Return to Azeroth

It’s been a bit over a year since my last post. As far as this blog is concerned, we skipped right from the middle of the Warlords beta to the end of the expansion and the announcement of the next. So naturally, I have some catching up to do; thankfully I don’t need to look far for resources to compare (first thing on the blog until I finish this post), and review of current content can temper expectations of new content.

I’d like to preface this post with acknowledgement of one of my prior… let’s call them “tics”.

In past posts, I’ve made repeated comparisons between Death Knights and other classes – noting things like how spell formulae can be adapted to revive Wandering Plague, or how other hybrid classes swap talents based on the current spec. Looking back, I can see how this might easily be misconstrued as trying to make our class like another; the concern there being, if all classes can do the same thing, the only true differences are aesthetics and rhythm.
A class’ identity is just as important to its design as any numbers or mechanics. Defining a mage as standing in the back row casting powerful spells puts a limit on their capabilities when designing future spells – no melee, limit their survivability, etc.

The intention to these comparisons was to call attention to the exotic manner of interaction in other class’ kits, daring to put ours in the same ballpark. Particularly where Unholy is concerned, Death Knights have taken massive shifts in their power since their introduction – our sense of identity is somewhat vague, because what defines a playstyle in one expansion (say, stacking diseases for a strike bonus and Wandering Plague) can be completely replaced in the next (for things like Dark Transformation, Festerblight and Soul Reaper).

In fact, of the key abilities in our kit right now, the only one that wasn’t late to the party is Death Coil; even Scourge Strike used to be Degeneration, and only reached its present cost in Cataclysm.

The only consistent truth in any definition of Unholy is our myriad of different sources of output, pulling our focus towards multiple extremes at once; with minimal synergy and tangential connection between our pets, magic damage, diseases and strikes, we sometimes end up feeling like the entire Warlock class thoughtlessly compressed into one spec and bolted into heavy armor. With that many things to do at once, the main focus can sometimes be watered down even when the others are pushed into the background.

With that out of the way…

Ability Pruning (Revisited)

As I noted above, identity is key to designing a class. The Scourge Death Knight had a precedent in Warcraft 3, but the originally limited kit space didn’t give the developers many options when inflating it into a full class for Wrath. To that end, the majority of our kit ended up being pulled from multiple abilities across the entire Scourge faction: Frost magic from Liches and Frost Wyrms, Blood magic from the various forms of cannibalism and the Dreadlords’ vampirism, plagues inspired by carrion insects, and anti-magic from Banshees. It wasn’t simply enough to state that Death Knights were (and still are) the closest we’re going to get to Necromancers (as the “keep raising and zerg rush” playstyle for Unholy didn’t make it through alpha testing); Death Knights, as greater undead units ourselves, can simulate all the powers of anything we can potentially raise using our runeblades (themselves imbued with frost, blood and the unholy).

With that in mind, this leads me to the two major faults with the ability pruning between Mists and Warlords:

First, we nearly lost the “death” in Death Knight this expansion. Raise Dead was pried from the cold, undead hands of Frost and Blood (“too many cooldowns”), and Army was very nearly cut in its entirety if not for community outrage (and still nerfed to be a lesser contributor). Keeping in mind, Animate Dead is one of the only abilities we inherited from Warcraft 3; it has more right to be in our kit than Death Grip, Chains of Ice, Blood Boil or virtually any skill available to us short of Death Coil – which itself was also taken away from Frost. It’s somewhat jarring to hear people calling Frost the “Lich King wannabe” spec, when Arthas never cast a single ability in their arsenal (and Howling Blast is used by Lil’ K.T. and his cat).
I get that the extra Runic Power dump was unnecessary and the intent was to clear every spell that isn’t in your rotation off our bars, but Death Coil was also a horse of a different color for Frost, given its range.

Second, through some unfathomable stroke of diabolus ex machina, we still have Dark Simulacrum.
Now, I understand the developers are particularly attached to this ability, due to the sheer potential of its uses. Elder Nadox has been slain thousands of times by stolen Shadow Blasts, and giving Sinestra a taste of her own Wrack was once met with shock and awe. The trouble is, newer encounters have not been designed for Dark Simulacrum – in fact, I dare say they’ve forgotten it.
The first raid of the expansion was Highmaul, the city of the Ogre elite. As you rise through the city, at least half of every trash pack is some kind of Arcane caster; even the final boss is one. So why is it that the only spell I managed to successfully steal using Dark Simulacrum – after repeated runs throughout that entire raid  –  was a poison attack from Oro, an earth elemental who employs zero mana?
When Dark Simulacrum was teased, we were told we could copy basically any mana-based spell that could be Spell Reflected. Since then, it has never produced consistent results; copying a Shadow Bolt Volley from three different mobs can return either a single Shadow Bolt, rarely a Volley, and more often nothing at all, because some spells simply get skipped for no discernable reason. The number of mobs with alternative resources who arbitrarily can or cannot provide spells to copy just makes it impossible to find any pattern (at a guess, because there isn’t one anymore).
Even armed with a library of known uses, most of the spells that are worthwhile to copy (like Felfire Volley) are expected to be interrupted (or for their casters to be finished off quickly, as the case may be) as they can be a serious detriment to the raid otherwise; sure, it’s intended to create an element of “risk versus reward”, but it’s more often a risk for your entire party at a personal reward. It creates a behavior of throwing on the Dark Simulacrum at the start of the target’s cast, sitting back with a smug grin as you withhold your interrupt… only for someone else to cast their interrupt and waste your cooldown. It’s not always worth it to try and micromanage the entire raid to avoid those scenarios because everyone involved will point out that your strategy just makes you a selfish prick.

