DK FAQ Class Basics (4.3)

Death Knight
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Asperia on Barthilas is my Death Knight


FOREWORD- <4.3> Cataclysm Update

This post has all the basic class information you'll need to start a DK in the post cataclysmic world, including specific information about early specializations, and the new races.

This is NOT a guide on how to play your DK at high levels, nor will it cover in depth analysis of skills or rotations.

For specialized views into late game DPS/Tanking/Gearing/etc, Be sure to check out the other threads on this forum maintained by competent DKs, or head over to for some good information.


This is an original work (Except for Ghoulgrims list of terminologies... because its awesome)

In this FAQ I will be covering the following areas:

  • 1: The restrictions and such
  • 2: General Information on the Death Knight and about the Start of a Death Knight
  • 3: Play style of A DK
  • 4: Death Knight Specializations and Masteries
  • 5: Ghoulgrim's list of DK Terminologies
  • 6: Questions from the Community
  • 7: Something on Rotations!

  • Here we go.

    1: The restrictions and such

    1a) I bought Cataclysm, and I cant make a Death Knight?!

      As the Death Knight is WoW's first Hero Class that begins at a high level, there is a level restriction in place to prevent newcomers to the game from missing out on all that Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor quest wisdom. You must have a level 55 or over character somewhere on your account to create a Death Knight. This level is set at 55 due to the Death Knight also starting at 55.

      As Cataclysm is the last expansion in a series of expansions, and the Death Knight was introduced in Wrath of the Lich King, make sure you have a valid Wrath of the Lich King or Cataclysm Level account (checkable under account management).

    1b) Awesome, I'm just gonna go roll 9 Death Knight Alts

      You're welcome to, however I hope you don't mean on the same realm. There is a restriction on Death Knight creation to 1 per realm. PVP realm rules no longer apply. You can make a Horde DK even if your chars are allied.

    1c) What happens to my 55+ character?!

      Nothing. You don't sacrifice it, it doesn't become your Death Knight, it doesn't wave at your Death Knight in a dark alley, etc etc. The Death Knight is created at the character select screen, just like everyone else.

    1c-2) What happens if I create a DK with a 55+ char, then delete that char with no other 55+s on my account?

      Nothing. As long as you have a 55+ on creation, your DK will not be affected should you delete all other 55+s.

    1d) Role Play Support?

      I'm not a role player, but I can only assume that Role Play rules will still be heavily enforced on Role Play servers. They have strict naming rules too, so don't go namin' your DK Blaumeux or Rivendare :P

    1e) So, race restrictions?

      All Races can be Death Knights, Including the Cataclysm races of Goblin and Worgen.

      NB: If you create a Worgen or Goblin Death Knight you will proceed to do the Death Knight starting area, not Gilneas or Kezan. As such you will be ineligible for realm first of your race

    2: General Information on the Death Knight and about the Start of a Death Knight

    2a) So, What level does the death knight start as and why is it so?

      The Death Knight starts at level 55. This is due to it being classed as a 'Hero Class'. As former heroes of the Alliance or Horde, these corrupted beings have now been raised after death to continue servitude to the Lich King. This does mean when you first create you Death Knight, you're not officially part of the Alliance or Horde, but part of the Scourge. As seasoned veterans of both life and death, it is believed that running around Goldshire being owned by Defias Bandits is a little below their calibre.

    2a.5) I have to go and get my flight paths again?

      It appears that you get all of the FPs that existed before the Cataclysm, even if they might have moved (likely have the same unqiue ID). However, FPs that were added post-cataclysm you have to get on your own.

    2b) 55?! What about all my talents?!

      Upon first creation of a DK, you will have 0 talents. As you progress through the Death Knight only chain, you will get talent points as quest rewards. 1-3 talents a quest. Respecs until you leave the instanced area, are free.
    2c) What gear we talkin' here?

      Your DK will start in a suit of greens which will eventually upgrade to a suit of blues by the time the chain is over.

    2c-2) - Are DKs restricted to plate gear?

