Runic Power and You

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A reader question today, from Hydra:

You need to do a post about runic power and how it works. all I know is it is like rage. but not. it is like energy . but not.

A good way of summing it up. What is Runic Power (often abbreviated RP)? Wowwiki says the following:

Runic power is an extra resource that builds up as the death knight uses his or her abilities, displayed as an empty bar that fills up with a light sky blue color similar to rage under the Death Knight’s healthbar.

So far, so good. As you use abilities that require Runes - any Rune - you’ll build up Runic Power (it’s actually sort of like Rage, only a lot faster, and you don’t get any for getting hit). You’ll also gain 25 Runic Power if you use Empower Rune Weapon - it’s sort of an emergency button.

After patch 3.0.8, any move that costs multiple runes will give you 15 Runic Power, while single-rune moves will give you 10. The Runic Power bar goes up to a max of 100, although Frost Death Knights can up this to 110, 120, or 130 with talent points.

Obviously, if it’s maxed, getting more won’t help you, so you’ll want to use Runic Power in your ability rotations. But what’s it for? The idea is to use your runes to fuel your strikes and blasts and what-have-you: all well and good. Runic power, though, is what you use after (or in some cases, in-between) your runes. What are some of the various uses of runic power?

Buffing and Healing:

  • Horn of Winter - For now, that is. Right now, Horn of Winter costs 20 Runic Power (10 glyphed) and offers the same exact buff as a Strength of Earth totem for two minutes. In 3.0.8 it’ll cost 0 runic power, will actually generate 10 runic power, and the glyph will extend its duration by a minute. If you’re soloing, you’ll want to keep this up as often as you have the RP to do so. If you’re in a group, there’s a good chance that something is overwriting this, so you’ll be freed up to use your RP elsewhere.

  • Death Pact - A spell you get at 66, Death Pact blows up your ghoul to give you 20% of your max health back. It’s a good emergency health measure, and if your ghoul’s about to die after a fight, it’s a convenient way to get rid of him and summon another one. Also, unlike many pets, blowing up and resummoning your ghoul will actually get rid of any debuffs he’s carrying.

  • Icebound Fortitude - Many a DK has had their life saved by Icebound Fortitude. For 20 runic power, the Death Knight becomes immune to stuns and takes 50% damage for 12 seconds - from everything. I tend to pop it often on fights where the melee’s taking a lot of damage, just to make my healers’ lives easier. In 3.0.8, this will be changing to be 20% base reduction, scaling with defense (at 540 defense skill, it will reduce 35% damage).

  • Anti-Magic Shell - The little green bubble is another runic power-consuming ability. It’s pretty self-explanatory, and if you’re under attack it’ll generate RP for you - it uses 20 RP to cast, but you get roughly 2% of the damage it absorbs back as Runic Power.]

Interrupts and Direct Damage:

  • Mind Freeze - Another of the anti-magic abilities in the DK’s arsenal is Mind Freeze. On a 10-second cooldown, Mind Freeze lets a DK expend 20 RP to interrupt a spell and lock the caster out of the school they’re currently casting for 4 seconds. It’s fairly self-explanatory, but a caveat: it’s melee range only. I’ve gotten bit by this a few times and had to rely on Strangulate instead. Also, interestingly: Mind Freeze is not on, and is not affected by, the global cooldown. You can toss out a Mind Freeze pretty much anytime you’re able.

  • Rune Strike - You’ll likely see this one a lot of you’re soloing or tanking. Rune Strike does 200% weapon damage (in 3.0.8: 150% weapon damage and 150% threat) plus a bit more. It’s usable whenever you parry or dodge an attack. Unlike everything else ending in “Strike,” Rune Strike is “on next melee” - it’s sort of fire-and-forget (meaning it, too, is not affected by the global cooldown). Just use it and continue on your way, and next time your auto-attack kicks off, you’ll Rune Strike. This can do some ludicrous damage, especially if it crits, but DPS DKs will probably want to stay away from it in groups after the patch. Of course, odds are you won’t see it that often anyway (I pretty much only see it if I get an add on me, for instance).

