DK Talent Builds

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Death Knight Talent Builds


Talents in this tree focus on physical damage-dealing abilities, such as Blood Presence.

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)

Purpose PvE / Solo
Talent Link(s) Wowhead
Tested patch 3.1.0

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 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.


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.

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)

Purpose PvE / Solo
Talent Link(s) Wowhead
Tested patch 3.1.0

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

Frost Raid build

Basic Frost PvE (3/49/0)

Purpose PvE / Solo
Talent Link(s) Wowhead
Tested patch 3.1.0

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.

Howling Blast should obviously be taken next, but this build has been retarded to conform to the page rules.

Spare points can be placed in either Blood, Unholy or both. In Blood Dark Conviction, Bladed Armor and Two-Handed Weapon Specialization are good choices. In Unholy Virulence (Howling Blast uses spell hit), Epidemic, Necrosis, Blood-Caked Blade and Night of the Dead are also good.

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.
  • Endless Winter : No longer required for Chillblains, but being able to Mind Freeze right at the start of an engagement is nice. The bonus to Chains of Ice is also nice, as you'll be using Chains a lot in PvP.
  • 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.

Dual Wielding

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.

Basic Frost Dual Wield (0/52/0)

Purpose PvE / Solo
Talent Link(s) Wowhead
Tested patch 3.2.0

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.

Must-have talents for a dual wield build are:

  • Threat of Thassarian
  • Nerves of Cold Steel
  • Killing Machine
  • Improved Icy Talons

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.


Talents in this tree have a variety of functions including summons, diseases, and PvP-focused abilities, such as Unholy Presence.

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 (0/0/51)

Purpose Raid DPS
Talent Link(s) Blizzard
Tested patch 3.1.0


Unholy DPS is based on diseasing your target with Plague Strike+Icy Touch, then Scourge Striking it continually, with Glyph of Scourge Strike procs keeping the diseases up. Blood Strike is used to convert blood runes to death runes for more scourge strikes. Unholy Blight is refreshed as necessary because even single target it is better than Death Coil. Death Coil is used for any remaining runic power. Plague Strike+Ice Touch is used if the diseases fall off due to lack of glyph procs.

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 everything, so it's well worth getting.

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, 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)

Purpose PvE / Solo
Talent Link(s) Wowhead
Tested patch 3.1.0

Notable talents and why:

  • Scourge Strike is the center of your build.
  • Vicious Strikes and Outbreak to upgrade your Scourge Strike
  • Epidemic to ensure you don't waste time refreshing diseases before the mob dies.
  • On a Pale Horse because getting to and from quest areas 20% faster is great.
  • Summon Gargoyle is a major damage talent.
  • Master of Ghouls to make your pet permanent.
  • Improved Unholy Presence because +15% movement speed increase is great while grinding mobs that aren't densely packed.
  • Crypt Fever counts as an extra disease, which greatly increases the damage of all your strikes. Actually one of the best talents in the tree, though it doesn't seem it at first.
  • Ebon Plaguebringer increases all shadow and frost damage you do, which includes Scourge Strike!

Example of useful rotations:

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

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.

Unholy Tanking

Basic Unholy Tanking (0/0/52)

Purpose PvE Tanking
Talent Link(s) Blizzard
Tested patch 3.2.0

Notable talents in the Unholy tree are:

  • Anticipation
  • Morbidity - HALVES the cooldown on Death and Decay.
  • Bone Shield
  • Crypt Fever/Ebon Plague - counts as an extra disease, which increases Death Strike healing.
  • Magic Suppression
  • Anti-Magic Zone - situational but when it's useful it's usually very very useful.
  • Wandering Plague - AOE threat.
  • Rage of Rivendare - for expertise.

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.

Information taken directly off of:


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