Rebuild of Obliteration

Legion pre-patch has finally arrived, so I no longer have to worry about mixing up tenses except when I refer to Artifact traits and abilities.

Since the internet went out at my house to prevent me from playing, I figured I’d take the time to write an update post about an issue that has bothered me with Legion’s version of the class for some time. And so, today’s irregularly scheduled topic, rarely seen on this blog due to my personal distaste for it: Frost spec.

The title seems appropriately angsty enough for what comes next.

There was a discussion in #Acherus earlier, that the Frost players felt as if they were being pushed into other specs’ themes. Between the Hypothermia talent copying the effects of Virulent Plague, and the passive Artifact effect summoning additional rune weapons similarly to Dancing Rune Weapon, multiple additions to the Frost kit feel out of place.
My instant reply was a simple “no” – Frost isn’t copying other specs’ themes, it’s copying their mechanics with its own superficial icy theme plastered over. If it was copying themes from Unholy, Frost might build a stronger thematic base of its own to define its similarities and contrasts.

The thing that bothers me about Frost in Legion – as I have mentioned in posts before – is primarily a result of the pruning in recent expansions: Frost, as a spec, is defined almost entirely by ice.
I know that seems painfully obvious, but hear me out.

In Legion, our themes have been boiled down basically to the bone:

  • Unholy is distinguished by minion summoning, Shadow damage (with a splash of Physical), and diseases as a source of cleave damage.
  • Blood is distinguished by vampirism and tethering effects, anatomical manipulation (including bone), on-demand cleave, and Physical damage (with a splash of Shadow).
  • Frost is distinguished by a blend of Frost and Physical damage, and passively dual-wielding.
  • The one factor that unites all specs, and defines the class is… rune weapons. (“Disease” isn’t special; every damage spec in the game has a DoT to maintain.)

While Unholy’s playstyle branches out to emphasize multiple aspects of the theme, and Blood itself is fairly defined (in spite of its tenuous connection to a “death” theme, at least it tries), Frost’s thematic base feels weak by comparison because it’s primarily aesthetic; a vehicle for a bursty, reactive playstyle, which stands out so much that it doesn’t seem to belong.

Compare this to Wrath, long before any major pruning. In addition to now:

  • Unholy was defined by its use of Unholy runes, amplified magical damage, turning an enemy’s magic against them, and using corpses as a resource.
  • Blood was defined by its use of Blood and Death runes, and using health as a resource.
  • Frost was defined by its use of Frost runes and runic power, critical and execution damage, and raw mitigation. It was also suggested at one point that Frost would have increased damage against snared targets, although this didn’t happen.
  • All specs were capable of performing necromancy as well as frost and blood magic, with varying weight placed on each based on each spec’s use of its runes. Each spec also had access to the same core diseases (barring Unholy’s extras), a multitude of core strikes for variety (with incentives to use a particular few for one spec), and increased effectiveness against diseased targets.

It puzzles me that so much of the playerbase agrees the Lich King must have been the basis for a Frost Death Knight, simply because his weapon has “Frost” in the name and his seat of power has “Ice”; over the years, Unholy has received more of (or greater focus upon) the Lich King’s abilities than any other spec.
There were more Death Knights flinging fire spells than ice prior to Wrath’s release. In truth, Frost’s main influences were other Scourge units – specifically, caster units like Liches and Frost Wyrms. Given Frost’s origins, it’s surprising in some ways that Unholy remained the most magically-oriented spec by Wrath’s release (in spite of its early focus on pets already limiting its reliance on weapon damage).

I’m surprised that Legion didn’t take the opportunity to make Frost’s connection to the class deeper, to explain why Unholy DKs have any connection to Frost magic or to better define what path Frost takes in regards to the class as a whole beyond “arctic wind”. Blood is a vampire, Unholy is a necromancer, Frost is… a guy in plate armor who shoots wind at people.
Literally the only talents that even bother trying to imply there is anything more to Frost’s identity, are Frostscythe and Breath of Sindragosa (a combined Frost Wyrm theme with its active Artifact power). Of course I must emphasize, these are just talents (and a singular late artifact power) – in terms of base functionality, it’s just “I can make a winter wonderland”.

This is (what’s left of) the spec that gets (what’s left of) Frostmourne.

