With the first look at the 5.2 Patch Notes recently released, it seems that the dev team is trying their hardest to accommodate Unholy’s post-Cata incarnation. Gary the Gargoyle now scales with Mastery and is free, removing its old opportunity cost. Death Siphon and Conversion have had buffs to their effective healing-per-resource, making the clear choice for our Tier 60 less apparent. Blood Worms have had a buff- although tripling the amount of damage they can potentially deal while still avoiding any semblance of control over them is unlikely to last. However, today’s post is to discuss the changes that will alter Unholy’s gameplay the most.
The change to Plague Strike cuts the usage of Icy Touch entirely from our rotation, but Reaping’s update allows it to keep a niche as a Death Rune generator in our AoE rotation. While this solution to our orphaned Frost Runes can only be considered “clunky” at best, there’s no doubt that it will be functional and effective in attacking the issue. As far addressing rune desynchronization goes, it’s definitely a good start.
The keyword here is “start” of course.
Keep in mind how the system worked in Wrath. At the time, Frost-Unholy Rune combos were the norm- be it for applying diseases or using Scourge or Death Strike. In patches as recent as 3.3.5, Unholy DKs didn’t even pick up Reaping, so Blood Runes never transitioned into Death Runes, creating a rotation with 100% predictability.
When the change to Scourge Strike was first revealed in the Cataclysm beta, Festering Strike hadn’t been released yet, and our Mastery only affected our disease damage. We momentarily believed that it was Blizzard’s intent to have Unholy play a game of “rune whack-a-mole”, using Blood Strike to convert Blood runes to Death runes, and using Icy Touch and Scourge Strike to churn out some semblance of damage. We only realized after the release of Festering Strike that the intent was for us to replace what Blood had lost: an entire DPS format.
You see, almost all of the current issues that have been tied to Unholy’s resource management are indirect results of the change to Scourge Strike and addition of Festering Strike. The change, one can assume, was brought about in an attempt to make the specialization “unique” from Frost and Blood by giving it emphasis on different resources. The problem was that the changes stopped abruptly at Scourge Strike and Festering Strike.
In the time since the transition to U/BF rune combinations, many forum-goers have suggested a reversion back to the old system of Frost-Unholy Rune pairing. I, for one, do not agree with such a reversion, and prefer the idea of a single-Unholy Rune strike attack. I believe the real problem is simply that the new system was initially poorly implemented, and has hardly received more than band-aid solutions since.
The lack of changes to accommodate this new setup affected a number of areas that passed under Blizzard’s notice for a long time. The most prominent up until now was disease application- what normally took one FU Scourge Strike to do instead cost a 1U Scourge Strike and part of a BF Festering Strike, forcing you to give up the whole Festering Strike as well. The Plague Strike change in 5.2 will finally answer this… in single-target.
Beyond that, our ability to Pestilence or Blood Boil was affected. With Reaping baseline in Cata, it was still quite a new experience for many players to be using Blood Runes as something other than Blood Runes, as we flip-flopped around this particular talent for most of Wrath. Before Blood Boil was put on Reaping in Mists, most of our AoE rotation was a return to the state of whack-a-mole: burning Frost runes on Icy Touch and Blood runes on Blood Boil, only shifting between AoE and single-target for Unholy Runes. The alteration to Blood Boil called us to transition runes with Festering Strike, though 5.2 will call us back to the old way (to open with, at least).
It also affected the use of our other FU abilities, Obliterate and more importantly Death Strike; while Obliterate was usually negligible from Unholy’s perspective and eventually removed from Unholy’s reach, Death Strike was (and still is) one of our most reliable healing tools, and an essential when leveling. Mists’ change to Glyph of Dark Succor has made this more manageable, but still painful to use at-will as it can cause severe rune desynchronization.
