Keeping Up With The Celestalon(s)

Yeah, I hate myself a little for that title too.

So, let it be known that I suck at keeping any semblance of a schedule with this blog, since it’s been 7 months since I last posted. In my defense, this is the funk between the end tier of one expansion and the beta of the next, so there wasn’t really much to talk about in the meantime. Except the approaching end of the ongoing alpha, which is both why I didn’t post before (there are a lot of changes that can happen, just look at how outdated the last post already is), and why I’m here now (because it’s far enough along that, hey, there’s no shortage of things to talk about now).

Today I’ll retract and update several statements from my previous post, cover the small fraction of the news that I actually paid any attention to, and suffer an existential crisis as I realize I don’t have any uniform subtitle formatting in this blog.

Ability Pruning

Blood’s lost a few notable tools. Raise Dead is now Unholy only, which while a minor nuisance to Frost, has greater implications to Blood, especially with the changes to Death Pact – which I won’t get into, because that would basically require taking a stand on the new healing model that, as a non-healer, I’m currently ambivalent to (which will probably bite me come next raid tier). Blood Parasite’s removal was also mildly surprising to me, as it was Blood’s main form of raid utility, but also understandable since there’s a new raid utility model and it lacked any real element of control to prevent overhealing. Still, I’m sure it cannot help discussions about Anti-Magic Zone’s place in the talent tree.
On the other hand, Rune Strike and Heart Strike were removed, which is actually worthy of praise. Heart Strike never contributed to Blood’s survival (and actively took resources away from Scarlet Fever and Rune Tap, which do). Rune Strike’s exclusivity was a symptom of a bigger issue with DKs ever since Cataclysm: all three specs were using completely different abilities for their basic rotation, mitigating the sense of spec unity within the class. Once again focusing on a ranged spell is probably a bonus for tanking, too.

On the Unholy-specific side of things, I’d have to say that the removals of Blood Strike and Blood Boil are the most surprising changes – even in spite of their low value. Yes, Unholy Frenzy was a major cooldown, but it was mostly bound to Summon Gargoyle due to cooldown timing; when we heard some cooldowns were going to be trimmed, it was the first thing on my mind to go. Restricting Dual Wield to Frost is mostly the devs just putting a foot down on the threat of Dual-Wield Unholy and its Death Coil spam, since apparently the change of Sudden Doom wasn’t enough.
Blood Boil and Blood Strike, however, have some serious implications. In particular, the removal of Blood Strike (and Heart Strike) means that the only single-target skills that devour Blood runes… are Blood’s iteration of Soul Reaper, and Festering Strike (more on that later). As an aside, it also means the Level 55 starting experience will have a lot of AoE spam… which seems oddly fitting, given that you’re in enemy territory carving out a path of desol-
BLOODFIREANDHATRED
BURNTHEWRETCHWHOFORCEDDESOLATIONUPONUS
Oh yeah, I won’t have to recall that traumatic experience anymore. Whew!

Simultaneously, Unholy’s AoE rampup is significantly dropping, which is always appreciated. The merger of Pestilence and Blood Boil (in a reverse Roiling Blood sort of way) removes a lot of the annoying restrictions on disease spreading – by merging it into our main source of AoE damage – while opening space for the new Plaguebearer talent that I might even consider dropping Unholy Blight for.

As someone who doesn’t really PvP often, I honestly can’t give much opinion on the removal of Necrotic Strike. I always felt that it was an odd ability, since the flat amount of illusory damage could just as easily have been made into an actual damage skill (although I’ll grant that it had obscene amounts of AP scaling we’ve only seen since from Soul Reaper, which would likely make such an ability OP… plus the illusory damage ignored mitigation’s methods of making health more efficient). The only benefit I really saw it giving was the slow you were likely to throw on every healer directly; perhaps I would be more understanding if it had, say, prevented the dispelling of diseases or Soul Reaper (a la that abominable Death Coil DoT in late Wrath that falsely claimed to be our precious aura of disease)? Eh, too late to worry about that now.
Still, anti-healing was basically our intended PvP gimmick since Wrath, so the imp in the back of my mind that clings steadfastly to the intended sense of theme between abilities is weeping that we no longer have even the shadow of Degeneration.

