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. Read on!
Note: Significant changes come with any expansion, but other than the new zones they won’t affect the leveling experience much, or at all.
Lots of people still consider DKs to be “overpowered,” but that will just make the leveling experience easier, don’t you think?
|Contents for this page:||Other Death Knight Guides|
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The Death Knight, an Introduction
First off, some basic background on how the Death Knight “does its thing.” (Or just skip to the builds, here.)
As a Death Knight you use two mechanics to drive most of your abilities.
Runes: You have various runes that power most of your abilities. It used to be that you had two each of Unholy, Frost, and Blood, plus an occasional “Death Rune” which could be used by any ability. In Legion this has changed. All runes are basically death runes and can be used by any of your Rune using abilities.
Runic Power: Your Runic Power builds from strikes that cost runes. You can then use that power on other abilities, such as Death Strike, Death Coil, or Frost Strike. Yes, Death Strike now costs Runic Power, not Runes.
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 your runes comes back.
The Ghoul: If you decide to go Unholy you will have a permanent Undead “pet.” Frost and Blood lost theirs with the Warlords changes.
Diseases: All DKs get some of their damage via the application of diseases to the enemy. You always want to make sure everything is infected.
- Blood DKs get Blood Plague, which is spread via Blood Boil and Death’s Caress. It does its damage over 24 seconds.
- Frost DKs get Frost Fever, which does damage, but also restores some Runic Power. It’s spread by your Howling Blast.
- Unholy DKs get Virulent Plague which only does damage (over 21 seconds,) but also can damage nearby enemies. It’s spread with your Outbreak.
So which spec is best for leveling?
The really short version? Go Unholy. Why? The cute pet, damage, and survivabiity. Do note that any DK spec will do just fine.
This question is an easy one to answer. All DK specs (specializations) are great for any sort of leveling that you want to do. Well, Blood might not be so hot for PvP, due to lack of damage.
I’m just going to give you some overall guidelines and some leveling builds below.
Blood: This is the “tanking” spec, but it does a darn fine job as a leveling and a decent PvP spec in certain situations. Tough and durable with fair damage, you can round up groups of enemies and easily smash them down. Oft times you will even be at full health when done. The downside is that you don’t hit very hard. Still, the toughness makes it a fun leveling spec, especially when you round up those piles on enemies or want to take on something tough.
It’s also a very good spec for fighting rares.
If you want to tank dungeons then this is the spec to choose.
Frost: Not as durable as Blood, but Frost does quite a bit more damage and Howling Blast is an effective area effect strike. You might not 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.
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 yours alone. You also have a temporary Gargoyle pet. Unholy does as much damage as Frost, and is about as durable, but just has a different flavor.
Note that after any given patch one or the other might be “better,” but rest assured that a hotfix will soon change that.
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 runaway 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.
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.
If you’re seriously into PvP then give Skill-Capped a serious look.
For even faster leveling get the guide which will show you exactly where to go and what to do, whether your’re new or an expert, every last step of the way to the level cap. Check it out here, now.
An Unholy Death Knight Leveling Build
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 Blood is awesome when you can grab a large pile of mobs and emerge at 100% health after killing all of them.
Legion changed a couple of things about talents. First off, the three specs are more different than before. Next, you can change specs whenever you are out of combat. DO fight #1 as Frost, the switch and do #2 as Unholy, then switch and do #3 as Blood, then switch again. No reagents or souls needed. Note that if you’re 100+ your artifact weapon will not be us ble by the other spec.
Changing talents, on 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 out of combat, and you’re not in a “rested XP” area, use a Tome of the Tranquil Mind. It gives you one minute to change talents to suit your situation. A Codex of the Tranquil mind does the same thing, but will allow your entire party to change talents.
The talents shown are best for questing, but will serve you very well in other areas. Descriptions are below the image, our picks are checked:
Row 1, level 56
- All Will Serve: Useful to have an extra pet attacking the target, and if you’re attacking single, tough targets than it’s a good pick. Otherwise Sores is better.
- Bursting Sores: The best talent for most leveling situations. 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.
- Ebon Fever: Makes Virulent Plague (VP) do its normal damage, but in half the time. Makes VP more effective for those short lived questing opponents.
Row 2, level 57
- Epidemic is Nice when you have all of the opposition infected. You flare the disease and damage all of them and any other enemies nearby. 3 charges and a fairly fast cooldown. This is your pick if you’re fighting groups.
