When the Lich King’s control of his death knights was broken, his former champions sought revenge for the horrors committed under his command. After their vengeance was won, the death knights found themselves without a cause and without a home.
One by one they trickled into the land of the living in search of a new purpose. (Source: Battle.net)
The Death Knight is the “Hero Class” of WoW. You start at level 55 and, with a bit of extra grinding, will enter the world at level 58 with a nice set of gear. You are now fully ready to inflict mayhem upon the word of Azeroth as Tank, Damage Machine (DPS), or PvPer.
This page is an overview of Death Knights, but does not go into much detail with the three specs. See the links below for those details (gems, enchants, rotations, etc.) or scroll down the page for the overview.
Our Other Death Knight Guides
The Death Knight Specs
Death Knights, like most other classes, have three specs (short for specializations:) Blood, Frost, and Unholy.
This is the “Tanking” spec. Tough and hard to kill, but not a lot of damage. The toughness and ability to handle large groups make them fun to level as well as being fine tanks. Round up a bunch of mobs and burn them down.
Blood isn’t usually a PvP spec, but there are some sweet spots before you hit 100 where the can do very well. Damage will be the main concern.
- Death Knight Blood Spec Tanking guide – The build, gems, rotations, and more.
- Blood spec PvP – Tough, heals
Unlike Blood, Frost DKs do plenty of damage and do a pretty good job of spreading it around. They’re the only Death Knights who can dual wield (one handed) weapons, if they choose. Not nearly as tough as Blood they can still handle several mobs with a bit of care. Their damage makes up for the lack of defense.
- Death Knight Frost Spec DPS guide – builds for dual wield and 2-handers, plus gems, enchants, etc.
- Frost spec PvP – Damage and plenty of it, A of E
Like Frost the Unholy Death Knight does damage and lots of it. They specialize more in the diseases and have a Ghoul pet. Not nearly as tough as Blood they can still handle several mobs with a bit of care. Their damage makes up for the lack of defense. Generally Unholy is the PVP spec for DKs, but that will vary from time to time.
- Death Knight Unholy Spec DPS guide – Everything you need for higher DPS as Unholy.
- Unholy spec PvP – Damage, Diseases, Pet.
Our Death Knight Leveling Guide – Tips, builds, and info to make your trek to the level cap that much easier.
Death Knight Stats
All Death Knights want Plate armor and as much Strength as they can get. As for the stat priorities see the detail pages for each spec (linked to above.)
Stats change with the various expansions. For example: Resilience and PvP Power are basically dead, though they still appear on some legacy, sub-level 100 gear. Hit rating, Multistrike, and Expertise all died awhile back. Still, they might comer back some day.
- Strength is your Attack Power and improves everything you do.
- Mastery is a strong stat for all Death Knights.
- Blood receives a damage shield
- Frost gets improved Frost damage.
- Unholy gets increased Shadow damage.
- Versatility adds to damage done, healing done, and (at half value) adds to your damage reduction. While it’s a more valuable PvP stat than a PvE stat, it still improves pretty much everything you do.
- Haste speeds up everything you do, including rune regeneration.
- Critical strikes do 200% damage (150% in PvP,) but don’t generally proc anything for DKs. Still, big hits are always nice. Also, Blood gets parry rating equal to their crit rating via the Riposte ability
Tertiary Stats are bonus stats that sometimes appear on upper level gear. These stats have a small chance to be found on gear as an augmentation. There are no enchants, gems, raid buff, etc. that will let you stack these “stats.”
- Speed: Increases your movement speed
- Indestructible: Causes the item to not take durability damage
- Leech: Causes you to be healed for a small portion of all damage and healing done.
- Avoidance: Reduces your damage taken from area-of-effect attacks.
- Gem slots, while not being a “stat,” are also quite uncommon. Plop in an appropriate gem and get bonus Strength, Mastery, whatever.
Death Knight Race Choice
Anyone can be a Death Knight even Pandarens and all races introduced after the Pandaria expansion, such as those from Battle for Azeroth.
Clearly the Lich King sees great value in all of the races.
The Lich King has decided that these will be useful additions.
- Your Inner Peace gives you improved Rest XP, making for faster leveling.
- Being bouncy you take less falling damage, which can be useful.
