Death Knight Guide (6.1)
- This guide is not only a starting place for players looking to learn the basics of the Death Knight class, but is also a great place for advanced players to sharpen their skills. Now with more Frost!
6.0.3 can be found here, as well as in a spoiler at the bottom of this guide.
5.4.7 is now in a Spoiler at the bottom, and will be kept around for retro-reference (is that a word?), and future arena servers, since whenever I go to play on an older arena server, I can never find any information to refresh myself on how the hell we played back in the
Only a few changes have arrived for the Death Knight class in 6.1:
- Glyph of Runic Power now generates 2 Runic Power every second for 5 seconds when struck by a movement-impairing effect (down from 3 Runic Power).
- Breath of Sindragosa no longer has an initial Runic Power cost, but only applies the Mark of Sindragosa effect for Blood Death Knights.
- Defile now only reduces damage taken for Blood Death Knights.
- Necrotic Plague damage has been increased by 20%, and now only grants Runic Power to Blood Death Knights.
- Death Siphon now heals the Death Knights for 400% of damage dealt (up from 335%).
- Primal Combatant and Primal Gladiator trinkets have had their power increased, as well as their cooldown increased (2 minutes, up from 1 minute).
Previously, Death Knights were pigeon holed into a very cookie cutter set of talents that did not really ever change. The new expansion has opened up many more options and talent combinations:
Now that Rolling Blood is caked in, Plaguebearer does a nice job of taking its place. Plaguebearer increases the duration of your Blood Plague and Frost Fever (and will add a stack to Necrotic Plague) every time you Death Coil or Frost Strike by Five (5) seconds. Seeing as Frost Death Knights do not have Festering Strike, and Unholy Death Knights don't want to be spamming Festering Strike, this is a great way to keep your diseases lasting until the golden years while spoon feeding your target damage. Does not work with Necrotic Plague.
Unholy Blight should only be taking in combination with Either Necrotic Plague, or Chillblains. When paired with Necrotic Plague, each tick will grant a stack on every target it hits. Additionally, each target effected by it will probably be in range of each other, causing the Necrotic Plague itself to jump between targets, causing it to stack extremely quickly.
When paired with Chillblains, it will constantly slow anything in it's range, unless the target has a buff like Hand of Freedom. Unholy Blight paired with Chillblains is highly effective against running Burst of Speed Rogues, and retreating Restoration Druids.
Optimal with Necrotic Plague, Plague Leech removes your diseases from the target it is cast on, and restores two depleted runes as Death Runes. Ideal for Frost, and good for either spec, it will provide you with some extra runes to work with every 25 seconds. When not using Necrotic Plague, both diseases must be present for this talent to work.
Lichborne is the only viable talent in this talent tier, it will turn you undead, allowing you to break free of fears, charms, and sleeps. Additionally, while undead, you are immune to polymorph effects (Sheep, Hex) and incapacitates (Sap, Gouge), and may heal yourself by casting Death Coil on yourself (Unholy only). Polymorph and incapacitates will not break when you are already bound; however, like Cloak of Shadows and Anti-Magic Shell, you will be immune to these effects as long as you have the Lichborne buff. Sleep, Fear, and Charm effects will break when using Lichborne, even while you are already bound by them.
Asphyxiate is an improved version of Strangulate that stuns your opponent instead of silencing them. Additionally, it costs no rune, and has half of the cooldown.
Generally, Chillblains is taken because you--the player--desire to play with Strangulate over Asphyxiate for whatever reason (generally because the team composition you are currently playing has too many stuns already, and not enough other kinds of crowed control). Chillblains will cause your Chains of Ice to root your target, additionally, your Frost Fever and Necrotic Plague will cause the target to be slowed by 50% for 8 seconds. Typically more for Unholy (as you already have Gnaw and sometimes Remorseless Winter available to you as other stunning options), Chillblains combos well with Necrotic Plague, Unholy Blight, Defile, and Remorsless Winter. It is also the go-to option for Rated Battlegrounds, which are almost always done as frost. Howling Blast will cleave large amounts of players and give you a massive amount of control over the other team. Seeing as Necrotic Plague jumps from target to target, Frost spec will almost always take this talent along with Unholy Blight and Necrotic Plague in Rated Battlegrounds.
All three talents in this tier are fairly close, however Blood Tap gives you the control over when runes are reset. It also gives you Death Runes, allowing you to use
This talent does not give you as much control as Blood Tap does, but is very efficient when playing with Breath of Sindragosa, as Blood Tap does not provide you enough rune resets to maintain the spell for very long.
