Talents Revisited

So, I’d like to begin this with an apology – not to my readers, but to Blizzard’s design staff. The last time I did one of these talent reviews, it was basically one underhanded buildup to some unsavory bashing of the T90 talents, written in jealousy and passive-aggressive rage towards being underwhelmed by the lack of role-focused end-tier talents. My opinions presented at that time have, over the past expansion, repeatedly been proven flat-out wrong; my raids have been saved several times by clever timing of Remorseless Winter, and Gorefiend’s Grasp has practically become a staple of the class (and Desecrated Ground is… a PVP trinket, that’s all there is to say on that matter). It was a bratty thing of me to do with an early blog post, and I would delete it entirely if I didn’t feel that would seem like I was trying to remove evidence of my accountability (out of reverence though, I won’t link to it; go find it if you dare, but it was poorly written, so prepare for your eyes to bleed).

With that out of the way, let’s make the same mistakes all over again (for WoD). But responsibly this time!

General Opinions

Yes, in spite of the apology above, I have to start with some bad news. Recent discussions I’ve had with other DKs about our talents have mostly boiled down to one thing: They aren’t particularly exciting. While not every talent has to be a game-changer, nor does every tier need to contain at least one, our talents generally don’t contain many at all. Several tiers have always had one go-to talent for the majority of situations, and surround themselves with comparatively niche talents.

Something to note, several tiers essentially follow a formula to have you make the same choice: Do you want a new passive, a rotational skill or a longer cooldown? While it would be a sound philosophy, often we find the talents trying to reconcile with our rather complex resource system at the same time – which just accentuates the downsides when you have, say, a cooldown with a high Runic Power upkeep, up against a passive that saves or even gives you resources. Often, the aforementioned go-to will be the one that’s free, even in spite of niches opening up left and right.

When we were told that the point of talents in Mists was that they would be more fluid and based on player preference, the mass assumption was that they would be based on choice of how you wanted to build your character for each fight, so that it would be more personal… not that there would generally be one clearly superior talent for X encounter or spec, and everyone’s cool with that. I’ll get more into specifics as we get to each tier.

Tier 56 – Diseases

Now that Roiling Blood is our baseline output of Blood runes and diseases don’t snapshot, this tier has actually started to become more attractive. Whether or not you picked Necrotic Plague, you can pretty evenly weigh the benefits of picking Unholy Blight or Plaguebringer (though I’m sure most would prefer that PB just be changed back to its first iteration, where Death Coil could apply diseases). Ultimately, I think these two probably constitute the most stable choice in the entire tree of talents, while remaining non-essential (although depending on who you ask, that could just mean they’re the most disposable – given their outermost position in the tree, I think that’s kind of the point).

That just leaves the black sheep who we all love to hate but use anyway: Plague Leech.

Normally, you’d look at a talent that removes diseases and you’d think “Oh, this must be the Grimoire of Sacrifice-type talent that encourages diseaseless (or disease-lite) play,” especially now that diseases provide zero benefit to strikes and only a handful of boosts to Blood (I say with the strongest hints of irony). It’s created enough confusion that several players believe the point is to apply diseases and Leech off them straightaway.
Unfortunately, those who use the thing properly know that’s practically the opposite of what it accomplishes – you’re keeping a closer eye on your diseases so you can time PL to milk them for all they’re worth. The devs’ explicit statements on the tier have been that it’s about saving resources through disease application – but with Outbreak and even Necrotic Plague, that’s more about gaming diseases into free resources. This is all because it turns lower-valued runes into Death Runes, which for a spec like Blood means it’s the only talent with any direct impact on the role (doubly so, with the recent increases to the spec’s downtime). Hell, it’s even fairly strong for Unholy according to some of the #Acherus folks, with Necrotic Plague’s spreading feature making it hardly even an inconvenience to cast.

While my own opinion to see Plague Leech removed entirely has seen support longer than I’ve been saying it, the step beyond that is harder to say. Personally, I think it’s too early in the tree to force a drastic choice in playstyle like “with this talent you can completely avoid disease application,” but I could be in the minority. Some would probably even argue that it’d just be easier to drop the tier entirely – the other two are, as stated, virtually disposable if you aren’t considering Festerblight (although in such a case, Unholy Blight should be given to Unholy).