The niche effectiveness of this ability makes it a prime candidate to remove (compared to more reliable utilities like Unholy Frenzy or Blood Parasites), and it’s still here. Combined with the above, it creates the impression that the Death Knight is being pushed away from his or her necromantic roots towards a higher focus on the anti-mage niche we have minimal precedent for.

Demon Hunters, Actual Hunters, and Atonement

The first Heroic I queued for after dinging 100 was Skyreach. The first boss is Ranjit, whose strategy primarily consists of aimlessly dashing across the battlefield (overshooting any possible target) and throwing down walls of wind that will tear into you if they catch you; essentially, it’s a new take on the classic mobility fight.
The results of my first encounter were pretty consistent: Ranjit performs a Piercing Rush, the tank Charges after him, Ranjit casts Four Winds between us going the opposite direction leaving only my DoTs and my ghoul to harm him while I run for my life. Rinse and repeat 3-4 times. That’d just be one encounter that plays to the Death Knight’s weakness… if the same type of dashing technique wasn’t employed by what seemed to be a boss in every instance, double that for raids, as the replacement for the “focus on a ranged unit and get kited” mechanics of old.

With Legion comes the long-awaited announcement of Demon Hunters as a followup Hero Class. The main website boasts that they have “unrivaled mobility”, where the devs state they have less crowd control than Rogues (who have a baseline sprint and a tier of various mobility talents) and less hybridization than Monks (who have a talent tier modifying their Roll and the spec potential for Flying Serpent Kick).
The fact that they need to clarify these kinds of differences shows that the Demon Hunters are less “unrivaled” so much as a result of serial escalation in the literal race to the bottom.

So what’s the issue? As I’ve stated in previous posts, the reason why Death Knights don’t have more mobility than a single talent is because of our intended focus on range and crowd control… a function that becomes gradually less exciting once it sinks in that that’s entirely accomplished through one extra charge on Icy Touch.
But of course, we can’t forget Death Grip  –  our all-in-one gap-closer (which we can’t use in PVE), emergency add positioning tool (that only works half the time), ranged interrupt (which rarely does any better at this than Strangulate) and hybrid taunt (with three times the cooldown of the next guy’s)!
By comparison, Rogues can cycle all of their resources at range (through talents, of course, but only those that compete with crowd control and not mobility), and Enhancement and Feral get the best of hybridization, especially with cooldowns or talents that don’t even make it cost them anything.

And the funny thing is, it’s still not enough.

From what we know of next expansion, 11/24 DPS specs will be ranged. In encounters like Ranjit, they only need to stay out of/can fire right through kill zones; in encounters like Kilrogg, they’re essential to whittling down the health of adds before they reach the boss. A number of mechanics are specifically designed to put melee attackers at risk, but rarely ever affect ranged classes, save for needing to move for 5 seconds out of every minute. Raid needs to stack on boss? They can keep fighting, as minimum range mechanics have long been extinct. Need to get out of the raid? They can keep fighting – especially noteworthy when a boss has a tiny hitbox, since you’ll almost always meet that one melee ignoring mechanics and crowding other melee out so they can pad meters. Ranged attacks are innately so versatile that nobody wants melee, whose niche is supposed to be…
Oh, right. Mobile combat. Something that by design, Death Knights lack.

Alright. So why not follow through on that?

Fistweaver Monks and Atonement Priests are already being rebalanced for next expansion; a single spec hybrid of two different roles, accomplishing one by means of the other. Why not go along the inverse with Death Knights – a hybrid of one role, accomplished by means of two?
Again: We’re already intended to focus on range over mobility. All we’re missing is the ability to cycle more than Frost Runes (and in Frost’s case, Runic Power) beyond point-blank, and the ability to swap to a ranged target on a dime (mainly slowed by disease buildup). I’m not saying we need to turn either Frost or Unholy into a ranged spec simply so the other can reap the benefits of this shocking change, rather that casting Icy Touch ahead of us if the target is too far away (and/or needs to stay that way) should actually become worthwhile to match other classes’ sprinting. So long as we have more output by staying near the target, we’ll still be melee by preference. This type of hybridization would actually be closer to the Death Knight’s pre-WoW roots.

As I was saying, we have enough mobile melee. What raids will appreciate is more rangeworthy specs, and as “the slow melee”, we’re the perfect candidate.

