Death knight tactics are different than those of other classes due to each tree being able to effectively fulfill multiple roles with no one of the trees being greatly better than the other two.
Death Knight can be divided into at least four basic concepts, each of which requires a different approach:
- Main article: Death knights as tanks
Tanking is a concept that has meaning only in PvE groups. Since tanking depends on the game mechanics of threat, it has no meaning in solo play and practically none in PvP.
- See also: Off tank
Off-tanking usually happens when a party is attempting kill a group of enemies with more than one serious threat. While the main tank is busy holding aggro on the main threat, the off tank makes sure any secondary threats don't attack the healers and casters. For practical purposes, an Off-Tanking Warrior has exactly similar itemization needs as a Main Tank Raiding Off-Tanks will be well-advised to carry a set of DPS gear for fights in which either a secondary tank is impractical or DPS is of paramount importance.
Depending on the particular fight, an off-tank may hold a weaker enemy or enemies that the group as a whole focuses on killing quickly while the Main Tank holds aggro on a more dangerous enemy, or they may pull weaker enemies off healers, casters, etc. that the Main Tank has lost aggro on (common when large groups of mobs are pulled, or a bad pull is made).
Death Knights have a very solid DPS potential. Both Frost and Unholy trees have the ability to produce viable and competitive DPS. Death Knight DPS depends heavily on runes, the global cooldown, runic power, and diseases. Most damage comes from abilities and not white hits.
Many of the DK's damage dealing abilities scale with the number of diseases on the target. As a result, DKs rely heavily on the application and reapplication of these diseases.
In addition, there are a few long cooldown abilities which deliver excellent burst DPS potential. Examples of this are Dancing Rune Weapon (DRW) and Summon Gargoyle. These abilities scale excellently with buffs that at a high level, increase DPS. For this reason, DKs wait before many of these abilities proc at the same time before popping their long cooldowns.
- Main article: Death knight PvP guide
Death knights have two baseline spell interrupts for dealing with casters, Mind Freeze, a melee interrupt that prevents spell from the same tree to be used again for three seconds and Strangulate, a ranged silence which lasts for 5 seconds. These are usable assuming that the Death Knight has enough runic power or a blood rune respectively. Mind Freeze's runic power cost may also be removed with the Frost talent Endless Winter. Depending on your race, one other spell interrupt can be added to this list; War Stomp for Taurens and Arcane Torrent for Blood Elves.
Along with many interrupts Death knights also have ways of reducing both magic and physical damage or preventing the application of magic debuffs.
For discussions, advice and strategies relating to the many and diverse individual Death knights Abilities, see the entries listed from the Abilities page, here.
- The tree is designed for dual-wielding, and you are crippling your DPS by using a two-handed weapon. Only use slow weapons (2.5 speed +), since several of your abilities scale off weapon damage.
- One of the few ways to heal yourself is to cast a combination of Lichborne and Death Coil. Death Coil does damage to enemy characters and heals friendly undead characters. By turning yourself undead with Lichborne, Death Coil can now heal you.
The basic idea of Blood rotations is a disease dependent single-target attack. Example:
- Apply diseases (Plague Strike, Icy Touch)
- Use damage abilities (which depend on above diseases for more DPS) to do damage, generating threat and runic power.
- When runes are exhausted and/or runic power is full, dump the runic power with an ability such as Death Coil, Dancing Rune Weapon.
Some claim a priority system is best:
- Make sure diseases are always up.
- Try to keep up Mastery as often as possible via using Death Strike on cooldown.
- While diseases are up, spam Heart Strike.
- Just before your diseases are about to fade, use Festering Strike.
- When you reach 100 RP or everything else is on CD, use Death Coil.
Dancing Rune Weapon discretion is critical to high burst DPS for Blood specced DKs. DRW inherits many buffs and status from you once you use it, and therefore it is best to use this when you have both 100 RP and all of your damage-increasing buffs have procced and are active at the same time.
Death Knight tanks naturally have high AoE threat. The general idea is to apply diseases, use Pestilence to spread the diseases, and use Death and Decay/Blood Boil to do additional AoE damage. Heart Strikes can be thrown in between to take advantage of the cleave effect. On packs of 4 or more, use Death and Decay.