And seriously, why does Dark Command even need to be in the patch notes? It already bloody was exclusive! (Pun not intended.) We were asking for it to be given back to Frost and Unholy all expansion to match up with other melee classes (since Death Grip has a longer CD and pulls double duty with enemy positioning, often being glyphed to remove the taunt)… but I guess that won’t matter, now that it’s the same case for everyone else.

Leveling Perks

Okay, I have to confess something here: I expected a little more out of the perks, and that’s entirely my fault for setting high expectations.

When I heard that we weren’t getting new abilities for a whole range of 10 levels, I was consoled by the mention that we’d be getting updates to some of our older abilities as we leveled up. I confused “buffs to old skills in place of new skills” for “making old skills feel like new skills” and that partially affected my outlook for the next expansion. Doesn’t matter to me that the order of obtaining them is randomized either, since I’ll only level the one DK so I won’t have to compare leveling experiences – though I’ll probably still track it on Twitter for posterity’s sake.
That said, upon looking around, maybe my initial assumption wasn’t too far off?

In looking at the new Death Knight perks, I find a lot of them actually pretty cool… until I look at Unholy’s, where I’m honestly not particularly moved. Aside from Dark Transformation, most of Unholy’s are very passive and don’t really affect how we play at all.
Blood gets one that grants runic dumps a degree of passive survivability (to complete the set for Blood’s rotation), as well as several substantial cooldown buffs. Frost gets a handful that speak mostly to its PvP functions, but have some niche raid benefits as well in terms of CC or survival granted; they also get some changes to their priorities, additional encouragement to use DW (with Runeforges) or 2H (with Rime). Frost doesn’t even have some kind of Obliterate or Frost Strike damage boost, just to add emphasis to utility and mechanics over bland rotational buffs (the only rotational buff they do have is synergistic).
And then Unholy has… a free pseudo-cooldown (which I won’t object to), and bonus damage (and healing, to match our lesser-affected health pools) for all skills.

You know, the same damage that gets tuned by nearly as much every patch, or at the very least every expansion. The same damage that would have to be retuned under the stat crunch. The same damage that was already toned down by the 70% nerf to Unholy Might in the patch notes.
The same damage that, for all we know, we had before, only drawn out over another 10 levels. The only difference is… Pesti-boil accounts for a lower percentage of our DPS. Nevermind that our AoE is already slow enough to transition into in the first place!

This could have been an opportunity to give flavor back to diseases or pet interaction, or perhaps even bring some of the pre-Mists anti-magic focus back to the spec (to reflect Frost’s IBF perk). Instead, the perks really just seem like they couldn’t think of anything better for Unholy.

There’s a reason I’m only excited for Necrotic Plague. Sadly, that’s only one part of it.

Desaturation

This is the big issue I worry about most with Warlords’ new DK model.

Remember that history of Unholy from a while back? Part of what I noted was that Unholy used to concern itself almost entirely with two things: diseases, and summoning pets (and the interplay therein). As time went on, the focus of it was diluted with anti-magic tanking in the tri-spec model, and a much heavier focus on Shadow magic. Further on, tanking was shifted to Blood, diseases and pets went down, but Shadow magic focus only got bigger and bigger.

Come Warlords, we’ll be down from 7 diseases (several with debuffs), a disease-focused AoE model, and complete cyclical synergy between strikes and diseases…  to 1 disease (because who among us won’t take Necrotic Plague, really), one strike that interacts with diseases, and zero debuffs (bye, Ebon Plague!) to focus on diseases purely as a damage source; as noted above, several of our perks focus on direct damage, which just pushes us even further from our origin point. Now, I’ll grant the plethora of minor damage sources is no more a focus of Unholy than of all three Warlock specs combined, but one has to at least consider the disease interaction; aside from Festering Strike (and depending on the interpretation of Plaguebringer, even that might not be unique), our tanking spec gets more active benefits from Necrotic Plague than Unholy does, and NP practically panders to us WP veterans.

Call it whining if you will, or even a minor grievance – I absolutely understand that there is no loss on paper with the change to Scourge Strike. At the same time though, we’ve lost the interaction, the fun of keeping diseases up, and its slowly become more and more… passive. If not for the potential return of Festerblight (turns out Festering Strike will affect Necrotic Plague after all, so… yay?), disease maintenance would be an entirely vestigial part of our damage.

