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Lichborne: Heroic Cataclysm dungeon-delving for death knights


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

OK, I'm not usually one to use tired old catchphrases, but forgive me, I'm going to use one right now: You are not prepared. That pretty much sums up Cataclysm heroics, especially as they are now on beta. Chances are, you've grown used to the easy stuff we have in Wrath. Not only are Wrath heroics a little underbalanced, and not only have patches specifically made them easier and faster to run, but at this point, we're running things in tier 9 and 10 gear that were made for people in pre-tier 7 gear, and we're steamrolling them.

All this ends with Cataclysm heroics. I cannot stress this enough. You see that picture up there, at the top of this article? You'll be seeing that a lot. Cataclysm heroics are hard. They are hard enough that the random dungeon finder may end up being something you want to avoid in favor of creating your own group so that you can work together and get the proper balance of crowd control and skill. While some of the difficulty comes because we'll all be in dungeon blues, some of it is because the dungeons are genuinely set up to be harder, with harder-hitting mobs and bosses with mechanics that require you to use utility moves to have a chance of beating them.

With this in mind, I have a few tips for you on getting ready for the new heroics. Trust me, you'll need them, if you don't want to spend all day wiping to the first trash pack in your first random heroic.

Gear up

Your first mission is to gear up. Stuff hits hard; stuff hits fast. That means that as a tank, you want to be geared up to absorb those hits. As a DPSer, you want to be geared up to take down said mobs as quickly as possible, before your healer runs out of mana and your tank runs out of HP. These days, we're used to dinging 80, buying a piece of two of tier 9 if we've been queuing regularly since level 70, and jumping right into some basic heroics decked out in quest and reputation rewards. We can get away with this because most of the people running heroics are in tier 9 and 10 gear and can carry us. This time, that isn't happening. Spend some time in normal dungeons and get geared up. I'd suggest making sure you have item level 333 gear in every single one your slots before you start heading to heroics, especially if you don't have a premade group.

Use your utility

In Wrath heroics, we've gotten pretty lazy. We have so many pretty awesome utility spells that we just sort of shunt off into a secondary bar in favor of mindlessly mashing our DPS or threat abilities. That's not going to cut it in Cataclysm. You will need to use your utility abilities. Here's a few examples of why and how you should be using them:
  • Mind Freeze There are going to be caster mobs, and they are going to hurt. Interrupting casters will practically be required to win some battles (more on that later), and since we have no real CC, you'll want to get great at using Mind Freeze if you really want to pull your weight in a group. Use it to interrupt healing spells, use it to interrupt massive damage spells; just learn what it works on, and use it.
  • Strangulate There are going to be caster mobs, and they are going to hurt. Silencing, if they aren't immune to it, them can allow your tank (or you, if you are the tank) to pull them in or can stop a particularly horrible spell from going off. Hand of Doom can help here if you have a point or two spare, although it'll generally be more useful in PvP, like Strangulate itself.
  • Necrotic Strike If interrupting or silencing aren't possible, Necrotic Strike can also save your bacon. By slowing cast time and absorbing healing, it can allow your group to take down a particularly prolific healing mob a lot more quickly. Keep it handy and be ready to switch it in when you fight a mob that casts a lot of spells quickly, especially healing spells. Since it costs 1 unholy rune, it'll be a lot easier for unholy death knights to use this by just swapping it for Scourge Strike.
  • Tanking cooldowns If all you do is run heroics, chances are you long ago shoved cooldowns like Bone Shield, Icebound Fortitude and Vampiric Blood off to the side. That's going to change in Cataclysm. Not just bosses but trash will hit incredibly hard, and healers will no longer have the amazing mana regen and super-efficient, super-powerful heals they have right now. Be prepared to cycle through your tanking cooldowns at any time. DPS, you should be working overtime to avoid aggro, but if you get it anyway, you may want to hit Icebound Fortitude while you wait for the tank to peel the mob back off you, because there's a good chance you'll die without some sort of outside intervention, even in plate. Speaking of which, tanks, you may want to make sure you actually have Dark Command hotkeyed for these instances.
In short, you need to be ready in the Cataclysm era to use all of your skills at a moment's notice. Don't fall into the trap of a simple, drowsy DPS or threat-gaining rotation. Watch your health and everyone else's mana

