Testing the Death Knight presences

1st January 2009 – 11.52 am

Having reached 70th level with my death knight and gained unholy presence I am keen to find out how the boosted attack speed and reduced global cool-down (GCD) affects my damage-per-second (DPS) output. More specifically, I want to see how the extra speed offered by unholy presence compares to the inherent extra 15% damage of blood presence. Not being particularly hardcore the most scientific and unbiased way I can think of to accomplish a comparison is to head to Ironforge with Gnomesblight, my death knight, to beat up a target dummy.

Being 70th level it seems best to hit a 70th level target dummy. I also start each test from a known and repeatable base, with no buffs, no runic power, and the same equipment. I reset Recount, my damage meter, and start my regular attack rotation standing right next to the dummy, buffing myself with horn of winter as soon as enough runic power becomes available. I don't really need to use horn of winter for this test but its two-minute duration offers a reliable timer that can be used for each test, as well as hopefully being long enough to average out the critical hit chance and any special abilities triggering. I pound on the dummy in blood presence and unholy presence, resetting myself and the damage meter after each attempt.

After about a dozen rounds in each presence I think I have enough data for my limited and amateur testing. During optimal runs I am getting about 800 DPS in unholy presence and 830 DPS in blood presence, with runs both above and below each of those figures. The extra 15% damage that blood presences gives the death knight is enough to counter the 15% increased attack speed and 0.5 second reduced GCD, but blood presence only out-damages unholy by around 5%.

The speed of unholy presence allows for quicker reapplication of diseases should they miss, as well as a much faster rotation that delivers all of my powerful strikes more rapidly. The problem with using all my runes so quickly is that during my test I am often left waiting for runes to recharge or rune power to build up, which slows down the DPS. The Butchery talent builds up two runic power every five seconds, which is not quick enough in unholy presence to have built up enough runic power to use the spells that require it before all runes have been burnt through with brutal haste.

In blood presence, on the other hand, there is often too much to do. It is not just that the Butchery talent has enough time to build up runic power, but an efficient spell rotation that uses all the runes—icy touch, plague strike, blood strike, blood strike, obliterate—takes long enough with the normal GCD that the runes become available immediately at the end of the rotation. The rotation can be started again without delay or the built-up runic power can be used for a talent-gained frost strike, adding some redundancy to the rotation.

Both presences therefore have a weakness. The fast unholy presence can leave me waiting for resources to recharge to power spells and the powerful blood presence taunts me with too many resources for them to be used with maximum efficiently. But it must be acknowledged that hitting a target dummy is a theoretical test only and practical use of the powers offers a different experience. For example, runic strike, which needs an attack to be parried or dodged, will not be triggered from attacking an immobile target dummy but can be used against an active mob for extra DPS and to use some of the accumulated runic power. This is particularly applicable when in blood presence, as runic strike is activated as part of a normal weapon strike, not as part of the GCD, so can utilise runic power without altering the spell rotation.

The Butchery talent also boosts runic power after a kill that bestows honour or experience points. During PvE that talent will see the death knight with residual, if decaying, runic power outside of combat for a short period of time, or at the very least give the death knight enough runic power to rebuff with horn of winter between fights.

Most importantly, mobs die in solo PvE far more quickly than the two minutes duration I used on the test. The two minute test is good to find a theoretical base DPS value but doesn't mirror actual combat reliably. Repeating the test against mobs in Netherstorm, in both blood presence and unholy presence and using a method as repeatable as possible, the mobs are killed too quickly to give a fair report. Abilities triggering and critical hits are too variable, even when fighting more than one mob at a time or chain-pulling mobs.

Essentially, then, there is little practical difference in DPS between blood presence and unholy presence during solo PvE. However, I should elaborate a little on what I perceive as the use of each presence. Frost presence, with its increased armour and threat generation and unmentioned until now, is unarguably for tanking. The speed of unholy presence allows for all powers to be blasted through in short, quick bursts of extreme damage that, along with the movement speed boost, makes it obviously ideal for PvP. I would also say that unholy presence is good for solo PvE. Even though blood presence does a little more damage the reduced GCD makes combat apparently if not actually quicker and when coupled with the increased movement speed questing feels faster and more fluid.

Never the less, blood presence remains useful in one aspect, that of group DPS. When in an instance with a tank and healer the longer duration combats that are typical when fighting elite mobs are ideal for the extra DPS offered by blood presence, with its abundance of resources and thus options.

One last note: my testing revealed, and a search has verified, that the horn of winter ability doesn't share the reduced GCD of unholy presence. As it can be, and probably ought only to be, used out of combat it is not a major problem, but it can cause a GCD 'stutter' when refreshed during combat.

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