Bloody Wonder

As much as I love Unholy, it’s not the only specialization of the class. Today’s article is dedicated to the state of Unholy’s closest sibling, Blood.

In the time before Cataclysm, all three of our specializations were equally capable of both Tanking and DPS. While Frost Presence was our designated Tanking presence (bearing effects very similar to Blood Presence today), our most popular tanking specializations were either Tri-spec- taking advantage of our former ability to place talent points in any tree without restriction, allowing access to any of the most powerful tanking abilities in each tree, such as Magic Suppression, Improved Frost Presence and Will of the Necropolis- and, especially in Icecrown Citadel, Blood.

Blood was a very different specialization from what it is today. I call it the closest specialization to Unholy (despite fulfilling different roles) because Unholy inherited many parts of Blood’s playstyle when Blood converted into a pure Tanking specialization.
At the time, Blood was considered “the red-headed step-child of Death Knight specs.” To understand why, you have to understand the rotational style of the day:

  • First of all, Outbreak didn’t exist. You activated your diseases manually via Plague Strike and Icy Touch. You would take a glyph called Glyph of Disease, which allowed you to refresh your diseases via Pestilence. If you were Unholy, Glyph of Scourge Strike originally had a chance to activate Blood Plague and Frost Fever. You didn’t use Howling Blast as an opener as Frost, as it had the same cost as Obliterate for only one disease, if it were glyphed to apply it.
  • Unholy’s rotation was completely different from what it became in Cataclysm. They would generate Death Runes only from Blood Runes via Blood Strike. They would spend these on Scourge Strike (which consumed Unholy and Frost Runes), and spent the Runic Power generated on Unholy Blight, or Death Coil if UB was already active, until UB was demoted to a DoT effect at the end of a Death Coil. They could keep Bone Shield up without effort, and activated Summon Gargoyle as necessary. Long story short, Unholy was similar to Frost as it is today.
  • Frost’s rotation was a bit more complex than what it is today. They also generated Death Runes via Blood Strike. They were required to take a talent that would prevent Obliterate from consuming diseases. They cast Frost Strike and used a free Howling Blast on a Rime proc the same way they do today (despite HB sharing Obliterate’s cost on an 8-second cooldown), but used an additional spell Deathchill to force critical strikes between Killing Machine procs. They needed to work to keep their Icy Talons buff active for the whole raid, by keeping Frost Fever active at all times. Instead of Pillar of Frost, they had Unbreakable Armor which provided a similar Strength buff on top of an Armor buff that stacked with Bladed Armor.
  • Blood had a rotation that is almost the same as it is today: they used Death Strike to turn their Unholy and Frost Runes into Death Runes, the only spec to do so (they could do it with Obliterate as well, but Glyph of Death Strike and Improved Death Strike’s collective damage boosts rendered this moot). This also made Blood a very bursty single- or double-target spec, as they could follow up with 6-7 Heart Strikes in a row. Blood used Death Coil to dump Runic Power, and could proc Sudden Doom for free Death Coils (unlike today, these would automatically cast and hit every target affected by Heart Strike). Abomination’s Might was procced by certain strikes. Blood could activate a cooldown called Hysteria, which was much like today’s Unholy Frenzy but increased Physical damage rather than Melee Haste, as well as activate Dancing Rune Weapon (without an increase Parry chance). DRW was criticized for its high RP cost as it is today, and would frequently be ignored to go deeper into one’s sub-trees.
  • If you had nothing else to push, you would cast Horn of Winter, as you do today.
  • You did not use Death and Decay in single-target, as it consumed three runes to cast.
  • If you were tanking, you would substitute Death Coil or Frost Strike for Rune Strike as it became active, as Rune Strike was procced only by Dodging or Parrying an attack and would replace an auto-attack rather than consume a GCD. While this may seem odd today, all three specs were GCD-locked, so this was an optimal solution at the time.

Despite being the specialization introduced with the highest potential burst damage, Blood was one of the least popular DPS specs until Trial of the Crusader, when Armor Penetration gear became the norm and trash packs were a thing of the past (… and it received an influx of weary Unholy veterans). This wasn’t because it was boring or weak (as any veteran DK can tell you, they sorely miss Blood DPS and consider it one of the best two-handed DPS specs they ever had), it was just that Unholy and Frost brought better DPS buffs: Frost’s Icy Talons was one of the only sources of the 20% Melee Haste raid buff other than Enhancement Shaman totems, while Unholy’s Ebon Plague was the only source of the 13% Spell Vulnerability debuff that could be spread without penalizing the caster’s personal DPS (and in fact, improved it). Blood’s Abomination’s Might was relatively common by comparison.

However, Blood brought some very powerful utilities- assuming you cared more about survival than damage. These are the tools that made Blood a very popular tanking spec.