- Pestilent Pustules: The extra runes generated allow for more Festering and Scourge strikes overall. Probably the best pick for most leveling scenarios.
- Blighted Rune Weapon: More Festering Wounds on your target(s.) Nice when fighting tougher targets.
Row 3, level 58
- Unholy Frenzy: The better you are at applying and popping Festering Wounds the better this works. For each one that pops you get a brief burst of attack speed. More attacks will also result in more Sudden Doom procs. Nice as that sounds, Castigator is better.
- Castigator: All of your Festering Strike Crits apply two additional festering wounds and your Scourge Strike Crits pop one additional festering wound. This will be a lot more damage over time to all targets that you’re actively attacking. You’ll want to stack as much Crit (on your stats) as you can if you take this talent.
- Clawing Shadows: A ranged Scourge Strike that does Shadow Damage (which is directly increased by your Mastery stat.) If you find that you have need of an addition ranged attack then pick this one, otherwise Castigator is better.
Row 4, level 60
- Sludge Belcher: This round little fellow replaces your ghoul and comes with improved abilities, including a version of your Death Grip.
- Asphyxiate: A 5 second stun on a 45 second cooldown. Do you need a single target stun? Then take this one, otherwise Sludge Belcher is generally better. However, if you’re ganking people or otherwise solo PvPing…
- Debilitating Infestation: This talent applies a slow when you cast Outbreak. Has it’s uses, especially in PvP, but generally the others are better.
Row 5, level 75
- Spell Eater: While leveling you’re have little use for this talent, except for those few caster rares that you might be hunting. Corpse Shield is better for most everything else.
- Corpse Shield: 90% of all damage you take is redirected, for 10 seconds, to your pet (which may well kill it.) Make sure you have your pet huddle or use Protective Bile to soak that damage. If you have All Will Serve you can resummon your pet without the usual cooldown and keep the 90% damage reduction up for as long as possible. This is the best of this set for almost everything you’ll encounter while leveling.
- Lingering Apparition: Mobility is never bad and Death Knight mobility is poor. If you don’t need the defenses of the others then this is a good pick.
Row 6, level 90
Shadow Infusion or Infected Claws, depending on where you’re spending your Runic Power.
- Shadow Infusion Enables a higher of uptime on Dark Transformation due to Death Coil reducing the cooldown of Dark Transformation> by 5 seconds when Dark Transformation is not on your ghoul. If you’re spending your Runic Power on Death Strike (heals,) while solo leveling, then it’s (much) less effective. If you’re not Death Striking (because you have a healer, for example) then this is the best pick.
- Necrosis will complicate your rotation, since you’ll be weaving your Death Coils and Scourge Strikes together. If you’re good at that and enjoy it, then it might well be worth your while to take Necrosis.
- Infected Claws: More Festering Wounds since your ghoul/abomination can now deliver them. Note that it now becomes that much much easier to cap out your Wound stacks, making additional applications useless. If you’re efficient at popping wounds then this is a definite plus to your damage. Basically you’ll use a few less Festering Strikes, using Scourge Strike instead, with this talent.
Row 7, level 100
- Dark Arbiter replaces your Summon Gargoyle with an improved Val’kyr. While it’s pretty nice, Soul Reaper is generally better.
- Defile: If enemies are within the area then it grows each second of its duration. As it grows it adds to your Mastery stat and your Scourge Strike will hit all targets within range. It doesn’t seem to be as effective (damaging) as the other two, though it might shine with large groups.
- Soul Reaper: If you have Apocalypse then this talent becomes a lot easier to play. Due to Apocalypse popping wounds, you can easily line up Soul Reaper and pop 8 Festering Wound with Apocalypse to get the max value out of this spell. Try to stack up a few F. Wounds on your target, then use Soul Reaper. This is the best pick of the three for most situations, especially for tougher mobs, even without Apocalypse.
Frost Death Knight Leveling Build
So you’d rather smash the enemy with ice and not infect them with festering sores? Then go Frost.
Row 1, Level 56
- Shattering Strikes is a single-target damage boost that consumes 4+ Razorice stacks to increase Frost Strike damage. While it’s nice Vs long-lived (or tough) targets, it’s not so hot for questing mobs, which will likely die before they get those 4 stacks.
- Icy Talons increases your attack speed each time you use Frost Strike. Speed from subsequent strikes will stack, but the duration just refreshes to that 6 seconds. If you’re not spending your Runic Power on Death Strike, then this is a pretty good pick.
