This blog doesn’t focus on numbers. Of course they factor into all of this, but I’m never pleading for a numbers buff as much as a change to mechanics, and putting more analysis on “fun” than who’s top DPS in Heroic Mogu’shan Vaults.
That said, let’s take a brief look at the AoE rotations of WoW’s melee DPS classes, shall we? I’ll italicize the single-target abilities in each rotation just so you can see outliers.
- Retribution Paladins: Activate Seal of Righteousness, spam Hammer of the Righteous to generate Holy Power, burn Holy Power on Divine Storm; cast level 90 talent whenever up
- Rogues: Spam Fan of Knives to generate Combo Points, consume Combo Points on Crimson Tempest; cast Killing Spree and Blade Flurry as Combat for additional burst
(Note that Fan of Knives can also poison additional targets)
- Feral Druids: Apply bleeds via Thrash, then spam Swipe for maximum damage
- Arms Warriors: Use Thunder Clap to spread bleeds, Mortal Strike to generate Rage, spend Rage to spam Cleave; use Level 60 talent whenever up and Sweeping Strikes as necessary
- Fury Warriors: Use Bloodthirst to generate Rage, spend Rage to use Whirlwind and Raging Blow; use Level 60 talent whenever up
- Enhancement Shamans: Debuff the target with Flame Shock, then spread it with Lava Lash and spam Fire Nova
- Windwalker Monks: Spam Spinning Crane Kick to burn Energy and generate Chi; use the Chi to maintain Rising Sun Kick and, in 5.1, Tiger Palm
(Note that the number of Spinning Crane Kicks to Chi dumps is approximately 5:2)
- Frost DKs: Spam Howling Blast to apply Frost Fever/Brittle Bones and generate Runic Power, spend Runic Power on Frost Strike; burn extra Unholy runes on Death and Decay when off-cooldown or on Plague Strike when not
(Note that the number of Howling Blasts per rotation is approximately equal to the combined number of Plague Strikes and Frost Strikes)
- Unholy DKs: Activate diseases via Outbreak or Plague Strike and Icy Touch, then spread with Pestilence IF Unholy Blight is already on cooldown (if you took it); Cast Festering Strike to generate Death Runes when Frost/Blood runes come off cooldown, spend Death Runes on Blood Boil spam; burn Runic Power and Sudden Doom procs on Death Coil, building into Dark Transformation’s essential cleaves; Burn leftover Unholy runes on Dark Transformation when available and Death and Decay when off-cooldown and Scourge Strike or Soul Reaper when not
(The number of Scourge Strikes alone per AoE rotation far outweighs the combined number of Dark Transformations and Death and Decays, while the frequency of Blood Boils depends on the length of the fight, reduced by nearly every disease re-application)
I think it’s clear here that while most other classes have a very favorable ratio of single-target attacks to AoE attacks in their AoE rotation, Unholy DKs have a less favorable ratio- literally half of our buttons being strictly single-target, to pull the same numbers.
Honestly, the rotation might not be so bad, if fights in Pandaria didn’t favor big hits of AoE burst, which is provided by basically every other melee class. Granting that “all classes are different”, Unholy is a rather a significant outlier in this regard; this isn’t an identifying mark of the class so much as a weakness. As you can see above, the average melee DPS AoE rotation contains between 2-4 buttons for everyone except Unholy, whose rotation has between 8 (optimistically, assuming Unholy Blight and enough time to ramp-up Dark Transformation) to 12 (if diseases fall off or a new wave of adds approaches), as well as more significant ramp-up and downtime- an absolutely glaring, staggering and ludicrous failing. A flow chart could not document how complicated Unholy’s AoE rotation is by comparison. (Well, it could, but still doesn’t defeat my point…)
I used to take a minimalist approach when thinking about Unholy- try to add as few changes and new abilities as possible to make our AoE fun (“competitive” can come later). After seeing the current state of our Retadin and Rogue comrades, however, I see that it’s not too much to ask for a complete revamp to our AoE altogether; our AoE rotation (to ignore our single-target for just a moment) is already too large, and careful changes to it could potentially even make it smaller.
Keep in mind, all of the previously-mentioned classes besides DKs have at least one button they can spam in AoE for each resource they spend (the exceptions being primarily resource generators/DoT application). Unholy, however, lacks a button for Frost runes, while both Unholy and Frost share an Unholy rune AoE that’s bound to a cooldown and lack anything to spend Runic Power on beyond Death Coil (and considering Tier 75 and Shadow Infusion, Unholy has a small window on what we’re allowed beyond that) and Frost Strike.
In addition, other openers such as Flame Shock and Thrash instantly apply all DoTs necessary for their specs’ AoE (singular though they may be) and aren’t bound by extended cooldowns, while Unholy has a choice between Outbreak/Unholy Blight (which apply both DoTs necessary but for a cooldown longer than either DoT lasts), glyphed Outbreak (which can’t be used as an opener due to the lack of a pre-generated resource cost, and takes away from our Death Coils to increase our ramp-up elsewhere), or Plague Strike and Icy Touch (which apply 1 DoT each, increasing ramp-up and de-synchronizing our regenerating runes). In spite of being the “disease-based” spec, our focus on “disease-based” AoE has been found wanting.
Honestly, the easiest way to fix this would just be to make Plague Strike apply both diseases if just for Unholy, but that probably will just be seen as another way to make Outbreak redundant. My next bet would be adding a glyph so that Outbreak would reset if you kill a target, but with the current Glyph of Outbreak in existence, that won’t see the light of day either.
