4.0 Death Knight DPS - *bangs head into wall*

I'm reposting this from my personal blog back on Oct. 13th, right after patch 4.0 went live.  This sort of dissatisfaction played a pretty big part in me abandoning Chill of the Grave for a while.  I've gotten over a lot of it, not because I figured out some magic combination to make everything wonderful but because I just came to terms with it.  I'll have more technical posts on the changes in the near future, as well as on Blizzard's upcoming changes and my dabblings in Unholy, but for now, here's some ranting.

I'm not ready to give up on Dariahn yet, but I'm not getting along with the changes to Frost DPS.  The old rotation had a rhythm to it that clicked perfectly with me on, at risk of sounding really dippy, a deep, visceral level.  Icy Touch, Plague Strike, Obliterate, Pestilence, Blood Strike, Frost Strike while the runes refresh, Obliterate, Obliterate, Obliterate, Frost Strike while the runes refresh, Obliterate, Obliterate, Pestilence, Blood Strike, Frost Strike while the runes refresh, throw in a Howling Blast when Rime procs to keep me from zoning out too much...  The mathematical grace of the old rotation was dead-on perfect.  I felt a deep sense of satisfaction when I managed to get through, say, Koralon without having to reapply my diseases because everything clicked at just the right moment.  Nothing went to waste.  Yes, fights like Putricide that were nothing but waste were frustrating, but not every class can be good at every fight.

It was certainly no reason to make waste the default.

What, praytell, is the point of Festering Strike?  [Okay, I know now the point is to spam it in Unholy, but still.]  The cost of refreshing diseases - refreshing them for a whole 8 seconds out of their now-30-second duration - has gone from 1 Blood rune to 1 Blood rune, 1 Frost rune, and 1 now-useless Unholy rune.  Likewise, what was the point to reducing the cost of Howling Blast to 1 Frost rune?  If there was also an attack that used a single Unholy rune it would be forgivable.  In a Frost rotation, Blood Strike existed to use up those Blood runes that you weren't spending on anything else so they were not sitting there wasted.  It also turned them into nice useful Death runes.  Nothing serves that function for the Unholy rune left behind by Festering Strike or Howling Blast.  It sits there on my pretty little DKI Runes UI, a testament to the wastefulness of the new DK playstyle.  It mocks me.  I hate it.

I was also bothered by how often I found myself standing there for several seconds auto-attacking the training dummy because I was out of resources.  Yes, there were times in my old rotation when I might be out of resources for possibly two whole seconds if Rime didn't proc, but this was noticeably worse.  Despite what one might see in the occasional PuG or from that DK who is clearly only in the raid because they know people, Death Knights aren't supposed to just stand there auto-attacking.  This just isn't acceptable.

Maybe I'm wrong.  I'm willing to work on it, to concede that this is just growing pains from having to l2p all over again, to hope that once I get a proper new rotation hammered out everything will smooth out and I'll look back on this post with amusement.  Right now, though, I feel like my favorite class has lost its groove.

An Unholy Terror

I returned from my holiday trip this weekend to my roommate informing me that DW Unholy is not only a viable spec but is also a lot of fun. I dabbled in Unholy ages ago, but since 4.0 I was sitting on a Blood spec I pretty much never used because that's what happens when your roommate is addicted to tanking. He nudged me to give it another try, and in between my struggles with Yellow Dot Syndrome I ran a couple Heroics with it.

My first impression of DW Unholy, post-Cataclysm, is that it is fast. The Runic Corruption talent speeds up the notably slowed-down rune refresh rate, and combined with Reaping you almost always have some resources to use. Festering Strike becomes part of your regular rotation, so you don't have to worry too much about refreshing your diseases. Wrath Unholy was a strict rotation spec, whereas Frost at the time was notable for the procs. Unholy has procs now too, most significantly Dark Transformation, which turns your ghoul into a bigger, nastier monster, and Sudden Doom, which gives you a free Death Coil.

Initially I was a little disappointed to see the different specs lose their flavor - it's like if DW Arms was suddenly a viable Warrior spec - but I really enjoyed Unholy for the few hours I got to play it. Once I've had a little longer to experiment with it I'll have more to say beyond my first impressions.

Hail to the Lich King?

I mentioned in a previous post that Sylvanas Windrunner is travelling a dangerous path in Cataclysm, one that may lead to her becoming the next racial leader to be a raid boss. She seems determined to be the new Lich Queen. Her use of the Apothecary-engineered Blight in the battle against Gilneas is causing concern from both the Horde and the Argent Crusade, concern which she and those under her command are trying to soothe away with bald-faced lies. The Frostwolves refuse to help the Forsaken in the Hillsbrad Foothills because of what she’s done. She’s raising her own new army of (ostensibly free-willed) undead humans to bolster the Forsaken’s army using creatures who were previously willingly loyal to the Scourge despite clear opposition from the new Warchief. The Dark Lady has gotten out of control.

I also posted about the Horde’s Gilnean Envoys and their Scourge tabards. Taken at face value, this is an even bigger statement than anything else she’s done, openly embracing the symbolism of the Scourge from whom the Forsaken spent so much time trying to distance themselves. It’s a step short of actually calling herself the Lich Queen.