      Like all other plate classes, DKs can wear Plate, Mail, Leather and Cloth

    2d-1) Can I get killed by other players doing the DK chain?

      No. The DK chain takes place in an instanced area. Horde DKs and Allied DKs are in separate instances until the final bit of the chain. The Ebon Hold is a sanctuary anyway so no pvp can occur.

    2e) So like, I start off with 300 in every profession yeah?

      No. You get a high skill in First Aid which allows for heavy runecloth bandaging. That's it. If you want to level up professions, you're going back to lovable Eastern Kingdoms after your Chain.

    (Spoiler) 2f) So I'm on the chain and I'm up to this horse quest. WHY WONT HE TAKE MY HORSE?

      Your action bars have changed when you mount the horse.

      1) Turns the horse into the dude

      2) Is like a sprint for 5 secs to help you get away from the elite roaming the area

    (Potential spoiler ) 2g) So like, I'm sure there were guys down there last time I went down there

      This is a new system called the WoW Phasing system. As you progress through quests, your input into the area is shown without teleporting to a different area, and without a load screen. There are different levels of phasing. The most extreme phases prevent you from interacting with other players whom are on different parts of the quest chain than you. The transition between phases is so seemless, you won't notice it till it has happened. This new system really advances plots as you can see the effect your assistance gives to, in this case, the scourge's attack on New Avalon. The Death Knight starting areas is only one of many new phases in Northrend, You'll just have to find them!

    2h) How hard is this chain?

      As hard as it needs to be for a 55 + Teaching new game mechanics. This chain should be where you judge if a Death Knight is right for you. IF you don't really understand the play style or aren't enjoying the play style, it would probably be best to discontinue (after you finish the epic chain of course)

    3: Play style of A DK

    The Death Knight is, in my opinion, a very calculated class. Like many other classes, you'll find a rotation that works and stick to it, however there is a lot of rune combos that work.

    3a) The Rune System]

    A Death Knight's power comes from their rune blade. Unlike original concepts, Death Knights have been built around 2 Blood runes, 2 Frost runes and 2 Unholy runes. These runes cannot be changed. The previous way to change these runes, 'Runeforging', has been remade. It is now an ability for Death Knights to enchant their own weapons with rune enchants that are better than commercially available enchanter enchants. They are FREE and you can change them as many times as you want. However this can only be done in The Ebon Hold. Like Druids, you will learn a spell to open a portal back to The Ebon Hold at any time.

    You have 2 forms of attacks. Rune Skills and Runic Power Skills.

    Rune Skills are staple abilities of the class that consume runes to function. Each rune has a base 10 second cooldown. For example, I use Icy Touch. This consumes 1 frost rune. Then I use Chains of Ice, also 1 frost. I will no longer be able to use skills that require a frost rune until the first rune cools down. Some Talents allow for your runes to come back as "Death Runes". These runes count as any of the three rune types.

    Whenever you use a Rune Skill, you will generate Runic Power (very similar to rage in that it degenerates over time). These skills are mainly used to tie rotations together. You have a base maximum of 100 runic power which can be increased via talents. Different Rune Skills generate different amounts of Runic Power.
    An example of a Runic Power consuming skill you will have access to on creation of a Death Knight is Death Coil. This skill consumes 40 runic power to launch a ball of death at an enemy to damage them; and can also be used to heal your undead minion which is introduced in 3b.

    In order to generate the Runic power required to cast Death Coil, I would need to cast 4 single rune strikes if I have no talents placed; as there are talents that increases the runic power generation of your moves.

    Recap: 6 runes -- 2 Blood, 2 Unholy, 2 Frost. -- 100 runic power (130 with 3 points in tier 1 frost)

    3b) The Ghoul Mechanics

    No matter your spec, you will have the spell Raise Dead (trained at level 56).

    Assuming no talents have been placed: A ghoul will last for 1 minute and the spell has a 3 minute cool down. You will have no control over the ghoul. It will attack whatever you attack.

    Unholy Death Knights have a lot more versatility in the Ghoul department which has been drastically changed in Cataclysm. I will go over their bonuses more in the Specialisations Section (Part 4).

