Frost Death Knight DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (WoW MoP 5.4)

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Frost Death Knight Art Image
General Information

On this page, we list your Frost Death Knight core abilities and how they should be used together (rotation) in World of Warcraft MoP 5.4. We also explain when to use your various cooldowns. Then, we go deeper and present all the subtleties that you will need to know if you want to excel at playing a Frost Death Knight.

The other pages of our Frost Death Knight guide can be accessed from the table of contents on the right.

About Our Reviewer

This guide has been reviewed and approved by Mendenbarr, a prominent theorycrafter who maintains Death Knight guides on Elitist Jerks. He also works on Destiny Softworks, a blog for DPS Death Knights.

1. Single Target Rotation↑top

The single target Frost Death Knight rotation can be summarised in the form of the following priority systems. They differ slightly depending on whether you are dual-wielding or using a Two-Handed Weapon, so we have split them for a better understanding.

1.1. Dual-Wielding

  1. Cast Frost Strike Icon Frost Strike if
    • You are about to reach maximum runic power (89+) OR
    • You have a Killing Machine Icon Killing Machine proc.
  2. Cast Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast when both Death or both Frost runes are available.
  3. Cast Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper
    • only when the target is below 35% health.
  4. Keep your diseases (Frost Fever Icon Frost Fever and Blood Plague Icon Blood Plague) up at all times.
    • Apply Frost Fever Icon Frost Fever with Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast, and apply Blood Plague Icon Blood Plague with Plague Strike Icon Plague Strike. In the case of Plague Strike, make sure that you use an Unholy rune for it, and not a Death rune (if need be, wait slightly for an Unholy rune to become available).
  5. Cast Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast when you have a Rime Icon Rime proc.
  6. Cast Obliterate Icon Obliterate if
  7. Cast Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast.
  8. Cast Frost Strike Icon Frost Strike if you have 40+ runic power.
  9. Cast Horn of Winter Icon Horn of Winter.

Unless stated otherwise, this rotation assumes you have the Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap talent (which we consider to be the best choice). Managing Blood Tap is a simple matter of making sure to use your charges before they cap (at 12). The easiest way of doing this is to macro it into a commonly-used ability, ideally Frost Strike Icon Frost Strike. The following is an example of this macro.

  • #showtooltip Frost Strike
  • /cast Blood Tap
  • /cast Frost Strike

For a simplified version of the dual-wielding rotation, that provides slightly less DPS, check this section.

1.2. Two-Handed

  1. Keep your diseases (Frost Fever Icon Frost Fever and Blood Plague Icon Blood Plague) up at all times.
  2. Cast Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper
    • only when the target is below 35% health.
  3. Cast Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast when you have a Rime Icon Rime proc.
  4. Cast Obliterate Icon Obliterate if
    • Doing so will not cap your runic power OR
    • You have a Killing Machine Icon Killing Machine proc.
  5. Cast Frost Strike Icon Frost Strike.
  6. Cast Horn of Winter Icon Horn of Winter.

This rotation assumes you have the Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap talent (which we consider to be the best choice). If you do not wish to manage Blood Tap, you can use Runic Empowerment Icon Runic Empowerment instead.

1.3. Presence

You should always be in Frost Presence Icon Frost Presence.

2. Multiple Target Rotation↑top

The multiple target (AoE) rotation, also based on a priority system, is the same for both dual wielding and two-handed playstyles. It can be summarised as:

  1. Cast Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast whenever available.
  2. Cast Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay (when not on cooldown) and Plague Strike Icon Plague Strike (when Death and Decay is on cooldown), only if both Unholy runes are available.
  3. Cast Frost Strike Icon Frost Strike to avoid reaching maximum runic power, and to proc Runic Empowerment Icon Runic Empowerment.
  4. Cast Horn of Winter Icon Horn of Winter.

