Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Death Strike Mystery Solved

A couple weeks ago, I got into a somewhat heated discussion about the healing from Death Strike. No cries of "noob!" went out, though, we kept it civil. I maintained that, since patch 4.2 (it was actually 4.3), Death Strike has always healed and casted Blood Shield, whether or not it hits. The other player (another Death Knight tank, not a noob), maintained that it had to hit for the heal and shield to both proc. We went around in circles for a few minutes, discussing how to interpret the tooltip of Death Strike, whether it implied that it had to hit or not. He pointed out the new addition in MoP to the tooltip, "This attack cannot be parried." I maintained that this was a moot point, as Death Strike heals and cast Blood Shield based on damage taken, not damage done.

I've only done a few alt runs on this character, not even killing a boss twice on normal mode, much less completing the raids. My Paladin and Rogue are the ones getting it done, so my Death Knight has been very much an alt. I was not studied up completely on MoP changes to Blood Death Knights. We had both read the same tooltip, and come to very different conclusions, with significant stat-priority related concerns:

Presumption #1: If it does not heal when it does not hit, we must cap hit and expertise at 7.5% each for a significant boost to threat/DPS, but more importantly to boost survivability by ensuring every Death Strike heals and shields.

Presumption #2: If it always heals, even when missed or dodged, then we have the option to cap hit and expertise up to 7.5% for a significant boost to threat/DPS, and a boost to survivability via Scent of Blood, level 75 talents (Blood Tap, Runic Empowerment, or Runic Corruption), and by ensuring Outbreak does not miss, which would cause us to loose a Death Strike by using 2 runes to set up diseases. That last one is very minor, but still worth noting.

If Presumption #1 is true, capping hit and expertise is mandatory. My main in MoP so far has been my Paladin tank, and I'm not going to evangelize capping hit and hardcapping expertise on a Paladin in order to ensure Active Mitigation runs smoothly, only to then reject Active Mitigation on a Death Knight. That would be irrational and idiotic.

If Presumption #2 is true, then capping hit and expertise is optional. It's a strong option, since tank DPS matters, especially with high vengeance, and even more so with Riposte coming in 5.4. However, it is still optional. We can drop some threat/DPS for more mastery and/or avoidance, for an overall boost to survivability.

So far, I have been playing under Presumption #2, but still capping hit and expertise. This was because I was using a blue weapon for the longest time, so I really needed the threat. As soon as Bo-Ris dropped, though, this issue came up.

I did not admit defeat in that first argument, but the change to the tooltip was nagging at me. Self doubt sucks, but we should all have the humility to accept that we might be wrong. I decided to double check my sources.

Wowhead comments were silent about an MoP change.

Wowpedia was silent.

WowDB had one user comment that it always heals (anecdotal).

Icy-Veins says about hit/expertise: "A viable alternative is to prefer Hit and Expertise above Dodge and Parry. This is a small (practically negligible) survivability loss at the expense of a rather considerable (roughly 10%) increase in DPS, which can help if the DPS requirement of the encounter is very strict."

Elitist Jerks is contradictory in their Blood DK article:

Under Stat Priority, it states: "Note however that even if Death Strike should fail to land, you will still gain the shield and heal from it so if you just want to cap for Death Strike, you should reconsider (it still helps with Scent of Blood and smoother T5 [level 75 talents] procs though; you will never waste a GCD and lose RP if your Rune Strike fails to land for example)"

More specifically, under The Value of Accuracy Stats: "With Death Strike healing and shielding even if it fails to connect, accuracy stats do not offer as much for survival as they did before that change. In general, if you are gearing for accuracy you do it because you care about your DPS since the uncapped Vengeance makes actually landing your abilities much more important (the downside of Death Strike always shielding and healing us is that the Runes get consumed even if Death Strike fails to land and does 0 damage."