    Another interesting thing to note is, since your ghoul is undead, you can launch a Death Coil at his face!... Like Arthas in WC3, your Death Coil heals undead friendly targets like your pet ghouly. On the flip side, Death Pact (lvl66) allows you to kill your ghoul to restore your hp.

    Prior to Cataclysm you could also have exploded your ghoul with Corpse Exlposion. This spell has since been removed from the game.

    3b - 1) If I'm an unholy DK with a ghoul and I mount will it die?

      No, it functions as a normal pet as you have the Mastery of Ghouls talent built into your mastery, which is covered more in Part 4.

    3b - 2) You've been talking about a single ghoul. What about that mad DK who summoned all them Ghouls at once on the Blizzcon trailer?

      Don't worry. Your mad lust to send ghouls at innocents is still in the game. With a 10 minute cool down, the spell "Army of the Dead" allows for the summoning of a huge legion of ghouls (channeled for 4 seconds) for ~ 1 minute. These ghouls will just run around and kill anything they see. They also taunt EVERYTHING.

    4) Death Knight Specializations and Masteries

    With Cataclysm comes a whole new way of doing Talents. You first must select a tree to master in, and must place 31 points in this tree to gain access to the other two trees. Choosing a master tree does give you some extreme early benefits that I will outline here.

    Each Tree will also have an ability I have noted as a "mastery" ability. This ability will be influenced by the new 80+ stat "mastery". For more info on mastery, check out mmochampion.

    Another thing to note, is that while blizzard's intentions of making all trees capable of tanking and dpsing worked to some degree, they have decided to make dedicated trees. Blood will be the tanking tree, Frost will be the Dual Wielders DPS tree and Unholy will be the Two Handed DPS tree.

    4.1) Blood

    Blood is now the tanking tree. For choosing this tree as your primary mastered tree, you will receive the following benefits instantly:

    • Blood Rites (Passive): Whenever you hit with Death Strike or Obliterate, the Frost and Unholy Runes will become Death Runes when they activate. Death Runes count as a Blood, Frost or Unholy Rune.

    • Heart Strike(Rank 1)(1 Blood Rune): Instantly strike the target and up to two additional nearby enemies, causing 100% weapon damage plus XXX on the primary target, with each additional enemy struck taking 25% less damage than the previous target. Damage dealt to each target is increased by an additional 10% for each of your diseases present.

    • Vengeance(Passive): Each time you take damage, you gain 5% of the damage taken as attack power, up to a maximum of 10% of your health.

    • Veteran of the Third War(Passive): Increases your total Stamina by 9% and your expertise by 6

    • Mastery Bonus Blood Shield (Rank 1) : Each time you heal yourself via Death Stike, you gain 50% of the amount healed as a damage absorption shield. Each point of Mastery increases the shield by an additional 6.25%.

    4.2) Frost

    Frost is now the dedicated Dual Wielder's DPS Tree, however 2h specs are still competitive. The following bonuses are received for choosing frost as a Primary Tree.

    • Icy Talons(Passive) : Your melee attack speed is increased by 20%.

    • Frost Strike(Rank 1)(40 Runic Power): Instantly strike the enemy, causing 110% weapon damage plus XXX Frost damage.

    • Blood of the North(Passive): Whenever you hit with Blood Strike or Pestilence, the Blood Rune will become a Death Rune when it activates. Death Runes count as a Blood, Frost or Unholy Rune.

    • Mastery Bonus Frozen Heart(Rank 1) Increases all frost damage done by 16%. Each point of Mastery increases frost damage by an additional 2%

    4.3) Unholy

    Unholy is now the dedicated Two-Handed DPS Tree. Unholy Still retains it's proficiency in Ghouls which is included in the Primary Tree bonuses below, however there are some additional changes I will list afterwards.

    • Master of Ghouls (Passive): Reduces the cooldown on Raise Dead by 60 sec, and the Ghoul summoned by your Raise Dead spell is considered a pet under your control. Unlike normal Death Knight Ghouls, your pet does not have a limited duration.