- With a quick strike of their Quaking Palm they can stun an opponent for 4 seconds.
- Pandarens get better buffs from food with the Epic ability
- Naturally you have the improved cooking ability.
- The Gift of the Naru (a Heal Over Time for 20% of your health) acts as a secondary bandage every 3 minutes and, like a bandage, it can also heal an ally. A Heal over time effect is rather nice, even for the nearly indestructible Blood DK.
- You are Good with Jewelcrafting so get +10% to that skill.
- Draenei gain a Strength bonus (Heroic Presence) which scales with level. Those massive muscles have to be good for something, right?
- Your passion for killing demons (demonbane) is reflected in your earning an extra 20% experience from that action.
- You have two area effect attacks, Light’s Judgement and Light’s Reckoning. The former lets you call down a strike onto enemies close to you, with a three second delay. Reckoning causes you to unleash the Light upon dying, damaging enemies within 8 yards and healing any allies for the same amount.
- Not only do you get +10% to your Blacksmithing skill, you can summon a Forge of Light.
- Shadowmeld: Activate to slip into the shadows, reducing the chance for enemies to detect your presence. Lasts until cancelled or upon moving. Any threat is restored versus enemies still in combat upon cancellation of this effect. Against certain spells, if you have really good timing, you can S’meld after it’s cast and dodge it.
- A bit more Dodge and movement speed (2% of each,) via your quickness. Minor, but nice.
- Touch of Elune gives you a bit more Crit by day and Haste by night.
- Transform into a Wisp Spirit upon death, increasing speed by 75%. Hopefully you will only rarely have any use for this trait.
- Your Every Man for Himself ability is great for PvP and allows the use of two DPS trinkets, instead of one and an escape trinket. The escape might disable some pve/raid mechanics, which is especially nice if you’re the Blood tank.
- Your Diplomacy allows you to gain rep with any of the many available Wow factions a bit quicker than otherwise.
- Humans also gain +2% to all secondary stats: Human Spirit.
- Your Altered Form allows you to switch between your human and Worgen forms and your Two Forms lets you turn into your currently inactive form.
- Then your Darkflight activates your true form, increasing current movement speed by an additional 40% for 10 sec. Always nice to have extra movement.
- You also have your Running Wild ability, where you drop to all fours to run as fast as a wild animal.
- Flayer increases your Skinning skill by 15 and allows you to skin faster.
- And your inate Viciousness increases critical strike chance by 1%.
- You can become one with the stone via your Stoneform. This removes all poison, disease, curse, magic, and bleed effects and reduces all physical damage taken by 10% for 8 sec. Cooldown is 2 minutes.
- Naturally you are also an explorer and so are better at Archeology than others.
- Dwarves also have Might, which improves Critical bonus damage (not crit chance) and healing by 2%.
Dark Iron Dwarf
- Your Fireblood removes all poison, disease, curse, magic, and bleed effects, just like your Dwarven “brethren,” but your ability increases your primary stat (stength) by 600(!) (scales with level) +200 for for each additional effect removed. Lasts 8 sec. with a 2 min cooldown.
- You’re a tunnel dweller and Dungeon Delver and you’ve learned how to move 4% faster while indoors, plus your people have the Mole Machines: While outdoors you can summon a Mole Machine that tunnels through the earth and can pop you up in a variety of places.
- Your Escape Artist ability allows you to break the effects of any immobilization or movement speed reduction effect.
- Good with Engineering
- Your Expansive Mind increases your maximum Runic Power by 5%.
- And they also get +1% Haste. The Nimble Fingered DK.
- Hyper Organic Light Originator summons a couple of images of you to distract your foes. Added DPS or use it to give yourself a moment to set something up.
- Some Racial Passives:
- Combat Analysis: You gather and analyze combat data every 5 sec, increasing your Strength by 25, stacking up to 10 times. The data decays while out of combat.
- Mastercraft: You function as a personal Blacksmithing Anvil, Cooking Fire, and Mining Forge. In addition, your limbs include every profession tool.
- Emergency Failsafe: When you fall below 20% health, heal for 15% of your maximum health. This effect cannot occur more than once every 2.5 min.
- Skeleton Pinkie: Allows opening of locked chests and doors on a level similar to yours.
