I write this post mostly from a PvE DPS standpoint, but hope that PvP and tanking Death Knights can relate to what I’m saying.
(Credit and thanks for the title goes to Consider of Dragonblight-US.)
A brief retrospective
Death Knights began Cataclysm with the hope that our class would experience more stability after the rather tumultuous times of WoTLK. Let’s be fair: Every patch in WoTLK forced us, in some way, to redefine how we played our class. It wasn’t about numbers fluctuating; it was about changing how ours specs were played, what stats/gear they valued and what mechanics it was dependent on. Our glyphs, rotations, etc. All of it was kept in a state of flux.
This was most certainly the case with Unholy, which saw DW, Shadowfrost, 10-second rotation and Obliterate-centric builds. Less than 48 hours after Patch 3.3 went live, the newly revamped Scourge Strike was nerfed with no warning, leading to us having to rebalance stat priorities yet again.
This was also the case with Frost which began as being Two Handed, went Dual-Wield, became broken for ToC and then finally returned in Patch 3.3.3 with ArP heavy builds.
It even extended to Blood which began by using Diseaseless Obliterate/Heart Strike heavy builds, eventually dumping Obliterate for Death Strike and then valuing diseases again. In 3.3, Blood began valuing ArP with the same fervor as Fury Warriors.
In summary: Wrath was a rollercoaster ride that forced us to have to relearn the class repeatedly. Don’t get me wrong- I actually enjoyed part of it. The constant change actually forced me to learn more “general” WoW mechanics so I could make sense of what kept happening. However, eventually, all the nomadic jumping from one spec/playstyle to the other tired me out.
It tired us all out.
The optimism (and reality) of Cata
Coming into Cataclysm, it’s obvious why many of us were excited. We were receiving a revamp to our runic system, a new mechanic (Runic Empowerment) to compensate for rune regeneration times and a dedicated tank tree (instead of an odd mix of tanking talents scattered across predominantly DPS trees). In short, we had the makings of finally being a steady, stable class with each tree fulfilling dedicated niches. Blood was for tanking. Frost delivered rapid, fast weapon strikes and was built around procs and priority. Unholy relied on pets and had a slightly more “rotation” type feel to it, though Sudden Doom admittedly added a proc type element to it.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t quite a few problems in this transition. Many of us saw them coming all the way in from beta and dutifully posted/discussed these problems at length. We urged careful consideration of the matter. Simply neutering or buffing an ability or talent hadn’t been the way to go with us in WoTLK, and it wasn’t the way to proceed now. It wasn’t just minor “Oh this is bugged, it needs fixing” nonsense that we posted about. It was the bigger picture.
Each and every potential problem was documented on these forums and others we know the community, developer and player alike, frequent. Yet, for some reason, it feels as though Death Knights are right back where we began. It’s as if, despite the continuous work put in by the player community (many of whose best and brightest I have had the pleasure of talking with), our class continues to go through turbulent changes. This doesn’t just apply to patches, but also hotfixes, such as the Unholy nerfs shortly after 4.0.6 was released.
We’ve seen the rise and fall of Dual Wield Unholy.
We’ve seen the rise and fall of Mastery-Heavy Frost Presence using Dual Wield Frost builds, mostly because of GCD locking and the BoTN change.
We’ve seen the ghoul start off being Unholy’s highest portion of damage, had it nerfed severely, and then had Scourge Strike eclipse that.
We’ve seen Mastery go from a near worthless stat for Unholy DKs to becoming a high priority stat after Haste. More re-gearing.
Today, we’re seeing the rise of Shadowfrost 2.0, a Frost spec that emphasizes spamming Howling Blast and skipping Obliterate completely. It’s already quite competitive in the current environment, though admittedly beaten out by Obliterate-centric builds on some fights.
Each and every one of these problems was predicted well before they began to manifest themselves on Live. If you don’t believe me, check out some of Consider’s posts on his blog well before the release of Cataclysm.
Concerns for 4.2
In Patch 4.2, for whatever bizarre reason, Blizzard has announced that they intend to nerf Obliterate, which will guarantee Shadowfrost’s supremacy. Our guess is that the nerf is PvP motivated, but that hardly makes sense given how Obliterate’s usage in PvP has been phased out steadily.
Of course, none of us expects this to last long. Shadowfrost is undoubtedly an abomination spec that will be broken by Blizzard. It’s not a question of “if”, but rather “when”. Will it be a hotfix that we find deployed on live realms soon with no warning (much like the 3.3 Scourge Strike nerf)? Will it be added in with Patch 4.2? Or will Blizzard only nerf it after the Obliterate change in 4.2? The point is, we know the nerf is coming. What we’re worried about is how it’s going to be done. The majority of us agree: Howling Blast needs to be reexamined and reevaluated majorly. Simply reducing its damage by x% doesn’t change its inherent design flaw.
This patch and beyond
Unfortunately, Blizzard’s track record with our class has shown they either don’t realize or don’t particularly care when one of their “simple” number reductions results in upheaval for the spec. I don’t even want to bother listing the possible ways they could go about improving the specs while keep our numbers decent because other DKs in the community have already phrased it more eloquently than I ever could.
This “rant”, if you want to call it that, essentially boils down to one question: Where do you plan to take us from here Blizzard? Do you plan to ensure that our theme no longer remains, as speculated in late WoTLK: “Every patch, a new flavor”?