Introduction, and a Disclaimer
It has been four months since the last state of blood DK article, and we thought we’d bring you a status update and a way to get a pulse on the spec. A lot has happened since then, with the introduction, tuning and re-tuning of covenants legendaries, the introduction of soulbinds and dungeon buffs, and a plethora of other effects. We’ll use this as a chance to synthesize all the changes and bring you a bit of insight on the strengths and weaknesses of the spec going into Shadowlands.
A caveat before we get into the meat of the topic, however. There is still one week of beta, and there will very likely be changes both in that week, and in the weeks leading up to the release of Mythic Castle Nathria. As such, even though this article will likely be mostly accurate, last-minute changes may happen; the actual Blood DK guide will be kept up to date to reflect these.
What Has Changed for Blood Death Knights?
Since July, compared to other specs, we have had a very limited set of changes during this beta cycle aimed specifically at us; instead, we have largely been affected by changes aimed for the entire class, some positive, some negative.
- Ossuary was made baseline, and Blood Tap took its place as a talent. This is a huge change, as it opened up the talent row and enabled a choice between Relish in Blood as a relatively passive RP generation talent, and Blood Tap as a high-risk, high-potential alternative.
We have had no bugfixes, no real baseline tuning outside of zeroing our spec aura (Blood Death Knight), and one of our biggest vulnerability is still very much alive – our inability to get Bone Shield up before taking the first melee. We can band-aid it with Rune Tap on pull, as the rune would be wasted either way, but that is what it is: a band-aid to a core spec problem.
Blood Death Knight Levelling Perks
If you are already level 50 and ready to go to the Shadowlands, you can look forward to the following levelling perks as you get acquainted with the new zones:
- At level 52, Heart Strike (Rank 3) increases the damage of Heart Strike by 20%
- At level 54, you gain an active ability: Sacrificial Pact. We’ll come back to it later, but the short and sweet of it is: it is a DPS cooldown, or a defensive cooldown used at a very steep offensive cost.
- At level 56, you gain Vampiric Blood (Rank 2), increasing the healing received during Vampiric Blood by 5%, and increasing its duration by 2 seconds.
- Finally, at level 58, you re-acquire Ossuary. This is why all the guides still mentioned staying above 5 Bone Shield – we knew it would come back.
Some of these perks are unimpactful at best; however, Ossuary and Sacrificial Pact are real rotation-influencing effects. As such, you can expect a small learning curve (and, in the case of ghoul sacrifices, an understanding of pet damage and its opportunity cost, since it isn’t a free spell), and maybe a couple of changes to your habits.
Blood Death Knight Covenants, Soulbinds and Conduits
Three of the four covenant abilities for Blood Death Knights were reworked since we last spoke. As such, we’re going to go back over them, before going in depth on the impact of changes and additional systems tied to your covenant choice.
- Shackle the Unworthy‘s spread behavior was reworked and baked into the spell itself instead of the conduit – each rune-spending attack how has a 50% chance to spread the debuff at current duration to a nearby target without it. It still works primarily as large single-target hasted (!) DoT with very little mechanical or rotational interaction other than a slight incentive to attempt to spread it early if there are targets nearby. The spread happens within 8 yards of you, not your target.
- Proliferation, the associated potency conduit, increases the duration of the DoT by 3 seconds, and massively increases its damage. Simple, effective, a must-have if you can find a potency slot on your soulbind.
- Summon Steward provides a potion that can be used to clear bleeds, diseases, curses and magic debuffs, and has been moved to be its own cooldown as opposed to sharing the space with potions. Due to its potential as a full cleanse, it is easily the most impactful signature ability if you can find something impactful to cleanse. A lot of raid bleeds were whitelisted to ignore this, but there are still a few… and there is the entire space of mechanics present in Mythic+.
The steward also provides vendor, talent swaps and a bunch of other things, but those are mostly convenience now that most of the game-breaking bugs with it in PvP have been ironed out.
- Swarming Mist has had no fundamental change; it still provides 9 ticks of damage (one on use, eight extra, one every second). Each tick, you get 3 RP per target hit, up to 5. The effect itself is not target-capped when it comes to damage, and the effect is not hasted. It is still a decent source of damage that scales linearly with target count, a decent source of RP even on single-target (although it feels much better to press in AoE), and overall, a strong, versatile covenant ability. Oh, and you also get 10% dodge during it.
- Impenetrable Gloom has seen a slight change: instead of increasing Swarming Mist damage and dodge per conduit rank, it now only increases damage, and grants a flat 3% extra dodge.
