmourne. Frostmourne was a runeblade that was known for devouring the souls of both its victims and its wielder. While all runeblades are known for stealing souls to some degree, Frost is the spec that gets to summon its own scythe to do a bit of Grim Reaping. There’s potential to tie in soul magic to Frost’s themes, or even indicate that frost magic is a gateway to soul magic, hence why its studied by all Death Knights; in fact, it was even briefly explored as the original on-hit effect of wielding the Blades of the Fallen Prince… before all on-hit effects were removed from Artifacts.
I’m still at a loss as to why Two-handed Frost had to be completely eliminated; with the artifact, max-level Frost players would already be pushed to play Dual-wield for the rest of the expansion, so just limiting it to Dual-wield only serves to harm the low-level players (much as limiting Dual-wielding to Frost harmed low-level players trying to complete the starting zone). Removing Two-handed Frost loses the perfect opportunity to have Frost Death Knights combine their runeblades into a temporary replica of the original Frostmourne – after all, they already have all of its parts on-hand.
Additionally, as I pointed out above, Frost has strong ties to skeletal and caster units, who themselves are based off of Frost Mages; for instance, Glacial Advance is a clone of a spell used by skeletal mages in Icecrown Citadel. There’s always been this implication in my mind that Frost Death Knights were supposed to be one step removed from being melee Liches (a quiet implication that simply never raised its voice over the course of 5 expansions). Until Mists altered the talent system, Lichborne was considered to be a Frost spell; it played on the idea that instead of Unholy’s focus on summoning and controlling the undead, Frost played on its own nature as an undead to tie itself into the class. The missed opportunity here is to have one of Frost’s cooldowns actually turn the player into a Lich – perhaps to amplify Howling Blast’s damage and increase the range of their melee attacks for a duration a la Ascendance, as a “bursty” counter for Unholy’s ability to perform a sustainable ranged rotation (albeit at a loss compared to melee combat).
Finally, it’s been brought to my attention many times that, because Unholy and Frost are virtually neck-and-neck in terms of single-target damage, Unholy may be the preferable spec going into Legion raiding due to its stronger cleave and more reliable utility. Without an edge of its own on Patchwerk-style fights, there are fears that Frost will fall to the wayside. Something that has never made sense to me about Unholy was its history with Soul Reaper; while I understand that Unholy has always had this sense of “building up” multiple damage sources and that Soul Reaper v1.0 gave some payoff to its sustained output, Frost was the spec that set the original precedent for Death Knight execution mechanics through its Merciless Combat passive (which passively increased Frost’s damage on low-health targets until Soul Reaper v1.0 came around). I feel like having Frost be able to “reap” low health targets in such a way would kill two birds with one stone, giving them back their own niche (fitting Frost’s bursty nature even) while tying into the above-mentioned ideas of Frost being able to perform soul magic and utilize the core powers of Frostmourne. What form this actually takes, I have no idea – could be a passive, could be an ability, anything so long as it isn’t Soul Reaper again.

However, the issue of Frost standing out isn’t simply a matter of changing Frost so it fits in; it’s a matter of the class making room for Frost to fit in.

As I said whilst rambling in the last post (and illustrated above), there is no strong thematic base for the class as a whole anymore. The specs share a scattered handful of dissonant cooldowns and niche utilities, but not an identity: we’re so specialized, we feel like separate classes united by a resource system. The only way to address this would be to rebuild the class from the ground up, with unity in mind.
I understand that this seems contrary to the tone of earlier posts I’ve made outlining my dislike for the shared talent pool not taking into account the differences between the specs, but to say that I’d been asking for the specs to be separated as they are now would be an extremist reading of my earlier words; there’s a difference between “defining identity” and “segregating values”.
Now, the key point here is to understand what I mean by “the ground up”; I don’t mean that this requires deleting all the current work and rewriting the entire class from scratch, I mean rewriting the way the class evolves. There’s this connotation with the word “specialization” in which the specs are all supposed to share basic elements in common, but focus on specific areas in which to grow, originally indicated by how they used runes. The class is a college major, the spec is a concentration of study within the major, but ultimately there are minimum requirements that all concentrations within a major must meet in order to graduate within the major itself; same idea, different context.
In this case, I’m referring to the leveling experience: giving all specs the same tools to start with, and then phasing out those tools over time to gradually create different specs – the way that leveling had been done before the pruning, similarly to the Cataclysm model in particular. These days, you’re forced into a specific spec to start with, and then told at an arbitrary point “you may change to a drastically different one if the one you’ve been choking on for 10 levels isn’t to your liking”; the proposition here is that there is a middle ground, so that no particular spec is forced down your throat until long after you make that choice.

The key point here, is to re-establish the shared kit between all specs, the aspects of which then branch out into specific specs. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every spec needs to have the core rotation for the other two specs within their spellbook, and a message to use Ability A instead of Spell B. To use another example from Cataclysm: at level 1, Warriors were given a generic ability called “Strike” (not Heroic, not Mortal, just regular kind), and the instant they picked their specialization, they were given a replacement for Strike. This was pruned in Mists because Strike was still a separate ability, despite the tech being in place to physically replace the ability, as demonstrated by a Death Knight switching to Frost only to see Blood Strike swap to Frost Strike, or to Blood and see it swapped for Heart Strike.
I understand the difference there, of course; a Death Knight can choose a specialization as soon as it’s made, and Strike only existed to tide Warriors over until level 10. The point isn’t to give the player training wheels; it’s to create a core class. As you level up, your character should become more familiar with their specialization and learn the deeper abilities within that specialization, only trading known abilities for pure upgrades, but should always retain a base. No “generic abilities” of this core have to remain by the time the player finishes the leveling experience, but the initial deviation needs to be subtle, and some core aspects need to be shared.
For instance, I personally believe that much like Death Strike, all specs should have access to Death Coil for utility’s sake. Only Unholy should have any focus on it for end-game, of course; however, it was a mistake to completely remove it from Frost’s kit just ‘cause they have Frost Strike, because that removed a ranged spell with its own niche from Frost’s kit – and there are ways to incorporate it anyway, such as having a talent or cooldown (Lich form, anyone?) or late-level passive to turn it into a Deathchill Bolt that’s still weaker than Frost Strike but exists for those moments when an 8-yard reach isn’t far enough.
Meanwhile, a generic ability like our old Blood Strike (or maybe for the sake of maintaining “generic” aspects… Rune Strike?) could be instantly removed when the leveling player learns to cast Scourge Strike or Heart Strike (or Frost Strike?) because A) the upgrade completely obsoletes the ability and B) it provides the sense that the old technique has been infused with your new power, so you never actually unlearned it, you just improved it with what you learned.
A better example might be to give the player Obliterate at first, regardless of spec, which could be replaced with Marrowrend or Festering Strike around the same time Frost learns Killing Machine… or perhaps at the same time Unholy learns “Master of Ghouls”, Frost could learn to turn a ghoul into a Coldwraith while Blood could learn to turn a ghoul into a Blood Beast. Something to serve as a reminder that specs may not be 100% the same, but that doesn’t meant they’re incapable of the same things.