- Enrage (Blood Fury) to increase damage every 2 min, which is generally useful and quite nice for leveling.
- Your Hardiness makes you resistant to stuns (20% shorter duration, about 1 second off a 5 second stun) – Useful in PvP, but also nice at times while leveling/raiding.
- And for you Unholy types, your ghoul will do a bit more damage via your command ability.
- Your mighty Endurance gives you a 5% increase to base health, which is pretty nice for any melee class, such as you.
- Also useful is War Stomp, a generally useful ability, that gives Tauren Death Knights a crucial short range AoE stun. This can also interrupt trash mobs when dungeoning/raiding.
- Added Crit damage (not crit chance.)
- Tauren are good with Herbalism
- Bull Rush is a short (6 yard) charge forward that knocks enemies down.
- Being versatile they get +1% Versatility (link) and they also take a bit less damage (link.) Both are nice passives for any DK.
- Your Pride allows you to mine faster and adds 15% to your mining skill.
- Having gone to survival school your philosophy is Waste not Want Not, so you have a chance to gather more meat and fish from appropriate situations.
- Berserking increases your Haste by 15% – Generally useful, since it reduces cooldowns and gives you faster Runic Power and Rune regeneration.
- You get a 20% XP increase when Beast slaying. This only applies to beasts, not humanoids or other non-beasts. You’ll be chopping up lots of beasts while leveling, so this is a nice bonus.
- Do Voodoo Shuffle gives you a nice 20% reduced duration of movement impairing effects, such as snares, slows, etc. Not stuns or anything else.
- Regeneration, Mon! Trolls regenerate 10% faster than others and can even regenerate a bit in combat, not that you are likely to notice.
- Your Embrace of the Loa ability allows you to choose which Loa you are associated with. Has a 5 day cooldown, so choose wisely.
- Embrace of Akunda – Your healing abilities have a chance to heal their target.
- Embrace of Bwonsamdi – Your damaging abilities have a chance to deal Shadow damage and heal you for 100% of the damage done. Pretty good general ability.
- Embrace of Gonk – Increase movement speed by 5%.
- Embrace of Kimbul – Your damaging abilities have a chance to cause the target to bleed over 6s. This effect stacks up to 3 times. More damage is always good.
- Embrace of Krag’wa – Taking damage has a chance to grant you additional Health and 66 Armor. Good tanking ability.
- Embrace of Pa’ku – Your abilities have a chance to grant you +4% critical strike for 12 seconds. Live by the crit? This is for you.
- Regeneratin’ – Regenerate 100% of your maximum health over 6 sec, interrupted by damage. 2.5 min cooldown.
- Pterrordax Swoop – Slows your fall for two minutes. Time for some serious cliff jumpin’.
- Your Arcane Torrent removes one beneficial effect from any nearby enemies (8 yards) and restores 15 Runic Power. 2 minute cooldown.
- And your Arcane Acuity gives you a bit more crit (1%.)
- Naturally your Arcane Affinity gives you +10% to the Enchanting skill.
- Your Will of the Forsaken removes fear, sleep, and charms. Definitely useful in PvP and of occasional use elsewhere.
- Your Touch of the Grave is a passive ability that will add a small amount to your overall damage and self-healing. It also allows indefinite underwater breathing.
- Cannibalism is a nice “in your face” ability for PvP and eliminates the need to use a bag slot for regular food (you’ll want to keep any foods that provide buffs.) Just go full zombie mode and eat what whatever human(oid)s you kill
- Can rocket jump forward, or away, so is a bit like the hunter ability disengage.
- Speaking of rockets… Rocket Barrage!!! The perfect Goblin ability. Can launch rockets at enemies. Damage is trivial, but you can probably find a use for it. Maybe aas another taunt.
- A bit more Haste.
- Check your bank stash from anywhere. A deadly ability. 😉
- You can do an Arcane Pulse, which slightly damages all nearby enemies and reduces their speed for 12 seconds. 3 minute cooldown.
- Can read your mail from anywhere, with your Cantrips ability.
- Your love of Ancient History give you +15% to your Inscription skill.
- Your Ancestral Call will boost a random secondary stat (crit, haste, versatility) for 12 seconds on a 2 minute cooldown. The boost scales with level.
