World Of Warcraft: Wrath of The Lich King Classic – Death Knight Class Guide

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  • Why Choose A Death Knight?
  • Best Races For Death Knights
  • Which Death Knight Spec Should I Choose?
  • Key Death Knight Spells And Abilities
  • Death Knight Stat Priority – DPS
  • Death Knight Stat Priority – Tanking
  • Best Death Knight Gems & Enchants

The first Hero class ever added to World of Warcraft, the mighty Death Knight, returns in Wrath of the Lich King Classic just as fearsome as ever. As damage dealers, Death Knights utilize a full arsenal of strikes, diseases, and abilities to inflict harm upon their foes. As tanks, they can expertly mitigate incoming damage while parrying and dodging strikes in a way that would make Druids, Paladins, and Warriors jealous.

In the original release of Wrath of the Lich King, Death Knights were consistently strong throughout the entire expansion. We see no reason why they won't remain near the top of the mountain in the Classic re-release, making them a prime choice if you're interested in a powerful melee class that doubles as a stellar tank as we venture through Ulduar, Trial of the Crusade, and Icecrown Citadel.

Why Choose A Death Knight?

Death Knights are the newest class in the game and the very first Hero Class introduced. That's enough reason as any to create one, especially if you played World of Warcraft Classic and/or The Burning Crusade Classic, and you're looking for something new to shake things up. The class as a whole is relevant to the entire overarching story of the expansion, as the adventurers of Azeroth seek to vanquish the Lich King, who was responsible for creating a fair share of existing Death Knights (including yours.)

If you still need some convincing, Death Knights offer a unique, resource-based playstyle that isn't too complex for less experienced players while still offering a thrilling challenge for even the most seasoned World of Warcraft veteran. This is done through their Rune system, where you must consistently juggle Blood, Frost, Unholy, and even Death Runes to keep the damage or threat pumping, depending on the role you choose to take on.

As a DPSer, your Runes will go toward striking abilities like Blood Strike and Scourge Strike. As a Tank, your Runes will be saved for self-preservation abilities like Death Strike and Vampiric Blood. Death Knights also provide powerful group buffs like Abomination's Might or Improved Icy Talons, depending on your spec, which will make you popular among other DPS classes in your group.

Death Knights can also utilize Runic Power, which is a gauge that acts similarly to a Warrior's Rage meter — using abilities that require Runes will generate Runic Power, which in turn will open up new abilities for you to use. The Death Knight's iconic Death Coil, Frost spec's Frost Strike, and the tanking ability Rune Strike all use Runic Power.

Simply put, if you like big armor, big weapons, and seeing big numbers flying all over your screen, whether from you or your friends, Death Knights are the class for you.

Best Races For Death Knights

Choosing character races can be tricky, especially when you can choose from all ten races in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Classic. That's right — your Death Knight can be any race you want them to be. No longer will you have to play as a Tauren or a Night Elf to be a Druid, a Human, Dwarf, Draenei, or Blood Elf to be a Paladin, and so on. Even though you can pick any race you want without too much worry, there are still some racial abilities and passive skills that can come in handy while playing a Death Knight.

Best Alliance Death Knight Race

Like most classes, the best race for Alliance Death Knight is Human, especially if you're interested in PvP. Humans gain access to a number of helpful racial abilities and bonuses that make them the top dog.

  • Every Man for Himself is a powerful spell that instantly removes all crowd control effects (like fear, roots, slows, snares, etc.) from you.
  • Perception increases your stealth detection, helping you identify sneaking Rogues and Cat Druids before they get the jump on you.
  • Sword and Mace Specializations increase your character's expertise by three when using either weapon, which will help you tank and DPS more effectively.
  • Diplomacy boosts reputation gains by ten percent, which will help with rep grinding Northrend's many factions.

Not far behind are the Draenei, the newest Alliance race. Thanks to their helpful passives, they make a fine choice for Death Knights as well.

