Legion Preliminary

With Legion Alpha semi-publicly underway, previous questions of whether or not datamined information is “current” or “trustworthy” can be thrown out the window in favor of whether the changes will make it to live.

Which means what we’ve seen is now open to scrutiny.

With the usual disclaimer (this is only the second build of the not-Beta, everything is subject to change, including my thoughts on the matter), let’s dig in, shall we?

Spec Identity… At The Cost of Class Identity

For those of you who’ve been living under a rock, the set 2 Blood, 2 Frost, and 2 Unholy runes that act as resources for the class have all been scrapped in favor of 6 arbitrarily-paired Death runes come Legion. There, you’re filled in.

The “old” rune system (I say as if Legion is already here – “current” as I’m writing) allowed for over 200 different permutations of rune expenditure, before arcane rules came into play (primarily limitations on how you spend Death runes, or prevention of multiple of the same rune being used in one cast). In my mind, I envisioned my death knight brandishing his runeblade and flaring specific runes as shorthand for a magical formula only he knew – that activating X in tandem with Y always equaled Z (rather than Z or Q both happening to cost the same X plus Y resources) and that the death knight’s ability to achieve differing effects from the same cost was attributed to their mastery of a specific rune (ie Howling Blast being an advancement of Icy Touch). Each rune acts as a primary element of the death knight’s necrotic magic, so one spell that comprised two runes could be shaped as the absence of the third (for instance, Death Strike drawing on Blood in its absence).

In this sense, the untapped potential of runes could have been realized through how the pairings interacted. Unholy runes focused on diseases while Blood and Frost combined to amplify them; Frost runes focused on ranged attacks while Blood and Unholy could have combined to amplify them. Now, that won’t be possible.

In its own way, the rune system always felt like a unifying feature of the class. Even when each spec had different skills as part of the base rotations, they still had the same utilities with the same costs as a baseline. Before Pandaria made virtually all attacks spec-specific, it came down to each spec simply having improved versions of the same skills – Unholy wasn’t the only one with Festering Strike, but it was the best at it. A Blood death knight might not be able to cast Howling Blast, but he was still versed enough in Frost magic (as all death knights are) to manifest a simple ice attack, because the aspect of Frost would always be with him. Each spec utilized the same resource pool, just in different ways to reflect different training.

With Legion, each spec seems like a different class altogether. Yes, each spec has the exact same pool of runes (which is more than you can say of the divisions between Reaping and Blood of the North), but many classes share Mana or variations on Rage; it’s a manner of being able to use it in a particular way the unifies or differentiates them, and as we drop further down the rabbit hole we started down in Pandaria (now with us no longer sharing or, for that matter, needing the same spenders), the differences become more glaring than the similarities. Several abilities that have been vital utilities or key to the identity of the class have been pushed onto one spec or other; for instance, Empower Rune Weapon becoming exclusive to Frost while Unholy gets sole custody of Army of the Dead.

It’s a wonder that Blood even exists now, since Frost and Unholy have zero precedent towards it.

Of course, I would be lying if I even implied it was all bad – for the most part, in fact, the changes to runes are good for the class. After years of trying to work around orphaned Frost runes, synchronize exactly the right two runes for a dual-rune strike, or set up runes for AoE phases, all of those issues are officially obliterated. Now instead of abilities being balanced around forcing you to use a skill just to keep all of your runes cycling, they’ll be balanced to force you to make a choice on how you want to spend those runes. The question for the future is, was quality of life worth it?

Area Effect

Something that perhaps returns a bit of the age-old Paladin vs Death Knight rivalry, is that Blood and Unholy share a new mechanic with Protection: while standing in an area marked by our ground-targeted AoE, our primary attacks are amplified to deal damage in a radius around ourselves. For the most part, it’s an interesting concept; part of the reason I’ve always pushed for us to have an AoE Runic Power dump was so Unholy could fire off a Dark Transformation at-will for additional cleave during AoE phases, essentially meaning that AoE begets AoE.

There’s just one major flaw: unlike Consecration, Death & Decay has a 30 second cooldown, and only lasts for a third of that.
Using D&D is already considered a massive pain, simply because of how likely it is that the target will move (or be forced to move) out of the field – and this is assuming weird camerawork didn’t cause you to accidentally cast it on the ceiling (in all seriousness, a minor glyph to automatically center it under your target would help a lot).
Now, Unholy (and just Unholy; Blood at least gets to keep Blood Boil, and will likely be in charge of where the boss/adds go anyway) has to contend with needing to remain in the field during AoE phases, which already runs counter to the ability to place it at range. Outside of that, we only have our diseases.

Have I thanked the devs for bringing Wandering Plague back yet? Interrupting this blog post to do that now: Thank you.
Now back to your regularly-scheduled nitpicking.

While it gives us a greater emphasis on our sustainable cleave over burst (by design, I’m sure – just look at Boiling Rot), we’ll have long periods wherein all we can do in a cleave scenario is tunnel down one target. Even so, the difference between our AoE and single-target will be whether we choose to sub out a single Scourge Strike for a fire-and-forget D&D (and given D&D’s history with Mastery scaling, we may end up doing that in single-target anyway).
Remember how we complained bitterly throughout Cataclysm and Pandaria about all of the buildup to Blood Boiling because we couldn’t immediately cycle our runes to that end? Same issue here.
An excellent first step would be reducing the cooldown of Death & Decay so as to be more forgiving.