  • Death Coil - Not to be confused with the Warlock spell of the same name, the Death Knight’s Death Coil is the first Runic Power ability you get, and is a staple of some specs (such as Blood), with talents to improve it in both Blood and Unholy. Death Coil costs 40 RP and is an instant-cast ranged direct damage attack - one of the few in our arsenal. Generally, if you’ve got nothing else to do with your RP, Death Coil is a good fallback.

  • Frost Strike (41-point Frost talent) - The signature strike of the Frost tree is, appropriately, Frost Strike. An instant-cast ability that does 60% of weapon damage plus more, Frost Strike is interesting because it’s spammable - you can keep using it until you run out of Runic Power. Remember when I said if you’ve got nothing else to do with your RP, you can cast Death Coil? If you’re Frost-specced, replace “Death Coil” with “Frost Strike” and you’re good.

  • Hungering Cold (51-point Frost talent) - Hungering Cold? Don’t you mean Frost Nova? For a whopping 60 RP (40 after 3.0.8), Hungering Cold will freeze everything around you and infect it with Frost Fever. Any damage whatsoever will break them out of their cold, except your diseases. It’s a great way to inflict a lot of damage when soloing (Hungering Cold + Deathchill + Howling Blast, for instance), but generally if you use it in groups you’re just going to waste 60 RP.

  • Corpse Explosion (11-point Unholy talent) - After 3.0.8, Corpse Explosion will be changed from costing 1 Unholy rune (which made it very awkward in most rotations) to costing 40 Runic Power (which it probably should’ve cost all along), along with receiving a big damage bump. None of these are bad things! It also adds to Unholy’s AOE arsenal. Corpse Explosion can still be useful now in some situations, but you’ll probably like it a lot more once it costs Runic Power.

    • Tip: Target your ghoul before casting it for bonus damage - you’ll see him channel for 1.5 seconds, then explode for much more damage than usual.
  • Unholy Blight (51-point Unholy talent) - The capstone of the Unholy tree is Unholy Blight. Right now it costs 60 RP… but it’s pretty sweet, and will b e moreso after 3.0.8, when it will cost 40 Runic Power. Unholy Blight deals more-or-less constant damage in an aura around the DK, and you get to be surrounded by an obnoxious cloud of buzzing flies! Sweet! In all seriousness, Unholy Death Knights will want to keep this up as often as possible - in groups, according to recount, this is often my #2 or #3 source of damage. It’s that good.

Summoning Combat Helpers:

  • Dancing Rune Weapon (51-point Blood talent) - I’ve talked before about the Dancing Rune Weapon. It’s an interesting one in that when you use it, it will drain all of your Runic Power immediately to summon a Dancing Rune Weapon. The weapon copies any move that you do, with your stats, and the more Runic Power you have when you initially summon it, the longer it stays (it’s really not worth casting before you have the full 100 RP). It’s a great form of burst damage for the fully Blood-specced death knight.

  • Summon Gargoyle (21-point Unholy talent) - Our little flying buddy is just a little bit too good right now, unfortunately, and that’s why Summon Gargoyle is getting a nerf soon. Still, don’t overlook it. For 50 RP, you summon an Ebon Gargoyle, who swoops into the area, targets your target, and begins pummeling it once a second with nature-damage magic modified by your attack power at the time of summoning. Yes, this means that if you’re fully raid buffed and pop a trinket or two, the Gargoyle will remain powerful after those wear off. The Gargoyle is a great way to take down bosses. The cost? Once you summon him, he constantly drains Runic Power from you - but you should be generating it while fighting, so it’s not a huge deal. Just be careful using expensive powers like Unholy Blight. He’ll stay until your RP runs out or one minute is up (30 seconds in 3.0.8).

    • Tip: If you summon him while fighting the Gargoyles at the entrance of the Plague Wing in Naxxramas, you’ll generally freak your raid out because he swoops down by your side after you’re finished. Not that I’ve tried that. /grin

Hopefully this gives you a good summary of what our sky blue bar is for. The general idea is this:

(normal Rune-powered attack rotation to build Runic Power) -> (use Runic Power abilities) -> (loop to beginning)

But use your judgment: obviously you’ll want to interrupt spells when you can with Mind Freeze, or pop Icebound Fortitude or Anti-Magic Shell to save yourself a little damage here and there.


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