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.
On Twitter a few days ago, Technical Game Designer Celestalon asked on twitter what abilities people would hate to see cut in the great button bloat purge. Interestingly enough, when I saw the tweet, the first thing that come to my head was abilities I would LOVE to cut. Still, the tweet was inspirational enough that today I figure we can talk a bit about some abilities. What active, button pressing abilities could death knights stand to lose? What abilities would we like to see stick around even if they seem perfect for chopping? Here's 5 skills I think the devs may be taking a hard look at. Feel free to add any you think I missed in the comments.
Dark Simulacrum is one of those skills that, in my mind, looks great on paper but hasn't been so useful in PvE. Essentially, it allows you to steal spells, but only by absorbing it once it has been cast. In PvP, this means you need to anticipate when someone casts a spell or be able to hit your Dark Simulacrum hot key in the split second during their cast time. In PvE, this means you need to do the same thing, but most of the spells NPCs cast can't be duplicated. In addition, many spells will do almost no damage because they're trying to copy off your non-existent spellpower stat.
I mean, don't get me wrong, I have fond memories of stealing the red power draining line thingy from Mandokir and all, but Dark Simulacrum is just so spotty and inconsistent in PvE, I wouldn't miss it all that much. That said, this skill may be saved by the one fact: It's not really mandatory on our hot keys. Killing a skill for button bloat only really works if it has a permanent place on almost everyone's main action bars. While DS has its issues, PvE can safely keep it tucked away as a sometimes thing, which makes me think it's probably not in that much danger after all. There's most central abilities to attack.
Bone Shield seems like the perfect button to get rid of at first glance. It's a completely passive buff. You press it, you get 2% more damage reduction for a while. The biggest claim it had to dynamism was that it worked with avoidance to last longer and give more protection, but with pure avoidance stats coming off of gear in Warlords of Draenor, even that's probably gone as an argument. If you add a bit more innate damage reduction to Blood Presence, you've done the same thing as the ability does.
Still, this is one I'd argue for keeping in, because it's far too iconic to the class. This is probably silly for me to say, as I've spent most of the expansion disguised as a paladin of Theramore, but I enjoy having skills that provide iconic touches to a class or spec. Just as frost mages have Ice Barrier and shamans have Lightning Shield, death knight tanks have Bone Shield. Having that graphic twirling around lets you know that death knight's on the field, and I'd hate to see it go away.
Soul Reaper is one of the newer additions to the death knight tool kit, and it was fraught with controversy from day one. Originally death rune only, it was made slightly less awkward by the creating 3 different versions, one for each spec, which spent that spec's signature rune. There's a few issues with this skill that can make it kind of awkward.
First, it's available all the time. This means you have to be actively watching for the mob to hit 35% before you can use it to its best effect. This is something that's easily monitored by an addon or some option tweaking, of course, but for a newbie or casual death knight, that's easier said than done.
Second, even once you get used to making the switch, the actual mechanics can still be a little bothersome. You can do it too early and waste the proc because the enemy's still over 35%. You can do it when the enemy's about to die, in which case you get a haste proc. That haste proc can be okay if you're fighting lots of enemies, but if you just killed the boss, or can't get into melee range of your next target fast enough, it can feel disheartening to have wasted it.
Admittedly, problem number one could be solved by implementing an in-game notice similar to how Execute already works for warriors. Let the button light up when it's time to use it. Problem number two is probably more of a nitpick than a problem, given it can only happen at 2 points in the battle and results in a relatively minimal DPS loss if you're doing it right. Still, if you want to get rid of a button for death knights, Soul Reaper seems like an obvious choice. Let us stick to our normal rotation, and if we really need to do more damage when the mob is low health, just reimplement Merciless Combat and tweak it to work for all 3 specs.
Icy Touch and Plague Strike
Let's be honest. Using runes to apply diseases sucks. There's a reason Outbreak is a staple of the end game rotation, and so much of our time is spent keeping diseases refreshed as much as possible, be it pestilence swapping or Festering Strike for unholy. Disrupting your rotation to put up those two diseases when Outbreak is on cool down is anything from an inconvenience to an outright burden, depending on your spec.
Blizzard's already made more than one move toward making diseases easier to apply. Plague Strike now applies both diseases from unholy. In Warlords of Draenor, strikes will no longer get bonus damage from having diseases up, so there's less reason for you to reapply diseases if a mob's going to die in less than a minute or so and Outbreak's on cooldown. With Blizzard making so many changes to make it easier on us to use disease, why not just take the ultimate step and throw out both Plague Strike and Icy Touch? Suddenly, you've freed up two perennially occupied bars on everyone's main skill bar, and with Outbreak neatly filling in the gap, nothing's really lost. Any Death Knight worth their salt (at least until Plague Leech become near-mandatory, but I've said enough about that in previous columns) was already trying to avoid using them as much as possible.
That said, there is one area where Icy Touch comes in handy, which are phases where you can't get in melee range of something. Having Icy Touch allows you to at least do some filler/backup damage and generate some runic power so you can add a death coil or two.
There's two arguments to be had here. One is that if Icy Touch needs to be used on so many important boss battles as a ranged filler, that may be as much a design issue as anything else. If Melee consistently have to stay out of melee to survive a boss fight, is that compelling design?
Of course, it's unlikely the devs will ever permanently remove the "stay out of melee" range option from their boss toolkit, so the second argument is that we do need some ranged filler. In that case, I'd like to copy a suggestion I saw Magdalena over at Son of a Lich make the other day, and suggest Icy Touch's damage simply be rolled in Chains of Ice. Outbreak loses the cooldown and becomes our main disease applier. Plague Strike goes away. Chains of Ice then becomes the defacto ranged damage filler for death knights, with utility to work well in both PvE and PvP. Of all the possible buttons we could lose, I think this would be my favorite adjustment.
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.