So why am I jumping the frost ship? Well I had the opportunity to play both DW frost and unholy on the PTR, and while both have very similar damage output unholy stands out as just plain fun to play. Like so many other classes in the patch, Blizzard is introducing new reactive themed abilities (such as the Rime ability for frost DK's) and unholy is no exception. On a personal level, I would never play a spec that is not fun regardless of how much damage it can do. Another deciding factor for me is the unbalanced rune cost of abilities for frost at the moment. When I envision balanced, I mean being able to use some kind of ability (or make a choice between several) on every global cooldown. There seems to be some issues with runelock and low runic power for frost at the moment. I believe it's related to the changes in the cost of Howling Blast and the way Killing Machine works - more on that later. Unholy, on the other hand, is very well balanced due to several new abilities.
Blood \ Frost \ Unholy Presence - The biggest change here is which one to use all together! While frost used to be reserved for tanking, with the introduction of blood as a strickly tanking tree frost is now the DPS presence of choice. These no long consume a rune when you swap, so getting caught with your pants down is less painful than before. It does however consume any stored runic power so be forewarned.
Death and Decay - The biggest change to this ability is the cost reduction. While it used to consume 3 runes (one of every type) it not only consumes 1 unholy rune. This means there is little to no excuse for not using this ability, especially on trash pulls when you have death runes available.
Scourge Strike- There are no huge changes here, besides a simple cost reduction. This ability now costs 1 unholy rune. However because of this it compliments our next ability very well.
Festering Strike - Is a brand new ability that is kissing babies and winning votes. With a cost of 1 blood + 1 frost it plays nice with Scourge Strike in our rotation. While the ability alone seems to do a decent amount of damage, the real kicker is in the passive effect. FeS it will increase your diseases by up to 6 seconds on the target. For as often as you will be using this ability, the overall result is no real need to reapply diseases. I use caution while mentioning this because of a mainstay unholy function; which is having more than 2 diseases. Ebon Plaguebringer causes Ebon Plague, which is not refreshed or initiated by FeS. What this means for us is Ebon Plague will be our marker for refreshing diseases. Once every 21 seconds or so, we'll need to use either an Icy Touch or a Plague Strike to refresh that third disease. This seems to not be an issue when death runes are added in to the equation. There may be a change to FeS before Cataclysm that will include the ability to refresh our third disease, so stay hopeful.
Unholy Frenzy - This is the old talent Hysteria ported over from the blood tree. Other than the name it functions the same exact way.
Sudden Doom - Sudden Doom used to proc an occasional Death Coil when you used Heart Strike. Now this ability procs a free Death Coil based on auto attacks. I really like this change to be perfectly honest. It's making rotations more reactive and with the changes to the Blizzard UI, (lighting up buttons when they proc and adding Power Aura type visuals on screen) it's just adding entertainment value to smashing face.
Dark Transformation - This is one I'm extremely excited about. Due to Shadow Infusion, your Death Coils will build a stacking buff on your ghoul. Each stack increases his damage output by 10%. When the stacks reach 5, Dark Transformation will become available. As you can read it consumes the 5 stack and empowers your ghoul into doing 100% more damage for 30 seconds. It also turns him into a mini Festergut / Rotface. It looks super super sweet to have your own little Festergut pwning face next to you. The first time I popped this, I fell in love.
Talents and Glyphs
Level 80 Unholy Death Knight
This is my basic unholy set up for raid usage prior to Cataclysm. In my usual fashion, I'd like to touch base on the talents I did not elect. With the consolidation with the talent trees, I've found I usually have more to say about why I left a talent out vs. why I took a talent.
Level 85 Unholy Death Knight (update 01/01/2011)
This takes the basic level 80 raid spec from above and adds 2/2 in Imp Unholy Presence and 3/3 in Runic Power Mastery. I have had some time to play around with this spec in various situations (heroics and in a few raids) and I'm comfortable using this is my primary raid spec. There has been some discussion of which presence to use in Cataclysm. When I did some testing at level 80 (and made my video) I found that frost and unholy were marginally better than each other in certain circumstances. In Cata there has clearly been a buff to the importance of haste and now IMP Unholy Presence is the way to maximize your DPS. Plus it makes it a hell of a lot more fun!
- We'll begin with Tiers 1 and 2 together. I have left out Unholy Command, which is basically the same as the old Death Grip glyph - when you kill something the cooldown on Death Grip is refreshed. This is pretty good for leveling but not really helpful as a raiding DPS DK. I've also left out Resilient Infection, which is basically a PVP talent to cushion the blow of disease dispels. Something to note here, I did contribute points into Epidemic which may seem odd with the addition of Festering Strike. The reason is twofold; First, being able to break off a target for a period of time and return without having to reapply disease is great. Sure we have Outbreak, but that cannot be used 100% of the time. Secondly, we have to take points here in order to access Contagion in Tier 3 which is awesome for trash or multiple add fights.
- Tier 3 and 4 are easy, I basically took full points here across the board. It is worth mentioning some interesting talents in this tree however. In addition to lowering the cost of our RP dump, Runic Corruption modifies the way Runic Empowerment operates. As a result, this doesn't create the random unaccountable rune (such is found in the frost tree), but increases runic regeneration across the board. Magic Suppression is another talent worth mentioning. The older version of AMS would generate RP while absorbing damage. The new AMS does not do this unless you take this talent. Offensively being able to take damage to gain resource is invaluable so I highly recommend this talent.
- In Tier 5-7 we'll only leave out AMZ, which makes me sad. The talent is such a great raid support talent, that I wish I could take it. In my personal opinion they should have made Magic Suppression 2 points, leaving us that last point for AMZ. Other than that, take full points and enjoy the talents such as Dark Transformation and Sudden Doom.
- In the Blood tree, we'll make use of the more DPS oriented talent and take 3/3 in Bladed Armor. We do wear plate! lol
- In the Frost tree, I selected Runic Power Mastery. Being able to store more resource without taking a loss (ie generating more RP when your bar is full) is a beautiful thing. It also helps us have the ability to take some stored RP and pop off three quick Death Coils to finish proc'ing our DT. These are all good things.
Glyphs for your unholy set up are fairly straight forward. They are fairly lackluster in terms of cool abilities, however I like that direction from Blizzard. Glyphs were never intended to be super amazing additions, but more a slight upgrade - maybe even cosmetic in nature. For your unholy glyphs, there is little other variation than what is listed below. I'll explain more in each section.
Putting It All Together
Here is a short video I've put together to highlight the important aspects of the Unholy rotation.