- Your love of the open skies increases your mounted speed by 10% and your…
- Savage health, you barbarian you, reduces the duration of curses, poisons, and diseases by 10%.
- If you are Unholy then your pet has a 10% health boost.
- Bag of Tricks: Cunning thing that you are you can use a trick on an enemy to damage them or on an ally to heal them.
- Make Camp: Set your camp location outdoors and then you can use Return to Camp, which teleports back to your camp location. Basically another hearthstone.
- Nose for Trouble: Take a little less damage from the first strike inflicted by an enemy.
Death Knight Abilities
These are the abilities for the Death Knights. Hover over the links for the descriptions.
(P) = Passive ability
- Level 55 – Death Gate – Open a gate to Ebon Hold, either to grab a runeforge or to escape something, or just to take a nap in a safe place.
- 55 – Death Grip – “Come Here, You!!”
- 55 – Death Strike – Solid strike that heals you for some damage.
- 55 – Runeforging – Put a DK only enchant on your weapon(s)
- 55 – Plate Specialization – If you are wearing only Plate armor in all appropriate slots then Blood gets +5% Stamina, Frost and Unholy get+5% Str.
- 57 – Anti-Magic Shell – A personal barrier that blocks magic and generates runic power.
- 58 – Dark Command – Order the target to attack you.
- 60 Asphyxiate – 5 second stun. (Note: The tooltip says “Frost” and “Unholy,” but my Blood DK disagrees.) Usable by all specs.
- 60 – Wraith Walk – Sort of a 3 second sprint that breaks roots.
- 61 – On a Pale Horse (P) – Ride a little faster.
- 62 – Mind Freeze – Interrupt a spell and sincelence that spell school for 3 seconds.
- 66 – Path of Frost – Allow you and your party to run/ride on frozen water.
- 69 – Control Undead – Make an undead (not player) your minion for 5 min.
- 72 – Raise Ally – Raise a party member from the dead. Note: He/she does not come back as a ghoul.
And these are the abilities for each specialization:
Soak a lot of damage and dish it out. This is the tank spec.
Use the power of Frost to lay waste to your enemies.
Disease and corruption in your Forte. You also get a pet.
|55 Heart Strike – Whack the target and his buddy and slow them both. Generates Runic Power.
55 Marrowrend – Smack the target and generate 3 charges of Bone Shield. The charges stack with followup Marrowrend strikes.
55 Veteran of the Third War 60% More Stamina, lots more than Frost or Unholy.
56 Death and Decay – Corrupt an area of ground, doing damage to all in the area. Empowers your Heart Strike to hit 3 additional targets.
57 Dancing Rune Weapon – it mirrors your attacks for 8 seconds and adds +40% Parry.
58 Death’s Caress – Reach out to touch someone and give them the (Blood) Plague.
60 Vampiric Blood – Gain +30% health and +30 healing from any heals for 10 seconds.
63 Crimson Scourge (P) – Your auto-attacks might give you a free Death and Decay.
64 Gorefiend’s Grasp – Pull all enemies within 20 yards of the target to that target. 3 min cooldown.
78 Mastery: Blood Shield (P) increases attack power and your Death Strikes give you a small absorption shield.
|1 Dual Wield – wield two one-hand weapons.
1 Runic Empowerment (P) – chance to gain a rune every time you spend runic power.
55 Frost Fever (P) – damages you opponent over 24 seconds and has a chance to return some Runic Power.
55 Howling Blast – damages the target and all others within 10 yards of the target and applies Frost Fever to all of them.
55 Frost Strike – Use your Runic Power to whack the target.
55 Obliterate – Your main strike. Single target.
55 Veteran of the Third War 10% More Stamina.
56 Killing Machine (P) Your auto-attacks have a chance to make your next Obliterate an automatic crit.
56 Chains of Ice – shackle the opponent with icy chains and greatly slow him for 8 seconds.
57 Pillar of Frost – Immunity to some movement effects (such as knockback) and +20% strength for 20 seconds.
57 Remorseless Winter – lasts 8 seconds and damages all nearby enemies and slows them by 20%.
57 Empower Rune Weapon – activate all runes and gain 25 Runic Power.
58 Dark Succor (P) – killing worthy enemies gives you a free, empowered Death Strike.
59 Rime (P) – Your Obliterate has a chance to give you a free Howling Blast at +300% power.
78 Mastery: Frozen Heart (P) – improves all Frost damage.
|1 Runic Corruption (P) every Runic Power you spend gives you a chance to speed up your Runic Regeneration for 3 seconds.
