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.