    • Reaping (Passive): Whenever you hit with Blood Strike, Pestilence, or Festering Strike, the Runes spent will become Death Runes when they activate. Death Runes count as a Blood, Frost or Unholy Rune.

    • Scourge Strike(Rank 1)(1Unholy): An unholy strike that deals 100% of weapon damage as Physical damage plus XXX. In addition, for each of your diseases on your target, you deal an additional 12% of the Physical damage done as Shadow damage.

    • Unholy Might(Passive): Dark power courses through your limbs, increasing your Strength by 15%.

    • Mastery Bonus Blightcaller : Increases the damage done by your diseases by 32%. Each point of Mastery increases disease damage by an additional 4%.

    4.3.5) Ghoul Changes (Pun Intended):

    Unholy Death Knights in Cataclysm have the opportunity to put points into the following two talents:

    Shadow Infusion

    Rank 1-3 : When you cast Death Coil, you have a [33%/66%/100%] chance to empower your active Ghoul, increasing its damage dealt by 10% for 30 sec. Stacks up to 5 times.

    Dark Transformation

    Rank 1 : Consume 5 charges of Shadow Infusion on your Ghoul to transform it into a powerful undead monstrosity for 30 sec. The Ghoul's abilities are empowered and take on new functions while the transformation is active.

    These in combination can turn your ghoul into a massive Plaguewalker. More info on this can be found here :

    About half way down.

    4.4 Other New Skills

    • Dark Simulacrum (Level 85) : Places a dark ward on an enemy that persists for 8 sec, triggering when the enemy next spends mana on a single-target spell, and allowing the Death Knight to unleash an exact duplicate of that spell. Against nonplayers, only absorbs some harmful spells. (1 minute cooldown)

      • This skill allows you to mimic the next cast of the enemy you cast it on. There will be restrictions on what you can mimic from npcs.

    • Necrotic Strike(Level 83) : A vicious strike that deals 100% weapon damage and absorbs the next [ 75% of AP ] healing received by the target. For 15 sec, or until the full amount of healing is absorbed, the target's casting time is increased by 30%.

      • This skill basically puts a shield on the enemy that absorbs incoming healing, while allowing you to damage through it as normal. While the shield holds, it also slows casting speed.

    • Outbreak (Level 81) Instantly applies Blood Plague and Frost Fever to the target enemy. (1 min cooldown)

      • Good for quickly getting your diseases on something when fights require you to switch targets.

    • Runic Empowerment(Passive)(Level 68) :When you use your Death Coil, Frost Strike, or Rune Strike ability, you have a 45% chance to activate a random fully depleted rune.

    • Festering Strike(Level 64) : An instant attack that deals 150% weapon damage plus XXX and increases the duration of your Blood Plague, Frost Fever, and Chains of Ice effects on the target by up to 6 sec.
    5: Death Knight Terminology

    (I dont usually like to take things I didn't write. But Ghoulgrim from the beta forums posted this excellent terminology guide and allowed others to repost it. - CREDITS TO GHOULGRIM <3)

    AMS - Anti-magic Shell
    AMZ - Anti-magic Zone
    AotD - Army of the Dead
    B - Blood rune (1B = one blood rune, etc.)
    BB - Blood Boil
    BCB - Blood Caked Blade
    BP - Blood Plague
    BS - Blood Strike
    BT - Blood Tap
    CE - Corpse Explosion (REMOVED)
    CF - Crypt Fever
    CoI - Chains of Ice
    Desc - Desecration
    Deso - Desolation
    DnD - Death and Decay
    DC - Death Coil
    DK - Death Knight
    DRM - Death Rune Mastery
    DRW - Dancing Rune Weapon
    EP - Ebon Plague, Ebon Plaguebringer
    ERW - Empower Rune Weapon
    F - Frost rune (1F = one frost rune, etc.)
    FF - Frost Fever
    FS - Frost Strike
    FU - Rune combination that generally results in a strong rune attack.
    GoG - Guile of Gorefiend
    HB - Howling Blast
    HC - Hungering Cold
    HoW - Horn of Winter
    HS - Heart Strike
    IBF - Icebound Fortitude
    IIT - Improved Icy Talons
    IT - Icy Touch / Icy Talons (IT is usually icy touch when used in rotation layouts)
    LB - Lichborne
    MoB - Mark of Blood
    MoM - Might of Mograine
    OB - Obliterate
    PS - Plague Strike
    RoR - Rage of Rivendare
    RP - Runic Power
    RPM - Runic Power Mastery
    RS - Rune Strike
    RT - Rune Tap
    SS/ScS - Scourge Strike (not to be confused with Sinister Strike, or Steady Shot)
    ToT - Threat of Thaussarian (
    U - Unholy rune (1U = one unholy rune, etc.)
    UA - Unbreakable Armor
    UB - Unholy Blight
    VB - Vampiric Blood