If the enemies will live long enough, then make sure you spread Blood Plague Icon Blood Plague to them, either through Pestilence Icon Pestilence, or through use of your Tier 1 Talents. For Pestilence, by "long enough" we mean that the diseases would need to have time to tick for a total of 30 seconds, among all the adds. So, if you are spreading the disease to two adds, they would each need to live for at least 15 seconds. If you were spreading to three adds, they would each need to live for at least 10 seconds, and so on.

2.1. Presence

You should use Frost Presence Icon Frost Presence.

3. Cooldown Usage↑top

As a Frost Death Knight, you have a total of 4 DPS cooldowns. Below, we explain how they are best used.

3.1. Pillar of Frost

Pillar of Frost Icon Pillar of Frost grants you 20% Strength for 20 seconds, with a 1-minute cooldown. You should use this ability on cooldown. Ideally, you should couple it with any on-use trinkets you may have, and/or profession perks (if applicable).

3.2. Empower Rune Weapon

Empower Rune Weapon Icon Empower Rune Weapon refreshes all of your runes and grants you 30 runic power. It has a 5-minute cooldown and, as such, it can realistically be used only twice per fight.

Empower Rune Weapon should be used when all of your runes are on cooldown and you have low runic power. It is useful in providing a large burst of DPS, so keep that in mind when deciding when to use it.

3.3. Raise Dead

Raise Dead Icon Raise Dead summons a ghoul that fights at your side for 1 minute, with a 2-minute cooldown. Try to stack it with procs and cooldowns (Pillar of Frost Icon Pillar of Frost and Heroism Icon Heroism/Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust/Time Warp Icon Time Warp especially).

3.4. Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead summons a number of ghouls to fight at your side for a short while. As it has a 10-minute cooldown, it can only be used once per fight.

The ghouls also benefit from your stats, like in the case of Raise Dead Icon Raise Dead. That said, it is best to cast this shortly before combat or during phases when you can't attack the boss, since it has a cast time during which you cannot attack.

4. Optional Read: Mastering Your Frost Death Knight↑top

The above-mentioned priorities (and the resulting rotation) may appear complex and confusing. To alleviate this, we will explain, among other things, the rotation in a bit more detail.

4.1. Dual-Wielding Versus Two-Handed

Currently, the two-handed and dual-wielding playstyles are practically even in single-target, but dual-wielding pulls ahead in AoE and cleaving situations.

4.2. Dark Simulacrum

Dark Simulacrum Icon Dark Simulacrum is a very special ability. It places a debuff on the target, which causes you to mimic their next spell cast that costs mana to use. This grants you the ability (it will replace Dark Simulacrum on your bars) for a short amount of time. Using this mimicked ability can be very beneficial (even exploitative) on some encounters.

4.3. Single Target Rotation Explained

The Frost Death Knight single target rotations can get a bit confusing when read in the form of a priority list. In the following sub-sections, we will shed some light on what you should do in practice. We mainly focus on the Two-Handed rotation, since it performs better and it is more popular, but we also dedicate a section to Dual-Wielding.

4.3.1. Keeping Diseases Up

In addition to the damage that your two diseases do, the damage done by Obliterate Icon Obliterate is increased by 12.5% for each disease present on the target. Since Obliterate is your hardest hitting ability, it is imperative to have a high up-time on your diseases.

Frost Fever Icon Frost Fever will be automatically applied each time you cast Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast, so it will always be up, normally. Sometimes, it can happen that a long period of time will go by without any Rime Icon Rime procs (since, as we have mentioned in the priority at the start of the guide, and as we will see below, you should only cast Howling Blast with a Rime proc). In this case, simply cast Howling Blast without a Rime proc to refresh Frost Fever.

Blood Plague Icon Blood Plague will have to be kept up manually. You will do this through a combination of Outbreak Icon Outbreak (once every minute) and Plague Strike Icon Plague Strike (when Outbreak is on cooldown and you need to refresh the disease).

