Death knight builds/Archive

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This page lists the standard Death Knight builds from pre Patch 4.0.1 - moved here for historical and reference purposes. For up to date builds and information please see Death knight builds


Spell deathknight bloodpresence.png Talents in this tree focus on physical damage-dealing abilities, such as [Blood Presence].

Any build that has over 52 points will be moved to the Death knight build samples.

If you specialize your talents in the Blood tree, your style of play will have two defining features. The first is that your main attack, [Heart Strike], uses only one rune. This will result in you doing more attacks, albeit with less strength. The second is that, in comparison to the other trees, the majority of your damage is physical and not magical.

Blood Leveling Build

Basic PvE Leveling (52/0/0)

PurposePvE / Solo
Talent Link(s) Wowhead
Tested patch3.1.0

A Blood Death Knight will rely on physical damage while having above average self-healing abilities to improve survivability. This is more obvious when investing in [Vampiric Blood] and [Rune Tap], and as you level up [Improved Rune Tap]. You will gain expertise and strength bonuses by investing in [Veteran of the Third War], [Abomination's Might], and [Blood Gorged]; however, a Blood Death Knight will shine the best when combining his [Death Strike], [Rune Tap] and [Vampiric Blood] with [Blood Gorged] by keeping himself at full health the majority of the time.

Example of useful rotations:

Plague Strike -> Icy Touch -> Heart Strike -> Heart Strike -> Obliterate -> Death Coil -> Plague Strike -> Icy Touch -> Heart Strike -> Heart Strike -> Heart Strike -> Heart Strike -> Death Coil
Icy Touch -> Plague Strike -> Death Strike -> Heart Strike -> Heart Strike -> Death Coil -> Obliterate -> Icy Touch -> Plague Strike -> Heart Strike -> Heart Strike -> Heart Strike -> Heart Strike -> Death Coil -> Obliterate -> Death Coil

Suggested Major Glyphs

 [Glyph of Death Strike]
 [Glyph of Vampiric Blood]
 [Glyph of Dark Death]

Suggested Minor Glyphs

 [Glyph of Pestilence]
 [Glyph of Blood Tap]

From here, filling out the Blood Tree is a decent way to proceed, with [Bloodworms], [Vendetta], [Scent of Blood] and [Improved Rune Tap] all being strong talents for soloing. Picking up [Virulence] will give an advantage in Player versus Player combat, especially against dispelling classes (if that's an interest of yours), as well as a small improvement to [Death Coil].

Blood Raid build

51/13/7 This build focus's on [Obliterate] & [Heart Strike] as main dps, ignoring [Blood Strikes] & [Death Strike]. [Improved Death Strikes] is not taken. [Glyph of Obliterate] [Glyph of Icy Touch] & [Glyph of Death & Decay] are taken as Majors to increase the effectiveness of [Improved Icy Touch] & [Black Ice]. {Bloodworms] adds a negligible amount of dps, but with no DS spending for improved DS is a greater waste.

Blood PvP build

While most of the core talents of a PvE Blood build is still useful in PvP, PvP Blood Death Knights need several more talents to enhance their survivability from enemy players and help to defeat them. These include -

  • Heart Strike &  [Glyph of Heart Strike] - While the other trees have talents to reduce your enemies' movement speed, Blood has a glyph. Being a melee class, slowing your enemies is essential.
  • [Rune Tap] & [Improved Rune Tap] - Rune Tap is considered by many to be an essential PvP talent for all Death Knights regardless of their main tree. While other trees have to dig deep to fully upgrade this ability, as a Blood Death Knight you can max it easily, and should do so.
  • [Mark of Blood] - can effectively neutralize fast attackers like rogues, feral druids, hunters and fury warriors and will severely hamper the damage done by others.

