Perhaps you’re considering starting a death knight and want to understand some basics beforehand.
Perhaps you’ve already made your death knight and couldn’t make heads or tails of the starting zone.
Perhaps you’re returning from a long break from WoW and need a refresher course.
Perhaps you’ve already completed the starting zone and have been redirected here because someone saw you wearing level 42 leather shoulders as a level 60 blood death knight.
Perhaps your death knight is at level cap and your guild or a pug redirected you to Elitist Jerks, where all of the numbers went right over your head, and you’re now hoping to find a simpler solution to your troubles.
I remember when I started my death knight, the place everyone told me to go to learn about my class was Elitist Jerks. Browsing the pages there, however, was a very daunting task because there was loads of text that assumed you knew a little theorycraft beforehand (and at the time, I didn’t even know what the word meant!). Those threads were for people who wanted to be the best; so what about someone like me, who was just starting out?
There’s no judging here. The following is a relaxed guide for whom every other source on death knights is just too much to understand right away. The intent is that this will be a bridge of sorts, between starting out and a higher learning elsewhere.
What You’ve Been Told By Character Creation, and What It Really Means: The Basic Basics
Starts at Level 55
In all likelihood, this was the big selling point for you. You get to start a new alt character and don’t even need to do half of the leveling that is normally required. You get to join a top raiding guild in only 30 levels, as opposed to 85. In 3 levels you’ll leave your starting zone with a full set of kickass blue armor and a mount. You get an early taste of power and can jump right into the quests that make you feel important. It’s what it truly means to be a “Hero Class”.
That’s not the intention though.
The intention of starting off at level 55 is that you’ve played another character up to that point and can understand the gist of things. What Blizzard didn’t account for are shared accounts, and that the ability to skip the leveling process is just as appealing to first-timers as it is to veterans. Blizzard didn’t account for people who are used to playing healers or casters. Blizzard didn’t account for people with varying experiences in the Pet Class area who are trying something different. By starting at level 55 you have removed your opportunity to learn these skills at a natural pace, and must now take a truncated course. Thankfully, that’s exactly what this thread is for.
Tanking or Damage
If you’re a member of some groups mentioned above, you probably don’t understand what this means in the slightest. So to rephrase:
The Tank role does NOT mean you are an iron machine with all the firepower of a cannon. The Tank role means you are responsible for the well-being of a group consisting of 4 other individual players. You are literally the living shield that protects the group- your job is to make sure all of the group’s enemies remain focused on YOU and keep attacking you, using your abilities to distract foes long enough that the damage-dealers can kill them without being put in any danger themselves. You should be driven by a selfish desire to have the healer stay on you, but you don’t want to make the healer’s job hard enough that they can’t do it; for that reason, you are given a plethora of abilities that reduce the damage you take. The Tanking role is usually associated with group leadership; the group should not target an enemy without your OK. The death knight’s tanking specialization is the Blood tree.
The Damage role, as a death knight, is associated with closed-quarters combat, or “melee DPS” (DPS stands for “damage per second”). Your job is much simpler than the Tank’s and holds less responsibility; your only job is to kill the enemies who are attacking the party’s Tank, focusing solely on the amount of destruction you can deal out in a short period of time. However, DPS specialized classes are common and easily replaced. The death knight’s damage-dealing specializations are the Frost and Unholy trees.
Your first job as you’re leveling up is to decide which of the two you want to be, and focus on it; don’t walk the line between the two, because then you’ll be less effective at both. A group will always be more satisfied with a damage-dealer who focuses on maximizing damage, over a damage dealer who maximizes their protective armor.
Heavy Armor (Plate)
There is one common mistake that beginner death knights make, because the game isn’t very specific. It tells you that you want to use Plate armor, which is true; you should never be caught dead using Cloth, Leather, or Mail armor. What it doesn’t tell you is that the Plate armor you want to wear should have Strength and Stamina on it, but never Intellect or Spirit (Intellect and Spirit are stats reserved solely for Holy Paladins, which you are not).
Remember what I said about Tanking or Damage before? As a Tank, you want gear with high Armor, Stamina, Parry, Dodge, Mastery, Hit, and Expertise rating. As a damage-dealer, you want to focus more on Strength, Haste, Critical Strike, Mastery, Hit, and Expertise rating.