Finally, though we had a plethora of Unholy/Death runes to spare due to the new system, we still rather lacked abilities to even spend these Unholy Runes on beyond Scourge Strike, and have none to spend Blood-Frost combinations on beyond Festering Strike. We had Plague Strike, but up until 5.2 it was always paired with Icy Touch as a pseudo Frost-Unholy strike. Death and Decay’s cost was reduced to 1 Unholy, but its cooldown still prevents us from using it to burn off excess Unholy runes, as does the ramp-up on the newer Dark Transformation. Even following the addition of Soul Reaper and change to Blood Boil, a majority of our Unholy Runes in AoE go towards Scourge Striking.
While most of these problems have been addressed in some form or other, the only one that’s been almost entirely solved was disease application. The longest-lasting solutions to the rest of them would be easily implemented if the developers would alter resource costs on abilities exclusively for Unholy, though they’re historically proven to be adamant against changing resource costs- which in all honesty, should have been considered before putting Unholy on a path that consumed entirely different runes in the first place.
Death Strike as a Blood-Frost strike would be one of the most all-encompassing solutions, with or without the ability to proc Reaping (though inevitably, players will say a Blood-Frost ability should be able to proc Reaping). I’d recommend this one as a “Requires Unholy” major glyph, simply because it can mean the difference between two Death Strikes that won’t desynchronize runes, or three Death Strikes that require ramp-up to cast. Arena players may prefer the latter (though they probably wouldn’t be terribly unhappy with Blood-Frost baseline), though the former would be an essential while leveling, or raiding without a healthstone.
Or perhaps, given one’s access to glyphs while leveling, an inversion: have Reaping turn Death Strike into a Blood-Frost strike baseline, and a glyph that reverses this change for arena players. Really the glyph in this case isn’t all that necessary, but… some people prefer it as-is.
Beyond that, Unholy needs to fully adopt the old rune system of Blood DPS and stop worrying about using Blood Boil to AoE… if that makes any sense.
What I mean to say is, Blood generally has one of the smoothest-feeling rotations in the class at the moment because it emphasizes its signature rune (and spams Death Runes in single-target in a manner that doesn’t desynchronize the runes), allowing easy transition between single-target and multi-target. Meanwhile, Unholy focuses on building up and recycling Death Runes to AoE while burning its Unholy Runes on multiple sources, half of which are single-target and the other half can’t be cast on-demand; this gives the effect of making the Unholy AoE rotation feel rather schizophrenic. Ironically, Blood also has a couple methods of maintaining disease uptime in both single-target and AoE, an area in which Unholy sorely lacks.
Unholy should focus more on its namesake runes (and diseases) to AoE, as Blood does- that is, after all, why Blood’s system works. I’ve iterated my opinions on how such a system could work in my AoE Review; however, the work put into allowing Icy Touch to create Death Runes is enough for me to consider implementing such a system to be a major revamp we won’t see within this expansion- don’t get me wrong though, the suggestions I made before wouldn’t clash with the most recent changes in any way. We could always be surprised, as I’m sure Enhancement Shamans weren’t expecting their presents in 4.3.
The Blood-Frost combination system can work given time, it just needs to bear enough functionality that players don’t see it any differently from the currently-dominating FU strike system. If it’s unique but still smooth and similarly functional, alright, the specialization is perfected; as it currently stands however, “smooth” is a stretch.
Finally, an extension on the duration of Shadow Infusion stacks would not go amiss. While some might argue that Dark Transformation takes too long to ramp-up, most of the issues they complain about can be addressed by simply allowing Shadow Infusions to carry over between pulls, so as to allow for the natural breaks in a group’s momentum (such as waiting for the new guy to run all the way to Garalon in LFR). Even something as low as 5 minute Infusions can provide enough, while not altering the uptime of Dark Transformation itself in the slightest. Worst case scenario, an alteration to Infusions would only make us more conservative on Dark Transformations by providing us with a wider window in which to cast them, especially during phases where the ghoul cannot enter melee range of its target quite yet.