But let’s think about it from a behind-the-scenes standpoint. Blizzard is clearly leading up to something with Sylvanas. There’s Garrosh’s anger at her use of the val’kyr, Drek’thar’s outright rejection of the Forsaken’s request for aid, the Argent Crusade’s murmured disapproval, and the big cliffhanger with Koltira. She isn’t just doing terrible things, she’s doing terrible things and other characters are noticing. There may be a few content patches between now and when this all plays out, but it can’t be left dangling forever. So maybe these Scourge tabards aren’t because of Sylvanas. Maybe they represent whoever will be replacing her.

The most obvious candidate would be Bolvar Fordragon, the new, benevolent Lich King. Rather than command the Scourge as his army, he merely seeks to keep them under control. With Sylvanas gone, would the Forsaken be willing to follow a Lich King who isn’t Arthas and join a Scourge that allows them free will? It’s entirely possible. The question is whether Bolvar would be willing to lead a nation so opposed to his beloved Stormwind. He might view the Forsaken claim to the Plaguelands as justified and be willing to continue fighting the Alliance for it if the Forsaken become his people, and if his identity became known he might more easily convince Varian Wrynn to leave Lordaeron to them, but he also might side with the humans. He showed a willingness to work alongside the Horde at the Wrathgate, but that wasn’t against the Alliance. He could be effective at forging a truce in Lordaeron but might be less convinced of the need for war between the factions. And there’s the little fact that the Forsaken killed him in the first place. The Forsaken could be absorbed back into his Scourge and start using that crest as their own, but would Bolvar care to lead them?

Another possible replacement is Koltira Deathweaver, but his soft stance on the Alliance is what got him in trouble in the first place. That softness, however, is really only tied to one person, a person who has his own strong ties to the kingdom of Lordaeron. With a vacuum of power in the Undercity, Thassarian might decide the Forsaken, as fellow undead “survivors” of Lordaeron, are his people more than the humans of Stormwind. It would make sense, but wouldn’t fit the idea of Koltira and Thassarian representing their respective factions. But with the war against the Scourge over and the Ebon Blade’s storyline finished, do they still need to serve that purpose? I can’t see either of them taking up the Scourge’s livery, though. There’s a lot of baggage there that I don’t see either of them wanting to carry.

It is also possible that Sylvanas has quite simply gone off the deep end, and these Scourge tabards are the latest symptom, but I stand by my belief that something dramatic is in the works for her. We just have to wait and see what Blizzard has planned.

Undead at the End of the World

This was originally posted to Tumblr on 11/24/10. It contains SPOILERS for the new Forsaken starter quests.

I love the Forsaken. They’re angsty, they’re posthuman, they’re less vanilla fantasy than some races in WoW (though that’s an argument in favor of most of the Horde), they’re inherently evil but able to seek redemption - or not, they’re just all-around awesome. I also like hunters. They’re the class I have half a dozen of (almost all Draenei) sitting at level 12 on random servers here and there. I love the customization options of their pets, I love their ranged fighting style that’s still more active than a caster, I love their general solo OP-ness. They were the first class I got to any significant level, but they were left by the wayside due to not being available to Forsaken.

Oh, but that little issue has been resolved.

But what I’d really like to talk about is the changes to the Forsaken starting storyline and the area of Deathknell. My new hunter Anders is just the driving force that brought me there on the first night of 4.0.3a. There was always some question of where exactly all these new Forsaken were coming from, especially several years after the moment during the Frozen Throne when the Lich King’s power over his minions was interrupted and Sylvanas was able to break away with the first Forsaken. Most of us just fudged things a little, saying that Scourge were still breaking away here and there and joining the Forsaken. The new Deathknell gives a more solid answer for new Forsaken: Sylvanas has tasked her new val’kyr allies with raising every corpse they can find to join the Forsaken ranks. Your first “quest” is to be raised by the val’kyr hovering over your prone, immobile form. According to Deathguard Saltain they’re shipping bodies in from “Silverpine, Hillsbrad… hell, anywhere we can get them from.” He even sends you - and your new guardian buddy Darnell - to bring back the corpses of the Scarlet Crusaders who used to harass Deathknell. The Forsaken are serious about bolstering their ranks, and that’s where you as a new Forsaken character come in.

This doesn’t always work out, and that’s the main conflict in the starting zone. Undertaker Mordo is doing his best to sew people back together, but he can’t fix their heads. Some end up as mindless zombies who need to be culled, while others need to be coaxed into coping with their new unlives. Those who have minds but can’t cope try to form a revolt that has to be put down by force.

Deathknell incorporates phasing in a way that’s virtually unnoticeable when you’re playing through it. This significantly mitigated the overfarming of quest mobs in an otherwise busy area and made the whole thing flow as a story much better. The actual environment hasn’t changed much at all, but the quests and NPCs make it feel fresh. I haven’t played through any other starting areas yet - though I have a now-Horde-loyal Grimtotem druid planned - but I hope they’ve been overhauled as beautifully and thoughtfully as Deathknell.

Good Ol' Subtlety

I've decided, in the interest of having more to write about for this blog, I'm also going to talk about Forsaken in general here. Death Knights hooked me so completely because, in addition to being a plate-wearing melee class, they're also inherently Forsaken-like. The Forsaken are easily my favorite race to RP.