One last thing: if you lose the blue armor you received from questing in the starting zone, you can purchase the whole set for a very low cost (literally a few silver) from a vendor in Acherus named Quartermaster Ozorg, located on the upper floor (the one with the runeforges). You never need to go out and purchase an item under level 58, ESPECIALLY not non-plate items.
Spells, Diseases, and Undead Minions
This is one of the more misleading parts of early death knight-ing. The advertisement of Spells, Diseases, and Undead Minions may lead one to believing that Death Knights are a spellcaster class like Mages and Warlocks. What it doesn’t tell you is that most of your spells are channeled through your weapon, and they always scale based off your Strength and Attack Power rather than Intellect and Spell Power. As I said before, you want to avoid Intellect gear like the plague (pardon my pun). Most of your disease and minion focus will come from the Unholy spec.
Runes and Runic Power
Runes and Runic Power are a resource system unique to the death knight class.
You initially have three types of rune: Blood Runes (red), Frost Runes (blue), and Unholy Runes (green). Certain abilities allow you to convert Blood, Frost, or Unholy runes into a fourth rune type, Death Runes (purple), which act like wild cards and can be used in place of any type of rune. One pair of Runes is comparable to a Rogue’s Energy bar: They constantly generate at a rate increased by your Haste rating, and your abilities cost you 50 ‘Energy’ of that type. It’s important that you try to get the most use out of your runes by using your active runes before your inactive runes finish regenerating; otherwise it’s like leaving perfectly good food out to rot in a world without refrigerators.
Whenever you use a Rune, you generate 10 Runic Power. Runic Power is used in abilities such as Death Coil, Frost Strike and Rune Strike, referred to as “runic dumps”. Think of runic power like a type of finishing move; you want to try to use your Runic Power whenever your Rune-based abilities aren’t available to you. If you have inactive runes when you use a runic dump, you have a chance to gain Runic Empowerment, which will randomly refund you a completely inactive rune (in other words, it’s like being refunded EXACTLY 50 Energy of a random type).
What You Didn’t Know Before Starting Your Death Knight
One of the skills unique to the Death Knight is our ability to enchant our own weapons through Runeforging. Runeforging doesn’t stack with standard weapon enchantments, but they’re more powerful than standard enchantments anyway. Runeforged weapons can’t be traded to other players, but to be fair, they were designed specifically for Death Knights anyway. Despite what Instructor Razuvious tells you, you can only apply and change Runeforges at certain stations in Acherus (and a place called The Shadow Vault in Icecrown); while Naxxramas and Icecrown Citadel have runeforging stations in them, players cannot interact with these stations.
Depending on your specialization, you’ll initially be using Rune of Razorice as a Frost Death Knight, and Rune of Cinderglacier as an Unholy or Blood Death Knight. Blood Death Knights will upgrade to Rune of Swordshattering at level 63, and then to Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle at level 72. Frost and Unholy Death Knights will upgrade to Rune of the Fallen Crusader at level 70.
Weaponry and Equipment
I’ve already gone over armor, but otherwise Death Knights are a little weird in this department. Unlike normal tanks, Blood death knights don’t use one-handed weapons and shields, preferring to use two-handed weapons instead – typically Strength swords/maces/axes with some combination of Mastery, Hit, or Expertise. Unholy death knights exclusively use Strength two-handed weapons as well. Frost death knights can choose to use either a two-handed weapon (through Might of the Frozen Wastes) or dual-wield one-handed weapons (through Nerves of Cold Steel and Threat of Thassarian) – a Frost death knight should invest their talent points so as to benefit only the weapon type they are currently wielding, so they don’t waste any points on talents that won’t be active until they switch weapons. A Frost death knight who chooses to dual-wield has the benefit of a second Runeforge, but also need a higher Hit rating to use their off-hand weapon.
What Do Our Stats Do?
Stats are divided up into two categories: Primary stats and Secondary stats.