- 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.
Row 2, Level 57
- Freezing Fog – Nice against one target and not bad at all against multiples. Just a straight up damage add to one of your most used attacks (Howling Blast) and the disease (Frost Fever) it applies.
- Frozen Pulse – Useful if you find yourself without available runes often enough.
- 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 58
- Icecap can give you more frequent Pillar of Frost usage, but it won’t be of much use while leveling.
- Hungering Rune Weapon: Best for single targets. is a 3 min cooldown that gives you a 8 runes and 80 Runic Power over 12 seconds. You’ll basically be able to spam Obliterate and Death Strike and/or Frost Strike for those 12 seconds. Pretty nice burst and very nice for single targets.
- Avalanche: Best for 2+, and maybe even singles. One minute cooldown. Pillar of Frost now makes your melee crits into area attacks, in addition to its normal effects, raining icicles down on all nearby enemies, including your primary target, on all melee crits. With us going for Crit and Haste as our two main stats, this simply just can not be touched in terms of damage
Row 4, Level 60
- Abomination’s Might adds a 2 second stun to your Obliterate crits (players will be dazed for 5 seconds.) It has no effect on bosses. Stuns are subject to diminishing returns, so if you luck out and get three crits in a row that last stun will be an interrupt, but not much more. Since it’s random you will get random interrupt when fighting casters, but there’s no cooldown. Best for general leveling.
- Blinding Sleet will find use in interrupting/dazing groups.
- Winter is Coming – The issue with this talent is that it is random. You may not always have Pillar of Frost when you need this stun and it has to build. By that time your quest mobs are likely dead anyway. More useful against tougher mobs/players, but still doesn’t work against bosses.
Row 5, Level 75
All of the spells in this tier have their use in individual fights and should be treated that way.
- Volatile Shielding – With the many magic spells there are in dungeons (and raids,) this will be the talent we take for most magic using bosses. Most questing/leveling won’t have that much magic flying about.
- Permafrost – A passive damage shield that builds up over time. This is pretty much a damage reduction ability that will be especially nice when fighting more than one opponent. The shield lasts up to 9 seconds, but your hits will refresh that duration. You will constantly have some shielding.
- White Walker gives you 20% damage reduction while Wraith Walking and then slows enemies when you come out of it. Not nearly as nice as Permafrost.
Row 6, Level 90
- Frostscythe does full frost damage to targets in a cone in front of you and your crits do 4x damage.
- Runic Attenuation – Your auto-attacks generate Runic Power for more Death and Frost strikes over time.
- Gathering Storm – The runes you spend on other abilities will buff Rermorseless Winter while it’s active. Each rune spent adds +10% to its damage and slightly extends its duration.
Row 7, Level 100
- Obliteration – Very nice burst talent with a 90 second cooldown. Your Killing Machine will be triggered after casting every Frost Strike, Obliteration becomes very attractive when coupled with Murderous Efficiency, which you took in row 1.
- 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.
- Glacial Advance – This ability is a straight line “area effect” and the range is about 15 yards. Anything in that line will be hit. It’s not targeted, so your aim should be good. Short cooldown and fairly hard hitting.
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.
This build is also good for tanking.
Level 56, Tier 1:
- Bloodworms are occasionally spawned on critical strike autoattack. They then burst after a given amount of time, or when you drop below a certain health threshold. Unfortunately it’s not enough and not often enough, especially since Crit is not a stat you’re shooting for.
- Heartbreaker: Increases the runic power generation of your Heart Strike by 3 for each target hit. This is a very powerful talent as it will give you a lot more Death Strikes over a fight.
- Blooddrinker: Gives a new ability that channels on the target, draining health from them and healing yourself. Not as useful as Heartbreaker, but it dies give you a different style of play which might be interesting.
Level 57, Tier 2:
- Rapid Decomposition: Increases Runic Power generation while standing inside your Death and Decay, again allowing yet more Death Strikes over the fight.
- Soulgorge sounds good, consuming your blood plagues, doing damage, and increasing your Runic Power regeneration for a few seconds. It also makes it harder to apply those plagues, so is something of a wash.
- Spectral Deflection: Allows your Bone Shield to consume an extra charge when taking high damage, providing a buffer for spike damage. Using it will cause you to favor Marrowrend (two runes) over Heart Strike (one rune) to maintain your Bone Shield. The increase in Death Strikes (more damage and healing) from Rapid Decomposition will be, overall, much better than the protection that Spectral Deflection provides.