To that end, here is my first post that has nothing to do with Death Knights per se, but everything to do with Forsaken:

On the left there is a Gilnean Envoy, the PVP weekend NPC for the new "Battle for Gilneas" battleground.



Alas, Poor Koltira

This post contains SPOILERS for a quest chain in the Western Plaguelands. Consider yourself warned!

Lore-wise, Death Knights don’t get a lot of love in Cataclysm. Presumably, once Arthas was dealt with they all went home from the northern front and tried to find whatever place they could back in the land of the Living. Some very likely gave themselves back to the grave. For those of us who have carried on, our main story, the story of our vengeance against the man who turned us into the monstrosities we have become, is over.

I guess most of us found better things to do than stand around giving out quests, because there are only a handful of Death Knight NPCs outside of Northrend and Ebon Hold. However, there are two who play a significant role in the conflict over the town of Andorhal in the Western Plaguelands: Koltira Deathweaver and Thassarian. These two, introduced as BFFs during the Death Knight starting quests*, have often represented the Ebon Blade’s contribution to their respective factions. Rather than working directly with the Ashen Verdict in Icecrown, we see them commanding Horde and Alliance forces against the Scourge from their airships. But they’ve also represented the faction- and race-blindness of the Ebon Blade, as they are close friends despite this.

In Cataclysm, Koltira and Thassarian have each been put in charge of pushing the last of the Scourge out of the town of Andorhal. The Forsaken and the human forces of Stormwind are both trying to lay claim to the town, putting the old friends at odds with each other. After defeating the Scourge they declare a secret truce, but their peace is broken when a group of humans take it upon themselves to attack the Forsaken. When Sylvanas finds out, she promises a harsh punishment:

(Feel free to skip to about 4:45 for Sylvanas' confrontation with Koltira.)

What I find most interesting about this from a lore perspective is how much control Sylvanas has over Koltira. He’s not your average Forsaken, and he doesn’t owe anything to her unless there’s something we haven’t been told. It makes sense that he would have pledged loyalty to her rather than Lor’themar Theron or Garrosh Hellscream, but not so much that it could have been assumed. A woman who openly recruits former Scourge loyalists to her cause would surely be more than happy to give Death Knights a home in her army, but she can’t force them. Koltira made a choice to serve her and she treats him like property to be beaten into compliance if necessary.

There’s a lot going on with Sylvanas in this expansion that seems to be leading somewhere, and the cliffhanger nature of Thassarian’s declaration that he’s going to Tirisfal Glades to find out what happened to Koltira suggests they will be part of it. Blizzard has to have some resolution planned for that. There’s been speculation that the “Lich Queen” may not survive to the next expansion as her behavior continues to go above and beyond what even her allies consider acceptable. If Thassarian blows the lid off of what’s going on in the Undercity that may provide the catalyst. But if Sylvanas falls, who will lead the Forsaken? This is a plot thread that bears watching.

* Their close friendship - and possibly the fact that one of them is an elf - has led to Koltira and Thassarian being frequently “shipped” as a romantic pairing. I would be deeply amused with Blizzard if they made such a badass gay couple canon, but I’m leaving that opinion out of this.

How To Be Your Tank’s Best Friend (Without Turning Anything Into A Sheep)

A quick note up front: Most of my PvE posts for a while are going to be from a DPS perspective. Even before Cataclysm I officially declared DPS my main spec when I found a good 25-man ICC group that was full up on tanks, and now that I have a leveling/instancing buddy who insists on tanking everything I’m not called on to play meatshield as often as I was in BC and Wrath. I will cover tanking to a certain extent, but for the moment DPS is my specialty.

After the faceroll-fest that was Wrath Heroics, Blizzard decided to bring the pain back to dungeons in Cataclysm. Crowd control abilities that languished on some forgotten keybind for the last two years are suddenly in demand again. Crowd control abilities...that Death Knights do not have.

Well crap.

We aren’t completely useless, though. There are still things we can do to make dungeon runs easier for the whole party:

Don’t attack the sheep. Those of us who played back before crowd control went out of style should remember the importance of not hitting targets who are under the effect of crowd-controlling spells. All the trouble that mage or shaman went through to turn their target into a cute little animal will be for naught if you immediately run up and start AoEing in its face. Ideally the tank will pull mobs far enough away from CCed targets to allow you to hit Howling Blast, but be mindful that tanks who aren’t used to working around CC may not remember to do this, and even those who are may have some complication keeping them from doing so. When in doubt, just Obliterate the skull.

Watch for stragglers. Two abilities that make us such great tanks on our own can also help our tanks keep things together: Strangulate and Death Grip. If there’s a pesky caster mob who refuses to come over to the tank, use Strangulate to silence it and force it to come into melee range. If you’re dealing with something ranged but nonmagical like an archer, you can use Death Grip to bring it into the Death and Decay/Consecrate/Shockwave/Swipe area. Use it wisely. One of the biggest complaints about Death Knights is misuse of Death Grip, but when used in communication with your tank it can be an effective form of crowd control. If possible, let the tank know you’re going to do it before you do it - I cheat by being able to yell into the next room, but a macro will do - and immediately switch back to attacking the main kill target so you don’t keep aggro any longer than necessary. As plate wearers we can take a couple hits, but we can’t tank these guys solo in our DPS gear. Yank it into tanking range and then let the tank pick it up.

