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Death Knight Leveling Guide

nDeath Knight leveing is easy. 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?

Or just that Death Knight Leveling is fast, easy, and pretty painless?

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 the level cap that much faster.

Lots of people still consider DKs to be “overpowered,” but that will just make the leveling experience easier, don’t you think?

Note: Significant changes come with any expansion, including Shadowlands and the Dragon Isles, but other than any new zones they won’t affect the leveling experience much, or at all.

In Shadowlands, with the level squish (max level is now 60,) DKs will start at level 10.


Contents for the Death Knight Leveling:

  1. The Death Knight – A quick intro
  2. Races
  3. Leveling Builds
  4. Abilities
  5. DK Rotations
  6. Stats
  7. Runeforging
  8. Gearing Up
  9. Artifact video
  10. Professions
  11. DK Leveling Tips
  12. The Fastest DK Leveling

Other Death Knight Guides

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.

The Death Knight, an Introduction

eeArthas, the Lich King, has brought you into being, to serve him and as fodder towards his goals.

You will start in the Death Knight starting area and will exit with a good set of gear. Arthas has released his hold on you and the next steps are your choice.

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

The Basics of the Death Knight

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

Runes: You have various runes that power most of your abilities. All runes are the same and can be used by any of your Rune using abilities. You can think of them as a pool of charges, to be used by any appropriate ability.

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

The 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 they come back.

Your Base: All DKs will have access to the Ebon Hold as their main base and your Death Gate will get you there. Re-use the Death Gate to get back where you started. Well, close to it, anyway.

The Ghoul: One of the Shadowlands changes is that all DKs can, once again, have a ghoul “pet.” But it only lasts for 1 minute and has a 2 min. cooldown. Unholy has a 30 sec. cooldown and no time limit.

Diseases: All DKs get some of their damage via the application of diseases to the enemy.  You always want to make sure everything you are fighting is fully diseased.

So which spec is best for leveling?

The really short version? Go Unholy. Why? The cute pet, damage, and survivability. But all will do quite well.

All Death Knights use plate armor and can use 2-handed weapons. Frost is the only one that can dual-wield, and that is for one handed weapons, such as swords, axes, and maces/hammers.

Leveling with Blood Spec

This is the “tanking” spec, but it does a fine job as a leveling and is a decent PvP spec in certain situations.

Tough and durable with fair damage, you can round up groups of enemies and smash them down. Oft times you will even be at full health when done. The downside is that you don’t hit very hard. Still, that toughness makes it a fun leveling spec and is nice when you want to take on something tough. Like that rare or elite enemy.

If you want to tank dungeons then this is the spec to choose.  Especially since tanks do not usually have to wait very long to get into a dungeon.

Leveling with Frost:

Not as durable as Blood, but Frost does quite a bit more damage and Howling Blast is an effective area effect strike. You wont be able to deal with large groups as well as Blood, but you’ll kill your opponents a lot faster which somewhat makes up for that.

Leveling with Unholy:

Like Frost, Unholy also does much more damage and isn’t as durable as Blood. Your powers are better with your diseases and your Ghoul is a constant companion and can be buffed. You can also have a temporary Gargoyle pet, if you take the level 50 talent. Unholy does as much damage as Frost, and is about as durable, just has a different flavor.

Leveling via Questing: 

Go with Unholy if you want the “cute” pet, or Frost if you like that chilly feel better. Frost is easy, hits like a truck, and you don’t have to deal with the pet. Both work very well for Dungeon leveling (you will join as “damage”) and are pretty good at PvP.

As mentioned above, Blood is also cool. Round up large groups and crush them. Slowly.

Here’s our Unholy leveling build and here’s the Frost build. And Blood.

Dungeon Leveling:

Blood, if you’re tanking. Blood DKs are excellent tanks and tanks generally have very short wait times to get into the dungeons.

Here’s a leveling/tanking build.
Go here for our blood tanking page.

PvP Leveling: Unholy for the diseases, a slow, and the pet. Frost for the chills and not having to deal with the pet. Which one is best? It depends on the current patch. Just queue for the arena or the random battlegrounds and join in the mayhem.  Or just go gank someone.

Check out our PVP pages for more.

Go to: Top — Unholy — Frost — Blood — Abilities — Rotations — Gearing Up — Your Artifact — Leveling Tips — Races — ProfessionsLevel fast


Which Race for your Death Knight?

The fastest leveling for your Death Knight
Get to the max level fast! Click Here!

Once upon a time not every race would be called by Arthas to become a Death Knight. Now, since Battle for Azeroth, the Lich King has changed his mind and all races can be Death Knights.  All may serve. And the same is true in Shadowlands.

As a new DK you will start at level 10 and level through the Death Knight starting zone until 14 or 15. Nope, there is no racial starting area or Exile’s Reach for you. You will exit with a nice set of gear and then head to your Capitol City (Orgrimmar or Stormwind.) While there your nice suit of armor will soon be covered with rotten tomatoes and such, until you talk to the ruler of your side and get things set right.

Once things are Ok with your ruler, and the rotten food is gone from your gear, you will have a choice as to where to continue. You can continue into the Battle for Azeroth areas, or talk to an entity (Ok, Dragon) named Chromie, or check the Mission Board near the main entrance. You will then be able to level through the areas of your choice.

Another change in Shadowlands is that you do not need to earn “exalted” reputation with the allied races to be able to acquire them. You just have to complete the appropriate achievement, then head off to the embassy (in Stormwind or Orgrimmar.)  In no particular order:

Offensive cooldowns: Pandarian, Lightforged Draenei, Dark Iron Dwarf, Kul Tiran, Orc, Mag’har Orc, Tauren, Highmountain Tauren, Blood Elf, Nightbourne,

Escape from effects: Human, Dwarf, Dark Iron Dwarf, Gnome, Undead, Goblin

Best race for PvP?

Best? keep in mind that for racial differences to be significant you already need to be a pretty good player. If  you’re a casual PvPer then pick whichever race you like. They all bring something to the game.

According to this site, which is a bit old, Orcs, Blood Eves, and Humans are, by far, the top three PvP races for Arena at 1800+ rating. Must be a reason…

The Races…

Pandarian Death Knights:

    • 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 Epicurean ability
    • Naturally you have the improved cooking ability.

Alliance Death Knight Races


    • Draenei gain a Strength bonus (Heroic Presence) which scales with level. Those massive muscles have to be good for something, right?
    • The Gift of the Naaru (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.
    • Being a devout follower “of the light” you have Shadow Resistance , for 1% less Shadow Damage.

Lightforged Draenei

    • Your passion for killing demons (Demonbane) is reflected in your earning an extra 20% experience from that action. You won’t see much use for that in most leveling areas, but there are times…
    • You have two area effect attacks, Light’s Judgment 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.
    • Naturally you are a bit more resistant to holy damage than others, taking 1% less damage from the stuff with your Holy Resistance .

Night Elf

    • 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 Will to Survive ability removes all stun effects (no other effects are removed,) so is something like a partial PvP trinket. This effect has a 3 min cooldown and shares a 90 sec cooldown with other similar effects.
    • Your Diplomacy allows you to gain rep with any of the many available Wow factions a bit quicker than otherwise. Lots of the game is a rep grind, so this has some value.
    • Humans also gain +2% to all secondary stats: The 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. Nice for a number of situations, especially PvP.
    • Naturally you are also an Explorer and so are better at Archeology than others.
    • Dwarves also have Might of the Mountain, which improves Critical bonus damage (not crit chance) and healing by 2%.
    • Being naturally cool, you have a bit (1%) of Frost Resistance .