As an Unholy Death Knight, your DPS will have the smallest portion of white damage. You will want to get all your diseases up on the target, as they will influence your damage output as well as debuff the enemy (Icy Touch). It is a very good idea to spec for Crypt Fever/Ebon Plague, as this will up your damage and and increase the DPS of the casters. You will also want to extend the duration of your diseases by talent and Glyph of Scourge Strike.
Scourge Strike will be the bread and butter of your rotations. It hits fairly hard on its own, but gets a 12% damage increase for each of your diseases on target. With Crypt Fever/Ebon Plague, that's a whopping 36% extra damage, and because the disease bonus is not physical damage, it is not reduced by armor (PvE mobs seldom, if ever, have resistances).
When going up against multiple mobs you will want to apply your diseases and then use Pestilence to spread them to other targets. Then, use Blood Boil. Continue to hit with Scourge Strike, dump your runic power with Death Coil, and down your targets one by one. Make sure the targets have diseases on them and use Blood Boil when necessary. It is to be noted that while both Blood Boil and Pestilence use a Blood Rune, you will achieve more DPS by getting the diseases spread, rather than having them on a single target and using Blood Boil twice.
Against a single mob, or boss, you will want to get your diseases up and use Scourge Strike. Make sure to max out points in Reaping, as the death runes will be essential to your rotation. After you get your diseases and Scourge Strike in, use Blood Strike twice to generate Death Runes. Now, while your runes are on cooldown and providing you have the RP, throw in some Death Coils or summon a Gargoyle. When your runes are back up, you will have a shot at three Scourge Strikes.
One last thing to note; your gargoyle's power is based on the Attack Power you have when it is summoned. This means that a summoned gargoyle will do more damage if you summon it when Rune of the Fallen Crusader procs or you pop a trinket that increases AP or Strength.
General PvE tactics
This spec's strongest advantage while leveling is the lack of downtime. Optimally, with good gear, it should take no more than a single spell rotation to kill a mob of the same level. Thus, you need to be able to make back whatever damage a mob will do to you within those ~10 seconds.
Vendetta is a strong talent for this. However, you need to be careful to get the killing blow, especially if you have Bloodworms active. Blood spec does not have many runic power dumps, so Death Coil might be a good choice to ensure a killing blow if you have the extra RP. You also need to be sure that 6% (if you have 3 talent points invested) of your total health is more than what a typical mob will damage you for in 10 seconds. For example, if you are leveling and have 10,000 total HP, a typical mob for your level should not do much more than 600 damage to you in 10 seconds. However, keep in mind that this is AFTER the leach you gain through Blood Presence and Bloodworms.
Even if the extra healing from those 3 basic talents/abilities isn't enough, don't worry because Blood spec'd Death Knights have an advantage through Rune Tap and Vampiric Blood. When combining the Rune Tap talent with Improved Rune Tap and Vampiric Blood, it will heal a grand total of 27% of your HP, making it a strong potion available twice per minute.
The spell rotation for a Blood spec'd Death Knight usually starts with a Death Grip, followed by Icy Touch and Plague Strike to apply the diseases to the target. When fighting multiple mobs, it's a good idea to use Pestilence to spread the diseases around. Then, use Blood Strike (or Heart Strike, if specced in it) to cause some initial damage. If you begin to get low on health, use a Death Strike to build up some health. When the diseases are close to fading, use Obliterate to cause some extra damage. If the target is not dead yet, use Death Coil (Death Knight) as a runic power dump.
A basic build to use for this can be found here. This incorporates some nice Blood talents, as well as a few points in Unholy and Frost to pick up some nice additions.
As a Blood Death Knight, Elites aren't much of a problem. A Death Knight specced in Bloodworms shouldn't have much trouble taking out an Elite within 2 levels of them.
To kill an Elite, you can use the same rotation shown above, but with Death Strike whenever it's available. Also, if you are specced in Dancing Rune Weapon, it's a good idea to throw it out there once you hit 100 RP. An example spell rotation would go like this:
Death Grip, Icy Touch, Plague Strike, Blood Strike, Blood Strike, Death Strike, Dancing Rune Weapon, and repeat. If the Elite hasn't died by the time you hit Dancing Rune Weapon, it will increase the damage you do with the next cycle of spells. It's also a good idea to use Vampiric Blood with Rune Tap to heal yourself if you get low on health.