Tier 57 – Survival

With the new philosophy for tanks involving an utter lack of raid CDs, the availability of Anti-Magic Zone to Blood has suddenly jumped from “dropping personal survival to get on the curve at all” to “getting ahead of the curve” – which actually makes it sort of a worthwhile choice. Unfortunately, now the issue has completely turned on its head; with the sudden vacuum in raid CDs, it becomes irresponsible for DPS not to bring it.

Honestly, it puts the tier in an odd position. Normally I’d recommend either converting it fully into a raid utility tier so as not to put pressure on DPS, or making AMZ baseline and replacing it with another personal mitigation skill – but the former is unlikely with the tanking changes, and a baseline AMZ would have to be unique to Frost and Unholy (potentially coming off as a penalty to Blood for getting ahead). Hard to say!

Yeah, this one’s short. Go read Magdalena and Tyvi’s posts on it, darn you.

Tier 58 – Whatever the hell you call this (no, seriously)

I still have some lingering issues with Tier 58 (and on a similar vein, 90) after all this time.

Tier 58 I will unabashedly say comes off as, essentially, the PVP tier. Going back to what I said earlier about the problem with the tree as a whole, this means that the one that covers our greatest failing (our lack of a gap-closer) is the go-to for DKs of all flavors in PVE, with niche benefits in the other two depending on the encounter (mass add CC we can get elsewhere, or a bonus to interrupts we already have). From the PVP side, this is essentially the freedom of choice we expected out of Mists’ talent design… but from the PVE perspective, it just seems very disorganized, and not much of a choice at all.

Personally, I’d like to see the tier split in two. One tier should be devoted to the anti-mobility and crowd-control that Chilblains and Asphyxiate provide. Another should be devoted to the niche that Death’s Advance has been filling on its own for PVE players since Day 1: getting to (or at least hitting) a target that’s far away.

This goes back to the mixed philosophies that have been presented to us since Wrath. Early on, we were told that we’d have the ability to apply some ranged pressure to targets that fell just out of reach… but that’s no longer unique to us, since Rogues, Shamans and Monks can form an entire rotation out of ranged skills in a pinch (plus baseline gap-closers…); no, their ranged rotations aren’t precisely optimal, but they are a melee class. Meanwhile, we can only reliably use Frost Runes for that purpose (which is essentially the only reason to keep Icy Touch on our bars anyway), since Runic Power needs to actively be generated by the player before it can be expended. It could be argued that we’re intended to have some heavier crowd-control, since Death Grip is both a gap-closer and a light CC, but that doesn’t even work half the time in PVE – and shouldn’t exactly be encouraged if you aren’t tanking.
The more you ponder it, the more this argument seems ridiculously skewed towards PVP balance over PVE functionality.

What I’d like to see, is Death’s Advance paired against an ability that lets us use our Blood and Unholy runes at range (maybe an Air Ascendant-esque cooldown, maybe a BU-costing rotational spell; the possibilities are endless). A third talent could always get creative, perhaps a substitute for Death Grip? But, not my job.

Alternately, just seeing Death’s Advance made baseline would probably make several players happy.

Tier 60 – Resources

The good news is that this tier was bumped up 15 levels so that leveling DKs could have easier access to it. The bad news is that it’s still a talent tier.

The first major issue is the continued existence of Runic Empowerment. Our third choice in the tier is the unhappy medium between its contemporaries. Anything you could want it for, the other two do better; if you want to command your runes (or just to have immediate access to them) you’re better off with Blood Tap, and if you don’t care about managing them at all then Runic Corruption is for you. These two make a good choice against one another, but Runic Empowerment really doesn’t fit into any gap they could theoretically provide – especially since it relies on that extra layer of RNG that makes it so annoying, it lacks the fluidity and reliability of its counterparts (as you always know what you’ll get from them), and “gaming it” is a misnomer since you go about that through willful inactivity. All for less than 5% difference (which, in all other matters, would be considered so small as to be unsubstantial) – which is lost if you do try to game it.
Unfortunately, Runic Empowerment was the first iteration of the feedback loop and the inspiration for its counterparts – which essentially means that it’s “a staple of the class” and will only be removed from cold, dead fingertips.

