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Looking at death knight changes testing in PTR Patch 4.0.6

There are changes on the upcoming 4.0.6 PTR for death knights. Actually sorting through them may prove a little difficult, as the official patch notes and the datamined information sometimes say two different things. In short, though, we can say that blood has received a bit of a survivability hit, but a nice threat boost; unholy has both become a more solid 2H damage tree and received a sizeable (but expected) DPS nerf; and 2H frost has gotten a nice boost that may actually make it viable in endgame raiding, depending on how the numbers hold out.

Remember, though, that this is the PTR, and things may (and probably will) change before this thing goes live. With that in mind, let's take a look at what the changes say.

Blood

Official patch note changes
  • Crimson Scourge has been redesigned slightly. Instead of a 50/100% chance to make the next Blood Boil free when Plague Strike is used on a target with Blood Plague, the talent now gives a 5/10% chance to provide a free Blood Boil when the death knight lands any melee attack on a Blood Plagued target.
  • Will of the Necropolis no longer refunds a Blood Rune when it resets Rune Tap's cooldown. Instead it makes the next Rune Tap free while Will of the Necropolis is active.
Additional datamined changes
  • Blood Strike damage is increased by 12.5% for each of your diseases on the target, up from 10%.
  • Heart Strike now deals 120% weapon damage, up from 100%.
  • Blood Boil base damage increased by 20%, from 297 to 357.
  • Blood Presence now increases armor contribution by 30%, down from 60%.
  • Death Strike now heals for 15% of the damage sustained, down from 25%.
The Crimson Scourge change is definitely welcome and gives the talent a much needed boost. The Plague Strike requirement made is sort of clunky and awkward to use, but a free Blood Boil every so often is much easier to fit into a basic threat rotation. In addition, it also encourages a move away from diseaseless blood tanking by giving a bonus for using at least one disease.

The Blood Presence nerf is actually a tooltip update. The nerf has been hotfixed into the game for quite some time. That at least means you don't have to get used to it if you've already been tanking

The most worrying thing on this list is the Death Strike change. You remember that mastery vs. avoidance debate I wrote about last week? This pretty much completely throws that completely out the window. If this changes goes through as advertised, avoidance and stamina should definitely muscle ahead of mastery very easily, as the total healed by Death Strike, and thus the total size of Blood Shields, just won't be as impressive anymore. There is a ray of hope on this one, though, as Ghostcrawler has mentioned that Blizzard actually wants to buff Death Strike as a healing tool for the DPS trees. With that in mind, this may end up being a mistake or a re-seating of the healing power of Death Strike that will be made up some other way. Regardless, if the developers discard any change from this patch, I sincerely hope it's this one.

The remaining changes are mostly buffs to threat and damage that, while not strictly needed, are still greatly appreciated. The tank's doing more DPS does mean the mobs go down faster, even if that's not the main focus of the job, and higher DPS will make us more desirable to groups and raids.

Frost

Official patch note changes
  • Howling Blast now deals 40% less damage to all targets other than the primary target of the spell.
  • Might of the Frozen Wastes now also increases all melee damage by 4/8/12% while wielding a two-handed weapon.
Additional datamined changes
  • Runic Empowerment wording changed to add "successfully" use Death Coil, Frost Strike, or Rune Strike.
  • Rune Strike now deals 180% weapon damage, up from 150%.
  • Might of the Frozen Wastes now also has a 4/8/12% chance to proc from your melee attacks. 15/30/45% chance to proc from auto attacks remain the same.
  • Killing Machine no longer affects Icy Touch.
The Howling Blast change was definitely expected. I have to say that I was sort of hoping for some change into a single-target attack of sorts, since the AoE thing sometimes messes up our rotation when there are crowd-controlled mobs nearby. Still, this at least leaves the single-target damage of the skill untouched, and we can breathe a sigh of relief that frost won't see a damage nerf from that. The removal of Icy Touch from Killing Machine is probably more an idiot-proofing thing, as there are few to no situations when it's the best use of your proc to use Icy Touch.

The Might of the Frozen Wastes change, as you can see, has two contradictory changes going on, depending which version of the data you believe. Personally, I'm a fan of the patch notes version. It's a little more elegant, a little less complicated, and it seems to have a better chance of actually fixing 2H frost's damage issues, since more procs could be wasted if we don't have the haste to use all that extra runic power. Here's hoping we see this or other tweaks making 2H frost competitive with the other DPS specs for raiding.

Unholy

Official patch note changes
  • Desecration is now also triggered by Necrotic Strike.
  • Runic Corruption procs while the aura is already active now add 3 seconds to the existing aura duration, instead of simply refreshing/overwriting the existing aura.
  • Unholy Might (passive) has been reduced to a 5% Strength increase, down from 10%.
Additional datamined changes
  • Scourge Strike now deals an additional 18% physical damage done as shadow damage for each disease on your target. Up from 12%.
Ghostcrawler already said that Blizzard thought unholy was a bit too high in single-target damage, so the nerf to Unholy Might isn't unexpected. It should be offset a bit by the Scourge Strike fix, which was likely meant to keep unholy DPS from creeping over into dual wielding territory. The Runic Corruption change is also nice for making sure the ability simply works consistently. One change that's conspicuously missing from these notes is any adjustment to unholy mastery. I'd expect to see that before this PTR goes live, unless Blizzard plans to hold off on mastery revamps until patch 4.1.

Other changes

Official patch note changes
  • Icebound Fortitude now breaks stuns when used, in addition to providing immunity to them.
  • Necrotic Strike's absorption effect is now reduced by the target's resilience.
  • Glyph of Death's Embrace no longer refunds Runic Power when self-healing via Lichborne.
The Iceborne Fortitude change is definitely welcome, providing a nice cooldown CC-breaker that should be useful to everyone in some capacity. The Necrotic Strike change is another one we've been expecting from Ghostcrawler's class change post. The Glyph of Death's Embrace change is a bit of a bummer and does blunt one of our best leveling tools and a great emergency button for tanks and DPSers who just got caught standing in the fire. The technique itself is still going to be worth using; it just won't be quite as powerful. On the plus side, it does arguably free up a glyph slot for frost and tank death knights.
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