Another aspect of this would be to rebuild the base of the talent tree. I don’t mean that the entirety of the talent tree has to be one-size-fits-all like it was during Mists and Warlords, but not every tier has to focus on one spec. As you get deeper into the tree, like with leveling, you should get deeper into your class; the early tiers of the tree could instead have to deal with shared mechanics and abilities between specs (like runes or mobility), gradually mixing in a couple options just for your spec, until the last few tiers of the tree are entirely made up of abilities unique to your specialization.
Keep in mind, there only needs to be a handful of talents in a given tree that everyone feels should be either removed or made baseline, that you could cram in one or two new tiers – or just shuffle some non-combat or low-impact tiers to the top, and give everyone equal access to Lingering Apparition rather than trying to force “special snowflake” versions like White Walker or March of the Damned.
Personally, I feel that somewhere near the middle should be a single tier where you’re asked to pick a utility effect from one of the other two specs, forcing you away from your own – just to return the sense of sub-speccing that I discussed in the previous post. “I’m capable of performing Blood magic, I just don’t know nearly as much about it as someone who specialized into it.”

I’ll grant it seems far-fetched and fringe, and that last bit about the talent trees would rightly terrify anyone who has found a favorite in every tier (if they remove my Epidemic or Clawing Shadows at any point because it seems generic, I’ll be pissed); this is my opinion, as a player who sees a flaw and just wants to offer one solution. I have less than zero expectation the devs would go for such a deep overhaul so close to release, and I’m fully aware I’d be looking at waiting another expansion to see how this would shake out, at best.
And for those who agree with anything I’ve said, I’m well aware a similar model could probably be applied to several classes whose specializations may seem similarly displaced. I’m just writing what I know here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take a hot shower to wash the Frost off.

Posted in Death Knight, Frost, Just For Fun, Talents | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s in a Theme?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been having discussions with members of #Acherus about the future of Death Knights in Legion (particularly Unholy for obvious reasons). One of the big points that came up was that they felt like their hands were being held, forcing them into a specific playstyle, and I felt that was worth some clarification.

It’s not to say that the Unholy spec has gotten “simpler” – as someone who has focused on Unholy since Wrath (in the days when the rotation could literally be macroed), the base rotation will be the most ham-fistedly complex it’s ever been come Legion.
If anything, that’s the aspect I’ve complained about the most with the spec; the significance of our debuff management has drastically shifted from proactively maintaining and maximizing DoTs (with very little reactivity), to timing ability casts to line up with effects whose application is completely randomized

… But I digress. No, the real complaint is somewhat vague behind that word, “force”, but translated simply: There’s no room for personal creativity anymore.

Every expansion has had its own “fringe” playstyles that evolved from a spec’s customization options. The implementation of this was best exemplified in Wrath, when talent trees were arguably at their most complex state. While most talent configurations were cookie cutters, variations were created based not on your main specialization, but on your “sub-spec”: how you invested the remaining 20 points after you reached your 51-point Talent (Dancing Rune Weapon for Blood, Howling Blast for Frost, and Unholy Blight or, later, Summon Gargoyle for Unholy).
For Unholy, in most tiers this meant investing extra points into Blood to skew your output towards weapon damage; however, in some tiers a “Shadowfrost” variant was preferred to maximize elemental damage, especially for fights where Wandering Plague was our main output, or once weapons like Bryntroll or Shadowmourne were released (a personal favorite variant, as it opened more utilitarian options for any remaining points). For many patches, Reaping (then our Death Rune conversion talent) was entirely optional, as we had to use Blood Strike as part of our core rotation with (hrech) Desolation. Throughout most of 3.2, it was even preferable for Unholy DKs to put enough points into Frost to have Obliterate take the place of Scourge Strike. With glyphs for our diseases, our rotation changed rather significantly from patch to patch.
For tanking in particular, it was entirely viable to spend your points across all three trees, never getting the deeper active talents but receiving all of the strong passives.

As expansions continued, these variations became less subtle. In Cataclysm, “Masterfrost” players swore off Obliterate for some time in favor of simply spamming Howling Blast, and Unholy players took advantage of Sudden Doom by dual-wielding. In Mists, Unholy players at their peak took advantage of the Fabled Feather of Ji-Kun with the “Festerblight” playstyle. In Warlords, Blood players used their low cost on Breath of Sindragosa to develop the “Chains of Sindragosa” playstyle.

In Legion, however, room for this is essentially gone, for all specs. Most of the talents are either completely or essentially passive, creating minor variances in how the core playstyle is executed; the most difference comes from altering the timing of abilities you were going to cast either way, or briefly substituting one spell for another in niche circumstances while still retaining the same skeleton.
In the grand scheme, talents have been made meaningless. Each spec’s playstyle is dependent on three core abilities, each feeding into the next, with talents creating background noise and fluff to fill the gaps between casts.

This comes, of course, as a result of the “simplification” of our resources: as every ability costs the same resource, the only way to prevent the player from using their strongest (or most cost-effective) ability over and over is to make it less effective without the use of others. The only reason Unholy isn’t simply spamming Scourge Strike is because Festering Strike’s Wounds make it stronger; the only reason Frost can’t simply spam Howling Blast is because it needs a Rime bump from Obliterate first.
And of course, with the greater focus on spec identity, the devs were obviously afraid of potential subspeccing getting out of control.

That’s really the part that surprises me, however. Legion is the expansion that went out of its way to make every spec as distinct as possible as a baseline. To call them “specializations” anymore is a misnomer: each of the DK “specs” is essentially a separate class, held together by the same resource system (which is as much as you can say for Rogues and Feral Druids, or any healer). To specialize in any field means there is a more general knowledge surrounding it, which simply isn’t the case with DKs anymore. Rather than the days when one spec would be slightly better with one ability versus another spec, each has instead been pruned to the point where the only effects they have in common are utilities that are used the exact same way. The only combat spells shared by all three specs are the obligatory requirements for a melee class: gap-closers, interrupts, and a single self-healing effect (which is all but worthless to the two specs who don’t “specialize” in it).
Blood’s only Frost-based spells are Mind Freeze and Path of Frost. Frost lacks any combative Shadow spells. Unholy is the only spec who can even call themselves “Death Knights”, as they’re not only the “best” at necromancy, they’re the only ones who can cast any. We don’t even have the same diseases anymore, and everyone can throw DoTs.
Where’s the connection? Where’s the overlap? I get that Unholy is different from Frost, but is Path of Frost what’s supposed to make us both “Death Knights”? Raise Ally perhaps? Death Grip?

