The other day in the middle of a trash pull in Hellfire Citadel, Rosalian asked me why I had stopped playing my blood DK. My short answer was "it's incredibly boring now," and I said I'd explain after raid. I never did. Oops. So I guess I'll get to that.
The short answer is absolutely correct: it's a very boring spec to play now. It sums up the problem entirely, in fact. The longer version is that the class that pioneered active mitigation as a playstyle has been left behind by the other classes as well as the game itself.
The talent system was the beginning. Going into the last expansion, the talent system for death knights included a few choices, but most of them were relatively uninteresting. Going into this expansion, it got worse. Here's the death knight talent tree (it should be noted for those of you who don't play death knights that there are no per-spec talents at all):
And if you're blood specced, here's what it actually looks like.
Due to a combination of mismanaged talent rows, poorly balanced talents in general, and a large nerf to a specific playstyle in 6.2 (by which I mean it was made entirely impossible due to the removal of a glyph), there is only one tier where blood DKs have any choice - and 99% of the time, you're going to pick Gorefiend's Grasp because it's the only unique utility a DK brings to the table.
Let's go over this tier by tier.
- Level 56: Plaguebearer is useless to Blood because we already refresh our diseases via Blood Boil. Unholy Blight could in theory have been a good talent for newer death knights, but glyphed Outbreak and Plague Leech is just so infinitely better that unless you're using Necrotic Plague, which you're not because it's bad, it's a non-choice.
- Level 57: Lichborne just screams PvP talent. In theory you can also pump Death Coils into yourself to heal yourself, like a shitty version of Death Pact. Anti-Magic Zone seems like it could be pretty useful on some fights, but compared to a get out of death free card it once again pales in comparison. Since our primary job is to survive, we take the talent that helps us survive. Simple as that.
- Level 58: This tier contains a passive movement boost with a short-cooldown sprint, a slow, and a stun that replaces a silence. For a class that already has the worst mobility options out of all the tanks, it's a no-brainer. Again.
- Level 60: The worst designed tier in the entire thing, the rune regeneration tier. There's some math to explain it, but the math basically boils down to use Blood Tap, or use Runic Corruption if you're really bad at using Blood Tap, and never use Rune Tetris. And since it's not hard to get good at Blood Tap, there is once again not really a choice here.
- Level 75: Okay, I take it back, this one might be the worst. Death Pact no longer requires the pet that we don't have to be alive; instead we regain 50% of our max health, but take a healing absorb effect equal to 25% of our max health. This is so absurdly easy to heal through, combined with the fact that it requires no sources whatsoever, that it's a non-choice. Death Siphon uses up Death Runes that are better spent on Death Strike, and Conversion costs more RP for blood than any other spec. In summary: Death Pact or go home.
- Level 90: Our only tier of any choice, you can pick between an AOE death grip that doesn't taunt, an AOE slow and stun that makes Capacitor Totem looke speedy, or a talent that is entirely worthless in PvE. Your choice. Given the sheer number of add fights this expansion, Gorefiend's Grasp is king for positioning.
- Level 100: This one deserves its own paragraph but suffice to say Defile is now, thanks to Blizzard's changes in 6.2, the only choice worth taking.
Chains of Sindragosa was, for a time, our major choice. By giving up a large chunk of survivability and counting on your healers, you could pump out ludicrous damage on most any fight that had a cleave component to it. I used this in quite a few fights in BRF progression to ensure we kept up on enrage timers, or on farm bosses to keep myself entertained. With the removal of Glyph of Chains of Ice and the higher cost in 6.2, this playstyle was totally eliminated.
All of these non-choices combine to make the most cookie-cutter of cookie-cutter specs. The death knight, the inventors of active mitigation, are basically mindless Death Strike pumping machines. Oh, how the overpowered have fallen.
There's also the fact that there seems to be a disconnect between how the class is designed and how it actually plays. Every spec got an "attunement" passive in Warlords of Draenor, giving you 5% bonus to a stat which is supposed to be your best stat for your role, or at least close to it. Blood's is Runic Strikes, which gives us 5% more multistrike (and we actually have a second passive that also grants us multistrike, Veteran of the Third War). The problem is that multistrike is, defensively, a completely lousy stat. (Further pouring salt in the wound, multistrike was the stat that made Chains of Sindragosa work.) When Blizzard posted early in the 6.2 patch notes that they were going to work on tweaking classes so that their attuned stat would actually be their best stat, I was hopeful. But surprise: Blood received zero changes apart from the removal of CoS.
(Playing the cynic for a minute, I probably shouldn't be surprised by this. The spec I played for virtually all of Mists, enhancement shaman, was one of the ones singled out as most needing a good ability pruning because it had a lot of buttons to hit, none of which individually felt meaningful. In the end, the only change to the spec was that Earth Shock was replaced by Frost Shock.)
Blood DK no longer has any meaningful talent choices, any meaningful gearing choices, or any differing playstyles whatsoever. From my perspective you cannot choose to affect the balance between survival and DPS in an effective way because the DPS end of that tree was taken away. Rather than spend the next - presumably - 9-12 months playing a class that bored me stiff, I just switched classes entirely.
And that's why I stopped playing my Death Knight. Sorry, Zulfon. You haven't even gotten Khadgar out of your garrison HQ yet. At least you got to take down Blackhand.