Level 58, Tier 3:
- Ossuary: Reduces the cost of Death Strike by 5 Runic Power when at 5 or more Bone Shield charges, as well as increasing your max runic power by 10. This talent allows more frequent Death Striking, synergizing very well with talents that increase RP generation as well as talents that improve Bone Shield effectiveness.
- Blood Tap: Allows you to actively regenerate runes by using the ability, the recharge time of which is determined by the consumption of Bone Shield stacks. It’s not nearly as good as the Runic Power bonus provided by Ossuary.
- Anti-Magic Barrier causes your Anti-Magic Shield to boost your health by 25%. Nice for those rare occasions, which you’ll never see while leveling, when massive magical attacks might fry you. Go with Ossuary instead.
Level 60, Tier 4:
- Mark of Blood marks a enemy, causing its auto-attacks to heal its target (you) for a small amount each time. Red Thirst will be much more useful in pretty much all situations.
- Red Thirst: Is a very powerful talent that decreases the cooldown on Vampiric Blood by 1 second for every 6 Runic Power spent. Given the other talents picked (above) you will be Death Striking often, thereby burning a lot of Runic Power and then you’ll be able to use V. Blood that much more often.
- Tombstone burns your Bone Shield charges and replaces them with an 8 second absorption shield. The shield absorbs damage equal to 3% of your max health for each charge used and also generates 3 Runic Power per charge used. Red Thirst will provide more protection.
Level 75, Tier 5:
- Tightening Grasp: Decreases the cooldown on Gorefiend’s Grasp by 1 minute, as well as applying a slow effect to your Death and Decay. How often do you have a need to grab everything nearby? More use in dungeons or the Battlegrounds than other leveling. It’s of little use if you never have cause to use Gorefiend’s Grasp in the first place.
- Tremble Before Me: Gives your Death and Decaya chance to cause enemies to cower in fear for 3 seconds, occurring at most once every 10 seconds. Damage will break this effect. While this talent has potential for randomly interrupting casts in an AoE, it proves lackluster and currently has no place in any raid or dungeon encounters.
- March of the Damned: Increases the duration of Wraith Walk by 50% and causes it break some Crowd Control (CC) effects. More mobility is always nice and the breaking of CC effects is highly useful in PvP.
Level 90, Tier 6:
- Will of the Necropolis: Provides a damage reduction when reduced below 20% HP. While this is a powerful talent, the current HP cutoff is extremely low, making it proc very rarely, and have the player in an already very dangerous situation when it does. It does make you that much harder to kill, which has its uses.
- Rune Tap: Adds an additional cooldown for on-demand 25% damage reduction at the cost of 1 rune. Not much use which questing, but in PvP or in boss fights where you can predict massive damage then if might be just the thing.
- Foul Bulwark increases your HP by 2% per bone shield charge and outweighs the occasional boosts from Rune Tap and Will of the Necropolis. This will almost always be your best choice, especially when questing.
Level 100, Tier 7:
- 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. Longish cooldown, but very nice for burning large packs of mobs.
- Blood Mirror: Gives a new ability that redirects 20% of the damage taken to the affected target for 10 seconds. Nice for single targets that do lots of damage (rares, elites, bosses, players, etc.) Might as well give some of it back to them.
- 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. Especially useful if you have an alert healer on your dungeon or PvP team.
Death Knight Leveling Glyphs
Legion pretty much did away with almost all of your effective glyphs, and BFA does not change that. The only ones remaining are cosmetic only, like the old “minor glyphs.” All ability customization will now be done through your artifact weapon(s) (at 100+), azerite items at 110+, and whatever gems or enchants you might have.
As for Glyphs, you now have:
- Glyph of Cracked Ice and Glyph of Dry Ice modify your Path of Frost appearance.
- Glyph of the Chilled Shell and Glyph of the Crimson Shell modify your Anti-Magic Shell appearance.
- Glyph of the Blood Wraith, Glyph of the Unholy Wraith, and Glyph of the Wraith Walker all modify your Wraith Walk appearance.
- Glyph of the Geist and Glyph of the Skeleton modify your ghoul’s appearance.
Nothing like a bloodier looking Anti-Magic shell and Wraith Walk to improve your tanking, right?
Death Knight Abilities, by Spec
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.
Note: Legion continued a theme started in Warlords, that of simplifying the rotations and giving each specialization (spec) a more distinct from the other specs. They certainly succeeded with Death Knights. Blizzard has an overview of the general changes and the resoning, here.
