Death Knight Leveling Guide

Updated for Mists of Pandaria 5.4.8 with Warlords of Draenor notes.

So, you want to level a Death Knight? Did you happen to hear about how they are one of the most fun classes in the game, or that they can easily solo monsters that many other players have great trouble with? Regardless of your reason, welcome to the Death Knight leveling guide. I will try to go over the common questions that most players new to the Death Knight class have and give you some tips about how to get to level 90 that much faster. Read on!

Note: Changes are coming with Warlords of Draenor, but other than the level 90+ zones they won’t affect the leveling experience much, or at all. The biggest change you’ll notice will be that stat & item squishes, but that mostly effects level 70+ gear and won’t change the feel of things. You can check out all of the DK changes here.

Contents for this page:
Death Knight leveing is easy.

  1. The Death Knight – A quick intro
  2. Death Knight Leveling Build and glyphs
  3. Abilities
  4. DK Rotations
  5. Stats
  6. Runeforging
  7. Gearing Up
  8. Races
  9. Professions
  10. DK Leveling Tips
  11. The Fastest Death Knight Leveling Guide


Please feel free to “like” this page and share the link. If there is anything that I miss or just something extra that you would like to know, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Other Death Knight Guides


The Death Knight, an Introduction

First off, some basic background on how the Death Knight “does its thing.” (Or just skip to the builds, here.)

As a Death Knight you use two mechanics to drive most of your abilities.

Runes: You have various runes that power most of your abilities. You start with two each of Frost, Unholy, and Blood runes. Each rune is used by specific abilities, unlike a Warrior’s Rage, for example.Certain abilities will cause used (depleted) runes to come back as Death Runes, which can be used by any ability (and a couple only use Death runes.)

  • Using abilities that cost Runes builds Runic Power.

Runic Power: Your Runic Power builds from strikes that cost runes (eg: Icy Touch.) You can then use that power on other abilities, such as Death Coil or Frost Strike.

The Death Knight Specs, all are mightyThe game then becomes managing your runes and your Runic Power so that you always have something available. Much like managing Rage as a Warrior, Energy as a Rogue, and so on. If your runes and runic power are down then you won’t be doing much until some comes back.

The Ghoul: You also have an undead pet to help you out when things get … interesting. But, only Unholy DKs have a permanent pet. Frost and Blood have it on a cooldown. In Warlords this will change, with the ghoul becoming Unholy only.

Diseases: All DKs get some of their damage via the application of diseases to the enemy.

  • Blood Plague is caused primarily by your Plague Strike (and some other abilities) and does damage over time.
  • Frost Fever is caused by your Icy Touch and also does damage over time.

Some abilities will spread your diseases to other targets, others will refresh or extend them on a target.

So which spec is best for leveling?

This question is a difficult one to answer easily because it really depends on your playstyle and what you want to do while leveling. I’m just going to give you some overall guidelines and example builds that I find work really well for leveling.

Blood: This is the “tanking” spec, but it does a darn fine job as a leveling and a decent PvP spec in certain situations. Tough and durable with good damage, you can round up groups of enemies and easily smash them down. Oft times you will even be at full health when done. The downside is that you don’t hit very hard.

Frost: Not as durable as Blood, but Frost does quite a bit more damage and Howling Blast is an effective area effect strike. You also don’t have to deal with the pet, most of the time, and some will find that to be a good thing. You won’t have it in Warlords anyway.

Unholy: Like Frost, Unholy also does much more damage and isn’t as durable as Blood. Your powers are diseases and your Ghoul becomes a permanent pet. Unholy does as much damage as Frost, just has a different flavor.

So Which is Best for Leveling?

The really short version? Go Frost.

Questing: Go with Frost, or UNholy if you want the “cute” pet. It’s easy, hits like a runaway truck, and you don’t have to deal with the pet. It also works very well for Dungeon leveling (you will join as “damage”) and it’s pretty good at PvP. Here’s the Frost build.

Dungeon Leveling: Blood, if you’re tanking. Blood DKs are excellent tanks and tanks have very short wait times to get into the dungeons. Go here for blood

PvP Leveling: Unholy for the diseases and slows and the pet. Unholy does fine questing, it’s just a bit more complicated than Frost. Go here for an Unholy build.


A Death Knight Leveling Build

This build can be used by all DK specs: Death Knight Frost Spec Frost, Death Knight Blood Spec Blood, and Death Knight Unholy Spec Unholy. Check the notes in the descriptions below the image for more info, where certain talents will be better in certain situations.

our favorite gold guideAt the moment, Frost is my favorite talent tree for leveling though all SK specs work very well. The speed and survivability of Frost are great. When you add in Howling Blast it becomes even better. Frost DK leveling is pretty sweet whether you’re questing, dungeoning, or PvPing.

There are a number of good talents here, feel free to switch as appropriate. Switching is easy: just click a row on your in-game talent page, pay the price when the pop-up appears, pick the new talent. You can get the materials at your friendly neighborhood Inscription Supplies vendor or of the Auction House (at 10x the price.) Glyphs can be swapped the same way.

The talents shown are best for questing, but will serve you very well in other areas.

Descriptions are below the image, our picks are checked: Best talent

Warlords of Draenor notes

  1. Roiling blood is dead and is replaced with PlagueBearer.
  2. Rows 5 and 6 are swapped.
  3. New Level 100 talents, see here.