Primary stats appear in white on an item, and are divided up into Strength, Stamina, Agility, Intellect, Spirit, and Armor. Of these, only Strength, Stamina, and Armor are valuable to us. Strength increases our Attack Power (AP), which increases the damage of our strikes, spells, and pets, as well as providing Parry rating to tanks. Stamina increases our health, which is especially valuable as a Tank. Armor reduces damage taken from non-magical attacks, but with the Bladed Armor talent, also provides additional Attack Power to damage-dealers. Agility provides some small benefit to death knights by providing Critical Strike rating, but not a significant enough amount to consider over Strength, or even actual Critical Strike rating. Spirit and Intellect are utterly useless to death knights.
A secondary stat is any stat on an item that shows up in green text. Secondary stats can be altered through “Reforging”, a process that will reduce a Secondary stat by 40% but allow you to add another stat to an item equal to the amount lost.
Hit and Expertise rating prevent you from missing your target with attacks, and prevent your enemy from dodging or parrying your melee strikes, respectively. As a melee class, these are important to a death knight – 8% Hit and 26 Expertise are known as “caps”, meaning your character no longer benefits from any amount of Hit or Expertise higher than that because your “yellow” attacks (strikes and spells) will always hit. Dual-wielding Frost death knights need less Hit rating to hit with their “yellow” attacks due to Nerves of Cold Steel putting them 3% Hit ahead, but dual-wielding classes need up to 27% Hit to always hit with their off-hand on “white swings” (ordinary auto-attacks) - but picking up other damaging stats is preferable to maximizing your off-hand white hits. Unholy death knights can avoid the Expertise stat altogether, because most of their damage is dealt by spells and pets rather than their strikes. Otherwise, Hit and Expertise are valuable to both Tanks and damage-dealers.
Parry and Dodge rating are “avoidance” stats useful to a Tank but not to a damage-dealer, which give the Tank a chance to completely ignore the damage of an incoming melee attack. Death knights can gain additional Parry rating from their Strength score.
Haste and Critical Strike rating (or simply, “Crit”) are stats that are most useful to a damage-dealer such as Frost or Unholy death knights. Critical Strike rating gives you a chance to deal double damage on an attack. Haste rating, for a death knight, increases your rune regeneration speed, your auto-attack speed (effectively increasing the odds of activating a proc like Sudden Doom or Killing Machine), and your minions’ attack and casting speeds.
Mastery is a stat that completely changes between classes specializations – thus, it’s useful to everyone, but some people more than others. For Blood, Mastery reduces the damage they’ll take by providing them with a shield whenever they heal with Death Strike. For Frost and Unholy, Mastery increases the damage of their elemental attacks: Frost spells for Frost, and Shadow for Unholy.
What “Stat Weights” Are, and How to Read Them
If you’ve looked around at higher-level DK forums, you’ve probably found the term “stat weights” followed by a bunch of numbers. Quite simply put, a “stat weight” helps you find the value of a piece of gear to a DK of your spec.
If you’re looking at a forum that lists off numerical stat weights, then just take a piece of gear that you’re wearing, take the value of the stat on the gear and multiply it by the corresponding weight on the list. Do so with all of the stats on the item, add them up and you have the total value of the item. By comparing the total values of items you can decide whether or not a piece of gear is worth taking or replacing.
What is a "Rotation" or a "Priority System"?
To be brief, your "rotation" is the series of attacks death knights of your specialization use when fighting an enemy if they want to deal as much damage as possible. Often times learning a rotation can be frustrating when starting out a new character, as rotations tend to "ramp up" to higher damage, building damage-over-time effects before you can hit anything you consider to be powerful.
Damage dealing classes in Cataclysm run on a priority-based rotation. This means that instead of having one series of buttons you push over and over (↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A Start, rinse and repeat), you have to decide for yourself what button you need to push next based on the situation using the knowledge of your class (a proc came up, should I use it now or wait until I can't do anything else?).
For a death knight, your highest priority is to keep your diseases up at all times. Applying diseases is as simple as using Icy Touch (or glyphed Howling Blast for Frost death knights) and Plague Strike in tandem, or just one Outbreak. While keeping diseases up is simple for Unholy death knights after receiving Festering Strike, Blood and Frost death knights will need to apply diseases more often. Diseases allow you to maintain debuffs that simultaneously enhance the damage of your own strikes, and weaken your opponents.
