Festering Too Long

As I write this post, the first release candidates for Legion patch 7.2.0 are presently on the PTR and the background loader. This patch includes extensions to our Artifact traits, many of which have sewn discontent amongst Unholy Death Knights.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: our feedback has basically been cherry-picked, and it seems like some of the adjustments made over the course of this PTR have actually made existing issues worse.

While I feel like my feedback has gone as far as it can on the official forums, I find myself reimagining Unholy more extensively than I usually do. I attempted to write some suggestions for replacements for the new artifact traits… which lead to writing replacements for existing traits as well… and finally just rewriting the entire spec.

Usually my posts end up addressing one issue of Unholy at a time – our AoE, our talents, our disease interaction, and so on. Today’s going to be different, by virtue of addressing all of them at once, with a complete rework.

Naturally, the more extensive a rework suggestion becomes, the less likely it is to ever get picked up by the developers. Which is, in part, why I have this blog in the first place: to keep my own notes for suggestions for later, to get to the heart of issues, and perhaps even to offer ideas for how to move forward next expansion.

What’s ACTUALLY Wrong?

As much as I loathe saying it, the core issue with Unholy can be traced back to the unique focus it received for this expansion.

Bear with me here.

The changes made to Death Knights in Legion rendered the original version of Festering Strike obsolete; we no longer need to convert Frost and Blood runes into Death runes, and the ability to extend our diseases on a single target has virtually no meaning without snapshotting or Necrotic Plague (which itself was a problematic ability to balance around). While Festering Strike could have been eliminated entirely, the developers realized that this would have left our core rotation as simply Scourge Strike and Death Coil, cooldowns and DoTs aside. They believed that this would be “boring”, so they created a new system to keep Festering Strike around: Festering Wounds.

The basic idea behind Festering Wounds was to make Scourge Strike’s damage dependent on Festering Strike – so you hit Festering Strike to apply a buff to your next Scourge Strike. The execution could be compared to an inverted Combo Point system: you hit your Finisher first, and then you follow with your Builders to match how strong your Finisher was. While this harkened back to Scourge Strike’s old dependence on diseases for its damage and retained Unholy’s classic ramp-up, the developers wanted playstyles in Legion to be reactive to prevent being played by mindless Wrath-era rotation macros (bearing in mind that /castsequence macros simply don’t work anymore), so making Festering Wounds random was seen as a perfect fit.

This brings us to the first major issue: the expansion on the Festering Wounds system added a disproportionate amount of random elements to Unholy.
Not only do Festering Wounds improve Scourge Strike, but they function as a resource for effects like Apocalypse, Soul Reaper, and Necrotic Strike, with plans for several more abilities back in Alpha.

The trouble here is that without Blighted Rune Weapon, Wounds are a resource with completely random access. Festering Strike, Infected Claws, Castigator, and even tier bonuses all provide them in an unreliable manner, which means building up to an effect like Apocalypse can take a single GCD, or three (prior to 7.1.5 this would have been up to four).
Adding onto that are effects like Instructor’s Fourth Lesson, Castigator’s effect on Scourge Strike, and 7.2’s Black Claws, which will randomly pull more Wounds out from under you without your say. If the intent behind Festering Wounds was to prevent automation and put control of the rotation into the players’ hands, then the random and automated consumption of Wounds runs completely counter to that.

But wait, there’s more!

Not only does low Wound production penalize you on ramp-up, but high production can harm your basic rotation! Without effects that consume extra Wounds, the single-rune cost on Scourge Strike means spending twice as many global cooldowns burning off the runes that you “saved” skipping Festering Strike. This in itself is amplified by effects like Pestilent Pustules and Scourge the Unbeliever, which can refund you the rune cost of a Scourge Strike any time you Scourge Strike.
Unrelated to Wounds, we have extra GCDs and resources being added by Double Doom, Runic Tattoos, Runic Corruption, and now 7.2’s Death’s Harbinger.
(Incidentally, Festering Talons was replaced with Black Claws expressly because the resources it saves cause extra GCDs, but Death’s Harbinger was kept in place even though it generates nearly double the resources over the course of an encounter. Remember how I was saying our feedback was getting cherry-picked?)

