In preparation for the updates to our guides for Mists of Pandaria Patch 5.0.4, we are releasing articles such as this one, explaining what has changed for a particular class and spec, and what the new rotation is likely to be.
Keep in mind that this is still a work in progress (both from Blizzard's side and from our own) and that this article assumes you are at least somewhat familiar with the Cataclysm version of the Frost Death Knight rotation and playstyle (such as from reading our guide).
We will first list the most important changes to the Frost Death Knight Cataclysm abilities, and then we will proceed to explaining the (likely to be) optimal rotation. Keep in mind that we do not document every single change or new ability, only those that impact the rotation.
Finally, we will give you some information about the most useful talents and glyphs you should choose.
- Control Undead allows you to take control of any hostile Undead mob (only one mob at a time, however). Bosses are immune to this ability. The mob's attack speed and casting speed are diminished, but it retains all of its abilities. You cannot summon your ghoul ( Raise Dead) while you have a controlled mob, although you can control a mob while your ghoul is active, having both up at the same time.
- Soul Reaper is a nuke, with "execute" properties. It deals 100% weapon damage and applies a debuff on the target, lasting 5 seconds. If, when the debuff expires, the target is below 35% health, it deals a moderate amount of Shadow damage. The ability's damage, when the target is not below 35% health, does not make it worth casting. Finally, if the target is killed while the debuff is active, the Death Knight gains 50% haste for 10 seconds.
- Tier 1 talents offer a choice between Plague Leech and Unholy Blight (and Roiling Blood, although this is a passive ability). We discuss these talents in greater depth in the Talents section.
- Tier 4 talents offer a choice between Death Siphon, Death Pact, and Conversion, although Death Siphon is the only spell that deals damage. We discuss these talents in greater depth in the Talents section.
- Tier 5 talents offer a choice between Blood Tap and two passive spells, Runic Empowerment and Runic Corruption. We discuss these talents in greater depth in the Talents section.
Changes to Existing Mechanics
- The base global cooldown is now 1 second by default. Previously, this was a feature of Unholy Presence.
- Frost Presence now grants 20% increased runic power generation and reduces the cost of Frost Strike by 15 runic power. It also reduces the duration of effects that cause loss of control of your character by 20%.
- Unholy Presence no longer reduces the global cooldown, but it is otherwise unchanged.
- Horn of Winter now grants 10% increased attack power to all raid members. This is due to the old buff of Horn of Winter (549 Strength and Agility to all raid members) having been removed. Horn of Winter now also lasts for 5 minutes.
- Howling Blast now innately applies Frost Fever to all targets. Previously, this was done through a glyph.
- Frost Fever and Blood Plague now last 30 seconds.
- Unholy Aura is a new raid buff that increases the melee and ranged attack speed of all raid members by 10%. This effect was previously provided by a talent, Improved Icy Talons, which no longer exists. A new version of Improved Icy Talons exists, but it only benefits yourself now (see below).
- Icy Talons provides you with 20% increased attack speed. It is derived from the old Improved Icy Talons.
- Might of the Frozen Wastes has been changed. It now causes your Obliterate to deal 50% extra damage when using a two-handed weapon, and it increases the damage done by all your melee attacks by 10%. Might of the Frozen Wastes is now provided to you by default (previously, it was a talent you had to choose).
- Threat of Thassarian has been changed slightly. In addition to causing your Death Strike, Obliterate, Plague Strike, and Frost Strike to also deal damage with your off-hand weapon when you are dual-wielding, Threat of Thassarian increases the damage of Frost Strike by 50%. Like Might of the Frozen Wastes, this talent is also provided to you by default.
- Blood Tap has practically been removed. There is a new spell with the same name in Mists of Pandaria, although it has nothing to do with the Cataclysm version of Blood Tap.
- Blood Strike has been removed (although it was not part of the Frost rotation anyway). It is now only available to Unholy Death Knights.
RotationYour rotation in Mists of Pandaria will, broadly speaking, be very similar to your Cataclysm rotation. There are two changes that occur:
- The inclusion of Soul Reaper in your rotation when the target is below 35% health. It seems almost certain that you will want to use this spell on cooldown once the target is below 35% health (assuming that the damage it deals remains the same as it is now).