Just a note:
- The ghoul is Unholy only.
- Dual Wield is Frost Only
(P) = Passive ability
All Death Knights have the following abilities in common:
- 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. Opening the gate a second time will bring you back close to the original area.
- 55 – Death Grip – “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.
- 55 – Death Strike – Solid strike that heals you for some damage. Costs Runic Power in Legion.
- 55 – Runeforging – Put a DK only enchant on your weapon(s.) Works fine with artifact weapons.
- 55 – Plate Specialization – +5% Str for wearing only plate armor.
- 57 – Anti-Magic Shell – A personal barrier that blocks magic and generates runic power.
- 58 – Dark Command – Order the target to attack you.
- 60 – Wraith Walk – Sort of a 3 second sprint that breaks roots. This is your only movement boost.
- 61 – On a Pale Horse (P) – Ride a little faster.
- 62 – Mind Freeze – Interrupt a spell and silence that spell school (eg: Fire) 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. Darn.
Abilities for Each Spec:
Note that the “perks” from Warlords of Draenor have been removed.
|Frost – Freeze ’em and smash ’em.||Unholy – Festering wounds and disease, then smash ’em.||Blood – Round ’em up and smash ’em down.|
DK Leveling Rotations
Your Presences have been removed in Legion. Various other abilities have been moved, removed, or changed. A few were added.
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. Note that if you’re fighting things along with the other faction and you’re on a PvP server the other faction will get infected. They may or may not care for this idea…
- 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.
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.
- Howling Blast hits the target and any enemies within 10 yards of the target and diseases all of them.
- Remorseless Winter damages and slows all nearby enemies for a few seconds.
- Some of your talents do area effects, either passively or actively, as well. See above for their descriptions. They are: Frozen Pulse (P), Avalanche (P), Blinding Sheet, Frostscythe, Glacial Advance.
- Death and Decay corrupts the group around you for ten seconds, damaging all in the area.
- Scourge Strike and Clawing Shadows (talent) while D&D is up
- Outbreak applies Virulent Plague, which then infects nearby opponents.
- Some of your talents (See above) do area effects, either passively or actively, as well. See above for their descriptions. They are: Bursting Sores (P), Epidemic, and Defile.
- Heart Strike whacks one additional target, slowing both.
- Blood boil boils the blood of all targets within 10 yards and applies Blood Plague to all.
- Death and Decay corrupts the group around you for ten seconds, damaging all in the area and allowing your Heart Strike to hit three additional targets.
- Gorefiend’s Grasp pulls in all nearby (20 yards) enemies to join the party.
- Area talents (See above): Soulgorge and Bonestorm.
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 (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.
- Two hand Frost (dual wielding 1-hand weapons) is your only option in Legion. (You used to be able to use 2-handed weapons, but no more.)
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.
You’ll be using Heart Strike, Morrowrend for the shield, and Blood Boil as your main attacks. Death strike for the heals and to burn Runic Power.
Round up large groups and burn them down.
Death Knight Stats
Tanking Blood spec Death Knights will want a lot of Stamina. Otherwise Strength is your #1 stat.
One of your abilities, for any DK spec, is Plate Specialization (much the same as what Warriors and Paladins have.) Your primary stat (Str) is increased by 5% while wearing Plate in all applicable slots. This means that you never want to wear anything other than plate.
Resilience (lower damage from players) exists on occasional pieces of gear that’s level 90 and lower. You also just might be able to find PvP Power on some rare pieces of PvP gear.
Otherwise: Basically it’s going to be: Str & Stam, plus any other stats you happen to find. This won’t change in Legion. 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.
- Attack Power is a nice stat, if you happen to find it. Not as good as Str, but better than the other stats.
- Otherwise don’t worry about Crit or Haste until the end game gearing. Mastery doesn’t appear until level 80.
- Versatility: Increases damage, healing, and absorption done. Reduces damage taken.
- Int, Agility, and Spirit are completely useless to you
Gems and Enchants should be skipped unless you’re rolling in gold or want to grab some of the really cheap ones that might be available in the Auction House. Generally you’ll level too fast to make them worthwhile.
Note that, as of 5.4, you can apply any of the high level enchants to your gear (of any level.) This includes the new Warlords and Legion enchants. 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. Note that your Level 110 will not be able to apply the crafted item enchants to an heirloom that’s capable of hitting level 100. The item level will be too high.