- Door of Shadows ranges from excellent to nearly-worthless. In Mythic+, you will abuse it to skip packs, teleport through mobs, teleport behind mobs, teleport behind what you think are line-of-sight obstacles, and generally, have a bunch of fun. In raids, its utility is… slightly less useful. In turn, you get the same pathing issues as what warriors, vengeance demon hunters and a few other classes have to contend with: the legendary No Path Available message.
A couple of soulbind traits change this ability to provide a 15% shield, AoE disorient on arrival, root/snare removal on use, and a bunch of other extra gimmicks. Overall, the drawback of it is the 1.5s cast, but honestly, it will see some use even with that.
- Abomination Limb has received a number of mechanical changes. It still deals AoE damage around you, and it still attempts to grip anything further than 8 yards from you. However, it can now only grip the same target once every 4 seconds, and the first grip performed per cast of the spell grants 3 Bone Shield instantly, and another 6 during the cast. It still has a way too long cooldown to capitalize on soulbinds or use it every pull, it still deals a decent amount of damage per use, but the bone shield charge is extremely clunky and annoying.
Furthermore, the way you gain the following 6 charges (that they added four days to launch, and without warning, BY THE WAY) will lead to waste. Due to it having the same cooldown as Dancing Rune Weapon and Dancing Rune Weapon lasting 4s less than Abomination Limb, you will very likely want to go all-out on damage during Dancing Rune Weapon. But you don’t gain the charges to trigger Ossuary until 7s in. But by that point, you’ll very likely have capped RP already. So you end up having to either cast Marrowrend early in order to get Ossuary, thus wasting charges to gain damage, or you delay and lose damage for 3 bones.
And to “pay” for this, we lost 26% AP on a spell that already matched Swarming Mist, thus making it strictly worse.
Four days to release, by the way.
- Brutal Grasp, the associated covenant conduit, does exactly what we expect of borrowed power related to death knights: it simply dials the number a bit higher. No rotational or mechanical impact, just… flat damage.
- Fleshcraft is a 4-second channel that generates an absorb shield equal to 20% of your max health, ticking during the channel. If you’re next to a corpse, the absorb shield can scale up to 50% of your max health. Each tick snapshots your maximum health. You cannot dodge or parry during the channel. As such, you’ll likely rarely, if ever, use it in combat, and this massively reduces its usefulness (along with its ultra super long cast time).
- Death’s Due has been almost entirely redesign as a more maintenance-heavy version of itself. It still replaces Death and Decay; however, the buff/debuff pair is now applied by hitting enemies with Heart Strike while both you and your target are in Death’s Due, thus limiting the DR debuff present on them to a theoretical maximum number of targets (largely due to Heart Strike being target-capped at 5 targets), and greatly increasing the maintenance overhead of this ability. You will now want to use Heart Strike just before Death’s Due fades, in order to guarantee as long a runway as possible until the next Crimson Scourge proc, and you will sometimes need to hardcast Death’s Due without a proc if the RNG gods are not on your side.
- Fulfilling the fantasy of “this just does more damage”, Withering Ground simply increases the damage of Death’s Due.
- Soulshape is, in all intents and purposes, a travel form with a 15yd blink attached. It locks you out of your abilities during it and cancels the moment you try to cast anything else, so unless you plan to kite for a while, you’re going to find this button unattractive. A lot of the good PR related to it stems from a bug persisting during most of beta, where you were able to keep on casting during it.
Soulbinds and Conduits
Allegiance to a covenant grants you access to three potential soulbinds, which we will cover in the full guide, as there is quite a bit of information to go through. Their usefulness ranges from large DPS increases (Serrated Spaulders) to party buffs (Lead by Example) and even additional passive effective health gains (Service In Stone), along with modifications to each and every signature ability on each and every soulbind. Your Kyrian phial can make you immune to debuffs for 8 seconds (Ascendant Phial); Door to Shadows can now be used to clear movement-impairing effects (Watch the Shoes!), and Soulshape can be changed to stun instead of blinking (Wild Hunt’s Charge) Irrespective of who you decide to bind yourself to, you may have a small amount of customization for the encounter…
…If it weren’t for conduit slots.
Conduits are the Shadowlands equivalent of Azerite traits, providing a chance to slot in a power that modifies an existing ability in some way. They are split into three types:
- Potency conduits generally amplify your throughput in some way
- Endurance conduits are aimed at your defensive abilities
- Finally, Finesse conduits modify your general utility spells
Each soulbind tree has pre-defined slots for each type, and this, due to tuning, naturally forces you to pick a conduit you may not want to pick because the trait below it is just too good, or to avoid a conduit slot because the power below it is just that bad. There are examples of both.