To me, Frost feels like it misses some serious opportunities by focusing just on its namesake – some more cosmetic than others, but all equally important (after all, Blood’s “bone” effects are almost entirely cosmetic in themselves) to establishing a visceral identity or unifying aspect that, for a long time, Frost has essentially lacked.
For starters, let’s focus on that bit about getting Frostmourne. Frostmourne was a runeblade that was known for devouring the souls of both its victims and its wielder. While all runeblades are known for stealing souls to some degree, Frost is the spec that gets to summon its own scythe to do a bit of Grim Reaping. There’s potential to tie in soul magic to Frost’s themes, or even indicate that frost magic is a gateway to soul magic, hence why its studied by all Death Knights; in fact, it was even briefly explored as the original on-hit effect of wielding the Blades of the Fallen Prince… before all on-hit effects were removed from Artifacts.
I’m still at a loss as to why Two-handed Frost had to be completely eliminated; with the artifact, max-level Frost players would already be pushed to play Dual-wield for the rest of the expansion, so just limiting it to Dual-wield only serves to harm the low-level players (much as limiting Dual-wielding to Frost harmed low-level players trying to complete the starting zone). Removing Two-handed Frost loses the perfect opportunity to have Frost Death Knights combine their runeblades into a temporary replica of the original Frostmourne – after all, they already have all of its parts on-hand.
Additionally, as I pointed out above, Frost has strong ties to skeletal and caster units, who themselves are based off of Frost Mages; for instance, Glacial Advance is a clone of a spell used by skeletal mages in Icecrown Citadel. There’s always been this implication in my mind that Frost Death Knights were supposed to be one step removed from being melee Liches (a quiet implication that simply never raised its voice over the course of 5 expansions). Until Mists altered the talent system, Lichborne was considered to be a Frost spell; it played on the idea that instead of Unholy’s focus on summoning and controlling the undead, Frost played on its own nature as an undead to tie itself into the class. The missed opportunity here is to have one of Frost’s cooldowns actually turn the player into a Lich – perhaps to amplify Howling Blast’s damage and increase the range of their melee attacks for a duration a la Ascendance, as a “bursty” counter for Unholy’s ability to perform a sustainable ranged rotation (albeit at a loss compared to melee combat).
Finally, it’s been brought to my attention many times that, because Unholy and Frost are virtually neck-and-neck in terms of single-target damage, Unholy may be the preferable spec going into Legion raiding due to its stronger cleave and more reliable utility. Without an edge of its own on Patchwerk-style fights, there are fears that Frost will fall to the wayside. Something that has never made sense to me about Unholy was its history with Soul Reaper; while I understand that Unholy has always had this sense of “building up” multiple damage sources and that Soul Reaper v1.0 gave some payoff to its sustained output, Frost was the spec that set the original precedent for Death Knight execution mechanics through its Merciless Combat passive (which passively increased Frost’s damage on low-health targets until Soul Reaper v1.0 came around). I feel like having Frost be able to “reap” low health targets in such a way would kill two birds with one stone, giving them back their own niche (fitting Frost’s bursty nature even) while tying into the above-mentioned ideas of Frost being able to perform soul magic and utilize the core powers of Frostmourne. What form this actually takes, I have no idea – could be a passive, could be an ability, anything so long as it isn’t Soul Reaper again.

However, the issue of Frost standing out isn’t simply a matter of changing Frost so it fits in; it’s a matter of the class making room for Frost to fit in.

As I said whilst rambling in the last post (and illustrated above), there is no strong thematic base for the class as a whole anymore. The specs share a scattered handful of dissonant cooldowns and niche utilities, but not an identity: we’re so specialized, we feel like separate classes united by a resource system. The only way to address this would be to rebuild the class from the ground up, with unity in mind.
I understand that this seems contrary to the tone of earlier posts I’ve made outlining my dislike for the shared talent pool not taking into account the differences between the specs, but to say that I’d been asking for the specs to be separated as they are now would be an extremist reading of my earlier words; there’s a difference between “defining identity” and “segregating values”.
Now, the key point here is to understand what I mean by “the ground up”; I don’t mean that this requires deleting all the current work and rewriting the entire class from scratch, I mean rewriting the way the class evolves. There’s this connotation with the word “specialization” in which the specs are all supposed to share basic elements in common, but focus on specific areas in which to grow, originally indicated by how they used runes. The class is a college major, the spec is a concentration of study within the major, but ultimately there are minimum requirements that all concentrations within a major must meet in order to graduate within the major itself; same idea, different context.
In this case, I’m referring to the leveling experience: giving all specs the same tools to start with, and then phasing out those tools over time to gradually create different specs – the way that leveling had been done before the pruning, similarly to the Cataclysm model in particular. These days, you’re forced into a specific spec to start with, and then told at an arbitrary point “you may change to a drastically different one if the one you’ve been choking on for 10 levels isn’t to your liking”; the proposition here is that there is a middle ground, so that no particular spec is forced down your throat until long after you make that choice.

