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In the April 09 World of Warcraft patch 3.1, named Secrets of Ulduar, a lot of things changed in the game. Among the hundreds of minute changes made to both gameplay, professions, and items, significant changes were made to each individual class. Death Knights were by no means spared. Prior to the patch there was a lot of speculation as to what the changes would mean for the Death Knight class, as far as itemization, talent specialization, and ability rotations were concerned. Now that the patch is fully implemented, and has even been hotfixed, patched, and improved upon, we are now more fully equipped to discuss the status of Death Knights in the post-3.1 World of warcraft.
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DPS Talent Specializations - Blood
Part of what Blizzard tried to accomplish in the 3.1 patch was to equalize the "viability" of all three main talent specializations, both for tanking and DPS. For the most part, they were successful. I have seen various builds on Blood, Frost, and Unholy all perform on a fairly level playing field since the patch, whereas pre-3.1 there was pretty much nothing that could compete with the "cookie cutter" Unholy spec. Let's take a look at a basic good spec for each of the three talent trees, as far as DPS goes. We'll also discuss glyphs and ability rotations.
This spec is built around chaining Heart Strikes, Death Striking for Death Runes, and massive amounts of Death Coil. The 51 points out of Blood are all DPS-increasing, and we take Improved Death Strike to not only increase damage but to keep ourselves alive. This can be particularly important on the many Ulduar fights where raid-wide damage is very high, and also helps to mitigate the negative effects of using Hysteria. They key to this build is keeping diseases up 100% of the time, getting your Death Runes rolling early in your rotation, and dumping your runic power with Death Coil. You must also keep a watchful eye on your Hysteria and Dancing Rune Blade cooldowns, as they will significantly boost your DPS when used optimally. This spec also provides a raid-wide physical DPS buff via Abomination's Might. It takes a full three points in Virulance to ensure your Death Coils are always hitting, as in any given fight the number of Death Coils cast will exceed Heart Strikes by 2.5:1 (as a result of Sudden Doom procs). One point from Epidemic is taken so that disease refreshes fit comfortably into the rotation. Instead of putting a second point into it, and thereby messing up the rotation, we put it into Death and Decay to increase AoE effectiveness.
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DPS Talent Spec - Frost
This particular spec relies heavily on having the proper glyphs. In order to get the most out of it, you must have Glyph of Howling Blast and Glyph of Frost Strike. You don't use Death Coil in this build - rather, Frost Strike takes its place with more damage for less runic power cost. You also don't use Plague Strike at all, as the build only requires you to have Frost Fever up on your target(s). To pull this spec off, you open with Howling Blast, which when glyphed puts Frost Fever on all targets hit. You use Blood Strike twice to start the conversion to Death Runes, then you alternate Obliterate (which doesn't consume diseases) and Frost Strike for chaining massive hits back to back. When your Frost Fever wears off, you start the cycle over again. In addition to massive amounts of personal damage, this spec also provides a raid-wide buff in Improved Icy Talons that grants melee haste. AoE with this spec is a little bit trickier, since Blood Boil doesn't cause your Blood runes to convert to Death runes. However, there is no need to use Pestilence because Howling Blast will put the disease on all targets hit. The three points in Virulence is very importance since hitting with Howling Blast, a spell, is key to the rotation. The 17 points in Blood do nothing more than increase DPS. Bladed Armor should never be underestimated, as it is an attack power boost that directly scales with gear upgrades. By reaching deep into Blood we also gain a 5% critical strike gain on all abilities. Since we don't dual-wield with this spec, Two-handed weapon specialization gives an immense DPS bonus.
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DPS Talent Spec - Unholy
Prior to patch 3.1, Unholy was the be all end all of Death Knight DPS specs (although the diseaseless Blood and die-hard dual-wielders tried to argue). There were a few significant changes made to the spec that altered the way it is played, but could hardly be considered "nerfs". Currently, Unholy DPS Death Knights do much the same thing as they always have, lots of Scourge Strike, and extensive use of a big, ugly, persistent Ghoul.
A crucial aspect of making this talent spec work, and therefore worth mentioning first and foremost, is that you must have the Glyph of Scourge Strike. Scourge Strike is the bread and butter of the Unholy DPS spec, and you want to use it as often as possible. Having the Glyph allows Scourge Strike to reapply diseases on its own, meaning that instead of hitting with a weak Plague Strike and weak Icy Touch, you can hit for a heavy Scourge Strike that has the same effect, more damage, and takes less time. You still want to open up with IT/PS, but from then on skip it and use Scourge Strike. After your diseases are up you need to immediately do two Blood Strikes to get your Death runes converting. Then, use all of your runes for Scourge Strikes until the Death runes reset to Blood Runes. Instead of putting up diseases again, go straight back into 2x Blood Strike, with Scourge Strikes. In the middle of the rotation, where convenient, you need to put up Unholy Blight. Only use Death Coil if you have Unholy Blight up and lots of extra Runic Power. Your Ghoul is a large part of your DPS, and should be active all of the time. If it dies, quickly resummon. Don't let anyone tell you to dismiss it, no matter what. If you're afraid of it pulling extra aggro in a situation, use a macro so that it only attacks the target you are currently attacking.
#show Scourge Strike
/cast Scourge Strike
Effective use of your Gargoyle is also crucial with this spec. Because of the long cooldown, make sure you know the duration of the fight and whether you will be able to use it multiple times or not. If not, use it during the time when you have the most personal buffs, like Heroism/Bloodlust, trinket procs, etc. Your Gargoyle's damage is based upon your stats at the moment you summon it, so get the most out of it!
Death Knight Blood Spec Guide
- World of Warcraft Death Knight Blood Spec Guide Part 1: Basics
- World of Warcraft Death Knight Blood Spec Guide Part 2: Talents
- World of Warcraft Death Knight Blood Spec Guide Part 3: Abilities and Rotations
- World of Warcraft Death Knight Blood Spec Guide Part 4: Gear
- The Death Knight - One Fun Class
- WoW Patch 3.1 Proposed Class Changes - Death Knight
- The Definitive Guide to the Post 3.1 DPS Death Knight