PVP Talents

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that our third tier of talents – Death’s Advance, Chilblains and Asphyxiate – relies on a dichotomy of mobility versus crowd control that only exists in PVP content. For 90% of fights you’re going to stick to Death’s Advance, excepting the rare encounter like Gorefiend or maybe Kilrogg where slows are not only useful, but mandatory; these two I expect to always be available to raiders, but Asphyxiate really has no excuse. As much as a halved cooldown on a ranged interrupt sounds useful, it’s niche compared to the benefits you’ll reap with the other two and just using Mind Freeze.
To top that off, Desecrated Ground is a blatant PVP trinket, while Lichborne is fundamentally a fear-break (albeit one that provides some base survivability).

Well… now there’s a receptacle for them.

While by nature the PVP talent tree won’t have any direct impact on PVE, being able to go about some spring cleaning in our baseline talent tree provides a wonderful opportunity to implement new tools, or even tweak those remaining for a more versatile PVE focus. For instance, Remorseless Winter; while newer raids thankfully have more mobs who are vulnerable to stuns and slows, you’ll just as often find encounters where targets are immune to one or the other (immunity to slows means it can never stack to a stun; immunity to stuns will wipe the stacks).

As I was getting to above, a better way to balance personal utilities in PVE is mobility versus range (and whatever spectrum exists between, made up primarily by Death Grip), and crowd control versus other crowd control. Three whole talents worth removing means an entire tier of space for new talents and reorganization of older ones for exactly that; Chilblains could be weighted against Remorseless Winter (there’s no rule that says each talent in a tier needs a different theme per spec) while Death’s Advance could be against additional ways to cycle our runes at range. The PVP tree could then pick up whatever slack is missing on that end.

Hell, you could put Dark Simulacrum in the PVP tree and replace it with another ranged attack baseline. Two birds.

Artifacts

Legion brings with it different artifact weapons per spec that will provide you with newbonuses (all passive that we’ve seen so far) as you level them up, similar to the pre-Pandaria talent trees, but with less hybridization. Personally I’m a little skeptical, simply because the devs have already scrapped dozens of passives for each spec simply in the removal of the aforementioned talent trees.

Plus, it sounds a bit too much like Path of the Titans Redux, and I fully expect sweeping changes to the system as announced before Beta.

However, it does leave me with some questions as to how this will be handled. Will we see any baseline functionality removed from the class to be imported onto the weapons, as we did with the Empowered Pillar of Frost “perk”? Will each spec within a class share certain bonuses, such as Frost’s “Arise and Serve” clone of Reincarnation? Will we lose these bonuses when these artifacts aren’t equipped, and what’s the plan for these bonuses after the expansion ends? Will we ever see Wandering Plague after Reaper’s Harvest, because I will sacrifice Varian Wrynn’s shaggy-haired firstborn to get it back?

Information is a little light on this subject right now – Unholy is one of the many specs that doesn’t even know what artifact it’ll receive. As with all of the above, only time will tell.

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Insert Witty Title Here

Today’s post is going to be a relatively brief one, discussing some recent changes to DKs in beta, just for the sake of staying up to date.

Because I try.

Perks

Build 18689 saw the removal and streamlining of the type of boring throughput perks I complained about; there are now half as many perks (earned every 2 levels), but they now actually create at least moderate playstyle change (… usually). Of course, since exactly the kinds that were eliminated comprised the majority of Unholy’s perks, a new one was formulated that saw the return of a convenient bonus exclusively to Unholy’s arsenal: Our Tier 15 4-set.

In case your memory of Tier bonuses is as bad as mine, it’s the one that lets you use Soul Reaper earlier.

Personally, I find this to be an amazing addition. I spent most of the last few months with the ToT 4-set, so now that I’ve upgraded, my muscle memory is, for all intents and purposes, completely borked. Not only does this provide a substantial bonus in the case of optimal usage, but it also makes timing the skill a little more forgiving due to the larger pool at which it can be used.

I’m still a little disappointed that Enhanced Fallen Crusader and Empowered Gargoyle remain – given that they’re relatively passive and contribute virtually nothing to the actual feel of the spec – but at least EFC gives us more benefit from the runeforge than the rest of the class (like Improved Soul Reaper), and I suppose I can always find some use for an extra 10 seconds of Gary uptime.
Worst case, that’s 10 more seconds of using him to draw fire, right?

Overall, I give this change two thumbs up.

Necrotic Plague

And this one about 17 thumbs down.
I have a collection of them from the massacres. It’s a hobby.

I will concede that perhaps we were a bit vague with our feedback with Necrotic Plague, and a lot of it was that it was too good compared to the other talents, especially because of its tanking bonus… but the expectation was that this would lead to buffing the other talents and, at worst, the removal of its current tanking benefit.
Instead, a damage nerf out of left field. Not what we expected.

Normally, I avoid going into numbers. However, I feel this needs to be addressed, because this was not the direction our feedback was pointing, which is rather… upsetting.