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 (strength, by 183 at max level) and it scales with level. +61 (at max) 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 Machine: While outdoors you can summon a Mole Machine that tunnels through the earth and can pop you up in a variety of places.
    • Being tough you have your Forged in Flames ability, and take a bit less physical damage.
    • Having spent your life working in the forges you have a Mass Production , giving you +5 to your blacksmithing skill and letting you work 25% faster.



    • 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.

Horde Death Knight Races


    • 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 if you’re running with your ghoul, it 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.
    • Your massive size, your sheer Brawn power, gives you 2% added Crit damage (not crit chance.)  It also give that same 2% bonus to and healing abilities you have.
    • You also have a bit of Nature Resistance , taking 1% less Nature Damage.
    • Tauren are good with Herbalism

HighMountain Tauren

    • Bull Rush is a short (6 yard) charge forward that knocks enemies down.
    • Being versatile they get +1% Versatility (Mountaineer) and they also take a bit less damage (Rugged Tenacity.) Both are nice passives for any DK.
    • Your Pride of Ironhorn 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.
    • Da 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.

Zandalari Troll

    • 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 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 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.
      • Embrace of Akunda – Your healing abilities have a chance to heal their target.
      • Embrace of Gonk – Increase movement speed by 5%.
    • Regeneratin’ – Regenerate 100% of your maximum health over 6 sec, interrupted by damage. 2.5 min cooldown. Certainly useful at various times.
    • Pterrordax Swoop – Slows your fall for two minutes. Time for some serious cliff jumpin’.
    • Your also have your City of Gold ability, making you the envy of Goblins, since it lets you loot an extra 2% gold from your targets.

Blood Elf

    • 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.
    • And your Arcane Resistance allows you to take 1% less Arcane damage.


    • 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.
    • Cannibalize 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.
    • You also have a bit of Shadow Resistance , taking 1% less damage from those shadows.


    • 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 as another taunt.
    • A bit more Haste, Time is Money ya know.
    • Being an expert negotiator, of course, you receive the Best Deals Anywhere . You pay whatever the minimum price is for stuff, regardless of faction.
    • Your relentless urge to try “Crazy New Things” gives you the Better Living Through Chemistry ability, which adds +15 to your Alchemy skills.
    • Check your bank stash from anywhere, every 30 min, with your pack Hobgoblin . A truly 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 Arcane Resistance   allows you to take 1% less damage from Arcane energy.

Mag’har Orc

    • 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 Blood, you barbarian you, reduces the duration of curses, poisons, and diseases by 10%.
    • Your ghoul receives a 10% health boost through your Sympathetic Vigor .


    • 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.
    • Your  Alpaca Saddlebags  increase the total size of your backpack by 8 slots.
Blast Your Death Knight to the level Cap, with Zygor
Click Here for fast leveling, dungeon guides, covenants, gold, and more.

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Death Knight Leveling Talent Builds

Talents first, for all three specs are below: Unholy, Frost, and Blood. Then all of your abilities are lower down the page.

Unholy Death Knight and Minion.
Unholy Death Knight and Associate.

At the moment, Unholy is my favorite talent tree for leveling though all DK specs work very well. The damage and survivability of Unholy are great, and it all works well whether you’re questing, dungeoning, or PvPing.

Frost is no slouch either (see the build, below) and basically boils down to which you prefer. Blood is awesome when you can grab a large pile of mobs and emerge at 100% health after killing all of them. It’s a little low on damage, otherwise.

Going one one on with something? Be Frost or Unholy. See that nice group of opposition over there? Switch to Blood and take them all at once.

You can change specs whenever you are out of combat. Do your fight #1 as Frost, then switch and do #2 as Unholy, then switch and do #3 as Blood, then switch again. No reagents, souls, or sacrifices needed. (Oh, lose the frown. You can make it up elsewhere.)

Changing talentson the other hand, requires you to be in a “rested XP” area, and as with changing specs, no special items are required for changed talents.

Now if you want to change talents any time that you’re anywhere in the world and out of combat and you’re not in a “rested XP” area, you can use a Tome of the Quiet Mind up to lev. 59 (or Still Mind, after 51,) It gives you one minute to change talents to suit your situation. A Codex of the Quiet mind does the same thing, but will allow your entire party to change talents.

World PvP? Want to murder some players in the open world? Drop in to your capital city (Orgrimmar or Stormwind) and toggle War Mode on. You can now engage other players in world PvP. You can turn it off in any rested XP area, such as an inn.

The talents shown below are best for questing, but will serve you very well in other areas. Descriptions are below the image and the picks are checked Best talent. The “Z” on some of the talents are Zygor’s picks.


Unholy Death Knight Leveling Build

Unholy Death Knight leveling talents for Shadowlands

Tier 1 Talents, Level 15

    1. Infected Claws: Your ghoul will sometimes add a Festering Wound (30% chance) to your target. Solid ability that you don’t have to think about. More wounds to pop with your Scourge Strike.
    2. All Will Serve: Summons a skeletal archer. Useful to have an extra undead minion attacking the target.
    3. Best talent Clawing Shadows: Replaces your Scourge Strike.  It now does all Shadow Damage (which is increased by your Mastery stat) and is both melee and ranged.  A little more total damage than Scourge Strike. What’s not to like? Also causes a Festering Wound to burst.

Tier 2 Talents, Level 25

    1. Bursting Sores: You will often be fighting 2 or more opponents while leveling, whether it’s questing or dungeons or even PvP. This will keep up pressure on all of your targets. When a festering wound bursts it now does more damage to your main target and also  affects all nearby targets.
    2. Best talent Ebon Fever: Your Virulent plague burns faster so has a better chance to do its full damage. Most of the things you fight while leveling will be short lived. If you are usually fighting just one or two targets, then this is a better choice.
    3. Unholy Blight: An area effect that adds another disease to your enemies and lets your pet(s) do some added damage. Lasts 6 seconds with a 45 sec. CD and infects everything in the area. Fighting lots of groups, such as in a dungeon? Use this.

Tier 3 Talents, Level 30

Depends on your game. Do you need to slow down some groups? More Death Grips? How about a stun?

    1. Grip of the dead: Greatly reduces movement speed of enemies in the area of effect. Very situational in PvE, but has PvP uses.
    2. Death’s reach: More range for your Death grip and a cooldown reset after you kill your target. Not bad at all.
    3. Best talent Asphyxiate: A 4 second stun on a 45 second cooldown. Do you need a single target stun? Don’t we all?

Tier 4 Talents, Level 35

    1. Pestilent Pustules: 10% chance for a brief period of faster Runic Power regeneration. Passive and will happen occasionally while leveling.
    2. Harbinger of Doom: More free Death Coils & Epidemics.
    3. Best talent Soul Reaper: A nice 8 second DOT. If the target drops to below 35% within 5 seconds it takes an explosion for lot more damage. If the enemy dies within that 8 seconds, then you get Runic Corruption.

Tier 5 Talents, Level 40

    1. Spell Eater: While leveling you’ll have little use for this talent, except for those few caster rares that you might be hunting. More useful in dungeons with plenty of casters.
    2. Best talent Wraith Walk: Extra mobility is always good and this breaks roots for the duration.
    3. Death Pact: Nice emergency heal. Use it when you need it right now. You probably won’t need it much while questing, although there are times…  maybe while dungeoning, and definitely while PvPing. Note that it blocks additional heals.

