Petless Unholy – Ideal, thus Unlikely

With an empty morning, you all get the joy of a second post from me. Lucky you? ^^

About a month ago, GC made the following post in regards to people asking for a “plain” 2H tree in Cataclysm, seeing as how Blood will be gone:

The idea of DW Frost and 2H Frost coexisting isn’t what I want to tackle here. That’s easily doable in any number of ways, and if Blizzard wants to make it happen, it will happen, especially since they’re completely revamping the talent trees regardless. I’ll delve into that topic at another point in time.

Instead, what I want to look at is the idea of Unholy dps without the ghoul. Although GC’s post is hardly indicative of any concrete change, it’s still a very interesting point of speculation. Is it possible for the tree to be redesigned where both pet and petless are relatively equal and viable? If it is, is it actually likely to come about, or were GC’s words simply abstract musings? Assuming it is possible, and Blizzard actually does push the idea, how could it even be done?

I’ll preface this discussion by saying: No, it’s not possible. No, it’s not likely.

So what is there to discuss?

Putting my negativity aside, to determine how the two could coexist, one has to pinpoint what separates them; what does the ghoul give you which its absence does not, because isn’t that what a petless playstyle would have to provide to become an attractive alternate?

  • Increased dps, of course. More precisely, it gives you GCD free, resource free, movement (for the most part) free single-target dps which scales with hit, haste, strength but not armor pen, crit, agility, and attack power. This is the primary factor.
  • A stun, and the only one the DK as a class has available.
  • Cast push-back.

That’s it? A stun hardly matters in PvE, and cast push-back is completely inconsequential aside from PvP. If increased dps is all it takes, then what’s to stop Blizzard from offering a Demonic Sacrifice-esqe talent which prevents you from using a Ghoul but increases your dps by just enough to cover the gap?

Nothing, except the issue then becomes what keeps the pet playstyle from being completely irrelevant? After all, if Blizzard wanted Unholy dps to be done solely without the perma-ghoul, they could just eliminate the talent, and that would be that. If they’re going to make any sort of change to the relative balance of these two playstyles, it would be to make both viable, not one at the expense of the other, and the fact is, the Ghoul has way too many drawbacks to its use if it doesn’t give you any benefit short of raw dps:

  • It scales poorly with gear. As already mentioned, your ghoul doesn’t benefit at all from your armor pen, crit, agility, and attack power. Looking to the future, it won’t benefit from mastery.
  • It scales poorly with buffs and talents. Blood Presence? Desolation? Bone Shield? Dark Conviction? The list could go on, but none of them affect your pet. This isn’t likely to change – the way the primary and secondary mastery’s (% damage and % melee crit, respectively, for Unholy) were in the leaked alpha client has them benefiting only you as well, not you and your ghoul.
  • It ignores fight-specific modifiers. Starlight/Storm Power on Hodir, Light Essence/Dark Essence on Twin Valkyrs, Essence of the Blood-Queen on Lana’thel – the ghoul doesn’t get an once of increased damage from any of these mechanics.
  • It has a pet’s AI and a pet’s pathing. If you don’t micromanage it, there are many fights where it’s going to stand around and do nothing during certain phases (if you get Iceblocked on Sindragosa, for instance) or it will go and get itself killed (Crusher Tentacles on Yogg-saron, anyone?). Even if you do constantly keep an eye on it, that’s still less focus you can apply to other aspects of the fight. What more is the pathing – it won’t jump with you on Gunship, and no matter what you do, it won’t attack Yogg’s brain. It’s inherently limited.
  • It can die. No matter how good you are at managing it, your Ghoul can and will die, even with it’s 90% AoE damage reduction. When it dies, that’s 30 seconds of lost dps, followed by it doing reduced damage (due to lack of buffs) for the remainder of the fight.
  • Its damage is only single target. No explanation necessary here.

You get the idea.  If one has the choice between “X dps without a ghoul” and “X dps with a ghoul”, he/she would have to be a fool to choose the latter.

This only leaves two options: Keep Ghoul dps higher than non-Ghoul dps by enough of a margin to compensate for the natural limitations of a pet (but not by as large a margin as today, where not using your Ghoul is like not using a presence and thus a no-brainer) or give the ghoul some added perk which it doesn’t currently have.

