Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The other side of the fence is hereby desecrated

I have now tested out a lot of specs, in the following order: Unholy, Frost 2h, Blood, Unholy and Frost DW.

First and foremost, I found that I love the Glyph of Anti-magic shell. If I got it on before I get hit by a CC, I can ignore any attempts to CC me using magic for 7 seconds, often enough to drain half my opponents' health. Interestingly enough: It also allows me to run away from non-combat rogues. Combine Toughness, Da Voodoo Shuffle and Enigmatic Skyflare Diamond, and all movement-impairing effects last only half the original duration (actually: 53.55% of the original duration). Crippling Poison actually fades from me during the AMS duration, allowing me to safely run away, leaving a chained rogue behind.

Frost PVP

Supposedly, frost offers superior control compared to Unholy and Blood. I found the main controlling ability, Hungering Cold, to be a one-shot pony. Of course many would trinket it, but that's to be expected. However, since I'm mainly in BGs, and BGs usually are less than perfectly well coordinated, Hungering often broke almost immediately. Not only because of others attacking the targets directly, but because the targets were dotted and cleave damage.

I could put out a decent amount of burst damage if I could stay in melee, but PVP means you run in and out of melee range all the time. I have mixed feelings about the proc system; It's handy when you get a Killing Machine proc to know that you're going to deal a hefty crit with your next Frost Strike or Howling Blast, but unless I also waited for a Rime proc I would waste some of my dps. Technically. So I spent Killing Machine procs as they popped up. The problem is that killing machine seems to proc only on auto-attacks, and PVP has way less auto-attacks than PVE.

I missed a burst ability. A garantueed crit every 2 min is not much burst compared to Dancing Rune Weapon and Summon Gargoyle. Naturally, I also missed a pet, but that was not unexpected.

The worst part is that I felt very squishy. More so than Unholy. Unbreakable Armor looks like a nice cooldown for both dps and damage reduction, but requires a Frost Rune. Frost Runes are what is often lacking in PVP because I need to use Chains of Ice to stop my target from getting away after a Frost Nova or the like. Death Strike has no synergy with the rest of the tree, and heals for only 10% my total health. In addition, Unholy has three diseases that needs to be cleaned instead of just two, a clear advantage when facing dispelling classes.

I liked the fact that Iceblood Fortitude lasted so long. Owned several rogues with it. I also liked the snare, very handy. Howling Blast is also a good ability in itself, especially with the glyph, but it's not able to carry Frost alone unless you like the rest of the tree.

I never tried it as PVE dps. Proc watching like that is not my cup of poison.

Blood PVP

On paper, Blood offers increased survivability compared to the other two. 15% health back regularly, Rune Tap for 20% at a mere 30 sec CD, Mark of Blood, Vampiric Blood... I didn't test Improved Blood Presence and Bloodworms.

Blood was not too bad, but it had a few serious disadvantages. I liked the fact that Death Strike crit like a truck as long as you've got 25 runic power, regardless of any diseases. Having diseases up merely increases the healing it does to you. I also liked the fact that most abilities require a blood rune, which does not mess up your Frost-Unholy rune moves. In addition, with Death Rune Mastery you've got plenty of Blood Runes and Death Runes available. Vampiric Blood -> Rune Tap -> Mark of Blood anyone? For BGs, one of the best features is that Blood has almost no downtime at all. The snare from Glyph of Heart Strike works for its purpose well, but does require that you start any attack with Heart Strike despite having no diseases up, just to apply the snare. Dancing Rune Weapon was awesome for burst damage, especially since it has only 1.5 min CD. The problem, though, is that if you're CCed, the blade does not deal any damage either, so you need to time it well. Compare that to Unholy: The Gargoyle's damage is fire-and-forget.

The disadvantages... Blood is very dependant on staying in melee range. Frost also requires melee to do much, but you can deal ranged damage with Howling Blast (and Death Coil, if you're desperate) and diseases tick for a decent amount. Unholy's diseases hit hard, the pet will often be in melee range even if you're not, and Death Coil can deal good damage from a range. Blood, however... it's diseases ticks as hard as rain and have short duration (you don't have talent points for both Epidemic and Endless Winter). Death Coil hits for way less than Unholy.

I also found the sustained dps a bit lacking. I've read that Blood is very dependant on Armor Penetration. I've got a decent amount of it on my PVE set (around 30-40%) but in my PVP gear I only have 10%.

In addition, any healing reduction like Mortal Strike and Wound Poison hurt like heck. They destroy the advantage Blood has in survivability. Truth to be told, outside of lower downtime, I never really felt the advantage Blood has in survivability over Unholy. In fact, I felt tougher as Unholy.

Unholy PVP

Now I'm back to my roots again. Unholy works best for me. I feel tougher than any of the other two specs. Why? I've tried to think of a few reasons.