Tier 6 Talents. Level 45

    1. Pestilence: Your Death and Decay might (10% chance) add a Festering Wound to your opponent.
    2. Best talent Unholy Pact increases your Str by 5% and forms a flaming chain between you and your ghoul when Dark tranformation is activated. Move to place the chain on the enemy (enemies) for addition damage.
    3. Defile: Replaces and improves your Death and Decay, and it can grow when enemies are present in the area. Works well with your Clawing Shadows as the ability now hits for more targets in the defiled area.

Tier 7 Talents, Level 50

Do you need a personal buff? Or more minions?

    1. Army of the Damned: Your Death Coils each reduce the cooldowns for your Army of the Dead and your Apocalypse. How often do YOU use those abilities?
    2. Summon Gargoyle: Call it in to bomb the enemy for 30 seconds.  3 minute CD.
    3. Best talent Unholy Assault is a hard hit, sends YOU into an Unholy frenzy (+20% Haste for 12 seconds,) and inflicts 4 Festering Wounds on the target. What’s not to like?  1.3 minute cooldown.

PvP (War Mode) Talents

Live dangerously and get that extra 10% (and maybe more) XP! These talents are aimed more at killing NPCs, not players. Note that the “trinkets” have been removed from the talent picks. They will be replaced be a real PvP trinket item.

    1. Decomposing Aura is a small DPS gain since your enemies within 10 yards will lost up to 15% of their HP from decomposition. too bad they don’t show zombie type damage…
    2. Necrotic Aura increases the magic damage mobs around you take. Or take…
    3. Necromancer’s Bargain reduces your Apocalypse CD by 45 seconds (nice,) and instead of summoning a ghoul it applies a disease to the target, doing Shadow damage over 4 seconds.
    4. Transfusion generates 20 Runic Power and reduces the RP cost of Death Strike by 50% for 7 seconds. 45 second CD. Nice for some extra burst damage.


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Frost Death Knight Leveling Build

So you’d rather use ice, rather than  festering sores, to end your opponent(s?) Then go Frost. Talent picks, again, will depend on what you are doing. Using two weapons, or a 2-hander? That will change some things a bit. Solo leveling and dual wielding is the assumption here. For raids you’ll want the Frost DPS page.

Descriptions are below the image and the picks are checked Best talent. The “Z” on some of the talents are Zygor’s picks.

Frost Death Knight Leveling Talents Shadowlands

Row 1, Level 15

    1. Inexorable Assault stacks up and then gives you a harder hitting Frostscythe and obliterate.
    2. Icy Talons causes your Runic Power spending abilities (eg: Death Strike) to increase your attack speed by a small amount.
    3. Best talent Cold Heart stacks up and causes your next Chains of Ice to do solid damage. Open your next fight with a big hit. Stacks happen out of combat, so basically you potentially get that big hit every 40 seconds.

Row 2, Level 25

    1. Runic Attenuation: Your auto-attacks generate Runic Power for more Death and Frost strikes over time. Better for fighting groups than singles.
    2. Best talent Murderous Efficiency: With Crit and Haste both generating more Killing Machine procs (Haste = more strikes and crits per unit time) this talent becomes very nice. You’ll get more Obliterates over the fight, and that’s always a good thing. Best of this set for leveling.
    3. Horn of Winter gives you 2 runes and 10 Runic Power  ever 30 seconds (if you use it.) That’s a pretty useful talent.

Row 3, Level 30

    1. Death’s reach: More range for your Death grip and a cooldown reset. Not bad.
    2. Best talent Asphyxiate: A 4 second stun on a 45 second cooldown. Do you need a single target stun? Don’t we all?
    3. Blinding Sleet blinds opponents in front of you for 5 seconds. Damage breaks the effect.

Row 4, Level 35

    1. Avalanche: Howling Blast with Rime active rains icicles down on all nearby enemies, including your primary target.
    2. Frozen Pulse: Useful if you find yourself without available runes often enough.
    3. Best talent Frostscythe does full frost damage to targets in a cone in front of you and your crits do 4x damage.

Row 5, Level 40

    1. Best talent Permafrost – A passive damage reduction effect and your auto-hits will refresh that duration. You will constantly have some minor shielding. Probably the best one for general questing.
    2. Wraith Walk: Extra mobility is always good and this breaks roots and cancels snares for the duration.
    3. Death Pact: Nice emergency heal. Use it when you need it right now, but it will adsorb other incoming healing How badly do you need a 50% heal? You probably won’t need it much while questing, maybe while dungeoning, and definitely while PvPing.

Row 6, Level 45

    1. Gathering Storm – (P) The runes you spend on other abilities will buff Remorseless Winter while it’s active. Each rune spent adds +10% to its damage and slightly extends its duration. Good pick if you’re doing a lot of groups.
    2. Best talent Hypothermic Presence gives you 8 seconds of 35% lower RP consumption. 45 sec. CD. That’s an extra Frost Strike or Death Strike or two or a longer Breath of Sindragosa.
    3. Glacial Advance: Glacial spikes erupt from the ground in a line in front of you and do damage to enemies in the effect and also apply Razorice to those enemies (You do not need to have Razorice on your weapon.) Need a straight line A of E attack?

Row 7, Level 50

    1. Best talent Icecap will give you more frequent Pillar of Frost usage, especially if you Dual Wield, since either weapon can crit.
    2. Obliteration – Your Frost Strike and Howling Blast always grant the Killing Machine effect and have a chance to generate a rune. Better with 2h weapons.
    3. Breath of Sindragosa sounds nice, but seems to be pretty weak. If you’re not using your Runic Power on your Death & Frost strikes, then it might be worthwhile. Or just different.

War Mode Talents for Frost Death Knights:

Why War Mode? 10% bonus XP, maybe increasing to 30% if your side is badly outnumbered. It also gives you access to the PvP talents. At max level there might more more interesting rewards. Care to give it a try? Here are some recommended talents, picked for their use in questing/leveling more than pure PvP.

War Mode for Frost Death Knights

    1. Transfusion is a convenient resource generator as well as a boost in survivability. You get +20 Runic Power and 1/2 cost Death Strike for 7 seconds.
    2. Necrotic Aura increases the magic damage mobs around you take, everything within 8 yards takes 8% increased magic damage. Nice if you’re in a group that is casting spells.
    3. Chill Streak bounces between up to 9 additional targets, within 6 yards, and slows them as well as doing nice damage.


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Blood Death Knight Leveling Talents

Yeah, leveling as Blood works just fine. About the only thing that will kill you is other players or if you go AFK and something spawns on top of you. And if you want to tank then the dungeon queues are very short.

Hop on your mount, run around the immediate area, collect all available enemies, and slowly crush them. Then emerge at full health.

Descriptions are below the image and the picks are checked Best talent. The “Z” on some of the talents are Zygor’s picks.

Blood Death Knight Leveling Talents for Shadowlands


Level 15, Tier 1:

    1. Best talent Heartbreaker: Increases the runic power generation of your Heart Strike by 2 for each target hit. This is a good talent as it will give you more Death Strikes over a fight. As Blood you’ll be rounding up groups every time you can, so that’s some good passive RP regeneration.
    2. Blooddrinker: Gives a new ability that channels on the target, draining health from them and healing yourself. You cannot attack while using it.
    3. Tombstone eats up to 5 of your Bone Shield charges to give you 6 runic Power and 6% damage absorption for each charge consumed, for a max of 30 RP and 30% damage reduction. Lasts 8 seconds, 1 min CD.  Not much use while questing, and only very occasional use elsewhere.