Tanking specializations like Blood death knights don't have a set priority beyond applying debuffs, as many of their tools are situational damage-prevention, threat-generating or self-healing abilities. That said, I find that Blood death knights prefer to cast Death Strike to maintain Blood Shield, over casting Heart Strike for threat.
After applying diseases, Frost Death Knights want to cast Obliterate as often as possible- especially when Killing Machine is active. If you no longer have the runes necessary, you simply cast Frost Strike until your runic power is spent. After Frost Strike, you can spend your Rime procs on Howling Blast.
After applying diseases, Unholy Death Knights want to cast Dark Transformation as soon as it becomes available- but since it's not immediately available to you, you'll want to cast Scourge Strike as often as possible, every time you have Unholy or Death runes (minus runes spent casting Dark Transformation, of course). When your Frost and Blood runes are available, your next priority is Festering Strike, and when your runes are completely spent, you want to cast Death Coil until your Sudden Doom procs are spent or you no longer have enough Runic Power to keep casting.
For all three specializations, if you have nothing left you can do and are forced to wait for runes to come up before you can do anything else, you can cast Horn of Winter to generate 10 free Runic Power. I should warn you though, Horn of Winter does no damage, but casting it to generate runic power is preferable to doing nothing, and can be helpful in maintaining the buff's uptime.
It should be noted that using a "rotation" assumes you are of high enough level to obtain all of the abilities you need. If not, then precise damage output shouldn't matter too much, and I recommend simply using a rotation beginning with Icy Touch and Plague Strike, and intermixing Death Strike, Blood Strike, and Death Coil as they become available to you until your diseases run out.
What Your New Abilities REALLY DO: Common (Mis)Uses
Death Grip: How the Coolest Ability In The Game Is Also The Cruelest
Death Grip is a type of ability known as a “gap-closer”, a spell that unites your character with a target enemy, much like a Warrior’s Charge or Mage’s Blink. However, Death Grip is unique amongst gap-closers in that instead of moving your character to the target, it pulls the target to you like a lasso. Really cool, right? Well, there are three downsides to this. First of all, Death Grip is also a type of ability known as a “taunt”, a Tanking spell that compels your enemies to attack you; when you’re leveling on your own, it’s perfectly fine because the target would have attacked you anyway, but in a dungeon or raid this can be hazardous if you aren’t the designated Tank. Second, Death Grip attempts to move the target, which is a double-edged sword; where an enemy is can be just as sensitive to a dungeon or raid encounter as who it’s attacking. Finally, Death Grip doesn’t always work: some enemies can resist the pull effect altogether.
Diseases: Because Screw Combo Points, That’s How
Many of the death knight’s abilities either cause or interact with diseases.
Plague Strike, Icy Touch, Chains of Ice, (glyphed) Howling Blast and Outbreak allow you to afflict your target with Blood Plague and/or Frost Fever for 21 seconds, or 33 seconds if you have the Epidemic talent. The general rule of thumb is that you don’t use these abilities again until you have less than 5 seconds left on your diseases. You want to open every fight by afflicting the target with both Blood Plague and Frost Fever. In a scenario with multiple enemies, you also want to use Pestilence, a spell that will spread your diseases around a wide area.
Blood Strike is the first ability you will gain that interacts with your diseases, using them to increase its own damage. Blood Boil, Obliterate, Heart Strike and Scourge Strike follow Blood Strike’s example but are more powerful. Festering Strike is a unique example in that it allows Unholy death knights to further increase the duration of their diseases.
For certain specializations, diseases have additional meaning. To a Blood death knight, inflicting Blood Plague spreads Scarlet Fever, which will reduce the target’s damage dealt. To a Frost death knight, inflicting Frost Fever spreads Brittle Bones, which increases your physical damage dealt. To an Unholy death knight, inflicting either disease also causes Ebon Plague, a third disease which increases the target’s vulnerability to magic and diseases, and significantly increases the damage of your Scourge Strike.
Because certain abilities have their damage increased on diseased targets, I must emphasize that the first thing you should do in any fight is apply diseases to your target via Icy Touch (or glyphed Howling Blast) and Plague Strike.