Death Knight Leveling Talents

Level 56: Spreading the disease

  • Best talent Roiling Blood is a very good talent. Apply diseases to one target and Roiling Blood will spread them to all other targets within range. Removes the need to have Pestilence on your bar. Esp. nice for Blood with their Scarlet Fever ability.
  • Unholy Blight- Your insect swarm infects all the enemies with 10 yards with your diseases. Great way to make sure than all nearby enemies are appropriately infected. This is the easiest to use of the three and costs no runes, but has a long cooldown.
  • Plague Leech is a fine talent for single target fights, such as bosses or duels. With two or more enemies around you the others are much better.

Level 57:Survival

  • Best talent Lichborne – Become undead for 10 seconds, which grants immunity to various effects and gives you another heal (you can Death Coil yourself.)
  • Anti Magic Zone isn’t much use when soloing. Nerfed hard in 5.3 it doesn’t last long, but has some use in fights when you can predict when large magic damage, that will effect the group, is incoming. Fairly useless in PvP (unless your timing is really good) and you’ll never use it when questing.
  • Purgatory delays your death by 3 seconds, giving you a chance to get healed. 3 minute cooldown is another point in Lichborne’s favor. Pretty much requires a good healer on your team. Some value in PvP.

Level 58: Tough tier to pick from: Mobility or a stun…

  • Best talent Aspixiate is a nice, ranged, stun (silence,) especially useful when things are throwing spells at you or kiting you in PvP. A very popular pick.
  • Death’s Advance – Move faster and slows have less effect. Your one weakness, as any flavor of DK, is mobility and this helps. If you don’t need the stun then this is a fine pick.
  • Chillblains is for those who want the opposition to move slower (such as in the Battlegrounds) rather than themselves moving faster.

Level 60: Healing (This tier is level 75 in Warlords.)

  • Best talent Death Siphon – Damage the enemy and heal yourself. This talent is great for leveling, not so hot once you’re done leveling. It will occasionally “one shot” quest mobs and is a very nice heal. It gives you an extra ranged attack that hits hard, even in PvP or the dungeons. Once you hit the 80s it doesn’t scare so well and you might want to look at Death Pact.
  • Death pact is arguably better if you have your ghoulie up. Unholy always has the pet up so that spec will find more use with this talent, esp. at high level. It’s a pretty nice heal, and does not cost runes or runic power, but you give up the ranged attack of Death Siphon.
  • I don’t like Conversion because I want the Runic Power for doing damage and the other two are “right now” heals.

Level 75: Your abilities that use Runic Power have a chance to improve your Rune regeneration. (This tier is level 60 in Warlords.)

  • Best talent Runic Corruption increases your rune regeneration rate for a short time.
  • Runic Empowerment – Death Coil and Frost Strike have a chance to activate a random depleted rune.
  • Blood Tap lets you build charges then activate runes (as a Death Rune) on demand.this is the best talent for those who like to more actively manage their resources.

Level 90: Congratulations on 90!

  • Remorseless Winter slows and eventually stuns nearby enemies, which is a very useful thing at this level, while fighting groups that move about too much, and we always love stuns.
  • Gorefiend’s GraspBest for Blood as that’s the “tanking” spec. Kind of an A of E Death Grip that can be applied to friendly or hostile targets. All enemies in the area are pulled to that target’s location. This might get interesting if you pull in more than you can handle.
  • PvP – Desecrated Ground protects against “loss of control” effects, which will find a lot more use in PvP than PvE (though there are times when it’s nice for the latter.)

Leveling Glyphs

Get your Death Knight Leveled to 90, FAST!Major Glyphs

The first three glyphs listed will be the most generally useful, but a couple more are listed. Lots of DK glyphs have some use, fortunately they are easy to swap out if you want to experiment.

You get two slots for each type of glyph early on, then the last pair at 75.

  1. Glyph of Unholy Command – Refreshes Death Grip cooldown. Since your fights will mostly be short this is a very nice glyph to have.
  2. Glyph of Festering Blood – Normally Blood Boil does more damage to targets that are already diseased, less to clean targets. This lets your Blood Boil acts as if all targets are diseased. (This glyph may be hard to find or expensive.)
  3. PvP – Glyph of Icy Touch – enemies often have some protective effect, this removes one such effect when you use Icy Touch. Occasionally useful while questing or in the dungeons, this has it’s real value in PvP.
  4. Glyph of Dark Succor – Killing enemies provides free Death Strikes, which is esp. nice for Blood, but Unholy and Frost will also find use for it. You DO have to be in Frost or Unholy presence to use it, so it’s NOT a tanking glyph.
  5. Glyph of Death Grip – increases range
  6. Glyph of Pestilence – Increases the radius of your Pestilence effect. Useful if you’re NOT using the Roiling Blood talent.
  7. Death and Decay – Also reduces enemy movement speed. Enemies moving around too much? Need to kite those enemies? This will help.

Minor Glyphs

Unlike for most classes, for whom minor glyphs are little more than cosmetic, your minors actually have some useful functions.

  1. Glyph of Resilient Grip – Resets Death Grip cooldown
  2. Path of Frost – for questing, especially if you like to jump from high places.
  3. For dungeons, Glyph of Tranquil Grip – nice for dungeons. You do not want to be taunting targets, let the tank do that.
  4. For dungeons, Level 80+: Army of the Dead – You don’t want to be taunting targets away from the tank while in the dungeons. THis glyph removes the taunts from your army, allowing them to just do damage.
  5. Fun: Glyph of Corpse Explosion – explode them when you’re done killing them.