Option one sounds excellent on paper, but it would be terribly difficult, if not impossible, to actually implement in game. How much compensation is enough? How much is too much? Too little? More than that – Ghoul and Ghoul-less dps wouldn’t scale equally, so what do you balance that compensation around? A player in blues? Epics? Best in slot? What about fights with specific mechanics which throw pet specs behind their competitors, no matter how much they may be ahead on otherwise? What about AoE verse single-target, Ghoul and Ghoul-less? You can’t nail all of these factors at every gear point for every encounter. If you balance it around perfect conditions for the ghoul, then in imperfect conditions it’s horrible, and if you do the opposite, then it’s too strong. Either which way, one wins out.

Option two has the same problems as the above, but gives room for more solutions: What if your ghoul did less damage, but had a chance on hit to energize you with runic power? Or Gnaw refreshed an Unholy and a Frost rune on use? Or Claw was made into a cleave? You could get rid of (or otherwise minimize) many of the downsides of a Ghoul, but then the pendulum of balance swings in the current direction of “why would you ever spec without it.”

One or the other is always going to reign supreme, aside from niche situations, and since there’s no point in opening the possibility of petless Unholy without actually making it viable (which would then have to kill off pet Unholy), there’s no chance of it happening. The two simply can’t co-exist.

The sole exception to this is if you stratify it and make petless Unholy for PvE and pet Unholy for PvP. That could be done, and without too much trouble at that, but I doubt it’s what GC had in mind with that post. I could certainly see it happening though, and would love the class/tree to head in the direction.

I’ll be honest – I utterly detest Mudcrawler/Dirtgobbler/Blightchewer. Pets, and all of their many issues, are part of the reason why I once played a warlock but no longer do. I would love nothing more than for Unholy to become less pet-centric, but it isn’t possible without killing off that playstyle, and I can’t see Blizzard radically changing the tree that much – either they’ll keep the current option and open a new one, and let you choose between the two, or they’ll stick with the current option and that’s it. They won’t simply introduce a new option and kill off the current, as much as it would be nice. If both exist there must be a choice between the two which is more than “if you want to do better, pick this, and if you want to do worse, pick that.”

If only balance between the two were possible.

15 Responses to Petless Unholy – Ideal, thus Unlikely

  1. Angvard says:

    Let’s say your pet does 15% of your damage on average.
    What about the posibillity to sacrifice your ghoul loosing 15% but gaining, for example, 20% through a buff that declines by 1% every 3 seconds until it’s gone after 1 min. You get the idea. This way you have the option to be more effektive in cases like yoggs brain, and in general this opens up possibilities to sacrifice your ghoul for some short burst and the advantage of not having to rely on Blizzards code but at the cost of loosing some overall damage. It wouldn’t be completely pet-less, but it would help address most of the issues you mentioned with pets.
    I’m just rambling, but I rather like the concept 😉

    • Consider says:

      Then you would just want to summon/sac it every 30 seconds. 15% buff on you (which is what 20% decreasing every 3 seconds would be, over 30 seconds) > 15% damage coming from a ghoul, due to stuff mentioned like fight mechanics (that 15% on you would be multiplicative with Essence on BQL, for instance), scaling (although your pet might be 15% of your damage in blues, it’s 13% in epics, then 11% in BiS, while that 15% buff on you scales properly), AoE (15% from your pet is single target only) etc.

      You could tweak it below that 15% average, but then it becomes “why bother saccing it unless it’s a Yogg’s brain type situation. Which wouldn’t be a bad option to have, but wouldn’t affect the overall playstyle.

      • Angvard says:

        That’s pretty much what I was trying to get to, having an ability that (for a certain time) relieves us from our pet-dependency and possibly offers a small burst to make the ability more useful in general.
        Unholy probably won’t get any closer to pet-less gameplay in the future, for the reasons you already pointed out.
        If you take the 20% Buff and reduce it by 1% every 3 seconds until it’s gone (1 minute) like I originally wrote it would equal a 5% dps-loss in comparison to a perfectly working pet, but might be better in certain situations.

