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.