The devs have been speaking a little a bit about the new mastery system coming with Cataclysm, and while they've kept most of the specific numbers vague, there's been a surprising amount of information one can read between the lines about death knights. Of course, it started with the frost death knight stats. The stats were solidly DPS oriented, providing damage, haste, and runic power generation. This lead to two major concerns: What would frost tanks do for mastery? And for that matter, even DPS don't need runic power generation that much, considering we can only use so many frost strikes (or death coils for other specs) before we need to spend our runes anyway.
The Blues actually gave answers to these questions, answers that managed to both answer the question and provide a whole new level of speculation and questioning. On the question of the new runic power bonus, Ghostcrawler and Eyonix revealed that death knights would find their rotation less constrained by the global cool down and rune cool downs, and that changes such as that would make the runic power generation more desirable. On the tank front, they're actually being deliberately coy about what they have planned for death knight tanks, but they at least seem to know the issue's on the table.
This week, I figure it might fun to take a look at these statements and mull over some possible ways they might implement them.
Global Cool down Solutions
Solution: Permanently Convert All Runes To Death Runes
This solution would completely remove rune types and make all 6 runes death runes. This would save a few talent points in just about every DPS build (except possibly unholy, depending on which patch and what phase of the moon it is). This would also make it easier to weave in emergency buttons, and allow more flexibility on what attacks to use when, instead of waiting for a specific set of runes to refresh.
On the other hand, it would more or less remove at least 1 strike from each spec, and Blizzard seems to want people to push more buttons in Cataclysm, not fewer. It could also lead to a return of the old days of Icy Touch spam or some other one-button-push spec, another thing Blizzard's wanted to avoid.
Solution: Empower Rune Weapon Cool down Nerfed
Empower Rune Weapon is a pretty simple way to unleash yourself from waiting on rune cool downs. One hit of the button, and all your runes are back. If we cut the cool down on the button, we could see the button pushed more often to provide a more dynamic rotation.
That's the theory, at least. In practice, it would probably become just another button to pressed every few rotations for a very small extra burst of damage, creating a even more complicated rotation for the death knight, and one perhaps not truly disconnected from rune cool downs. It feels like the solution here needs to be a bit more dynamic.
Solution: More Skills on Runic Power
This could be considered a bit of a less drastic change that converting all runes to multipurpose "death rune" status: Simply put more abilities on runic power. For example, you could put Icy Touch and Plague Strike on runes, and your big Frost/Unholy attacks, and leave everything else on runic power. This would provide a sort of "choke point" for the big basic damage skills, then allow runic power to become a bit more fluid instead of being a zero sum game, as you may have to make specific choices about what to spend your runic power on, and when to spend it. This would also give frost a use for all that extra runic power they'd generate from their Mastery.
Of course, if runic power becomes too central to the class, it may throw off the balance of the whole death knight resource system and turn us into a weird type of quasi-warrior. Will Blizzard really want to be so drastic as to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the death knight resource system?
Tanking Mastery Solutions
Solution: Tie it to Frost Presence
When it comes to choosing how to give tanks Mastery, the easy way out would be to simply tie it to Frost Presence, much like non-critability will be tied to Frost Presence in Cataclysm. It would also allow DPS death knights to more easily do some off-spec tanking for 5-mans without changing their spec or getting dual spec, thus (at least in theory) lowering dungeon finder queue times for everyone. They're already doing a similar thing for the druid feral tree, wherein one will have different mastery bonuses if one is shifted into Cat Form or Bear Form.
That said, they sound like they don't want to keep it that simple. Switchable masteries might plain make death knights a bit more versatile than Blizzard would like, and would certainly make protection warriors and paladins a bit sore. Blizzard's hinted they have something a bit more complicated in store for us.
Solution: One Dedicated Tank Tree
Here's a solution that they've arguably already used for dual wielding: Just dedicate one specific tree to tanking. This would admittedly make things pretty simple: If you want to tank in raid-level content, you pick your tank tree. The other tank classes already have to deal with this, so it's nothing new. Blood's play style isn't that different from Unholy's anymore, and with blood providing the flavor of that extra healing, it could probably be converted into a tank tree easily enough.
Of course, you'd then have to strip the tank cool downs out of the unholy and frost Trees, giving them fewer buttons to push (something Blizzard seems wary of doing), and you'd need to redistribute some of the DPS talents from the blood tree. Of course, if you're going to shuffle the trees so drastically, Cataclysm seems the perfect time to do it. Then again, this would more or less spell the end of the great death knight experiment. We'd be a pretty "normal" class, with one two-handed DPS tree, one dual wield DPS tree, and one tank tree. Again, we'd be looking a lot like warriors with a slightly different superficial flavor. I'm hoping Blizzard keeps the varied flavors of the death knight trees intact.
I'll be honest here, the most direct answer is probably the simplest: We don't know. For that matter, even Blizzard may not know, or rather, may still be trying to finalize the system. Whatever else is going on, it does seem like a bit of an exciting time to be a death knight. If the changes are half as dynamic and far reaching as they sound, beta testing Cataclysm should fun. Here's hoping we see those beta servers go up soon!
Welcome to Lichborne, the weekly class column on the newest WoW class, the death knight, where we discuss PuG etiquette and Emblem of Triumph gear for the Death Knight tank, 5-man Crusader's Coliseum gear for tanks andDPS,andbasic Death Knight statistics and mechanics. You might also want to check all the other articles in our Death Knight category.