Take care of yourself. This is more to make things easier on your healer, but keep in mind that even with a DPS spec you have the ability to heal yourself up a little and mitigate some damage. Death Strike doesn’t do as much damage as a nice fat Obliterate, but as they say, you do 0 DPS when you’re dead. Anti-Magic Shell works wonders against AoE magic damage. Remember that your healer is dealing with a much more challenging mana situation than they’re used to and may have to choose between healing you and healing the tank. Don’t stand in the fire - or at least use Anti-Magic Shell.

Stand in the good. Some healing classes now have area-targeted AoE heal-over-time spells - think a healing Death and Decay - that they can cast into the middle of the fight to help keep the tank and the melee healed up. Learn what these look like and stand in them. For the love of all that is unholy, stand in them.

Interrupt whenever you can. Even trash mobs can do magic damage that will put a huge dent in your tank’s massive HP - not to mention yours if it’s an AoE. Learn what mobs cast interruptable high-damage spells and use Mind Freeze to stop them. Make sure your unit frame of choice has cast bars turned on for your target and keep an eye out for in-game and DBM warnings. Keeping the tank alive keeps everybody alive.

Save the healer. The short duration on Chains of Ice keeps it from being a proper crowd control spell, but if you notice something pulling away from the pack and heading over to eat the healer’s face it can be a lifesaver. Taunts can also be used in a pinch, but again, get it to the tank and then let them take it.

Remember, it’s an exciting new world for all of us. Be patient with your tanks, give your healers time to drink, stay out of the bad, and we’ll all be back in epics in no time.

/cast Raise Dead

It's been a while, hasn't it?

A combination of overwhelming amounts of expansion information, the disheartening news that they were taking DW Frost tanking away from me, and Real Life hitting me for 500k like a Whale Shark caused me to sideline this blog for a while. (If you genuinely care about my personal life I have Tumblr for that.) I'm back on my feet now, surgically grafted to a roommate who is Prot4Life, getting all my gear shined up at level 85, and ready to start writing again.

Expect to see the web design here change a dozen times over the next few weeks as I fluff the pillows and dust the mantel on this neglected site. I'll be discussing the place of Death Knights in Cataclysm both lore-wise and play-wise, as well as providing overviews of what Mastery means to us and what abilities and stats will do us the most good in post-Shattering Azeroth.

Patch 3.3.3 Notes, A.K.A. Blizzard Loves Me

As of this writing, the Patch 3.3.3 notes have some pretty delicious changes for Death Knights, especially of the Frost DW variety. Go on, take a look at them. I'll wait.

Done? Excellent.

There are three of these that I find particularly exciting for DW Frost in general and my playstyle in particular:

This is just a nice, straightforward DPS buff for DW. Any attack based on weapon damage, including some of our staples like Obliterate and Frost Strike, get a nice little buff from this talent by working alongside Threat of Thassarian. This will also buff threat generation for tanks as Nerves of Cold Steel was already a staple of DW tanking specs.

  • Icy Touch: This ability now causes a very high amount of threat while the death knight is in Frost Presence.

The implications of this are obvious, targeted at tanks of any spec. One of our lead-off spells, and a ranged one at that, now generates extra threat when in Frost Presence. I see this as a sign that Blizzard is trying to move people away from the single-disease Glyph of Howling Blast tanking style that's become popular of late. When single- or no-disease rotations have become popular in the past Blizzard has made changes to make them less desirable, and they seem to be continuing to assert that a two-disease (or three-disease for Unholy) rotation is the way they intend the class to play.

  • Improved Icy Talons: This effect is now passive instead of being a proc. The self haste buff remains unchanged.

  • Glyph of Disease: When this glyph causes Frost Fever to be refreshed, it will now also trigger a refresh of Icy Talons. (This is further down under the "Items" header.)
Now, the first of these two changes seems to negate the second, but a blue post has since explained that the glyph change was implemented before they decided to phase out ability-procced raid buffs across a number of classes. What this effectively does is make Glyph of Disease viable for Frost DKs who were only loved for their ability to keep Improved Icy Talons up for a raid group. I've spoken before of my fondness for Glyph of Disease for keeping your diseases up at a minimal cost, and this will enable you to do that without getting chewed out by your raid leader. I also note the second change because it shows that this is something Blizzard intends for us to be able to do rather than just a nice side-effect of the change to ability-procced buffs.

Of course, this is all subject to change, and I assure you if it does I'll let you know with a nice round of QQing. In the meantime, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that this goes live.

Being a Death Knight in a Post-Arthas Azeroth

SPOILERS AHOY! I've avoided a lot of details here, but if you're trying to avoid hearing about what happens at the end of the Icecrown Citadel encounter, you might want to skip this post.

We were enslaved by the Lich King, turned into abominations against all we stood for and then used as fodder for the Scourge's battle against all we cared for in life. Freed by the power of the Light, we swore vengeance against him and his armies for what was done to us. It was our reason to carry on in unlife, giving us fuel for our unholy inner fire. We would destroy Arthas for what he did to us.