Lichborne: Why You Should Level Frost, A.K.A. Why Healers Will Love You
At first glance, Lichborne is a spell that’s directed at PvPers. Those of you who looked at it and thought “Makes me immune to fear, sleep, and charms? Pass!” would be right in your assessment. However, you would be wrong in believing it’s a completely useless skill. Lichborne actually has a hidden function that makes it very valuable while leveling: When it’s active, you can heal yourself with Death Coil, because it treats you as an Undead ally. For that reason, if you pick it up, you want to make the following macro*:
As long as you have enough Runic Power to cast Death Coil, you can keep pushing this button for as long as Lichborne is active for additional healing.#showtooltip
/cast [target=player] Death Coil
A word of warning though, is that Lichborne provides no damage bonus to you, so when you reach level cap it will be less valuable to a Frost death knight, but still can be preferable for a Blood death knight.
* To make a macro, simply type /macro, press the “New” button on the bottom of the box that appears, then enter a name. You may also choose an icon for your macro, but with the #showtooltip command at the beginning of the macro, simply using the default “?” icon will automatically change the icon when the macro is on your bar. Click “Okay” and you can enter the above code into the dialogue box above the “New” button. Once the code has been entered, you can simply drag and drop the icon into your actionbar. Exiting the macro box will save your changes to the macro.
Horn of Winter: Because Free Is A Good Thing
Horn of Winter looks like your average buff spell, so you should make sure that you have it up at all times. So why does Horn of Winter have such a short duration- 2 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes or an hour? It’s simple really: You’re supposed to cast it a lot. The hidden advantage of Horn of Winter is that it’s a free source of 10 Runic Power whenever you need it. Because Horn of Winter’s free, it’s best to save casting it until you have no runes or runic power to spend. Even if you think that it’s a waste, it’s 30 extra Runic Power every minute, which is just under 1 Runic Dump.
Frost/Blood’s Raise Dead and Unholy’s Gargoyle: Getting Your Minions to Work For You
The brilliant thing about these little 3-minute cooldowns is that the Ghoul (affectionately termed “Timmy” by most death knights) and Gargoyle (“Gary” for short) will take a snapshot of your stats- your attack power, stamina, melee haste and critical strike rating as of the moment you summon them are all factored into your Risen Ghoul and Gargoyle’s powers. As such, it’s a good idea to time their casting so you can benefit from trinket procs, self-buffs and Time Warp/Heroism/Bloodlust.
Army of the Dead: Not As Kickass As It Sounds
If what pulled you into the death knight was the original Wrath of the Lich King trailer, then you recall the scene with the death knight channeling a spell that raised dozens of undead creatures to fight for him. That was the moment you realized you wanted Army of the Dead. I mean it’s 8 more pets than anyone else gets at once – obviously a spell that cool has to be really powerful as a damage cooldown, right? So, a word of warning to you about Army of the Dead: the ghouls will taunt every target in sight if they can. It’s best to save Army for encounters where there are no additional enemies for them to attack but the boss itself.
The last little snag with Army of the Dead is that it’s a DPS loss if you cast it in the middle of the fight, because it leaves you standing in the middle of the room channeling when you could be attacking. Also, with Haste, your runes could out-generate your channeling speed. For this reason, it’s recommended to hit your Army a few seconds before the Tank pulls a boss so that the runes will fully regenerate by the time you need them.
Presences: Which Ones You Should Use
When you start your death knight you’re automatically put into Frost Presence, which is about all of the use you will get out of it for this expansion.
As a Frost or Unholy death knight, you want to use Unholy Presence when you get it at level 70. Unholy’s reason is fairly obvious – they share names after all – but Frost still wants to use Unholy Presence despite taking the Improved Frost Presence talent (which, contrary to the name, bears a small effect on the other two Presences as well).
Do NOT use Blood Presence if you are not the Tank. Blood Presence increases your threat generation, meaning your attacks make enemies want to attack you more. It bears all of the same dangers as a taunt spell. If you ARE the Tank, however, feel free to stay in Blood Presence and never leave it.
Anti-Magic Shell: Not Just a Tanking Cooldown
What’s misleading about the tooltip of Anti-Magic Shell is that it not only absorbs direct incoming elemental damage, but prevents the application of almost all debuffs, with the exceptions of unclassified effects (which are exclusively afflicted by bosses) and Bleed effects (which are treated as Physical rather than magical). The list of debuffs it CAN prevent includes Magic effects, Curses, Poisons, and Diseases.