  • Heroic Presence increases the chance to hit with spells and physical attacks for all party members within 30 yards by one percent. This can help lessen the amount of hit rating needed to effectively make contact with higher-level foes, allowing you to put your focus on other stats.
  • Gift of the Naaru is a healing-over-time spell that you can cast on yourself and allies. It heals for a small percentage of health over 30 seconds based on the user's attack power. While it won't help you solo raid bosses, it is a helpful spell that can be called upon in a pinch, especially when your healers are struggling for mana.
  • Draenei also get a passive to boost their Jewelcrafting skill. Since some of the best tanking trinkets, especially pre-raid, are made via Jewelcrafting, it may be a good idea to choose Jewelcrafting as your profession.

Lastly are Dwarves, Gnomes, and Night Elves. While all three races offer some helpful racial bonuses and abilities, they are considered weaker choices when compared to Humans and Draenei.

Best Horde Death Knight Race

If you'd rather play as a member of the Horde, there are a couple of great options for you to consider. For the best of the best, look no further than creating an Orc Death Knight. Orcs have access to multiple helpful racial abilities and passives that can be helpful for any Death Knight spec.

  • Blood Fury is the signature racial ability of the Orcs, which increases your Attack Power for 15 seconds. You can use this to deal more damage during key moments in boss fights to give your group the push it needs when it matters most.
  • Axe Specialization functions like the other races' abilities, which gives Orc Death Knights five expertise while wielding axes. Considering some of the most powerful weapons in ICC are axes, specifically Bryntroll and Shadowmourne, it may be a good idea to roll an Orc Death Knight just for this boost alone.
  • Hardiness increases your resistance to crowd control effects, which can come in handy while PvPing or even in certain PvE encounters.

Second to the Orcs are the Trolls, if not simply for their trademark racial ability, Berserking. Berserking gives Trolls a 20 percent boost to Attack Speed, which can be combined with trinkets to deal more damage during key phases of a boss fight. Their Regeneration ability also increases health regen by ten percent in and out of combat. This has a small impact on endgame content but can be helpful while questing and leveling, which can't be understated. The other Troll abilities are mostly useless for Death Knights.

Lastly, Tauren offer a compelling case for a Death Knight, thanks to their passive skill Endurance, which increases your health. They also gain access to their trademark racial ability War Stomp, which is a channeled AoE stun that can come in handy in sticky situations. Granted, most big end-game mobs are immune to stuns, but this can be helpful for clearing trash en route to boss fights.

The Undead and Blood Elves offer less helpful racial passives and are considered weaker choices, albeit more lore-relevant choices, when compared to the others.

In reality, racial bonuses are nearly negligible, and you should play as the race you enjoy the most.

Which Death Knight Spec Should I Choose?

Now that you've finally chosen your race, it's time to pick which spec you want to use. Fortunately, there is no wrong answer here — all Death Knight specializations are strong throughout Wrath of the Lich King. It's just a matter of how you want to play and what role you want to fill. Death Knights have three specializations: Blood, Frost, and Unholy.

Blood Death Knight

Blood Death Knights use the power of life to damage their enemies and heal themselves. This makes them not just formidable while dealing damage, but also while tanking. In the original Wrath of the Lich King, Blood became the standard tanking specialization for Death Knights, while Frost and Unholy settled in as the DPS specs.

Thanks to its survivability, Blood is also an optimal questing and soloing spec and can be played from level 55 until 80. If you enjoy playing a self-sustaining class that can contribute in multiple ways, Blood may be the spec for you.

Frost Death Knight

Frost started as the de facto tanking spec but evolved into one of the Death Knight's powerful DPS specs. You'll utilize your Runic Power to deal damage with abilities like Frost Strike, Death Coil, and more. Frost spec also brings with it the much-appreciated raid buff Improved Icy Talons, which increases your raid party's haste by 20 percent.

Frost can deal damage with either one two-handed weapon or by dual-wielding two one-handed weapons, depending on what you get to drop. Regardless of your loadout, Frost Death Knights make for a fun, engaging, and successful DPS spec.

Unholy Death Knight

Masters of festering wounds and foul diseases, Unholy Death Knights utilize a unique skillset when compared to their more barbaric counterparts. Unholy Death Knights utilize diseases to whittle down their foe's health bar. Unholy Death Knights are also masters of the undead and can call upon Ghouls and Gargoyles to assist them in combat.