Plague Leech Icon Plague Leech is a tier 1 talent that we advise you to take. You should use it to consume your existing diseases on the target, every time that Blood Plague Icon Blood Plague is about to expire and Outbreak Icon Outbreak is available. Afterwards, you will quickly re-apply the diseases through Outbreak Icon Outbreak. Alternatively, you can use it to consume your diseases on the target even if Outbreak is on cooldown, provided that Blood Plague is about to expire and you have a Rime Icon Rime proc. This allows you to gain one Death rune (from consuming the diseases) at the expense of one Unholy rune (the cost of refreshing Blood Plague through Plague Strike), since refreshing Frost Fever will not cost any runes due to the Rime proc.

4.3.2. Using Frost Strike

If you are using Runic Empowerment Icon Runic Empowerment (a talent which we do not consider to be optimal), you should not use Frost Strike blindly, as it has a "hidden" benefit. Thanks to Runic Empowerment, each time you cast Frost Strike, you have a 45% to regenerate a fully depleted rune. Therefore, you should only use Frost Strike when both runes of a certain type are unavailable.

You will, of course, be forced to use Frost Strike in situations other than these, because your runic power will reach maximum capacity otherwise. This is acceptable. Just make sure that you are not using Frost Strike when your runic power is not full and the above-mentioned rune condition is not met.

4.3.3. Killing Machine Procs

Your autoattacks have a chance to make your next Obliterate Icon Obliterate or Frost Strike Icon Frost Strike a guaranteed critical strike, thanks to Killing Machine Icon Killing Machine.

You should use Killing Machine Icon Killing Machine procs on Obliterate Icon Obliterate (its damage is greatly boosted by Might of the Frozen Wastes Icon Might of the Frozen Wastes), and never on Frost Strike Icon Frost Strike. Sadly, this is not always possible. Indeed, sometimes, you will get a Killing Machine proc immediately before using Frost Strike (to dump runic power/proc Runic Empowerment Icon Runic Empowerment), and it will be wasted on the Frost Strike. Alternatively, it can happen that you have your runes on cooldown and you need to use Frost Strike for Runic Empowerment to enable the use of Obliterate. If you get a Killing Machine at this time, you are left with the choice of wasting it on Frost Strike, or waiting 5 seconds or more for your runes to regenerate naturally. We advise you to "waste" the proc on Frost Strike in this situation.

4.3.4. Rime Procs

Your Obliterate has a 45% chance to cause your next Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast or Icy Touch Icon Icy Touch to be free of cost, thanks to Rime Icon Rime. These procs should be used with Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast. There is no difficulty here. Additionally, there is no need to use these procs right away - it only matters that you use them before casting Obliterate again.

4.3.5. Dual-Wielding

The only difficult part about the Dual-Wielding rotation comes when trying to master the proper balance of Obliterate Icon Obliterate casts. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that the way to use Obliterate differs wildly based on your Tier 5 talent choice.

As a rule, Obliterate is not valuable to you as a Dual-Wielding Frost Death Knight, and Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast is very valuable. As a result, you want to use Howling Blast as much as possible, and Obliterate as little as possible. However, if you never use Obliterate, then your Unholy runes do not get used up (since Howling Blast only costs 1 Frost rune), which is not at all desirable either. Therefore, you must keep your Unholy runes recharging, while making sure that your Tier 5 talent of choice maximises your Howling Blast usage.

If you are using Runic Empowerment Icon Runic Empowerment, keep in mind that this talent will refresh a fully-depleted rune (so only when both runes of that type are on cooldown). Since you never want Runic Empowerment to grant you Unholy runes, you must make sure to never have both Unholy runes depleted when you use Frost Strike Icon Frost Strike. Consequently, you should only use Obliterate when you have both Unholy runes active, since if you deplete both runes, then your next Frost Strike may give you an Unholy rune back.