Level 25, Tier 2:

    1. Rapid Decomposition: Your two DOTs (Death and Decay, Blood Plague) deal damage faster. Useful for large groups of mobs, otherwise, go Hemo.
    2. Best talent Hemostasis: Got a pile of enemies or top of you? Use your Blood boil on them to empower your next Death Strike. Stacks up to 5 times.
    3. Consumption: Blast those enemies in front of you and get healed for an amount equal to the damage done to them. Nerfed for Shadowlands. Go with Hemo.

Level 30, Tier 3:

    1. Foul Bulwark increases your health by 1% per bone shield charge. Not worth it.
    2. Best talent Relish in Blood: Heals you for a very small amount per Bone Shield charge you have up, and you also gain 10 RP. The most generally useful of the three.
    3. Blood Tap: Generate a rune. 1 min CD, 2 charges. CD is reduced by 2 seconds for each bone shield charge used.

Level 35, Tier 4:

    1. Best talent Will of the Necropolis: Provides a damage reduction effect (30%) when reduced below 30% health.  It does make you that much harder to kill, which has its uses.  Passive effect, which is nice. Just waits till you need it. You won’t see it much while questing, but in dungeons you will.
    2. Anti-Magic Barrier:  Get a faster cooldown and more damage absorbed. Nice if you’re tanking certain dungeons and rares, but won’t need it much otherwise.
    3. Mark of Blood: Place a mark on your target and get healed for 3% with each attack. 6 seconds CD, lasts 15 seconds.

Level 40, Tier 5:

    1. Grip of the dead: Greatly reduces movement speed of enemies in the area of effect. Very situational in PvE, but has PvP uses, or for kiting certain groups in raids or mythics.
    2. Tightening Grasp: Decreases the cooldown on Gorefiend’s Grasp by 30 seconds.
    3. Best talent Wraith Walk: Extra mobility is always good and this breaks roots. Nice for PvP.

Level 45, Tier 6:

    1. Voracious: Your Death Strike’s healing is increased by 20% and gives you 15% Leech for 8 seconds.
    2. Death Pact: Gives a decent heal and then blocks incoming heals for 15 sec.  If you’re in a group with healers then that might be… annoying.
    3. Best talent Blood Worms: Worms occasionally appear, do some damage, then pop and heal you. Drop below 50% and they pop immediately, healing you. Decent damage and a useful heal. This is the most generally useful talent here.

Level 50, Tier 7:

    1. Get your Death Knight Leveled, FAST!
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      Purgatory: Will prevent you from dying once every three minutes, instead applying a healing absorb for the amount of damage taken. If you’re healed out of the absorb within 3 seconds, you will live, otherwise you will still die. Example: Take X damage, which would otherwise kill you, and survive. You then need to get X+1 in healing within that 3 seconds (eg: Death Strike or other) or you will die when the effect ends. Good if you’re fighting big things which might squish you and the heals are available.

    2. Best talent Red Thirst: As you burn Runic Power you will lower the cooldown of your Vampiric Blood. The most generally useful talent here.
    3. Bonestorm: Gives a new ability that consumes up to 100 Runic Power when cast, giving an AoE effect around the player for 1 second per 10 RP spent, up to 10 seconds. 1 minute cooldown, and nice for burning large packs of mobs and healing you in the process. Useful if you can max your RP and don’t use it for other things. 1 min CD.

War Mode for Blood Death Knights

Why War Mode? 10% bonus XP, maybe increasing to 30% if your side is badly outnumbered. Care to give it a try? Here are some recommended talents, picked for their use in questing/leveling more than pure PvP.

    1. Blood for Blood lets you trade health for a nice boost to Heartstrike (+60% damage)
    2. Death Chain chains three mobs together and the two others take added damage from your attacks. This will include players.
    3. Unholy Command gives Death Grip 2 charges. No downside. Woot.


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Death Knight Leveling Glyphs

Once upon a time your glyphs changed the affects of your various abilities, which is why this section is here.

Now they are strictly cosmetic.

All ability customization is now be done through your artifact weapon(s,) azerite items, legendries and Covenants in Shadowlands, and so on. Plus whatever gems or enchants you might have.

As for your Glyphs, you now have:

Nothing like a bloodier looking Anti-Magic shell to improve your tanking, right?

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Death Knight Abilities

New Draenei Death KNight

These are the abilities that you will eventually get as you level and are unique to your spec. In addition to these, of course, are all of your other abilities. The spec abilities are below: Frost, Unholy, Blood.

Just a note: 

  • All use Plate Armor and at 27 get a bonus if you’re actually doing that.
  • Dual Wield is Frost Only, and only 1-handed weapons.
  • Only Unholy gets a permanent pet, though the others can have a temporary one.

P = Passive ability, RP = Runic Power, CD = Cooldown

All Death Knights have the following abilities in common:

    • Rune Strike (Level 1) – A hard strike that cannot be blocked, parried, or dodged. This will be your main strike until replaced around level 10.
    • Death Coil (2) – blast the enemy with Shadow or heal an undead ally.
    • Death and Decay (3) – Corrupt an area of ground, doing damage to all in the area for 10 seconds. Unholy’s Scourge Strike will hit up to 4 nearby enemies if done within this area.
    • Death Strike (4) – Solid strike that heals you for some damage. Costs Runic Power.
    • Death Grip (5) – “Come Here, You!!” If you’re Blood then this guarantees that the opponent (not player) will be paying attention to you and not your team. 30 yard range, 25 sec. recharge.
    • Runeforging (6) – Put a DK only enchant on your weapon(s.) Works fine with artifact or other special weapons. Use the Runeforge in Ebon Hold to change up. Go ahead and carry several weapons, each with a different rune for specific situations. Shadowlands brings some new runes:
      • Rune of Razorice (8) – Does a little extra frost damage to your targets.
      • Rune of the Fallen Crusader (8) – Has a chance to heal you for 6% of your max health and also to increase your Str by 15% for 15 seconds. Not bad at all. This will be your default choice for most situations.
      • Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle (8) – +5% armor and +5% to all stats.
      • Rune of Unending Thirst (20) – +5% movement speed and when you kill the opponent you get a 5% heal and 10% Haste for for a time.
      • Rune of Sanguination (32) – Your Death Strike damage increases at the opponent’s health falls.  When YOU fall below 35% then you heal for 48% of your health over 8 seconds. CD is 5 minutes??
      • Rune of the Apocalypse (44) – Your ghoul has a chance to apply one of several possible debuffs to the opponent: Death, Famine, War, or Pestilence.
      • Rune of Hysteria (46) – +30 RP and your attacks might increase your RP regeneration by 20% for 8 seconds.
      • Rune of Spellwarding (48) – deflects 3% of all spell damage. If you are taking spell damage then there is a chance for a shield that will absorb up to 10% of your max health in magic damage. Also, if an enemy damages your shield then their casting speed is increased by 10% for 6 seconds. Zero damage or healing boost to you, so perhaps put this on a 2nd weapon to be used in appropriate fights.
    • Mind Freeze (7) – Interrupt a spell and silence that spell school (eg: Fire) for 3 seconds.
    • Veteran of the Third War (8) – Stamina increased by 10%, 30% for Blood at 49.
    • Dark Command (9) – Your “Taunt.” Order the target to attack you. 30 yard range.
    • Corpse Exploder (10) – explode a target corpse. Gore everywhere.
    • Death Gate (10) – 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. Opening the gate a second time will bring you back close to the original area.
    • Raise Dead (12) – raises your ghoulish associate, who lasts for 1 minute unless you are Unholy. Then is permanent.
    • Chains of Ice (13) – shackle the opponent with icy chains and greatly slow him (70%) for 8 seconds
    • Anti-Magic Shell (14) – A personal barrier that blocks magic for 5 seconds and generates runic power.
    • On a Pale Horse (P, 22) – Ride and fly a little faster (+20%.)
    • Blood Plague (23) — Drains the target’s health over 24 seconds.
    • Path of Frost (27) – Allow you and your party to run/ride on frozen water.
    • Plate Specialization (27) – Bonus stats for wearing only plate armor. 5% Str for Frost and Unholy, 5% stam for Blood
    • Lichborne (33) — Become immune to sleep, fear, and charm for 10 seconds, plus get 10% leech. 2 min. CD.
    • Control Undead (37) – Make one undead (not player) your minion (your level +1) for 5 min.
    • Icebound Fortitude (38) – immunity to stuns and 30% less damage for 8 seconds.
    • Raise Ally (39) – Raise a party member from the dead. Note: He/she does not come back as a ghoul. Darn. Comes back with 60% health and 20% mana.
    • Death’s Advance (42) — 8 seconds of 30% faster movement, and greatly suppresses slowing effects cast on you.  At 47 add +5% speed and 2 second duration.
    • Anti-Magic Zone (47) — 10 seconds of 20% magic reduction for the party. 6.5 yard radius. 2 min CD
    • Sacrificial Pact (54) — Sacrifice your pet to blast 8 nearby enemies and heal for 25%.

