Leveling – 2H Frost’s Redemption
December 1, 2010 91 Comments
With Cataclysm exactly a week away there’s a single, vital question that should be on almost everyone’s mind: what spec should I be for leveling?
To an extent, it doesn’t particularly matter. Leveling isn’t intended to be so difficult that if you’re trying to do it with anything less than the optimal spec, you’re essentially screwing yourself over. Nor is it meant to be all that long, with 80 to 85 taking far less playtime than 70 to 80 ever did. Even if neither of those were true and leveling did require any sort of min-maxing in your build, the fact of the matter is: it just couldn’t be done! The number of variables one would have to take into account would be way too long to list, let alone actually attempt to calculate.
So why does a leveling spec matter so much if the content isn’t challenging or lengthy enough to demand anything even remotely resembling your absolute best?
Because unlike raiding and unlike arena, leveling is the one thing every single player in the game goes through. Because unlike any other aspect of the expansion, leveling is likely going to be one of the very first parts you experience on launch day. Because the fact that a section of the game doesn’t require you to do your absolute best doesn’t mean that a certain kind of person would be able to enjoy it to the fullest otherwise… which, for what it’s worth, is why most people also min-max in other areas.
It suffices to say that, yes, a leveling spec does indeed matter.
Fortunately for us, the answer is obvious: Frost 2H is the way to go.
Now, of course, I say this with some obvious disclaimers: As stated, one can’t really math out leveling specs, and so a lot of this is a mixture of opinion, personal experience, and common sense. Although that last one should be equally valid from person to person, the first two will obviously differ, and thus you may very well disagree with me on this subject… and be perfectly right while doing so! That is unlike, say, disagreeing on the best raid spec at 85. That’s a matter of objective numbers and math; it is what it is. This, on the other hand, is far more subjective, and there’s no way to really prove anything, so take it for what you will.
Going back to the matter at hand, why does Frost 2H reign supreme here, even when it lags terribly behind in actual raiding?
- Increased run speed.
- Run speed is vital. Each second shaved from running from mob to mob, quest item to quest item, npc to npc, is a second saved. People often underestimate the value of run speed because it occurs in little chunks – you never run from one zone to the next, after all – but it adds up pretty substantially over time. And, although it may sound mean-spirited, one also has to remember that there’s a high amount of competition for mobs at the beginning of an expansion – the faster you can get within casting range of the mob, the faster you can tag it!
- Unholy shares this benefit, but it’s rather difficult for Frost DW to make use of.
- Increased mount speed.
- Likely as important as run speed, if not more so these days. Whatever time you aren’t running on foot, you’re likely spending mounted, and having that time go by 20% faster… huge increase. A lot of the zones require you to travel a rather decent distance from one quest hub to another – Deepholm, especially – and OaPH significantly decreases the time it takes.
- Frost DW shares this, but Unholy can’t get it until 82 at the earliest.
- Unholy Command.
- Underrated, but rather valuable. It can’t be stressed enough; the less time it takes you to get from point A to point B, the faster you level, and UC let’s you bring point B (i.e, mobs) to you! One can certainly live without, but a decent boon. Think of it this way: if you save one second on each mob because of this talent, and you kill a mere 200 mobs a level, you’ll have saved over 15 minutes from 80 to 85. That’s pretty good when you think about it; with leveling taking as little as ~9 hours, that’s a ~3% reduction in total time required.
- Frost DW and Unholy share this, but the latter has to deal with unreliable procs due to the ghoul stealing killing blows.
- Not reliant on diseases.
- Huge. Having to spend two runes and two GCDs of laughable damage is just horrible, and the worst aspect of leveling as a DK. Frost (2H and DW) can easily glyph HB – which is a hard hitter anyways, and thus no sacrifice to use – and ignore the use of PS altogether, what with FS not needing either and Obliterate being a small fraction of your leveling damage (as I’ll get to).
- Unholy… Unholy hurts in this area. Badly.
- Not reliant on runes.
- With the new rune system, this is pretty important. Between the just discussed GoHB, Butchery, and MotFW, Frost 2H can essentially get away with casting HB, then spamming FS until the mob is dead, with absolutely zero downtime and while doing dps equal or plain superior to any of the other specs. Whatever minor gaps you have can easily be covered by an Obliterate. No, this rotation/playstyle wouldn’t be sustainable, but you don’t need it to be when mobs only live for a small handful of GCDs, not to mention when Butchery is helping to inflate your RP generation. This is one of the most underrated perks of Frost 2H for leveling, and it becomes especially important/noticeable as you level up and your haste takes a nose dive.
- Frost DW and Unholy both lack MotFW, while Unholy also has to go without Butchery until 84 (if they’re getting OaPH first, which they would).
- Not reliant on ghoul.
- Not having to deal with your pet taking its sweet time getting up from the ground after dismounting? Not having to deal with a dps loss should you have to Death Pact? Not having to worry about maintaining SI stacks? Not having to suffer if your pet manages to get itself oneshot/depsawned? For leveling purposes, the ghoul is a huge pain. It will inevitably slow you down, hurt your survivability, and will never give even close to its full damage potential.
- Likely the largest factor behind why Unholy fails when leveling.
- Access to two of the best “oh shit” abilities.
- Lichborne + DC spam = full heal, while HC buys you plenty of time to run far enough to leash the mob and then mount up. Although the damage increase of mobs in Cataclysm isn’t that staggering, it’s substantial enough that you can get yourself killed if you accidentally pull a whole pack, or get respawns on top of you at an inopportune moment.
- Frost DW shares both, while Unholy can only get the first, and even then, not until 81 (83 if you prioritize OaPH).
Need I go on?
The fact of the matter is that unlike Frost DW or Unholy, Frost 2H gets every single possible leveling talent, and lacks any single possible leveling handicap.
Some may question why I don’t suggest Blood. After all, the mobs do certainly hit harder, and we did lose a large chunk of our self-healing. With Rune Strike no longer being tied to avoidance and Blood Presence granting 20% increased rune regen, Blood’s dps is actually pretty decent, at least for solo purposes. The two main abilities of the spec – Death Strike and Rune Strike – don’t need diseases to do max damage. All in all, Blood should be pretty good, right?
It would be… if it didn’t lack both increased run speed and increased movement speed, probably the two biggest boosts one can get for leveling! In fairness, it can get the latter, but not until 82, and the former is locked to UP, and thus unreachable without sacrificing mass RS usage. Ultimately the greater survivability of the spec – which, honestly, just isn’t needed – doesn’t outweigh the loss in dps (relatively slight, but undoubtedly there) and the sizable increase in travel time.
As I said, simply my two cents. Feel free to disagree, but I can assure you this is what I’ll be on the 7th, and what I would strongly advise any DK attemping the realm first to use.