We have all of these resources that we can’t burn off fast enough… and to top it off, the abilities we can spend them on don’t deal nearly enough damage on their own for Unholy DKs to be competitive. The common suggestion right now is for Death Coil to consume up to twice as much Runic Power to do… several times more damage.

To come back to the “disproportionate random elements” bit for a moment, we also have randomly-applied debuffs outside of Wounds. Scourge of Worlds is a window of bonus Scourge Strike damage that is randomly applied by casting Death Coil; while this provides an interesting synergy with Double Doom, it also means it’s activated by the same ability that we’ve been conditioned for three expansions to cast when we want Runic Corruption to proc.
To be clear: We want Scourge of Worlds when we have the runes to Scourge Strike – but the window is wasted if we don’t, despite our lack of control over the window’s opening. We want Runic Corruption when we don’t have the runes to Scourge Strike – and never when we do, because of our ongoing resource overflow. They are each randomly applied by the same ability.
Guess how often you get one when you want the other. Or neither! Or both. It’s basically Morton’s Fork, and our performance is balanced around gaming it.

In earlier expansions, the tradeoff between Unholy and Frost was that Frost was supposed to be the more “reactive” of the pair, while Unholy was innately more reliable, but complex. All in all, the experiment to make Unholy more reactive ended with us being dictated by RNG more than the current iteration of Frost is, while still maintaining our classic complexity.

So why do I blame the “focus on Unholy” for these issues?

Maintaining the core trio of Scourge Strike/Festering Strike/Death Coil wasn’t actually a bad idea on its own. However, the developers had to come up with several additions to the spec to fill all of the space created by the Artifact system and Legion’s long-awaited revamp to our talent tree. I commend them for not repeating Warlords’ failure (of just adding minor passives, or taking away core functionality to give back to us later), but they attempted to build onto a freshly revamped system before they had enough time to figure out which direction to take it, or locate its organic flaws. Thus, they defaulted to universally applicable effects that “shake up the playstyle”: RNG, and extra resources.
To use a visual metaphor, the devs built a staircase to nowhere… and with 7.2, they just shrugged and wiped their hands of it.

What Can Be Done?

For the time being, the simple solution is to reduce the random elements of Unholy and cut down on sources of resource generation, making up for it with raw damage. Make Festering Strike apply 3 Wounds consistently; put Scourge of Worlds on a charge system; move Infected Claws to the same tier as Pestilent Pustules/Blighted Rune Weapon; replace Runic Tattoos, Death’s Harbinger, and Double Doom with effects that give raw throughput; increase Death Coil’s damage outright, etc.
Boom, done, solved every problem for the rest of Legion. (Except for our Tier 20 2-piece bonus that blows up our ghouls, even though they’re short-lived enough and more useful to us alive. And the massive power gap from our legendary bracers. And our weak legendary shoulders, which are screwed by the aforementioned Tier 20 bonus.)

In the long term though? Killing the Festering Wounds mechanic would be a start.

Considering it’s near the foundation of Unholy’s current design, I say “start” knowing full-well that would require a more extensive revamp unto itself. As I said before, I have zero expectation that a revamp would even be considered mid-expansion.

That being said, Unholy really has no attachment to Festering Strike. It’s not even the same ability as it was when it had a place in the kit.
The whole point of Festering Wounds is to induce a specific behavior, where players alternate between more than two abilities as part of their core rotation. The problem is, without specific talents, Wounds are just damage; they serve no mechanical purpose on their own, besides being a piece of Scourge Strike’s damage that you have to press an extra button for. If the damage of a Wound burst isn’t tuned properly, they simply don’t matter until you want to pop a cooldown – and when the damage is tuned to matter, you’re forced into Bursting Sores.

As long as players are regularly spending runes on Scourge Strike and another ability within a given 10-15 second interval, does it matter what the second ability does?
Hypothesis: No. Not as long as Scourge Strike stays 1 Rune and is cast more often.
Evidence: Festering Strike.

So why not have a worthwhile mechanic in place of Wounds?

Yes, you could just add a mechanic to Festering Wounds to give them value in themselves… but as stated before, Wounds are a (randomly generated and depleted) resource, so that’s a dangerous game.
Besides, if the current problems with Unholy are the result of belatedly tacking effects on to Wounds just to “shake up the playstyle”? It’s better to consider the mechanic separately first, and the way it can cause the spec to grow.

