Death Knights and PvP go together like peanut butter and jelly, and for many players PvP is the reason they started a Death Knight. On the battlefield of player versus player combat Death Knights become nigh unstoppable Tasmanian devil like killing machines as they scythe down opponent after opponent.

Join Byron "Messiah" Mudry as he runs you through all the basics of playing this PvP centric class.

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alt="" src="" />An introduction to Death Knight PvP

target="_blank">Death Knights and PvP go together like peanut butter and jelly, and for many players PvP is the reason they started a Death Knight. On the battlefield of player versus player combat Death Knights become nigh unstoppable Tasmanian devil like killing machines as they scythe down opponent after opponent.

A Death Knight’s abilities make them ideal DPS characters in battlegrounds since they have survivability, AoE damage abilities, and single target burst DPS.  They also bring the ability to slow opponents, shutdown casters and pull enemies into range.  It’s little wonder that Death Knights outnumber most other classes in battlegrounds and arenas.

So now that we are all on the same page, and understand how good Death Knights can be in PvP combat, where do you start on your journey from passive PvE DPS or Tank to all out PvP killing machine?  This guide introduces the basics that you should be aware of as a Death Knight starting to PvP including talent builds, choice of presence, key abilities, starting PvP gear, and some basic tactics.

Talent Builds

As a Death Knight in PvP you are there to do damage.  This means that no mater which tree you focus on, you will be looking to increase your damage output and your survivability.

Blood 48/14/9 – This is a solid PvP build that focuses on damage output and healing ability.  A blood build is a very popular PvP build since you can heal a significant amount of health back using Death Strike.  This allows you to stay alive in the fight much longer than you normally would be able to, all while still causing big damage. This build excels at hunting down opponents one on one due to its self sustenance.

Unholy 19/0/52 – This build attempts to do as much AoE damage as possible to spread the love, er, well spread the diseases and damage at least. While unholy does not do as much single target damage as a blood build, it puts out more damage overall.  This is through its diseases and AoE damage.  In crowded battlegrounds this is a solid option.

Frost 0/60/10 – This build is about damage and control.  Frost builds tend to start slow, but have a lot of crowd control ability once they start to generate runic power.  They make excellent are protectors in battlegrounds, protecting a flag or base until additional help gets there.


Next, let’s look at Death Knight presences to see which should be used while in PvP combat. It is important to remember that each presence has its use, but that you can and should switch between them.  A well timed switch can save your life, or help finish off an opponent.

Blood – This is a solid choice when you are in battle grounds for PvP since it provides 15% extra damage and some healing.  If you take the Blood Aura talent you can provide that same healing benefit to everyone in your group, which makes it worth while in battlegrounds but only so-so in small scale arena combat.

Unholy – This is the PvP presence to use other than specific circumstances.  It allows you to move faster, attack faster and use more special abilities due to dropping your GCD (Global Cooldown) from 1.5 seconds to 1 second.  This presence is often underrated since your attacks do not hit for the same big numbers that they do with blood active, however you hit so much faster, and can use more abilities when you need them, that it really is the one you should use when PvPing.

Frost – Frost is the tanking presence and as such is not used a whole lot in PvP.  However since it provides additional health and armor on demand it can be a life saver when you are being focused on.  Keep it in mind and switch to it when you are being attacked if you need that extra little bit of survivability.

Key Abilities

As a Death Knight you have a plethora of useful abilities for all situations.  This is not a complete list by any means, it is a list of just some of the useful abilities and when you should use them.

Icebound Fortitude – This is a PvE tanking ability, however it is also one of the best PvP abilities out there.  It reduces all incoming damage for 12 seconds and makes you immune to stun effects for the same time period.  This ensures that you can survive being the focus of attacks while your healers switch, or when a rogue tries to stun lock you.

Bone Shield – Bone shield offers you mitigation on incoming damage, and buffs your outgoing damage while charges are still up.  This is a great Unholy talent that any player with point in Unholy should grab.

Diseases – Your diseases should be up on most targets as your larger strikes (Obliterate and Scourge Strike) gain damage from having them up.  Even more important is the healing that they provide back to you when you land a Death Strike.  Both of those effects are in addition to Icy Touch’s ability to slow down an opponent’s attacks and Plague Strike causing damage over time to them.

Death Strike – This is one of your key PvP attacks as long as you have diseases up on your target.  Being able to heal as you do damage, for a non-healing class, is huge.  Using this ability any time you can will add to your longevity in a battleground immensely.

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Death & Decay is great when there are multi enemies nearby

Death and Decay - Death & Decay is your primary AoE damage ability.  It causes a decent amount of damage over time to anyone in its target area.  This is a great ability to use around objectives or in confined spaces.