And then… Frost has early Wrath-era Unholy Blight, what’s that about?

Festering Wounds

With disease snapshotting and Necrotic Plague gone, Festering Strike had a doubtful position in Unholy’s arsenal, until the announcement of Festering Wounds.

Unholy’s new mechanic seems to be a matter of perspective. On the one-hand, it’s long been suggested for DKs to be able to detonate their diseases with strikes, and with the return of Wandering Plague on the horizon, Festering Wounds seems to offer a balanced alternative which integrates Festering Strike back into the playstyle. On the other, Scourge Strike is no longer equal parts Physical and Shadow damage, now forcing Festering Strike to pick up the slack.

The primary issue with Festering Wounds is that it creates an RNG-based playstyle, as Festering Strike doesn’t provide a consistent number of stacks each hit. Keeping in mind, Unholy is built to be the least random of the DK’s damage specs.

Secondly, Blighted Runeblade. In terms of finding a passive option or single-target option in that tier, we already have Pestilent Pustules. If the idea is to provide an alternative (or at least, supplement) to Festering Strike for the application of Festering Wounds, I might recommend instead changing Blighted Runeblade from being randomly procced by autoattacks (ever the copout) to being activated by disease ticks or the ghoul’s Claw (although in the latter case, we already have Lil’ Stinker, so that’s probably unnecessary). This would allow us the same benefit of Blighted Runeblade in single-target, while also allowing the application of Festering Wounds at range and in cleave scenarios, so as to maximize the burst damage of Scourge Strike in Death & Decay, at the cost of the sustained damage provided by Boiling Rot.

Death’s Caress

Why is this not called Bloodbolt?

What makes Death’s Caress noteworthy is that it aims to keep a ranged attack option for Blood, in spite of the removal of Icy Touch. With Blood Strike already taking the job of disease application, the fact that range was separately considered as an option for DKs is a hopeful sign to address our lack of mobility, as I discussed in my previous post.

Naturally I don’t expect DKs to have a ranged rotation as strong as our melee rotation (since it would objectively be the stronger subspec, whether you mixed in autoattacks for bonus damage or simply stayed at maximum range due to raid’s the need for it), but simply having the reach to be able to start running out of danger zones before they form without costing too much damage, or pre-empt adds running from the edge of the room, would make up for our difficulty moving in the first place.

Of course, while Frost and Blood have ranged builders and no ranged spender, at least they can use theirs at-will. Unholy has a ranged spender, but only Outbreak to build up to it from a distance – which is limited by a cooldown (understandable given its AoE spread, but strictly limiting as a ranged attack on top of its already low damage).

Multistrike

Alas, Multistrike has been cut down before its time. As something of a point of contention amongst the playerbase, the developers have removed it come Legion with the note that it is simply an alternative to Critical Strike rating. Several specializations also had minimal reason to use it (due to its lower damage returns compared to Crit) without specific attunements.

Of course, Versatility survived because the developers believed it was “interesting” and “useful” which seemingly undercuts that analysis.

To me, the devs barely scratched the surface with Multistrike. It was only ever allowed to be a stat that caused additional damage – rather than a stat that caused you to strike additional times. Instead of an “alternative to Crit” it could have been an alternative to Haste, allowing each cast, strike or autoattack additional chances to activate procs at no additional cost, on top of their damage. This is especially notable given how some specs have felt GCD locked towards the end of an expansion in the past, meaning that the value of Multistrike would go up as Haste’s went down.
Of course, with Haste affecting the GCD next expansion, the latter case may not be strictly necessary.

Still better than Versatility, though.

Scattered Thoughts

  • Obtaining Apocalypse fills me with many emotions… none of which are positive. The scenario is blatantly recycled from Affliction Warlocks and Balance Druids, the overworld section (on top of, again, being a prime location for two other class’ artifact questlines) will make starting the questline annoying.
  • Why Fire Relics for Apocalypse? I understand Shadow, but Fire (and Holy) makes the absolute least sense for a DK artifact. Why not Fel, for our demonic weaponry and origins? Why not Life, for our perversion of it?
  • Spellbreaker on its own makes me happy for lore/RP reasons (my main is a Blood Elf after all)…
  • … while Spellbreaker’s compatriots are once again painfully PVP oriented, which I thought was the point of the PVP trees in the first place. Would be a much better choice if March of the Damned were swapped for Death’s Advance, and Desecrated Ground was replaced.
  • Purgatory versus Death Pact? Sadistic. Love it! Finally an actual choice that doesn’t directly impact your performance.
  • Since Frost has Remorseless Winter, perhaps the central option in our Tier 90 will see the return of Hungering Cold…?
  • Boiling Rot may actually make Defile interesting in the absence of Necrotic Plague.

No clean way to end this – Alpha is a work-in-progress after all. Until next post, suffer well.

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