Revamp: Where Are We Headed?

In my personal opinion, Unholy has room enough for complexity between its minions, diseases and Shadow magic. The emphasis on Festering Wounds has taken away from these base mechanics – particularly penalizing our interaction with Virulent Plague.

The following rework is made with several goals in mind: First, to increase reliability while maintaining complexity. Second, to target the sources of our excessive resource generation, and dampen them where possible. Third, to focus on our core values as a spec; the devs said a big part of the Legion design was to make Unholy strongest in multi-target scenarios. Finally, to stay true to the history of the class, and add nothing that lacks precedent.

Baseline: Where Do We Start?

  • Festering Strike replaced with Reanimation Tortured Strike: Mark your target and summon two Tortured Spirits to haunt your target for the duration of each mark. 2 runes, 3 charges, 15 sec cooldown.
  • Scourge Strike no longer causes a Festering Wound to burst. Instead, each cast of Scourge Strike will reduce the remaining cooldown of Tortured Strike by 25%.
  • Army of the Dead no longer has a rune cost.

Something that has bugged me about Apocalypse, is that aside from Raise Dead, all of our minion summoning is limited to cooldowns.
Unholy Death Knights take most of their influence from the Warcraft 3 iteration of the class, and from the Lich King encounter – where the first and final phases simply involved the Lich King spam-summoning minions. It seems odd to have our summoning be so… bursty, especially when we’re getting mechanics like the 2-piece bonus of Tier 20 that wants to use Army ghouls as a resource, or Artifact traits that turn them into dispensaries of vital debuffs or cleave damage.

Normally I would just suggest that bursting a Wound should summon an Army minion, but that has a cornucopia of its own issues – availability as a talent meaning an opt-in system, availability as an Artifact trait coming late, limited ability to build off of it in either case, increased value on specific effects like Castigator or our (already problematic) legendary bracers that burst quantities of Wounds, etc.
Not only does making a rotational summon effect into its own ability resolve all of the above, but it also means that we don’t have to concern ourselves with the question of why we need to squeeze zombies out of our enemies’ pimples.

Tortured Strike is structured to fill the same spot in your opener as Festering Strike, and the method of restoring charges via Scourge Strike can be tuned to allow it to be cast as frequently throughout the rest of the rotation as Festering Strike once did. (Presently tuning it to 25% is ~4 sec before Haste, meaning that for every 3 Scourge Strikes, on top of our GCD, you get one Tortured Strike.) It only brings as much RNG to the base rotation as Sudden Doom does – which is to say, very little considering it’s an effect we were expecting to cast anyway, just at an accelerated rate. The only tuning necessary is for the value of Tortured Strike to be higher than two Scourge Strikes, which is dependent more on the damage of the spirits you summon than the strike itself.
I hesitate to say the spirits should deal Shadow damage, due to one of the potential talent upgrades below. As much as it would be a possibility, I would much rather say the strike itself should deal Shadow damage if it must at all. But, not up to me!

And since I mentioned Warcraft 3

  • Death Coil may once again be cast on friendly Undead targets to heal them for up to three times its damage.
  • Wraith Walk replaced with Death’s Charge: Summon your Deathcharger to ride for 3 sec, increasing movement speed by 100%. Usable while indoors, in combat, or dead. 30 sec cooldown.

… because not only are we supposed to be anti-Paladins, but we were exclusively mounted units from WC2 until Wrath.

Funny thing, really: between Cataclysm through Legion, our lack of mobility has been blamed on our heavy resistance to crowd control.
Trouble is… historically, a lot of that resistance seems to come from putting CC on ourselves.

Glyph of Pillar of Frost: Makes you immune to CC! Also roots you in place.
Desecrated Ground: Makes you immune to CC! But forces you to stand in a tiny circle.
Wraith Walk: Breaks roots and makes you immune to slows! Also prevents you from attacking.

I could understand being unable to attack if Wraith Walk was also a threat drop for Unholy and Frost or an immunity effect for Blood (by virtue of turning into a ghost), but otherwise it makes no sense to dodge one CC right into another. (Especially when only one of those two is guaranteed every time you use your sprint.)