Ok, if you’re serious about dungeoning or PvPing, then you might want to start enchanting your better gear and getting gems when slots are available.
- Blood Tanks will want: Stamina, Str, Dodge, and Parry.
- Blood DKs leveling otherwise have much less need of Stam and the avoidance stats. So Str & Haste.
- Frost will want Str and Crit, for those Killing Machine procs.
- Unholy DKs should look for Str & Haste. If you take the Castigator talent (and you should) then Crit is a lot more useful.
Stats are “normalized” in instanced PvP combat (BGs and Arenas) at all levels. So is gear. Your careful stat stacking will make zero difference as you will be using a stat template assigned by Bliz. If you can tweak your gear to be higher than the instance (eg: Level 19 PvP has all gear set to ilevel 39) then it makes a small difference. 10% of the item level difference.
So for instanced PvP, forget the stats and just get the highest level gear you can if you want to twink, otherwise don’t worry about it.
For world PvP (eg: ganking) the stats and gear templates do not (yet) activate, so stats and gear stacking is as useful as it ever was.
Death Knight Runeforging
One of the abilities you learn as a brand new Death Knight is Runeforging. These are special, Death Knight Only, enchants that you can place on your weapons at your base: Ebon Hold. While they aren’t the same as the usual weapon enchants they are every bit as useful. They don’t stack with the usual enchants either, but you probably won’t want the usual ones anyway.
You can apply runes to your weapons to make them more effective. Simply gate back to the Ebon Hold and apply the runes at a Runeforge. Another benefit is that the runeforges are free.
Unholy will want Fallen Crusader, Frost the same on weapon #1 and Razorice on #2, Blood either Fallen or Stoneskin Gargoyle, depending on what you’re doing.
Note that when you’re 100+ you can apply Runforges to your artifact weapon. At least at the start of Legion.
- Rune of Razorice, 55, any weapon, 10% extra damage as Frost, increases frost damage taken by opponent. Frost applies this to weapon #2.
- Rune of the Fallen Crusader, 70, any, chance for 6% heal and 15% increased Str (for 15 sec.) Unholy, one of Frost’s weapons, and Maybe Blood.
- Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle, 72, two handed, 5% increased armor, 5% increase to all stats. Nice for the dungeon tanking.
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.
- 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 “hard mode” …
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 5-700 each, and they’re good through level 60. spend a fair amount more and the items are good through 100.
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’ll also get +25% XP.
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:
- Alliance: Krom Stoutarm is in the Library of Ironforge, which is found on the north-eastern edge of the outer ring.
- Horde: Estelle Gendry lurks around the south-western side of the Rogue’s Quarter of Undercity.
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.
You guild heirlooms (Head, cape, legs) will give you +25% total XP. Worth it.
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.
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.
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.
BTW – make sure you get the Handy Notes addon that lets you find Legion Treasures. There are a lot of boxes around that have upgrades for your artifact weapon and Handy Notes will be a HUGE help in finding them.
Death Knight Artifact and Legion Gearing
How to Gear up in Legion, once you’re 101+. This came out shortly before the Raids were released, so it covers gearing up to 825 or so. By that point you should have the rest figured out.
Warning: Language alert. If you’re cool with that then he has some good tips for your artifact and gearing up.
Race Choice for Death Knights
In Mists of Pandaria all races could be Death Knights except Pandarens. (Somehow they missed Arthas’ attentions.) This hasn’t changed in Legion.
Pick whichever race works best for you, the racials aren’t that significant though they do offer a small advantage in certain areas. If you’re really serious about PvP you should seriously consider being Human.
Warlords of Draenor didn’t change any of the above, but there were other changes.
- Any racial with Hit or Expertise Died in Warlords. Some, not all, have been replaced with other abilities.
- All race offer something that adds to your overall damage.
- Line ’em up on your desk: WoW Action Figures on Amazon.
- Diplomacy for faster reputation gains, which is rather nice with the many factions in this game.
- Escape removes stun effects only, so somewhat nerfed over the older ability. 2 min cooldown.
- The Human Spirit was redesigned. It now increases all secondary stats (haste, etc.) by 2%.
- Best for PvP, because they basically use three PvP trinkets: their own escape and then two damage trinkets.
- Stone form washes away some effects (more than before WoD) and reduces damage taken for a short time. Pretty decent ability if you’re running into those effects often (eg: In PvP)
- Explorer for Archeology.