Against magic damage, 6% less damage taken all the time and 100% of spell damage absorbed by Anti-Magic Shell actually makes a difference. Anti-Magic Zone is good, but I often use it as a desperation move on my part, as it requires me to stand completely still. Need to find out how I can use it better. One of the cases I know of is when I get frozen by a mage, entangled by a boomkin or rooted by an elemental shammy; Then I'm not going anywhere anyway.

Each of the three trees have their own 1 min tanking cooldown. However, Vampiric Blood and Unbreakable Armor need to be used when you're under attack. Vampiric Blood is effective even on low health, Unbreakable Armor is not. It's also useless against magic damage. Bone Shield, however, can and should be buffed up in advance. It even lasts 5 min. Since there's a CD on 2 sec for each bone, it lasts a minimum of 4 seconds after the first attack. That means that for any surprise attack by a stealth class, I'm taking 20% less damage the first 4 seconds. That's actually a fair amount of damage avoided, especially since you can't trinket the Cheap Shot, you need to save it for Kidney Shot and sometimes for the following Blind.

When we're on the topic of rogue stuns, On a Pale Horse is a good PVP talent. 20% less duration on the stuns, combined with the above, translates to me actually having a fair amount of health left after a rogue or feral druid opener. It's also good against warriors (especially protection, bloody annoying bastards).

The permanent ghoul is also helpful. In particular the stun. I actually put it on auto when defending a node. Hello, rogue, want to stun me? Have a taste of your own medicine. In addition, Death Pact is easily available.

Improved Unholy Presence offers a solid 15% movement increase. That's actually a pretty serious upgrade, and does make a difference. Among other, I can outrun a warrior who is bladestorming me, given that he does not start on top of me. I didn't have any speed enchant on boots when tseting the there specs, which makes the comparison a bit unfair. When I don't have a healer, I'm usually PVPing in Frost Presence. I did try the other two in Unholy Presence, but felt it compromised my survivability too much. Frost Presence offers much longer time to live, and longer time to live means longer time to deal damage to my opponent. In the end, I deal more damage over my total lifespan. Against healers I switch to either of the other two, though.

And then there's Army of the Dead. With the other two specs, that's once in a while. As Unholy, I can use it more often, every 6 min. Nothing rocks calling those up when defending an Arathi Basin flag. I've even seen enemies turn away and head for somewhere else when I start bringing up my army.

A minor difference might also be the combination of stronger Death Coils and Lichborne for self-healing. However, it does not really compare to Blood's Rune Tap.

Finally, Desecration is a much better snare than I first gave it credit for. After all, it's automatically applied to everyone in the area. It allows better kiting of multiple enemies. While it is bad at stopping a single enemy from running away from me, it is probably better for allowing me to run away from an enemy. Besides, I've got Chains of Ice to stop someone anyway.

Aside from the survivability, there are also two other properties of unholy I love. First, the passive damage, namely the dots and pet. I can actually kite and bring a single enemy fairly low using dots alone. Kited a rogue all the way through the Warsong Gulch tunnel, only getting into melee with him for about 4 sec total to hit him with my Plague Strike and refresh Blood Plague on him, using Anti-magic shell to avoid getting snared myself. He did slow me with Deadly Throw, but couldn't catch up because I retaliated with chains myself.

Second, the burst capability. I've macroed Berserking and a trinket to Summon Gargoyle. As long as I can prevent the enemy from running away, the gargoyle deals really serious damage. Even better, it keeps firing even when I get chain-CCed. Has allowed me to win battles despite running around like a feared chicken because it kept firing.

On an unrelated note...

Disarming. It sucks. Royally. Death Knights have one semi-defense against it, though: Rune of Swordshattering. But that would mean sacrificing Rune of the Fallen Crusader, which is a serious dps upgrade. However, without it, rogues eat me for breakfast. Shadow priests and smart warriors too. If I get another identical weapon drop, I can have two different runes depending on the type of enemies I meet.


It's fun playing around, but Unholy really is my game. Not only mine, but 90% of the arena DK population, from what I can gather from reading various forums. With that said, many seem to play it as a support-spec, just applying pressure and allowing their team to set up the kill, often harassing a healer. Mind Freeze + Strangulate + Gnaw + Death Grip to keep healers busy for a long time.

Death Grip, you ask? Yes, it's a trick I learned from watching a PVP movie. You know paladins using Aura Mastery? Immune to silence and interrupts suck, huh? You can still stun them (though DKs are not the master thereof), but more importantly for us you can still Death Grip them. So when they use the mastery, move a bit away, and death grip right before the cast is finished. With good positioning, you can also pull them out of line of sight or range of their healing target. Fun, fun.

Posts I want to write:

  • Tanking specs testing results

  • When is it the healer, when is it the tank whose at fault?

  • When you no longer have access to any gear upgrades

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