Even so, the vitriol towards Wraith Walk doesn’t necessarily come from the inability to attack while it’s active – in more cases the issue is simply that it’s designed to break early. If someone double-taps the key or hits some server lag, it will just put the effect on cooldown before you can benefit from it; you can’t even use the effect in Shal’Aran because it simply ends inside with no explanation, and there is a constant fear that another location like that will crop up elsewhere. Hence, the call for a more conventional sprint that we can rely on.

Artifact: How to Expand?

  • Scourge of Worlds reworked: Casting Scourge Strike now increases the damage of your next Death Coil within 10 sec, stacking up to 5 times.
  • Double Doom replaced with Vile Malady: Death Coil and Gargoyle Strike will place a Vile Malady on the target, repeating a portion of their damage dealt over 10 seconds as Shadow damage. Successive applications of Vile Malady will contribute their remaining damage to the next stack.
  • Black Claws replaced with Virulence: Vile Malady will discharge a portion of its stored damage to increase the damage of Virulent Eruption.
  • Runic Tattoos replaced with Black Claws: Each of your minions’ melee attacks on victims of Virulent Plague have a chance to cause a Virulent Eruption.
  • Death’s Harbinger replaced with Dirge: Sudden Doom may now store up to 2 charges.

Ah, now comes the tricky part: building off what’s established.

As mentioned above, Scourge of Worlds is a problematic ability because it conflicts with Death Coil’s previous function of applying Runic Corruption. Ideally, the solution would be to put it on a charge system instead so you can conserve the power and never miss a window from lack of resources.
Taking it one step further however…
I believe I’ve mentioned before on this blog, that I’ve always seen Runic Power dumps as a type of finishing move for DKs; they’re the effect that you constantly build up to, then discharge. Adding a Scent of Blood-esque effect to Death Coil would pair nicely with the call to lower Runic Power production and increase base Death Coil damage.
The stacking effect is in part to give the player some use for Death Coil in burst scenarios. Five stacks might technically be overkill, but it’s entirely for convenience and shouldn’t impact overall damage very much. In theory, firing off two Death Coils with 3 stacks each would be the same as firing off one with 5 stacks and another with only 1 stack.

This brings me to Vile Malady. Near the end of Wrath, Unholy Blight was consolidated into Death Coil as a passively-applied DoT effect with a loose stacking mechanic – if you fired off a Death Coil with 1 second left on the previous Unholy Blight, then the new Unholy Blight would have a portion of the new Death Coil’s damage plus 1 second’s worth of the previous Unholy Blight.
Having Death Coil apply an additional effect based on how strong it is when applied (even if it is a net neutral so long as you spend all stacks) provides a great opportunity for synergy. The addition of Gargoyle Strike can’t hurt Gary’s value as a burst cooldown – Bolvar knows Dark Arbiter could use some value.
Its tie-in, Virulence, is the real game-changer in my opinion. If Unholy is supposed to use diseases as a major source of damage, then Legion’s take on our disease interaction has been, quite frankly, disappointing. Having us actively build our disease damage as part of our rotation, on the other hand, feels like an opportunity we’ve been missing for a long time.
I could probably have had Death Coil and Gargoyle Strike just store partial damage onto Virulent Plague directly, but I didn’t want to deal with whatever can of worms could be created by overwriting Virulent Plague 7 times with another Outbreak. And unlike Festering Wounds, damage is constantly ticking down, so you can’t accidentally lose some by forgetting to discharge it.

To finish the loop, we can tie it back to our minion summoning: with Scourge Strike and Death Coil building up our disease, we can use our minions to discharge the disease damage. Note the plurality; the intention is for the effect to be of use on Army of the Dead minions, Tortured Spirits, as well as Timmy.

While I’m on the subject of minion summoning: I have no idea how Apocalypse should work without Festering Wounds. It could summon 6 ghouls outright; it could have a special interaction with your next 3 Tortured Strike casts; it could be something entirely new like disease interaction or raw damage instead. The point is that there are reasonable options to continue.

As for Dirge, giving Sudden Doom 2 charges was a long-standing suggestion for the past two expansions, to prevent overlapping charges. The problem with Double Doom is that it increases the rate of Sudden Doom (thereby increasing GCDs) while also being generally the weakest gold trait we have; that said, there is no reason not to have the second charge, as long as it isn’t a gold trait.

