Rune Management

It’s been a while since my last post, and for that I do apologize. What matters now is that Patch 5.1 has come out and… well, nothing’s really changed for DKs, so why do I bother mentioning it. Let’s move on then!
Today’s post is on each specialization’s forms of rune management.

Rune Desynchronization

Rune desynchronization is one of the unique flaws of the death knight class that is often brought up on the forums but never really defined. The gist of it is that there are scenarios where one rune you need will be active but not the paired rune that goes with it. For Blood and Frost DKs, this involves Frost and Unholy rune pairings for Death Strike and Obliterate, respectively; this rune pairing is one of the bases for the class, as even when you first create a death knight, your opener is a combination of Plague Strike and Icy Touch. Unholy as a specialization has its own unique issue with rune desynchronization, as it pairs Blood and Frost runes instead for Festering Strike and focuses on solo Unholy runes.
The major reason why this is a flaw unique to death knights (avoiding the obvious “only death knights have runes”) is because death knights have multiple regenerating resources that need to line up simultaneously. Even amongst classes with multiple resources in general- Paladins (Mana/Holy Power), Monks (Energy/Chi), Rogues (Energy/Combo Points), Warlocks (Mana/Varies by spec), Druids (Varies by form), Shadow Priests (Mana/Shadow Orbs)- there is a limit to the number of constantly regenerating resource types, and none of their resources were ever required to synchronize in the same manner in the first place.
In a perfect scenario, the desynchronization of runes is not an issue. Apply diseases with Outbreak, generate Death runes with Death/Festering Strike, attack with Heart/Scourge Strike or Obliterate, burn runic power and use procs. Even if you apply diseases with Plague Strike and Icy Touch/Howling Blast as Frost or Blood, the difference is approximately one second. So what’s the problem?
Whenever Unholy lacks the ability to cast Outbreak or Unholy Blight, the only option is to apply diseases via runes. Cast Plague Strike, cast Icy Touch, then… Festering Strike? Scourge Strike? I feel like we’re missing something.
Oh. Right. That extra Blood Rune. To which we have only Blood Strike (in single-target), and then we do nothing else with that ability- we keep it on our bar on the off-chance we need to apply diseases outside of Outbreak, while silently praying for its violent death in the fiery abyss known as the Recycle Bin that we would never actually have occasion to use it. Particularly in this case, the Death rune that Blood Strike (or even Pestilence/Blood Boil) generates is kind of a waste, since we’ll burn that Death rune to convert a Frost rune into a Death rune.
Unlike Frost or Blood, Unholy doesn’t get to burn one rune to maximize their most valuable disease, instead using two spells to apply the diseases and one invaluable Blood Rune attack to keep the runes in balance. Really, any situation where Unholy has to stick its toes back into the realm of Frost-Unholy rune pairing (such as casting Death Strike) is a sore spot for this form of management, resulting in a series of extra Blood Runes.

Unholy’s rune management ends up in a number of uniquely tight places when AoE is involved. I can sum these up best in three scenarios that begin based on what runes are currently off-cooldown-

  • A Blood->Death Rune and an un-turned Frost Rune
  • An un-turned Blood Rune and a Frost->Death Rune
  • 4 Death Runes

Despite how one would believe it plays out in AoE where the focus for Unholy is on Blood runes, first and second scenarios are effectively the same.
The first scenario is an example of what we refer to as (and I’m sure you’re sick to death of the term’s abuse by now, but here it is) “orphaned Frost Runes”, which in itself can be a result of three different, but interconnected events:

  1. Disease application, as noted above. No matter how your disease application ends, the leftover Blood Rune becomes a Death Rune, and the initial Icy Touch leaves a Frost Rune. This can cause long-term effects as well, creating a minor desynchronization of the Frost and Blood runes; while literally only one second in length, it can lead to Frost Runes being prioritized in situations where the Blood Runes should have been, had they regenerated simultaneously.
  2. Improper timing, such as a phase change: Having to switch from hitting Scourge Strike to hitting Blood Boil mid-rotation. Also includes events such as Runic Corruption or Bloodlust amping up the rune generation speed considerably, which throw off the timing.
  3. The actual coding behind Death Rune assignment. Because Reaping favors the transmutation of Blood Runes over those of Frost Runes, spending a Frost->Death Rune on an ability such as Blood Boil will, if any Blood Runes are still un-turned, cheat you of your Frost->Death Rune and create a Blood->Death Rune, in spite of what was actually spent. This reason alone is precisely why the first two scenarios are the same, and guarantees that even with proper timing, Event #2 will always occur.

What’s interesting about Event #3 is that Blood->Death Runes that are spent as Unholy Runes will not preserve themselves by transmuting Frost->Death Runes back into Frost Runes; instead, they’ll simply become Blood Runes. In addition, Death Runes spent on Festering Strike- even runes of the same original type, such as 2 Frost->Death Runes- will always regenerate exactly the runes spent as Death Runes. With factors such as these altering the number of permutations, it is entirely possible (and not uncommon!) to have 2 Blood Runes and 2 Death Runes generating, cast 4 Blood Boils, and end up with 2 Frost Runes and 2 Death Runes, being forced to cast Festering Strike again on your next rotation.