If I’m going to ask for something at any point in Warlords’ history, it will be that some kind of disease synergy be given back to Unholy’s playstyle.

Looking Forward, or: What I’d Like to See Go Next

Reaping has long been a source of minor issues for Unholy DKs. Outside of the Festerblight rotation, the rune setup phase makes it difficult for us to easily transition between single-target and multi-target. Plague Strike was given the ability to apply Frost Fever, eliminating the need to Blood Strike after disease application (and indeed Unholy’s need for Blood Strike, period), but accentuating how pointless Icy Touch is to Unholy. Now, Blood Strike is gone entirely – which goes to show that if nothing else, they’re now willing to cut even the lesser-used staples of the Death Knight’s kit.
Now consider that we have Outbreak, Plague Strike for Unholy, a choice between Plaguebringer and Unholy Blight, and Necrotic Plague to remove the need for Frost Fever entirely. Icy Touch use is going to hit an all-time low in Warlords, except to correct Reaping when you take a sharp turn into AoEvil.
Er, ville. Yes. No plans for genocide just for casting Icy Touch.

No, I’m not going into a “cut Icy Touch next” rant. (Sorry, Magdalena, bear with me anyway.) Regardless of how we may feel about it, Icy Touch is far too important to the early levels of playing a DK to remove entirely, especially when the only alternative for an unspecced single-rune Frost skill is Chains of Ice; at least Blood Strike had Pesti-boil to cover its tracks. Besides, without Icy Touch, we would literally have Death Coil as our only ranged spell – no, I don’t count 10-15 yards on Pestilence as “ranged” – and still no gap closer.
But it’s useless to Unholy.

Normally, this is the point where I try to suggest solving two birds with one stone (note to self: good euphemism), but this really is an issue that goes back to the core of the spec, and even the class itself; it’s not the kind of leak you can just stick some gum in and call it a day. Plus, they’re trimming down on abilities, and likely don’t want to worry about the coding necessary to have Blood Boil consume Frost runes. No, to solve the issue of Icy Touch, you need to solve orphan Frost runes, which means attacking Reaping itself.
What I propose is simple: We kill Unholy’s orphans. I mean Frost runes.

Keep in mind through all this what I said before: Blood Strike’s removal means that Festering Strike is our only single-target skill that consumes Blood runes. Festering Strike’s disease increasing effect is also very much worth its weight in single-target (at least if you have Necrotic Plague), so we’d absolutely have a reason to prioritize it over any amount of Blood Boils unless you’re fighting a group.
Remove Icy Touch from Reaping’s effects entirely, and change its wording as such:

“Whenever you hit with [Pestilence or] Festering Strike, the Blood Runes spent will become Death Runes when they activate. In addition, your Frost Runes permanently transform into Death Runes. Death Runes count as a Blood, Frost or Unholy Rune.”

Honestly, I don’t even think Pestilence needs to be in there still with such a change. Consider it a quality of life buff to “just Festering Strike”, at worst.

Assuming the damage values of Unholy’s attacks are tuned such that 1 Festering Strike is stronger than 1 single-target Pestilence and 1 Scourge Strike, but less than 2 Scourge Strikes (easy enough to do, given Scourge Strike’s ability to double-dip), then this will allow us the fluidity to maintain both the Festerblight and standard Unholy playstyles, while allowing easier transitions between single-target and multi-target, and creating more potential to reward skillful play. Worst case, Pestilence gets removed from the wording, in which case you only would need to tune Festering Strike to be stronger than two single-target Pestilence casts (4 Scourge Strikes in two rotations either way).
If there are any lingering worries that Scourge Strike might be becoming too strong for such a system without Necrotic Plague, then more incentive can always be given to Festering Strike – say, that extra shred of active disease interaction I mentioned above, perhaps?

Food for thought.

Hopefully my next post won’t be another 6 months out. I make no promises; we’ll have to see if anything inspiring occurs.

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One Response to Keeping Up With The Celestalon(s)

  1. Pingback: Insert Witty Title Here | Morbid Musings

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