Death Knight Abilities, by Spec

These are the abilities that you will eventually get as you level. These abilities are unique to you. (P) = Passive ability. In addition to these, of course, are all of your other abilities, including diseases.

Your diseases do damage over time and you should make sure that your enemies are always diseased. In addition, various strikes hit diseased opponents harder than otherwise, for example: Obliterate, Scourge Strike, and Heart Strike.

  • Frost: Frost damage and hard hitting strikes
  • Unholy: Strong strikes, more reliant on the Ghoul and the diseases.
  • Blood: Less damage, but a lot more survival. Much better able to handle larger groups (ie: Tanking) than the others.

Note: Warlords of Draenor is going to be doing a lot of ability changes. A number will be removed, others changed to some degree. There are no new abilities coming, but you will get perks. These are enhancementsto existing abilities, such as +20% damage to one ability.

** = This ability is removed in Warlords of Draenor

Frost Unholy Blood
  1. Blood of the North (P) – Your blood runes become death runes. This effectively gives you more Frost attacks.
  2. Frost Strike – One of your basic strikes, runic power driven
  3. Howling Blast – Blasts all targets withing 10 yards and infects them with Frost Fever, which you can spread further with the Roiling Blood talent or with Pestilence.
  4. Icy Talons (P) – Faster melee attack speed
  5. Obliterate – Strong strike that uses two runes and does more damage to targets that are already diseased.
  6. Unholy Aura (P) – Increased melee and ranged attack speed of entire group.
  7. Killing Machine (P) – Your auto-attacks can grant a big crit bonus to Frost Strike and Obliterate.
  8. Improved Frost Presence (P)- While in Frost Presence your Frost Strike uses less Runic Power.
  9. Brittle Bones (P) ** – Yor Frost Fever also applies the Physical Vulnerability effect.
  10. Pillar of Frost – Increases Str for 20 seconds, provides immunity knock-back effects (such as when fighting Druids or a Shaman.)
  11. Rime (P) – Obliterate strikes have a chance to make Howling Blast or Icy Touch free.
  12. Might of the Frozen Wastes (P) – Much more damage with 2-handers (Merged with Threat of Thessarian in Warlords.)
  13. Threat of Thassarian (P) ** – Greatly improves duel-wield damage
  14. Mastery: Frozen Heart (P) – Increases all Frost Damage
  15. Soul Reaper (Frost) – Medium strike that also inflicts enemy with the Soul Reaper effect. It does massive damage if they’e low health.


** Removed in Warlords

In Warlords of Draenor:

  • The ghoul is Unholy only.
  • Dual Weild is Frost Only
  • Frost Strike replaces Death Coil
  • Obliterate replaces Blood Strike


  1. Master of Ghouls (P) ** – Your ghoul becomes a permanent pet.
  2. Reaping (P) – More Death Runes over time. Various strikes cause spent runes to regen as Death Runes.
  3. Unholy Might (P) – +35% to your Strength (this was buffed, up from 10%, in 5.4)
  4. Scourge Strike – Your basic strike
  5. Shadow Infusion (P) – Death Coils work to Power Up your Ghoulie. This (Death Coil) will be your basic attack to spend Runic Power.
  6. Unholy Aura (P) – Increases the attack speed of your entire group.
  7. Festering Strike – A strong strike that increases the duration of your diseases and Chains of Ice.
  8. Sudden Doom – Cheaper Death Coil and the occasional free Death Coil.
  9. Unholy Frenzy ** – Cause an ally or you to go berserk, increases attack speed at a cost to their health.
  10. Ebon Plaguebringer (P) – Greatly increases the damage done by your diseases, causes your Plague Strike to also apply Frost Fever, and increases the physical damage that the target takes from all attacks.
  11. Dark Transformation – Your ghoulie has enough Shadow Infusion and can now Power Up!
  12. Summon Gargoyle – You summon a gargoyle to rain plague damage down upon the enemy.
  13. Improved Unholy Presence (P) – Your Haste is increased by 10%, both melee and ranged.
  14. Mastery: Dreadblade (P) – increases all Shadow damage.
  15. Soul Reaper (Unholy) – Massive damage to targets at low health, minor damage if they are over 35% when it fires.


** Removed in Warlords

In Warlords of Draenor:

