WoW: Death Knight Class Guide

Find out all the basics about the Death Knight class and why you should play one.

Welcome to the basics portion of our Death Knight class guide. In this section of the guide we cover all the really basic ideas about the Death Knight class, such as:

  • What is a Death Knight?
  • Why should you play one?
  • What roles can they fill in a group?
  • What races can become a Death Knight?
  • What are runes, runic power, and presences?
  • And much more.

you will be provided more information on the Death Knight including why you should play one, what profession and race you should choose, as well as being introduced to some of the unique mechanics that make this unholy warrior take on a play style unheard of in the other classes available in World of Warcraft. Enjoy!

Getting Started

What is a Death Knight?

Death Knights are the first and so far only hero class in World of Warcraft. What exactly does it mean to be a hero class? Not all that much really, all it means is that you first need to have one character on your account reach level 55 and then you unlock the ability to create a Death Knight character, which will start at level 55.

A Death Knight is an unholy warrior that was at one time committed to the Lich King. They were made for evil purposes but many (the player controlled ones and several NPC's) have pulled away and gained free will and joined either the Horde or the Alliance. How a Death Knight plays depends a lot on which of their three specs you chose, but in essence they are plate wearing hard hitting death dealers. Think of an unholy paladin or necromantic warrior and you would not be far off.

Why should you play a Death Knight?

With all the other classes to chose from you might wondering if a Death Knight is the right class choice for you. I would argue that almost everyone should have a Death Knight to play for a few simple reasons.

  • A Death Knight is a great second character since they start out at level 55.
  • Death Knights start leveling in their own instanced starting zone that has a great storyline and is worth playing through even if you choose not to level past finishing the zone.
  • Death Knights use Runic Power and Runes meaning they have two different consumable resources and are therefore a challenge to manage and play well.
  • They use both magic and melee abilities to defeat enemies.
  • A Death Knight has both slowing effects and pulling effects to control enemies in PVE or PVP situations.
  • Death Knights get to wear plate armor, have caster type attacks, and have pets!
  • Free weapon enchants thanks to the Death Knight’s free Runeforging ability.

If the details listed above appeal to you then the Death Knight class may be the perfect choice to you!

Death Knight Specializations

What spec should I pick for the Death Knight?

There are three major specializations that a Death Knight can choose from: Frost, Blood, and Unholy. Since a Death Knight starts at level 55 the normal process of getting to choose a spec at level 10 and then earning a talent point every few levels doesn't apply. Instead you will get abilities and items as you work your way through the heavily scripted starting zone and finally get to pick a spec and spend a whole lot of talent points.

Choosing your specialization is best done with some consideration on how you want to play the game, or what this character is meant for, after all this is by definition your second character in the game. Maybe you want a tank to play, or maybe this character is just for melee DPS in PVE, or maybe you are looking to kick some butt in the battlegrounds. For more information take a glance at the description of each spec below:

  • Frost - Those who choose the Frost specialization will find their melee abilities enhanced in both AoE and single target damage. This spec is also filled with various damage mitigation and Rune timer reducing abilities that can help save the Death Knight in a pinch. Frost Death Knights can also choose to dual wield efficiently unlike the other specs which use 2-handed weapons predominantly. Due to the control Frost offers it is exceptionally strong in PVP battlegrounds.
  • Unholy - Those Death Knights who choose the Unholy specialization will delve into a world where diseases reign supreme and ghoulish minions come to your beck and call. Unholy Death Knights truly love suffering and the Unholy tree reflects it by enhancing the various diseases and plagues available to the Death Knight as well as beefing up other spells related directly to death and suffering. Not to mention providing the Death Knight with a permanent companion in the form of a not so cute ghoul. Unholy is very strong in PVP due to the constant nature of the damage it puts out.
  • Blood - Blood is currently the official tanking spec for Death Knights everywhere and the tree certainly reflects it. Filled with talents that allow the Death Knight to self heal, as well as many spells that provide damage reduction and/or avoidance. This spec also provides a useful buff that increases the attack power of all party and raid members as well as increasing the total Strength of the Death Knight.

Death Knight Races

What is the best race for the Death Knight?

A Death Knight can be any race in the game for either Horde or Alliance, which means you have a lot to chose from.

Each race has its own advantages and disadvantages, some of which can be pretty substantial. Remember though that unless you are looking to absolutely maximize your character the ultimate decision of which race you choose should be based on your own personal feelings rather than racial abilities. If you are a hard core raider or PVP player than the racial's probably should take preference, but if not, pick the race you like the most.