Should you find that you can take on more than one mob at once, there are several skills available to the Death Knight which will aid in pulling these mobs efficiently during solo play. To achieve a maximum pull, given sufficient mobs, you could perform the following:
- If any mobs are in melee range, one quick plague strike will suffice, or simply run through them.
- Run through the first mob
- Chains of Ice on a second mob
- Icy Touch on the third mob
- Dark Command on the fourth mob
- Death Coil (if sufficient RP is available) on the fifth mob
- Stop just within Death Grip range of the sixth mob and Death Grip it to you.
- By now, the Chains of Ice should have worn off the second mob.
- You should be close, but not far from the leash return effect of the first/second mobs.
- Now you can continue with your chosen AOE rotation.
If you have the talent Master of Ghouls, you have just created one of your greatest assets. You will most likely use him more than you would have expected. However, the ghoul pet does have drawbacks that should be dealt with if you want your pet to be used properly. If you are about to use Death Grip, make sure Leap is turned off automatic cast, or your ghoul may jump to the back of the target, where you would pull the target to your location. The ghoul would have to run back to you, and you would lose valuable damage to be put on the target. If you are attempting to pull a mob without Death Grip, you may want to turn Gnaw off of automatic cast, otherwise your ghoul would stun the target in the middle of him running toward you, taking most of the threat with him.
Another strategy to circumvent the ghoul leaping to where the target used to be is to put your ghoul on passive and bind this macro to a key.
/petattack /cast gnaw
Simply pull and use the macro and you'll get the most out of your pet. Also keep in mind that if your ghoul kills a target without your help, you will not be able to loot the target if it dies.
A good spell rotation for an Unholy spec'd player varies. I recommend starting your rotation with Death Grip (see above for dealing with ghoul problems). Always cast Icy Touch before Plague Strike. There are glyphs and more that encourage this. If you are battling one single opponent, cast Blood Strike twice. If you are battling more than one, cast Pestilence, then Blood Boil or Blood Strike. It also may be smart to cast Death and Decay (death knight ability) prior to battle. Finish off the target with Scourge Strike.
Death Strike heals you for just as much as it does a Blood DK, since you have three diseases, instead of two. It doesn't hit nearly as hard as Scourge Strike. but if you're soloing and need the heals, use it.
If you battled more than one target and have just killed your first, move onto the next
victim target and check if he has any diseases on him if you casted Pestilence in the earlier battle. If he does, cast Scourge Strike, Blood Strike twice (if you have more targets, you may cast another Pestilence in substitution), and finally, cast Scourge Strike again. If he does not have diseases, do the regular rotation.
If you find yourself low on health, there are many solutions for you. Death Strike, for example, heals you admirably if used right. To use it right, cast any disease you can put on the target; Frost Fever, Crypt Fever/Ebon Plague (if you have them), and Blood Plague. Then, wait ~10 seconds. If you are truly low on health, these will be the longest 10 seconds of your life. If you could finally make it that long, cast Death Strike. If you critically healed, congratulations!! You probably healed around 1/4 of the health bar, which can easily turn the tides of a battle.
Death Pact is a fantastic cure for low health! Your ghoul is a walking healing potion ready for use! If you spec'd Master of Ghouls, this will be nice because you normally have your ghoul longer than 5 minutes as a pet, so you can easily summon another ghoul if you used the spell.
Unholy Death Knights are one of the strongest AOE specs in the game. . If you find yourself in a mob big enough to reduce your framerates, you may want to consider some of the following: Start infecting your target and spread it down the aisle with Pestilence. Once all the targets are infected, cast Blood Boil.
The basic rotation: Icy Touch - Plague Strike - Pestilence - Death and Decay (Death Coil) - Scourge Strike - Blood Strike - Blood Boil - Scourge Strike.
If you're soloing, replace the Scourge Strikes with Death Strikes.