Frost Abilities

  1. Frost Death Knight, Orc, Dual Welding
    A Frost DK

    Dual Wield – wield two one-hand weapons. Note that you can use a 2 hander if you prefer.

  2. Howling Blast (10) – damages the target and all others within 10 yards of the target and applies Frost Fever to all of them.
  3. Mastery: Frozen Heart(P, 10) – improves all Frost damage.
  4. Might of the Frozen Wastes (10) — Your Obliterate and Frost Strike can also strike with the off-hand weapons. At 24 your Obliterate does +30% damage if you use a 2-handed weapon and your auto attack crits have a better chance of granting Killing Machine.
  5. Frost Strike (11) – Use your Runic Power to whack the target. with both weapons. +20% damage at level 43.
  6. Obliterate (14) – Your main big strike. Single target. Hit with both weapons. Uses 2 runes. +20% damage at 52.
  7. Dark Succor (P, 18) – killing worthy enemies (that yield XP or honor)  gives you a free, 10% healthier, Death Strike.
  8. Remorseless Winter (19) – lasts 8 seconds and damages all enemies within 8 yards and slows them by 20%. 20 second CD. 20% more damage at 34.
  9. Runic Empowerment (P, 21) – chance to gain a rune every time you spend runic power, 2% chance per point of RP spent.
  10. Killing Machine (P, 23) Your auto-attacks have a chance to make your next Obliterate deal Frost damage and an automatic crit.  At 58 your next Obliterate also does Frost damage.
  11. Death Strike 2 (P, 28) cost is reduced by 10 RP and healing is increased by 60%.
  12. Pillar of Frost (29) –  +10% strength for 12 seconds. Each rune spent to activate it gives you an additional 1% Str. 1 min. CD. +10% Str at 48.
  13. Rime (P, 32) – Your Obliterate has a 45% chance (and Frostscyth 22.5%) to give you a free (uses no runes) Howling Blast at +150% power.  Get another 150% (300% total) at level 41.
  14. Frostwyrm’s Fury (44) summons a big thing to fly in and damage all enemies in front of you, to 40 yards, and slowing them by 50% for 10 seconds.
  15. Empower Rune Weapon (48) – activate 1 rune, 5 RP, and 15% Haste immediately and also every 5 seconds for 20 seconds. 2 min. CD.  15 seconds faster CD at 56.

Unholy Abilities

  1. Unholy Death Knight with pet in Draenor
    Unholy Death Knight with pet

    Festering Wound (1) is applied to the target by certain abilities and “burst” with scourge strike, doing extra damage.

  2. Festering Strike (10) – hard strike that inflicts 2-3 Festering Wounds. At 24 does 20% more damage. You have to apply these before you can use your Apocalypse ability.
  3. Mastery: Dreadblade(P, 10) – boosts Shadow damage and your minions’ damage.
  4. Scourge Strike (11) – whacks the enemy and bursts a Festering Wound. At 56 it does 20% more damage.
  5. Outbreak infects the target with Virulent Plague, which can then infect and damage other targets.
  6. Dark Succor (P, 18) – killing worthy enemies (that yield XP or honor)  gives you a free, 10% healthier, Death Strike.
  7. Apocalypse (19) – Whack the enemy for good damage, burst up to 4 festering wounds on that target, and summon another ghoul for a short time. 1.5 minute CD. At 49 it does 15% more damage and drops the CD by 15 sec. At 58 it will generate 2 runes. Note that you must have at least one Festering Wound on your target to be able to use this ability.
  8. Runic Corruption (P, 21) every Runic Power you spend gives you a chance to speed up your Runic Regeneration by 100% for 3 seconds.
  9. Sudden Doom (P, 23) – your auto-attacks have a chance to make your next Death Coil free.
  10. Death Strike 2 (P, 28) cost is reduced by 10 RP and healing is increased by 60%.
  11. Raise Dead (29) – raises your ghoulish associate. But it sticks around permanently.
  12. Dark Transformation (32) – your ghoul powers up for 15 seconds and the transform also damages nearby enemies. At 52 your ghoul gets 100% energy.
  13. Epidemic (34) — cause your plagues to flare up, damaging the enemies and all around them.
  14. Death Coil 2 (41) reduces the CD of your ghoul’s Dark Transformation by 1 second per use.
  15. Death and Decay 2 (43) causes your Scourge Strike to hit all enemies near the target.
  16. Army of the Dead (44) — Summons a pile of ghouls who will fight anything they can for 30 seconds.

Blood Abilities

  1. Blood Death Knight, Draenei, in Sotrmwind
    A Blood Death Knight

    Heart Strike (10) – Whack the target and his buddy and slow them both by 20%. Generates +5 Runic Power (RP) at 23, +20% damage at 52.

  2. Mastery: Blood Shield (P, 10) increases attack power and your Death Strikes give you a absorption shield.
  3. Marrowrend (11) – Smack the target and generate 3 charges of Bone Shield. The charges stack with follow-up Marrowrend strikes. Bone shield increases your armor by 1/2 of your Str. Each melee hit against you uses one of those charges. +10% Haste at 41.
  4. Blood Boil (17) – 10 yard area effect that hits hard and infects all enemies with Blood Plague. +1 charge at 24.
  5. Crimson Scourge (P, 18) – Your auto-attacks might give you a free death and Decay and reset its CD.
  6. Rune Tap (19) — reduces damage taken by 20% for 4 seconds. +1 charge at level 44.
  7. Asphyxiate (21) – A 5 second stun on a 45 second cooldown.
  8. Death’s Caress – Reach out to touch someone and give them the (Blood) Plague.  30 yard range.
  9. Riposte (29) — You gain Parry rating = your Crit rating.
  10. Vampiric Blood (29) – +30% health and +30 healing from any heals for 10 seconds. At 52 you get another +5% to your healing and absorbs and +2 second duration.
  11. Gorefiend’s Grasp (32) – Pull all enemies within 15 yards of the target to the target. 3 min cooldown.
  12. Dancing Rune Weapon (34) – it mirrors your attacks for 8 seconds and adds +40% Parry.
  13. Death and Decay 2 (43) – Empowers your Heart Strike to hit 3 additional targets while you are in the D&D area.
  14. Ossuary (58) — Lowers the RP cost of Death Strike by 5 and gives you +1- RP, as long as you have 5+ charges of bone shield up.