And now Arthas has fallen. So now what?

Those of us who are RPing as Death Knights have now, with the fall of the Lich King, found ourselves at the end of the story arc that started the moment our characters were rolled. The Knights of the Ebon Blade were formed with the sole purpose of taking down Arthas. What's next for our characters now that he's dead? Is there anything left to unlive for?

To begin, it's worth noting that the Scourge does still exist. Bolvar Fordragon's sacrifice is keeping them in check, and presumably they will no longer be spreading, but one goal for your character could be helping to clear out what's left of the Scourge. There may be even more potential here once we learn more of what will become of the Plaguelands and Ghostlands in Cataclysm. There are rumors of a possible Alliance push into the region, giving the Alliance more of a foothold against the Forsaken and Blood Elves. If the land is being retaken, either by Horde or by Alliance, your character could dedicate themself to aiding in that effort and retaking old Lordaeron. This is an especially good hook for human, Forsaken, or Blood Elf Death Knights, for whom retaking the old homeland can be a very personal cause. It will take a long time to reclaim the land from the plague, but clearing out the Scourge is a good start. Death Knights are especially suited to working in the Plaguelands as undeath would make them immune to many of the toxins lingering in those blighted lands.

But maybe now that your character's need for vengeance has been sated they would prefer to focus on their own people. With talk of increasing tension between the factions in Cataclysm, your character may dedicate themself to harnessing their unholy power in defense of their people and their homeland. For those who have fertile, vibrant homelands to return to, this can also be a deeply personal cause, but one that may remind them of just how much they have changed since death. They may find themselves more driven to defend it because of this, desiring to protect in others what they themselves have lost. Alternately, they may find themselves feeling alienated. A Death Knight feeling that they no longer belong in their own homeland may take up the mantle of anti-hero, protecting those who fear them out of a loyalty deeper than the living will ever understand. Or they may decide to find a new cause or a new people to defend. Horde Death Knights of any race may find themselves more comfortable with the Forsaken than their own people and may choose to take up their causes.

Or maybe your character has something even more personal to motivate them. Perhaps they still have living loved ones to protect. Perhaps they've found another purpose on the path to vengeance and they now choose to dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to it. Perhaps they have a friend or loved one with their own path to follow, and they choose to join them. For those Death Knights who have rekindled old connections or forged new ones, finding a reason to go on after the fall of the Lich King is a little easier. Even Thassarian has a little sister to return to.

Remember, though, that a peaceful retirement is rarely the fate of one who has been bound to a vampiric runeblade. The fact that the Death Knights still retained their power after being freed from the Scourge proves that the cursed weapons don't rely on Arthas' existence. What they do require, however, and what they will continue to require is souls. Whatever path your character takes, it will be guided at least to some degree by that need to satiate the runeblade's hunger. Fortunately, in the world of Warcraft, a noble cause to kill for is never hard to find.

Death Knight 101: Tanking Basics

Whenever I ask my friends what sort of topics they'd like to see covered on a Death Knight blog, I almost always hear, "Tell them how to tank!" I came into DK-ing from playing a Prot Warrior in Burning Crusade, so I had already learned the basics of tanking back when "threat" was as much about yelling at your shaman friend who thought Chain Lightning was the best thing ever as it was holding the attention of the mobs. But for a lot of people, their Death Knight is their first tanking class. If that's the case for you, well...welcome to the wonderful, stressful, but ultimately satisfying world of tanking!

Let's start with the two most basic aspects of tanking: Threat and Mitigation.

Since patch 3.0, generating threat has been much easier than it used to be. Until your DPSing friends start pushing at least 4k DPS you'll likely hardly ever bother to glance at a threat meter. But it's still important to understand the concept, because to hold threat first you have to establish it.

Threat is, essentially, based on damage. So how do we generate more threat than the DPS if we do less damage than them? That's thanks to our good buddy Frost Presence. The most important thing you as a Death Knight can do to generate threat is to stay in Frost Presence! In addition to other benefits, Frost Presence makes the little bit of damage we do much more threatening than, say, your mage friend's damage. But you can't just turn on Frost Presence and stand there. Threat generation is why you will see tanking armor with DPS stats like Hit on it and why so many talents are shared between a good tanking spec and a good DPS spec in the same tree. Though I focused primarily on mitigation talents in my prior post regarding tanking talents, the need to generate threat also makes DPS talents like Bladed Armor excellent for tanking. This is why Threat of Thassarian, on the surface a DPS talent, made DW Frost tanking not only viable but the preferred tanking spec of the moment. All the mitigation in the world won't do any good if you can't hold the boss' attention well enough for the DPS to do their job.

When tanking, one should keep in mind the need for both single-target and AoE threat. Single-target threat is most important on bosses and on those rare occasions when DPS can be coaxed into focusing fire. However, whenever engaging more than one mob you always need to employ AoE threat tactics for one very important reason: so your healer doesn't get eaten. The most important tool Death Knights have available for AoE threat is Death and Decay, and I personally recommend it in any situation where you're pulling more than one mob. It's also a good idea to hit Pestilence as soon as your diseases are up on your main target to spread your DoTs around, and then of course Howling Blast if you're Frost. Death and Decay alone is enough to keep mobs off your healer, but a full disease and HB rotation will give you enough threat on the whole group to let the DPS say "lol kill order". As someone who started tanking as a warrior, nothing makes me happier than to see the DPS kill something I've held aggro on exclusively through AoEs.