Under Timing Death Strikes, subsection The effect of avoidance and low/high damage periods on our timing,it implies a missed Death Strike results in no heal or shield: "Final notes: I strongly recommend gearing for accuracy because at times you will deliberately take as much damage as you comfortably can in your Death Strike window to get a big Blood Shield out of it. If you cannot guarantee that your next Death Strike will land, you will be in a very vulnerable situation and risk death."

Under the Class Specific section of What's New in 5.0?: "- Death Strike is back to it's pre-4.2 incarnation: If it misses or is avoided, you don't lose the Runes but neither do you get the heal/Blood Shield. In return though, Death Strike cannot be parried anymore so once you gear for the spell hit cap it will always land (that's 7.5% Hit and Expertise each)."

So which one is it? Time for ctrl+F "Death Strike" and into the comments.

"Death Strike is currently bugged and continues to give the shield on dodges and misses. Here is a lot i threw together proving it. You can see my shield is refreshed at the exact same time stamp as DS is dodged. World of Logs - Real Time Raid Analysis" - Reniat, 8/29/12 (patch 5.0.4)

"Can someone explain this to me: even when my deathstrike misses or is dodged, i still get a heal, but it is smaller than the heal i would get if the ability would land - about 60-70%. I can understand deathstrikes not healing if they miss, i can understand them healing even if the ability does miss, but what's this 60-70% heal then? Can anyone explain the actual current mechanics regarding death strike hit/miss/dodge?" - Khiandor 12/04/12 (patch 5.1)

"My testing confirms that missed/dodged Death Strikes don't interact with Scent of Blood (they neither consume the stacks nor benefit from them)". - Malacar 12/06/12 (patch 5.1)

Nothing further is stated relating to Death Strike missing and either healing or not healing.

As a note about Scent of Blood, the guide states under The effect of Scent of Blood stacks on our gameplay: "Simply put: It has none."

It seems to me that I was right. Death Strike always heals. Even if it heals less without Scent of Blood hitting, it will still heal greater based on damage incoming, and will cast/refresh Blood Shield. This bug may be fixed eventually, so I'll be paying attention for that possible change. In the meantime, I'll continue capping anyway, since tank DPS matters, but with the option of shifting to a higher mastery build.


  1. I've been under the impression, with 100% certainty, that for quite a while now the healing and shield portions of DS will always activate whether the ability connects or not. I'm not sure about any modifiers but at least the base heal and shield will activate 100% of the time when the buttons are pushed.

    I'm actually somewhat shocked this is even a debate (not that I'm questioning the debate, just that there isn't any specific authority out there with a definitive answer, that's kind of an important class issue).

    As for the 4.3.0 patch notes, since the shield isn't a fuction of Death Strike, it's a function of the mastery, if the heal always activates, so will the shield.

    Whether Scent of Blood should impact a missed Death Strike heal, I'm not sure, but the tooltip mentioning the "next" heal would imply that it would. It wouldn't bug me if it didn't, though, as long as they aren't consumed, if they are consumed but don't actually increase the size of the heal, THAT I'd consider a bug.

    As for a comment like Khiandor's, unless he's somehow ensuring he's taking the exact same damage over the exact same pre-DS time period there's no way to make a comment like that with any accuracy.

    As a final note, I've stopped using EJ for any class-related discussion, I'm finding it to be significantly less helpful than even Wowhead comments these days, your contradictory information is just another strike.

    1. For Hunters, there's WoW Hunters Hall, for Priests there's Tales of a Priest (by Derevka, an Elitist Jerks contributor) and World of Matticus, for Resto Shaman, there's Life in Group 5, for Prot Pally, there's Maintankadin and Sacred Duty, for DPS DK's there's Son of a Lich. For Blood DK, I haven't found anything outside Icy-Veins and Tankspot.

      The consensus seems to be that Death Strike will heal and cast blood shield, always, but without Scent of Blood boosting. That consesus has not been reached in-game by people just reading the tooltips, however.