The key point here, is to re-establish the shared kit between all specs, the aspects of which then branch out into specific specs. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every spec needs to have the core rotation for the other two specs within their spellbook, and a message to use Ability A instead of Spell B. To use another example from Cataclysm: at level 1, Warriors were given a generic ability called “Strike” (not Heroic, not Mortal, just regular kind), and the instant they picked their specialization, they were given a replacement for Strike. This was pruned in Mists because Strike was still a separate ability, despite the tech being in place to physically replace the ability, as demonstrated by a Death Knight switching to Frost only to see Blood Strike swap to Frost Strike, or to Blood and see it swapped for Heart Strike.
I understand the difference there, of course; a Death Knight can choose a specialization as soon as it’s made, and Strike only existed to tide Warriors over until level 10. The point isn’t to give the player training wheels; it’s to create a core class. As you level up, your character should become more familiar with their specialization and learn the deeper abilities within that specialization, only trading known abilities for pure upgrades, but should always retain a base. No “generic abilities” of this core have to remain by the time the player finishes the leveling experience, but the initial deviation needs to be subtle, and some core aspects need to be shared.
For instance, I personally believe that much like Death Strike, all specs should have access to Death Coil for utility’s sake. Only Unholy should have any focus on it for end-game, of course; however, it was a mistake to completely remove it from Frost’s kit just ‘cause they have Frost Strike, because that removed a ranged spell with its own niche from Frost’s kit – and there are ways to incorporate it anyway, such as having a talent or cooldown (Lich form, anyone?) or late-level passive to turn it into a Deathchill Bolt that’s still weaker than Frost Strike but exists for those moments when an 8-yard reach isn’t far enough.
Meanwhile, a generic ability like our old Blood Strike (or maybe for the sake of maintaining “generic” aspects… Rune Strike?) could be instantly removed when the leveling player learns to cast Scourge Strike or Heart Strike (or Frost Strike?) because A) the upgrade completely obsoletes the ability and B) it provides the sense that the old technique has been infused with your new power, so you never actually unlearned it, you just improved it with what you learned.
A better example might be to give the player Obliterate at first, regardless of spec, which could be replaced with Marrowrend or Festering Strike around the same time Frost learns Killing Machine… or perhaps at the same time Unholy learns “Master of Ghouls”, Frost could learn to turn a ghoul into a Coldwraith while Blood could learn to turn a ghoul into a Blood Beast. Something to serve as a reminder that specs may not be 100% the same, but that doesn’t meant they’re incapable of the same things.

Another aspect of this would be to rebuild the base of the talent tree. I don’t mean that the entirety of the talent tree has to be one-size-fits-all like it was during Mists and Warlords, but not every tier has to focus on one spec. As you get deeper into the tree, like with leveling, you should get deeper into your class; the early tiers of the tree could instead have to deal with shared mechanics and abilities between specs (like runes or mobility), gradually mixing in a couple options just for your spec, until the last few tiers of the tree are entirely made up of abilities unique to your specialization.
Keep in mind, there only needs to be a handful of talents in a given tree that everyone feels should be either removed or made baseline, that you could cram in one or two new tiers – or just shuffle some non-combat or low-impact tiers to the top, and give everyone equal access to Lingering Apparition rather than trying to force “special snowflake” versions like White Walker or March of the Damned.
Personally, I feel that somewhere near the middle should be a single tier where you’re asked to pick a utility effect from one of the other two specs, forcing you away from your own – just to return the sense of sub-speccing that I discussed in the previous post. “I’m capable of performing Blood magic, I just don’t know nearly as much about it as someone who specialized into it.”

I’ll grant it seems far-fetched and fringe, and that last bit about the talent trees would rightly terrify anyone who has found a favorite in every tier (if they remove my Epidemic or Clawing Shadows at any point because it seems generic, I’ll be pissed); this is my opinion, as a player who sees a flaw and just wants to offer one solution. I have less than zero expectation the devs would go for such a deep overhaul so close to release, and I’m fully aware I’d be looking at waiting another expansion to see how this would shake out, at best.
And for those who agree with anything I’ve said, I’m well aware a similar model could probably be applied to several classes whose specializations may seem similarly displaced. I’m just writing what I know here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take a hot shower to wash the Frost off.

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