If you chose to play as Horde then your best choices are:

  • Tauren if you are going to focus on tanking due to the extra 5% health they provide.
  • Orc if you chose to play as Unholy due to the bonus to pet damage and attack power.
  • Orc or Goblin if you chose to play as Frost due to the 1% attack speed increase.

If you chose to play as Alliance then your best choices are:

  • Dwarf or Draenei if you are going to focus on tanking due to the Dwarf stone form ability that removes poison, disease, bleeds and increases armor for 8 seconds at a time. As a Draenei they get 1% bonus to hit and a self heal, which are both useful.
  • Worgen or Draenei if you chose to play as Frost or Unholy due to the 1% crit bonus or the 1% hit bonus. The Worgen bonus is the better DPS increase but the hit from Draenei can help as well and better than any other choice besides Worgen

Death Knight Professions

What is the best Profession for a Death Knight?

Choosing a profession can seem like a difficult task, but really it isn't any more. All professions offer major boosts to starts that are fairly standardized across the board in value. However if you want to maximize your benefits, your best options are as follows, based on your spec.

  • DPS players should choose Blacksmithing due to the 2 extra gem slots that you can add to items, and Engineering as your second so that you can get the strength boost to gloves from that profession.
  • Tank players should go with Blacksmithing, again for the 2 extra gem slots, and Mining for the 120 stamina buff it provides at level 85.

Death Knight Runes and Runic Power

How do Runes and Runic Power work for the Death Knight?

Mana, energy, rage, or even focus may be what you eyes paid very close attention to while leveling up. You needed to pay so much attention to these things because these were the forces that powered your spells and allowed you to defeat your enemies. Death Knights are the same in that they have consumable resources that they use, yet totally different because they have two of them that are interlinked to each other.

As a Death Knight you will find yourself equipped with six Runes that can be found directly below your health bar. Each Death Knight has two Blood, two Frost, and two Unholy Runes. Death Knight abilities will require a set number and type of runes to work, for example a spell may require one Unholy Rune and one Frost Rune to be useable. Once the ability has been activated the Runes used to power it will become inactive for a short period of time until they have recharged at which time they may be used again. If the Runes needed for an ability are recharging you will not be able to use that ability until they are active again.

Certain abilities can affect the recharge rate on your Runes or even convert them into a special type known as Death Runes. Death Runes are special because they can be used for any of the three Rune types; Blood, Frost, or Unholy.

Not to mention that each time you use a Rune the Death Knight will gain Runic Power. Runic Power is similar to a Warrior’s rage. Every time a rune is used your Runic Power will increase. The Death Knight has several abilities, such as Death Coil, that work solely off of Runic Power and can be used when you have accumulated enough. Also like Rage, Runic Power depletes over time, so be sure to use it when it is available!

Death Knight Presences

What are Death Knight Presences?

Much like Warrior’s various stances, Death Knights have access to several personal auras in this case known as Presences. The three Presences available to the Death Knight are:

  • Frost Presence - Strengthens the Death Knight with the presence of Frost, increasing damage by 10% and increasing Runic Power generation by 10%.
  • Blood Presence - The Death Knight assumes the presence of Blood, increasing Stamina by 8%, armor contribution from cloth, leather, mail, and plate items by 30% and reducing damage taken by 8%. Also increases threat generated.
  • Unholy Presence - The Death Knight is infused with unholy fury, increasing attack speed and rune regeneration by 10%, and movement speed by 15%, and reducing the global cool down on your abilities by 0.5 seconds.

As you can see these Presences provide powerful buffs to the Death Knight that compliment your chosen talent tree and help you fulfill your chosen role. Once a Presence has been activated the effects are continuous, and will last until the Death Knight changes them. The Death Knight may only have one active Presence at a time and if you choose to assume a new Presence all Runic Power you have gained will be instantly consumed.

Death Knight Equipment and Stats

How should I choose equipment and stats for the Death Knight?

Choosing equipment for your Death Knight is as simple as knowing which basics stats are the best for the class. Know this and you can easily discern which pieces of gear you should pick up and which you can safely pass by. While each spec will require similar stats, you will find that some will be more important for certain specs than others. Find a listing of the most useful stats (listed in order of usefulness) for each Death Knight spec below:

  • Blood: Dodge, Parry, Stamina, Mastery, Expertise (to cap), Strength, Hit (to cap)
  • Frost (Two-handed): Strength, Hit (to cap), Expertise (to cap), Haste, Mastery, Crit, Attack Power
  • Frost (Dual Wield): Strength, Hit (to cap), Haste, Expertise (to cap), Mastery, Attack Power, Crit
  • Unholy: Strength, Hit (to cap), Haste, Crit, Mastery, Expertise (to cap), Attack Power


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