Conversion allows you to sacrifice runic power per second to gain health per second. Generally only works with Glyph of Runic Power.
Generally should only be taken when you are playing against a team that only tries to kill you in a very high burst swap.
Always take this as Unholy, unless you lose to a team that switches to you and kills you extremely quickly. It will take some getting used to, but you will learn to use Death Siphon effectively, just like you learned to use Plague Leech and Blood Tap.
An extra trinket that will make you immune to all forms of CC other than silences while you are standing in it. Generally taken by non human Death Knights in exchange for double DPS trinkets, or when facing a rogue team. Having a second trinket is never a bad thing.
A stacking slow that causes a stun on any target that hits 5 stacks, for 5 seconds. Dispellable, so make sure its either used on a healer, or make sure the healer cant dispel it by using some other CC. Try to only take this talent when using Death and Decay Glyph or Chillblains, as targets get away too easily during the early stacks. Works great with Breath of Sindragrosa or Defile (Arthas Combo).
Defile benefits from the Death and Decay Glyph, which should always be considered when using it. Both of these things combo well with Remorseless Winter (Arthas Combo), and is my personal recommendation for Frost. This talent has reasonable burst with a reasonable cooldown.
Granted 20% additional damage and regaining the ability to crit, Necrotic Plague is back in the game as a real talent. When taking this talent, always take Unholy Blight, as it will stack it much quicker, and your Plague will sit at max stacks for much longer, causing you to do overall more damage. Stacking this ability is important, and you should be throwing out Blood Boils, Icy Touches, Festerings, and Plague Strikes in order to help it stack as quickly as possible. Only recommended for Unholy in arenas, and only recommended for Frost in Rated Battlegrounds. This is the least bursty talent, but will give you heave AoE presence.
Breath of Sindragrosa
Only recommended while using Runic Corruption, pool runic power and some a few runes before using this ability. Line it up with things like Remorseless Winter, Pillar of Frost, Gargoyle, and Dark Transformation. Use Empower Rune Weapon to feed it. The point of this ability is to do damage while doing damage, so don't spend your Runic Power on things like Frost Strike, or Death Coil. Ideally, you want to keep this running as long as you can, because its biggest drawback is the long cooldown it has. Definitely the Highest burst in the talent tier, at the cost of uptime and ramp up.
The current standard Unholy Rot build. Use blight when the opposing team is grouped up. Take Plague Leech when playing against anything that doesn't really group up often enough to get a big Blight off.
This is an alternative Unholy/Frost build, and built around Breath of Sindragosa. Take this when against hunter/hybrid that heals a lot, and will diminish the power of your spread pressure. You may also take the Icy Runes Glyph, allowing you to Breath up for longer. Frost may chose to switch Death Siphon for Death Pact.
Three strongly PvP oriented glyphs make choosing glyphs for Death Knights easy, however there are times when glyphs can be swapped in or out.
Shifting Presences - Allows you to switch presences and retain 70% of the runic power you had before the switch.
Icy Touch - Your Icy Touch will now dispel one beneficial magical effect from your opponent. Purge is a very powerful spell, and any class that has the option to take it should.
Dark Simulacrum - Reduces the cooldown of Dark Simulacrum by half, and increases the duration the debuff stays on the target by 4 seconds. Dark Simulacrum can be your strongest spell if used properly. Being able to use it twice as often increases the chances of having it ready when a juicy spell is about to be used. Can be used every Asphyxiate, allowing you to steal major defensive cooldowns from healers that can be cast while stunned. This is the glyph that you should swap in and out with other glyphs if you want to use something else.
Death and Decay - Slows any target that takes damage from your Death and Decay ability, for as long as they remain inside of the effected area. Works with Defile. This glyph works great with Arthas Combo (Defile+Remorseless Winter).
Strangulate - When used a to interrupt the target--and is successful--Strangulate gets two additional seconds added to its duration, for a whopping 7 second silence.
Regenerative Magic - Use when you're almost never targeted, or not running conversion. It will shorten the remaining duration on Anti-Magic Shell if the shield takes little or no damage.
Runic Power - Our old set bonus; gain runic power when slowed. Works great with Conversion/Necrotic Plague/Breath of Sindragosa.