Most users wouldn't use Blood for PvP, mainly because you are easily kited around. Personally I would disagree, Blood can be kited but with the right rotation on CD's you should be able to get back in. Blood has a very high ability to stay alive with its own heals like Vampiric Blood, Rune Tap, and Mark of Blood. Blood is a rogue and feral druid killer, since they really cant do anything to you with your constant heals and wearing plate. It's not good to spec into full Blood for PvP (trust me, its not good) and Unholy would power up your spells and diseases like Death Coil and Icy Touch. So, to get the most out of your melee, the only option really is going hybrid to frost. Speccing down to Annihilation would be your best bet, since you can burst it with Empowered Rune Weapon without having to worry about losing the bonus damage from your diseases. Making the choice from either Killing Machine or Runic Power Mastery, you'll either get 6 secs on your Dancing Rune Weapon, or you can auto-crit with Icy Touch if they get out of range, which does make a difference. From there, stop putting points into Frost and focus back on the Blood tree. Spec all the way to Dancing Rune Weapon for the instant death on someone, and make sure to pick up Vampiric Blood and Hysteria. IMO stay out of Blood Worms because Blizzard has yet to make them useful, and stay out of Vendetta because it's not worth 3 points for something that has a 5% chance on keeping you alive, if you're dealing with a caster or pally. So - big hits, melee hits, short range, and heal yourself.

Please see the Death knight build samples page for more helpful Blood Build Samples


Spell deathknight frostpresence.png Talents in this tree focus on spells and control, such as [Hungering Cold] and [Chains of Ice]. Frost is also a tree built for critical burst damage, with talents such as [Guile of Gorefiend] and Deathchill (death knight abii.

Any build that has over 52 points will be moved to the Death knight build samples.

The Frost tree has the best ranged attacks, with [Howling Blast] and an upgraded [Icy Touch]. A decent amount of damage done by the frost tree is spell damage, though not as much as Unholy. The frost tree's main attacks are big hitters like [Obliterate], [Frost Strike] and [Howling Blast], and with [Guile of Gorefiend] they can crit (on demand with [Deathchill]) for large amounts of burst damage. This is of course averaged out over time to ensure that the sustained damage is in line with other specs.

Frost Leveling Build

Basic Frost Leveling (0/51/0)

PurposePvE / Solo
Talent Link(s) Wowhead
Tested patch3.1.0

[Annihilation] is a must so you can use [Obliterate] in your rotation without consuming the diseases on the target. [Howling Blast] will be your AoE bread and butter attack. [Guile of Gorefiend] is a big damage talent, and [Rime], [Deathchill] and [Killing Machine] all have good synergy with it. [Blood of the North], [Glacier Rot], [Tundra Stalker] and [Black Ice] are all good damage talents. [Icy Talons] and [Improved Icy Talons] increase both your auto-attack damage and your [Killing Machine] proc rate. [Hungering Cold] is taken to give you the ability to freeze multiple enemies while you deal with them one at a time.

Example of useful rotations:

Plague Strike -> Icy Touch -> Blood Strike -> Blood Strike -> Obliterate -> Frost Strike -> Icy Touch -> Obliterate -> Obliterate -> Frost Strike
Icy Touch -> Plague Strike -> Blood Strike -> Blood Strike -> Obliterate -> Frost Strike --> Obliterate -> Icy Touch -> Plague Strike -> Obliterate -> Frost Strike -> Obliterate -> Frost Strike -> Obliterate

Suggested Major Glyphs

 [Glyph of Obliterate]
 [Glyph of Frost Strike]
 [Glyph of Icy Touch]

Suggested Minor Glyphs

 [Glyph of Pestilence]
 [Glyph of Horn of Winter]

Please see the Death knight build samples page for more helpful Frost Build Samples.

Frost Raid DPS

Dual Wield Frost PvE (0/52/0)

PurposePvE DPS / Solo
Talent Link(s) Wowhead
Tested patch3.3.0

Frost is generally considered the only tree viable for dual wielding. The reason being that all 'strikes' such as Heart Strike, Scourge Strike, Obliterate, etc are heavily dependent on weapon damage, and only the main hand weapon is taken into account unless the [Threat of Thassarian] talent is taken. When dual wielding your auto-attack damage will form more of your damage than would be the case with a 2-hander, so talents that boost auto-attacks are more powerful than usual. You will also benefit slightly more from haste than other death knights.