Please, whoever’s in charge of this: Kill your darlings.

The second issue is that the choice is only so compelling, because they’re all competing to do essentially the same thing: convert Runic Power back into Runes (at nearly the same exchange rates, even). Resource tiers provided to other classes have multiple openings – cost reduction, increased maximum cap, increased regen, low ‘free resource’ cooldowns, just proccing a free swing, etc. Unfortunately, and in spite of our more complex resource system, we don’t get that kind of complexity of choice because the feedback loop is so important to the class – completely ignoring that if that one specific function is essential for us all to have, it shouldn’t be a talent tier in the first place. A passive with a glyph to toggle interactivity maybe, but not a talent tier that only does one thing.
Even just swapping Runic Empowerment out for something more along the lines of any other class’ resource generating talents, just for the sake of giving the tier some variety, would go a long way.

Tier 75 – Healing

Going back to what I said earlier about many tiers presenting the same choice – passive, spell or cooldown – Tier 75 is both a quintessential example, and a bizarre subversion.

The subversive aspect comes in the form of Conversion, which tries to both be an active skill and the passive choice at the same time. Now, with the change of Lichborne into a life-stealing cooldown, Conversion is our last remaining method of converting Runic Power into direct healing. This would have been an especially notable and a powerful combination with Necrotic Plague had it not been for the passive limiter it placed over Runic Power generation… so it was changed instead to just have a higher cost for Blood and Frost, no limiter at all. Unfortunately, this also made the ability less cost-efficient in terms of healing provided (especially without an initial tick anymore), meaning that even with an overdose of RP to spare from being eaten by plagued enemies, nobody will take it.
Conversion has always been the black sheep of the tier; with Death Pact as the go-to for all of Mists and Death Siphon having niche benefits as a ranged attack, the only reason to pick up Conversion was to pair with Blood Presence in PVP. It always seemed odd to me that it never took a page out of Recuperate’s book – burning all of your RP straightaway to heal you over a duration based on how much was spent. Apparently there’s too much obsession with its upkeep cost that it can’t just be an on-demand heal.

Meanwhile, with Raise Dead’s new exclusivity, Death Pact now places a Necrotic Strike-esque debuff on the caster (ironic right?).
Personally, I’m a rebel and just use Death Siphon anyway (the healing actually seems fairly potent on Beta, at least at level 92), so I can’t really speak from personal experience as to how much this changes; from what I can speculate, healers have never bothered with patching up minions in the past and this will absolutely become a nuisance to them, especially working with Blood tanks. It makes it an ‘Oh Shit’ button, but a costly one at that.
On the one-hand, this change may actually mean it’s not the go-to choice in the tier anymore. On the other hand, there’s some concern that whoever wrote this change placed way too much weight on the value of a ghoul’s health, especially to non-Unholy players.

What I want to know is, should it even be called Death Pact anymore? Half the point of Death Pact during Warcraft III was that it devoured minions.

Given I’ve already sprinkled my thoughts on Tier 90 throughout this post, I’ll just skip ahead to the newest addition:

Tier 100 – So You Want To Be the Lich King?

At last, one whole tier with unambiguous damage boosts, which should make me happy (because I am nothing if not selfish in my damage-dealing ways). Every problem I had with Tier 90 has been addressed with this tier and somehow… something still feels hollow about that victory.

Mainly because… I thought trispeccing was dead?