    6: Questions from the Community

    Scarrune <Velen> : Q: How do you repair yourself when you are damaged? You start off with so little money that you really can't afford to repair your armor. I went to my main, warrior character and sent my DK character 100g, and then went back into the game as DK, now I am unable to find a mailbox in which to get this money. So Now I'm stuck with damaged armor, damaged sword, and no way to repair myself making doing any quests impossible. Please advise.

    A: There is a repairer up in Ebon hold (next to the anvils) but the Mailbox in the starting area is down the bottom. After the attack on the humans begins you can go out of Death's Breach and towards the human village. Next to one of the first houses there is a mailbox that you can use. If you cant find it, activate the blizzard UI (turn off all your mods) and activate the Mailbox tracker that is on the minimap of the Blizzard UI (looks like a telescope when you click it you can track for a lot of things)

    Bhosux <Kael'thas>: Q: So why were/are DKs aligned with Horde or Alliance in the first place? They fought and killed both. I think a true DK should be neutral and be able to pick and choose a side when and for as long as it suits them. After all they are DEATH Knights, not Weenie Knights. I just do not see them being obliged to belong to either side; their only goal being revenge on the LK and to heck on who or what they use to get it.

    A: That's all explained in the DK chain ^_^.

    But I'll reiterate.

    You are actually not part of the alliance/horde at all. You're part of the Knights of the Ebon Blade. Highlord Darion Mograine asked you, a former champion of the alliance/horde army; to present Tirions peace treaty to your leader. If you had gone to the opposing factions leader, not only would you not know their language, they would have simply killed you on the spot for being an alliance/horde. They wouldnt even think twice hey this guys a death knight.
    So you're only assisting the alliance/horde by request of highlord mograine as our order needs allies to survive.

    Zorik: <Burning Legion>: Q: Ok, about the new split ghoul spells. I only have a raise ghoul, and no raise ally. Also, when I go to a trainer, I see no new raise ally spell that I can learn, now (lvl 66), or even at the later levels? Is it a quest or what?

    A: Trained at level 72 :)

    Laenei: <Nodrassil>: Q: Ok so heres the next stupid question, lol. I just finished the Chapel of light quest and was released from the Lich Kings hold- Now where do I go for my next quests?

    A: When you handed in the quest and got the weapon, you were also taught Death Gate, the ability which allows you to open a portal back to Acherus. Use that and step through it, Acherus is in the middle of a civil war which you need to stop!

    Thanks for reading my FAQ. :). Please feel free to ask questions or like the post! ^_^
    7 Something on Rotations:

    I've had a few requests to write a something on the rotations of the specs. Now as I am playing and have had a chance to grasp the new system, I can say that a clear cut 'rotation' isn't really something that can be just said. More so, it will come down to a priority system or something of the like.

    As posted by Tesoni of Nazgrel "Because of Runic Empowerment adding an aditional random element to frost on top of Rime and Killing Machine procs, a fixed rotation is completely infeasible."

    What this means is, due to the new passive ability called Runic Empowerment (When you use your Death Coil, Frost Strike, or Rune Strike ability, you have a 45% chance to activate a random fully depleted rune) adding a degree of randomness into whether your runes are available for use or not, the skills you will have to use differ depending on the situation.