- Incorporating your choice of rune regeneration talents from the tier 5 talents. We go into more detail about this below.
- Soul Reaper should be used on cooldown when the target is below 35% health. Due to the high damage that it deals, it gains a very high priority.
- Killing Machine procs should be used differently, depending on whether you are dual-wielding or using a 2-handed weapon
- Killing Machine should be used with Frost Strike when dual-wielding.
- Killing Machine should be used with Obliterate when you are using a 2-handed weapon.
In any case, your rotation becomes roughly the following:
- Keep both diseases up ( Frost Fever will automatically be applied by Howling Blast; you will have to use Plague Strike to apply Blood Plague).
- Cast Soul Reaper on cooldown, if the target is below 35% health.
- Use your Killing Machine procs on Frost Strike if you are dual-wielding or on Obliterate if you are using a 2-handed weapon.
- Cast Frost Strike if your runic power is about to reach maximum.
- Cast Blood Tap if you have 11 or 12 stacks of Blood Charge. This will require that you have both runes of a certain kind depleted, but this should be a simple byproduct of performing your rotation. If you are using the macro listed above, this step will likely never come up in your gameplay.
- Cast Howling Blast if you have a Rime proc.
If, instead of Blood Tap, you choose Runic Corruption, your rotation becomes even simpler. You no longer have to worry about runes being fully depleted and you don't have to manage Blood Charge stacks. You should simply maintain your diseases and cast Obliterate and Howling Blast with priority when they benefit from their procs.
CooldownsYou do not gain any DPS cooldowns, compared to Cataclysm. As we mention at the start, Blood Tap is gone in its old incarnation.
- Pillar of Frost increases your Strength by 20% for 20 seconds. It should be used as many times as possible during the fight. You should also make sure to stack with as many procs as you can.
- Empower Rune Weapon replenishes all of your runes and grants you 25 runic power. To take advantage of this cooldown, you should use it when all your runes are on cooldown and when you are not at full runic power. It provides you with tremendous burst damage potential.
- Raise Dead calls a ghoul to fight by your side for 1 minute. It should be used as many times as possible during a fight.
- Army of the Dead functions identically to the way it did in Cataclysm and should be used in the same way.
Multiple Target RotationThe multiple target rotation only becomes viable when you are facing a considerable number of enemies (4 or more), provided that they are close together. Howling Blast becomes your main nuke. Additionally, you will use Death and Decay on cooldown. When Death and Decay is not available, your Unholy runes will be used on Plague Strike (which you should use alternatingly on the enemies, so as to apply the disease to as many of them as possible).
Finally, you will want to dump your runic power with Frost Strike, in order to enable your rune regeneration mechanic of choice.
TalentsTier 1 talents offer a choice between 3 talents that are related to your diseases: Roiling Blood is probably the worst of the 3 talents, because Blood Boil was not part of the AoE rotation during Cataclysm, and we see no reason why this would change in Mists of Pandaria.
Plague Leech consumes your diseases from the target, replenishing a fully depleted rune, as a Death Rune. Both of your diseases must be up on the target for this spell to work. It will be useful in two situations:
- When you need to quickly stop all DPS on a target (to avoid a phase transition, for example), allowing you to remove your DoTs.
- As a rune-regeneration tool. In this case, you will be casting Plague Leech right as the target is about to die.
Tier 2 talents offer a choice between 3 survival talents: Lichborne allows you to heal yourself with Death Coil for 10 seconds every 2 minutes.
Anti-Magic Zone places a protective barrier at a target location, reducing the magic damage taken by any raid members inside it by 75%. The zone lasts for 10 seconds, or until it absorbs a fixed amount of damage (rather low). It is unchanged from its Cataclysm version, and it will remain useful for reducing the damage of a powerful AoE attack, and less useful for reducing damage that comes in over time.
Purgatory allows you to survive an attack that would otherwise kill you, every 3 minutes. The amount of damage that is prevented from reaching you (i.e., the amount of damage that would have been the "overkill" portion) will be turned into a healing absorption effect on you, lasting 3 seconds. If, after 3 seconds, you were not healed for that amount (so, if the absorption effect still exists), you will die.