  • First of all, Blood had Rune Tap. It’s the same as we know it today, but could heal for 20% of your Health (if talented into Improved Rune Tap), and with the Glyph of Rune Tap it could even grant additional healing to your party. This was often overlooked by those bursty DPSers, since it consumed a Blood Rune to cast, taking away from their Heart Strike spam.
  • Second, Blood had the protective Mark of Blood spell. If you’ve ever run Obsidian Sanctum or Black Temple, chances are you’ve encountered the annoying Curse of Mending effect, which would heal your target whenever you were trying to deal damage to them. Mark of Blood was the player-inflicted version of that effect. This effect was basically Blood’s version of Anti-Magic Zone, as it could save smart raid members from a multitude of attacks, provided they were careful with damage mitigation.
  • Third, Blood had the Vampiric Blood spell. This amplified everything in Blood’s arsenal as nearly every ability, passive, or proc had some shred of self-healing attached to it.
  • Finally, Blood had a lot of passive mitigation effects. Between Blade Barrier, Spell Deflection, Will of the Necropolis; easy access to Frost’s Toughness (armor bonus), Unholy’s Anticipation (dodge bonus) and Unholy Command; and its plethora of self-healing abilities like Blood Worms, Vendetta and Scent of Blood, Blood completely outclassed Unholy (who only had Bone Shield and Magic Suppression) and Frost (Frigid Dreadplate, Unbreakable Armor, Acclimation and Improved Frost Presence) in terms of personal survival.

There was a common misconception that Frost was the best suited Tanking spec, though this was entirely because our Tanking presence was called Frost Presence. For the uninformed, this lead to quite the shock when Blizzard announced that Blood would become the designated Tanking specialization in Cataclysm, but in hindsight it would be hard to make a more perfect fit.

Blood’s revamp in Cataclysm had its share of pros and cons, but the consensus for the spec’s new status was generally favorable from the death knight’s standpoint:

  • The elimination of tri-speccing meant that players no longer needed to wade through three pools of talents and wear their resources thin to collect decent tanking talents. Abilities provided by the other two specs, such as Unholy’s Bone Shield and Frost’s Improved Frost Presence (now Blood Presence), were molded into Blood’s talent tree. However, this also meant the removal of utilities such as Mark of Blood and Spell Deflection to make room (making Blood tanks less “anti-magic” than DKs were originally intended to be), as well as the addition of boring filler talents (“for threat”) like Unholy’s Blood-Caked Blade, and an attempt to turn Dancing Rune Weapon into a Parry CD (most DKs would be happier with it remaining as a damage CD).
  • While Blood had less focus on mitigation, a change to Death Strike (to heal based on damage received) and the addition of Mastery as Blood’s “Block” made for a unique reactive tanking style, and would later serve as the proof of concept for Active Mitigation tanking. While healers were particularly unenthused by all the work they put into healing Blood tanks, Blood carved out and held on to its own niche in the Tanking fold.
  • While Rune Tap’s healing was halved, it now had a direct synergy with Will of the Necropolis in Cataclysm’s enforced “proccier” playing styles, giving the Blood death knight a free Rune Tap if they were put into Execute range. This wasn’t quite as successful with their other proc, Crimson Scourge.
  • The addition of Vengeance was a welcome change by all tanks, not just Blood. However, due to Blood’s lower passive mitigation, this meant that we were able to ramp it up to cap a bit faster.
  • Blood was now able to cast Rune Strike at will, rather than waiting to Dodge or Parry to use their Runic Dump mechanic. The changes to rune regeneration in Cataclysm removed GCD-locking as a concern on Blood’s list. This also gave Blood a unique button to push to activate the new Runic Empowerment mechanic.
  • Blood was also the only spec capable of reducing the CD on Outbreak, so as to keep diseases active on the target at all times when combined with the Epidemic talent in Unholy. This allowed for more runes to be dedicated to Death Striking your target.
  • Blood now brought utility with the Scarlet Fever debuff, which meant that as long as Blood Plague was active, their target’s damage output was reduced.

For those who weren’t happy with Blood’s change of role, its playstyle was inducted almost entirely into Unholy’s (though Unholy still couldn’t hold up to standards of Blood’s burst), and a two-handed playstyle was granted to the Frost specialization (generally considered inferior to its dual-wielding counterpart).

With Mists of Pandaria, Blood has actually gone further up in the world, as most of the tools it lost in beta were all returned in time:

  • While 2H Frost is no longer a poor man’s Blood DPS or DW Frost, changes to Vengeance (to make it uncappable) have made Blood an even more capable DPS spec than it was when it wasn’t dedicated to tanking!
  • … Which isn’t actually a good thing for DPS specs being made to feel inadequate by Tanks, and legitimately needs to be looked at. Just saying.
  • Crimson Scourge was removed in the beta, then returned after some serious concern for Blood’s empty playstyle due to the class’ new 1-second baseline GCD. Not only does it grant a free Death and Decay, but the free Blood Boil synergizes with Scarlet Fever’s new disease-refreshment effect and Roiling Blood’s disease-spreading effect, making the loss of the CD reduction on Outbreak irrelevant.
  • Several cooldowns were removed from the GCD- Bone Shield, Death Pact, Dancing Rune Weapon- so as not to disrupt Blood’s rotation. In addition, Death Pact was made free, and Blood was given the alternative of Death Siphon, which heals for potentially more than Death Strike can mitigate (under the effects of high Vengeance) and scales better with attack power than anything else in Blood’s arsenal.
  • When concerns were placed about Blood’s low mitigation, a particularly hefty boost was placed on Blood Presence, tripling its Stamina modifier. This meant higher minimum healing via Death Strike- and in turn, a stronger Blood Shield- as well as a higher boost from Vampiric Blood’s health modifier.
  • Praise has been given to changes to Scent of Blood’s effect on Blood’s Active Mitigation as well as Blood’s talent choices, including the ability to pick up Anti-Magic Zone and Desecrated Ground while tanking.

While comparatively little has changed for Blood since Cataclysm, it’s little wonder that the spec is considered the most popular Death Knight spec to play today.

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