It’s not a single ability or group of abilities that makes a class, nor is it a single resource system (although both help) – it’s an underlying thematic baseline. Druids don’t all have to turn into the same thing or use the same rotation for me to know that a bear and a cat are both Druids; as long as they’re both shapeshifting, I can see them both sharing the same space. The guy over there summoning demons? A Warlock; whether they’re Demonology or not doesn’t matter. That guy with no spells, beating people to death with just his skull? Obvious Warrior.
A Frost Death Knight, however, will only raise the dead in some quests come Legion; if I was coming into the game and just saw one for the first time, I would probably assume they were supposed to be Battlemages (Why not? The Kirin Tor has them…).

Don’t get me wrong: I relish that Unholy has the ability to talent into new summoning spells and has the option of a (almost) fully ranged rotation, and that we don’t have to share bland one-size-fits-all talents with a tanking spec to do it – but it’s taken “specializing” too far to get here. Filling in the gaps from cutting out every trace of any other spec has created a talent pool that is flashy, with no spark.

Death Knights don’t have a shared portfolio anymore. In a sense, the expansion that was supposed to focus on “class identity” completely destroyed it in favor of “spec identity”; that’s what has turned many veterans off of the class.

Posted in Blood, Death Knight, Frost, Talents, Unholy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Legion Beta: First Impressions

Six months since the last post. Alpha ended some time ago, Beta is underway with about 2 months left before release and, officially, only number-tweaks left to implement.

So, to rapidly go through the last few updates from Alpha to limit the dating on that previous post:

  • Bloodbolt’s gone. I would have expected it to become baseline rather than going away completely, but I suppose that would have cut down on the need for Blood Boil and completely removed the intended penalty of its replacement, Soulgorge.
  • Clawing Shadows… still just looks like you’re Scourge Striking the air. Spell effect updates are apparently coming later in the expansion.
  • Apocalypse no longer has a passive, and its active ability pops Festering Wounds rather than applying them. Of course, it does to make you summon a mini-Army.
  • Soul Reaper now provides a benefit to popping Festering Wounds (in lieu of popping them for itself). Called it.
  • Defile now provides a Mastery buff to the DK for every second that it deals damage – which while seemingly lazy, almost makes it interesting as it can contribute to multiple sources of damage (particularly those related to AoE). Also, doesn’t pop Festering Wounds anymore, at least on its own.
  • Dark Arbiter also no longer pops Festering Wounds, just for the trifecta. Instead, for the cost of her duration, casting Death Coil (or Death Strike) will give her a damage buff.
  • Everyone gets a baseline sprint in the form of Wraith Walk! Long cooldown on a short duration, can’t attack while it’s active or you’ll cancel it, arguably a downgrade from Death’s Advance… but it’s still better than nothing.
  • Yes, Dark Transformation will turn Abominations into Festergut/Rotface clones. The icon now matches the effect it actually applies.

Now that that’s over with, the big reason I’m posting this:

Beta Club, boys! Got it last week during the pre-launch event testing, which revived my interest in the goings-on of our class prior to the expansion release. Been leveling on-and-off for the past week, dealing with wonderful bugs like being unable to queue for Normal dungeons until I had unlocked Heroics… last night.

Since the servers are presently down to implement Build 22018 (which has literally zero DK changes), I’m left with my thoughts… and Steam, but I figure this has been waiting longer.

As the last few posts have been from a speculative standpoint – on the outside looking inward – this at long last allows me the opportunity to give some first-hand impressions, at least from the perspective of Unholy.

New Things, Raw and Clean

There is a lot to cover in terms of the new tools coming to Unholy in Legion. Below are just my impressions of new ones I’ve tested while leveling:

Outbreak is now a combo of all of our current methods of disease application: For the cost of a rune and at no cooldown (Plague Strike), a target up to 30 yards away (the current Outbreak) is covered in a haze that causes nearby enemies to contract Virulent Plague (Unholy Blight). On paper it’s about equal to Howling Blast in terms of effectiveness (especially as Howling Blast has been nerfed to Icy Touch-level output), but in reality it’s so much more convenient; the continuous effect means that you can set it down in preparation of more enemies to come, which is an understated advantage without Gorefiend’s Grasp.
Questing in the world and want to pull a large group? Tag an enemy far away with Outbreak and watch the hilarity as they plague everything in a line to you. Tank is running through the instance pulling everything? Tag the first mob he taunts, and he’ll keep on diseasing all of the enemies that chase with him. Add phase is about to begin? No worries, just tag the boss and wait for them to come to you.
The only ways it could be any better is if it was free, didn’t cost a GCD and you could bounce it off allies – not really a complaint, as all of these suggestions lean on being excessive. Outbreak itself matches well with Unholy’s aesthetic, although with the changes to Festering Strike, having to regularly apply diseases at a cost comes in odd contrast to Unholy’s relationship with disease application in the last few expansions. Having used Necrotic Plague for over a year, it was initially lost on me that Outbreak’s continuous effect would extend the duration of Virulent Plague by around 12 seconds on its own.

Virulent Plague itself also deals a noticeable amount of damage, in no small part because enemies in the Broken Isles are designed to take two or three times longer to kill on average. Since Mists, it’s been reasonable to skip applying your diseases to enemies in the open world because A) they typically died before you got two or three ticks out and B) the runes were better spent on sources of burst damage, with cooldowns to be saved for bigger mobs; in Legion, at least before you get tier gear, it feels like it takes twice as long to kill a mob if you aren’t maximizing your disease uptime. And of course, the guaranteed detonation when killing an enemy is wonderful for finishing off groups of mobs, allowing you to set off chain reactions.

While we’re on diseases, Epidemic – previously Profane Pathogens – has been changed from a CD to a charge-based nuke. So… technically still a CD, but one affected by Haste.
Epidemic itself is a skill that I love in concept, only muted by its execution. The charge system on it continues to make me feel choked whenever I want to use it for burst AoE, since I have to consider whether I should use it now or save it for another pack within the next 30 seconds. Generally this comes out to extending our AoE phases from 10 seconds out of every 30 to 15 seconds out of every 30, blowing  all three charges during the maximized Mastery buff from Defile, which (in an odd way) hardly makes it feel like an ability of its own merits at all.
I’ve been told that the reason for the charge system is that without it, it would simply become a stronger version of the live implementation of Blood Boil. That’s not a completely realistic comparison, however; Blood Boil doesn’t require diseases to be active to deal its full damage, and is self-sufficient for spreading them if they are. Epidemic exists in an era with a much smaller spread-radius on diseases and a lot trickier duration management across multiple targets, causing immeasurable amplifications to the effective cost – and most importantly for convenience’ sake, requires you to cast your diseases first for any damage, so goodbye insta-nuking when you solo old content, or viability on fights that copy the Lei Shi mechanics since invisible targets normally clear debuffs.
However, the skill itself is very natural to use with the new Outbreak: tag a few faraway mobs in separate directions with Outbreak, then start blowing them up with Epidemic once they converge on you and have grouped up nicely. Given Unholy’s unique relationship with diseases, it makes sense for Unholy’s multi-target output to be determined by disease-tagging, rather than the other way around like everyone else’s. The ability to essentially determine its targeting range easily makes up for the lack of frontloaded damage with diseases. If it weren’t for that pesky cooldown, it would be the perfect tool for any multi-target scenario.

