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Lichborne: What's changed for death knights in patch 4.0.1


Welcome to Lichborne, your weekly source for news, guides, tips and opinions on the death knight class.

With the 4.0.1 PTR in full swing, it's time to face the inevitable fact: This patch will show up on the live servers, probably sooner rather than later, and everything you know about how to play your death knight will change forever. OK, so it's probably not that drastic, but there's still a lot of stuff that is changing, and it's definitely worth going over so you know what to expect when the patch goes live.

The biggest thing to keep in mind as you try things out is not to panic. Things are going to be a little chaotic for a while as we figure out and finalize new rotations and strategies. In addition, remember that Blizzard's balanced our new trees with an eye on level 85. This means that some stuff may be wonky at level 80 but will smooth out at level 85, as we get new itemization and face new classes of enemies. In other words, don't panic. Do give feedback, but don't assume everything is broken because you're slightly over- or underpowered at level 80. With that in mind, let's do a quick review of some of the major playstyle changes.

Mastering the new rune system

One the biggest changes to the death knight class is the completely new rune system. We covered a bit back when it was first announced, but let's go over it again.

Essentially, the way runes regenerate has been changed completely. Now, instead of each rune regenerating independently, the second rune of each type will only regenerate if the first one is full. Essentially, imagine that you now have three separate energy bars -- unholy, frost and blood -- that fill up gradually. If it feels a little confusing, don't worry, you're not alone. It makes more sense once you've had a chance to play with it on the PTR or the beta.

The other major rune system change to get used to is Runic Empowerment. If you're keeping up with a good solid rotation, this little skill will change things up a bit by refreshing a random rune on you. Now, the problem here is that it's only one rune, and you will never know whether it will be frost, blood or unholy that will refresh. The debate on how to use those procced runes is still ongoing among the beta death knight community, with two major arguments. One says that you should simply saved the procced rune until you can use it to get off a two-rune strike such as Obliterate. Others say that you should use it as soon as it comes, even if that means dropping a simple Plague Strike or Icy Touch. The former idea risks wasting the proc as other runes refresh back to their normal state anyway, while the latter arguably turns the death knight rotation in a somewhat annoying game of whack-a-mole, leaving your disease timers in disarray and making it easy to become imbalanced and forget your rotation altogether.

Note that unholy gets a talent, Runic Corruption, that will remove Runic Empowerment and replace it with a proc that simply increases your rune regeneration rate, so unholy itself won't have to worry about this so much. Frost and blood, however, should definitely use patch 4.0.1 as a time to get used to this mechanic

One other thing these two changes do is make it a lot more useful than ever to get a decent rune UI that will show the new changes in more detail and allow you to move the rune UI so you aren't constantly glancing at your character portrait to figure out what runes are still refreshing and what runic empowerment filled out. Expect a look at those in a future column as more addon artists update their mods for 4.0.1.

Talent tree changes and masteries

All three talent trees are seeing at least some changes to their playstyle. Many passive talents have been removed, but more importantly, the basic philosophy of the trees has changed. You'll have a lot to get used to, no matter what you play. In addition, the new talent tree system means you'll need to pick a single tree as your "main" tree. You'll get some new abilities when you do, and you'll be forced to spend 31 points in that tree before you grab spare points elsewhere. While we've covered a lot of what's happened to them in the past few weeks, here's a refresher on that for you as well.

Blood
Blood's big change is that it is now the exclusive tank tree. You aren't going to be DPSing in this tree anymore. While it will likely to be useful for leveling, if you're serious about contributing to a raid or even a dungeon run, you will need to switch to frost or unholy.

The other thing to remember about blood is that Death Strike is more important than ever for tanking, since it ties in with the Blood Shield mastery, providing even more protection for each Death Strike. In fact, you may find yourself eschewing Heart Strike to use it on boss fights for extra survivability. Consider it (even more than before) the death knight version of block.

Frost
Frost's priority system isn't horribly different from what it was on live, other than Runic Empowerment. The big thing to remember is that Howling Blast now costs only a single frost rune and isn't affected by Killing Machine, while Obliterate now is. That probably means you'll be sticking primarily to Obliterate on single-target fights now. It is true that Howling Blast was proving more bang for the buck at level 80 before the latest beta patch, but the Obliterate buffs should help that.

In addition, Frost is once again viable for two-handed weapon DPS. Simply grab the Might of the Frozen Wastes talent, and you'll be good to go. Mostly, two-handed DPS is going to revolve around getting more Frost Strikes out, thanks to superior runic power regeneration. Right now, reports suggest that is in fact working, so frost-heads should be feel to grab that spare two-handed weapon out of the bank and go to town, if they so desire.

Unholy Unholy's the tree that's probably seen the most changes in Cataclysm. The first and possibly biggest change is the fact that Scourge Strike now costs only a single unholy rune. In order to balance out the orphaned frost runes this change created, Blizzard created Festering Strike, which uses a frost and blood rune. In essence, unholy has inherited blood's old one-rune strike rotation, although with a slightly different configuration. There's also a sort of annoying little nagging blood rune that you have to Blood Strike out every time you reapply diseases unless you use Outbreak to apply or reapply (which is, incidentally, something you will not be doing until Cataclysm, as the skill is level 81). Luckily, Festering Strike applies an extra 6 seconds of disease uptime every time you use it, so you may find that you won't need to worry about that as much as you'd think.

It's also worth noting that while Lead Systems Designer Ghostcrawler has confirmed that unholy is meant to use two-handed weapons exclusively, changes to the system such as the addition of Sudden Doom to the unholy tree have caused dual wield unholy to do very competitive DPS, in some cases eclipsing two-handed DPS. It seems likely, though, that Blizzard will eventually nerf that, so don't get too comfortable with dual-wielding in the unholy tree.

We have advice for everything from PUG etiquette and buttons you should push more often to Icecrown loot and gear stat weights. Check out WoW Insider's DK leveling guides, and visit Lichborne every week for more death knight strategies and tips.

Filed under: Death Knight, (Death Knight) Lichborne

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