  • The ghoul is a permanenet pet and is Unholy only.
  • Necrosis is a new passive ability (gained at level 90) for Unholy Death Knights. Necrosis causes Multistrikes from Festering Strike, Pestilence, Plague Strike, Scourge Strike, and Soul Reaper to also deal a burst of Shadow damage.
  1. Blood Rites (P) – Death Strike hits harder and causes Frost and Unholy runes to become Death runes when they regenerate.
  2. Vengeance (P) – Taking damage increases your attack power. In 5.4 you got a big buff to threat and something of a solid nerf to the amount of attack power you can generate.
  3. Veteran of the Third War (P) – Increases Stam and your chance to Dodge. Nice for PvP, not just tanking.
  4. Dark Command – This is your taunt
  5. Heart Strike ** – Strike up to three targets, does more damage to diseased targets.
  6. Scent of Blood (P) – Chance for your auto-attacks and evasions to increase Death Strike healing and generate Runic power.
  7. Improved Blood Presence (P) – Increases rune generation speed and reduced your chance to be critically hit.
  8. Rune Tap – Converts a Blood rune into a small heal.
  9. Rune Strike ** – Uses Runic power, can’t be dodged or parried.
  10. Blood Parasite (P) ** – Your melee attacks can summon a worm that attacks the target and explodes to heal you and nearby allies.
  11. Scarlet Fever (P) ** – Your Blood Boil refreshes diseases on the opponents, your Blood Plague also afflicts them with Weakened Blows.
  12. Will of the Necropolis (P) – Better survival when at low health.
  13. Sanguine Fortitude (P) – Improves Icebound Fortitude with additional damage reduction.
  14. Dancing Rune Weapon – Summon a Rune weapon that fights for you, increases your threat and avoiding some damage.
  15. Vampiric Blood – For a short time gain more health and more effect from heals.
  16. Riposte – New for patch 5.4, your dodges and parries increase your crit rating for 20 seconds.
  17. Bone Shield – Take less damage from all sources.
  18. Mastery: Blood Shield (P) – Death strike heals create a damage absorption shield, if you’re in BLood Presence.
  19. Crimson Scourge – More Blood Boil damage and a chance for your next Blood Boil or Death and Decay to be free.
  20. Soul Reaper (blood) Medium hitting strike that afflicts target with the Soul Reaper effect.


** Removed in Warlords

In Warlords of Draenor:

  • The ghoul is Unholy only.
  • Vengeance is dead and is replaced with Riposte. See the DK changes for more.
  • Rune Strike is replaced by Death Coil
  • Scarlet Fever’s effects have been merged into Scent of Blood.
  • A new passive ability at level 80, called Power of the Grave, grants a bonus to Mastery to all Party and Raid members.



Death Knight Leveling, to 90, Fast!

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DK Leveling Rotations

Your Presences

Generally you’ll be in Unholy stance while leveling, except if you’re tanking dungeons or need added toughness for PvP.

  • Blood DKs: Use Blood Presence, especially if tanking. – It adds stamina and armor and reduces incoming damage. Use this presence until at least level 70, when you can get Unholy. At 64 your Blood presence is improved for faster Rune regeneration and receiving fewer crits. At 80+ your Mastery does not work if you are out of Blood Presence.
  • Frost Presence provides faster Rune regeneration and you’re harder to slow down (esp. nice in PvP.) The improved presence gives you cheaper Frost Strikes.
  • Unholy Presence: (level 64) Haste and movement speed is a good reason to be in Unholy Presence while leveling. The improved presence adds more Haste. That Haste will nicely improve the speed at which all over your Diseases do their thing (DOTs.) That’s a fair amount of added damage over time.

Generally Speaking you Frost and Unholy DKs will use Unholy Presence, for the movement speed and Haste.


The basic routine is to Ranged attack or  Death Grip > apply diseases > beat the mob’s head in. Application and spreading of diseases becomes more important, especially for Unholy, as the number of mobs you’re fighting (and/or their toughness) increases.

Death Siphon (talent, level 60) is very nice for leveling. It’s easily hour hardest hitting attack and you also get the heal. It will “one shot” quest mobs when it crits. Equally useful in PvP and Dungeons.

Blood Boil (dead in Warlords) is an area attack. Add in the level 15 Roiling Blood talent and Glyph of Festering Blood and you can remove Pestilence from your bars. Hits like a truck (esp. for Blood) and it’s area effect. Lets you effectively kill groups. Blood can throw away their Heart Strike ability ans use this instead.

  • Death Grip or other ranged attack, such as Icy Touch or Death Coil to attract the enemy.
  • Outbreak (Lev 81) or Icy Touch (or Howling Blast) & Plague Strike to apply diseases
  • Primary strikes mixed in with Runic Power (RP) strikes. You will build RP then use it.
  • Use your procs as they become available.
  • Death Siphon as needed for the heal and serious damage.
  • 87+ Use Soul Reaper when the enemy is at or below 35% health.
  • Use Empower Rune Weapon (level 76) on Cooldown, as necessary. Nice for “burst damage” phases, you won’t need to use it against small stuff. Use it against tougher stuff.
  • Next mob.

Frost: Obliterate is your main strike, Frost Strike to spend Runic Power, Howling Blast for A of E and disease application, and at 68+: Pillar of Frost on cooldown. Killing Machine and Rime will generate plenty of procs (giving crits on your main strikes.) Use them for serious damage.

Unholy: Scourge Strike is your main attack, Festering Strike to increase disease durations, Death Coil to burn Runic Power. Empower your Ghoul (dark transform, 70+) whenever it’s available and useful. Unholy Frenzy when a boost is needed (dead in Warlords.)

Blood: Blood Boil (see above) for multiple targets, Death Strike when possible, Rune Strike to use Runic Power. Round up large groups and burn them down.

Fighting Groups

If you’re fighting a group, then you can apply diseases to one, use Roiling Blood or Pestilence to spread them to all the mobs, and then burn them down. Blood Boil is a nice attack for groups, as its damage is increased if the targets are diseased. (Glyph of Pestilence increases the radius of Pestilence and makes disease spreading easier.)

Death and Decay isn’t worth the effort if fighting one thing at a time, but it’s great when fighting several.


Death Knight Stats

Undead Death Knight states his opinion

Tanking Blood spec Death Knights will want a lot of Stamina. Otherwise Strength is you #1 stat.