Frost death knight DPS is based around [Obliterate] and [Frost Strike] on the main target, with Howling Blasts for AOE or when the death knight cannot get close, or on [Rime] procs. [Blood Strike] is used mainly to convert Blood Runes into Death Runes that can be used to Obliterate or Howling Blast next time around the rotation.

There are two general rotations for Frost DPS. The more traditional one is to Plague Strike+Icy Touch and then Obliterate, using Pestilence to spread diseases to multiple targets. The second way is to take  [Glyph of Howling Blast] and use Howling Blast to apply Frost Fever and to never use Plague Strike (and therefore Blood Plague). The single disease approach has the advantage of simplicity and quick startup. The double disease approach does more damage, but is a tighter rotation and is harder to maintain in very dynamic fights.

[Hungering Cold] is generally a good solo and tanking talent, but has few uses for pure DPS.

From here it is the player's choice to take extra talents in Blood or Unholy. In Blood [Subversion], [Bladed Armor] and [Dark Conviction] are good choices, but [Necrosis] and [Blood-Caked Blade] in Unholy edge them out in practice. If threat is an issue then dropping Blood-Caked Blade in favor of Subversion might be necessary anyway.

Two-hand Frost PvE (0/51/0)

PurposePvE DPS / Solo
Talent Link(s) Wowhead
Tested patch3.3.0

Two-hand frost is generally lower damage than dual wield frost, as you can expect roughly the same damage from special attacks as a dual wielder, but with lower auto-attack damage. As such, 2H-frost is rarely a good choice for raid DPS, with Blood and Unholy performing better with 2-handed weapons. The mechanics are otherwise similar to dual wield frost, with identical rotations and single and double disease rotations possible.

The main difference to dual wielding is that the off-tree talents have different considerations. [Necrosis] and [Blood-Caked Blade] lose much of their value, while Two-Handed Weapon Specialization becomes very good, making a blood off-tree a generally better option than unholy.

Frost PvP build

While most of the core talents of a PvE Frost build is still useful in PvP, PvP Frost Death Knights need several more talents to enhance their survivability from enemy players and help to defeat them. These include -

  • [Icy Reach] : A must have, this allows you to become better at range.
  • [Lichborne] : [Will of the Forsaken] as a talent? Yes please.
  • Chillblains : Reduces enemies' movement speed by 50% whenever you infect them with Frost Fever. Essential for PvP.
  • [Acclimation] : While lackluster in PvE, spell damage is frequent and common in PvP so this is a decent choice.
  • [Hungering Cold] : Allows you to crowd control when multiple players are overwhelming you, and to stop a flag run.


Spell deathknight unholypresence.png Talents in this tree have a variety of functions including summons, diseases, and PvP-focused abilities, such as [Unholy Presence].

Any build that has over 52 points will be moved to the Death knight build samples.

Unholy has two defining features as DPS. The first is that it has many talents that improve your area of effect damage significantly. On any multi-mob fights Unholy has a significant advantage. The second is that Unholy, out of the three talent trees, has the highest percentage of damage as spell damage. Unholy Death Knights will thus find that they have a distinct advantage on any fights against mobs with high armor.

Unholy PvE build

Basic Unholy DPS (0/0/71)

PurposeRaid DPS
Talent Link(s) Wowhead
Tested patch3.1.0


Unholy DPS is based on diseasing your target with Plague Strike+Icy Touch, then Scourge Striking it continually, with Glyph of Scourge Strike keeping the diseases up for as long as possible. Blood Strike is used to convert blood runes to death runes for more scourge strikes. Death Coil is used to dump runic power.