The final scenario of the three, starting with 4 Death Runes, is most common when running between packs of mobs, or at the end of a long add phase; however, it can also be a result of Bloodlust causing runes to regenerate uncontrollably. While one would think that starting with four Death Runes could remove some of the ramp-up intrinsically involved with the specialization, starting with three or four Blood Boils (assuming disease application via Unholy Blight, or Outbreak in concert with Pestilence) will lead to a 2-second desynchronization between Frost and Blood Runes, leading to situations described in Event #1 above; ironically, avoiding the manual disease application process still inherently causes the same rune management issues further down the road.
“Why’s this a bigger deal for Unholy,” you ask, “when you already said Frost and Blood possess that same one-second difference?” The truth is, Frost and Blood don’t have to care about the difference as much as Unholy does. Blood’s (and 2H Frost’s) most important attack doesn’t deal in individual runes, but deals in rune pairs, taking a large step over the pothole; meanwhile, Frost in general doesn’t have to deal with transformed runes. By comparison, Unholy has to play a mini-game of Whack-a-Mole, while trying to herd the moles into formations of their own design.

Rune Gaming

Rune gaming isn’t an “issue” per se as much as a mini-game for rune management. It’s an attempt by the player to outsmart their Tier 75 talent to provide them only with the runes they can most benefit from- Runic Empowerment and Blood Tap in particular. Unholy DKs will often prefer a more predictable, straight-forward conversion provided by Runic Corruption, but may occasionally pick up Blood Tap and give it a go for themselves. That said, rune gaming is more often dealt with by Frost and Blood DKs, due to their higher turnout for RE and BT.
Each specialization has a focus on one rune-type and takes focus away from another. Unholy emphasizes the use of Unholy Runes in single-target (for Scourge Strike) and Blood Runes in multi-target (for Blood Boil), taking focus away from Frost Runes, due to our lack of ways to spend them beyond Festering Strike. Frost emphasizes the use of Frost and Death Runes at all times to maximize Howling Blast casts, taking focus from Unholy Runes except to Obliterate. Blood focuses on Unholy Runes in particular (due to both Plague Strike and Bone Shield) along with Frost Runes (due to Death Strike), ironically leaving Blood Runes as their least valuable resource.

Runic Empowerment gaming is a practice of holding back on invaluable attacks; thus, when Runic Empowerment activates, it can only yield a rune of high value to you. Blood DKs have the easiest practice of this: they save one Blood Rune which they can spend on Rune Tap as soon as it comes off cooldown, while spending Frost and Unholy Runes as quickly as possible to regenerate them via RE and cast more Death Strikes. Frost DKs will often hold back on Unholy Runes, making it easier to fire off an Obliterate when RE activates, though DW Frost DKs will usually just hold those Unholy Runes to make sure they can always Howling Blast with whatever else does regenerate, burning Unholy Runes on Plague Strike at the last second so as not to waste potential damage. Unholy DKs will almost never use Runic Empowerment due to its occasionally unpredictable nature overcomplicating their relationship with their runes.

Blood Tap gaming is, more or less, a complete inversion of Runic Empowerment gaming. The beauty of Blood Tap is that it will always give you something valuable (Death Runes), so it is best saved for runes with otherwise minimal value. Because Blood Tap itself requires conscious activation (unless macroed), it’s easier to time the casting of it so that it can only be activated when valuable runes come off cooldown, ensuring the invaluable runes will be targetted. The following is an example of an Unholy DK attempting to game Blood Tap (capital letters are off-cooldown, lowercase are regenerating, bracketed lowercase are inactive):

  • Start with DdDdUu. Assume the Death Runes were synchronized via Festering Strike.
  • Cast three Scourge Strikes, to make (b)d(f)d(u)u
  • Wait for an Unholy Rune to regenerate, for (b)d(f)duU
  • Cast Blood Tap, to make Dd(f)duU
  • Cast two Scourge Strikes, making (b)d(f)du(u) again.

In AoE, Unholy will complicate this some more by waiting for Blood, Blood->Death, or Frost->Death Runes instead of Unholy Runes, which can end in messy rune desynchronization if handled improperly.
DW Frost DKs will spend as many Unholy Runes as possible and hold their Frost and Death Runes momentarily, trying to net more Howling Blasts out of the end result. Blood DKs will burn more Blood Runes via Heart Strike to retrieve more Death Strikes, though Blood Tap is best saved for when it can be cast twice so as to minimize issues of rune desynchronization similar to those that Unholy faces.
Of course, this is without getting into the value of Death Runes on their own, which could have been astronomically high had Soul Reaper’s cost not been altered in Beta.

In Conclusion

While some may criticize that Unholy and Blood possess similar playstyles due to their management of runes (ramping up to Death Rune pairs to fire off their main rune attack multiple times in succession), Blood’s management of runes is actually far more similar to Frost’s than most people would imagine, in spite of conceptual connections to Unholy.
Unholy’s rune desynchronization is a unique issue that takes away from the fluidity of the playstyle, making it particularly frustrating for players to master- as if a sign that the specialization itself doesn’t want you to play it. Combating the desynchronization means making the playstyle more rigid and deducting from our ability to react to changes in the encounter itself.
Also, just a last bit of irony, Unholy and Blood both lack as much focus in their main rune as Frost, due to the stronger roles for their off-runes- Unholy focuses on Blood Runes in AoE, while Blood focuses more on Unholy Runes outside of AoE. In Blood’s defense though, they simply prefer the use of Death Strike; Unholy has little to spend Unholy Runes on in AoE due to DnD’s cooldown and DT’s ramp-up.

I should stop there before I get carried away again.

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2 Responses to Rune Management

  1. Pingback: The Wandering Plague Revival | Morbid Musings

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