One of your abilities is Plate Specialization (much the same as what Warriors and Paladins have.) Your primary stat (Str) is increased by 5% while wearing Plate in all applicable slots. This means that you never want to wear anything other than plate.

The Stats

Warlords note: Hit and Expertise are dead in Warlords. Reforging is dead. You will have new stats of Versatility, Multistrike, and Bonus Armor (tanks only.)

  • Bonus Armor: Increases Armor and Attack Power for tanking specializations.
  • Multistrike: Grants a chance for spells and abilities to fire up to 2 additional times, at 30% effectiveness (both damage and healing.)
  • Versatility: Increases damage, healing, and absorption done. Reduces damage taken.

Otherwise: Basically it’s going to be: Str & Stam, plus any other stats you happen to find. This won’t change in Warlords. Wait till the endgame before you start worrying about stats other than Str & Stam.

  • You always want Strength! It’s the Death Knight’s primary statistic for doing damage, for any spec. More strength = more damage from all of your abilities, including diseases.
  • Stamina is the important stat for tanking DKs. You will come out of the starting are with enough gear (and heirlooms, if you have them) that Stam won’t be an issue outside of tanking chores.
  • Any “Hit Rating” or Expertise you find on items is good. The Expertise numbers are the same as they are for Hit.
    • 3% Hit is needed to land your specials (Frost Strike, etc.)
    • 6% will cover you for all of your dungeons and Battleground PvP (Bosses and some players will be +2 levels to you.)
    • 7.5% to hit mobs that are +3 levels (such as raid bosses, or if you’re hunting higher level mobs for the challenge.)
    • Remember, Hit & Exp are dead in Warlords.
  • Attack Power is a nice stat, if you happen to find it. Not as good as Str, but better than the other stats.
  • Otherwise don’t worry about Crit or Haste until the end game gearing. Mastery doesn’t appear until level 80.
  • Int, Agility, and Spirit are completely useless to you
  • Resilience is only for PvP and is dead in Warlords.
  • PvP Power is only for PvP.
  • Gems and Enchants should be skipped unless you’re rolling in gold or want to grab some of the really cheap ones that might be available in the Auction House. Generally you’ll level too fast to make them worthwhile.
    • Note that, as of 5.4, you can apply any of the high level enchants to your gear (of any level.) The crafted enchants (eg: Inscription shoulder enchant) have to be applied by an 85+ character, then sent to you. The other enchants you can apply yourself, even at level 55 (or level 1.) Yes, you can put the Dancing Steel enchant on your sword(s.)
  • Reforging isn’t something you should worry about until 80+ and even then it might be best left to the end-game PvP and Raids.

PvP and Dungeon Stats

Ok, if you’re serious about dungeoning or PvPing, then you might want to start enchanting your better gear and getting gems when slots are available.

  • Blood Tanks will want: Stamina, Str, Hit, Expertise, Dodge, and Parry.
  • Blood DKs leveling otherwise have much less need of Stam and the avoidance stats. So Str & Haste.
  • Frost and Unholy DKs will want Str, Hit, Expertrise, and Haste.
  • Once you hit 80+ then Mastery is better than Haste or Crit for all specs.

At 90+ Blood and Unholy will want to get more Multistrike, Frost can stay with Haste. Hit and Exp will be dead.


Death Knight Runeforging

One of the abilities you learn as a brand new Death Knight is Runeforging. These are special, Death Knight Only, enchants that you can place on your weapons at your base: Ebon Hold. While they aren’t the same as the usual weapon enchants they are every bit as useful. They don’t stack with the usual enchants either, but you probably won’t want the usual ones anyway.

You can apply runes to your weapons to make them more effective. Simply gate back to the Ebon Hold and apply the runes at a Runeforge. Another benefit is that the runes are free and the best weapon enchant (Dancing Steel) might run several hundred gold.

For general leveling you will want to stick with the “any weapon” runes. We recommend Razorice to start, then Fallen Crusader. If you’re dual wielding then use one on each weapon.

In Warlords: Some of these runes are removed.These are marked **

Runes for any weapon

Runes for one-hand weapons

Runes for two-handed weapons


Gearing Up Your Death Knight as You Level

Heirlooms Vs Blues: At the point when you get them, if they are for your level, blue titles gear will often be better than your heirlooms. The ‘looms will pull ahead in a level or two. I recommend just keeping the ‘looms and selling the other gear.

You guild heirlooms (Head, cape, legs) will give you +25% XP, plus another 10% for being in that guild. Worth it if you’re just leveling and not seriously PvPing.

If you don’t have any heirlooms then skip that part. :)

Starting out you will receive a full set of pretty nice gear. That will last you for awhile. It’s all “blue” gear and it will be several levels before the gear from questing can replace it. If you’re doing the dungeons you might get lucky and find some pieces, either as drops or as dungeon quest rewards, than can replace your gear. If the new piece has more Strength than the old piece, then go ahead and replace it.

Make a LOT More Gold. Click Here to Start!At level 70 if you like PvP enough to be doing the battlegrounds (BGs) you can get the full PvP set from the legacy arena vendors. It will cost about 2k or so honor. Just do the occasional BG from level 60-70 and you should have enough.

This will be better than anything else you will find until level 77.

At 77 the gear that was introduced with the Cataclysm expansion becomes available. You can often find it on the Auction House and you will know it by its higher item level. At 77 the “regular” gear is item level 170 or so. The Cataclysm gear is 277 and is utterly superior to any of the other gear than you will find at your level. It’s even better than your heirlooms.