The second aspect of maximising Unholy DPS is the Gargoyle. Your gargoyle's power is based on your attributes at the time you summon him, so the optimum time is during Bloodlust, preferably when you have a trinket such as  [Mirror of Truth] proc. Even buffs that you only have for a few seconds will apply to the gargoyle for its whole duration.

One of the highlights of Unholy DPS is [Improved Unholy Presence], as it allows 15% increased movement speed while DPSing in Blood Presence. In many raid boss fights movement is important, so it's well worth getting. Another highlight is [Bone Shield], which should be used for the damage bonus anyway, and will reduce damage taken by 20%. Because a DPS death knight is not hit often like a tank, the charges on Bone Shield are usually not used up, meaning it grants its damage reduction most of the time during raid fights.

Good further talents in Unholy are  [Dirge], [Desecration], [Wandering Plague] and [Ghoul Frenzy]. Both Blood and Frost are competitive as off trees, but not both. Both trees have 'wasted' points in the first tier before the good talents like [Black Ice], [Endless Winter], [Bladed Armor], Two-Handed Weapon Specialization and [Dark Conviction] are reached, so taking points in both of them is not recommended.

Unholy PvP build

While most of the core talents of a PvE Unholy build is still useful in PvP, PvP Unholy Death Knights need several more talents to enhance their survivability from enemy players and help to defeat them. These include -

  • [On a Pale Horse] : Reduces the duration of Stun and Fear on you.
  • [Desecration] : Reduces the movement speed of everyone around you when you attack. As a melee class, keeping your opponent close to you is essential.
  • [Improved Unholy Presence] : While useful in PvE, this is absolutely essential in PvP. The reduced rune cooldown in Unholy Presence is very nice and allows you more options and quicker response. The +15% movement speed is also nice when weathering an assault in Frost Presence.

Unholy leveling build

Basic Unholy Leveling (0/0/51)

PurposePvE / Solo
Talent Link(s) Wowhead
Tested patch3.3.0

Notable talents and why:


Example of useful rotations: Single target:

Plague Strike -> Icy Touch -> Blood Strike -> Blood Strike -> Scourge Strike -> Death Coil -> Scourge Strike -> Scourge Strike -> Scourge Strike

Replace Scourge Strikes with Death Strikes as needed to heal.


Death and Decay -> Icy Touch -> Plague Strike -> Pestilence -> Death Coil -> Blood Boil -> Blood Boil -> Scourge Strike -> Scourge Strike

Suggested Glyphs


From here, filling out the Unholy tree gives the most immediate gain, with [Necrosis], [Desolation] and [Wandering Plague] all good choices for the soloist. After that Blood has the edge with [Subversion], [Butchery], [Bladed Armor], [Two-Handed Weapon Specialization], [Dark Conviction] and [Rune Tap]. Frost is also viable with [Black Ice] and [Runic Power Mastery].

Please see the Death knight build samples page for more helpful Unholy Build Samples.


See Death Knights as Tanks for more info.

Any build that has over 52 points will be moved to the Death knight build samples.

Even though each of the 3 trees is capable of tanking, that is only true if you have the appropriate talents within your tree. Tier 1 tanking talents are available to everyone: [Blade Barrier], Anticipation, and Toughness. Then, depending on what tree you specialize in, you can pick up additional tanking talents.

Blood Tanking

Basic Blood Tanking (52/0/0)

Talent Link(s)Blizzard
Tested patch3.3.0

Notable talents in the Blood tree are:

Tank talents from other trees (Good for Blood Tanks):

Glyphs: MAJOR

 *[Glyph of Rune Strike]
 *[Glyph of Death and Decay]
 *[Glyph of Vampiric Blood] (Can be switched out if you like something else)


 *[Glyph of Blood Tap]
 *[Glyph of Raise Dead] (for  [Raise Dead]/ [Death Pact])

Blood tanks use [Heart Strike] and [Rune Strike] as their primary strikes, with [Death Strike] as their second (for healing and Death Runes). Blood tanks have One of the best single (and double thanks to heart strike) target threat but lack true AOE threat, despite the upgrades to [Blood Boil].

