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Lichborne: Mists of Pandaria skills for death knights

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Lichborne for blood, frost, and unholy death knights. In the post-Cataclysm era, death knights are no longer the new kids on the block. Let's show the other classes how a hero class gets things done.

Hot on the heels of our analysis of the Pandaria talents, Blizzard has now released an entire talent calculator for the expansion that lists not only the talents, but the new passives and class skills everyone will be getting as well. Today, we will take a look at the new stuff that death knights get, the good, the bad, and what it says about the direction of our class as we head for patch 5.0. Since we've already discussed the talents, we'll focus mostly on the class and spec-specific skills.

The first thing I figured I should do is point out the new stuff. Alas, we have yet to see a new level 87 skill. However, we did receive a new level 81 skill (likely as a replacement for Outbreak) in the form of Control Undead. Much like a Warlock's Enslave Demon, this allows the death knight to make an undead mob his pet for up to 5 minutes.

From a pure usefulness point of view, this may not seem like much. After all, the "undead expansion" has been here and gone, and there's no word yet if we'll see any real undead mobs in Pandaria. At the same time though, it is a nice bit of fun flavor, and hey, if only for 5 minutes at a time, I'll finally have that geist pet I always wanted. It's also no level 87 skill, so hopefully we'll still see something new for that. Regardless, I do want to see Control Undead stay in, if only for the fun factor.

The other new thing worth mentioning isn't new, but rather expanded. On A Pale Horse, the previously frost-only mount speed increaser, will now be granted as a passive to all death knights at level 61. I have to say, I'm incredibly pleased by this change. One of the big reasons I recommend leveling as a frost death knight is the mount speed increase, and it'll definitely be nice to have this cool bit of utility for leveling (or herbing, or mining) without locking you into one spec. This is another thing I feel definitely needs to stay in the final build.

There are, though, a few missing passives that are worrisome. With no Runic Focus showing up, will we be expected to gear for spell hit again? The loss of useful passives like Runic Power Mastery and Endless Winter will make it a little more difficult to perform some of our utility moves for sure. Saving 30 runic power for a Mind Freeze is going to be brutal on some fights. In addition, a lot of our runic power generation buffs, such as Chill of the Grave and Magic Suppression, are gone, making it worth it to ask if we'll get improved runic power generation from other sources or not. I'm also sad that Army of the Dead still taunts. We really need an on-off switch for that to make it useful in more situations.

It's also interesting to note that most of our raid utility buffs, from Abomination's Might to Improved Icy Talons and Brittle Bones, are missing. Does this signal a new direction in Blizzard's design philosophy? While it may not seem like much, having those buffs was a good way to sell ourselves to raid groups and get ourselves a slot. Losing them may make those raid invites a little harder to come by.

Blood Strike is now completely gone, which is understandable, since its hardly used at higher levels, but it feels like that means strikes like Festering Strike and Heart Strike should probably be level 55 to compensate. Otherwise new death knights are going to have all these orphaned blood runes and no idea what to do with them.

Blood commands tanking

One of the most striking issues with Blood is that Dark Command is now blood only. It appears that no other tank class has its taunt as tank-spec only, so this is a little disconcerting. It may be that Blizzard assumes that Death Grip is enough of a taunt for everyone to share, but Death Grip has issues of positioning, immunities, and the whole wearing off thing for sure. It feels like a blow to death knight utility and off-tank potential to have it exclusive to blood, for sure.

Other than that, blood looks more or less intact. Rune Strike is now blood only, and we also get some key passives like Scent of Blood, Veteran of the Third War, and Rune Tap. Conspicuously missing is Sanguine Fortitude, which makes one wonder if we're getting away from being the cooldown tank. 20% is still nothing to sneeze at, but it's not 50% either. It's also worth noting that Veteran of the Third War still has the Outbreak cooldown reduction on it, which makes this a good time for me to reiterate that I seriously think that Outbreak should be baseline instead of talented.

If there's another complaint that blood can make, it's that some talents seem pretty much mandatory. Any tank who doesn't take Bone Shield or Vampiric Blood is probably gimping himself. Of course, I know I would like to keep the Bone Shield option for my DPS spec as well, but it's true blood's losing a few talent points right off the bat.

Unholy: Where's the change?

The basic size of unholy is about the same so far. Ebon Plaguebringer remains as the last raid utility death knights can bring with them. Then again, it could be that it only remains for the third disease functionality and will have the magic damage utility stripped from it soon. Festering Strike is now understandably unholy only, which does mean that unholy death knights still have to deal with that strangely backwards rotation. Shadow Infusion and Dark Transformation remain in the same form, meaning our ghoul ramp-up issues will remain for now. It's also worth noting that Summon Gargoyle is now 70 runic power, which is made even more of an issue by, again, the loss of certain runic power regenerating talents.

So the problem right now is that very few of unholy's basic issues are solved with this new tree. We still have the ramp-up time, we still have the weird rotation that's at odds with the rest of class (and makes Outbreak, again, somewhat mandatory), and we still have the AoE problems (though level 90 talents may help with that, as might level 15 if Outbreak goes baseline). Hopefully, we see some more adjustments here for sure.

Frost: Paladins stole my Hungering Cold

Much like unholy, frost remains unchanged in basic feel and rotation, which is less of a problem, unless you dislike the whole proc-based thing. Rime, Killing Machine, Blood of the North, and Icy Talons all survived the transition. Obliterate is now frost only. Threat of Thassarian and Might of the Frozen Wastes are both passives, meaning you can switch weapons more freely. Among the missing stuff is Nerves of Cold Steel, which might be troubling for dual wielding enthusiasts, though that may also be Blizzard's method of equalizing damage between two-handed and dual-wield play. Hungering Cold is also gone, which is a little confusing considering that paladins essentially got it in the form Blinding Light, an instant-cast AoE CC. Denerfing Hungering Cold is welcome. Giving it to paladins instead of death knights? Not so much.

Looking to the future

It's difficult to say much about these trees because they're very obviously early, and I don't know how much meaningful feedback we'll be able to give until we have beta servers or a better understanding of new combat design philosophies in Pandaria. Still, there's stuff to be said. I'm hoping we get more fixes to base unholy issues, a more thorough accounting for the missing raid buffs and runic power generating passives, and some attempt to bring two-handed and dual wield frost back into parity. Here's hoping those beta servers go up soon. Dec. 20 might be a good date for that, right?
Learn the ropes of endgame play with WoW Insider's DK 101 guide. Make yourself invaluable to your raid group with Mind Freeze and other interrupts, gear up with pre-heroic DPS gear or pre-heroic tank gear, and plot your path to tier 11/valor point DPS gear.

Filed under: Death Knight, (Death Knight) Lichborne, Mists of Pandaria

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