Any heirlooms that are “level 80″ can be put away, or sent to another character, if you can replace them with the Cata gear. Level 85+ heirlooms you can save until you’re 81.

At 81+ Put your level 85+ heirlooms back on. Mists of Pandaria Blue gear will start appearing on the Auction House. This gear can last you until 90 and is better than any of the Cata gear, with the exception of the top (level 85) raid gear. Often the MoP gear is cheap enough. Check it out.

At 85+ you will be heading into Pandaria. There are various Adventuring Supply vendors throughout the lands who will sell you gear starting from 372 up to 408. This isn’t nearly as good as the blue items on the Auction House, but you can get a full set for the price of one of those blues. It’s a decent way to go if gold is tight.

At 90 the easiest thing to do is to explore the Timeless Isle, open boxes, and find the armor items there. If you are on a PvP server then I strongly recommend that you do this with a group. With Warlords you can probably just skip it and head into the Warlords content.

90+ levelers should be sending Warlords gear onto the Auction House. Keep an eye open for it, it may well be much better than whatever else is available.

You can also buy the crafted malevolent PvP set from a Blacksmith or on the Auction House. You might also be able to find nice PvE gear on the AH.

Congratulations on 100!


Race Choice for Death Knights

In Mists of Pandaria all races can be Death Knights except Pandarens. Somehow they missed Arthas’ attentions.Pick whichever race works best for you, the racials aren’t that significant though they do offer a small advantage in certain areas.

  • Expertise, offered by several races for specific weapon types, is useful if that weapon type is the best available. Otherwise that racial will be worthless. Exp. allows you to reach the Expertise Cap (more) easily and results in a small overall damage increase.
  • Various races have some resistance to some forms of damage. The resistance is small, but nice in specific situations.
  • Various races are good at some form of crafting skill. If you have that skill then you will get a bonus to your skill level. This does mean that at max skill you will have a higher level skill than other races.)

Here’s how the racials stack up though if you’re interested (Orcs, Humans (PvP,) and Worgen (PvE) might be best choices, overall: )

Warlords of Draenor note: Racials are changing, mostly due to the removal of Hit and Expertise. The new racials are below, and noted as such.



  • Faster Rep gains, which is rather nice with the many factions in this game.
  • More Damage: Increased Expertise with Swords and Maces is pretty nice if those are the best weapon available.
  • Escape ability works like a PvP trinket (and allows you to use two DPS trinkets in PvP,)
  • WoD: Exp. has been removed, so no bonus with swd/mace.
  • WoD: The Human Spirit has been redesigned. It now increases Versatility, scaling with character level.


  • Defense: Stone form washes away some effects and reduces damage taken for a short time.
  • Expertise with ranged weapon attacks is of no use to you.
  • More damage: Expertise with maces is nice, if you’re using a mace.
  • Good at Archeology.
  • Wod: Ranged & Mace Exp. are gone.
  • Wod: Might of the Mountain is a new racial passive ability that increases Critical Strike bonus damage and healing dealt, from melee weapons, by 2%.

Night Elf:

  • No damage buffs.
  • Shadowmeld has some nice situational use in PvP or as DPS in dungeons, it can drop aggro if you get in over your head.
  • Tanking: Higher dodge is a nice racial, especially if you’re a tank. Resistant to Nature damage.
  • Wod: You now move a bit faster to go along with that 2% dodge.
  • Wod: You get +1% Crit by day and +1% Haste by night.


  • Defense: Escape from some speed altering effects (eg: Slows,)
  • Damage: Expertise with small swords is nice if you’re dual-wielding swords,
  • resistant to arcane damage,
  • good at Engineering.
  • WoD: Exp. is gone.
  • WoD: +1% Haste
  • WoD: Expansive Mind now increases maximum mana, energy, rage, and Runic Power by 5% instead of only increasing maximum mana.


  • A small heal that’s usable on others is pretty nice.
  • Damage: Increased chance to hit (1%) is also nice. It makes your stat allocation easier in the end-game.
  • Resistant to Shadow damage. Good at Jewelcrafting.
  • WoD: Heroic Presence no longer increases Hit by 1%, and instead increases Strength, Agility, and Intellect, scaling with character level.


  • Useful: Sprint ability
  • Damage: a 1% increased Crit chance.
  • Resistant to Nature and Shadow damage,
  • good at Skinning.
  • WoD: Unchanged.



  • Damage: Blood Fury for extra damage (spell and melee,)
  • Damage: increased damage from your Ghoul,
  • Damage: Expertise with axes is great if you’re using axes.
  • Defense: resistant to stuns
  • WoD: No more Expertise.
  • WoD: Nerfs to pet damage and stun resistance.


  • No damage buff
  • Defense: Remove Fear/sleep/charm,
  • Healing: Touch of the Grave drains life and heals you for the same amount.
  • Healing: eat the dead (to recover health)
  • resistant to Shadow Damage,
  • WoD: Undead can now breathe underwater indefinitely.


  • No damage buff
  • Stun: War Stomp stuns nearby opponents (which is a pretty nice ability,)
  • Defense: Maximum health is increased (about 3 Stamina gems worth at highest levels,)
  • resistant to nature damage (poisons, etc.,) and…
  • good at Herbalism.
  • WoD: Brawn is a new racial passive ability that increases Critical Strike bonus damage and healing done, by melee weapons, by 2%.