Don't think they're weaklings, though — Unholy Death Knights pack a punch thanks to their Scourge Strike ability, which deals extra damage for each disease on the opponent. Unholy Death Knights are a unique class thanks to their pet mechanics and perform well while soloing and questing, as well as in endgame content.

Key Death Knight Spells And Abilities

Since rotations vary by spec, we'll instead examine which spells and abilities are the most important to Death Knights. Be sure to use these while in parties and raids — your group will thank you for it.

Icy Touch

The first spell most Death Knights will cast is Icy Touch. Icy Touch deals Frost damage to the target and infects them with Frost Fever, a disease that deals damage over time and reduces attack speed by 20 percent. For tanking DKs, this spell generates a high amount of threat while in Frost Presence and will increase your defense rating while you have the Sigil of the Unfaltering Knight (the sigil you buy with Emblems of Heroism) equipped.

Plague Strike

Plague Strike is your next follow-up ability that will apply yet another disease to your opponent. Blood Plague, which gets applied with Plague Strike, deals Shadow damage over time. With both diseases on your foe, their death will be an inevitability.


Pestilence spreads the existing diseases to other nearby enemies, allowing the Death Knight to deal AoE damage to multiple targets. Many Death Knight specs use Glyph of Disease, allowing your Pestilence spell to refresh diseases on your foe, and meaning you can save your Runes for damaging abilities like Blood Strike or Scourge Strike.

​​​​​​​Death and Decay

The Death Knight's version of the Paladin's Consecration, Death and Decay is the ultimate AoE ability. You'll unleash a pool of corrupted ground on all enemies within its range for ten seconds. Tanking DKs will use this to generate tons of threat on enemies to prevent them from hitting their comrades. Death and Decay is an expensive spell, requiring one of each Rune to cast, but it's worth it for all the benefits you get.

Horn of Winter

Horn of Winter provides a twofold buff for Death Knights. First, it gives all party members boosts to Strength and Agility, and it also generates precious Runic Power. You can mix in a Horn of Winter while damaging or tanking for a little Runic Power boost to get that Rune Strike or Frost Strike off.

​​​​​​​Army of the Dead

Your reward for hitting level 80 is one of the coolest spells in Azeroth — Army of the Dead. You will summon a small army of Ghouls to battle alongside you and your allies for a few seconds or until the minions get killed by whatever enemy you're fighting. The minions will steal threat from the tank, so it can even be used as a defensive measure if the tanks and healers are running low on resources. It has a long cooldown — about six minutes — so you'll want to save this for boss fights or encounters that can get a little sticky.


Death Knights can apply runes to their weapon using a specialized enchanting process called Runeforging. Runeforging requires Runeforges, which are only available in Ebon Hold and various Knights of the Ebon Blade bases throughout Northrend. These unique enchants provide things like bonus damage, increased defenses, stat bonuses, heals, and more. There are ten runes that can be applied to your weapons throughout Wrath of the Lich King Classic:

Rune of Cinderglacier

Increases the damage by 20 percent for your next two attacks that deal Frost or Shadow damage.

Rune of Razorice

Causes two percent extra weapon damage as Frost damage and increases enemies' vulnerability to your Frost attacks.

​​​​​​​Rune of Spellbreaking

Deflects two percent of all spell damage and reduces the duration of Silence effects by 50 percent (One-handed weapons only; requires level 57 not cumulative with additional Silence duration reduction.)

Rune of Spellshattering

Deflects four percent of all spell damage and reduces the duration of Silence effects by 50 percent. (Two-handed weapons only; requires level 57.)

​​​​​​​Rune of Lichbane

Adds two percent extra weapon damage as Fire damage or four percent versus Undead targets. (Requires level 60.)

Rune of Swordbreaking

Increases Parry chance by two percent and reduces the duration of Disarm effects by 50 percent. (One-handed weapons only; requires level 63.)

​​​​​​​Rune of Swordshattering

Increases Parry chance by four percent and reduces the duration of Disarm effects by 50 percent. (Two-handed weapons only; requires level 63.)