Icy Runes- Grants 10 additional Runic Power when you use Chains of Ice. Use with Breath of Sindragosa, and say "I'm still breathing on him guys!".
Death's Embrace (Minor) - Restores runic power when healing a friendly undead minion. Save some runic power to heal your Ghoul or Gargoyle up. Only relevant if you are Unholy, or if you are running some weird shit, like Double [Unholy] Death Knight.
Resilient Grip (Minor) - Resets your Death Grip if your target is immune to both the pull and the taunt (Iceblocks/Divine Shield/Cyclone) - For those unlucky situations.
Path of Frost (Minor) - Causes you to take less fall damage while the aura is active. Good for Rated Battlegrounds, like Arathi Basin.
Stats - Gemming / Enchanting /
A big thanks to Flakkar for working hard to provide us with these stat priorities. Half of us would probably be a little lost without him.
You can find more in-depth conversation about stat priority in his unholy thread
You can find more in-depth conversation about stat priority in his frost thread
At the passive ratio of 1.10 Strength per point of Strength (thanks to our good friend Unholy Might), Strength is your dearest friend. Additionally, our Runeforge enchant grants us half more the Strength that Unholy Might gives us (20%) as a proc that is up most of the arena, as long as you are hitting things. Gem and Enchant Strength wherever you can, while respecting Strength increasing socket bonuses.
Your GCD is affected by various factors such as expertise, Time Warp, your connection speed ect. The best way to approach haste itemization is whether or not you personally experience GCD locks. If you have no trouble expending resources, haste remains highly favored. Haste becomes more valuable the more uptime that you have on your target. Ideal for comps like PHD, where most teams will focus down your hunter and allow you to do as you please.
Crit makes abilities hit
Mastery boosts your shadow damage and Gargoyle's damage for Unholy, and Boost your frost damage for Frost (namely Frost Strike and Howling Blast). Generally something to avoid as Frost, unless future patch notes say that Frost Strike will become the large burst.
Versatility increases the damage you do, and decreases the damage you take. A solid stat that has a benefit to it no matter what spec you might be, and is currently seeing favor against the other stats.
Multistrike is very similar to critical strike. Their values are both halved in PvP compared to their PvE stat weight values, causing them to require double the amount to equal 1% damage compared to that of the other stat weights. In PvP, Multistrike has a percentage chance to strike the target against at 30%(?) power. Due to Necrosis, Unholy Death Knights will gain 5% more Multistrike from all sources that grant it, making Multistrike more valuable to the Unholy Death Knight than it is to Frost.
This may or may not be relevant, depending on the patch:
#showtooltip /cast [target=pet] Death Coil
Casts Death Coil at your Ghoul, healing it.
#showtooltip /cast !Lichborne /cast [target=player] Death Coil
Activates Lichborne, then casts Death Coil at yourself, healing yourself. Note this only works with Unholy now, as Death Coil is now replaced by Frost Strike, for Frost Death Knights.
Focus Death Grip
#showtooltip /cast [target=focus] Death Grip
Casts Death Grip at your focus target,
Arena 1/2/3 Death Grip
#showtooltip /cast [@arenax] Death Grip
Casts Death Grip at an arena target frame. The target is decided by "x". Replace "x" with "1", "2", or "3". The best way to use this macro is to have three separate key bindings, and three separate macros, both of which usually right next to one another. Example: Grip arena1 bound to F1, Grip arena 2 bound to F2, Grip arena 3 bound to F3.
Arena 1/2/3 Chains of Ice
#showtooltip /cast [@arenax] Chains of Ice
Casts Chains of Ice at an arena target frame. The target is decided by "x". Replace "x" with "1", "2", or "3". The best way to use this macro is to have three separate key bindings, and three separate macros, both of which usually right next to one another. Example: Chains arena1 bound to F1, Chains arena 2 bound to F2, Chains arena 3 bound to F3.
#showtooltip /cast [target=focus] Strangulate
Strangulates or Asphyxiates your focus target.
#showtooltip /stopcasting /cast [target=focus] Leap /cast [target=mouseover, exists][exists] Leap /petattack
Because of Leap's Buggy nature, this was the best way to get Leap to work properly. Its possible that the technical issues of Leap have been fixed, though the macro continues to do its job for me, and so I still use it. It will make your ghoul Leap at mouseover targets as well as your focus target. Mouseover has priority.
