The builds and changes and tweaks seem to be coming faster and more furious, but at the same time seem to have settled down to changing things in a very final and deliberate way, if that makes sense. Whether we're a week or a month from 3.1 going live though, things are likely to change a little bit.
Still, my gut tells me that most of the major tree shifts and mechanics changes are probably out there, and it's just a matter of tweaking numbers. So it may be a good chance to take a look at what newish builds are getting some buzz in the Death Knight community for being the new hotness in 3.1. In specific, let's look at a Blood Build that reacts to some of the latest changes for that tree, and a stacked Unholy build.
Blood has seen a few major changes since we last talked about it. Specifically, people have been getting antsy about a few Dancing Rune Weapon changes, namely that it only does 50% damage and that it takes more Runic Power to keep active. In addition, the permaghoul has now been placed a few tiers deeper in the Unholy Tree, making it impossible to grab for a 51-point Frost or Blood build. Now honestly, I'm not too concerned about the latter issue. Fact is, since they moved Night of the Dead up to tier 4, it's really an overall buff. After all, a permaghoul won't do you much good if he gets destroyed by a stiff breeze. The AE avoidance of Night of the Dead should make up for the loss and then some.
That said, these two factors have created the perfect excuse for a few people to try to come up with a build that keeps the permaghoul and drops the now supposedly underpowered Dancing Rune Weapon. 44/0/27 is the most promising result of that experimentation. It's nice in that it keeps most of the heart of Blood intact, with most of the major hard hitting physical talents. It skips some of the health recovery talents, but you won't really need those as much for group PvE. In addition, it also grabs a lot of the iconic stuff from the Unholy tree, both Unholy Blight and the perma-ghoul, and plays to Blood's strengths with talents such as Necrosis and Morbidity.
Preliminary reports from the PTR suggest it's at least competitive with full Unholy and Frost 2-hand DPS builds, although I haven't seen enough data to be completely sure. Still, on paper, it looks like it should work. The biggest issue with this build has to do with the fact that Death Strike has been nerfed again. Now that it's back to 60% weapon damage, there may be some argument for returning to 13 Frost for Annihilation, especially now that Black Ice buffs Shadow Damage again.
Overall, I'm almost hopeful that this build proves viable regardless. The combination of some of the best parts of Blood and Unholy looks amazing on paper, but the question remains as to whether it will stand up to extended testing.
Honestly, I expect Death Strike and Dancing Rune Weapon to be bumped back up in damage a bit, if the numbers reported by some Death Knights that put 51 Blood back to 300 DPS below other specs are true. We have a few more builds to go before the patch, I'd guess, and I think Blizzard will balance it. Still while you're considering your 51/2/18 or 51/0/20 builds, this one might end up deserving a second glance, if only for the fun of it.
Speaking of Black Ice, the fact that it buffs Shadow Damage has inspired some Unholy Death Knights to test out a 0/10/61 DPS build. It would, in theory, seem a little iffy to stack so many talent points in one tree, but it works. The new shadow damage enabled Black Ice is just one more tool in this build to push shadow damage to ludicrous levels, since Unholy does plenty of it between Scourge Strike and Unholy Blight and so on.
This build is nice in that you get almost all the cool toys of Unholy without sacrificing DPS. Improved Unholy Presence, Desecration, Wandering Plague, they're all there. Plus, Frost is finally in a position where it doesn't feel like a complete waste to spec into as a secondary tree. Runic Power Mastery and Black Ice are both incredibly useful for an Unholy DPSer who does lots of shadow damage and chugs down runic power like a frat bro on spring break in cancun chugging down cheap beer.
There is some thought that this build could eventually fall behind on scaling. Since it doesn't take Bladed Armor, which provides extra attack power which works for physical damage as well as shadow and frost damage, it's possible that as we get into more powerful gear, the damage boost from bladed armor will overtake the shadow damage boost from Black Ice. The other concern with this build is that it does miss out on Dark Convinction, which means a few fewer Wandering Plague procs. However, it's worth noting that the only real reason Unholy Death Knights need critical strike is said Wandering Plague, and when you're AEing stuff down, you'll get so many individual chances for Wandering Plague to proc that that 5% proc chance difference will slip into almost nothing.
That said, A good solid 18/2/51 build will probably still be a completely viable build in 3.1, so we'll probably see a bit of both, depending on how the final DPS totals shake out.
As I said, We still probably have a build or two to go before 3.1 is final. I get the feeling things are about where they'll be skill and talent wise, and all that remains is a few tweaks in damage totals. We'll probably see either a buff to Death Strike and Dancing Rune Weapon or a slight nerf to Gargoyle in order to bring Blood, Frost, and Unholy all in line with each other in the DPS department. Between that and dual specs, it should be fun to see how everything shakes down when the patch goes live. We'll be working on keeping up with it here at Lichborne.