Celestalon noted that it was “super OP”, leading to the nerf (now that tuning passes have begun). Presently, we’re still cracking the numbers (it is apparently difficult to set Simcraft to only use 10 Festering Strikes for every Unholy Blight, though early sims showed a loss for mimicking the ToT Festerblight rotation), but some hands-on tests by #Acherus members have shown that optimizing NP is just barely better disease output than not having a talent at all; calculator math for the linked logs says the difference is just over 4%… for Unholy, with the highest possible uptime and stacking, on just the diseases (lower overall!). Changes to Frost’s rotation have also made it less optimal to use Plague Strike and Howling Blast for rapid stacking compared to Obliterate, even for DW (which was in no small part why I was actually sort of rooting for them to have a shot at it, if it shakes up their playstyle too). Sure, you can say there is still the cleave potential, but it was generally stronger to just open with Unholy Blight (or hit Pestilence) anyway.

The problem with Necrotic Plague was never the damage it dealt; yes, it “blew the other two talents out of the water”, but the point we were stressing is that the other two needed to be made worth their cost, to create actual competitive choices. Now, even Necrotic Plague might not be – which means no more Festerblight after all, no more point to Festering Strike, and the death of disease interaction.
Except for Blood, of course – the one spec we were stressing it really was too powerful for. The tanking bonus it provides has not been touched on whatsoever, and although Blood’s downtime has been lightly addressed by the addition of a Butchery-esque regen (which presently still needs thorough testing), it may just be the icing on ambrosia cake.

Yes, that video is in real time. Watch the NP stacking and be very afraid.

Anti-Magic Zone

Celestalon recently stated that the dev team is currently satisfied with AMZ’s position in the talent tree, in spite of the perceived lack of choice for raiders. His justification for this is, essentially, that raiding is too small to be concerned with.

To use the colloquialism, bullshit.

The abilities and talents that each class and spec are balanced around are used in general three areas:

  • Solo PVE: Questing, leveling, world encounters
  • Performance PVE: Raiding, dungeons, end-game content
  • PVP: Arena, battlegrounds, dueling, ganking world encounters

Right off the bat, “raiding” is just the most common representation of Performance PVE, which makes up a solid chunk of content. As an expansion carries on, the number of players concerned with Solo PVE decreases, as they bring more characters to level cap and graduate into the newest end-game content or replayable battlegrounds; eventually, Performance PVE and PVP make up the greater two thirds of content to balance around.
The difference is, PVPers and Solo PVEers can also choose anything with only minor scrutiny. The concern for them isn’t that a talent is “optimal”, because there is no “optimal” for those who concern themselves with completely dynamic encounters; they rely primarily on their own skills to justify their playstyles, with talents as mere supplements – even the worst talent can be made worthwhile in the hands of a decent PVPer, and the best talents can be made void in those same scenarios. Performance PVE, however, relies on being both skillful and optimal, which is why we have theorycraft in the first place.

PVPers and Solo PVEers can benefit from nearly all of the mechanics Performance PVE is balanced around, but the inverse cannot be said to be true. Many encounters are designed with enemies who are completely immune to the kinds of crowd control we use in lieu of gap closers. We often can’t afford to spare resources for a situational skill if it does not outweigh the benefits to our raid. And we certainly don’t enjoy our raid leaders sitting us because we tried to use a talent or spec we wanted, over what the 24 other people counting on us needed!

Yes, raiding isn’t everything… but it’s the face of the third that cares the most about what it picks.

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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.

Conclusions

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.

Posted in Blood, Death Knight, Just For Fun, Talents, Unholy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Death Knight, Unholy | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Blizzcon Wrap-Up

Six months since my last post. In my defense, there hasn’t been much to talk about.
Three weeks since Blizzcon, though, and nothing here from me? That simply will not do.

So. Warlords of Draenor then. Time for the lore buffs to pretend Mists never happened and tear their hair out over yet another non-Legion, non-Titan, non-Betentacled sidestory!

Blizzcon 2013 has created a number of high points for the future of the death knight class (and indeed, WoW as a whole), but also invited curious squints from onlookers. Problem stats removed, new stats created to invalidate what remains, and an additional tier of talents that makes me ponder the mathematical skills of whoever’s in charge of making them (why not just move all the tiers forward 5 levels, and start at 10 like pre-MoP, ending evenly at 100…). It’s Thanksgiving, so let’s dig in!

DISCLAIMER: EVERYTHING IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE, INCLUDING TALENTS FROM THIS EXPANSION. Meaning I’m free to back-and-forth on my opinions all expansion long.

Defile

Congratulations, after eons of pissing and moaning, the community has finally earned itself its most beloved LK shtick. If I don’t sound terribly thrilled for it, it’s because every time I’ve heard outcries for this over the past 4 years, I’ve rolled my eyes and groaned aloud, “Maybe as a minor glyph, since it’s basically Death and Decay.”
Well… I wasn’t too far off.
Honestly, there’s not too much to say about Defile. It’s the most boring option of T100 – Take DnD, add growth gimmick; the other two at least bring new dimensions to our AoE rotation, this is designed more for general appeasement than it is adventurous. That said, if past experience has taught us anything, it’s that the talent option we least look forward to will end up being the most viable in practical scenarios.
If nothing else, I will say it has the benefit of snaring targets affected by its predecessor’s glyph a few seconds longer to make it a strong CC alternative to Howling Blast, and it has the least trade-off in AoE (which is to say, will probably be our go-to choice in AoE if talents remain as they stand, but I’m getting ahead of myself). I won’t disavow any knowledge of its existence like some talents (What leech?) but respeccing for it will be met with heavy sighs designed specifically to annoy anyone overhearing me in Ventrilo.

