Plaguebearer: Chains of Sindragosa
Ah yes, Chains of Windragosa! Apologies to both Reniat and Troxism for stealing phrases that they coined (“Windragosa” and “Chains of,” respectively), but I couldn’t resist the amalgamation. Jokes aside, today’s topic covers a side of Blood Death Knight play that has undergone significant discussion, yet is still poorly understood by a majority of the community. My hope is that my input on this subject will act as a primer (for Death Knights and non-DKs alike) in exploring this topic, and further allow for more advanced reading on the matter to become more accessible.
What is Chains of Sindragosa?
The term “Chains of Sindragosa” refers to a Blood DK playstyle that, as the name might suggest, involves the Breath of Sindragosa talent. Utilizing a combination of our Multistrike attunement and the Icy Runes glyph (specifically the large amounts of Runic Power that both generate), this playstyle aims to enable a Blood DK to maintain Breath of Sindragosa indefinitely during raid encounters. Its base principle revolves around reaching a particular level of Multistrike (usually not attainable until Blackrock Foundry gear) and using it as the primary source of Runic Power with which the DK fuels Breath. Additionally, it involves carefully planning the use of cooldowns such as Empower Rune Weapon and Heroism/Bloodlust, as both are key resource generators when used.
Where does Chains of Ice fit in? The glyph causes Chains of Ice to generate 20 Runic Power up from the standard 10. This means that two casts of Chains of Ice while using this glyph generate double the amount of Runic Power than a standard Death Strike would. As such, Chains of Ice acts as an important stabilizer to combat bad RNG from Runic Strikes or simply being outside of a target’s melee range — a demonstration of how this works can be found in this Mythic Blackhand video from a Blood DK point of view.
One popular misconception about Chains of Sindragosa is that it involves mindlessly “spamming” Chains of Ice, due to the glyph. This could not be further from the truth: Remember that Chains of Ice does zero upfront damage, and that the playstyle itself is a significant mitigation loss due to having to aggressively dump resources (and thus forgo timing) in order to fuel Breath. True mastery of the playstyle means understanding when the need for Chains of Ice casts presents itself, and only casting enough to ensure that Breath is sustained without over-capping Runic Power.
Naturally, talents such as Blood Tap and Plague Leech (which are already highly valued by Blood) become mandatory due to the consistent level of gain that they offer here — resource generation that is RNG based would simply be untenable for a playstyle that hinges on precise calculations and planning by the player. Skillful Anti-Magic Shell soaking helps too!
Why is Chains of Sindragosa so popular?
Now that we understand how the playstyle works, let’s move on to our second question: Why is it appealing to so many players? Let’s break it down point by point:
- Chains of Sindragosa deals the highest damage of any Tank specialization in the game right now. It merely takes a cursory glance at Warcraft Logs to confirm the type of lead that Blood currently has in damage output. Using this playstyle allows Blood to even rival multiple DPS specs, with cleave-heavy fights such as Blast Furnace and Iron Maidens serving as good examples of how powerful it can be.
- This playstyle helps address several spec flaws: Even though Chains of Ice does no damage, being able to sustain an ability that converts Runic Power to damage so efficiently cannot be understated. One Death Coil costs 30 Runic Power, and deals 80% of our Attack Power in damage, which is laughably weak. The equivalent cost for this would be two ticks of Breath of Sindragosa, which deal 200% of our Attack Power in damage and act as a pseudo-cleave.
- If that weren’t enough, this playstyle solves Blood’s GCD capping issues beautifully: Without the need to devote globals towards Death Coil, the risk of consistently over-capping RP (which is very much a reality without this talent) is minimized, and thus the ability to fully make use of all resources is assured. Indeed, the primary reason behind why Multistrike is currently considered to be the strongest DPS-oriented stat (Bonus Armor aside, and even that is debatable at certain gear levels) for Blood is due to Chains of Sindragosa.
