Feeling or Numbers (Or: What’s in a Talent Choice?)

Of late, there have been several questions from new and even some Unholy Death Knights with intermediate experience, about our level 56 talent choice. On that tier, we have a choice between several different talents that change how we use our abilities in subtle ways. And while many, including myself, when I was uninformed, might believe that the difference is negligible. Put plainly, it isn’t.


The Basics.

The tier includes three talents that adjust our damage balance. All Will Serve (generally accepted to be useless) spawns us a secondary permanent pet in the form of a skeleton minion with a ranged attack, as well as eliminating the cooldown on our Raise Dead ability, (Which is what summons our main permanent pet.)

In the middle, we have Bursting Sores, which increases the damage dealt to the primary target by each Festering Wound we burst by 50%, and causing each burst wound to deal Shadow damage in an AOE to all targets outside of the first. The spread damage is actually very comparable to the single target damage itself, (Approximately 75%), which makes this talent very strong on multi-target DPS while also bolstering our single target output proportionate to how well we manage our Wound Cycle. It goes without saying that Bursting Sores is much stronger with the Instructor’s Fourth Lesson Legendary.

At the end of the tier, we have Ebon Fever, which halves the duration of our Virulent Plague disease, and increases the overall damage it deals by 20%. (As a note, the text is somewhat misleading, because this doesn’t actually reduce the time between damage ticks of the disease as Haste would. It still ticks at the same speed but over a shorter duration, meaning that the damage of each individual tick is massively increased.) With the recent 67% buff to Virulent Plague damage, this talent has seen a tremendous upswing in popularity, as it results in a very strong DPS increase in conjunction with the new, massive damage dealt by the disease.

The Good.

Disregarding All Will Serve, each of these talents changes our rotation in subtle ways, and grants us strong bonuses to abilities and damage sources that we use on a regular basis throughout fights.

The main factors to consider are:

  • Rune Expenditure
  • Rune Planning
  • Runic Power generation
  • Setup Time
  • Execution Time

Bursting Sores results in more runes being devoted toward generating and spending Festering Wounds. This makes rune planning and expenditure rather easy, especially in conjunction with our T19 2-piece bonus. Our Virulent Plague lasts quite a long time, reducing the strain on runes. Consequently, our rotation feels smoother, and not as constrained by the ticking clock of Virulent Plague, which we want to keep up at a high (ideally 100%) uptime. The damage contribution of this talent fluctuates high and low, depending on the number of targets, how tightly they’re clustered, and our luck with applying Festering Wounds.

On both single and multiple targets, the damage output of Ebon Fever is both static and reliable, as the disease spreads itself once cast, and continue ticking no matter how spread out the targets become, leading to consistent and reliable damage with very little in the way of sudden spikes. Not only that, but the setup-time is nonexistent. You push the button and damage happens, no problems, no worries about target spread or mob density.  This also grants us some flexibility on other talents, allowing us to choose between Necrosis and Infected Claws, and is still the number one choice for Unholy DKs who have not yet gotten the Instructor’s Fourth Lesson.

Bursting Sores currently sims slightly lower than Ebon Fever, making this more of an optimization choice in terms of damage.

The Bad

In terms of damage to a single target, Bursting Sores’ effect is very straightforward. Bursting more wounds means more damage. However, when more targets are introduced, it makes rune expenditure awkward: How does one apply more wounds to more targets efficiently? The setup time becomes the issue. Before you can begin slaying the AOE charts, you need time to set up your wounds and throw down your Death and Decay and get some runes ready. The only two methods you have of achieving this, are through Festering Strike, or Infected Claws. (As some may not know, the Abomination’s Vile Gas attack has the same chance on all targets to apply a Festering Wound, when Infected Claws is taken.) To do the same thing while talented into Necrosis would require you to target each mob and use 2 runes to cast Festering Strike on each one. This is easy enough with 1, 2, or even 3 targets, but once you reach above that number, it becomes difficult to justify not taking Infected Claws in order to make Bursting Sores worthwhile.

Ebon Fever, on the other hand, forces us to devote more runes to the upkeep of Virulent Plague. This leads to a slightly different rune cadence, as we battle the clock to ensure that we are keeping Virulent Plague refreshed on the target every few seconds. (18.5s; remember that the Outbreak debuff continues to reapply Virulent Plague at Pandemic time [13 seconds] every second for its 6 second duration.) which is just over twice the rune refresh rate at a decent level of Haste (Approx. 21%). This grants us very little leeway in terms of rune expenditure as we need to so often refresh the disease to ensure it is doing damage at all times.

The Ugly.

The recent changes to Unholy promote the use of Ebon Fever; however, incoming changes currently on the docket for 7.2 seem to infer yet another change in paradigm, at least for those so progressed on their artifact that they want to begin focusing on the new traits. I wrote a small post about that earlier this week.

Another issue is that these changes increasing the power of Bursting Sores yet again, threaten to once again increase the relative power gap between those with Bracers and those without, which in turn, raises the threat that the bracers might again be nerfed to compensate for this increase in the strength of Festering Wounds. These are issues and changes that are on the horizon, and while the PTR is still subject to change, as these recent adjustments to the new Artifact Traits show, we should be concerned about these constant changes in power dynamic between talents, as it also informs the power level of the Bracers, and how high they are on Blizzard’s radar.

For my fellow Unholy DKs out there, we need to remain abreast of the facts coming out of the PTR and continue to make our voices heard on the forums, as boots on the ground are always more in the know about the state of Unholy DPS than others. Don’t let your raid leader sit you because of any perceived nerf to Unholy. We are and can continue to be competitive.

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