The mechanics of the encounter you are progressing on will determine your choice. Anti-Magic zone is useful as a raid cooldown any time there is a big magic damage attack that you want to mitigate. Purgatory can be useful in allowing you to bypass encounter mechanics, while Lichborne simply allows you to help out the healers by keeping yourself alive during times of heavy damage.
Tier 3 talents offer a choice between 3 crowd-control and utility talents: Death's Advance will probably be the default choice unless encounter mechanics require something else, simply due to the fact that it offers a passive 10% increased movement speed at all times.
Chilblains will be useful when there are adds that must be kited.
Asphyxiate, which is an improved Strangulate (half the cooldown, no rune cost, stun instead of silence, when possible), will mostly have PvP applications and, unless there is a specific encounter where it is for some reason particularly beneficial, it will not show up in PvE.
Tier 4vtalents offer a choice between 3 self-healing talents: Death Siphon moves unquestionably to the forefront (at least in the current state of the Beta), because in addition to its self-healing component, it also deals damage to the target. The damage portion is quite appealing, and it scales with both attack power and Mastery, meaning it will remain appealing as gear improves.
Tier 5 talents offer a choice between 3 talents that improve your resource regeneration:
Prior to Mists of Pandaria, the default means of rune regeneration for Frost Death Knights has been Runic Empowerment. Should you choose this talent, your rotation will revolve around making sure to use Frost Strike only when you have both runes of a certain type in a state of being depleted or regenerating, since otherwise Runic Empowerment is unable to proc its rune-refreshing mechanic. Additionally, you will have to sometimes use Frost Strike simply because your runic power may be reaching maximum capacity - in this case, since the condition regarding runes may not be met, you risk losing out on Runic Empowerment procs.
Blood Tap, on the other hand, puts your rune regeneration entirely in your hands. If you take this talent, each time you cast Frost Strike, you gain 2 charges of Blood Charge, up to a maximum of 12. Using Blood Tap consumes 5 charges and replenishes a fully depleted rune, as a Death Rune. The condition we mentioned above still stands, meaning that you cannot use Blood Tap unless both runes of the same type are unavailable.
Finally, Runic Corruption grants your Frost Strike a 45% chance to grant you 100% increased rune regeneration rate for 3 seconds. This 3 second buff stacks with successive applications, the duration being increased each time, so it is never wasted even if two or more successive Frost Strikes all proc Runic Corruption.
Currently, both Runic Empowerment and Runic Corruption provide you with a higher rune regeneration rate increase than Blood Tap does (although Runic Corruption is almost the same as Blood Tap). However, Blood Tap gives you more control over the situation, allowing you to potentially time things in such a way as to take advantage of fight mechanics. We believe the best choice of these 3 talents will eventually be determined through theorycrafting. However, the difference in terms of DPS, between the 3, is likely to be small. What is more important is that you choose the mechanic that you like best, and that you execute its particular playstyle well.
Tier 6 talents offer a choice between 3 crowd-control talents:
GlyphsWhile many Death Knight glyphs are interesting and have applicability for PvP or questing, in terms of PvE performance, there are 3 Major Glyphs that we consider worth mentioning:
- Glyph of Death Coil grants your Death Coil the ability to be cast on allies. When doing so, it will place a damage absorption shield on them.
- Glyph of Shifting Presences allows you to retain 70% of your runic power when changing between presences (by default, you lose all your runic power when doing so).
- Glyph of Anti-Magic Shell allows your Anti-Magic Shell to absorb all the magic damage taken (up from 75% without the glyph), up to 50% of your maximum health. In practice, this will allow Anti-Magic Shell to absorb slightly more damage, in some situations, improving your survivability.
- Glyph of Tranquil Grip removes the taunting component of your Death Grip. This is extremely useful in encounters with adds, where you wish to bring an add quickly to a location where it can be DPSed, without being forced to tank it.
- Glyph of Death's Embrace refunds 20 runic power after using Death Coil to heal your minion. Even though this scenario is unlikely to occur often (in PvE, in any case), there are no better alternatives.