In the second installment of our artifact series, we are going to be looking at our favourite ex-champions of the Lich King: the Death Knights.
After being created by the Lich King to combat the Argent Dawn, the Death Knights of the Ebon Blade broke free from his hold and followed the Highlord Darion Morgraine to freedom. They fought for revenge after being forced to commit countless horrors under the control of the Lich King; once they had won vengeance, they slowly began to merge with the Alliance and Horde worlds of the living.
The three specialisations that the Death Knight can choose from are as follows:
Blood is concerned with the manipulation and corruption of life energy in an attempt to heal injuries sustained by the Death Knight.
Frost utilises a strong array of ice-based attacks to deliver a vicious assault of both magical and weapon-based attacks.
Unholy is a master of plagues and diseases, ensuring victims of their wrath incur a great deal of pain as their undead minions join the battle.
Blood Death Knight - Maw of the Damned
The first artifact on the table today is the tanking weapon for the Blood Death Knights. The backstory for this menacing axe is as follows:
"An ancient Legion axe forged from a metal that drains its victims' vital energies. The soul of its original creator is trapped within and cursed with unending hunger. For more than a thousand years, an old and cunning mo'arg has used the axe to butcher uprisings and consume the life force of the Legion's foes. Over its long and infamous history, the weapon has made its demonic bearer extraordinarily powerful." (source)
The backstory behind this weapon might be slightly strange to those of you that are unfamiliar with who the real wielder was. The Mo'arg race are part of the Burning Legion main army ranks; they are fiendishly clever, with incredible engineering and smithing abilities. They are known to modify their own bodies in a similar fashion to the Abominations of the Scourge, attempting to make themselves stronger through mechanical parts.
It is slightly odd that Blizzard has chosen one of the Mo'arg to wield the Death Knight artifact, since they are generally not a huge part of the Legion. While we saw them throughout Outland, there is no racial leader for them and they are not a particularly notable part of the Legion, like the Dreadlords, for example.
The rest of the concept seems like an excellent fit for the Blood idea of draining life and manipulating it into power, but the choice of wielder is a very strange one.
Alternative Artifacts for Blood Death Knights
The Axe of Deathbringer Saurfang
For those of you that have ever played on the Horde side, I am sure you have heard the name Saurfang uttered somewhere in the lore. High Overlord Varok Saurfang is known as one of the legendary warriors to serve the Horde in all three of the wars. He was the brother of the legendary fighter Broxigar, mentioned in our Warrior Artifact coverage.
Varok's son, Dranosh, sought to match his father's amazing achievements and was a fierce warrior himself. He led the Horde forces against the Scourge in the Battle of Angrathar the Wrathgate, but found himself a victim of the power of Frostmourne. He was re-made in the image of the Lich King as Deathbringer Saurfang, the fourth killable boss in Icecrown Citadel.
The majority of his abilities revolve around the concept of a Blood Death Knight, with him summoning a number of blood-based adds, as well as using an ability called Blood Link to increase his damage and energy based on draining life. I think he really fits the bill for a Blood artifact wielder, but we did see a weapon similar to his drop in the raid.
There could have been a weapon left behind by him that is picked up by one of the Alliance leaders, or perhaps, after he dies, Varok collects the axe when retrieving his son's body.
Frost Death Knight - The Blades of the Fallen Prince
It seems Frost Death Knights are going to be pushed into using 1-handed weapons only with these two swords, Icebringer and Frostreaper. Here's the story behind them:
"Crafted by the Burning Legion to corrupt the world of Azeroth, the soul-stealing runeblade Frostmourne was shattered by Ashbringer atop Icecrown Citadel. Countless souls were freed from the broken blade, but others were not so fortunate. Today the shards of Frostmourne can be recrafted and infused with even more power. However, the spirits still trapped within must first be subdued and bent to the wielder's will." (source)
For those that weren't present during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, the Lich King is most likely still known to you by name. While the man inside the Lich King's armour was Crown Prince Arthas Menethil, the Lich King itself is actually the spirit of the orc shaman, Ner'zhul.
The old orc had gone back on a blood pact he had created with the demon lord Kil'jaeden and had attempted to flee his home planet of Draenor. Kil'jaeden found him and destroyed his mortal body, torturing his spirit and then encasing him within a block of ice in the Twisting Nether. He twisting the soul of Ner'zhul until the orc no longer remained and the Lich King's spirit was born.