Breath of Sindragosa

It would appear that the staring contest is finally over. Ignoring just for a moment that DKs are now as close to being dragons as mages are (jelly, druids?), we now have a method of dumping Runic Power that directly benefits us in cleave scenarios… mostly.
Sure, it’ll drain every bit of RP we have if we let it, but that’ll make this epic room-clearing last resort spell feel more like a finishing move, as if you’re actually building up to something while you attack, which is sort of the point of RP dumps.
Two small problems.
One – and this is likely just me – I’m not really a big fan of cooldown-based AoE. You can’t affect anywhere near 100% uptime (boo hoo), but you’re also less reactive during fights with waves of adds (which is a good half of all dungeon/raid bosses). I can mildly tolerate DnD because the cooldown’s always been rather short and I have other abilities to fill the gap, but even then I’ll often forget to watch it come off cooldown in the heat of the moment; Unholy Blight’s always been more of a convenience than a necessary part of AoE, what with Pestilence/RB holding their own. Breath, on the other hand, has a monopoly on RP-based AoE. I can cap and completely drain my RP four or five times in the course of one minute as Unholy, you?
Second, T75 and Shadow Infusion say hi, because the cooldown apparently wasn’t enough of a trade. It almost makes it a non-option for Unholy, since DT is our only form of controllable passive cleave. But hey, at least Frost has an obvious choice in this tier.
IF it does eventually proc Tier 75 talents though, I would be interested in seeing how; does the initial cast have the whole chance, does each tick have a separate chance (if so, how high considering its low cost per tick), is chance affected by number of targets hit, etc.

Necrotic Plague

Had you only come to Unholy sooner!
Yes, I know, another LK spell, but one we didn’t already have – at least, not for the past 3 expansions. Basically, if Defile is Living Bomb and Breath is Frost Bomb, NP here is Nether Tempest.
Can’t imagine anybody suggesting that, eh?
Necrotic Plague has a lot of ground to cover, especially at the end (or beginning) of an era for DoT-focused specs. Just to get it out of the way:

  • No, disease count no longer affects strikes in Warlords, so NP isn’t some god-tier talent that makes you hit a single target as if you went to Baskin Robbins and dumped every flavor in diseases on them.
  • It’s not the return of Festerblight, since DoTs will scale dynamically, making it nigh impossible to game them.
  • Devs have already said they’re aware Unholy Blight could be exploited with this talent and plan to change that, so just assume for now that’s out.
  • It has an upper limit of 30 stacks, so you won’t find the boss taking millions in damage from DoTs after a 5 minute fight – in fact, Festering Strike might not even help it last that long.

See, the funny thing about NP is, it suffers from something of a paradox: it’s the strongest talent option in single-target, but the only way to keep it active long enough to make use of this fact is through a fight with multiple targets – but nothing says the DoT will be left behind when it jumps (hell, there’s a precedent for it not to, for veterans of the LK fight) which already makes a comparison to Nether Tempest inappropriate; that aspect alone makes it far below the weakest AoE option, unless you have an encounter with exactly 2 enemies kept within jumping range of each other at all times, each with 100% uptime.
Patchwerk, eat your heart out.
In theory you could make up for this by manually Plague Striking enemies up and down the aisle, except that we don’t know what will happen if the DoT jumps to a pre-afflicted target, which will absolutely be an issue unless you can PS at exactly 3 second intervals. If it overwrites, then you’ll never want more than one NP out at a time, meaning you’ll just be playing a game of Follow the Disease to keep track of it; if it combines, then there’s nothing preventing your opener from becoming PSx10 just to give some extra burst. The worst case is if it doesn’t retain the LK version’s ability to jump automatically if the target dies to any source other than the DoT tick, since you’ll just be flinging dozens into the nether the second someone hits a nova spell in a swarm of adds, even with a boss staring you down.
Presently it’s being advertised as a new take on a more “balanced” Wandering Plague, and I for one would definitely love to see that, as would any veteran Unholy player (it’s a disease, deep down you KNOW it’s a treat specifically for Unholy, so stop grimacing). If it becomes a viable multi-target option, it creates incredible potential for Unholy Rune-based AoE; that said, it’s also a space Roiling Blood is getting a serious crack at due to the soon-to-be dynamic nature of diseases. For now, it’s the talent to keep an eye on, and the one carrying my hopes for the coming tier.