I’m not entirely certain how I feel about All Will Serve. I would prefer to have Bursting Sores just because it fits my playstyle and gearing better, but the damage of the Risen Skulker is just so much higher in both single- and multi-target scenarios – enough so that it actually draws threat away from me on occasion, which is part of what I hate about it since it stands so far away and is so squishy. Leveling with pets is always something of a pain, since they can pull extra enemies when you attempt to cut corners, and the Skulker just amplifies this by rooting itself the instant you enter combat even if you move the mob you’re fighting, which can draw in extra patrols if it ends up parked in places like doorways. You can’t keep track of its health, or even heal it if you could (more on that later). If it dies, your character won’t resummon it until you exit combat, which combined with the previous will be a massive pain for raiding.
But holy cow if the mindless damage on it isn’t so convenient! Bursting Sores requires you get into melee of your target to maximize the advantage of it, but the Skulker doesn’t even require that much from you to pull off its damage. You just need to micro-manage its movement…
I think I might like the Skulker more if it tried to follow more closely (whether you, your target or the ghoul stalking your target, I honestly don’t care), could continue to shoot while running, and its arrows actually focused on diseased targets; things that could prevent it from pulling too many extra mobs.

Clawing Shadows is everything I dreamed it would be. It’s not terribly strong on its own since its damage is supposed to be supplemented by Festering Wounds, but I’ve squeezed mileage out of it at virtually every opportunity. Between it, my pets, a now-ranged Mind Freeze and Chains of Ice, there are a plethora of elites and rares I’ve been able to finish off that by all rights I probably should have died to – deaths subverted by kiting (which I admit, seems like cheating for a melee…). Targets think they’re being smart by charging through you or knocking you back? Clawing Shadows turns the tables back for you without having to tap Wraith Walk. A mob is casting a radial nuke, or the boss is laying down hazards for you if you stand in melee range? Just take a step back, let your Infected Claws ghoul take over Wound application, and blitz ‘em with magic till it’s safe to come back. It’s great and I’m going to hold onto it all expansion if I can. The only issue is that darn melee range restriction on Death Strike…

Work That Core (Rotation)

I freely admit that by today’s standards, I’m something of an odd sort. I’m an add-on minimalist – I use more than zero, but still fewer than most raiders. I have DBM and Exorsus for raiding, a damage meter to monitor my personal progress, and a simple addon that overlays timers on things to show me when debuffs will expire or my abilities will come off cooldown. I don’t even have a custom UI.

Feel free to continue reading once you’ve returned from puking in horror.

With Legion, we no longer have a 3-type Rune system; all six of our runes are identical, and equally valuable for satisfying the costs of our abilities. The problem is, this new system makes it tricky to keep track of rune expenditure, especially as your Haste increases. In theory, runes should just be consumed from left to right, and paired as such for the purposes of only regenerating three at a time: 112233, or 123123. Problem is, I’ve seen such pairings as 112323 or 121233; trying to keep track of it without an addon is a nightmare. Add onto that our shorter disease duration (and lack of free application effects) and the management of Festering Wounds (which feels like having Blood Tap forced on me even with Runic Corruption), and the number of things we need to manage feels like it’s at an all-time high.
After not needing one for 4 expansions, I’m downloading a rune management tool next expansion, and probably something a little heftier than a timer to manage my disease upkeep. The lovely people of the #Acherus IRC have kindly pointed me towards the CompactRunes addon to serve this purpose during the Beta (although it means compact, making it easy to gloss over).

The new Festering Wounds system is a mixed bag at best. On the one-hand, it’s a call-back to the pre-Mists system: Scourge Strike’s maximum damage is dependent on the application of diseases. However, the absolute random nature of their application makes the playstyle feel very unintuitive, especially considering Unholy has always been the “predictable” spec next to Frost’s “reactive” style (a point made by the history and very existence of Runic Corruption). For instance: Apocalypse causes you to summon a ghoul for every Wound you pop, so for maximum output, you want to pop it on a target with 8 Wounds. Not only does this mean you can require anywhere from 2 to 4 casts of Festering Strike to actually achieve such, but if you end up having 7 Wounds, you have to gauge whether to wait on the runes to burst one Wound and cast Festering Strike again on the assumption that the Strike would have only given two more; wait for your Ghoul to apply one more Wound if you have Infected Claws, if it does at all; or pop Apocalypse anyway because waiting is too much trouble for any of a thousand reasons.
It’s also been suggested many times that the ability to amplify Scourge Strike with Death and Decay is a wonderful thing because you can pop Wounds in AoE… but I’ve yet to find a scenario where that’s something you’ll do. Infected Claws was nerfed so that it couldn’t apply Wounds to more than the main target. Maybe you can tab through striking targets one at a time before dropping D&D, but that slow style of multi-DoTing is exactly what Pestilence and its variants were created to prevent – and again, because of the random nature of Wound application, you’ll have no way of knowing when all of your Wounds have burst due to the difficulty of tracking them across multiple targets. And of course, because our Wounds regulate our Runic Power availability, we probably won’t see any way to give ourselves free Wounds any time soon.
I will say the advantage, from a developmental perspective, is that we have room for future expansion on this system: evening out Wound application on a single target, possibly having ways to spread Wounds (or faux-Wound effects, as Necrotic Strike has opened the door for)… however, this is not something we can expect changes to before the expansion has already hit us, if not throughout the expansion at all.

This Is How You Die

I’m going to be blunt: for a class defined to be plate-wielding hybrids who stand on the front line, our survivability is pretty crap. If something knocks you to low health, the only way you’re going to survive is by cheating – not because your abilities are self-sufficient.

Death Strike has had its cost increased. While it originally cost 2 Runes, it now costs you 40 Runic Power – double the converted equivalent of the original cost, with added GCD restrictions to reaction time. Theoretically Festering Wounds could mitigate this cost, but the cost just to apply any number of Wounds reliably is equal to the cost to fuel Death Strike anyway. We don’t have Empower Rune Weapon to quickly fuel for an emergency Death Strike. To top that off, the change to the way it scales its healing feels incredibly weak for anyone who isn’t Blood – in my experience, it barely manages to heal you through the next hit, if even that much. Due to the more difficult cost to manage, the “20% of the last 6 seconds” doesn’t help a lot if you’re barely managing to get the resources to cast it within 6 seconds of a big hit.