  2. Sidh says:

    The real benefit of a pet is that it stays on target when you are running around. Defile? No problem, we have ghoul on boss. Bonestorm? No problem, ghoul is still on boss.

    With that said I can’t see any other real benefits of having a pet. And considering those ‘not on target’ moments are not that often, it has limited usability. I actually hope Blizz will go perks route to balance it out as it seems the most viable if you make both options coexist.

  3. Sag says:

    While I am not able to look up the unholy tree right now (at work the best place to blog read!), I don’t think you have to go far with this argument. If anyone actually remembers warlocks at the end of BC they had a little talent called Demonic Sacrifice. That talent is now gone. As I recall blizz said it was their desire to have warlocks play with their pets, not just killing them. Which is probably the case here.

    As for the pet dying, use of huddle would help. Blizz could make this very strong to allow for pets to live through something, like a boss type enrage. It wouldn’t matter too much because when huddled the ghoul does 0 damage, and if the master dies, well, living (or unliving as it might be) through the huge explosion doesn’t mean much.

  4. Rebellion says:

    Well there is a solution to this imho. A talent (at the same level of the ghoul talents) that applies a DoT (not disease) that can’t crit (hence no problem with agi scaling) and is applied by doing autoattack dmg. Maybe make it a weapon enchant (temporary of course) that only works if there is no ghoul out.

    This would mean, that you can’t have both and you’re not penitalized by either speccing into ghoul or not. In static fights there would be no diffrence, because pets usually survive there easiely and you don’t move. In certain fights where the ghoul brings a few disadvantages to the table the DoT might be better, fights that include alot of “longtime movement” (for the lack of a better expression) like professor the ghoul would pull ahead.

    This could be a solution, though of course its just a compromise and not a perfect solution, but you just can’t eliminate every variable.

  5. Leviatharan says:

    Maybe a simple solution: Perhaps if there were some cooldown that would allow you to change your pet (like the Ghoul Frenzy on crack)? For example, hitting it and turning your pet into a Frostwraith or a mini-Abomination or other variety of undead at random. The ghoul would have new abilities for a short amount of time, increasing its burst damage by giving it a Blizzard or Cleave-type attack.

    Or, perhaps if the ghoul itself could cause another disease from its Claw, (like an Infected Wound) increasing the death knight’s damage directly and helping the DK to feel like less of a warlock in plate by making the pet aspect of the DoT-based tree feel a bit less random.

    • Ulushnar says:

      That’s not the problem though. Petless Unholy is something they’re thinking about for people who like two-handed DPS but don’t want a Pet at all.

      • Leviatharan says:

        This is true. But the question is why would people do Petless Unholy? All you gotta do for a DK to get very good is to take 3 points out of Necrosis or Dark Conviction and put them into the actual Pet spec. If you make a Petless spec, then the Pet spec will only become MUCH MORE POWERFUL.’
        The likelihood of it is… low, and it would be pointless anyway.

  6. Leviatharan says:

    Lets put this into perspective: Player A has the main Unholy spec we know today, with the pet. Player B, doesn’t. S/he’s our ideal petless Unholy player.

    Scenario 1: Blizzard adds some benefit to not having a pet, such as a damage bonus.
    Players A and B are fighting a boss. Player A’s pet dies. Now Player A has the same damage bonus as Player B for the 30 seconds until his Raise Dead comes off cooldown, all at the cost of talents that may, for example, provide a bonus to Crit chance. Player A always has the advantage now, nobody plays petless because its the same sans 4-500 dps.
    Scenario 2: Blizzard makes the petless spec possible SOMEHOW, but gives a bonus to the pet spec so the hassle of the pet scales with damage output.
    Player A has a more powerful pet spec now. Player B simply doesn’t have the pet or the bonus from the Cleave damage, disease damage, etc. This ends with the same result as scenario 1- the petless spec dies because the pet spec is always better.
    Scenario 3: Blizzard turns the pet spec into a PvP spec and the petless spec into a PvE spec.
    Repeat Patch 3.0.2-3.2.2, every Unholy DK’s worst nightmare. Increasing PvP ability usually ends with a few hundred complaints from non-Unholy DKs and other classes, until Blizz decides to nerf their PvP ability until the petless spec becomes a better use of talent points due to damage output over 3 points in a nerfed pet. PET SPEC dies, petless spec survives as the universal version of the spec.