- Might of the Mountain is a racial passive ability that increases Critical Strike bonus damage and healing dealt by 2%.
- Frost Resistance
- Shadowmeld has some nice situational use in PvP or as DPS in dungeons, it can drop aggro if you get in over your head. Tired of the dungeon group that you’re tanking for? Grab a large group, ‘meld out, and let the mobs kill your group.
- Higher dodge is a nice racial, especially if you’re a tank, and you now move a bit faster to go along with that 2% dodge.
- Resistant reduces nature damage by 1%.
- Elune: You get +1% Crit by day and +1% Haste by night.
- Wisp: Run back to your dead body faster.
- Defense: Escape from some speed altering effects (eg: Slows, roots)
- resistant to arcane damage
- Love Engineering – +15 to Eng.
- Nimble: +1% Haste
- Expansive Mind increases maximum Runic Power by 5%.
- Gift: A small heal that’s usable on others is pretty nice.
- Resistant to Shadow damage.
- Good at Jewelcrafting for +10 to that skill.
- Heroic Presence increases your Strength by a small amount, scaling with your level. Str is perfect for DKs.
- Darkflight: Useful Sprint ability
- Damage: a 1% increased Crit chance.
- Resistant to Nature and Shadow damage,
- Flayer: good at Skinning.
- The Worgen Spy Sits on your desk, protecting you while you play
- Blood Fury for extra damage (spell and melee) for 15 seconds.
- Damage: slightly increased damage from your Unholy Ghoul
- Defense: resistant to stuns, time is reduced by 20%.
- Defense: Remove Fear/sleep/charm,
- Healing: Touch of the Grave drains life and heals you for the same amount and is a small damage buff.
- Healing: eat the dead (to recover health)
- Resistant to Shadow Damage
- Undead can now breathe underwater indefinitely. Can be used to explore, escape, or lurk in wait to ambush the unwary.
- Stun: War Stomp stuns nearby opponents (which is a pretty nice ability,)
- Defense: Maximum health is increased
- Resistance: resistant to nature damage (poisons, etc.,) and…
- Cultivation: good at Herbalism (+15 skill.)
- Brawn is a passive ability that increases Critical Strike bonus damage and healing done by 2%.
- Damage: Berserk for increased attack speed (+15% Haste) for 10 seconds.
- Damage: greater XP gained from killing beasts,
- Defense: reduced duration of movement impairing effects.
- Regeneration is to snooze over.
- Arcane Torrent interrupts (and silences NPC) spellcasting.
- Arcane resistance: Resistant to Arcane damage
- Affinity: Belves are good at Enchanting (+10 skill.)
- Arcane Acuity is a racial passive ability that increases Critical Strike chance by 1%.
- Escape: Rocket Jump is a nice approach (or escape,) esp. since you have no special movement abilities.
- Offense: Launching rockets has situational use,
- Damage: Haste is increased by 1%
- Useful: vendor discounts are always nice as is the ability to summon your personal bank.
- Chemistry: Goblins are good at Alchemy (+15 skill)
Death Knight Professions
This section is not yet updated for Legion.
In Warlords the profession bonuses are dead, However leveling them is easier and generally far cheaper than before. Once you get into Draenor you will, fairly early on, get a scroll for each of your professions which will raise your cap to 700. For your crafts you will get a quest that will award you with a similar scroll and a number of recipes. One of these will be a “secrets of…” recipe. Use that to generate materials to trade for new recipes, either at your Garrison or in Ashran.
Why get a profession since there are no bonuses? For the item level 640 gear that you will, eventually, be able to create. That gear requires level 91 to equip. Said gear require a lot of materials to create, your Garrison will be a help here if you create a professional building.
- At 90+, once you get your garrison, you will be able to build a profession hut and assign a follower to that hut. This not only gives you more raw materials (through your work orders,) but also certain nice perks.
If you’re below 90 then you’ll have to do it (level your skill) the old fashioned way. See our professions page for more info on leveling up the various skills.
Several professions have definite value while leveling, others not so much. If gear is readily available on the Auction House, and you have the gold, then the professions are less important. Sometimes making your gear is the only way to go. Or hoping you win the rolls in the dungeons.
If you just want something to earn gold with, then the gathering professions are the most reliable choice. You can make plenty of gold with some of the crafting professions (Inscription and blackmithing have worked very well for me,) but it takes some work to find the sweet spots.
- Blacksmithing 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, especially once you’re 90+ (and 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.
- The gathering skills are nice for making gold or supplying the appropriate profession.