Rune of the Fallen Crusader

Has a chance to heal you for three percent and increase total Strength by 15 percent for 15 seconds. (Does not stack when applied to two one-handed weapons; requires level 70.)

​​​​​​​Rune of the Nerubian Carapace

Increases Defense by 13 and total Stamina by one percent. (One-handed weapons only; requires level 72.)

Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle

Increases Defense by 25 and total Stamina by two percent. (Two-handed weapons only; requires level 72.)

Death Knights certainly have their pick of the litter when it comes to Runes.

  • For DPSing DKs, we recommend using Rune of Razorice until level 70, when you should switch to Rune of the Fallen Crusader.
  • For dual-wielding Death Knights, use Rune of the Fallen Crusader on your main hand weapon, and Rune of Razorice on your off-hand weapon.
  • For tanking Death Knights, we recommend you use Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle while you're undergeared, but switch to Rune of the Fallen Crusader once you're at defense cap for the small heal and the increased Strength.

Related: World Of Warcraft: Wrath Of The Lich King Classic – Best Drops In Heroic Dungeons

Death Knight Stat Priority – DPS

  1. Hit: A DPS Death Knight's most important stat is hit rating. Without reaching the Hit cap, attacks have a chance to miss, which will negatively impact your DPS. In WOTLK Classic, the Hit cap for two-handed weapons is eight percent. Note that a Hit rating above eight percent does provide any other benefit. If you still have Hit rating enchants or gems and are safely above eight percent, you can replace them with other enchants.
  2. Expertise: Like the Hit Cap, the Expertise Cap is a function you will want to hit in order to deal the most damage possible. Unlike players, computer-controlled enemies can dodge and parry no matter which way they're facing. Ensuring you have an adequate Expertise rating will avoid misses and keep your DPS steady. The Expertise Cap is 26 for melee attackers, so make sure you're at that mark. Like Hit, having an Expertise rating that is higher than 26 provides no additional benefits.
  3. Strength: Strength is everything to a Death Knight. It increases your Attack Power and critical hit chance, and also can be boosted with percentage-based buffs like your Horn of Winter and Paladin's Greater Blessing of Kings. If you've reached the Hit and Expertise caps, consider gemming your gear with straight Strength gems.
  4. Haste: The more Haste you have, the faster your Death Knight attacks, and the faster you can use your next ability. While you never want to use gems or enchantments for Haste, you will want to keep it in mind when getting new gear.
  5. Critical Strike: Critical Strike may be more important than Haste, but since Strength adds Critical Strike, it's less of a priority on gear since you'll get more of it as you get stronger.

Honorable Mention

Armor Penetration, or ArPen, is a stat that allows you to bypass your opponent's armor and deal damage to their delicate underbelly. While the early stages of WOTLK don't have much in the way of ArPen items, later phases will. When ArPen is more abundant, it will slot in right behind Strength in terms of importance.

Death Knight Stat Priority – Tanking

  1. Hit: Like DPSing Death Knights, tanking Death Knights require Hit Rating to function. Without being hit-capped, you can miss your target, which will make you lose threat, which can make your hit-capped DPSers bear the brunt of your shortcomings in the form of getting killed by the boss. The Hit cap is eight percent for tanking just like DPSing, so keep that in mind. Note that you can also try to get to the spell hit cap, which is 17 percent, but you may find that you're sacrificing survivability and threat generation in the name of hitting your spells, which aren't all that important.
  2. Expertise: To avoid giving up threat in any form, tanks will also want to hit the Expertise Cap. The Expertise Cap is 26 rating for melee attackers, so make sure you're at that mark. Unlike other ancillary stats, you may need to enchant for Expertise rating to make sure you hit that mark (no pun intended). Luckily, many end-game items include Expertise on them, so you can slowly start to phase out your offensive-minded enchants for defensive-minded ones as you gear up.
  3. Stamina: You can't tank when you're dead, so making sure your Stamina is as high as humanly (or orc-ly) possible is a must. Once you hit your offensive caps, you can start to gem and enchant for more Stamina.
  4. Armor: Unlike Paladins and Warriors, Death Knights cannot block attacks, except with their faces. That's where Armor comes in. More Armor + more Stamina = a healthy, mostly alive Death Knight tank. Plus, if you take the Bladed Armor talent, you can increase your Attack Power based on your Armor.
  5. Parry: The tanking Death Knight's defining trait is its ability to Parry attacks. Many Death Knight armor pieces will have Parry on them, much like Paladin items have Shield Block Rating. Unfortunately, Parry has diminishing returns, meaning the higher your Parry rating, the more it will take to increase your percentage, but luckily increasing your Strength stat will add Parry rating, too.
  6. Dodge: For situations where you can't Parry and you don't want to get hit, there's the ability to Dodge. While Bear Druids are the undisputed kings and queens of Dodge, Death Knight tanks can still Dodge plenty well. Like Parry, though, Dodge rating has diminishing returns, meaning it'll take more rating at higher levels to increase your percentage chance to Dodge. Luckily, like Parry, much of your Death Knight gear will have both avoidance stats on them.

