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Lichborne: Preliminary patch 4.1 PTR impressions for death knights

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Lichborne for blood, frost, and unholy death knights. Join World of Warcraft's first hero class as we head into a new expansion and shed the new kid on the block label.

Greetings, one and all, and welcome to the patch 4.1 PTR, where I am happily testing out the new death knight flying ability -- that, or I'm lagged to hell. I'll let you believe what you want. Seriously though, the PTR for patch 4.1 is out and active, and there are death knight changes to be had. These changes are large enough that I figure it'd be a good use of our time this week to take a quick look at them and figure out what they do and what they'll mean for our class if they go live.


Death runes come to stay for the frost tree

As of the current patch 4.1 PTR, frost death knights will automatically have 2 death runes in place of their blood runes, thanks to a change to the frost passive Blood of the North. Now, I've heard some people express surprise at this change, thinking that it's unexpected, overpowered, or that it will never make it live. Me, I'd argue that the change, while perhaps unexpected, is incredibly timely and in fact brings frost into parity with the other two trees in relation to death runes.

With frost, using Blood Strike is an afterthought. It is what you do to turn blood runes into death runes because you have no other real option. You'd rather not use it because it doesn't provide any other real benefit. The other two trees no longer really have this issue since patch 4.0.1. Blood death knights use Heart Strike, which blows away Blood Strike with superior damage applied to more targets. They use Death Strikes to produce death runes, which in themselves are incredibly useful for healing and mitigating damage. Similarly, Unholy uses Festering Strike to produce death runes for Scourge Strike, which both hits hard and has the secondary effect of lengthening disease duration so that they can strike more and refresh diseases less.

With this idea in mind, it turns out that frost is really lagging behind, in that its rotation still has that nagging "useless" Blood Strike, which only has one job and isn't very exciting or effective. With this in mind, it does feel like frost deserves some more exciting or useful way to generate death runes. Rather than deal with yet another new ability for death knights, Blizzard has just given us permanent death runes, which in my mind has turned out to be a pretty elegant solution. I strongly expect this change to stay for live servers.

As to what it will affect overall, that's still in the testing stages, of course. But considering you shouldn't have to deal with the inefficient blood strike half as much, expect to see higher damage numbers. In addition, the use of more Obliterates may change up our stat weights a bit in the frost category, but I haven't really seen any solid sim numbers on that yet. We'll probably want to wait for a few more iterations of the PTR (and more testing in real dungeon and raid situations) before we make any solid predictions, though. We have at least a couple months to go before we need to get serious about regemming and reforging on live servers, for sure.

Healing threat goes away

Most of us, I would hope, are aware that healing can cause threat. Any healer who's healed a not completely topped-off tank at the start of a pull and seen the mobs come charging at him instead can tell you that. That said, healers aren't the only ones who have to be worried about their personal healing threat.

There's been a minor discussion and debate among death knight tanks over whether Heart Strike or Death Strike is the actual superior AoE threat tool. Heart Strike would seem to be the clear winner, of course, but Death Strike does make a strong argument due to healing threat. Every time you heal yourself with Death Strike on live servers, you also releasing a pulse of AoE threat thanks to the healing done. This changes in patch 4.1. On the current PTR, Death Strike's healing causes no additional threat.

The removal of this threat is a straight-up buff to DPS death knights, of course -- but then again, DPS death knights shouldn't be using Death Strike unless it's an emergency and Lichborne is on cooldown or they are relatively sure their healer can't spare the time or mana to heal them instead. For tank death knights, though, this probably at least a little bit of a nerf. That said, I'm not too concerned. For the most part, we still have plenty of AoE threat tools, so at the worse, all this will do is bump the survival stat bias a slight bit toward avoidance if we really do end up having to use those tools instead of Death Strike. Besides, no AoE threat on Death Strike may end up as a blessing on some fights that require an off tank or certain mobs to be kited, since you won't pick up accidentally aggro while main-tanking. See: Nefarian.

Mind Freeze won't get frozen out

As of patch 4.1, all instant-cast interrupts that are off the global cooldown, including the death knight's Mind Freeze, can no longer miss. If you are a heroic tanking death knight who hasn't been able to justify giving up survivability for hit rating, I am pretty sure the clouds opened and an angelic choir sounded forth the first time you heard that news.

There are so many things that need to be interrupted in Cataclysm, as I've outlined in previous columns, and death knights may be one of the best suited for the role, if only because we really don't have much else to do utility-wise outside of our main roles. Since a lot of Cataclysm fights, both trash and boss, are made or broken on whether or not a specific ability can be consistently interrupted, it only make sense that a somewhat arbitrary and frustrating hurdle to using an interrupt is removed. Let people focus on learning how to interrupt rather than gearing for it.

That said, I think this does strengthen my argument that death knights and warriors deserve some crowd control. If interrupting is important enough to make change like this, isn't crowd control in the same division? Hopefully, if Blizzard's using this rationale for interrupts, we'll see some new crowd control methods in later iterations of the PTR. Given the new heroic dungeons, we'll probably need it.

It's still the PTR to me

The usual disclaimer applies to articles like this: This is the PTR, and things can and almost certainly will change. That said, I do believe all three of these changes are pretty solid (yes, even the Death Strike nerf at least makes sense) and will show up when patch 4.1 goes live. In the meantime, though, we can hopefully look forward to more PTR updates and changes. My column from last week still stands. Let's see if Blizzard delivers on those last few things.

Follow our road map to leveling your DK from 80 to 85, and then learn the ropes of endgame play with WoW Insider's DK 101 guide. Gear up with pre-heroic gear for DPS DKs and keep track of what's happening on your hotbars with our guide to DK spell alerts.

Filed under: Death Knight, (Death Knight) Lichborne

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