Lastly, Unholy’s AoE rotation interferes with its single-target rotation and vice-versa. Note that in many of the rotations listed above, transitions between AoE and single-target rotations are almost seamless- replace a Crusader Strike with a Hammer of the Righteous or a Templar’s Verdict with a Divine Storm, etc. Even in Frost’s case, the rotation used for AoE is exactly the same as Dual-wield Frost’s current single-target rotation. As for Unholy, casting Blood Boil- our only burst AoE ability- requires around 20 seconds of preparation, setting up Death Runes via Festering Strike (which ruins the point of a “burst” AoE). If a single one of those Death Runes is accidentally spent as an Unholy rune- such as a mistimed Death and Decay or Dark Transformation- then that rune will almost always regenerate as a Frost Rune (even if spent on what was originally a Blood Rune, due to what can only be faulty programming), meaning you must hit Festering Strike again and break off your AoE for as long as you originally waited.
Ironically enough, this is a situation you typically get into for casting Scourge Strike one time too many, because as many Unholy rune outlets as we have, we can’t always use them when we need them most due to Death and Decay’s long cooldown and Dark Transformation’s killer ramp-up.
Allow me, now, to give you one glimpse of what I imagine Unholy’s AoE could be- an ideal vision, as it were.
Now, the one reason I am hesitant with this type of topic is that the devs probably think Death and Decay is enough for an Unholy Rune AoE, so we won’t see another while that slot is reserved. I think we’d all be happier, though, if Death and Decay was a Blood exclusive AoE threat tool (think Consecration) and a new 1U AoE was given to Unholy instead (think Divine Storm). Many of us would prefer if this hypothetical ability interacted with our diseases- such as an adaptation of Wandering Plague– so as to return to the roots of Unholy AoE in a more involved style; as it stands, Unholy currently doesn’t have much interaction with our diseases beyond spreading them, which Frost and Blood have an easier time with due Rime/Howling Blast and Crimson Scourge/Roiling Blood. The option of a spammable 1U AoE would naturally cut Scourge Strike out of our AoE rotation, as well as possibly replace Blood Boil.
Giving Death and Decay to Blood may also have an impact on both Frost’s AoE and DW Frost’s single-target damage, but as I said, I don’t focus on the numbers. It shouldn’t be anything a tweak to Frost Strike or Howling Blast can’t handle (and, if the AoE RP-dump mentioned below is class-wide, may not even be necessary).
Naturally to use a 1U AoE, Unholy would need a way to turn Frost runes into Death Runes in AoE as well, to which the most common reply on the matter is to turn Blood Boil into a 1B1F AoE for Unholy and keep it in Reaping- though personally, I consider this a bland solution and can potentially be more limiting, as it leaves us with only Blood Strike for a damaging 1B ability
and I’m never repeating Desolation regardless of how hard you try to make me.
Perhaps if, instead, Festering Strike had some sort of Lava Lash or Inferno Blast-esque reaction to cut out Pestilence, given their shared Blood Rune cost? It would certainly synergize well with the hypothetical 1U ability, and it would be a step towards solving our issues with disease mobility even in non-strictly AoE situations while cutting down our ramp-up by combining button functions and ensuring maximum disease upkeep. I will concede that adding a multi-target effect to a single-target ability could cause meter-padding issues, but given that Frost DKs (and Enhancement, and Combat, and Demonology, and Fire, and every tanking spec…) have equal/more substantial cleaves in their single-target rotations, not to forget that we’re currently using Death and Decay anyway, I’m placing doubts that this would be game-breaking for Unholy.
The only question here would be whether it would spread diseases to CC’d targets (given Festering Strike already serves similar functions in our single-target rotation), an issue which I would assume Lava Lash doesn’t present; even so, a smart-avoidance component would not go amiss here.
That, or just give Unholy a second Blood-Frost ability. Perhaps converting a single-target ability such as Death Strike into such a form? It would certainly kill two birds with one stone.
Finally we’re left with a method of burning Runic Power in AoE. This is probably the most sensitive issue because this is a niche all three specs have wide open; in that case, it could have the honor of being our second Shadowfrost spell to maximize utility for all three specs (if you add Vengeance to even it out, of course). However, in the hypothetical situation where this fix only is given to Unholy, then the above changes may make the previous example of Vile Spew somewhat redundant (but still not necessarily pointless), though this also means there’s more leeway for original abilities such as Deathstorm or Pain and Suffering.
Of course, this is a less immediate necessity, and can certainly be held onto for another expansion. Level 95 spell, anyone?
Either way you swing it, it would also need to bear the same functions as Death Coil, especially in terms of applying Shadow Infusions; as stated previously, Dark Transformation’s cleaves are an essential part of Unholy’s AoE- after all, why else give Timmy a cleave in the first place? If this ability had the potential to apply multiple Shadow Infusions when cast as an AoE (such as 1 Infusion per target hit or even 5 Infusions when it hits X or more targets) and not just as meter-padding, we could get to Timmy’s cleaving more quickly when we need it. If we continued this trend for the rest of Death Coil’s essential functions, such as activating Tier 75 and Sudden Doom functionality, then we can completely cut Death Coil out of our AoE rotation and won’t have to worry about the effective DPS loss over Death Coil like we do with Summon Gargoyle.
The final product? The Unholy Death Knight diseases the main target with Unholy Blight, Outbreak or Plague Strike; spreads and maintains diseases via Festering Strike; detonates the diseases via the new 1U ability; dumps Runic Power or Sudden Doom procs with a new AoE and casts Dark Transformation when activated by said runic dump. It’s still slower than most other AoE rotations, but certainly has a better ratio of single-target abilities to AoEs and makes a stronger AoE rotation than its current incarnation, cutting the number of necessary buttons in half.