The problem with the announcement of a damage-dealing Tier 90 before Mists was that the devs eventually realized that, unless every talent did equivalent Shadowfrost damage, the utilities each provided were overshadowed by what did more damage for each spec and how often they could be used in the rotation for free damage (at least for Frost and Unholy); they simply tried to do way too much for one tier.
Tier 100 is similar, albeit inverted: each talent attempts to appeal both tanks and damage-dealers simultaneously, while vaguely themed around the playstyles of certain specs (more blatant with Unholy’s disease bonuses and Frost’s historical emphasis on Runic Power generation). That’s just the first part of where it really suffers – because the tanking effects were almost literally tacked-on at the end, as opposed to swapping skills out entirely (for ones more themed toward the current spec’s playstyle) if you’re specced tank like literally every other hybrid class would have done. You could juggle the effects between talents without altering any mechanics but uptime; they simply don’t blend.
In other words, it doesn’t feel like Blood was given Level 100 tanking abilities… so much as Level 100 pseudo-passives, with damage on the side.

Necrotic Plague is the only talent that positively influences the playstyle of all three specs (and perhaps the only real influence in the entire tree); it returns Festerblight to Unholy, allows Howling Blast to be the one-stop shop for diseases as Frost, and provides Blood with a more predictable stream of Runic Power in light of the changes to generators like Scent of Blood and Horn of Winter. Now, the former two aren’t actually bad things (the damage it creates can actively influence a rotation to make the most of it, creating some compelling gameplay), but the latter is especially important in this case – Defile and Breath both cost the player, where Necrotic Plague actively gives back, with little effort on the player’s part.
To top it off, the damage Necrotic Plague deals also blows Defile and Breath out of the water – and this is with it bugged not to benefit from perks or crit; yes, this can be blamed on numbers still needing to be tuned, but it’s in no small part because Plague has the most uptime, and least upkeep to worry about. (Hell, once the spreading effect works, it’ll pay its own upkeep.) This in particular isn’t as much of a failing on Necrotic Plague’s part, so much as the weak cooldowns it opposes.

I’m most disappointed in Breath of Sindragosa, since it had potential to fill the niche in our AoE for a RP-based attack. Unfortunately – in spite of Defile right next to it – it’s considered the cooldown of the three, with the highest upkeep cost of the tier just so you can keep churning it out. Ideally, a spec like Frost would have enough leftover runic power to keep it up for ages – but this also means it alienates Blood and Unholy, since Blood already has far too much downtime from the beta experience as it stands (due to the changes in RP generation that make NP so appealing, to be cyclical in the argument), while Unholy doesn’t gain any such boosts or any need to quickly burn off RP (likely to be worsened by the change to AMS). Even with the ability to create Shadow Infusions or proc T60, it’s not an engaging playstyle for anyone to hold back resources for a cooldown – it just further inflates the breaks between Rune-consumers for all specs, and we’ve already been given almost too much downtime for this next tier. It’s mostly just irony that even Frost would prefer the disease convenience provided by Necrotic Plague, although not entirely surprising due to the importance of Frost Strike to DW’s rotation, and emphasis on Physical damage to 2H’s.
But in no small part because the damage it deals sucks. Again, still needs tuning.
It actually becomes sad after a while, when you realize that all three of our talents are devoted to putting a glorified DoT on the target. No wonder Necrotic Plague does its job the best, it knows what it is.
As an unrelated aside, this ability in particular makes the emphasis on a tier of replacing existing abilities pointless; even in a scenario where Breath would somehow end up ideal, you still have at least one option in every tier to add another button to your hotbar.

Defile’s just happy to be here, even if just for a mention of its mediocrity – sad, since the growth aspect of it could have had so much potential without that strict upper limit (especially given how small the growth actually is), but it had to be balanced around taking Death and Decay’s place in Blood’s rotation (maybe Unholy’s too, depending on the tier). All it really is now is Death and Decay with a new animation, a fire-and-forget option that just replaces a skill that’s only consistently in one spec’s rotation, on a moderate cooldown, with easily the least interesting tanking bonus of the tier to boot. In other words, it’s the option for those who prefer to watch paint dry.
There’s not even really a point to the growth aspect of it; Necrotic Plague’s growth effect can at least be gamed by Unholy or rapidly amplified by Blood and Frost’s basic rotations, but the growth on Defile is just a gimmick designed to appease those who pissed and moaned about wanting to use it on their LK solos (just to see how he liked it), and an unnecessarily slow limiter to reach its maximum potential – which it will only hold for a brief glimmer of an instant anyway, if your targets are still in it at that point, perhaps making it the most situational, ambiguous and nominal damage boost of the tier as well.

