With patch 5.2 in full swing, we've had time to take stock of the changes, not just in terms of new content, but in terms of the buffs and nerfs our classes received. I'm just going to come out and say it. As a class, death knights feel about the best they've been since the Wrath era. There's a lot of great stuff to be excited about, so let's go down the list.
Unholy is fun again
Unholy has, as a spec, been sort of on the outside since Cataclysm. Blizzard's revamp, which put unholy on a different rune spending scheme from the other specs and pulled it even further away from weapon damage and toward special ability damage, created a unique melee spec, but the complications and weaknesses that came with that spec were a bit much for many people, and with frost generally beating it in both DPS and simplicity, the spec gained a reputation for being played only by the most hard headed diehards.
Patch 5.2 came along and bought with it a much needed unholy revamp. The addition of Frost Fever to Plague Strike alone has helped make unholy's rotation smoother and more intuitive, as well as made target switching feel at least a little less punishing. AoE is still a little more awkward, but with Icy Touch on Reaping, you can at least get through that first setup and get to the main AoE rotation a lot more smoothly.
The gargoyle changes are another area where, with a few simple tweaks, Blizzard managed to not only make unholy more appealing, but head off a few nagging balance problems at the pass. First, making the gargoyle free was definitely a good move. At 60 runic power, casting Summon Gargoyle means you're sacrificing a few Death Coils. This isn't a big deal if the gargoyle does a lot of damage. Unfortunately, the gargoyle simply doesn't. Changing Summon Gargoyle to free, then, not only makes it easier to fit into a rotation, it makes it a no-brainer and allows you to feel at least a little less angsty when it bugs out as pets are wont to do.
With these changes, unholy is looking to be in a very good place. While not all of the traditional issues are solved, per se, these changes have, so far, made unholy a much smoother and more engaging spec.
Frost is a bit beefier
One of the somewhat unexpected but very welcome changes we saw near the end of the patch 5.2 PTR was some buffs to frost DPS:
- Howling Blast now deals 8% more damage to the primary target. Damage to other enemies in the area-of-effect remains unchanged.
- Icy Talons now increases attack speed by 25% (was 20%).
- Might of the Frozen Wastes now increases melee damage by 15% (was 10%).
PvP buffs help survivability and utility
Death knights have been notorious for shutting down casters for some time. We have multiple ways to keep spells from casting, and a good death knight knows how and when to use them all. But at the same time, Strangulate, our only true silence, had a cooldown of 2 minutes. This wasn't necessarily crippling, but it was a bit of a long cooldown for only lasting 5 seconds. Blizzard agreed, and knocked it down to 1 minute with this patch.
Another small buff to survivability in PvP was the ability to switch in and out of Blood Presence and keep the same percentage of health. This means that if you have to hit Blood Presence while being focused fired, in addition to the damage reduction, you get a bit of extra health. It's perhaps not much in the long run, depending on your health pool, but it does add to your chances of riding out a dogpile in the battlegrounds.
Some talents are more equal than others
The 4th talent tier has been a little unbalanced for a while. Thanks to Death Siphon stealing runes needed for DPS and Conversion completely blocking our rune regeneration mechanics, Death Pact was generally the choice for death knights in most situations.
In patch 5.2, Blizzard tried to fix this by boosting Death Siphon's heal to 150% of damage done, while Conversion now takes half as much runic power as it used to, from 10 runic power per tick down to 5 runic power per tick. Technically, this leaves the base issues each talent has intact, but the healing looks like it just might be enough to make it useful after all. Having more choices is always a good thing, and it may just be worth mixing one more talent tier up now.
But what about the numbers?
Of course, all these little changes are nice and all, but do the numbers stack up? Unfortunately, it's a bit early in the patch cycle, so it may be too early to say for sure. That said, preliminary reports appear optimistic. All three major DPS styles appear to be above the median in DPS for sure. Unholy appears to be holding its own very handily, so the changes not only improved quality of life, but certainly haven't negatively affected DPS.
Unholy also has more optimism in its future from the prospect of tier 15 set bonuses, which promise to scale very well for them. Unholy already has superior strength for those risen warriors, and similarly hits hard with Soul Reaper. We'll need a few more weeks to get more numbers, but so far, everything points to the future being very bright for the death knight.
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.