SS – One Rune, or Two?
June 16, 2010 32 Comments
With the World of Raids write up, it’s been “officially” confirmed that Blizzard is currently experimenting with Scourge Strike costing only one rune – just an Unholy – in Cataclysm. Of course, we’ve known this for weeks, but considering that it’s a relatively radical change to the philosophy of the DK trees and the playstyle of Unholy, it’s nice to have any shred of uncertainty removed.
My question is; what to make of this change? Which is better game design, Scourge Strike costing one or two?
For the sake of simplicity, assume that the (direct) damage of a single rune Scourge Strike plus an Icy Touch is equal to that of a double rune Scourge Strike. From what numbers we’ve seen, that’s essentially the case anyways, but just something to keep in mind when reading below.
A single rune iteration of Scourge Strike would lead to:
- More RP generated. SS would only generate 15 (with Dirge), while it currently generates 20, but when you factor in IT, you come out ahead by 5. Thus, even if the damage is equal per rune spent, a single rune SS would still mean more dps indirectly, via additional Death Coils.
- Of course, this does lead to more GCDs, something I’ll get to below.
- Greater value for Reaping. Reaping has been a very ‘iffy’ talent for the past several patches, and this could be (part of) Blizzard’s answer to that problem. If they balance the damage of a single rune SS around the IT to make it equal to a double rune SS, then that means that two single rune SS would easily beat one double rune SS – and that’s where Reaping comes in.
- Runic Empowerment being more attractive. RE is an excellent talent in the sense that it mixes up our rotation by giving us a proc and in the sense that it helps fill some of the empty GCDs the new rune system creates. An area where it may or may not be as well designed in is DPS which, let’s be honest, is what it ultimately all comes down to. Bringing up a single Frost or Unholy rune is rather unattractive for any of the three specs – these two runes are designed to be used in pairs, either via DS/Ob/SS or when applying diseases. By giving Unholy something it can do with a single Unholy rune (and Frost something it can do with a single Frost rune), you eliminate part of this problem and make the damage of the talent more potent.
- Of course, it’s still awkward if RE procs a Frost rune for Unholy or vice versa, but it will likely be balanced appropriately as such.
- More GCDs used. SS + IT takes more time than SS. Simple as that. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, however, if we do end up being GCD capped… as it currently appears will be the case.
- More emphasis on IT. We would be using it much more often, which might make talents like Imp Icy Touch more attractive – and IIT certainly needs a little something extra. Still, the downside is that we would place a higher premium on spell hit (thus detracting from other more desirable stats) and that disease times wouldn’t sync up.
- It should be noted that it doesn’t actually matter if diseases sync or not. It doesn’t affect our dps in the least. It’s simply one of those things which ‘look nice’ for the OCD among us. Besides, they could always create a glyph which lets SS apply Blood Plague, which would solve this issue anyways – although such a glyph likely wouldn’t be worthwhile from a raw dps point of view.
On the other hand, maintaining the status quo with a double rune SS means:
- Less GCDs used. Considering that GCDs will be even more valuable in the expansion, using less will be a direct dps gain which may not be inherently apparent by the current state of the game. As well, using less will keep our current de-emphasis of Expertise going, which means more of other stats.
- More burst damage possible. If you already have your Blood runes converted to Death runes, you’ld be able to chain five SS’s with ERW, compared to the six (plus four IT) which you would be limited to if it costed only one. Even if the two combinations gave roughly the same damage over time, the former is clearly capable of more damage in a shorter time period. The PvP implications are obvious, but being capable of more burst in PvE certainly wouldn’t hurt on adds like Valkyrs or Tentacles.
- More physical damage. With the removal of armor penetration, this doesn’t matter near as much as it otherwise would, but it’s still something to keep in mind. We scale worse with weapon damage/dps than almost every other melee class, for obvious reasons (pet + spells). Switching to a single rune SS would just add to this issue, since the damage difference between the two versions gets lumped into IT.
- Weaker talents. By this, I mean several talents – Reaping, Improved Icy Touch, Black Ice, Dirge – have decreased value with a double rune SS relative to a single rune SS. This isn’t a bad thing though, not with our potential bloat.
- Or whatever you wish to call it when you can’t choose all the damage increasing talents available and, thus, have to choose the greatest ones available, leading to no actual choice when it comes to talents. I don’t want to get too off-topic here, and thus will save the subject for another post, but suffice is to say that having too many damage increasing talents doesn’t lead to more choice, but less. If I can spend all 71/76 available points on damage increasing talents, why would I need a 72nd/77th talent available which is weaker than the other 71/76 already there? You don’t; it may as well not exist. It’s a tricky situation, certainly – providing talents which are attractive but can’t be reduced to X dps/healing/mitigation, in place of having ‘filler’ talents which people hate or in place of everything being a damage talent which leads to no choice but simple math – and I sympathize with Blizzard. But bloat just means a lot of talents; it can be a lot of good talents just as easily as a lot of bad talents, and both are just as detrimental.
- More intuitive design. Cataclysm is simplifying a lot of facets of the game, and most of it is for the better. The base DK design is that you apply diseases with IT/PS, use Blood runes on BS, use your UF strike in the form of Obliterate, and dump runic with Death Coil. Repeat forever. Each tree then slightly modifies this design via substitution – Blood replaces BS with HS and Obliterate with DS, Frost replaces Death Coil with Frost Strike, and Unholy replaces Obliterate with Scourge Strike. Of course, it’s a bit more complex than that thanks to the subtleties like procs (Rime, Death runes), cooldown usage, and so on, but so long as you understand that core rotation, you really can’t screw up that much, regardless of which spec you go to and from. Keeping SS at two runes maintains this design… changing it to one blows it up.
Personally, I don’t quite see the logic in changing Scourge Strike to a single rune, largely because of IT, not SS. Having that one Frost rune is just so awkward in so many ways. If we had something we could do with it, then I would welcome the change, but as it is, it’s such a radical shift for little upside. Unholy and Frost runes are meant to be used in pairs, be it when applying diesases (IT + PS) or via a UF strike. They are not meant to be used independent of another, and I’m not sure why Blizzard is looking to mess with something that’s actually rather well-designed and user-friendly in it’s current state.
Very curious for thoughts from others on this subject, as it’s an incredibly interesting one (in my opinion) and something which hasn’t gotten much of any discussion!