- It offers a meaningful tradeoff between survivability for more damage. This acts as part of a larger discussion that we’ve begun to see Tanks have in Warlords of Draenor: With Tank Active Mitigation and cooldowns having been squished, the role of Tank survivability is now in healer hands to a much greater degree than in previous expansions. This in turn has lead to many experienced Tanks complaining that past a certain point, their role has become increasingly boring, and that the option to do something such as trade survival for more damage would provide interesting gameplay for more advanced players. Some even note that the lack of spike damage for most Warlords encounters means that a usual mitigation-based Tanking rotation is rarely threatened — or that if it is, the ability to survive hinges more on healer ability than their own. As it currently stands, Chains of Sindragosa is the only playstyle that allows a Tank spec to make the type of tradeoff that I mentioned.
What is Blizzard doing about this?
Unfortunately, despite the many upsides that Chains of Sindragosa presents for Blood DKs, it also exists as an anomaly. Design-wise, Breath of Sindragosa was intended to act as a burst cool down that skillful play could extend, but not to the degree that we’re currently able to. There’s also the fact that one of the most important factors towards extending it is incorporating a spell intended solely for use as a root as part of our rotation — the existence of the glyph in the first place was likely for the sake of PVP, rather than any serious PVE consideration. This makes it a fairly unintuitive playstyle to pick up, and one that hinges on a talent rather than the baseline functions of the spec. Finally, it’s significantly overpowered compared to other Tanks in terms of the damage it deals. In short: It was doomed from the start. How does Blizzard plan to address this in Patch 6.2?
- The Icy Runes glyph has been removed. By itself, this change would have done the trick for many of us: The removal of the “stabilizing factor” that allows us to account for poor RNG (and thus leaves Breath up-time entirely at the mercy of Multistrike) would have likely proven a significant source of frustration given how wildly it would have swung from pull to pull. Even with inflated levels of Multistrike thanks to the item level increase next tier will see, the consistency and reliability of the glyph is an essential component of the playstyle.
- On the current 6.2 PTR, Breath of Sindragosa’s Runic Power cost for Blood DKs has been increased to 20 Runic Power per second. A 33% increase to cost, given the tenuous balance in which the talent currently exists, is more than enough to guarantee the end of the playstyle. This is clearly illustrated in Reniat’s blogpost from March, which analyzed the potential consequences of increasing the Runic Power cost of the ability.
What happens next?
For all intents and purposes, Chains of Sindragosa is dead in 6.2. I personally consider this to be a great pity, primarily because the community predicted the inevitable results of our Multistrike functionality nearly a year ago when 6.0 Blood DK design became available for public critique. It’s true, it hurts to be right sometimes! Not only does this bring back existing issues that the playstyle helped to mitigate, but more worryingly: We haven’t seen any compensatory Blood DK damage buffs.
The current reason behind Blood leading the pack in damage is due to our ability to prolong Breath for so long. Given that it’s now unlikely to go past 20 seconds of uptime without exceptionally good RNG (and even that has its limits), that applies a fairly hefty nerf to the spec — to the point where we will likely trail behind to Prot Paladin levels of single-target damage on most encounters.
There are a great many other thoughts that I have on the matter (and on the Tanking paradigm as a whole), but word limitations here necessitate that I save them for another time. I will, however, recommend that interested readers browse Troxism’s lengthy reflection on the nature of Chains of Sindragosa and how the existence of meaningful Survival-DPS tradeoffs for Tanking specs is not only possible but necessary. There are likely larger consequences of this nerf to things such as stat/talent balance, but I’ll leave those gloomy declarations for another article.
For now, my sincere advice to any aspiring Blood DK is to enjoy this form of play while it lasts. In my mind, it is to Warlords, what Masterfrost was to Cataclysm, and what Festerblight was to Mists: A true testament to the ingenuity of the Death Knight community.
Until next time, suffer well brethren!
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