Blood Tanks have the advantage that Death Strike is a part of their standard rotation, giving passive healing at no loss of threat.

[Blood Tap] should be your best friend, use it to free up: [Vampiric Blood] if the healer went AFK (it happens), or that ONE rune that is keeping you from putting down a [Death and Decay] on the pat running to the Healz. [Mark of Blood] can be good if you know how to use it, try an put it up when your going to be taking lots of damage from little hits or if a healer is out of range, ect.

[Hysteria] is a must for Raid Boss MT, it will boost your [Heart Strike], [Rune Strike] and [Death Strike] Threat and make it almost impossible to pull off you (I use it on bosses right as I cast my first [Heart Strike].) The duration is long so you can get many Strikes in with it up. In Instances and Raids you should have a healer so the HP drain will not even be noticed. DO NOT BE SCARED TO USE IT. [Blood Gorged] helps with Threat a lot, as most your threat is from [Heart Strike], [Rune Strike] and [Death Strike].

[Dancing Rune Weapon] is considered a poor tanking talent. [Bloodworms], [Improved Blood Presence], and [Rune Tap] are PVP/Solo talents, THEY ARE NOT FOR TANKS.

[Death and Decay] should not be used for single targets and bosses, but [Morbidity] is a must if you plan to tank trash mobs of 2+. [Glyph of Death and Decay] is great for boosting Aoe threat. [Corpse Explosion] is also worth consideration for AOE.

Frost Tanking

Basic Frost Tanking (0/51/0)

PurposePvE / Solo
Talent Link(s)Blizzard
Tested patch3.1.0

Notable talents in the Frost tree are:

The Frost tree has the best physical mitigation talents of the three. Big bonuses to Obliterate give decent single target threat, alternatively Howling Blast can be used for AOE threat. [Frost Strike] is a major upgrade over Death Coil for dumping runic power for even more single target threat.

Hungering Cold is a situational tanking ability. This talent was previously skipped by many raid tanks, but now that Hungering Cold is not a 51-point talent it can now be taken with little effort.

Frost Tanks are particularly notable for their ability to generate instant aggro on packs of mobs with Howling Blast, and at a 20 (upgradable to 30) yard range. This makes them very good at picking up adds that spawn on some encounters.

[Acclimation] is generally considered a poor investment for magic mitigation because there are few enemies that cast spells at you often enough to be sure of keeping the three stacks up, though there are of course exceptions.

Unholy Tanking

Basic Unholy Tanking (0/0/52)

PurposePvE Tanking
Talent Link(s)Blizzard
Tested patch3.2.0

Notable talents in the Unholy tree are:

Unholy tanks have the best sustained AOE threat abilities of the three, with upgraded diseases, [Corpse Explosion] and faster Death and Decays. The down side is that of these only Corpse Explosion provides instant threat in the way that Howling Blast does.

Unholy tanks have the best overall magic mitigation of all the tanking classes and specs with Magic Suppression and Anti-Magic Zone.

Unholy tanks will have a greatly improved Death Strike for healing, but [Scourge Strike] is not as strong as the competition, so single target threat generation is lower than the others. As an additional complication, an Unholy tank must choose between Death Striking for its strong self-heal and Scourge Striking for threat. An Unholy tank that spends all of their runes on Death Strike will likely have major threat issues.

Your ghoul and gargoyle do not contribute to your threat, so they are both ignored for tanking.

The choice of further talents is fairly inconsequential. Other than the tier 1 talents in the blood and frost trees there are no significant mitigation talents within reach except possibly Rune Tap. Improved Unholy Presence is definitely worth consideration given how many raid fights involve movement. Desecration may be worth it for keeping adds and trash under control better if you find yourself tackling them often. Besides those it's basically a choice between Black Ice, Bladed Armor and Desolation for threat.