1 Festering Wound – Inflict foul wounds on the enemy, which will burth, doing damage and adding your Runic Power.
55 Raise Dead – raises your ghoulish associate.
55 Death Coil – blast the enemy with Shadow.
55 Veteran of the Third War 10% More Stamina.
56 Death and Decay – Corrupt an area of ground, doing damage to all in the area. Empowers your Scourge Strike to hit all nearby enemies.
56 Chains of Ice – shackle the opponent with icy chains and greatly slow him for 8 seconds.
58 Dark Succor (P) – killing worthy enemies gives you a free, empowered Death Strike.
64 Sudden Doom (P) – your auto-attacks have a chance to make your next Death Coil free.
65 Icebound Fortitude – immunity to stuns and 20% less damage for 8 seconds.
74 Dark Transformation – your ghoul powers up for 20 seconds.
75 Apocalypse – Damages an enemy and bursts up to 4 festering Wounds on that target. Also summons one of your Army of the Dead ghouls for each wound it bursts. The ghoul lasts for 15 seconds.
78 Mastery: Dreadblade (P) – boosts Shadow damage.
82 Army of the dead – Summons a horde of ghouls who will fight all enemies for 30 seconds.
Death Knight Talents
You get a total of seven talents at level 100. at levels 56, 57, 58, 60, 75, 90, & 100.
In addition to these you will get, if you like, PvP talents.
You can change specs at any time that you are out of combat. Changing the individual talents requires you to be in a “rested XP” area: big city, your garrison, or an inn.
In neither case do you need to use reagents, trainers, tools, or need to sacrifice a player of the opposing faction. Just change them up as you desire.
Take some time and set up the talents for each spec ahead of time and you’ll be able to easily switch specs later, should you need to.
Talent Descriptions are here.
- Blood spec for PvE, Blood for PvP
- Frost spec for PvE, Frost for PvP
- Unholy spec for PvE, Unholy for PvP
- Death Knight Leveling
- Zygor will recommend talents and the best spec for leveling, in addition to a whole lot of other stuff. click here to learn more.
Death Knight Runeforging
You can apply runes to your weapons to make them more effective. These runes do not stack with enchants, but are generally better anyway. Simply Death Gate back to the Ebon Hold and apply the runes at a Runeforge.
Only one rune at a time (per weapon) may be applied, but if you’re Dual Wielding you can apply a separate rune to each weapons.
Generally Rune of the Fallen Crusader will be the choice when you hit level 70, but you might want to experiment with the others.
Legion wiped some of the Runeforges. These are what remain:
- Rune of Razorice, level 55 – Does additional Frost damage and increases target’s vulnerability to Frost damage.
- Rune of the Fallen Crusader, level 70 – A chance to increase your Str by 20% for 15 seconds and to heal you for 3%.
- Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle, level 72 – 4% more armor and 2% more Stamina.
How to Get your DK to the Level Cap, ASAP
All of the DK specs work well for leveling, so pick your favorite and you will find leveling to be easy. Still, there are thousands of quests from 55 to to the level cap and a bazillion mobs to kill (not to mention other players, but they don’t count here.) Sorting out which quests are best and which series of quests will get you leveled the fastest is another game, which is why we highly recommend Zygor’s Guide.
Zygor’s is an in-game guide and it nearly automates the whole leveling process: you just pick your starting point, at any level, and the guide tracks which quest you’re on, tracks the quest objectives, and automatically advances and updates as you complete your tasks and quests. In addition, a waypoint arrow is set automatically, so you never have to wonder where to go. All of the important quest info is included in the guide so you never have to wonder what to do. You’ll find that it’s vastly superior to the in-game questing help.
Playing with Heirlooms and/or Recruit a friend? Gaining a few levels in the dungeons or in PvP? Zygor’s Guide has your back. The guide knows what level you are and will correctly suggest where to go next and will let you dump all of your obsolete quests. You will probably never need to look at your quest log again.
Grab your copy here and get to to the max level as fast as possible