Out With the Old…

First thing, armor pieces will now change their primary stats (Strength, Agility, Intellect) based on your spec. Not really relevant to DKs, of course, since it just seems like a solution to the problem of passives like Serpent Stance, Sword of/Guarded by Light, Mental Quickness, etc. I would be enthralled by the image of a DK having viable damage wearing Healadin plate, but we already had Transmogrification.
Dodge, Parry, Hit, and Expertise are gone. As someone who hasn’t tanked more than one fight at a time, I can’t really mourn the loss of the first two (though I doubt there’s any love lost for them either). The latter two will see me hanging banners from the doorways of every alcohol distributor in the game; they were never fun or interesting to stack, just another gate for you to pass if you wanted to get anywhere in PvE, and basically the sole causes of reforging.
Reforging’s gone too by the way, so I guess we’ll never quite see the golden age of just turning something on every piece into your top two stats. Alas; at least I won’t have to worry about ReforgeLite or WoW Reforge or Ask Mr. Robot anymore!
In their place, we’ll get to see 8 new stats (5 of which being rare Warforged-style bonuses that won’t affect item budget and add even more RNG to item collection), changes to Bonus Armor and Spirit into secondary stats, and the return of bare Attack Power and Spell Power to pieces. If they threw on Armor Penetration, I’d call it a pretty good year.

Amplify: Outright, this will probably be the big stat affecting DKs going into WoD. Remember all those times Frost DKs were screaming that Killing Machine was destroying their Crit weights, to the point where many confused (read: stupid) Frost players came to think it was a dirty word whenever another stat fell under it? And there was a huge demand that it get the Chaos Bolt treatment? Well, Blizz decided to go the other way with that and make a new stat for exactly that reason, absolutely obsolescing Crit in those scenarios. It doesn’t tackle the issue of Crit’s stat disparity, but at the same time you do have that bonus you wanted in the case of a KM proc. Score?
Right now, I just have to worry what they’ll do to base Crit multipliers when they add it.

Readiness: Meh. It would be more impressive to me if it double-dipped with Haste for us (a la Crusader Strike and the like for Paladins). I suppose this stat could be designed specifically with players like myself in mind who dislike relying on cooldowns to be competitive in PvE scenarios, but right now I’m just envisioning it throwing off my cooldown alignments – in a perfect world it would affect all ability cooldowns indiscriminately, but ultimately it will be far more selective, and a %-reduction won’t cut off the same number of seconds across the board, nor will it always agree with our rune limitations. I can’t really see it ever having a stat weight higher than Haste for Unholy (DT not exactly being a cooldown and all), though I can see it being more useful for shorter cooldowns like Pillar of Frost or Rune Tap… up to a point, whereupon PoF has 100% uptime and it makes WotN next to worthless.

Multistrike (% to hit same target +1 time, not Cleave): Honestly, I do ponder this stat the most of the new secondaries. According to Celestalon, it will affect DoTs, which has very interesting implications in the cases of Necrotic Plague and Defile – after all, they increase their stack count every time they deal damage, reducing (though never removing) the necessity for additional targets to reach their maximum potential. He also stated it wouldn’t cause Mind Blast to grant extra Shadow Orbs, which could mean it just won’t make Death Coil grant extra Shadow Infusions… or it’ll subvert everything I just said and make liars out of our T100 talents. It remains to be seen.

Life Steal/Avoidance: Because it wasn’t quite enough to give me plate armor. Extra survivability is always a boon, so, cheers mates. Life Steal seems awfully familiar though, can’t put my finger on it

Durability: Hooray for cheapskating on repair bills! Maybe I won’t need to keep this sacrificial dagger after all… Nah, I’ll keep it just to mess with people.

Cleave: Wait, I thought tertiaries weren’t supposed to directly, unambiguously affect performance?

Speed: Here’s the big one of the tertiaries for us. Remember how the only things we have in the way of gap-closers are a single talent pitted against two CCs, the multi-tasking Raid-unfriendly Death Grip, and a tiny sliver we get out of Unholy Presence? While it stacks with it, this stat removes anything unique about that “tiny sliver” (when everybody’s special…), effectively putting us back at two and a passive stat boost. Given the expected rarity of the stat, it’s not even fair to say everyone will get the same boost amount; it just muddles the movement speed pool entirely.
Yes, we have been told a dozen times over that we don’t really need that extra gap-closer literally every melee barring one has because we have such an assortment of ranged attacks… except, realistically, we’re stuck with just Death Coil and Icy Touch, or maybe Howling Blast if you’re Frost (Death Siphon’s not really even an argument, given its competition with Death Pact and how many Death Runes you can generate at range). We can cherry-tap enemies from a distance, but between a whole plethora of throwing techniques for Paladins, Warriors and Rogues on top of spells readily available in all specs for Druids, Monks and Shamans, we stopped being unique in that department before we started- especially when a handful of these can already make complete pseudo-rotations with theirs that fully utilize each of their resource pools, and still have both gap-closers and CC to spare.
Why am I excited about this stat? Because it accentuates our need for a reliable gap-closer, and maybe this year we’ll actually get one.