I can think of quite a few tweaks to suggest for this tier. The first thing is separating the tanking effects from the damage options. At the very least, it is impossible to balance an unlimited amount of Runic Power against two cooldowns, so the RP generation on Necrotic Plague must go. However, the fact that it was in such high demand for Blood should be taken as a sign that its RP gen should be compensated elsewhere – somewhere more streamlined and predictable than Multistriking, that doesn’t completely ruin activity if Multistrike gets a lower stat weight than all of the others designed to improve damage (e.g. right now).

Personally, I’d like to go a step further and allow each talent to change a playstyle option for all three specs; I’ve always believed that the further you went down the rabbit hole, the more dramatic the difference should be compared to when you first started playing the class (but with smooth enough transition that you don’t lose sight of what appealed to you to start with). Since this is my blog, I’m sure as hell allowed to indulge myself aloud, right?

I’d start by making Necrotic Plague Unholy-exclusive, and further balancing the ability around the potential for Festerblight. I might even drop one  of the other two options for Unholy (maybe even make NP swap with Defile on a respec) to instead add an option that plays on Unholy’s pet emphasis, or maybe even a talent for a petless spec. Unholy sets itself aside from the other two by relying on multiple sources of damage beyond the player themself, so it’s only natural that its talents play to those. No more formula – if you’re a talent and you want to compete with NP and Festerblight, you need to address other openings in the spec.
I’d swap Breath for an instant damage skill (like Pain and Suffering or Deathstorm, or virtually any other spell out of Wrath), balanced around being a AoE-rotational ability; one could even have it replace Death Coil, wherein it could more rapidly generate Shadow Infusions and Shadow of Death in cleave scenarios (which in Unholy’s case, means more pet cleaving when it would actually be useful), and give Frost even one alternative skill for use in AoE – while otherwise changing nothing about the order in which you hit buttons, for those who like their rotations as-is. (Essentially, doing the job Defile tried to do to rotations, but better.)
If Defile were kept around, the growth would need to be made meaningful. One could extend the duration to have 100% uptime on Patchwerk fights, or have the multiplier increase based on how many targets are hit, or both; there are potentially enough scenarios where the boss stands in one spot (and enough opportunities for a tank to control its movement, especially as the puddle grows and with DnD’s glyph) to make it worthwhile. Treat it like it’s supposed to do BoS’s job as a cooldown; if even that can’t make it interesting, it’ll be time to drop it.
For Blood, there are many options; one could take a page out of the Warriors’ book and just make all of the talents devoted to increasing damage/threat rather than mitigation, or play to the spec’s vampiric MO and boost survival through damage (a la the RP dump example above)! Perhaps you could even summon a Blood Beast or Val’kyr to support you; with the losses of Raise Dead and Bloodworms from the arsenal, the boon in damage would certainly be appreciated, as well as returning some lost ‘necromantic’ flavor to the spec.
As for Frost… meh. Not really my department! Although NP did highlight some rotational openings for Frost, especially concerning application of Blood Plague – but hopefully we can see that addressed in the future via a manner that doesn’t blatantly copy/improve on Plague Strike’s solution for Unholy.


I would love to see more variety in the talents. Aside from the final one, our tiers are mostly stable, but not terribly interesting, especially to someone who looked at the parties next door. There seems to be more importance in sticking to formula than creating compelling choices that are appealing to everyone; I don’t want to call it lazy (sticktotheapology STICKTOTHEAPOLOGY), but ours is the tree that I’ve seen more *shrug* responses to than any other, and it sort of shows in the number of multifaceted talents we have that the devs tried to do as much in one go as possible.
Perhaps too much.

So, far from perfect. Livable! Bit boring (on the scale of “likely to cause some notable class emigration”, though not yet reaching “mass exodus”). Could still use work – and unfortunately, we’re running low on time for that.

This entry was posted in Blood, Death Knight, Just For Fun, Talents, Unholy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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