To make it even worse for our spec specifically, we need to drill down and go over the non-choices at our disposal. We’ll do so quickly, as most of them are pretty straightforward. We’ll be comparing them at Rank 7, equivalent to Mythic Nathria:
Due to tuning, you’ll be picking your covenant conduit (Impenetrable Gloom, Brutal Grasp, Withering Ground, Proliferation), and actively trying to avoid any other due to the very sharp difference in tuning. As I said: woefully undertuned and woefully underutilized, especially considering that this is supposed to be a flagship feature of the expansion.
- Blood Bond: Since when do you tap after the damage happens? With its initial tuning, it could look situationally appealing, but Blizzard decided to nuke it from orbit. It is now wholly irrelevant.
- Hardened Bones: At high ranks, this turns Lichborne into a minor defensive. In my opinion, the effects should have been swapped – Lichborne should’ve provided flat DR (10% or so) with the conduit providing the leech. It’s still a nice endurance conduit, and does what it says it should do.
- Insatiable Appetite: Whoever designed this, I have no words. When was the last time you needed a purely defensive, healing-oriented increase for when you… min-heal with Death Strike? Boggles the mind.
- Meat Shield: What is a potency conduit doing disguised as an endurance conduit? Seriously, 3s of Dancing Rune Weapon is nice, and the extra HP is also neat, particularly since it lasts for a short while after Dancing Rune Weapon fades. It is a good conduit, but it is one of those cases where you clearly see that this forced separation of purpose doesn’t really make sense.
- Reinforced Shell: Situationally awesome if you can make use of the extra duration/radius for Anti-Magic Zone, useless if you cannot. Likely to be used a lot in raids more than in Mythic+.
Very similarly to potency conduits, there is an order to this. Meat Shield provides both offensive and defensive throughput, so that’s a no-brainer on generic terms; evidently, if you cannot parry during Dancing Rune Weapon, you gain no value out of this defensively. Beyond this, the higher the rank, the more appealing Lichborne looks. Beyond that, you can make a situational use case for Reinforced Shell, but that’s about it, really. Another underwhelming section to the underwhelming system, where nothing really matters.
- Chilled Resilience: At rank 7 (Mythic Nathria), this provides 30s of cooldown reduction on Icebound Fortitude. What is an endurance conduit doing in the finesse aisle, again?
- Fleeting Wind: Could see some use if needed. The problem is that Finesse slots are very limited in number, and the next conduit kind of takes precedence…
- Spirit Drain: At rank 7 (Mythic Nathria), this provides 16 RP per successful interrupt. This should be baseline. It is oppressive in choice, and a guaranteed pick the moment interrupts are concerned; it is too good offensively and defensively and completely eclipses the competition.
- Unending Grip: With this, you waste a Finesse slot to save yourself from hitting Heart Strike after Death Grip. Completely useless until rank levels not found for another two tiers, where the slow will actually be big enough to consider.
You can explore this system in depth, along with the myriad of non-options it provides, in the soulbind calculator linked below. The soulbinds themselves have a “theme” of sorts, and, sadly, there’s still some wildly better options than others.
Shadowlands Soulbind Calculator
Choosing a Covenant
Now that we have covered all bases, we can finally answer the burning question: What covenant should you pick? The answer, unsurprisingly, is not Necrolord.
Every other covenant has an appealing array of utility, damage and spells that make you do what you do slightly better, with an option to go more defensive or offensive on some of them. None of them falls particularly behind, although Venthyr shines more in Mythic+, while Kyrian still has the edge when it comes to raiding, even after the partial whitelisting of debuffs in Castle Nathria, owing it in part to Pelagos and Kleia providing competitive options. While Pelagos focuses on raw buffs through Combat Meditation and Let Go of the Past, Kleia focuses on group utility and provides a very interesting catch: Ascendant Phial upgrades your Phial of Serenity into a full immunity to debuffs for 8 seconds.
In light of the changes to Let Go of the Past, it is worth noting that Pelagos was not good “just” for the vers. His entire tree is a large amount of buffs that can be acquired at no cost: you do not need to make a choice between a good generic trait and a bad one for the mastery buff, nor for what is now magic DR, and you are free to make any choice you like elsewhere at no cost other than if you want an early finesse. Every other Kyrian soulbind has you making very large sacrifices to pick good traits. With Kleia, you end up sacrificing either 8% crit or the phial immunity to pick up a potency conduit for Proliferation, on top of having a very weak tree overall thanks to the repeated nerfs to Valiant Strikes driven by healers gaining massively more throughput from this than us. Meanwhile, with Mikanikos, you sacrifice the entire tree to pick him to start with, as his stuff is even more lackluster than Kleia. This trend will likely be true for every other Pelagos-toting specialization.