It was Arthas that eventually found the runeblade Frostmourne and took it to the Frozen Throne, placing the helmet upon his head and taking up the mantle as the Lich King. He used his weapon to harvest the souls of those he killed, growing stronger with every spirit it drank from.
During the fight against Arthas, we see his runeblade shattered by Ashbringer, wielded by the great Paladin, Highlord Tirion Fordring. Until now, we never knew what happened to the shards of Frostmourne and what they were intended for.
Tirion shatters Frostmourne atop Icecrown Citadel
Personally, I think this is simply a fantastic back-story for the Frost weapon. The Lich King is the iconic Death Knight and there is no better weapon for a Death Knight to wield than Frostmourne. As with the Protection Warrior artifact, I feel like this is simply a step-above the artifact for the other two specialisations.
Well done, Blizzard.
Unholy Death Knight - Apocalypse
Apocalypse. A fantastic name, most certainly fitting of the Death Knight theme, but can the story behind it measure up to the name? Find out below:
"Vampiric demons known as nathrezim forged this ancient sword, which brings with it violence, plagues, and death. Apocalypse soon earned a horrific reputation in the hands of a Tirisgarde mage who couldn't control its destructive energies. In time the sword was seized by the malevolent Dark Riders: servants of Medivh, the corrupted Guardian of Tirisfal. They hid the blade in the catacombs under his home, the tower of Karazhan." (source)
The sword itself radiates the idea of disease and pestilence with this current skin; the teeth around it almost seems like its hungering to infect those it comes into contact with.
For those of you that are perhaps unfamiliar with the lore of the Burning Legion, this sword was crafted by the Nathrezim, also known in Common tongue as the Dreadlords. The most famous of these dreadlords is Tichondrius, their leader, who was the contact between Kil'Jaeden and Arthas when he first became a Death Knight. They are beings of extreme power with ability to regenerate their physical form should it ever be killed. To kill a dreadlord is only removing the physical presence, while their spirit retains its power and reforms after a period of time.
The fact that this sword was passed on to the Dark Riders is of huge significance for the lore behind the sword. These mysterious figures have only ever been spoken of in whispers, mainly because they kill those that have actually seen them. Jitters, a character found in Duskwood, recorded them slaying an entire family when they could not locate the Scythe of Elune. It is said that this group consists of Death Knights that were initially created by Gul'dan; Brann Bronzebeard details the possibility of them being under the control of Teron Gorefiend, with their base residing with Karazhan, under the watchful eye of the corrupted Guardian Medivh.
An image from the Dark Riders Graphic Novel
Other theories have included Malchezaar, the Eredar prince that lives at the top of Karazhan. Since he came to our world in search of artifacts of power, he used his abilities to summon these Riders from another world and has sent them searching for the artifacts he seeks, such as Gorehowl and the Scythe. This would also imply that Attumen, the first boss of Karazhan, could be a Dark Rider.
The introduction of the Dark Rides into Death Knight lore is a truly exciting revelation. The mystery surrounding them has been frustrating for a long time, but their appearance here shows us that they most certainly have some interest in a Death Knight artifact. Perhaps the questline will reveal more about there mysteriously enticing figures.
Alternative Artifacts for Unholy Death Knights
The Blade of Baron Rivendare
Anyone that has ever farmed the mount of Rivendare will most likely cringe at the site of this man's name on the page. He has tormented us for years without ever having to use any magical powers, simply the power of RNG.
For those of you who don't know who Baron Rivendare is, he used to be the final boss in the dungeon of Stratholme, before being moved to Naxxramas as the leader of the Four Horsemen encounter. He replaced Highlord Morgraine when Wrath of the Lich King was released.
The sword he holds here bears a resemblance to the starting sword that Death Knight's receive when levelling. An epic sword used to be dropped from him in Stratholme, which is now dropped by Lord Rivendare instead, but I feel Blizzard missed an opportunity to really involve Rivendare in Death Knight lore.
In his Vanilla encounter, Rivendare used to attack players with a combination of AoE diseases and undead minions. This is extremely close to the concept of an unholy Death Knight's attacks, hence why I feel he is a fantastic addition to the Unholy artifact. He is constantly surrounded by a misty aura of dark power, possibly relating to the ability of his that deals constant AoE damage.
On the whole, I think regardless, the Unholy artifact is still very good. I love that they have introduced the Dark Riders, I just hope they can finally reveal some information about them through the questline. All-in-all, it is far better thought out than the blood artifact.