Every week, WoW Insider brings you Lichborne for blood, frost, and unholy death knights.
Patch 4.0.3 and the Cataclysm expansion are approaching quickly, and frankly, we're in pretty good shape right now. Yes, there are issues you can point at in almost every tree that could be just a little better, but honestly, most of them are pretty minor. We're really solidly set up for leveling (if you don't mind leveling in a tank spec), dungeon running, and even the first tier of raiding, and for now we can feel pretty secure about ourselves (or at least about our class).
That said, there are almost always improvements to be made, and I do want to take a little bit of time to talk about the issue of the unholy tree's complicated love-hate relationship with haste. Now, you're still going to be stacking and gemming strength as much as possible when you gear up. Strength is still king, don't get me wrong, and you'll always want to get your melee hit capped out. But after that, haste pretty much rules for the roost for unholy. It vaults past critical strike rating and leaves mastery somewhere two or three miles down the road, it's so good.
This isn't too much of a problem at first glance. It's arguably a little boring stacking one secondary stat over others, but that's more or less a reality of gearing up a DPS. It's very rare that two secondary stats share equal billing. We did have a problem with reaching the GCD cap early on in the beta, but the addition of a GCD reduction element to Unholy Presence fixed that pretty handily.
That said, there's still two big problems, one of which primarily affects unholy, the other of which affects all three trees.
Speedy rune regeneration and the problems with slowing down
First, there's some thought that mudflation could bring haste gear that puts us right up against the GCD cap. The other issue is that haste buffs and debuffs mess with our rotation far too much. Your average unholy DK will find them right back at the GCD cap with the haste buffs such as Heroism or Unholy Frenzy. You can argue that a DK can just suck it up and enjoy having more attacks, and it's a little easier to say that now that we're on a priority system instead of a rotation -- but there's still some argument that it's jolting to have the specifically "predictable" death knight tree fill up so fast that it's hard to keep up. The longer that runes and runic power sit there unspent, the more theoretical DPS you're losing.
The big issue, however, comes up with haste debuffs. Haste does affect our rune regeneration rate. In fact, the whole reason it doesn't affect our diseases is because it was deemed overpowered in conjunction with rune regeneration. This means that while haste buffs increase our rune regeneration, haste debuffs decrease it, and decrease it by a lot. This can cause some pretty annoying spots where you just plain can't use your runes because they are stuck in super-slow regeneration mode. This affects pretty much every aspect of the game, from PvP, where Thunderclap or Frost Fever can do the trick, to the raid game, where Sindragosa's Frost Breath pretty much shuts down any death knight caught in it to the point that a tanking death knight can no longer keep threat.
It's pretty straightforward: When a haste debuff leaves your class essentially crowd-controlled, unable to do anything but auto-attack once your runic power is gone, something's a little off. In short, rune regeneration haste makes almost every haste debuff uniquely degrading to a death knight.
There are a few ways to deal with the issue of haste, of course. The easiest way would be to simply remove the ability for haste buffs and debuffs (aside from Runic Corruption, of course) to affect rune regeneration rates. Honestly, it would hardly be a nerf at all. Simply put, haste buffs are sort of a non-buff on the rune regeneration side, since we don't have the time or reflexes to use the extra rune cooldowns we get as a result. Removing haste debuff power would, of course, be a straight-up buff, but more importantly, it would remove a unique disability of our class that leaves us at a distinct disadvantage in any situation in which a haste debuff exists.
Arguably, though, this solution still ignores the possibility of haste's creeping power on the item inflation side of things. It's hard to predict how bad it'll be without knowing how tier 12 and up will be itemized, but at the same time, haste doesn't exactly seem to be in short supply on the raid drops and tier 11 items that we do know of. If it just keeps piling up, we could theoretically find ourselves back to the GCD cap problem before the end of the expansion, or at least quickly to the point that spending runes on time becomes a bit of a bother for any haste-stacking death knight DPS.
Honestly, I could see them depreciating haste a little bit more. Force us to get more rating for the same amount of haste, and suddenly critical strike rating and mastery start looking a whole lot better. This solution, though, would require a whole lot more balance work, not to mention a look at the effects it would have on the other classes. Overall, though, I have a strong feeling that the power level and effects of haste are going to continue to be the defining death knight issue of this expansion. If we're lucky, maybe they'll just send haste the way of armor penetration in patch 5.0.1, and we'll be all set.
Hitting the basics: Virulence
The beta servers have been relatively quiet lately, but there was one major change: Virulence now increases spell hit by 3 percent per level, up to 9 percent. While a lot of people have been clamoring to have Virulence simply made passive, this is a pretty good second choice, at least. There's a strong argument that we deserve to get it as a passive, especially since paladins get it that way, but if Blizzard is going to force us to spec it, it's nice that it at least closed the melee-to-spell hit gap. On the other hand, this change does highlight how lackluster the first few tiers of our trees are. They're mostly the type of stuff that we were supposed to get rid of: passive, boring talents that feel mandatory but don't actually change your playstyle much at all. Overall, though, this is a buff, and certainly better than nothing.
We have advice for everything from new strategies for regemming and reforging, pre-expansion specs and rotations, and major changes for pre-expansion DKs . Check out WoW Insider's DK leveling guides, and visit Lichborne every week for more death knight strategies and tips.