Probing the Death Knight

5th December 2008 – 4.31 pm

I have been a bit unsure as to what powers my Death Knight's abilities. Certain talents refer to 'spells', yet they certainly aren't powered by mana, and other abilities are based on melee attacks. I think I'll try experimenting to find out what stats would be best to boost.

I'm not exactly hard-core when it comes to gaming and am happy being able to find out effects with liberal use of tooltips, preferably where they are easy to find. The tooltips for my powers were not overly enlightening, although I have since found that more information is given in the spellbook's tooltip, so I need to find a way to reveal the effects of changing stats. I could try looking it up, as I have no doubt others have done this already, but I like the idea of finding out for myself.

My idea is simple: buy some cheap items from the auction house and make use of the new target dummies in the cities whilst wearing different items. I will wear items that boost only one stat, as much as is possible, use an ability a few times on a 60th level target dummy and note down the damage numbers. To cover my blushes I will be wearing a simple dress as well, which happens only to have spirit-boosting qualities. Mind you, as I normally wear full plate on a female toon my blushes cannot be spared as I run around in what appear to be crotchless trousers, but for this experiment my underwear will not be visible, thank you.

My first stat to try boosting is +spellpower. Death Knights apparently have spells, but does spellpower boost our damage output? I don a few cheap items that increase my spellpower and throw several icy touch spells at the dummy. There is no change between having spellpower and without it, so I suppose I'm casting spells that aren't actually spells. Taking a look at my basic stats and mousing-over each one shows that strength looks like a good candidate for changing damage, which wouldn't be a surprise for melee-based attacks but doesn't directly follow for the ranged spell-like attack of icy touch.

I throw on a bunch of +strength items and start pounding on the dummy again with icy touch. To my surprise the damage from icy touch is increased in relation to my strength. It doesn't really make sense but it is a definite change. I don't have many other items that I can play around with, as I really only started wondering about spellpower, so coming away with the knowledge that I need to boost strength primarily for increased damage and to ignore items with spellpower is a good result.

Later, I search for some death knight theorycraft, to see if I can get any information from people who are more experienced at digging in to the underlying mechanics. I quickly find myself at the Elitist Jerks forum and find that strength and weapon damage are apparently the two most important stats for a DPS-focussed Death Knight. This ties in with my simple experiment as well as the spell powers that key off weapon damage directly. I also delve a little in to spell rotations and am pleased to see that I have already worked out a fairly optimal rotation for heavy damage.

One change I make as a result of my research is to my talent spec. When I first started the Death Knight, which begins at 55th level, the talent points are handed out as quest rewards like sweets and the talent tree fills up pretty quickly. Quickly enough, in fact, that you can assign talents to abilities that you won't be trained in for a few levels, which, unless you are keen and examine all the powers you'll be getting up to 80th level, can make it tricky to work out the relative utility of the respective talents and trees. I liked the sound of the frost tree so worked my way down the tree in a hopefully intuitive way.

I was curious as to what the other trees may offer that I haven't really examined, perhaps putting fifteen or so points in to another tree to gain a significant boost in effectiveness without sacrificing too much frosty goodness. One frost-spec looked appealing from the Elitist Jerks forum, which I modified slightly to suit my own designs. I now have a frost and blood Death Knight talent spec.

The blood talents are essentially to get me bladed armour for the extra attack power from my armour value, which is a splendid boost to damage output. There is a similar talent for the protection warrior. Although the warrior can carry a shield, which is a huge armour gain, the plate-wearing Death Knight still benefits significantly from this talent. The reduced threat generation and extra runic power will help to maintain high DPS whilst not taking away the opportunity to be a tank whilst in frost presence, so having to take those talents to get to bladed armour is not a problem.

In the frost tree I removed icy reach and added annihilation. Increasing the range of attacks is normally useful, but icy reach extends the range from twenty yards out to only thirty yards, where thirty yards has generally been the standard long-range attack that gets extended even further. Being able to cast from thirty yards away is not a change that is worth spending two talents points on.

Annihilation is a talent that I overlooked because I hadn't got the obliterate power by the time I spent most of my points. Because some powers hit for increased damage on a diseased opponent, the diseases themselves are damage-over-time effects, and replacing the diseases would require wasting global cool-downs and resource-limited runes, being able to use obliterate without having to worry about its side-effect of removing diseases allows for a good DPS gains.

By moving some points to the blood tree I am now going without acclimation, which is an excellent talent when dealing with spellcasters, and particularly enemies with continuous auras but it may be too narrow in focus. As my current talent tree is only constructed up to 63rd level there is room for expansion as Gnomeblight gains levels, so I can consider adding it back in later. I will also have to consider what other talents will be useful soon, as my now even-more-efficient Death Knight romps through the Outlands, leaving a swathe of destruction in her wake.

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