With the upcoming changes in Cataclysm, the single biggest strike to the DK class is the removal of our versatility in our specs. No longer will every spec be viable for tanking (yes, even Unholy is, sort of, now), with Blood being our tanking spec, Frost our physical DPS spec, and Unholy being a primarily spell/disease based DPS class. What should not be confused here is the presence of the death knight. Tanking will now be limited to the blood spec, but will be performed in the frost presence. The change is necessitated by Cataclysm’s major change to the talent structure – the “required” talents will now be factored into a tree, with each particular talent depending on how deep you spec into a tree. This is forcing the DK class away from offering what are essentially 6 trees, and consolidating into three. According to Blizzard, the advent of dual-class characters has removed the necessity of offering the ability to both tank and DPS in a single spec, and to a certain extent, this is correct.
It is my belief that the changes in Cataclysm are another attempt to open the game to those with less time or ability. By eliminating the cookie cutter specs that seem to prevail in other classes, the plan is to open up more “fun” abilities and allow the players to choose what are essentially cosmetic changes; work on balancing classes will become much easier, as there will, in essence, be only 3 types of each class to balance around. This also makes it easier on the player, but not necessarily as fun – part of the challenge of WoW has been to craft a spec around your play style, or vice versa. This, however, will be a major blow to the DK class – one of our strengths has been our versatility – despite the reputation of the class fostered by hordes of former huntards who decided they wanted to tank too.
So the question I ask is, “Why blood for tanking?” Well, a number of talents offered increased healing ability, and some damage mitigation. However, to me it seems that frost was the “tank spec” of choice. Talents such as unbreakable armor fall into frost, and frost presence will be required for tanking. With the DK lacking a shield, and the ability to prevent a percentage of damage simply by equipping a shield, DK tanks have relied on other forms of mitigation. Dodge and parry are the commonly mentioned stats, but there is another form of damage mitigation that can be essential to a DK: slowing the pace of the enemy. The slowing aspects (“anti-haste” if you will) of a DK sit firmly in the DK tree – and if it takes the boss longer to swing his axe/tail/claw, the less often you will be hit – and the less damage done, live firmly in frost. This means that the tank might not require a mage’s frostbolt. Given the overhaul, it would be reasonable to move some of the talents from the blood tree to frost, hopefully it will allow the class to shake the image it’s had in regards to tanking ever since patch 3.2.