Between these changes, the hope is to increase interaction between abilities as well as providing situational tools… while also providing little opportunity to flood GCDs. (It helps that the only resource supplier left is Scourge the Unbeliever, which already work remarkably well in AoE, and could have applications in single-target as well to charge Tortured Strike.)

Oh, and just because the current iteration only gives 2% mitigation on Icebound Fortitude…

  • Deadly Durability replaced with Spellbreaker: Increase the duration and maximum absorption value of Anti-Magic Shell by X%.

… I’m thinking 15-20% per rank, just so each rank actually gives an extra second of duration.

Talents: How to Refine?

PostLegion Unholy treeI spent 3 hours making this in Paint, and damn if it doesn’t look fancy.

I disagree with the devs’ stance on “removing themed tiers” from the class. The execution of such a system meant that it was entirely possible to create what the devs have acknowledged as “very busy talent builds”, because effects that would normally be one resource generation tier were instead dispersed through multiple tiers.
It also ended with us having fewer utility-based tiers. While I’ve said previously on this blog that I would have appreciated more tiers that affected our performance, I didn’t expect the pendulum to swing so wildly in the opposite direction; throughput tiers rarely give you an actual choice in PvE once they can be accurately simmed. Yes, technically we have two utility tiers now, but with Sludge Belcher as a DPS upgrade (due to its wider AoE), we’re effectively left without a choice aside from rare circumstances. We have little in the way of raid utility outside of Raise Ally, and RA is shared with two other classes who bring other utilities.

Yes, talent builds will always have cookie-cutters as long as throughput is affected… but that doesn’t mean they should be resigned to clear winners and losers.

As for the structure of the tree itself, I took very special care to arrange the talents in a fashion that would be relevant to leveling: effects that would impact the open world the most first, effects that benefit dungeons and raids last. Yes, some talents are new, and many of those that exist have been changed.

Let’s start at the top:

  • Soul Reaper now reflects the Lich King’s version of the ability, dealing delayed damage and providing a Haste buff upfront. If the target is slain by or before the detonation, the caster’s movement speed is briefly increased.
  • Castigator no longer causes or bursts additional Festering Wounds. Instead, Scourge Strike restores a small amount of its damage as health, and critical Scourge Strikes against your primary target will restore a single charge of Tortured Strike.
  • Clawing Shadows shares Scourge Strike’s ability to reduce Tortured Strike’s cooldown in place of bursting Festering Wounds.

While leveling a Demon Hunter, I found it fascinating that they were provided very early on with choices that impact their base rotation. It was an excellent idea to allow leveling players to feel that the early talents provide meaningful choices; unfortunately, Unholy’s first tier of talents is entirely passive damage. Impacting Scourge Strike directly seemed to be the best replacement, but Unholy Frenzy has always been a problem child of the tier; it had to be balanced around being an upgrade over-time that we would constantly apply.
If Unholy Frenzy was supposed to provide the player with a choice on Haste vs Crit vs Mastery, then Soul Reaper could just as easily fit the bill. Soul Reaper provides an option that preserves Scourge Strike as-is, while providing an extra button.

While there is a subsection of Unholy Death Knights who want Soul Reaper to return to its previous design as an execute, it was always an odd choice to fill that slot, since the delay only provided an advantage for one pre-cast above the execute threshold, and more often left players with a consolation Haste buff they couldn’t use because their only target just died.
Personally, I believe that execution damage should return to Frost’s kit (like it had in Wrath) rather than Unholy. Frost and Unholy should be designed such that their core single-target damage is approximately equal – but if Unholy is supposed to have a stronger cleave than Frost, then Frost should be able to fulfill another niche.

Oh, and as an offset to Clawing Shadows’ range, it felt natural to add a conditional mobility buff to Soul Reaper. After some consideration, I came to the conclusion that the third prong to Mobility vs Range is most likely Survivability, hence the leech addition to Castigator. Even if you don’t care too much about damage as you level, you’ll certainly find a utility in the tier.

  • Sludge Belcher replaced with Unholy Command: Your Death Grip has 2 charges.
  • Asphyxiate is unchanged.
  • Debilitating Infestation replaced with Desecration: Each tick of Outbreak will also desecrate the ground beneath your target for up to 10 sec, causing all enemies within to be slowed by the grasping arms of the dead.