Death Strike, Death Pact, Rune Tap, and Vampiric Blood: To Heal or Not To Heal
As noted below in the Blood section, death knights have a lot of self-healing potential. Death Strike and the Glyph of Dark Succor can provide small bursts of healing to you, while Death Pact can be used for a larger burst in a pinch – provided that you kill a pet such as your Risen Ghoul, Gargoyle, or an Army of the Dead minion. Blood death knights also have access to Rune Tap (think of it like a weaker Death Pact that can be used more frequently for a lower cost) and Vampiric Blood (a skill that will increase the healing you receive).
But you’re probably asking, “Why should I care about healing spells as a DPS? Why do my healer’s job?” Well, think of it this way: you’re not the only person in your group. Whenever your healer isn’t focused on you, they have to heal everyone else in the group. You want to work to benefit the group, or else nobody will want to heal you at all! And besides, a healer won’t always be available to you, so focusing on these abilities is a good skill to pick up.
Specialization Overviews: The Quick and Dirty
I Only Drink The Blood of My Enemies
Blood is the death knight’s sole Tanking specialization. Unlike other tanking classes, the Blood death knight focuses less on direct mitigation through blocking attacks, and more on self-healing. What is misleading about the Blood spec is that your Death Rune Generator, Death Strike, will optimally be used more often than Heart Strike – You’re the tank, your most important job is to survive, which outweighs your damage output. Heart Strike is not completely useless, however, because it provides more “Threat” than Death Strike, meaning enemies will want to attack you more rather than your healer or your damage-dealers, so it’s okay to hit it when you have extra Blood Runes. That said, Heart Strike is an ability known as a “Cleave”, which will hit up to 3 targets at one time for the price of one; for this reason, you have to take care not to use Heart Strike around enemies who are under crowd-controlling effects that will be broken by damage. Remember, the party is applying those to save you from being overwhelmed by enemies.
Click Here to go to the Elitist Jerks Blood thread.
- Spammable Damage Strike: Heart Strike – Note: Just because you CAN spam it doesn’t always mean you should.
- Death Rune Generator: Death Strike – Note: Often preferable to Heart Strike.
- Runic Dump: Rune Strike
- Procs: Rune Tap (Will of the Necropolis)
- Notable Passives: Blood Rites (Death Rune Generation), Vengeance (Attack Power), Veteran of the Third War (Expertise and Stamina), Improved Blood Presence
- Mastery: Healing from Death Strike creates a shield that will block incoming damage
- Auras and Debuffs: Abomination’s Might (Attack Power), Scarlet Fever (Damage Reduction)
- Notable Cooldowns: Dancing Rune Weapon, Icebound Fortitude, Rune Tap, Vampiric Blood, Death Pact
- Notable Glyphs: Heart Strike, Death Strike, Rune Strike, Dancing Rune Weapon, Vampiric Blood, Rune Tap, Bone Shield
A Dish Best Served Cold
Of the two damage-dealing specs, Frost is probably the most active and random. You have a lot of freedom as Frost in choosing between two-handed or dual-wield specialization, although most people dual-wield at level cap because it’s stronger (two Runeforges, Razorice on the main-hand and Fallen Crusader on the off-hand) despite being more troublesome in my opinion. Frost doesn’t have to use any strikes to generate Death Runes, so the rotation is primarily just using Obliterate and Frost Strike over and over again until Rime procs. Frost bears the closest thing to a crowd controlling spell that the class has: Hungering Cold, which isn’t perfect due to its lack in duration but can be useful in maintaining survivability with particularly clever application.
Click Here to go to the Elitist Jerks Frost thread.
- Spammable Damage Strike: Obliterate, Howling Blast in AoE
- Death Rune Generator: None! It's a passive ability, so you automatically have two Death Runes from Blood of the North without needing to push any buttons.