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Just For Fun: More #Acherus Brainstorming

A few members of #Acherus were discussing what they’d like to see change for Death Knights between now and the next expansion (specifically in the case of the upcoming and long-awaited 5.4 raid). A lot of their issues with the class thus far were based on things like talent tree structure as well as certain pet-peeves with the way our abilities behave. While it would likely be considered wishlisting, it would mean a lot to those of us who play the class to have these issues looked into. I’ve summed up a few points thus:

  • First, Anti-Magic Zone. While the recent Icy Veins interview promised a boost in AMZ’s utility, we’d very much like to see 1) that it not force a choice between raid utility and our personal survival – especially since we are a tank hybrid class – and 2) that the absorption cap on it be removed (the cooldown, duration, and mitigation itself naturally being adjusted to compensate, keeping in mind that its effects are primarily localized unlike most raid-wide cooldowns). Whether this talent would be better off baseline OR in a tier of raid utilities a la Warrior Tier 75 is still a source of debate (especially as the latter could spell a revival for our wildly popular classic, Mark of Blood, but at the cost of the growing sensation that is Purgatory).
  • Second, Blood Worms. They’re random and unreliable (often timing their bursts to over-heal allies) but still included as a part of Blood’s “unique” raid utility; we’d like to see a little more consistency with these pets, though not necessarily outright control to the degree of Unholy. Some suggestions included: a spell to compel them to detonate; more predictable spawning a la Wild Imps, possibly including an Imp Swarm-style glyph; smart-healing mechanics to make them jump towards the most injured nearby ally prior to detonation.
  • While cool in concept, a number of abilities that Dark Simulacrum can copy are incredibly weak, niche, or entirely useless to us as Death Knights, while it doesn’t affect many instant-cast abilities we should logically be able to copy. With those out of the way, other suggested additions to this ability included: ability to cast it on allies; ability to re-scale spell damage/effect from Spell Power to Attack Power; ability to copy at the start of the cast instead of on completion (perhaps with a silence effect tacked on); smarter AI to prevent wasting the debuff by copying abilities we can’t physically initiate (ie Unleash Elements or Deep Freeze).
  • Some consideration towards increasing the buffer on Purgatory to save us from poor healers/HoT timing and a comedy of errors. For example, allowing the effect to last for the full duration even if dispelled early, OR granting a brief period of damage immunity following its dispulsion.
  • Likely more of an issue with mobs than with DK abilities, but abilities like Lichborne, Desecrated Ground, Icebound Fortitude and Anti-Magic Shell should be able to suppress more crowd-control effects placed by bosses- specifically those labeled as Fears, Charms, Stuns, and so on. For example, being able to break out of Huddle in Terror on Sha of Fear with LB or DeG.
  • Plague Leech: We just want it gone. There’s been a lot of negative feedback towards our Level 56 tier in general since Mists Beta, with Plague Leech as a major source of this animosity due to its complete lack of value towards the non-Dual Wield specs, and its counter-intuitive nature towards our disease design. Considerations towards making Roiling Blood and Unholy Blight baseline – or at least part of Blood and Unholy’s respective tool kits – and removing/replacing the entire tier in lieu of simply replacing Plague Leech would also be appreciated, citing that we have plenty of methods of disease application as it stands (and that the AoE for those particular specs could still be improved upon).
  • Death’s Advance doesn’t really have much business being grouped in the talent tree with a pair of crowd control talents, and in the long run we’d like to see some restructuring in the future in the favor of segregated/dedicated Mobility and Crowd Control tiers.

Food for thought!

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Festering Passions

Festerblight.
On the off chance you haven’t heard of it by this point- to the surprise of roughly everyone- it can best be defined as a fringe Unholy playstyle (not unlike Masterfrost or Diseaseless Blood) that utilizes our diseases’ ability to snapshot stats to dramatically increase our damage. It became a very prominent playstyle throughout 5.2 due to the addition of the trinket Fabled Feather of Ji-kun, which in many cases is capable of nearly doubling the user’s Strength score for a brief (2 second) period.

With the advent of 5.3, Festerblight has received a great deal of attention from players and devs alike. The devs are not strongly against it, but are afraid that it will become the mandatory playstyle of the spec and considered, for a good bit of the PTR, the possibility of giving Unholy the nerf bat. Some players who feared said bat affecting the standard playstyle have offered up some suggestions that would completely obliterate Festerblight in sacrifice to our crustacean overlords, such as having our diseases scale dynamically or having Festering Strike re-roll them when cast a la Crimson Scourge (nevermind that it would be more cost effective to just spam Plague Strike if that were the case).

Why though?
No, really, I’m legitimately asking because I’m as confused as you are. Why chase it away?

Festering Passions or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Festerblight

In my last post (dating back three months… sorry), I made an analysis of Unholy’s place in the world of DoT-based classes. I concluded that in the grand scheme of things beyond other death knights, Unholy has dropped to a fairly low point in this department, having minimal direct interaction with its ever-depleting number of diseases, and little in the way of increasing or exploiting their damage, being in desperate need of some spice.
I didn’t give nearly enough credit to Festering Strike, and for the past three months I’ve been happy to be humbled by it.