    Frost have a few more random occurances to deal with as their talents "Rime" and "Killing Machine" make certain abilities immediately able for use, or more effective respectively. (Rime: Your Obliterate has a 45% chance to cause your next Howling Blast or Icy Touch to consume no runes. Killing Machine: Your melee attacks have a chance to make your next Icy Touch, Obliterate, or Frost Strike a guaranteed critical strike.)


    I've taken this section out due to it being outdated.
    Pretty Decent guide to new death knights, any plans to add priority lists for each spec?
    Every new death knight should have a good idea of how to do things :D
    A few notes:
    • Corpse Dust is now irrelevant, as of patch 4.01. Unneeded for Raise Dead.

    • Army of the Dead is channeled for 4 seconds, not 5. I also believe they live for 45 seconds each, not 60, but I could be mistaken on that.

    • Mastery is trainable at level 80, not 78.

    • "Blizzard have stated that 2h frost is still possible, but will not be optimal" was never, ever said. Quite wrong. They've directly posted that they intend for 2H Frost to be just as viable as DW Frost and, as it currently stands, it is.

    Probably some other minor things, but I'll look more closely later.

    Off to explore the new forums!
    Ugh, can't get my image to swap to my DK.

    At any rate, what I was going to say Consider already did. Though I will add that some of your spell's rune costs are incorrect. Death and Decay only requires a single Unholy rune, as does Scourge Strike. Festering Stike is Unholy's new FU attack.
    Yeah some of the rune costs have changed in 4.0.1. I'll need to update that. I' tried to find the quote about the 2h frost thing but I cant so I'll assume you're right and I'm going to change that bit now.

    Thanks for contributing
    Pretty Decent guide to new death knights, any plans to add priority lists for each spec?
    Every new death knight should have a good idea of how to do things :D

    I'll try to fit something basic in there, but I don't want to go into complex priority systems for tanking or dps. I'll leave the endgame to someone who's better with the numbers :)
    Fixing all the little copy errors now. ^^.
    Nice post, but do you happen to have anything on rotations for the 3 main builds.
    I used to play Blood DPS when DKs where first released, but recently remade my DK after deleting her a few months back and now seems Frost is the way to go for me as far as PvE DPS and PvP as well. But seems that rotation feels cumbersome compaired to what Blood used to.

    I keep trying to go IT, PS, HS, HS, Obl, Obl.. but it falls short of even getting the 2nd Obl off and many times I dont seem to be able to get FS to even flow smoothly as well.

    Anyone mind throwing me a bone here to help get my DK back on track?

    Thanks in advanced..
    Thank you Elixir.
    Could you post an example of rotations please. Just the basic when starting out for each spec. I have a 72 UD DK but I havent played for a while so I am a little rusty. Thank you for all the great information btw, it helps.
    Yeah, some nice rotations would be very helpful, i'm also looking for some.
    Dumb question but I like the dark look to the death knights do they have any specific armor they can choose from doing guest or does it fall under what a heavy armor class gets?
    I'm just going through real quick to find sudgestions to make...

    First thing I noticed is that you say frost is DW only, it is Intended to be either DW or 2H(UH is 2H only), though at the moment 2H frost is at a noticable disadvantage. It's still sorta viable though.

    For that matter supposedly people are DWing as Unholy and it's competative with DW frost. Though my understanding is that that is completely unintended by blizzard.

    Because of Runic Empowerment adding an aditional random element to frost on top of Rime and Killing Machine procs, a fixed rotation is completely infeasible.

    The same goes for Unholy.

    The priority for frost is:
    Diseases > Ob if both Frost/Unholy pairs and/or both Death runes are up, or if KM is procced > BS if both Blood Runes are up > FS if RP capped > Rime > Ob > BS > FS > HoW.

    It takes some major practice, but the dificulty of the rotation substantialy increases the gap between good DKs and bad DKs.

    Overall, it's not a terrible introduction for someone who has never played a DK before, but I think you should spend MUCH more time explaining how the priority systems work for frost and unholy.

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