And for any class, no matter your level or your gear, the single most important thing you need to do to establish and hold threat is pay attention! Death Grip or Strangulate that caster who didn't run into your Death and Decay with the rest of the pull. Taunt (in our case, that's Dark Command) that mob running off to smack the mage around. Situational awareness isn't what makes you a good tank, it's what makes you a tank, and you can never learn it too early or practice it too much!

The other basic aspect of tanking is mitigation, or your ability to take punishment and stay alive while not making your healer cry. This is a much more passive thing than threat. You will have abilities that you can use to decrease the amount of damage that you take based on your level and spec, but primarily your mitigation will be tied to your gear and your talents. I don't like bogging down my DK101 posts with too much math because I don't want them to be obsolete in a month's time - that's what the links to Elitist Jerks and Tankspot on the sidebar are for - but once you reach 80 there will be some vitally important numbers to remember.

While leveling, though, there aren't many benchmarks for mitigation, so the most important thing (apart from, again, Frost Presence) is to be as well-geared as you can manage. I can vouch for the fact that a DK in an Unholy DPS spec can get away with tanking Blood Furnace in starter gear and plate heirlooms because I did it once for a few pulls when the tank DCed, and my healer friend said it was no trouble keeping me up. But if you plan to tank as you level, put points into a proper spec for it and grab every quest reward with Defense you're offered. Greens with "...of the Champion" stats are also excellent. You don't need to have every slot filled with tanking gear like you do when you're 80, but the more you have, the better. Make sure all your armor is plate. You may have found some awesome leather gloves for DPS, but no one but a druid should be caught trying to tank in anything but plate. And that goes for any heirlooms you may have, too. Don't try to tank anything in cloth heirlooms! I saw a paladin try it once and it was not pretty.

Anything I have to say about level 80 mitigation will be completely obsolete once Cataclysm comes out, but for now, if you decide you want to start tanking at level 80, make sure you have at least 535 Defense Rating for Heroics and 540 for raids! That's Defense Rating, not raw Defense. This will keep you from taking massive critical hits. You also want items with Dodge and Parry for mitigation and Stamina for straight-up HP. Since Death Knights don't use shields, we don't benefit from Shield Block. In general, it's best to have as much of those primary mitigation stats as possible, especially as you're starting out and getting a feel for the role.

Balancing the Two
I often see newer tanks who are still getting a good grasp on these concepts asking, for instance, if they should use DPS weapons vs tanking weapons when dual wielding. This is an excellent example of deciding between threat (DPS weapons) vs mitigation (tanking weapons), and often these decisions are situational. If you're running Heroics in full T9 or T10 with equally geared DPS and heals, then you want to focus on threat so you can stay ahead of your friends. If you're just starting out in Heroics or with a group running earlier Wrath raids and your DPS friends aren't riding your tail on the threat meters yet, you might as well make life easier for the healers and focus on mitigation. Sometimes it's even good to put a nice slow hard-hitting DPS weapon in your main hand and keep a tanking weapon in your offhand for the mitigation stats.

With these basics in mind, I encourage anyone interested in tanking with their Death Knight to use the aforementioned resources to find the most up-to-date information on the specific numbers they want to be aiming for as of the most recent patch. Then check that Tank role, queue up, and good luck!

Buff Time!

According to a Blue post from yesterday, one of the assorted undocumented hotfixes from this week was a buff to Death Knight tanks! From the post:

Death Knight:
  • Frost Presence now provides 8% Stamina, up from 6% Stamina.

  • Icebound Fortitude now provides 30% base damage reduction, up from 20% damage reduction. For a geared tank with high defense, this translates to 50% damage reduction, up from 40%.

The interesting thing about the Frost Presence buff at the moment is that, if you have Improved Frost Presence, it's still only applying the 6% when in Blood or Unholy Presence. This gives you a very easy way to check how much of a difference that 2% makes. For me, in my 10-mans-and-badges gear, it was an increase of 490 HP. Presumably this will be rectified at some point, but for now it gives an easy point of comparison.

Death Knight 101: What Makes a Tanking Spec?

I mentioned in my last post that there are tanking options in every talent tree, but that you wouldn't want to use exactly the same spec for tanking that you do for DPS. So what sets a tanking spec apart from a DPS spec when they're both in the same tree?

The Big Three
Each tree has a first-tier talent that's a must-have for tanking: Blade Barrier in Blood, Toughness in Frost, and Anticipation in Unholy. Once you've filled out your chosen tree to the 51-point talent, these should be your next priority if you plan to tank while leveling. No level 80 tanking spec should ever be lacking these talents! You can use these as a cheat sheet in PuGs to see if your DK tank is actually a tank and not just a DPSer who wanted a faster queue. These talents, in addition to a set of proper tanking armor and a tanking-appropriate weapon rune, are part of what keeps you from going squish like a clothie.