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Using your Death Knight Abilities

Death Knight Diseases

Diseases are your only “Damage over Time” (DOT) abilities. Each flavor of Death Knight has one disease, unique to that spec, that does it’s damage over 20-24 seconds. You will want to keep everything diseased, even if it’s short lived.

  • Frost DKs get Frost Fever, which does damage over 24 seconds, but also has a chance to restore some Runic Power each time it does damage. It’s spread by your Howling Blast.
  • Unholy DKs get Virulent Plague which not only does damage (over 21 seconds,) but also can damage nearby enemies. It’s very contagious. It’s spread with your Outbreak.
  • Blood DKs get Blood Plague, which is spread via Blood Boil and Death’s Caress. It does its damage over 24 seconds. Since you’ll be using Blood Boil all the time, all hostiles will be constantly infected.

Area Effects

So you want to hit two or more enemies at one time, do you? Death Knights are quite good at taking down several at once and coming out in top shape. Round ’em up and burn ’em down. Blood, of course, can take bigger groups.

Keep in mind that you’re be working in plenty of Death Strikes while doing this.

Here are the appropriate abilities: (P = Passive ability.) Hover over the links for descriptions.





When done properly (mixing heals and attacks) a Death Knight can dish out and withstand a lot of punishment.

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.

  • Start with Death Grip or other ranged attack.
  • Primary strikes mixed in with Runic Power (RP) strikes. You will build RP then use it.
  • Use your procs as they become available.
  • Death Strike to spend Runic Power and for added damage and the heal.
  • Use Empower Rune Weapon (Frost only, 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. Grab an elite or a bunch of mobs and use it then.
  • Next mob.

Frost: Obliterate is your main strike, Frost Strike or Death 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 and free Howling Blasts.) Use them for serious damage.

  1. Two hand Frost (dual wielding 1-hand weapons) is your only weapon option.

Unholy: Scourge Strike is your main attack, Festering Strike to apply Festering Wounds, Death Coil or Death Strike to burn Runic Power. Empower your Ghoul (dark transformation) whenever it’s available and useful. Outbreak to apply disease.

Note that Scourge strike is much more effective if you use Festering strike first. It’s even  more effective if you have Death and Decay up, as it can then hit multiple targets.

Blood: Blood Boil (see above) for multiple targets, Death Strike when possible and it’s your only Runic Power user, so there’s no excuse not to use it. Heart Strike for more hacking. Morrowrend for the Bone shield.


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Death Knight Stats

Undead Death Knight states his opinion

Strength is your #1 stat. Tanking Blood spec Death Knights will want a lot of Stamina, but Str is very good for Blood as well.

One of your abilities, for any DK spec, is Plate Specialization (level 27.) Your primary stat (Str) is increased by 5%, for Frost and Unholy, while wearing Plate in all applicable slots. Blood gets +5% Stamina instead.

This means that you never want to wear anything other than plate, even if some mail armor piece has better stats at the moment.

The Stats

Otherwise: Basically you are just going for Item level and Str & Stam.  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.
  • Versatility: Increases damage, healing, and absorption done. Reduces damage taken.
  • Otherwise don’t worry about Crit or Haste until the end game gearing.

Ok, a bit more on Stats

For those of you who want to squeeze a bit more out of your gearing. Keep in mind that stat values will change, maybe greatly, as your gear’s item level improves and you start raiding. But this is good for leveling up:

    • Higher item level, with more Strength, is best.
    • Strength is #1 for all DKs.
    • Blood prefers Versatility and Haste
    • Frost prefers Mastery and Crit
    • Unholy prefers Haste and Crit

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.

You can apply any of the high level enchants to your gear (of any level, see below) but the crafted enchants (eg: Inscription shoulder enchant) have to be applied by an 85+ character, then your level 1 can use them.

The other enchants you can apply yourself, even at level 55 (or level 1.) Yes, you can put the highest level enchants on your beginning gear. It’s worth it on your heirlooms, don’t both of basic questing gear.

PvP Stats

The best gear rules.  Once upon a time stats were “normalized,” which means that if you entered the Battleground or Arenas your gear was adjusted to be pretty much the same as anyone else’s. So skill mattered more.

Once upon a time there was dedicated PvP gear, with PvP only stats, such as Resilience. These days you do the raids, get the best gear, and go PvP. Shadowlands is bringing back doing regular PvP to earn the Conquest and Honor points to buy specific gear.

As usual, the exact value of your stats will depend on your exact gear and what sort of extras (such as BFA’s Azerite Essences, Or Shadowland’s specials) you have on that gear. Crit has less value since it does not hit as hard in PvP as in other areas.

But generally speaking:

    • Unholy: Haste > Versatility > Mastery > Critical Strike
    • Frost: Versatility > Mastery = Haste > Critical Strike
    • Blood: You’re a masochist, right? Go Frost or Unholy.


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Death Knight Runeforging & Enchants

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. You cannot apply both a Runeforge and the regular enchants.

Shadowlands brought some new Runeforges.

Runeforges, for your Weapons

    • Rune of Razorice, 8, any weapon, 10% extra damage as Frost, increases frost damage taken by opponent. Frost applies this to weapon #2.
    • Rune of the Fallen Crusader, 8, any, chance for 6% heal and 15% increased Str (for 15 sec.)  Use for Unholy, one of Frost’s weapons, and maybe Blood.
    • Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle, 8, two handed, 5% increased armor, 5% increase to all stats. Nice for the dungeon tanking.
    • Rune of Unending Thirst, 20: +5% to your movement speed, plus, when you kill a worthy opponent (awards experience or honor,) another 10% speed  and 10% Haste and a 5% heal. Nice for leveling, you will want to change for dungeons and raids and such.  Especially nice if you’re fighting groups. You will be able to maintain the buffs.
    • Rune of Sanguination, 32: As your target falls in health your Death Strike will do more damage. If you fall below 35% health then you will heal for 48% of your max health over the next 8 seconds. Apparently this can only pop every 5 minutes.
    • Rune of the Apocalypse, 44: Taken from the four horsemen, your Ghoul’s attacks can occasionally deliver one of the four plagues for a few seconds: Death, War, Famine, or Pestilence. More useful for Unholy, since your pet is permanent.
    • Rune of Hysteria,46:  increases max Runic Power by 20 and your attacks have a chance to increase Runic Power generation by 20% for 8 sec. More Death Strikes and other RP using abilities over time.
    • Rune of Spellwarding, 48:  deflects 3% of all spell damage and taking magic damage has a chance to create a shield that absorbs magic damage equal to 10% of your maximum health. When an enemy damages the shield, their cast speed is reduced by 10% for 6 sec. Seems like this is only useful in magic heavy situations. Will be pretty useless for leveling.
    • Note that you can apply Runeforges to your artifact or Legendary weapons.