Unholy Command is the majority of the reason why this tier comes so early on: leveling players want to Grip as much as possible.
Sludge Belcher is just a bad execution of a good idea; if the devs wanted it to be pure utility, they should have skipped the bells and whistles and just given us a second Grip. The only reason we default to Sludge Belcher is because it provides a minor DPS advantage in cleave scenarios, in a tier where it faces zero DPS competition. Ghouls should have Sludge Belcher’s survivability baseline (if not the cleave radius as well), and the Abomination appearance should be a glyph – too many players have been disappointed by a talent overwriting their glyphs anyway, and several have complained about being forced to deal with a minion they hate to look at.

There’s no real practical reason for the change from Debilitating Infestation to Desecration. Debilitating Infestation tries to be Unholy’s take on Chilblains, but it really doesn’t have the reach that Chilblains and Pestilence did together. Most of the reason for this listed change is simply flavor, returning to our Wrath roots.

  • Epidemic is unchanged.
  • Defile is unchanged.
  • Unholy Blight: Surrounds the Death Knight with a vile swarm of unholy insects for 10 sec, stinging all enemies within 10 yards to deal Shadow damage. While Unholy Blight is active, Scourge Strike will hit all enemies near your target. Unholy Blight’s cooldown is reduced by 1 sec each time a victim of your Virulent Plague erupts. 1 Rune, 60 sec cooldown, replaces Death and Decay.

If cleave is going to be more important for Unholy, surely we should have a tier devoted to it, no?

While I said before that throughput tiers are generally calculated a specific way, cleave scenarios change so wildly between fights that the player has as much choice with a cleave tier as they would with any utility tier. You have as many encounters where adds spawn on top of the boss as you have where adds spawn from the back of the room, or spread throughout the room, or never spawn at all. The bargaining chip with this tier isn’t the damage, it’s the mobility you have as you deal it.

Unholy Blight has long been a staple of Unholy DKs, and many of us were rather miffed when it was stripped from us and given exclusively to Frost under an alternate name.
Without diseases for Unholy Blight to apply, I took an alternative approach that fills a niche within the current system: a mobile version of Death and Decay. The ability have its cooldown reduced by Eruptions also gives it some interaction with your summoning abilities.

Otherwise, the position of Epidemic versus enhancements to Death and Decay fulfills much the same function as Soul Reaper does in the tier of enhancements to Scourge Strike. I initially considered having Epidemic become baseline, and some effect taking its place… but then I realized this tier is missing an option that preserves Death and Decay and serves a function while it is on cooldown.

  • Spell Eater is unchanged.
  • Corpse Shield replaced with Death Pact: Consume a minion to heal for a percentage of your maximum health. This heal cannot be a critical. 2 min cooldown.
  • Lingering Apparition replaced with March of the Damned: Death’s Charge removes and provides immunity to Stun, Root and Snare effects while active.

Remember what I said about adding nothing that lacks precedent? While Corpse Shield provides an interesting interaction with our ghoul, it also covers the same niche that Icebound Fortitude already does, and that Death Pact did for us from WC3 through Cataclysm. Since we’re dealing with a talent tier that is exclusive to Unholy anyway, we can skip straight back to the uncorrupted version of the effect.

While March of the Damned does seem like a PvP option, there have already been encounters throughout Legion such as Cenarius and Gul’dan, where resistance to roots and slows have been imperative. March is a more niche option than Lingering Apparition, but considering that I haven’t swapped off of Lingering Apparition since we got Wraith Walk, specifically to make up for our terrible mobility, it is better to frontload the required effects simply so we have an actual choice in the matter.

  • Shadow Infusion, in addition to its current effects, also increases the ghoul’s maximum health and causes the transformed ghoul’s Sweeping Claws to damage all targets within 10 yards.
  • All Will Serve now summons a Vargul Berserker in place of a Skeletal Archer. This melee unit will cast Shockwave, and Enrage whenever Dark Transformation is active.
  • Drudge Ghouls: Tortured Strike now summons three Army of the Dead ghouls to fight for you, but no longer marks the target for Tortured Spirits.

All Will Serve’s change is simply necessary. The archer is a terrible minion; its ability to fight at range often leaves it standing in doorways and pulling extra packs of mobs, so you have to micromanage its movement just to survive.

