Well, there's a new beta build in town, and that means time to mess around with some new specs on the Death Knight. The timing works out well anyway, as Blizzard is currently attempting to tune the exp curve. It was previously possible to outlevel more of the continent than Blizzard could have intended, so they decided to increase everything by 80%. I think something in the 30-50% range will probably be the final answer, but I guess it doesn't hurt to experiment. Anyway, I decided I might as well backtrack to Borean Tundra (where the content is actually just below my level) to test out some of the new specs.
Bloodworms, version 3.0
So the Bloodworms got redone again. The first iteration had a 30% to spawn 3-5 worms when you killed a diseased target. This was inconsistent, but almost certain to win you the fight when it happened. The second edition healed for slightly less, but you had a 60% chance to spawn 3-5 worms off Death Strike, which you can spam twice per 10 seconds. That was way way too consistent, and it was possible to heal through insane amounts of damage by letting the worms heal away.
Version 3.0 gives the worms a 12% chance to spawn when you attack stuff, and the number of worms has been reduced to 2-4. There may or may not be an internal cooldown, or it may only work off of your main hand attack, I'm not sure, but I rarely if ever had more than one batch of worms up. Unfortunately, this version is still very strong. Death Knights can dual wield, have a 20% bonus to attack speed in the Frost tree, and there is plenty of haste rating to go around in Northrend. You can't collect 10+ worms anymore, but it's possible to keep the 2-4 worms out nearly continuously, which is still a very nice chunk of healing. I was actually running with a build that included points in all three trees; 33 points in Blood for the worms, 18ish in Frost for the DW-related talents, and a few in Unholy for improved disease durations. I'd really like them to keep this very unique talent around, but I fear there may need to be a fourth version.
Night of the Dead: Don't leave home without your Ghoul
Night of the Dead is a new 35-point Unholy talent (it was in the previous build, but wasn't working) that has a novel mechanic; it refreshes the cooldown on your ghoul-summoning spell (which has a 5-minute cooldown) by a minute each time you apply Plague/Scourge Strike. This means you can summon a fresh ghoul every 30 seconds or so if you aren't using your Unholy Runes for anything else. This has implications for two spells; detonate, which blows up the ghoul for AoE damage, and Death Pact, which sacrifices the ghoul to heal the Death Knight for 20% of their health (though the spell doesn't work at all at the moment due to a bug of some sort).
The bad news is that it makes very little sense to stop at 37 points in the Unholy tree (though you technically could, at level 79, and be able to get both Night of the Dead and the Blood Worms with a point to spare). Even a single additional point in Unholy grants you Crypt Fever, a third disease debuff (which is a big deal because many of the best DK abilities scale depending on the number of diseases you have inflicted on the target). Another point gets you Bone Shield, a buff that reduces a few damage for you and gives you a small passive DPS buff, all for the cost of a single Unholy rune (great for tough pulls, because you can cast it and wait the 10 seconds for the rune to refresh). If you make it to 41 points, you get Scourge Strike (an upgraded version of Plague Strike that does SHADOW damage instead of physical, bypassing armor mitigation), and for 45 points in Unholy, Crypt Fever morphs into Ebon Plague, increasing disease damage by 60% and magic vulnerability by 13%. My point being, this talent really only makes sense if you're going 40+ unholy, because you're too close to too many goodies to stop there.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Death Strike heals for a lot when you have three diseases on your target (I may even go for Unholy Blight, which adds a fourth debuff). Combine that with regular use of Death Pact and we may finally have a spec that rivals blood in terms of self-healing. Don't get me wrong, I've liked my experiments with Unholy and Frost, I've just always felt like I was worse off than I would have been if I'd just stayed with at least 33 points in Blood for the Bloodworms. Now I'm even toying with the idea of an Unholy/Frost spec with zero points in Blood in order to improve Obliterate (which would allow me to use it to trigger Desecration, a flashy AoE snare effect that also boosts my damage by 10% for 7 seconds).
To sum up, this is the cool part about beta that makes all the server crashes (it crashes a LOT, especially in prime time) and bugs worthwhile. Before my eyes, Blizzard has taken a class that needed a lot of work and made some pretty big improvements. I think Frost still lags behind the other two trees for lack of a good healing bonus, but either way, it's a lot of fun to see the class evolving as the beta unfolds.