  • Damage: Berserk for increased attack speed (spell or melee,)
  • Damage: greater damage Vs beasts,
  • Defense: reduced duration of movement impairing effects.
  • Expertise with ranged weapon attacks has some zero use for you.
  • WoD: No more bonus damage Vs beasts, instead you’ll get more XP. Nice for leveling.

Blood Elf:

  • No damage abilities
  • Defense: Arcane Torrent interrupts (and silences) spellcasting and restores some Runic Power.
  • Resistant to Arcane damage
  • Belves are good at Enchanting.
  • WoD: Arcane Acuity is a new racial passive ability that increases Critical Strike chance by 1%.


  • Escape: Rocket Jump is a nice approach (or escape,) esp. since you have no special movement abilities.
  • Offense? Launching rockets has situational use,
  • Damage: Haste is increased
  • Useful: vendor discounts are always nice as is the ability to summon your personal bank.
  • Goblins are good at Alchemy.
  • WoD: No real changes.


Death Knight Professions

All of the crafting professions have special abilities that offer a net gain over not having that profession. In Mists of Pandaria that number is around 320 points of that stat over just having the basic enchants.

In Warlords those same professions bonuses will DIE!!! (sorry.) However leveling them might well be a lot easier, thought not cheaper.

These skills are also pretty expensive to level up. See our professions page for more info on leveling up the various skills.

Several professions have definite value while leveling, others not so much. If gear is readily available on the Auction House, and you have the gold, then the professions are less important. Sometimes making your gear is the only way to go. Or hoping you win the rolls in the dungeons.

If you just want something to earn gold with, then the gathering professions are the most reliable choice. You can make plenty of gold with some of the crafting professions (Inscription and blackmithing have worked very well for me,) but it takes some work to find the sweet spots.

  • Blacksmithing offers two gem slots as its special. Insert two of the best gems you can afford. Also make weapons, armor, sharpening stones to buff your weapons, and keys to open locks.
  • Alchemy makes an assortment of useful potions and you get better effect from your own potions. about 30% more stats and an extra hour from elixirs and flasks. Drink up and get heals, improved stats, etc.
  • Engineering makes a lot of useful gadgets. Synapse Springs offers a big Str boost on demand (once a minute,) which is pretty sweet.
  • Inscription will let you make a very nice shoulder enchant, makes shoulder enchants for others, make all your own glyphs (and for your pals,) and make a few other items.
  • Enchanting lets you add stats to your rings, plus all those other useful enchants. Expensive to level, though you can disenchant items for materials, which is a big help.
  • Jewelcrafting lets you make nicer gems for your own use, all sorts of other gems, and various other jewelry items.
  • Tailoring and Leatherworking are pretty useless for you, other than the profession buffs (cloak enchant for tailoring, bracer for LW.)
  • The gathering skills are nice for making gold and come with perks, too. Mining increases Stam, Skinning increases Crit, and Herbalism has a combined heal and a very nice haste effect.
  • Recommended skills?
    • If you have lots of gold: Blacksmithing & Engineering for the useful gear and toys.
    • Otherwise: take two gathering skills and level the profession skills later.


DK Leveling Tips

Remember that the guild heirloom set plus the guild will give you +35% XP. Plus rest XP is gained from staying at an Inn, always log out at an Inn.

  • Also, check out our Top Leveling Tips post for ideas to get leveled faster.
  • Get the Dual Build ability from your trainer (10 gold,) this will let you alternative Blood and Frost/Unholy builds if you want to do that. Blood is better for tanking dungeons, Frost is great for laying down lots of damage. Unholy is no slouch in that department, either, but you can only take two…
  • Blood can round up large groups of mobs and smash them down faster than the other specs, but both Front and Unholy will do fine on smaller groups and both do more overall damage.
  • Ghouls inherit their master’s abilities (Str, Crit, etc.) Use your Horn of Winter just before summoning your ghoul so that it picks up that buff. Fire off any other buffs, before summoning, as well.
  • Always carry food and potions (healing) with you. Other potions will buff stats like Strength, Hit, Crit, etc. If you have the gold buy a few and use them in appropriate situations.
  • Pestilence and Blood Boil are great area effect attacks. Apply your diseases to target #1, then use Pestilence to spread those diseases to all of your targets. As Blood your Blood Boil will already do that. With the Roiling Blood talent you don’t need Pestilence.
  • Gearing
    • If you like PvP then do enough to get close to 2k honor by level 70, then buy the full PvP set from the legacy arena vendors.
    • Buy Cataclysm gear at level 77 and send most of your heirlooms to an alt. Guild heirlooms are good till 85, but Cata gear is better until level 81. Cata gear start at “item level” 270. Compare that to the ilevel 170 gear that you normally get at that level. Yes, it’s much better. You should be able to find it on the Auction House.
    • At 81 put your guild heirlooms back on. Start looking for Mists of Pandaria gear on the Auction House. Some pieces are item level 417, which can be worn at 81, and it better than anything you will find until the top zones in M of P.
    • At 85, of you haven’t got the M of P gear, buy (from the Auction House) or make (Blacksmithing) the Vicious Plate set (item level 377) and go visit Mists of Pandaria. Keep checking the Auction House for better gear.
    • There are various vendors scattered around the M of P zones. These “Adventuring Supplies” vendors will sell you a complete set of decent gear for very little money. You can find better stuff on the Auction House, but these guys will help if you’re short on gold or don’t care for the auciton house or whatever.
    • At level 90 (gratz!!) you can grab the “Crafted Malevolent” PvP gear, either from a Blacksmith or the Auction House. This will give you a set of pretty decent gear for whichever part of the end-game you want to explore.
    • If you’re short on gold, go here.