Drudge Ghouls directly calls back to the Lich King encounter. It allows some synergy with the Artifact weapon traits that benefit Army ghouls, such as Portal to the Underworld and Armies of the Damned. The fact that it summons an additional minion (possibly for a lower duration?) should at least make it a burstier effect, and not being limited to a marked target should also make them easier to use from target to target.

Since Shadow Infusion is presently one of our weaker options, the idea is to combine it with the current DPS advantage of Sludge Belcher in order to allow it to give it an edge to compete with the other talents in the tier, at least in AoE encounters.

  • Gorefiend’s Grasp is as the Blood version of the ability.
  • Bone Spike Graveyard: The Death Knight calls forth a field of massive bone spikes. Enemies within 10 yards are impaled by the bone spikes, incapacitating them for 6 sec. Any damage other than diseases has a chance to break the bone spikes. 1 sec cast, 1 min cooldown.
  • Anti-Magic Zone is as the Honor Talent, but automatically centers on the Death Knight during formation.

If there was ever a tier that needed to be amongst all 3 specs, it would be this one. I complained before that DKs have little in the way of raid utility, despite a lot of historical precedent; this tier aims to address that.

Gorefiend’s Grasp seems like the same obvious choice it used to be… but against Anti-Magic Zone? Now you have some options. (Naturally for Blood, I expect Tightening Grasp to replace Gorefiend’s Grasp in this tier.)

Bone Spike Graveyard is literally a reskin on Cataclysm-era Hungering Cold – in fact, I fully expect a Frost version would actually be Hungering Cold itself, the callback to Marrowgar simply being applicable to the majority of specs. There were several occasions between leveling in Pandaria all the way up to Hellfire Citadel where I found the original Remorseless Winter to be a lifesaver, simply because it put surrounding enemies on lockdown; that type of snap stop would be an excellent utility for groups prone to biting off more than they can chew.

  • Dark Arbiter is unchanged.
  • Necrosis is unchanged.
  • Deathstorm: Discharge all Runic Power stored within your rune weapon, unleashing a bolt of Shadow lightning on your target that splits damage with nearby enemies. Deathstorm’s damage increases for every point of Runic Power spent. 1 min cooldown.

This tier is basically built on how the player interacts with his runic power: storing it, ignoring it, or burning it off as much as possible. I built this tier with Vile Malady specifically in mind.

Deathstorm is a case of killing two birds with one stone: the recent inflation of our runic power generation has made call for us to have a more expensive runic power dump to prevent from being GCD locked, and despite our supposed emphasis on multi-target engagements, we completely lack any way to spend runic power in cleave scenarios.
And yes, it has precedent from the “Army of the Damned” quest from Icecrown – technically, it’s an LK ability. I’d be just as happy with the Pain & Suffering spell from his encounter instead, but since he spammed it, I figure that actually works better as a visual effect for Clawing Shadows.


I’d like to repeat that the rework above is entirely a suggestion, and none of the components of it are set in stone – but they do have their own reasons. This rework is entirely based off of my own opinions and experiences.

But since this is my blog and you managed to read all the way to that disclaimer, I can only assume that you have found some point that resonates.

Legion’s iteration of Unholy did many good things that can serve as the backbone to a truly spectacular specialization… but the devs went too far in the wrong direction. I hope that something here can put the devs back on the right track.

Scattered Thoughts

  • Tortured Strike was originally supposed to be named Reanimation and summon Army ghouls directly, rather than needing a talent. I had some concerns that it would make baseline Unholy into more of a ranged spec than intended, so I looked for ways to make it an actual melee attack; when the Legion assaults started, I spotted a mob in Highmountain casting Tortured Strike, and with the Lich King’s Vile Spirits as additional inspiration… well, it certainly seems more fitting of that “haunted” Festering Strike icon than Festering Strike, no?
  • Yes, Tortured Strike marks stack. No, Scourge Strike cleave will not restore charges any more quickly. I phrased it very delicately to indicate that.
  • Dark Arbiter may be unchanged above, but it has significant AI issues on Live. Of course, this post is about the class’ design, and those fit more into the “glitchy and broken” category than any particular issue with her design. The assumption is that they will be addressed separately.
This entry was posted in Death Knight, Just For Fun, Talents, Unholy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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