Unholy will generally want Fallen Crusader, Frost also, with Razorice on #2, Blood either Fallen or Stoneskin Gargoyle, depending on what you’re doing.

Consider carrying another weapon or two in your bags, with appropriate runeforges, and swap them as needed.

Make sure you remember to apply a new rune to any new weapons you find.


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You can enchant various pieces of your gear to add Str or Haste, or whatever. As you get to higher level you will only be able to enchant a few pieces. Your heirlooms will top out at level 50, but some of the available enchants for them will expire earlier than that.

Shadowlands enchants require level 50+. If you’re still leveling then skip those enchants till you hit 60, unless you really want that edge and will be keeping that piece of gear for a suitable time.

At lower levels you can enchant other gear, but those enchants will start losing their effectiveness at item level 50.  Below are the best enchants, but they might cost a bit. Numbers for stats are for the max level enchant. They will all scale down to your level.

Something cheaper? Just search the Auction House, or a friendly enchanter, for your items to be enhanced.

Heirloom group

    • Head & Trinkets: : None.
    • Neck: Mark of the Claw: Sometimes increase Crit and Haste by 16 for 6 seconds. Max item level 60.
    • Back: Binding of Strength: +3 Str. Cannot be used past item level 60.
    • Chest: Glorious Stats: +4 to all stats, max item level is 50.
    • Shoulders: Tiger Fang: +5 Str and +2 Crit., max item level is 50.
    • Cloak: Binding of Strength: +5 Str, Level 60 max
    • Legs: Angerhide: +6 Str, +3 Crit, item level 50 max.
    • Rings: Get Accord of Haste or Crit or mastery or Versatility, each adds +9.
    • Weapons: Force Multiplier: Sometimes gain +28 Str and +18 Mastery, Haste, Or Crit (it picks your highest stat.) 15 seconds.

Non-heirloom pieces

For Levels 50-60: (All require level 50+)


Gearing Up Your Death Knight as You Level

Is it all too easy? Probably, if you constantly have the best gear. Of course, that’ll also mean that you’ll level that much faster as you mow down the opposition.

  • Easy mode: Get the best gear you can, all the way. Heirlooms are great.
  • Moderate: Nothing better than quest gear. Use only what you find. No heirlooms.
  • Hard: Nothing better than white titled gear. No quest rewards. Or just don’t bother to upgrade the initial gear set you get when you create your Death Knight.
  • Naked?? Once upon a time a Naked Troll leveled to 60 with no gear, other than his weapon. Naturally he was a Hunter, DKs weren’t invented yet. So if you want “really hard mode” …
  • Now do any of the above with War Mode on.

Weapons: Use two handed weapons for Unholy and Blood. Frost can, as well, or can wield two one-handers.

Heirloom Gear is what most are wearing these days, at least those who’ve been around long enough to handle the costs. You can now buy them with gold, for a few hundred gold each. Max them out and they’re good through level 50.  Figure 9k gold to give the armor, ring, or trinket a level 50 cap and 13.5k for a weapon. (Need more gold?)

Why bother? Because they’re better than any other gear you’re likely to find, at any level, with rare exceptions. And they scale with your level and no other gear does. With a full set you’ll be overgeared for dungeons and questing at your level. You also get “set bonuses” which, among other things, allow your “rest XP” to last longer.

Heirlooms live in a special storage area from which you can summon up a copy at any time. Use the copy till whenever, destroy it, and the ‘loom still exists in that area. (It’s a tab at the bottom of your mounts/pets window.) If you enchant the ‘loom and then destroy it then the enchant is lost. So mail the enchanted ones back and forth.  To get your heirlooms go see:

  • AllianceKrom Stoutarm is in the Library of Ironforge, which is found on the north-eastern edge of the outer ring.
  • HordeEstelle Gendry lurks around the south-western side of the Rogue’s Quarter of Undercity. Note that if you have seen Undercity sacked (in Battle for Azeroth,) then she is on top of the front gates of Orgrimmar.

Heirlooms Vs Blues: At the point when you get them, if they are at  your level, blue titled gear will often be a little 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.

If you don’t have any heirlooms then skip the above. 🙂

Starting out as a Death Knight 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, that can replace your gear. If the new piece has more Strength than the old piece, then go ahead and replace it.

The following gear suggestions are old, and out of date, but I am leaving them here anyway:

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 (and other sets to fill out your appearance collection.) 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 or so, when the quest greens will start catching up.

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 gear you find will be better than any of the previous gear, except your better PvP or raid gear. 90+ levelers should be sending Warlords gear onto the Auction House. Keep an eye open for it if you want, it may well be much better than whatever else is available to you.

At 91 ilevel 640 crafted gear (and 630 weapons) is available if you have plenty gold. You can craft your own with Blacksmithing, but it will take you awhile to get the materials together. You can equip three crafted items, max, so I recommend weapon, chest, and legs (which gives you the most stats and damage.)

These 630/640 items can be upgraded by 75 item levels (to 705/715,) and can still be equipped at 91. To get all three crafted items to max level (esp. in 6.2) will cause an arm, a leg, and one or two first round draft choices.

If you need more gold you can buy it with real money using the WoW token or check out our own gold guide, here.

100+:  Your weapon will be the artifact you pick up after one of your initial quests in Legion. Gear that’s better than your best level 100 raid or PvP gear (item level 820+) will be on the Auction House for 101s and better. Hope you have a lot of gold saved… Otherwise the quest gear and your artifact will be fine.

110:  From here on out your artifact weapon will lose power (level 116 is its last useful level.) Just go back to the “get the best weapon you can” routine. Just look for the highest item level.

120: Gratz! Now comes the world quest (and or raid) gear grind.

50: Welcome to Shadowlands! Now is the grind to 60.

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Death Knight Artifact and Legion Gearing

How to Gear up in Legion. This video came out shortly before the Legion raids were released, so it covers gearing up to 825 or so. By that point you should have the rest figured out. Since then some things have changed and there has been a character level, and an item level, squish.

Obviously it is not applicable for Shadowlands, but if you have chosen to level up in the Legion zones, then both of these are good if you want to pursue the artifacts.

Warning: Language alert. If you’re cool with that then he has some good tips for your artifact and gearing up.

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Death Knight Professions

There used to be profession bonuses, such as more crit, but no more. Why get a profession since there are no bonuses? It doesn’t have much value for the leveling, but you might be able to make some gold with them.

Two of the gathering professions, herbalism and mining, do provide XP. You can level up nicely without ever killing anything (Death Knight pacifist??) just by gathering.  If you just want something to earn gold with, then the gathering professions are also 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.

Inscription levelsA nice change in Battle for Azeroth professions is that professions are broken into what amounts to being a bunch of sub-professions. This continues into Shadowlands.

Check the image for an example. You can level each expansion’s profession separately, you do NOT have to get one, then the other.

Boost or level a character to 48 or 50, then start in the Shadowlands and get your skill there. No need to get the rest until you want them. No more need to boost a skill all the way from 1 to 850 or whatever. Just work the current area skill and get the rest up later, if you’re so inclined.

Note: followers, below, refer to your Warlords of Draenor garrison profession hut and follower.

