Thursday, December 30, 2010

Death Knight 301: Or, "Cataclysmicly Unholy Specs"

A little over three weeks ago, a little thing came out for World of Warcraft.

Maybe you heard of it? I guess there's some kind of dragon, too.

Oh, hey, I guess I heard a thing about that.

Part and parcel of the new expansion, in addition to Ol' DW's toothy grin as he ganks low level characters just trying to earn an honest copper, is a new "end game" - a lot of changes in the game play mechanics for Unholy Death Knights, and today, we're going to talk about how you can be good - if your group mates don't find your rotten, twisted visage of undeath handsome, well, they can at least find you handy.

As a disclaimer, you'll want to note that this is current as of December 30th, 2010 - everything is subject to change, ever, forever; it may not be like it used to be, and you'll never have Will of the Necropolis to give you a zombie 1-Up ever again. Ever.

First, let's talk a little bit about where Unholy DPS stands in the grand scheme of things. Culled straight from the official site itself, from Ghostcrawler himself: "We see Survival Hunters and Unholy DKs on top of a lot of single target fights."

Take a second and bask in this - we spent a lot of Wrath being retooled and twerked and fixed up. There was an especially HILARIOUS period where Scourge Strike wasn't properly scaling it's damage with diseases, making us hit like we were tiny kittens. And for a time, we were the premier AOE specialist, so much so, that the Tier 9 Armor bonus for us got nerfed so players would have a reason to upgrade to Tier 10.

However, Unholy still has a lot of utility to bring to the field, and if you're not aware of the changes, you might feel like you aren't pulling your weight - you might not have that "oomph" you feel you should have.

We'll start with specs: The Elitist Jerks approved standards are perfectly fine and have the math behind them to prove their viability. In a twist of design, Unholy is viable with two-handed weapons and dual wielding one-handed weapons with only a little reworking of your talent points. Both play well, both are fairly intuitive, and the greatest separation between the two is preference right now.

Firstly, old faithful, the Two Handed weapon spec.

When you fill out the above spec you are left with two "free floating" talent points which you can use for other abilities that may not directly impact your dps, but will add a great deal of utility.

Personally, I liked those two floater points being spent in Magic Suppression for additional protection in fights like Lost City of Tol'Vir's Siamat - a fight where there is a LOT of magic damage being thrown around, and in addition to reducing damage to a nearly trivial level (compare being hit for 800 damage against being hit for 8000 damage - the first looks a lot better!) you are also gaining runic power for essentially free Death Coils. This means a faster stack to get Dark Transformation going, as well as being a very healthy source of your dps.

Now, to break from Elitist Jerks into my own personal experience: I've found Blood Tap to be a fairly neat toy that doesn't come up as "useful" - because you are an Unholy Death Knight, you have the passive ability Reaping. Reaping works by giving you a Death Rune whenever you hit the enemy with Blood Strike, Pestilence or Festering Strike, and... two thirds of those are going to be sitting pretty in your tool set. Blood Strike is useful for activating Reaping until you learn Festering Strike, then... you can pretty safely put that attack back in your toolbox.

Because Festering Strike refreshes the timer on your diseases, as well as turning one Frost and one Blood rune into a free floating Death Rune, I've found Blood Tap to be less useful in practice - though for full disclosure: I haven't begun raiding in Cataclysm yet, so I may come back in a few weeks and say "Welp, Blood Tap is awesome."

Moving right along, let's talk about the surprisingly fashionable choice of Unholy Death Knights for the Winter 2010-2011 season: Dual Wield Weapon Unholy

You give up the "Free floating" points - and in the "projected best" build linked here, you put one talent point into Blood Tap instead of two, so you can take Nerves of Cold Steel, a passive ability that "Increases your chance to hit with one-handed melee weapons by 3% and increases the damage done by your offhand weapon by 25%"

The idea behind DW Unholy is that it pairs with the Unholy talent tree's Sudden Doom passive ability - as you hit the enemy with your (much faster) one handed swords, each regular hit has a 15% chance to activate the "Sudden Doom" ability, and what does that mean? Free Death Coil. With the faster hits, it's not uncommon for this to activate two, three times in a row - and when you dump the last of your Runic Power to empty that meter, Dark Transformation activates, and your little ghoul buddy is suddenly a roaring, rampaging Plague Beast - and you're doing the bulk of your damage with a minimum of effort as you continually move away from the bad stuff on the ground.

To be frank and honest, I was worried about this when I first read about Dual Wielding being viable - and the preliminary numbers standing out for it as being the BEST choice for an Unholy Death Knight, I panicked, and it looked a little something like this:

Beyond having an excuse to post a silly comic picture, dual wielding of weapons felt like it lacked the proper flavor for a lumbering, cold knight of death.

That my class could be re purposed so easily! So quickly! I worried! Then I tried it. And I have learned to stop worrying, and love... rolling on and losing one handed swords. (I'm sorry warrior and paladin tanks.) However, it IS worth noting that Blizzard is aware of the popularity of DW Unholy, and has said, "We want to make sure Unholy DKs prefer 2H weapons." The class changes detailed in that blog are not going to be live tomorrow - they won't be live next week. They may not even be live next month. But, be aware, be knowledgeable - soon we'll be back to using ridiculously tiny two handed weapons, maybe. Or, respeccing into Frost, because we really liked Dual Wielding.

Some of the changes to make DW less viable may be reducing the damage gains from Dark Transformation - or, perhaps, moving Nerves of Cold Steel to keep it from being so readily accessible? We live in a world of uncertainty, but we'll adjust as it happens. That's as good a plan as any, don't you think?

Finally, a few notes and personal thoughts from my forays in game over the past couple weeks:

- Grim Batol feels like it has too much trash. Crossing the line between "difficult" and "tedious" in some points; though being able to ride the drakes and bomb the enemies from above to make the mobs weaker for easy rep/cash is really neat.

- Lost City of Tol'Vir is really, really cool. The bosses are rough as hell though.

- Don't be afraid to speak up if you've got ideas. Nobody knows what the "best practice" for these heroics are just yet, and we likely won't be face rolling them to grind for badges blindly until well into patch 4.1. A good idea, or a quiet insistence that a little CC can make life easier for people is a good way to get things on the right track.

- I've been using Pestilence a LOT less now a days, because I'm afraid of breaking CC - there's no Wandering Plague any more, so there's no ACCIDENTAL breakages. Yay for that!

- Pet AI seems really funky lately. I've been running with my ghoul set to Passive to keep it from flipping out and chasing another enemy halfway across the zone for staring at him funny. At least THEN, it's because of user error.

- Players seem less tolerant of jerkness all the way around - no matter if it's a tank, a healer, or dps. My thought? I waited 40 minutes to get into a dungeon because my guild mates aren't online. Let's get something DONE.

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