#showtooltip /cancelaura Lichborne /cast Lichborne /cast !Anti-Magic Zone /run SetMacroSpell("Lich/AMZ",GetSpellInfo("Lichborne") or "Anti-Magic Zone")
Tap once to activate Lichborne, tap again to cancel it. Handy for avoiding Shackle or Paladin Fear. This macro will combine Lichborne and Anti-Magic Zone into one keybind. The Macro name must be the same as the the part listed in the last line /run SetMacroSpell("Lich/AMZ"), or the Tooltip will not update (and the cooldown won't show).
Focus Mind Freeze
#showtooltip /cast [target=focus] Mind Freeze
Interrupts your focus target.
#showtooltip /cast [@mouseover,dead] Corpse Explosion /cast [nopet] Raise Dead /stopmacro [nopet] /cast [target=pet,exists]Dark Transformation
Push to summon your Ghoul. While Timmy is active, push again to activate Dark Transformation (assuming Timmy has five Shadow Infusions). Also will cast Corpse Explosion at a moused over corpse (just for fun).
#showtooltip dark simulacrum /cancelaura Ice Block /cast [nomod] Dark Simulacrum; [mod:alt, @focus] Dark Simulacrum
#showtooltip /use 13 /cast Summon Gargoyle /petfollow /petattack [@target]
Make sure your on use damage trinket is in slot 13.
Pillar of Frost
#showtooltip /use 13 /cast Pillar of Frost /cast Death's Advance
Make sure your on use damage trinket is in slot 13.
Unholy is now straight forward. Stacking Shadow Infusions an bursting during Dark Transformation is key. This is when gargoyle should be used, and Death Runes no longer get any special treatment. Use them as you see fit. Scourge Strike is now the primary strike, and it will consume the majority of your runes. As Unholy, Soul Reaper now ticks at 45% health, and thus should be use more often at higher health pools. Remember, our level 100 set bonus grants us 20% increased shadow damage while Dark Transformation is active.
Frost is largely the same as it has always been. Keeping your diseases up, avoid using Killing Machine procs on Frost Strike. Soul Reaper at low health. Use saved up Blood Tap Charges for Killing Machine procs that you don't have the available runes to Obliterate with. When playing with Sindy, pool runic power and have a few available runes prepared to regenerate the lost runic power spent on Sindy. You should also try to save Empower Rune Weapon for this specifically. When using Plague Leech, use it for an extra Obliterate to get a Killing Machine you otherwise would have had to spend on Frost Strike.
Interface and Addons
Unless you're practicing for a no-addon tournament, there is no reason not to customize your interface to your liking. Moving things to easier places for you to see can assist you greatly and help you to not overlap. There are few and far in-between addons that I would describe as mandatory, as Blizzard has certainly made the baseline interface more acceptable over the years.
Disclaimer: Yes, people have told me my interface is cluttered. I'm not advising you to have a cluttered interface, I'm giving you the basics. I've grown used to how my UI is, and have tried changing it before.
A. Its important to know where players are, even if they are not your target. Nameplates are helpful, be it Blizzard's own, or an Addon. Some Addons will show you specific debuffs that you ask it to show you on name plates, others will show cast times within the name plates. The Addon I am using here is called Tidy Plates: Threat Plates.
B. No player should go without party frames. Personally, I find the base ones, and the standard one that comes with my normal unit frames clunky. I've taken a great liking to Blizzard's "boxes", the standard raid frames that the game comes with. They show debuffs and mana, and can be class colored.
C. If you're Unholy, it is your responsibility to know where and what your Ghoul is doing, specifically to monitor his health pools. At the beginning of expansions, healer mana is always tight. Give them a helping hand and keep an eye on Timmy.
D. Lots of players are wondering what is the best Rune Bar Addon to use. Its true, Blizzard's could use an update, even with move anything, its still largely basic and has no options to customize it. I have used the same Rune Bar Addon since Wrath of the Lich King, so I can't say I know what else is out there these days. Even so, Magic Runes gets the job done. With high customization, you can move, re-size , rearrange, and monitor both your Rune times, and DoT's. The alpha will fade when out of combat if you tell it to do so, making this my personal pick.
E. Lose Control, the Addon that inspired Blizzard's Loss of Control interface option, is able to show crowed control cast on enemy players as well. You can move it and put it where you want to, it becomes very hard to miss a CC cast on an enemy player. Additionally, it works with Sarena (an Arena Unit Frame Addon), and OmniCC (a cooldown counter Addon).
5.4.7 Guide (for retro-reference or future arena servers)