Although Death Knights are a melee class, they have some ranged attacks. This can sometimes be used to solo elite mobs that hit too hard to heal through. Use Chains of Ice to keep a mob well behind you, Unholy Aura to run faster, and use Icy Touch, Death Coil and (if you're Frost) Howling Blast whenever possible. You can also have your ghoul or gargoyle out for more damage. If you do it right, you'll never get hit, and eventually the mob will die.
The primary stats of a Death Knight are very similar to those of other melee classes. Death Knights do have ranged abilities; however, at their core Death Knights are a melee class and should be in melee range to maximize damage. That being said, Spell Power does little for a Death Knight and should never be itemized in a Death Knight's gear set.
According to elitistjerks.com, the order of importance for stats for a PvE Death Knight is: [hit > expertise > str > hit (spell) > crit > ap > agi]
Attack Power - This is the base stat for all melee. It increases damage with every attack, spell, skill and ability. Every Death Knight skill has a coefficient to Attack Power which increases the strength of the skill. Attack Power also increases the amount of damage your normal or white attacks do and thus it is very potent.
Strength - Death Knights get 2 Attack Power for every 1 point of Strength. That fact makes Strength an extremely strong stat to itemize for any Death Knight. Strength is probably the top itemized stat, assuming the 1 str = 2 Attack Power on one item is greater than the Attack Power another item gives, in addition to other bonuses that Strength gives on it's own. Death Knights also get 0.25 parry rating per point of Strength. Strength is always more desireable in terms of item budget than Attack Power, because Strength scales Rune of the Fallen Crusader, talents like Veteran of the Third War, as well as Blessing of Kings.
Hit Rating - This stat is only important until you hit the cap for your special attacks (at 8%). Considerably more rating is needed to reach the spell hit cap of 17% (14% with Virulence), but the benefit here is minor - hit rating about the melee cap is better spent on other things.
Armor Penetration Rating - Armor Penetration is overall weak for Frost and Unholy, but strong to have for Blood. The reason is that most of the damage for Unholy and some of the damage for Frost will not be mitigated by armor. Blood, however, deals mostly in physical damage and is affected by armor to a greater deal than the other two specs. Since the value of armor penetration increases with the more you have of it, at a certain point a Blood DK should regem for nothing but armor penetration. There is a hard cap of 1400 armor pentetration (which gives 100% armor reduction).
Expertise Rating - Expertise has its uses for a Death Knight, depending on the spec. As Blood, Expertise is nearly as strong as Hit Rating, because 70-80% of Blood damage is of physical/melee nature and can be dodged, parried or blocked. As an Unholy, Expertise is not as important as as Blood, but still very useful, because your main damage sources (Scourge Strike, White Hits and Blood Strike) are of melee nature and can be dodged, parried or blocked. After Patch 3.2, Frost Strike can be dodged, parried or blocked, so Expertise Rating is more important for Frost than before, but it still is not as important as for Blood. You need 26 expertise skill to never be dodged.
Crit Rating - Crit Rating has its uses for a Death Knight, but it is dependent on the spec. All specs benefit from crit, but none should bother gemming for it.
Agility - Agility only affects two things in a Death Knight: armor and crit chance. Overall, a Death Knight is better served by Crit Rating over Agility because Crit Rating will turn into more crit than Agility, as far as DPS goes.
Haste Rating - As for 4.0.1, Haste Rating affects rune regeneration, as well as the Global CoolDown (GCD). That's why Haste Rating is a favourable stat for Unholy specs. Please note, that currently disease ticks are not affected by haste rating.
Both Abomination's Might and Ebon Plague are much wanted in raids for obvious reasons, so a guild can make you cut back on damage to increase others'. 5-man instances can be done with a full physical/magical group to benefit more from the talents, but as the group is often balanced it is better to just spec for your own damage.
Be sure to keep Horn of Winter up at all times unless superseded by a Shaman's totem. In this case, the shaman may choose to situationally use a different totem instead. Hysteria can drastically improve a player's DPS but be sure healers are aware of who you are using it on and when. More often than not, Hysteria is best placed on a character other than the Death Knight which is doing more DPS, since the damage increase is a percentage.
Mark of Blood is useful in tight situations with a DPS race condition.