Today, I’d like to take a look back at a few utilities and mechanics that make up the history of death knight specializations, as well as their (potential) applications towards today.
Why’s this important? Because these are the mechanics that, once upon a time, gave each spec its identity. Mists currently is a time in which two specs of a class can share a number of utilities- which can make the differences between two specs merely aesthetic rather than having any function towards actually playing… or worse, making one spec more boring than another with the same utilities, removing all incentive from one spec.
Unholy Blight/Howling Blast/Death and Decay – Single-target AoE
As I said in my last post, back in Wrath it was common for us to use Unholy Blight and Howling Blast in our single-target rotations, and quite the popular choice as well. Today, Unholy is compelled to use Death and Decay in single-target. This is a prospect GC has admitted he’s fine with, but casting DND isn’t quite the same as casting UB/HB for those of us forced to do so. Why?
- The original Unholy Blight replaced a Death Coil, but was a very rewarding spell to cast. It counted as an additional disease, which allowed it to synergize well with both our single-target and AoE rotations.
- Howling Blast was cast almost exclusively on Rime procs in Wrath, except during AoE phases- due to both its cooldown preventing spam, and its higher cost which competed with Obliterate. For a while there was a movement to change Rime so that it could proc a free, empowered Icy Touch or Death Coil to use in single-target during situations where damage-placement was sensitive (ie Bloodbeasts during Deathbringer Saurfang in ICC), but the general consensus was that it was more powerful than Icy Touch no matter which way you swung it. Today, it’s a single-rune ranged attack, making it an alternative to an Obliterate rather than a replacement, especially if Tier 75 procs a rune.
- Death and Decay requires you to replace a Scourge Strike, which isn’t a foreign concept, fine. However, it also forces you to push it on cooldown, and gives you nothing to spend Unholy runes on during an AoE phase. We have to place it ourselves in order to make full use of it- and not only do we lack a way to automatically place it under ourselves or our target, but many of us wouldn’t use such an effect because Death and Decay only edges out the Scourge Strike it replaces if the target receives all 11 ticks. Our reward for casting it? Just the extra tick of damage over a Scourge Strike, assuming the target doesn’t move out of it.
Essentially, that makes Death and Decay about as bad as Desolation- an effect we have to keep active for a minimal amount of gain. It has no synergy with our strikes, and a bit of bad timing can actually diminish the gain we get from casting it. We can just not cast Death and Decay, but then we’re being irresponsible as DPS.
Wandering Plague/Ebon Plague – Disease Synergy
Wandering Plague used to be Unholy’s replacement for a cleave, especially after losing Unholy Blight. Because diseases couldn’t critically strike, it instead used your crit chance to make your disease ticks erupt and deal additional damage to surrounding targets (assuming they weren’t CC’d, one of the things that make Unholy AoE quite preferential and safe). It synergized with other diseases- especially Ebon Plague, as it both increased the damage of the diseases it affected, and increased the damage surrounding targets took due to its magic vulnerability. Combining this with Pestilence, especially with the Tier 9 set bonus, essentially made Crit rating our nuke.
However, as Wandering Plague was considered too “passive” for the insanely high amount of damage it was giving, it was scrapped.
Remember how Sudden Doom was turned into an active cast rather than a passive proc? Wandering Plague didn’t get that treatment. What’s most disappointing is that it could have; there have been a number of suggestions over the years- put its effect into a Runeforge, add it as an after-effect to Scourge Strike, etc- all of which are actually rather easily implemented. My personal favorite is having it as a separate ability, perhaps with a formula like Nether Tempest or Fire Nova (allowing you to disease multiple targets to bounce ticks off each other, just like the old days) or as a method of transferring diseases at a range. Either method would keep it as an active part of our AoE, and if it were given a cost of 1 Unholy Rune, it could solve a few AoE issues as well (provided we gained a FB AoE that activated Reaping), on top of the class’ general lack of an Unholy rune-based ranged attack (you know, one without a CD and not bound to one point in space).
As for Ebon Plague, even having a third disease- despite it never dealing any damage of its own- was a trademark of the spec. The fact that Ebon Plague increased magic damage helped stitch the synergy gap between our diseases and our Death Coil, creating a near-complete cycle of our rotation’s synergy.
Shadow Infusion/Infect – Pet Interaction
Today, we have Shadow Infusion and Dark Transformation to tie our Ghoul down to our damage output, rather than just having him as a glorified DoT with bad AI. This makes our rotation’s synergy cycle: Diseases empower Strikes, Strikes generate RP for Death Coil, Death Coil generates Shadow Infusions for the Ghoul. This would be one of the successes of the Cataclysm’s effect on Unholy.
Having our ghoul Infect enemies with a disease was also a way of completing the synergy cycle, tying the Ghoul’s damage back to our own personal damage. Were it to be applied today, even just to the two diseases we have left instead of a third, it could create a perfect synergy circle- especially as we lack the ability to transition between targets easily, and are otherwise tied to Outbreak’s cooldown.
Unholy Frenzy – The Difference From Hysteria…
Back in the beta for Mists, there was a growing movement to change Unholy Frenzy’s boost into something other than Haste. This was because Unholy Frenzy made DKs GCD-locked while active at higher gear levels, such as when we were testing in Epic PVP gear. While it doesn’t have quite that effect during the entry gear levels of Mists, it could be harmful to our damage output if Bloodlust, Heroism, Time Warp or Ancient Hysteria is active. As stated before, it no longer boosts our Gargoyle either despite the two sharing a cooldown, so having it boost something a little less misleading could also be helpful.
Mark of Blood – Tanking Utility
As I stated in my Talents post, our class really lacks in the tanking utilities department beyond AMZ. If AMZ absolutely needs to stay where it is, then the best solution to this issue is to turn back to a time when Blood Tanks did bring a unique utility: Mark of Blood, a spell that healed raid members when a target ran loose. It could gain a longer cooldown for the effect of giving more charges to save more raid members and to not just be used as a personal utility. Anything, really, would be preferable to Blood’s current state of being the only spec not to have something else to bring to the table.
Presence Auras – Raid Utility
Consider this an alternative to the above: Originally, we brought unique spec-specific Aura effects that brought self-healing, movement speed or increased armor while we were nearby, but these have since been removed as part of our being too overpowered in Wrath (which hardly makes any sense, as those auras applied to everyone else…).
However, there was another option to this: Turning the auras into a raid cooldown, much like Tree of Life was for druids.
For Blood, this would be as simple as making an aura form of a priest’s Vampiric Embrace, or even better yet, copying a warrior’s Skull Banner. For Frost and Unholy- given that extra armor is no longer thematic of Frost and a little movement speed is rather common- one could look towards Stormlash Totem, creating Frost and Shadow versions to boost our low Mastery weights.
Skull Banner and Stormlash Totem in particular, being unique, face the dilemma that the original Ebon Plague had when it boosted disease damage for all raid members, or Bloodlust/Heroism did when it was unique to Shamans: whether to scrap it for being too powerful NOT to bring the class that wields it, or spread it around so others can fill the same roles.
But, in the interests of not making this sound just like a plea for buffs, the preference remains to return Mark of Blood, exclusive to our tanking spec.