In spite of having very little else going for its diseases, Unholy is entirely unique in the realm of DoT-based classes due to this attack. Sure, any other class can re-apply their DoTs, and druids and warlocks can even extend their durations a little bit- but only up to a cap. Unholy, however, is the only specialization in the game that can roll DoTs with singular damage values throughout a whole 3 to 10 minute long boss encounter. This is our gimmick and I, for one, am very pleased to have it- in spite of taking two expansions, two content patches and a high-powered trinket to fully appreciate it. Were one to take this away, it might mean nothing to the standard Frost or Blood DK- heck, it might not even mean anything to a standard Unholy DK- but it would take away the only individuality our DoTs have in order to create a bland passive ability with the redundant functionality of our pets.

Many players have written off Festerblight by saying that it’s “not a play style”, and reapplying diseases with a proc is “just a no-brainer DPS boost we’ve done since the beginning”. The fact is though, effectively playing Festerblight creates a mark of skill for players, as “pure” Festerblight is a misnomer: You have to keep in mind not just how you apply your diseases or when you time the application itself, but predict how long to extend the diseases and weigh how much DPS you should sacrifice now (be it from tossing in or forfeiting a Scourge Strike or two) to get to a strong point later- and not just get lucky with procs- all to synchronize the final ticks with the target’s death and create a true playstyle of its own. While 5.2 has taken its turns towards taming the unnecessary complications in the Unholy playstyle, those players who prefer the spec remain less brain-dead than Frost largely involved can weigh these odds, put in some risk and gamble for a fairly decent reward. As long as this reward is kept in check, it doesn’t need to be discouraged at all.

Further, Festerblight’s playstyle is actually a rather practical setup, especially given the quirky combination of runes that Unholy uses. Consider for a moment that because of our lack of access to Unholy rune-based AoE, our multi-target rotation is primarily dependent on two things: diseases, and access to Death runes. By raising the quantity of Festering Strikes in our single-target rotation, a sudden phase or mechanics change means a practical guarantee of Death runes with which to Pestilence or Blood Boil (though ironically, playing Festerblight doesn’t make the diseases themselves stronger in AoE, nor does it make them last any longer…), thereby allowing for a smooth transition from single-target to AoE and back. Seen in action, it’s almost like this setup was what Blizzard intended our AoE to be like.

Either way you cut it, Festerblight isn’t a playstyle to crush under one’s heel; it should be nurtured and used as a unit of measurement (both in skill and development) for the spec as a whole, because as much focus on DoTs as Unholy’s passives give it, this playstyle is the most interaction with our diseases that any DK has had since Wrath of the Lich King. As it stands, once Fabled Feather becomes outdated, the fate of Festerblight is uncertain- but its death would waste a whole level of disease interaction.

This isn’t to say Festerblight is without its drawbacks- it amplifies many of Unholy’s weaknesses (such as the emphasis on single-target damage) in playing toward its strengths.
In the vein of AoE in particular, it can be difficult to get away from the target that your main diseases are on unless you used Unholy Blight in the initial application process. Consider a fight like Tortos, where the bats are likely to be tanked towards an opposing edge of the room; a single Pestilence may not reach the adds due to their distance from his core, but at the same time, running out to fire a Pestilence or Unholy Blight into the crowd can mean re-applying the diseases on the boss due to their distance from his hit box– and unlike Feral druids, we have nothing to prevent us from overwriting our DoTs with weaker versions. In essence, it creates a dead zone for disease application not unlike the one hunters used to be familiar with, which is mitigated ever so slightly by our ability to just hit everything with individual Plague Strikes.
The best fixes to this that I can think of would be to just clone Feral’s overwrite-limiter (which would probably never happen due to that being their unique facet), or return Pestilence to the old way of spreading diseases from their values on the target (which would probably never happen because it worked so well in Wrath, didn’t it). However, I did hear an interesting proposal recently from one of the members of #Acherus (and I’m sorry I don’t remember who as I’m writing this) that perhaps a glyph could be added so Pestilence won’t overwrite diseases on a target whose disease timers are above a certain duration- say, the base 30 seconds- at the time of re-application. Any one of these suggestions would make options like Roiling Blood more appealing to Unholy insofar as allowing us to be selective in our favor of DoT application in multi-target scenarios, while adding a layer of complexity to existing options like Unholy Blight, and addressing AoE scenarios such as the one mentioned above.

Yes, the problem here is that Festerblight caused me to care that much about my diseases. File this under First World [of Warcraft] Problems, I suppose.

Now, I won’t say I’d just be satisfied with Festering Strike alone forever, mind you; it may be all that makes us unique from other DoT classes, but I stick to my original conclusion that our disease interaction is fairly lacking. I’d still kill to have some derivative of Wandering Plague back (and believe me, those massacres in Pandaland have proved that claim) or some other exploration into this field. That said, as long as we care about what percentage of our damage is gained from diseases, Festering Strike and any lovin’ it generates can (and should) stay just the way it is. The flaw isn’t Festering Strike, nor that Festerblight throws off Unholy’s balance- it’s that the playstyle was the unexpected result of trinket exploitation rather than a built-in facet of the specialization.

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