We no longer have a tier of healing effects like Death Pact, just of mitigation (which is weighed against a sprint enhancement that is equally as valuable), which is near-useless if the damage is already done. Purgatory is Blood only. Anti-Magic Shell had its cooldown increased and maximum protection decreased – it breaks before you even manage to get halfway through that hall of grasping arms for the Unholy Artifact scenario, and the scenario was designed for DKs to AMS through it. Glyph of ERW is out of the question. Unholy doesn’t even have an AoE stun to slow attackers down anymore.
Literally the only other effects that can heal you are paltry Fallen Crusader procs, and Mark of Thassarian – if he’s assigned to you (meaning he’s not on mission as your followers are wont to do), if you’re out of an instance, there’s a chance he might show up, and that chance really isn’t any better than FC.
If you’re dying, you are very lucky to survive by any means, and I’m hard-pressed to think of a time when our out-of-combat downtime was worse. Cataclysm maybe, but even then you had Death Pact to fall back on if you didn’t have Dark Succor equipped.

The worst part of all? This even applies to our pets. Death Coil no longer heals friendly Undead targets – presumably because being able to heal your pet would constitute a supplemental way to spend Runic Power for things like Shadow Infusion, Dark Arbiter, Runic Corruption or your ghoul’s own energy regeneration, but let’s be honest: in all of those cases, even put together, the act of casting on your ghoul still takes away damage from other sources.
At best it would let you get more mileage out of Corpse Shield – and if you want to spend all of your Runic Power to do so, that should absolutely be your choice. By firing your Death Coil at a ghoul instead of an enemy, you’re missing out on its raw damage and procs like Scourge of Worlds. Keep in mind, the alternative as of now is to dismiss your ghoul at the end of Corpse Shield so you can summon back one with full health (meaning you’re pushed into taking All Will Serve). At any rate, Corpse Shield and Dark Arbiter were added relatively late in the process, so you’d be hard-pressed to say that they’re the intended reason for the restriction.
The ability to heal your ghoul was rarely ever exploited before Glyph of Death’s Embrace was changed to exclude its effects on other abilities. And since Glyph of Death’s Embrace is gone, the regenerative applications of Death Coil are primarily only of use out of combat, and a lot of the effects it could provide are so brief in duration that they likely wouldn’t make it to your next combat scenario.
“Well if you just want it for out of combat, why does it matter?” Because my ghoul presently heals at a rate of 3.5% every 10 seconds, and he doesn’t have healthstones, potions, or 100% healing food like I do. I could just dismiss him and resummon him after every engagement, but if I’m doing so in order to save time then I’m forced into All Will Serve to facilitate this.

My recommendations are simple: give Unholy Death Pact – the original form that drains from our ghoul, maybe on a longer cooldown or even as an effect replaced by Corpse Shield – and an equivalent healing effect to Frost (perhaps on Empower Rune Weapon?), if that’s even needed. Let Unholy DKs cast Death Coil on their pets. Maybe increase the maximum shield value of Anti-Magic Shell.

Scattered Thoughts

(Yes, that title is going to continue being a thing. Probably.)

  • The scaling questing system is… not worth expanding on. There are simply too many quests as part of your Order Hall or Professions that imply an order of zones to progress through. (Without spoilers: You get a quest from the Order Hall to go to Neltharion’s Lair at the end of Highmountain followed by Darkheart Thicket at the end of Val’sharah, and from Inscription, a set for Azsuna followed by a set for Stormheim. Azsuna itself also serves as an intro to the events of both Val’sharah and Stormheim.) Not to mention every mob in the Isles reaches 110 when you do.
  • Emerald Winds is not as good as Aviana’s Feather. It’s neat, but unless you’re already at a high point, you’re not going to get nearly as far. For instance, leaping off of Dalaran towards Val’sharah will lead to you landing… near the Azsuna/Val’sharah border.
  • Thassarian is a jerk. Whenever I assign him to be my personal follower, he takes the opportunity to pop into existence whenever I walk within 3 feet of Neutral mobs, and is apparently hostile to everything (meaning as he trails behind me when I’m running for my life from the pack of neutral birds he just pulled, he’ll start grabbing neutral bulls by proximity). He’s lucky our healing was basically crippled, or I wouldn’t ever use him.
  • Speaking of which, am I the only one who finds it odd that Thassarian – a Frost DK who has generally been the face of the Ebon Blade, owing to having more interactions with players than any other DK – has a group Life Drain mark, and isn’t the one with the Bodyguard ability? And that Koltira – who is at least a Blood DK now, and who spent the last few years being tortured which would make anyone antisocial – is a Bodyguard, without a Life Drain?
  • I miss Glyph of Path of Frost. There are heavy drops every two minutes in Val’sharah, and being able to mitigate fall damage was important to reducing your downtime.
  • Despite letting you hover visually, it would be more accurate to say Wraith Walk leaves you in the same vertical position but removes your ability to jump – so you can still trip over every single pebble you find. Glyph of the Wraith Walker removes that penalty, allowing you to jump over obstacles once again, as long as you can work past the jarring pace of your feet and not being able to recolor the effect. It’s the new Glyph of Path of Frost.
  • I’m not absolutely certain (because no log has been able to record the phenomena), but there have been times where I felt like mobs were randomly dying faster than they should have. Which is to say, I’m positive I’ll see a white-purple flash and they’ll be dead, especially when I’m fighting ghosts. I figured it was just me getting crits… until I saw a similar flash on a (non-undead) world boss who suddenly dropped from 20% to zero last night. If this is Apocalypse’s hidden ability (like how Frost’s weapon freezes things around them, or Blood’s gains damage from kills), then it’s a cool (if possibly overpowered as hell) way to supplement removing our execution, but also really annoying when my quest requires me to just get a mob low like those ghosts in Stormheim.
Posted in Death Knight, Talents, Unholy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

When You Wish (Upon Apocalypse)…

After Mists, one of the things that always disappointed me about the 3-by-6 talent tree was the lack of variety.

Death Knights are a “hybrid” class, with a tanking spec and two very different DPS specs. For some reason, however, the devs saw fit for the longest time to have all three specializations share one pool of talents; as I’ve stated in previous posts, this led to the awkward implementation of Tier 100 talents that attempted to fit a one-size-fits-all dynamic. This was more painful in that even Mages – a class with three damage specs – had tiers of talents that completely shifted between specs.

One of the reasons why I’ve always focused on Unholy is because it is a specialization with a very broad spectrum of potential. Blood’s domain is vampirism, Frost’s is harsh weather, and Unholy has all of the various powers of necromancy presented throughout the Warcraft mythos. Undead minions, diseases and infections, shadow magic – for all intents and purposes, it is the entire Warlock class rolled into one spec and crammed into a skeleton-adorned suit of armor. After Wrath ended, this has often felt to varying degrees as a detriment; with so many masteries to convey in one specialization, our kit only contained the top highlights.

After the latest Legion build, that’s all over. (At least, assuming they don’t suddenly decide to revert everything.)