We would also recommend to go more towards Venthyr/Kyrian than Night Fae, as Death’s Due is a significant rotational overhead, but that is a slight recommendation. The Night Fae covenant is still competitive, even with this limitation, when managed properly.
Regardless of the option you pick, we compiled a bunch of common paths for all four covenants. Feel free to inspire yourself from these, and have fun on the last few weeks of beta left with them. When Shadowlands goes live, we’ll touch base again with an in-depth debrief of each covenant:
This assumes you can interrupt your target! If you cannot, and it can be slowed, pick Niya’s Tools: Burrs instead. Niya is a really polarizing soulbind, in that, if you can do one or the other, her throughput potential is amazing. If you cannot, she is, largely, worthless as Niya’s Tools: Herbs does not proc from most of our self-healing.
Blood Death Knight Legendaries
Back in July, we only had an inkling of the legendary system: most of the effects were untuned, the runecrafter was inaccessible, and we had no idea how they would fundamentally work. Four months later, we have a lot more information on these.
The results were… hit and miss. Most legendaries were worked, reworked, retuned, tuned again, reworked again, and in the case of Echo of Eonar, changed in purpose completely. Most of the blood death knight-specific legendaries were weak to start with, and largely untouched, as is the trend for our borrowed power, at least judging by the past two expansions.
We are left with two mainline choices, and a third, highly situational choice:
- Since the last article, the additional Frost Fever and Virulent Plague applied by Superstrain have been nerfed in damage by 75%, then to 62.5% to account for their presence on the spec aura and its subsequent zeroing. Even with this, it is still very competitive on damage, even single-target, while providing a decent amount of extra Runic Power, making it a very appealing general-purpose legendary.
- Bryndaor’s Might is still unchanged, providing RP refund when your Death Strike heals you for a minimum of 10% of your maximum health. This will largely be a defensive-purpose legendary, used when the value of a Death Strike is high enough to care about the frequency of them. Death Strike is still our highest damage ability outside of covenants, and as such, it’ll also provide a small amount of offensive throughput as well, assuming you can get the refund. Speaking of, Voracious, due to an effect not mentioned in the tooltip, guarantees this refund.
- As a surprise third entry, Death’s Certainty was buffed to increase Death Strike damage by 35%, making it a fun little legendary to use in tandem with Rune of Sanguination for big, big death strikes. If only Mueh’zala wasn’t part of a dungeon…
Most of the other legendary effects are either extremely underpowered (Crimson Rune Weapon, Gorefiend’s Domination), extremely niche (Vampiric Aura – just for reminders, this legendary power is a copy of the Dragon Soul set bonus, for which encounters were designed around), or flat-out useless in a PvE context (Sephuz’s Proclamation).
It is a real shame and a missed opportunity that all the legendaries with a real interaction that forces you to change your playstyle were, once again, neutered into irrelevance, but I guess that has been a trend with borrowed power for our spec for quite a while now.
Overall, I am a bit saddened and disappointed that a large subset of the flagship features of Shadowlands have left Blood Death Knights hanging. We have had very few impactful class changes, and we still have a bunch of talents we will, reliably, never pick. Our legendaries are underwhelming, our soulbinds are weak and unimpactful, and our covenants largely reduce to “You have a button that does damage” with very little interaction aside from Death’s Due, which has been turned into a maintenance buff. Suggestions to improve these were provided and, largely, ignored, so I guess we’re stuck for another expansion of cookie cutter builds.
We happen to have a volatile mix of extremely low armor, low damage, low, time-dependent AoE burst damage (Blood Boil), and while we have a plethora of tools at our disposal to deal with most situations, they are shadows of their former, pre-Battle for Azeroth glory. Some elements of borrowed power helped a bit on that front (particularly the insane AP multipliers on certain covenant abilities, the most noticeable being Swarming Mist for AoE burst, particularly since it is not target-capped), but that is largely band-aids over a core issue.
We still bring something unique to the table in the form of Anti-Magic Zone for raids, which will inevitably see play on at least a couple of fights, and we are still somewhat independent in terms of self-sustain. Just as we doubled down on the weaknesses, we also doubled down on the strengths.
In the future, I really hope we get some two-way communication going in order to nip these problems in the bud, before it is too late to change, re-tune or revert anything. If borrowed power is a central theme to the expansion, at least making it appealing would go a long way towards fighting the “We’ve been the same for two expansions except we’ve lost all the fun tools from Legion (Mouth of Hell, Umbilicus Eternus, Skeletal Shattering)” blues. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still competitive and we’ll still be up there, but it just feels like the same sandwich for the third time in a row.