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Lichborne: The DPS presence issue in Mists of Pandaria

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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.

In Cataclysm, there were many hot-button death knight balance issues, but one of the biggest was Unholy Presence vs. Frost Presence. Frost Presence fell out of vogue very quickly in Cataclysm, since all DPSers found themselves running into a global cooldown wall pretty quickly. We were producing resources so fast, we needed the 1-second GCD provided by Unholy Presence to have any hope of spending them all.

This issue has come to the forefront even more in Mists of Pandaria beta testing. This is because a loss of runic power generating talents have put the dual wielding frost style at a disadvantage, enough that it needs the extra runic power regeneration from Frost Presence. Unfortunately, when it loses the 1-second GCD of Unholy Presence, it starts to stutter, with many testers using the dread descriptor "clunky" to describe the resulting rotation. Part of this could be trying to adjust going from Unholy Presence to Frost Presence, admittedly, but it feels like a problem.

If you want to see a comparison, switching to two-handed frost provides it. Thanks to the improved runic power generation on Might of the Frozen Wastes, two-handed frost can use Unholy Presence with ease, and its rotation plays nice and smoothly, very close to what it is on live.

Regardless, this issue has shown up in death knight discussions around the web lately, and there seems to be if not a consensus then at least a vocal movement. Something in the balance of presences needs to change.

The 1-second death knight

Monks currently get a 1-second GCD as a base feature of the class. Perhaps it's time that death knights get the same. Blood death knights are doing fine with the usual GCD, so it's likely this solution would simply involve giving the lower cooldown as a specialization to unholy and frost.

The advantage of this, of course, is that it would simply official codify the death knight playstyle that's been in place for some time now. All through Cataclysm, we've come to see the death knight DPS playstyle as a fast-paced, breakneck attempt to stay ahead of resource generation and make split-second decisions on how to spend. In a lot of ways, this hasn't been a bad thing. It certainly makes our playstyle compelling and unique enough, and by now, one would assume everyone playing a death knight is more or less used to it.

By suddenly switching course in Mists and sending people back to the slower, 1.5-second GCD, you're once again demanding that some death knights relearn a new style of DPS -- something which can, to say the least, be tiring.

On the downside, this will probably cause some short-term balance issues as Unholy and Frost Presence, since the main draw of Unholy Presence will suddenly be baseline. In addition, is the solution to everyone having to use Unholy Presence really to just make it baseline? Personally, my feeling is that while this may cause some short-term growing pains and balance issues, in the long run, the evolution of the death knight playstyle is drawing toward this, and there's no time like an expansion beta to really make changes like this. If it's between this big change now, or Mists of Pandaria's containing huge death knight balance changes almost every patch like Wrath and Cataclysm before it, I know which one I'd choose. Of course, I'm biased. I love the fast-paced style of unholy presence play, so making it a base feature of class would be fine with me.

What else can we do?

That said, changing the base way our global cooldown works might be considered a bit drastic by some people. In that case, let's say that for whatever reason, we're looking for alternate solutions. How would we take care of things if we decided that the 1-second GCD should stay on Unholy Presence and Unholy Presence only?

To start, of course, we'd have to deal with dual wield frost as it currently exists on beta. Is their reliance on Frost Presence for the base runic power they need to function a problem? If so, do we give dual wield frost more innate runic power regeneration so it can go back to Unholy Presence? And if we do that, have we then marginalized two-handed frost? It may be the decision here is that dual wield frost should just use Frost Presence, and if you want the old fast-and-frantic playstyle of frost, you need to picked up a two-handed weapon. After all, we've had some death knights complaining for a while they wanted a DPS spec that used Frost Presence again. If that's really what you want, you better be prepared to deal with the downsides of losing the speed of Unholy Presence.

Then again, what if the answer is to somehow put dual wield frost back on Unholy Presence, maybe giving Might of the Frozen Wastes a buff in the process so two-handed frost doesn't fall to the bottom of the DPS pile again? Maybe then what needs to occur is that Frost Presence very specifically becomes not an equal DPS presence to Unholy but a specific situational presence. It could be made into some sort of hybrid PvP presence, offering limited crowd control resistance or bonuses to stuns or slows. It could also be made into the AoE presence. If you're single target DPSing, you stick to Unholy Presence. If you're doing AoE, perhaps Frost Presence has bonuses that will keep things interesting there.

In the end, I believe the presence debate is fast becoming one of the most intriguing discussions to come out of the Mists of Pandaria beta, and it really probably deserves center stage, since it feeds into a lot of our central issues as they've developed over the course of Cataclysm. Is it OK for us as a class to find ourselves GCD locked when DPSing? Is it OK to completely abandon one presence for another, such as in current Cataclysm play, where no basic spec uses Frost Presence for normal, single-target PvE DPS? If we find that Frost Presence is viable for a certain specialization again in Mists, should we just suck it up and admit we need to respec if we want the 1-second GCD, or should we push for that to become a universal class feature? If we do push for that, how does Unholy Presence survive one of its main draws becoming a base class feature?

As you can see, the questions keep coming. The Mists of Pandaria beta is still young, and there's a long way to go, but if rune tetris and the GCD cap were the hot button issues of the Cataclysm beta, I think the 1-second GCD and the balance of the DPS presences may shape up to be the hot button issues of today.

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

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