You want to be a Scourgelord? You can do that. You want to be a Blightcaller instead? You can do that. You want to harvest the souls of your enemies to fuel your unholy rituals and cast the world itself into eternal darkness? … might be overselling that a bit, but you can do Shadow magic too. If you so wish, you can even mix-and-match to do something in-between; our talent tree actually contains your Death Knight’s specific talents, their own twist on the things everyone around them is doing, rather than simply skills that will be situationally beneficial.

Bloodbolt & Clawing Shadows

Looks like my question from the Prelim has been answered after all – Death’s Caress wasn’t called Bloodbolt because Bloodbolt was still coming! Now the big question is “why”.
For all intents and purposes, Bloodbolt is just an AoE version of Death’s Caress. It provides no benefit beyond splash damage and DoT spread, which are already covered by Heart Strike in the same tree, Blood Strike when standing in Death and Decay and Blood Boil when not. I suppose that I can’t pass judgment too harshly on it before a damage pass (maybe it’ll end up being a slight bump over Caress in single-target?), but when it’s sitting right next to another cleave talent, you have to wonder what makes the devs expect that it will be taken. Maybe some niche scenario where a group of caster adds are huddled together on a small cliff-edge when GG is on its long cooldown?

Now what’s really interesting, is Clawing Shadows.

I’ve already spoken in the last few posts about this general topic; Death Knights are notoriously slow, there’s always a need for casters, why not have the two hook up? Blood has Death’s Caress (and now Bloodbolt), Frost has Howling Blast, but Unholy doesn’t have a way to generate the runic power from a distance for Death Coil now that Icy Touch is removed. Initially I just expected it would be a simple matter of giving Unholy a relatively weak, situational spell dealing Shadow damage that wasn’t limited by a cooldown, something on par with the combination of Shuriken Toss and Deadly Throw – but I never expected this.
The advantage of bottoming out your expectations is, you’re perfectly set to be genuinely surprised.

Clawing Shadows replaces Scourge Strike. This means quite a bit; while a damage pass hasn’t been dealt yet, it sets Clawing Shadows in a relative ballpark of Scourge Strike on Patchwerk-style fights, and because taking it replaces two other clearly beneficial talents, likely means it could even be a boost in such matters. Either way, you can expect something a little stronger than Icy Touch – and one you can use all of your runes on, for that matter.
Keep in mind, it deals raw Shadow damage; without Multistrike to penalize it for being one solid hit, it will likely win out over Scourge Strike at high Mastery levels, if not long beforehand due to its ability to ignore armor. (Granting, we thought the same of Death Siphon during the Mists pre-patch…)
Replacing Scourge Strike also means that it will benefit from Death and Decay’s cleaving effect – although it would make more sense if it cleaved when hitting a target in Death and Decay rather than when you are, but I suppose that’s a grey area.

Clawing Shadows rests on a delicate niche in our kit. The devs don’t want DKs to be on the back-line flinging spells with the Mages and non-Survival Hunters, and we won’t be; given Sudden Doom’s limitation to auto-attacks, Apocalypse’s passive encouraging more swings, Festering Strike’s extra wounds and the instant-cast nature of most of our spells giving us free hits anyway, most of our damage is going to come from being on the front line. So why bother with having ranged effects in our kit if we won’t be at ranged for long?
And the answer is: versatility.

No, not the stat. Give me some credit.

Let’s limit our perspective to Hellfire Citadel for a moment (though all examples are easily applicable to far older fights and mechanics, and those to come as well):
Infernals on Mannoroth make it dangerous to be in melee range of them; it’s the casters’ job to take them out, which can lead to serious penalties if an infernal lands in melee range of the boss. Zakuun and Iskar both have mechanics that force you out of melee range of the boss for extended periods. These are situations where a gap-closer just doesn’t cut it; you either can’t be or don’t want to be close enough to melee the target. Clawing Shadows puts DKs in a prime position to sustain their damage during these phases – still at a penalty, but lower than other melee classes.
Socrethar and Gorefiend each have adds that will spawn at the edges of the room; again, it’s the casters’ job to tear them up, but the melee are expected to contribute by the time the adds are within range. With the low cooldown on Outbreak, the bonus range on Clawing Shadows makes it far easier to swap between faraway targets and burst them down – and more frequently than a Warrior can Charge, for that matter. It’s not about being a ranged class; it’s about supplementing those your raid already has.

And honestly, outside of a raid, it will just be really convenient for quickly tagging and moving through mobs in questing areas.

A legitimate concern with this kind of ability is that, due to our drop in mobility (DA no longer has a sprint attached and we’re losing 10% speed regardless), it will be the go-to talent in its tier, explicitly due to Blizzard’s “no theme tiers” policy for next expansion; historically, this has led to the poor adjustment of numbers to compensate for mechanics. I would say it would be a potent idea to consider putting Clawing Shadows up against a pair of mobility talents instead… but due to it not being a 1:1 reflection of Scourge Strike at 30 yards with its differing stat intakes, I can understand that being even more difficult to balance.

In the meantime, the only disappointment I have in this ability at this juncture is the oddly generic name; most spells tend to be self-explanatory. You would think after a whole expansion dedicated to necromancy, we’d have a database of death-themed Shadow spells conspicuously similar to Shadowbolt.
Oh look Pain and Suffering does black lightning maybe you should try that out Blizz.

Pathetic Magic

For the reasons described above, I find it curious that Frost didn’t get a talent that returns Howling Blast to its former glory at the cost of its Rime multiplier, but I suppose the devs really don’t want to push the Masterfrost envelope again (although in that case, they could have pushed out more Obliterate-centric talents). Chill of the Grave probably helps in the absence of a strong ranged attack.
It does make some sense, however, for them to have another form of hybridization: bonus mitigation.

Each spec gets its own take on Anti-Magic Shell improvement. Historically, Anti-Magic Shell is our most-used mitigation skill, in no small part because optimal use of it contributes to our output. In Frost’s case, Implacable and Permafrost each present methods of causing the DK’s output to improve his or her survivability… but Pathetic Magic is the only one that causes the mitigation to contribute to raw damage. Topped with its upfront mitigation benefits, Pathetic Magic may very well be the go-to option in Frost’s tree in any encounter where peripheral damage is magical in nature, even if the damage doesn’t scale with Mastery.

Despite Frost not necessarily being my area, I mention it because I have mixed feelings about this. For starters, while it clearly was made to adopt Sindragosa’s most infamous mechanic (her scream), maximizing the use of Anti-Magic Shell has always seemed to be more Unholy’s area (down to the appropriate talents falling in Unholy’s tree before Mists). Granting that a lot of mechanics between the two specs seem to be swapping (for instance, Unholy’s Runic Tattoos echoing Frost’s old Runic Power Mastery), this also puts a new level on the balance of DK DPS around AMS soaking.