In the current game, we're used to health and mana being mere formalities. Healers and DPS can usually regen mana or top it off in a few seconds between fights, and between spells and talents, they don't seem to run low on mana in the time it takes to kill your average boss or trash mob. As far as DPS health goes, it's no big deal. We can survive a couple of hits if we pull aggro, and it's not like it's a big deal for the healer to throw us a bit of HP without losing control of the situation.

None of this holds true in Cataclysm. Healer mana is once again for the tank, and the tank alone. That means that as a DPSer, you, personally, are more responsible than ever for your survivability. Don't pull aggro. When you do, stop attacking until the tank peels it off. Bring and use bandages and potions. Tanks and DPS alike, eat between pulls if you need to. Above all, remember this truism: Unless you're the tank, the healer's mana is not for you, and you need to mitigate that.

On the tank side of things, as we discussed above, use your cooldowns. Make your healer's job easier so that you can stay alive. In addition, watch your healer's mana and make sure you do not pull until he (and your mana-using DPS) is ready. We sometimes forget how hard it is to deal with a mana pool because we don't have one. In the opening months of Cataclysm, it's more important than ever that we do remember that, because your healers and DPS will likely be spending even more mana as they try to get used to the system. Make sure your healers and magic using DPS have mana before you pull. If you need to, discuss with them what they'd consider a good pulling pace to be. Your healer no longer has the mana regeneration capabilities to chain pull. Don't chain pull without their consent, or you will wipe.

Use kill orders and crowd control

In the Wrath era, we've gotten used to a "pull them all and let God sort it out" mentality. That won't work in Cataclysm. Some stuff hits noticeably harder. Some mobs summon more mobs. Groups of mobs hit hard enough that your healer won't be able to keep up, especially if everyone's fighting separate mobs. Tanks, make a kill order, mark it with symbols, and make sure the DPS follows the orders. If you have crowd controllers in your group, mark stuff for them to crowd control and make sure they do it. DPS, follow your tank's kill order. If your tank doesn't have a kill order, suggest one be established, especially if you're wiping, which you probably will be.

This is also a good time to suggest that you get a lot smarter about when and how you pull. Adds are death right now. Don't be afraid to pull around corners and into niches to avoid adds. Use Strangulate and Death Grip to wrangle casters, and make sure runners don't get away with Chains of Ice or another judicious application of Death Grip. Always be aware of your surroundings.

Know the fights

This point goes hand in hand with the point above. You're going to want to know what trash does what so you know what to kill first and what to crowd control. This goes double on bosses. Bosses won't just be plain old tank-and-spank; they will have unique mechanics, and you will have to learn to work around them. For example, the first boss of heroic Shadowfang Keep casts an AoE spell that brings everyone down to 1 health. Be ready to mitigate or recover health so your healer isn't as taxed getting everyone back up. In addition, said boss will cast heal spells. If you do not interrupt them, you will not win, because he will heal himself back up to full. It's that simple.

Similarly, the first boss of heroic Deadmines will, in his second phase, rise up into the air and summon a rotating wall of flame. If you don't stay out of that wall of flame, you will die. If you don't help burn down the elementals he summons at the same time, your group will die. I can't stress this enough. Know your fights, and adapt.

Adapting is the name of the game

Adapt, adapt, adapt. That's really what all of this advice is about. The new heroics will throw new scenarios at you with new, unforgiving mechanics that hearken back to old raids -- and yes, the old vanilla way of doing things. Be cautious, be careful and have fun. It's a brave new world out there.
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, Cataclysm

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