- Recommended skills?
- If you have lots of gold: Blacksmithing & Engineering for the useful gear and toys.
- Otherwise: take two gathering skills and level the profession skills later.
DK Leveling Tips
Remember that the guild heirloom set will give you +25% XP. Plus rest XP is gained from staying at an Inn, always log out at an Inn, big city, or, if 91+, your Garrison.
- Also, check out our Top Leveling Tips post for ideas to get leveled faster.
- Get the Dual Build ability from your trainer (10 gold,) this will let you alternative Blood and Frost/Unholy builds if you want to do that. Blood is better for tanking dungeons, Frost is great for laying down lots of damage. Unholy is no slouch in that department, either, but you can only take two…
- Dual build is now “all builds” and you don’t need your trainer or reagents. Switch between all three specs any time that you’re out of combat. If you have your artifact weapon you will not be able to use it with the other spec.
- 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.
- Ghouls (Unholy only) inherit their master’s abilities (Str, Crit, etc.)
- Always carry food and potions (healing) with you. Other potions will buff stats like Strength, Hit, Crit, etc. If you have the gold buy a few and use them in appropriate situations.
Dungeon Leveling – Blood Death Knights can make pretty good tanks and as tanks they will have very short waits when using the Dungeon Finder tool. Your job is to keep the attention of all the opponents, regardless of what your team might be doing. Do that well and you’ll be a very good tank.
Let the tank pull. As Frost or Unholy you will be Damage (DPS) and your wait times to get into the dungeons will be a few minutes to… much longer. Mix up your dungeons with questing and the wait will be much less annoying. Let the tank pull and grab the attention of all the mobs, then you can jump in and kill everything.
PvP Leveling – DKs do just fine in the PvP world. Queue up for the battlegrounds and you’ll see some fast XP if your side wins. Lots of players just want to farm kills in the BGs, but you’ll get more honor marks and a lot more XP if you do what it takes to win and farming kills doesn’t usually do that.
At level 70, if you have a couple dozen of those honor marks, you can get a complete PvP gear set from the legacy arena vendors (Gadgetzan, Dalaran sewers.)
Note that there are PvP talents, but you have to be 110 to get them, so they’re not covered here.
Questing – nice, easy, relaxed leveling without the hazards of snarky remarks from your team members in the chat.
- Group your quests. Do the six “over there” before you fly out for that one that’s a bit “out of the way.”
- Do not grind (unless for cash and prizes and/or practice.) Questing is much faster, plus you get the rewards.
- 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 whee you’re enjoying the experience.
- As soon as you’re comfortable then move into the next higher area. DKs can deal a lot of punishment so will have little problem with somewhat higher level mobs.
- Get your gear repaired occasionally. Having your weapon break in the middle of nowhere isn’t all that much fun.
- Get your flying mount at 60 and your fast flying skill at 70. It’s up to you whether it’s worth it to get flying for specific areas, such as Northrend or Pandaria.
- Dugi can help with the above bits.
Now You’re 90+
- 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 zone than before 90 and the respawn much faster. They are also usually easier than rare 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 useful blue item.
- There are a fair number of treasure you can find lying about, just for the collecting. These will also have gold, resources, and green or blue items. The HandyNotes addon will help you to find these.
- One nice change in Warlords 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 Legion and seems to happen more often.
- 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.
If you’re on a PvP server you should know that ganking is alive and well in Legion. Frequently in the form of several level 110s wandering by to dispose of, and sometimes camp, your lowly self. Either get your guild to help (perhaps to clean out the area) or level via dungeons or Battlegrounds or grit your teeth and deal for it.
On my main server Spires of Arak is the worst area, by far. Yours may be different. I try to avoid it completely, except for the Pinchwhistle (this one of for Horde, Alliance has a similar set) quests which award a follower and are out of the main gank zone.
If you’re seriously into PvP then give Skill-Capped a serious look.
Using the XP flask, noted above, will help you get through these zones faster, as will the XP missions, getting your “rest XP,”
If you’re on a PvE server then ignore the above. 🙂
55-110 In-Depth Death Knight Leveling Guide
If you are looking for how you can get leveled faster, either for your Death Knight or any of your other characters (or what you should do while leveling to keep your character equipped with the best gear) then I recommend you seriously consider the following two guides:
To get all your characters to level 110 (in Legion) 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. Or you can buy the 1-100 boost at $60 per character and then grind out the last ten on your own. Your call.