Best Death Knight Gems & Enchants

Once you settle on top-end gear, gemming and enchanting your items are crucial steps to maximizing your effectiveness in your chosen role. Whether you're tanking or DPSing, WOTLK Classic has tons of options, but these stand out as the very best for each role. We'll try to give you economic options as best we can, but sometimes the only option is an expensive option.

DPS Death Knight Gems & Enchants

Gem Slot Color



Relentless Earthsiege Diamond OR Chaotic Skyflare Diamond


Bold Scarlet Ruby


Enchanted Tear OR Sovereign Twilight Opal


Etched Monarch Topaz OR Fierce Monarch Topaz

Item Slot



Arcanum of Torment


Greater Inscription of the Axe OR Lesser Inscription of the Axe


Enchant Cloak – Greater Speed


Enchant Chest – Powerful Stats OR Enchant Chest – Super Stats


Enchant Bracers – Greater Assault OR Enchant Bracers – Striking


Enchant Gloves – Crusher OR Enchant Gloves – Greater Assault (Damage) Enchant Gloves – Precision OR Enchant Gloves – Expertise (If you're not capped.)


Eternal Belt Buckle + Gem


Icescale Leg Armor OR Nerubian Leg Armor


Enchant Boots – Greater Assault OR Enchant Boots – Cat's Swiftness (Damage) Enchant Boots – Icewalker (If you're not Hit capped.)

Ring (Enchanters only)

Enchant Ring – Assault

Tank Death Knight Gems & Enchants

Gem Slot Color



Austere Earthsiege Diamond OR Effulgent Skyflare Diamond


Sovereign Twilight Opal / Regal Twilight Opal (Avoidance) Guardian's Twilight Opal (If you're not Expertise capped.)


Solid Sky Sapphire


Enduring Forest Emerald (Avoidance) Vivid Forest Emerald (If you're not Hit capped.)

Item Slot



Arcanum of the Stalwart Protector


Greater Inscription of the Gladiator (Stamina) Greater Inscription of the Pinnacle / Lesser Inscription of the Pinnacle (Avoidance or if you're under the Defense cap.)


Enchant Cloak – Mighty Armor (Mitigation) Enchant Cloak – Titanweave (Avoidance or if you're under the Defense cap.)


Enchant Chest – Super Health / Heavy Borean Armor Kit (Stamina) Enchant Chest – Powerful Stats / Enchant Chest – Super Stats (Stats) Enchant Chest – Greater Defense (Avoidance or if you're under the Defense cap.)


Enchant Bracers – Major Stamina / Enchant Bracers – Greater Stats (Stamina) Enchant Bracers – Expertise (If you're under the Expertise cap.) Enchant Bracer – Major Defense (Avoidance or if you're under the Defense cap.)


Heavy Borean Armor Kit (Stamina) Glove Reinforcements (Mitigation) Enchant Gloves – Precise Strikes (If you're not Hit capped.) Enchant Gloves – Expertise (If you're not Expertise capped.)


Eternal Belt Buckle + Gem


Frosthide Leg Armor / Jormungar Leg Armor


Enchant Boots – Tuskarr's Vitality OR Enchant Boots – Greater Fortitude

Ring (Enchanters only)

Enchant Ring – Stamina

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