Dungeon Leveling – Blood Death Knights can make pretty good tanks and as tanks they will have very short waits when using the Dungeon Finder tool. Your job is to keep the attention of all the opponents, regardless of what your team might be doing. Do that well and you’ll be a very good tank.

Let the tank pull. As Frost or Unholy you will be Damage (DPS) and your wait times to get into the dungeons will be a few minutes to half an hour. Mix up your dungeons with questing and you’ll be fine. Make sure that you are not in Blood Presence. Let the tank pull and grab the attention of all the mobs, then jump in and kill everything. A couple of the minor glyphs will remove the taunts from some of your abilities.

PvP Leveling – DKs do just fine in the PvP world. Queue up for the battlegrounds and you’ll see some fast XP if your side wins. Lots of players just want to farm kills in the BGs, but you’ll get more honor and a lot more XP if you do what it takes to win and farming kills doesn’t usually do that.

At level 70, if you have 1,500 or so honor, you can get a complete PvP gear set from the legacy arena vendors (Gadgetzan, Dalaran sewers.)

Questing – nice, easy, relaxed leveling without the hazards of snarky remarks from your team members in the chat.

  1. Group your quests. Do the six “over there” before you fly out for that one that’s a bit “out of the way.”
  2. Do not grind (unless for cash and prizes, and/or practice.) Questing is much faster, plus you get the rewards.
  3. Killing lower level mobs (3 or 4 levels lower) is fast and easy and less risky, higher level mobs the reverse. Find a level of opposition that works for you.
  4. As soon as you’re comfortable then move into the next higher area. DKs can deal a lot of punishment so will have little problem with same level or one level higher mobs.
  5. Get your gear repaired occasionally. Having your weapon break in the middle of no where isn’t all that much fun.
  6. Get your flying mount at 60 and your fast flying skill at 70. Get “cold weather flying” (at 70) if you’re doing Northrend.



55-100 In-Depth Death Knight Leveling Guide

Blood Elf Death Knight

Now go and kill something!

If you are looking for how you can get leveled faster, either for your Death Knight or any of your other characters (or what you should do while leveling to keep your character equipped with the best gear) then I recommend you seriously consider the following two guides:

To get all your characters to level 100 (in Warlord sof Draenor) as fast as possible use THIS GUIDE. It is an in-game addon that guides you step by step through everything you need to do to level up quickly. You will never again wonder where to go or what to do.

If you want to be rolling in gold the whole time you are leveling, then take a look at this GOLD GUIDE. It was just recently updated for the latest patch, so it’s full of new tips for making tons of gold.


14 thoughts on “Death Knight Leveling Guide

  1. Plaguebreath says:

    Wow, I’m sorry but you really need to add Unholy in. I personally find it does *better* DPS than Frost and it’s extremely easy to level with as well. As others have said, only because you have a Frost bias doesn’t mean you should just leave it out of the guide entirely.

    • Rogptor says:

      Actually, I have a Blood bias. It’s my partner with the Frost bias. ;) You are right, though. A lot of people do swear by Unholy. Now since I DO have Unholy in the guide, I’m not sure what you’re looking for. I’ll give it a lookover though, thanks for the heads up.

  2. V says:

    Don’t forget to mention unholy has pet talents to do less work sometimes.

  3. Glitche says:

    How can you just leave out unholy?? Just because your not a fan doesn’t mean others don’t want to try it out. The guide shouldn’t be biased just because you don’t like something. Very disappointed.

    • Rogptor says:

      Probably because we leveled DKs with Blood and Frost. I have played a fair amount of Unholy and you’re right, it does level (and do everything else) just fine. The guide is due for a 5.3 update and I’ll be hitting that in a few days. I’ll include Unholy when I do that.

      First though, what specifically do you like about Unholy?

  4. Destin says:

    I usealy stay in blood tree when I am pvping and tanking because my blood strike does more damage and I don’t have to change back and forth. Do u think that’s a good thing or a bad thing if so could u give me some advice

    • Rogptor says:

      I like Blood for leveling and it’s THE spec for tanking. I don’t it’s optimal for PvP due to lack of damage, though the survivability is there.

      For tanking and leveling you can look at our DK Tanking page, there’s some good stuff there on rotations, talents, etc. Leveling as Blood is great as you can round up large groups, crush them, and go to the next stop with full health.

  5. jack says:

    ive got my dk to lvl 80 (frost) and im quite content. it does great damage in pvp and levling but i might try unholy soon

  6. Damphyere says:

    As a Blood DK leveling, do not even waste your time with Heart Strike. Use Blood Boil in it’s place. Why? Blood Boil and Heart Strike both use 1 Blood Rune BUT Blood Boil does a LOT more damage and hits more than the 3 mob limit of Heart Strike.

  7. Hey you really should post some leveling rotations here, you got a good guide here and its ruined without the rotations.

    [Sounds like a good idea. I’ll see what I can do with that. -Rog]

  8. Ndc457 says:

    Include Unholy! Its way better than frost! Look me up. Im Cheesybeef i have crap gear and i do 18k Dps in unholy

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