The A La Carte Talents
Each tree also has at least a couple damage-mitigating talents far enough into the tree to make them prohibitive to pick up unless you're committing to that tree. Frost has several: Frigid Dreadplate, Unbreakable Armor, Improved Frost Presence, and Acclimation. Lichborne used to have a damage-mitigating component, but it's since been nerfed into something more suitable for PvP than tanking.

Blood's tanking talents are less directly mitigation-based. Scent of Blood doesn't mitigate on its own but procs when you mitigate. Veteran of the Third War gives a Stamina boost. Rune Tap, Improved Rune Tap, Vendetta, Mark of Blood, Bloodworms, Improved Death Strike, and Vampiric Blood are all self-healing talents. Spell Deflection and Will of the Necropolis are the only real mitigation talents in the tree. Improved Blood Presence should be skipped in a Blood tanking spec as you will still tank in Frost Presence (which I'll be writing about later.)

Unholy has the fewest talents with tanking utility, but Magic Suppression and Bone Shield do provide some mitigation. Again, Improved Unholy Presence should be skipped in a tanking spec because you won't be tanking in Unholy Presence.

Keep in mind that you may not need to use every tanking talent in your chosen tree, as depending where they're at in the buff/nerf cycle some may not be worth taking at the moment. And Death Knights can still do acceptable DPS out of Frost Presence with a tanking spec - not competitive with a proper DPS spec in raids, but good enough for soloing. When leveling or even in PvP you might want to put some points into these tanking talents for survivability.

Next I'll be explaining the Presences and why the best Presence may not match the tree you're specced into!

Death Knight 101: The Talent Trees

Because we start at level 55 and unlock our talent points over the course of only three levels' worth of quests, the question of which tree to put your talent points in comes up much sooner for Death Knights than any other class. We are also unusual for having talent trees that are less clearly-defined than most classes, as you can find a spec in any tree for either tanking or DPS (though you shouldn't rely on the same one for both if you want to do either well). There are more nuances than just, "This tree is for tanking," and as a result your choice of spec is based more on your own personal preference than anything else. So which one do you pick?

Before I really get into the meat of it I'd like to note that this post isn't going to be about min-maxing except for the occasional "As of this posting..." comment. We didn't see nearly as many adjustments to our class in the most recent patch as we have in prior ones, but Blizzard is still working out the kinks. The flavor of this month may not be the flavor of next, and I would like this post to still be a useful resource next month. Therefore, I'm just covering the concepts of the different talent trees rather than what's currently best. As always, I recommend Elitist Jerks for up-to-the-minute theorycrafting.

I'll start with Frost because, as you may have noticed, it's my specialty. Early in development, Blizzard declared Frost to be the tanking spec for Death Knights. They later changed their minds and gave all specs viable tanking options, but it's kept that reputation. More recently it's become the dual-wield spec because it is the only tree with talents that apply specifically to one-handed weapons. Both of these are misconceptions to a certain degree: It has excellent, solid tanking options but is not the only tree for the task, and while your DPS will be gimped if you try to dual wield as any other spec there are perfectly good two-hander-based Frost specs.

Personally, I see Frost as the AoE spec, whether you're DPSing or tanking, no matter what weapon you're carrying. The tree's 51-point talent, Howling Blast, is an AoE powerhouse for both damage and threat, doing damage on par with Obliterate on each mob it hits. Frost tanking is comparable to Paladin tanking for AoE threat generation, and it's excellent in any situation with trash pulls, especially if you're dealing with a rowdy PuG. For leveling, it's best for burning down large groups of mobs. If you're going to dual wield, the talents Nerves of Cold Steel and Threat of Thassarian are absolutely required for reasons that are self-evident in their descriptions. No other tree has talents that are specifically geared to bringing DW damage in line with two-handers.

The downside to Frost for most people is that, compared to the other trees, it's frankly kind of boring. There's no real gimmick to it. Even from a lore perspective, you have the necromancy tree, the vampirism tree, and the...hypothermia tree. The 9k+ AoE crits keep it interesting enough for me, though. The emphasis on proc-based talents like Killing Machine and Rime make it more reactive, which doesn't appeal to everyone.

TL;DR: Spec Frost if you want to dual wield or if you want to have strong AoE capabilities.

The whole point of Blood is survivability, both through raw stamina and self-healing. Early on it was primarily considered a leveling tree, since the self-heals meant you could keep going with very little downtime. More recently it's become a popular raid-tanking spec, trading Frost's AoE threat for talents that just plain keep you alive longer. Where Frost's threat generation is like a Paladin's, Blood's is like a Warrior's, with more emphasis on single targets. DPS is likewise more single-target based, with Strength-buffing talents that improve your overall damage but no AoEs except the basic class ones. This is fine for leveling, since you likely won't have more than a couple mobs to deal with and you can survive long enough to take them all down one at a time. It's also very good for boss fights. As a whole, Blood is the least magic-focused of the talent trees.

The downside to Blood is that when tanking, much like Warriors, you need time to ramp up threat on multiple mobs, which requires your DPS to actually show some restraint and maybe follow a *gasp* kill order. For DPS, your numbers won't look quite as good on those big trash pulls as more AoE-based classes.