- Runic Dump: Frost Strike
- Procs: Howling Blast/Icy Touch (Rime), Guaranteed Critical Obliterate or Frost Strike (Killing Machine)
- Notable Passives: Blood of the North (Passive Death Runes), Icy Talons (Haste), Runic Power Mastery (Raised Runic Power Cap), Nerves of Cold Steel/Threat of Thassarian (Dual-Wield Specialization), Might of the Frozen Wastes (Two-Handed Specialization), Improved Frost Presence
- Mastery: Increased Frost damage (applies to Frost Strike, Howling Blast, Razorice, Icy Touch and Frost Fever)
- Auras and Debuffs: Improved Icy Talons (Haste), Brittle Bones (Physical Vulnerability)
- Notable Cooldowns: Pillar of Frost, Lichborne, Hungering Cold
- Notable Glyphs: Obliterate, Frost Strike, Howling Blast, Dark Succor, Hungering Cold
Your Minion and You: An Unholy Matrimony
Unholy is the death knight spec that focuses on pets and magic, so it’s like playing a warlock in plate armor… provided that said armor has Strength on it and the warlock is wielding a two-handed sword/mace/axe. An Unholy death knight’s primary advantage is that it has a permanent ghoul minion following it around, turning them into a “pet class” akin to a Hunter, Warlock, or Frost Mage – keeping the ghoul alive/active and maximizing its damage output are your biggest responsibilities. In the area of “maximizing damage”, Unholy death knights have a spell called Dark Transformation, which mutates your ghoul into something stronger… provided that you’ve cast Death Coil often enough to empower it. Unholy also has a higher focus on diseases than the other two specs; Festering Strike and Epidemic are devoted to maximizing disease uptime, Unholy Blight prevents your diseases from being dispelled by enemy players, and Ebon Plague gives you a third disease to increase your Strike damage. The most unique aspect of Unholy is that it focuses on single Unholy runes and combines Blood and Frost runes, rather than coupling Unholy and Frost runes like the other two specs. Unholy also can change the effect of Runic Empowerment, so that instead of providing one rune at a time, you increase your rune regeneration speed over all six runes. Unholy also has the ability to use Anti-Magic Shell to convert incoming magic damage into Runic Power, and can create an Anti-Magic Zone that will absorb 75% of at least one incoming AoE spell for your whole party, which your healers will thank you for if you use it well.
Click Here to go to the Elitist Jerks Unholy thread.
- Spammable Damage Strike: Scourge Strike
- Death Rune Generator: Festering Strike
- Runic Dump: Death Coil
- Procs: Death Coil (Sudden Doom), Dark Transformation
- Notable Passives: Mastery of Ghouls (Permanent Ghoul Pet), Unholy Might (Strength), Reaping (Death Rune Generation), Magic Suppression (Runic Power Generation via Anti-Magic Shell), Runic Corruption, Improved Unholy Presence
- Mastery: Increased Shadow damage (applies to Death Coil, Scourge Strike, Death and Decay, Blood Boil and Blood Plague)
- Auras and Debuffs: Ebon Plague (Magic Vulnerability), Unholy Blight (Damage-over-Time)
- Notable Cooldowns: Raise Dead, Unholy Frenzy, Summon Gargoyle, Anti-Magic Shell, Anti-Magic Zone, Death and Decay
- Notable Glyphs: Scourge Strike, Death Coil, the Ghoul, Anti-Magic Shell, Death’s Embrace
What Should I Level As?
When it comes to leveling, there really is no right answer as a Death Knight.
Tanking dungeons early on as a Blood death knight will make the leveling process significantly faster, and can train you in skills that are good to have in case you want to tank at level cap.
Solo-leveling as a two-handed Frost death knight (avoiding the complications of dual-wielding) is also an enjoyable experience, as using Glyph of Dark Succor and Lichborne will boost your survivability to ludicrous levels, especially considering Death Strike and Obliterate share a cost, so transitioning back-and-forth between survival and damage (respectively) is seamless. On a Pale Horse is also a luxury to Frost leveling, increasing mounted speed to get around faster.
There is one spec I personally do not recommend while leveling though: Unholy. Your most important tools aren’t available until rather late in the leveling process, micro-managing pets can be frustrating at an early level, and Death Pact – our most powerful healing cooldown – is detrimental to the spec, as it kills your ghoul whenever you cast it. In addition, Death Strike is difficult for Unholy death knights to use due to Unholy's unique rune-combination system.
Once you reach level cap however? Everything's fair game, and you'll definitely be able to find an enjoyable max-level experience between the three specs.