Soul Reaper & Defile

And now that I’ve done all of my thinking about Frost that I can tolerate for one day, back to Unholy.

In an effort to cut down on the number of execute-style mechanics that aren’t named Execute, Soul Reaper has been changed to no longer have a burst effect on low-health targets. After having had Soul Reaper for two expansions, I’m not necessarily sad to see it go – it was always a rather finicky execute, only really providing a benefit in the event that you could time it perfectly to land the first cast at just under 45%. Our output was balanced either to average out during the shortest phase of a fight, or around tagging adds with SR just before they died so you could contribute the haste buff to dealing with the boss itself.
Now, Soul Reaper simply bursts Festering Wounds. Short version is, meh.

Consider: Scourge Strike/Clawing Shadows will compete with Defile/Dark Arbiter/Soul Reaper to burst Festering Wounds. What makes this less annoying than other forms of competing resource management is that we don’t care how the wounds burst so long as they burst; without Boiling Rot, no particular ability actively benefits from doing the dirty deed itself. Our playstyle is being built to cast a number of Scourge Strikes in response to the number of Festering Wounds our target has active; if Soul Reaper just consumes several stacks at once, it means more Festering Strikes, not more Scourge Strikes – especially since we have no way to provide a consistent number of wounds and Soul Reaper’s only benefit (as it’s weaker than Scourge Strike, though this can change before live – early alpha, no damage pass yet, remember) comes if it can consistently consume 3 when it pops.

At best, Soul Reaper is a way to gain snap Runic Power.

Speaking of Boiling Rot, I’m beginning to be concerned with the lack of changes to Defile. For the past expansion, it has been the boring option of the tree, and now that the devs have the chance to change that, they’re squandering it.
I know I just implied the lack of Boiling Rot was a good thing, but it did compel interesting gameplay changes while Defile and its lesser counterpart are active. At the very least, given that our ability to AoE remains primarily reliant on cooldowns, we could stand to have an increased uptime. Boiling Rot isn’t necessarily bad, just competition over Wound consumption is; if it’s for the sake of AoE rather than single-target uptime, competition could actively encourage players not to use D&D or Defile outside of cleave, which is an annoyance we’ve had to consider at some point or other every expansion since its cost was reduced.

I want to like Defile, but as long as it’s blatantly just D&D with bigger numbers, what’s there to like?

Scattered Thoughts

  • Mitigation or not, Frost still needs a gap-closer if its ranged damage isn’t going to be compensated. Perhaps the ability to mount their deathcharger like in WC3, or an ice slick they can slide across?
  • I sincerely hope they take a pass at how each ability is acquired via leveling. Outbreak isn’t available until level 81, and several of the new early talents affect passives that aren’t acquired until rather late (eg Killing Machine at 64).
  • I really want Hungering Rune Weapon to put a gentle, spiraling snowfall effect over the Death Knight like Evocation, to invoke the opening Wrath cinematic where snow is drawn into Frostmourne.
  • Feels like a missed opportunity that Death Pact (the one that drains from the ghoul, not the one that debuffs the user) didn’t make it into Unholy’s tree now that we can assume the person with access will have at least a ghoul. Likewise, a missed opportunity to implement Desecration (our original snare) in place of Monstrous Rampage.
  • Wondering why Blood can’t summon a Bone Spike at this point. Maybe as a future PVP talent?
  • High hopes for Profane Pathogens as an AoE tool, low expectations with that CD.
  • Will using Dark Transformation on an Abomination turn it into a Flesh Beast?
  • Didn’t we drain Sindragosa’s soul into a gem to lay her to rest? Why are Frost DKs able to summon a Frostwyrm that explicitly identifies as her?
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Build 20810


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Legion Preliminary

With Legion Alpha semi-publicly underway, previous questions of whether or not datamined information is “current” or “trustworthy” can be thrown out the window in favor of whether the changes will make it to live.

Which means what we’ve seen is now open to scrutiny.

With the usual disclaimer (this is only the second build of the not-Beta, everything is subject to change, including my thoughts on the matter), let’s dig in, shall we?

Spec Identity… At The Cost of Class Identity

For those of you who’ve been living under a rock, the set 2 Blood, 2 Frost, and 2 Unholy runes that act as resources for the class have all been scrapped in favor of 6 arbitrarily-paired Death runes come Legion. There, you’re filled in.

The “old” rune system (I say as if Legion is already here – “current” as I’m writing) allowed for over 200 different permutations of rune expenditure, before arcane rules came into play (primarily limitations on how you spend Death runes, or prevention of multiple of the same rune being used in one cast). In my mind, I envisioned my death knight brandishing his runeblade and flaring specific runes as shorthand for a magical formula only he knew – that activating X in tandem with Y always equaled Z (rather than Z or Q both happening to cost the same X plus Y resources) and that the death knight’s ability to achieve differing effects from the same cost was attributed to their mastery of a specific rune (ie Howling Blast being an advancement of Icy Touch). Each rune acts as a primary element of the death knight’s necrotic magic, so one spell that comprised two runes could be shaped as the absence of the third (for instance, Death Strike drawing on Blood in its absence).

In this sense, the untapped potential of runes could have been realized through how the pairings interacted. Unholy runes focused on diseases while Blood and Frost combined to amplify them; Frost runes focused on ranged attacks while Blood and Unholy could have combined to amplify them. Now, that won’t be possible.

In its own way, the rune system always felt like a unifying feature of the class. Even when each spec had different skills as part of the base rotations, they still had the same utilities with the same costs as a baseline. Before Pandaria made virtually all attacks spec-specific, it came down to each spec simply having improved versions of the same skills – Unholy wasn’t the only one with Festering Strike, but it was the best at it. A Blood death knight might not be able to cast Howling Blast, but he was still versed enough in Frost magic (as all death knights are) to manifest a simple ice attack, because the aspect of Frost would always be with him. Each spec utilized the same resource pool, just in different ways to reflect different training.

With Legion, each spec seems like a different class altogether. Yes, each spec has the exact same pool of runes (which is more than you can say of the divisions between Reaping and Blood of the North), but many classes share Mana or variations on Rage; it’s a manner of being able to use it in a particular way the unifies or differentiates them, and as we drop further down the rabbit hole we started down in Pandaria (now with us no longer sharing or, for that matter, needing the same spenders), the differences become more glaring than the similarities. Several abilities that have been vital utilities or key to the identity of the class have been pushed onto one spec or other; for instance, Empower Rune Weapon becoming exclusive to Frost while Unholy gets sole custody of Army of the Dead.

It’s a wonder that Blood even exists now, since Frost and Unholy have zero precedent towards it.

Of course, I would be lying if I even implied it was all bad – for the most part, in fact, the changes to runes are good for the class. After years of trying to work around orphaned Frost runes, synchronize exactly the right two runes for a dual-rune strike, or set up runes for AoE phases, all of those issues are officially obliterated. Now instead of abilities being balanced around forcing you to use a skill just to keep all of your runes cycling, they’ll be balanced to force you to make a choice on how you want to spend those runes. The question for the future is, was quality of life worth it?