    In any case, there is no possible way for the two to remain in balance. Someone will find a way to use the advantages of the petless spec and turn it into the enhanced pet spec.

    • Leviatharan says:

      Unless there were a talent or glyph that allowed you to kill your ghoul to cause a disease, like a change to Corpse Explosion (preferably one like ‘no cost or CD, but only effects the ghoul’)? Ghoul CD is 30 sec, diseases in Cata will last 30 sec untalented, so it’ll be up every time you need to refresh. It will be a POINT to summon/sac it every 30 sec for a bonus to damage, with little elbow room. It would probably be a situational sort of thing that can’t be corrupted by Pet players.
      You don’t like your ghoul anymore? BOOM! Same damage output, with one less stun and the inability for its constant damage to be killed… though it does have a shorter duration, and the damage the disease itself would deal would probably be very low (or, like EP, nonexistant- either being a ‘placeholder disease’ that exists solely to increase Strike damage or an ‘enhancing disease’ that increases damage taken by the target like EP). The rest would be balanced out by the increase your Strike’s would get.

      …Also, I’d like to put it out there that the abilities I listed originally were to make the pet-spec look better still. Sorry if their appearance created confusion. For the ‘disease > ghoul’ idea, a disease caused by Claw would prolly be a bad idea. Accursed inability to edit posts… >.<

  7. Insolence says:

    What they could do would be something like this:
    1 Point Talent – Ghoul Mastery;
    When your Ghoul is summoned it counts as a Pet with un-limited duration bla bla bla, everything the current Talent says and does. Then add this; When your pet is not summoned you deal a slightly extra amount of damage. Also just to get rid of the Minor Glyph; In addition, your Raise Dead no longer requires a reagent.

    The total Damage would be about 500 more DPS which I believe is what the Ghoul Pet does these days. Sorry if I’m wrong.

  8. Insolence says:

    I can’t post edit so I ended up with a second post; The pros to what I suggested: You could choose what encounters would suit having your ghoul out better than not, like with Cindy Iceblocks Yogg’s Tentacles etc like said above. It would mean a bit more thinking on the player’s part which I believe is what Blizzard wants us to do even more come Cataclysm.

    I’m also thinking the above damage from the talent wouldn’t get affected by stuff your Ghoul doesn’t get affected by so non-Ghoul doesn’t become OP compared to Ghoul Unholy. The Ghoul would still be preferred on LK due to the stun it provides (I’d want it, don’t know how everyone else manages their valkyries) and it would still be wanted in PvP as well.

  9. Bastiat's Ghost says:

    What I find boring about Unholy with pet is that it’s just like any other pet (Warlock/Hunter). You summon it, it lasts until it dies, you sit it on the target and that’s it. Sometimes you have some annoying micromanagement you have to do to keep it alive. It also follows you around constantly and gets in your way.

    What would make Unholy with pet more fun is if it was more like Lich King phase 1, where you are continuously summoning 1-3 relatively low hp but moderate damage ghouls throughout the fight with an occasional “super ghoul” (Shambling Horror, or Raging Spirit). The regular ghouls get corpse exploded, sacrificed for health, harass the target, and perhaps even spread your diseases for you. The shambling horror or raging spirit types are on a longer cooldown, cost a lot to summon, but have some fierce abilities like shockwave stun or knockback and powerful, yet short duration diseases they can infect the target with (that say increase casting time, snare the target, weaken their attacks, etc.). None of these pets would be permanent as they would slowly decay and fall apart after awhile (sort of like Army of the Dead).

    Normally running around you wouldn’t have any sort of pet following you around being annoying, you would only summon these pets just before or during combat (or to show off to your friends).

    That to me would be a fun and *engaging* pet playstyle that would be unique to the Unholy DK.

  10. Mysiana says:

    I like Bastiat’s idea. For anyone that used to play Dark Age of Camelot, the Theurgist comes to mind ( It would make DKs a completely different type of pet class – something a bit more compelling for those of us that abhor the warlock-esque mechanics of our current pets.

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