  • The gathering skills are nice for making gold  or supplying the appropriate profession. Mining and Herbalism also provide nice XP, so are pretty good leveling skills.
  • Blacksmithing allows you to make some nice plate gear and weapons. Your follower can give you two buffs, each lasting 4 hours: One is for no gear damage and the other occasional summons a Magma Elemental to help you out.
  • Alchemy better living through chemistry. Drink up and get heals, improved stats, etc. Your follower will give you four free potions a day.
  • Engineering makes a lot of useful gadgets (and if you have Draenor Engineering. Think rockets and shields.) You follower will sell you some interesting stuff, one of which is a personal bank.
  • 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. Your follower will let you create merchant orders. Get two of a type, combine them, and then sell them (they’re grey and that’s all they’re good for.)
  • Enchanting lets you do everyone’s enchants, plus those rings and neck items. Your follower will let you make Illusionary enchants, which will let you change the look of other enchants.
  • Jewelcrafting creates useful rings, neck items, gems (of course,) and gemmed mounts.
  • Tailoring and Leatherworking are pretty useless for you, though the latter will let you make tents which, when used, will increase your stats by 10% for an hour.
  • 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.

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DK Leveling Tips

Once you have exited the Death Knight starting area, and have had a chat with the leader of your faction, you can decide on your next steps. Orgrimmar and Stormwind both have mission boards near their main gates, where you can choose what comes next. There will also be a questgiver near the leader with another quest.  You might also be able to find a Gnome, name of Chromie, nearby, who can give you other options.

My suggestion is the Battle for Azeroth zone, for faster XP as you approach 50, but it’s your call and you can always switch later.  Keep in mind that you will out-level most of the other zones when you hit 30 to 40.  For example, Warlord of Draenor tops out at 40.

Also, Zygor’s guide will give you more choices and show you the best route to follow.

Remember rest XP is gained from staying at an Inn, always log out at an Inn, big city, or your Garrison. A set bonus, from having several heirlooms, will let that “rest XP” last longer.

  • Also, check out our Top Leveling Tips post for ideas to get leveled faster.  It’s a little old, but still useful.
  • Switch between all three specs any time that you’re out of combat. Blood can round up large groups of mobs and smash them down faster than the other specs, but both Frost and Unholy will do fine on smaller groups and both do more overall damage. Switch back and forth as appropriate. Don’t forget to change weapons.
  • Always carry food and potions (healing) with you. Other potions will buff stats like Strength, Crit, etc. If you have the gold buy a few and use them in appropriate situations.
  • Opening treasure boxes, in the later expansions, gives nice XP. And maybe useful stuff.
  • Killing rares also gives nice XP, and some other useful stuff. Sometimes.
  • Herbalism and Mining give XP. Run by a node or plant? Pluck it and get the reward.

Dungeon Leveling – Dungeon XP has been nerfed from what it used to be, but you might still find it worthwhile, if only as a change of pace. And you’ll pick up the occasional nice bit of gear.

Blood Death Knights are fine 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 skip the dying part, and you’ll be a very good tank.

If you’re Frost or Unholy then let the tank pull and grab the attention of all the mobs, then you can jump in and help to kill everything.

As Frost or Unholy you will be Damage (DPS) and your wait times to get into the dungeons will be a few minutes to… much longer. Mix up your dungeons with questing and the wait will be much less annoying.

PvP Leveling – DKs (Frost and Unholy) 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 marks and a lot more XP if you do what it takes to win and farming kills doesn’t usually do that.

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 that are close 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. Obviously, the better your gear the more you can deal with. Find a point where you’re enjoying the experience.
  4. As soon as you’re comfortable then move into the next higher area. DKs are fairly tough and can deal a lot of punishment so will have little problem with somewhat higher level mobs.
  5. Get your gear repaired occasionally. Having your weapon break in the middle of nowhere isn’t all that much fun.
  6. Get your flying mount at 30 and upgrade it later. It’s up to you whether it’s worth it to get flying for specific areas, such as Northrend or Pandaria.
  7. Dugi can help with all of the above leveling & dungeoning bits, and more.

The Draenor Garrison

If you choose to do your leveling in Draenor  (Warlords of Draenor zones,) you will be setting up a Garrison. This is actually useful. Then you may, or may not, decide that your garrison has value once you’re out of Draenor. Up to you. They have some value for making gold and are a nice “home away from the fuss.” You will also have a separate hearthstone to your Garrison.

  • Go ahead and start your Garrison, since the intro scenario takes you there anyway. A number of quests will start there. There will be a provisioner or Innkeeper in your new “town hall” that sells +20% XP flasks. They cost 100 “Garrison Resources” and last an hour.
  • If you’re leveling a profession then the Garrison profession buildings will be a help.
  • If you are doing dungeons then consider building the Inn, as you will get daily dungeon quests.
  • The Mine will let you gather ores to use or sell. You can get XP from picking herbs or ores from your garrison mine and herb garden.
  • You will have a garrison hearthstone and can pick a second up from any other inn you bump into. Your Garrison is an especially nice place to hearth to if you’re on a PvP server and the other side is invading the area you’re questing in.
  • Some of the missions that are offered for your followers will awards XP.
  • There are a lot more rare mobs in all the zones than there are in earlier zones and they respawn much faster. They are also usually easier to deal with than rares in other lands. You can kill them as many times as you like, but you only get the loot the first time. Loot is generally gold, garrison resources, and a sometimes a useful blue item.
  • There are a fair number of treasures you can find lying about, just for the collecting. These will also have gold, resources, and green or blue items. The Handy Notes addon will help you to find these.
  • One nice change in Warlords (and later) is that the quest reward you win from any given Draenor quest has a chance to be upgraded to blue or purple. This is also true in later expansions.
  • There are bonus quest areas, several in each zone, which are generally easy and award around 5x normal quest exp and more gold. You will see them marked on your map with a small crossed swords icon.


Misc. PvP Notes

Used to be that getting ganked on your PVP server was a real issue. Someone 40 levels higher would just roll over you. Since Battle For Azeroth (BFA) all servers are “normal” (or Role Playing.)

To engage in world PvP head to your capital city (Orgrimmar or Stormwind,) bring up your talent pane, and pick War Mode. This will give you a 10% experience boost (maybe more, depending on how dominant the other side is) and will enable you to pick your PvP talents. Worth it if you like PvP. Yes, you will still be crushed by higher levels. Yes, you might be able to get your guild to help you to get revenge.

Gear? For PVP always get the highest level gear you can find or buy. Strength is your #1 most important stat here.

See above for the War Mode talents worth picking.

Using the XP flask, noted above, will help you get through these zones faster, as will the XP missions, and getting your “rest XP.”

Go to: Top — Unholy — Frost — Blood — Abilities — Rotations — Gearing Up — Your Artifact — Leveling Tips — Races — ProfessionsLevel fast


In-Game Death Knight Leveling Guide

Blood Elf Death Knight, Leveling Up
Now go and kill something!
Click Here to Start

If you are looking for how you can get leveled faster, either for your Death Knight or any of your other characters, then I recommend you seriously consider the following two methods:

One: To get all your characters to the level cap 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. Applies to all characters in all classes, also dungeons and special quests. Zygor is 100% there for Shadowlands, Covenants, Gold, Dungeons, etc.

Two: Or you can buy the level boost at $60 per character and then grind out the last ten levels on your own. You get to skip all the earlier grinds and just focus on the newest content.

Your call.

Related Pages and Guides

14 thoughts on “Death Knight Leveling Guide”

  1. 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.

    1. 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. 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.

    1. 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?

  3. 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

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

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