Area Effect

Something that perhaps returns a bit of the age-old Paladin vs Death Knight rivalry, is that Blood and Unholy share a new mechanic with Protection: while standing in an area marked by our ground-targeted AoE, our primary attacks are amplified to deal damage in a radius around ourselves. For the most part, it’s an interesting concept; part of the reason I’ve always pushed for us to have an AoE Runic Power dump was so Unholy could fire off a Dark Transformation at-will for additional cleave during AoE phases, essentially meaning that AoE begets AoE.

There’s just one major flaw: unlike Consecration, Death & Decay has a 30 second cooldown, and only lasts for a third of that.
Using D&D is already considered a massive pain, simply because of how likely it is that the target will move (or be forced to move) out of the field – and this is assuming weird camerawork didn’t cause you to accidentally cast it on the ceiling (in all seriousness, a minor glyph to automatically center it under your target would help a lot).
Now, Unholy (and just Unholy; Blood at least gets to keep Blood Boil, and will likely be in charge of where the boss/adds go anyway) has to contend with needing to remain in the field during AoE phases, which already runs counter to the ability to place it at range. Outside of that, we only have our diseases.

Have I thanked the devs for bringing Wandering Plague back yet? Interrupting this blog post to do that now: Thank you.
Now back to your regularly-scheduled nitpicking.

While it gives us a greater emphasis on our sustainable cleave over burst (by design, I’m sure – just look at Boiling Rot), we’ll have long periods wherein all we can do in a cleave scenario is tunnel down one target. Even so, the difference between our AoE and single-target will be whether we choose to sub out a single Scourge Strike for a fire-and-forget D&D (and given D&D’s history with Mastery scaling, we may end up doing that in single-target anyway).
Remember how we complained bitterly throughout Cataclysm and Pandaria about all of the buildup to Blood Boiling because we couldn’t immediately cycle our runes to that end? Same issue here.
An excellent first step would be reducing the cooldown of Death & Decay so as to be more forgiving.

And then… Frost has early Wrath-era Unholy Blight, what’s that about?

Festering Wounds

With disease snapshotting and Necrotic Plague gone, Festering Strike had a doubtful position in Unholy’s arsenal, until the announcement of Festering Wounds.

Unholy’s new mechanic seems to be a matter of perspective. On the one-hand, it’s long been suggested for DKs to be able to detonate their diseases with strikes, and with the return of Wandering Plague on the horizon, Festering Wounds seems to offer a balanced alternative which integrates Festering Strike back into the playstyle. On the other, Scourge Strike is no longer equal parts Physical and Shadow damage, now forcing Festering Strike to pick up the slack.

The primary issue with Festering Wounds is that it creates an RNG-based playstyle, as Festering Strike doesn’t provide a consistent number of stacks each hit. Keeping in mind, Unholy is built to be the least random of the DK’s damage specs.

Secondly, Blighted Runeblade. In terms of finding a passive option or single-target option in that tier, we already have Pestilent Pustules. If the idea is to provide an alternative (or at least, supplement) to Festering Strike for the application of Festering Wounds, I might recommend instead changing Blighted Runeblade from being randomly procced by autoattacks (ever the copout) to being activated by disease ticks or the ghoul’s Claw (although in the latter case, we already have Lil’ Stinker, so that’s probably unnecessary). This would allow us the same benefit of Blighted Runeblade in single-target, while also allowing the application of Festering Wounds at range and in cleave scenarios, so as to maximize the burst damage of Scourge Strike in Death & Decay, at the cost of the sustained damage provided by Boiling Rot.

Death’s Caress

Why is this not called Bloodbolt?

What makes Death’s Caress noteworthy is that it aims to keep a ranged attack option for Blood, in spite of the removal of Icy Touch. With Blood Strike already taking the job of disease application, the fact that range was separately considered as an option for DKs is a hopeful sign to address our lack of mobility, as I discussed in my previous post.

Naturally I don’t expect DKs to have a ranged rotation as strong as our melee rotation (since it would objectively be the stronger subspec, whether you mixed in autoattacks for bonus damage or simply stayed at maximum range due to raid’s the need for it), but simply having the reach to be able to start running out of danger zones before they form without costing too much damage, or pre-empt adds running from the edge of the room, would make up for our difficulty moving in the first place.

Of course, while Frost and Blood have ranged builders and no ranged spender, at least they can use theirs at-will. Unholy has a ranged spender, but only Outbreak to build up to it from a distance – which is limited by a cooldown (understandable given its AoE spread, but strictly limiting as a ranged attack on top of its already low damage).


Alas, Multistrike has been cut down before its time. As something of a point of contention amongst the playerbase, the developers have removed it come Legion with the note that it is simply an alternative to Critical Strike rating. Several specializations also had minimal reason to use it (due to its lower damage returns compared to Crit) without specific attunements.

Of course, Versatility survived because the developers believed it was “interesting” and “useful” which seemingly undercuts that analysis.

To me, the devs barely scratched the surface with Multistrike. It was only ever allowed to be a stat that caused additional damage – rather than a stat that caused you to strike additional times. Instead of an “alternative to Crit” it could have been an alternative to Haste, allowing each cast, strike or autoattack additional chances to activate procs at no additional cost, on top of their damage. This is especially notable given how some specs have felt GCD locked towards the end of an expansion in the past, meaning that the value of Multistrike would go up as Haste’s went down.
Of course, with Haste affecting the GCD next expansion, the latter case may not be strictly necessary.

Still better than Versatility, though.

Scattered Thoughts

  • Obtaining Apocalypse fills me with many emotions… none of which are positive. The scenario is blatantly recycled from Affliction Warlocks and Balance Druids, the overworld section (on top of, again, being a prime location for two other class’ artifact questlines) will make starting the questline annoying.
  • Why Fire Relics for Apocalypse? I understand Shadow, but Fire (and Holy) makes the absolute least sense for a DK artifact. Why not Fel, for our demonic weaponry and origins? Why not Life, for our perversion of it?
  • Spellbreaker on its own makes me happy for lore/RP reasons (my main is a Blood Elf after all)…
  • … while Spellbreaker’s compatriots are once again painfully PVP oriented, which I thought was the point of the PVP trees in the first place. Would be a much better choice if March of the Damned were swapped for Death’s Advance, and Desecrated Ground was replaced.
  • Purgatory versus Death Pact? Sadistic. Love it! Finally an actual choice that doesn’t directly impact your performance.
  • Since Frost has Remorseless Winter, perhaps the central option in our Tier 90 will see the return of Hungering Cold…?
  • Boiling Rot may actually make Defile interesting in the absence of Necrotic Plague.

No clean way to end this – Alpha is a work-in-progress after all. Until next post, suffer well.

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