If you are using Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap, you do not really need to worry too much about which runes it regenerates, as long as you do not allow Blood Tap to reach maximum charges (12). Use up the charges (the macro mentioned at the start of the guide makes it very easy) and use the resulting runes on Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast.

4.3.6. Simplified Dual-Wielding Rotation

For a relatively small DPS penalty (around 5% at 540 item level, and lower as your item level increases), you can execute a simplified version of the dual-wielding rotation. This rotation does not use Obliterate Icon Obliterate or Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper at all, and instead focuses on spamming Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast, Frost Strike Icon Frost Strike, and Plague Strike Icon Plague Strike. It is not optimal, but it provides very good results with minimal effort, so it is good for players who are less experienced or who just want to try things out.

4.4. Soul Reaper

Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper can be cast at any time during the fight (provided that you have the necessary rune), and it works much like a DoT that has a single tick. Specifically, Soul Reaper instantly applies a debuff to the target, that lasts for 5 seconds, and at the end of this duration, it will tick once.

Soul Reaper will only tick if the target is at or below 35% health at the moment when the tick takes place. If the target has more than 35% health, the tick will do no damage, and the entire Soul Reaper will essentially have no effect whatsoever, other than using up the respective rune.

So, even though in our priority we mention including Soul Reaper in your rotation when the target is at or below 35% health, in reality, you can start using Soul Reaper slightly sooner than that, provided that the target will be at 35% health or less at the time that the 5-second debuff expires.

4.5. Horn of Winter

The mention of Horn of Winter Icon Horn of Winter in the DPS priority list may seem odd, so we would like to quickly clarify it. As a Frost Death Knight, there are certain moments in your rotation when there is literally no damaging spell you can cast. Occasionally, you can fill this dead-time with casts of Horn of Winter, which will serve not only to refresh the buff for your raid, but also to grant you 10 runic power.

4.6. Anti-Magic Shell Usage

Anti-Magic Shell Icon Anti-Magic Shell absorbs a large amount of magic damage, and grants you runic power based on the amount of damage that it absorbs.

While this ability has amazing survivability benefits, allowing you to often taken practically no damage from various raid-damaging mechanics, it also has great benefits for your DPS.

Indeed, the amount of runic power you gain if you absorb a lot of magic damage is far from negligible.

Therefore, you should always try to make use of Anti-Magic Shell to boost your runic power generation throughout the fight. The best way to do it is to know when a raid-damaging attack is coming, and to have Anti Magic Shell up for that time. Then, simply enjoy the extra runic power (and don't forget to spend it).

That said, make sure that your Anti-Magic Shell is not needed for something much more important to your own survival, before using it just to get more runic power.

Finally, while you can use Anti-Magic Shell to purposefully stand in void zones, you should be very careful when doing this.

5. Changelog↑top

  • 10 Sep. 2013: Patch 5.4 update.
    • Completely reworked the single target dual-wielding rotation.
    • Added a section on a simplified version of the dual-wielding rotation.
    • Improved the multiple target rotation section.
    • Made a few adjustments to account for the fact that Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap is now the best choice for both dual-wielding and two-handed playstyles.
    • Updated the paragraph describing how the dual-wielding and two-handed playstyles compare.
  • 08 Jun. 2013: Corrected and simplified the way to manage Obliterate Icon Obliterate when dual-wielding. The conditions for using it should now making it much easier to follow in practice.
  • 20 May 2013: Patch 5.3 update: nothing to change.
  • 03 Apr. 2013: Made several updates.
    • Improved the Dual-Wielding rotation section (moved using Frost Strike Icon Frost Strike above using Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast with Rime Icon Rime procs; added a special mention of how to use Obliterate Icon Obliterate with Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap or Runic Corruption Icon Runic Corruption).
    • Fixed a few typos, and updated the paragraph that compares Dual-Wielding to Two-Handed performances to accurately reflect the current situation on live servers.
    • Added a section that clarifies the Dual-Wielding rotation.