Obliterate / Annihilation – Obliterate is a great attack, and almost all blood builds use it as a primary attack.  However since it uses up the diseases placed on a target, you really need to team it up with annihilation from the Frost tree so that it leaves the diseases in place.

Rune Tap – Once you get this talent and its improved version it really helps heal and keep you alive any time you need.  20% of your health is more than enough to keep you alive for that few seconds until your runes cooldown so you can get diseases up on a target and attack with Deathstrike to gain even more health back.

Lichborne – This is an amazing talent based ability that lets you out all CC and makes you immune to further CC for 15 seconds.  It’s like having a second, better, PvP trinket.  Even better, while under its effects you count as undead, which means you can heal yourself with Deathcoil.

Gearing for PvP

One of the things that many players new to PvP combat do not consider is the difference in gear required.  Many players jump straight from PvE to PvP without even considering their gear.  The fact however is that just like in PvE, gear makes a huge difference.

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In PvE as a Death Knight you will either be focusing on +hit and strength as a DPS player or defence, stamina and mitigation as a tank.  In PvP your focus shifts dramatically and your primary stats become resilience and stamina.  In PvP to be able to do damage you need to be alive, and since there are no tanks in PvP and players will focus on whoever appears the most threatening (which we will attempt to be) you need to survive long enough to do damage.

When you are first starting out there are several great options available to you.  The first is the entire savage saronite set that Blacksmiths can craft for you and that you can wear starting at level 78.  This set includes a helm, shoulders, chest, wrist, hands, waist, legs and boots and provides a very solid amount of resilience at 360 for the complete set along with almost 560 stamina, a ton of strength, and +crit. 

If you have run any instances while your faction has controlled Wintergrasp you probably have a pile of Wintergrasp marks kicking around.  There are a few nice pieces you can buy from the Wintergrasp vendor that will give you a nice start as well.  If you venture into Wintergrasp and participate in some battles, you can also buy the Titan-forged helm and boots, which are pretty big upgrades from anything you will be coming in with.

Once you start PvPing you will earn honour, battleground badges, arena points, arena ranking, and Wintergrasp tokens (all depending on what you chose to do).  All these can be spent at their specific vendors to obtain even better PvP gear.  In addition you can collect the PvE heroic tokens to turn in for several nice PvP gear choices.

Basic PvP tactics

Deathgrip FTW – One of your key abilities as described above is deathgrip.  While it is useful even when just you are there to DPS, it is amazing when you are with a group or players.  Almost any class can be taken down quickly in PvP when focused on by several players, however they have a nasty habit of trying to run away, or being protected by other players.  As a Death Knight you can select the target for your team, and pull them into your midst.  Once there, everyone focuses on them and CC’s them in place, ensuring that they quickly meet their maker (or at least become familiar with the battleground re-spawn process), also you can help if you...

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Remember to slow enemies down with Chains of Ice

Remember Chains of Ice – Many Death Knights get so tied up in doing damage that they forget control.  Even though we do not have a long term form of CC, chains of ice can be cast repetitively to slow an opponent.  USE IT!  Once you have someone close to you and your allies, keep that player slowed and in range.

AoE tactics – Something to remember is that sometimes it is more important to do mass AoE damage than focus on a single target.  Many times in battlegrounds healers will focus on a single target, as DPS changes from one to another.  To counter this when there are 3+ players in an area start throwing around AoE attacks.  This includes Death & Decay, diseases spread by pestilence, Blood Boil, Corpse Explosion, and Unholy Blight.  When there are large numbers of players all taking damage it is much harder to a healer to keep everyone at full, and it is likely enemy players will start to get bursted down between the heals that do come to each player.

One very cool AoE ability that Unholy players have in their bag of tricks is pulling off an Army of the Dead just to generate corpses when they die in a packed area.  Once they die, use them as ammunition for your corpse explosion.

style="border: 0px solid ; width: 150px; float: left;" />Caster Shutdown (or how to kill a healer!)
– Casters are your prime victims, make sure you remember that.  Between your anti-magic zone, strangulate, mind freeze and arcane torrent (if you’re a Blood Elf) there is little a caster can do once you focus on them.  They can not even run away since you can death grip them back and slow them with chains of ice.  This means that while everyone else in a PvP should be focusing on healers, you MUST be focusing on healers and casters.  It is very easy for a Death Knight to focus on, shut down, and kill any healer or caster. Once the healers in an area are dead, the DPS players will quickly fall as well.

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Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016

About The Author

Byron 1
Byron has been playing and writing about World of Warcraft for the past ten years. He also plays pretty much ever other Blizzard game, currently focusing on Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, while still finding time to jump into Diablo III with his son.


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