TL;DR: Spec Blood if you want self-healing and extra survivability.

The poor Unholy tree has been nerfed and buffed and tweaked all over the place since Wrath went live, but the basic concept has stayed the same: This is essentially the pet spec. All Death Knights can summon a ghoul for a short period, but with Master of Ghouls you get a permanent buddy. It even gets a new name randomly generated from some ghoulish words every time you raise one, some of which are unintentionally hilarious: I have a friend who once summoned a Gravelstealer, inspiring us to express concern about the safety of our driveways, and I once saw a Bonegobbler which made me giggle because I have a dirty, dirty mind. The perma-ghoul is a great little DPS boost for groups or soloing as well as an irritant for PvP. It's also useful for distracting any mobs that might attack when you're mining or herbing. I went Unholy DPS for a bit before 3.2 made Frost dual wielding viable, and I missed my ghoul when I changed. Unholy also has an AoE in the form of Corpse Explosion, but it requires you to have finished killing something to use it, so it doesn't have quite as much utility as Howling Blast.

The downside to Unholy is that, while you certainly could tank in an Unholy spec, there's nothing to recommend it like Frost's AoE threat or Blood's survivability. There's also the added responsibility that comes with using a pet, such as keeping it from randomly attacking the wrong things.

TL;DR: Spec Unholy if you want to play as a pet class, or if you think making corpses explode is the best thing ever.

Hopefully now you have a better idea of which talent tree is right for you and your up-and-coming Death Knight. In an upcoming post I'll get more in depth on the nuances that can make the same tree good for both tanking and DPS roles!

Changing Gears

Things have been a bit busy for me of late and I haven't had much time to mull over post ideas, but I promise I'll have something with some meat on it soon, likely in more of a beginner's vein than most of my posts to date. There are a lot of basics that I still see people on assorted communities ask about, and while they're laid out elsewhere I know I'm the sort of person who prefers to know why something is over being told that it simply is. I'm sure that kind of approach to a tutorial would be helpful for others just starting out with the class.

I'm currently in the process of getting out of the RP guild-running business and moving to an RP-friendly friends-and-family raiding guild, and the distraction of that decision has been part of the reason for the dry spell. There are different flavors of casual, and I'm the sort who doesn't like to commit her whole week but who is serious when it comes time to get things done. This new guild seems to fit that mentality well. Hopefully it will give me even more material and ideas for posts here. Stay tuned! I'll be back to posting with an excessively verbose vengeance soon enough.

AddOns for Death Knights

Before I start, I recommend that any WoW player who is unfamiliar with addons read up on the idea itself. Addons can do add any number of things to your game, from making your user interface (or UI) more customizable to measuring your DPS to giving you a heads-up when your pizza is ready. Installation requires you to be able to navigate your computer's file directories, and they take varying levels of fiddling to configure, but if you don't already use them they can change your gameplay completely.

Anyone who regularly plays in a group situation will want to have a few particular addons installed. Omen Threat Meter, Recount, and Deadly Boss Mods or variations on them are all very basic, and they're all covered extensively elsewhere so I'm not going to go into detail on them here. They're also just as useful no matter what class you play (except possibly the first two for healers), so there's nothing very Death Knight-specific to discuss. Just remember that tanks want to be at the top of Omen, and DPSers want to be at the top of Recount! Though sometimes DPSers can get confused and think they want to be at the top of both.

For those already very familiar with addons, there are some I've found especially useful for Death Knights. Even a beginning DK can get a great deal of use from DeathKnight.info Runes/DeathKnight.info Diseases from the DeathKnight.info community. This is technically two addons, but they come packaged together and both are extremely useful. DKi Runes is a bar that you can move to anywhere on your screen that gives a graphical representation of your rune cooldowns as well as two other configurable bars that can be set to your HP or Runic Power. This lets you move your rune bar to somewhere more obvious than your character frame, and it looks really awesome to boot. For beginning DKs it's perfect for forming an awareness of your cooldowns, and even experienced DKs can benefit from tracking them more easily.

DKi Diseases fills a tracking function as well, in this case tracking your diseases. This addon creates movable, configurable bars to show how much longer your diseases will be up on your main target, with another underlay (or overlay) showing a timer for diseases spread to other targets by Pestilence. I can't stress enough how important it is for Death Knights to keep their diseases up! I've personally set mine to display right under the target frame below the other DoTs so I can glance up and see when I need to refresh them.

While it's not specific to our class, as a Frost DK I've found Power Auras Classic exceptional for making sure I get the most of my procs. It's an extremely fiddly little addon, and it may take a bit of tweaking to get it to do exactly what you want, but fortunately there's an entire wiki devoted to it. I use it to give me a heads-up when Killing Machine or Rime/Freezing Fog have procced as well as when my RP is getting too high. I have also tied the latter to a sound file of the Corrupted Ashbringer saying "Kill them all," because as we all know, runeblades are evil bastards. It's also good for letting you know if you're in the wrong presence, letting you know when Horn of Winter is no longer up, and any other warning you can think of. I've poked at it a little on some of my other characters, but my Death Knight is the one for whom I've found the most use for it.

I know there are other DK-specific addons out there I haven't tried, so feel free to comment with a testimonial on your favorite!