Death Knight Class Overview

Last updated on May 07, 2024 at 00:00 by Sellin

Lords of shadow and all things necrotic, Death Knight is extremely powerful in both solo and group content. While solo, Death Knight has the strongest self-healing in the game and manage to do so while only sacrificing a small portion of their damage. Meanwhile, in parties and Raids they provide unique, powerful buffs to their entire group while being either one of the most durable tanks in the game or one of the strongest damage dealers depending on their chosen specialization.


Introduction to Death Knight

Death Knight Class Crest Cataclysm Guide Death KnightDeath Knight is a melee oriented class that is capable of both DPS and Tanking. Death Knight operates on two unique resource systems, Runes and Runic Power. There are four types of Runes: Blood, Frost, Unholy and Death. All of these are used to perform different actions, some requiring a single Rune, while others require a combination. Runes regenerate over time, but Haste Rating will cause them to regenerate faster. Runic Power is generated primarily by using abilities and is an important resource that is used to deal damage, resurrect allies with Raise Ally Icon Raise Ally, or even be used as a way to interrupt with Mind Freeze Icon Mind Freeze.


Death Knight Specializations

Death Knight Death Knight is able to choose from three specializations: Blood, Frost, and Unholy.

  • Blood Blood — Blood is the tanking spec and widely viewed as one of, if not the strongest, tanking specialization throughout Cataclysm. This is due to its ability to self-sustain with incredible self-healing thanks to abilities like Death Strike Icon Death Strike and its Mastery Blood Shield Icon Blood Shield, shielding the Death Knight for a percentage of the damage healed by the Death Strike. Blood also has a nearly endless amount of defensive cooldowns making this specialization the most self sufficient of any Tank specialization in the game.
  • Frost Frost — Frost is a proc focused DPS specialization with a constantly updating priority system it follows in order to deal maximum damage through talents such as Killing Machine Icon Killing Machine and Rime Icon Rime. This specialization is one of, if not the strongest when it comes to kiting due to the spammability of Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast paired with Chilblains Icon Chilblains. Frost shines in smaller format content due to the amount of buffs it brings like Brittle Bones Icon Brittle Bones and Improved Icy Talons Icon Improved Icy Talons, as well as the utility it offers by being able to reliably interrupt and raise in combat.
  • Unholy Unholy — Unholy is a pet focused DPS specialization that requires focus on the resources available to you in order to deal maximum damage. Unholy has some of the strongest burst DPS in the game thanks to the large number of personal DPS cooldowns it has in the form of abilities like Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle, and Unholy Frenzy Icon Unholy Frenzy. Unholy also brings the sometimes elusive 8% magic damage taken debuff in the form of Ebon Plaguebringer Icon Ebon Plaguebringer.

What Specialization Should I Play?

Each Death Knight specialization is very different and the specialization you should play depends on how you like to enjoy the game. Blood has been reworked to be exclusively for tanking so if you are interested in tanking Blood the default choice. The choice between Unholy and Frost however is a bit more complicated as both are high performing DPS specs it again ultimately comes down to preference, group size and group composition are both are viable even at the highest levels of content.



BloodBlood is as mentioned the default tanking specialization, but what makes it different from other classes? Blood is a highly interactive, reaction-based playstyle that if played correctly is the most self-sufficient of any tank due to the massive amounts of self-healing from Death Strike Icon Death Strike and the additional shield granted by its Mastery bonus Blood Shield Icon Blood Shield. Blood also deals the second most damage of any Tank specialization alongside a large array of cooldowns that will test your understanding of each encounter as you will have a trick up your sleeve for almost every large incoming source of damage if you are able to properly manage them.



FrostFrost offers a unique playstyle that will focus on tracking your own buffs and maxmizing the benefits of your Rime Icon Rime and Killing Machine Icon Killing Machine procs. Frost can be played with either a two-handed weapon or dual-wield, though in the guide mentioned below we will focus on the dual-wield build. Frost shines in smaller group content due to the number of powerful buffs/debuffs it provides to the group in the form of Brittle Bones Icon Brittle Bones and Chilblains Icon Chilblains. There are several encounters that will require you to kite mobs and this becomes a difficult task for most classes. Frost Death Knight excels at this due to Howling Blast Icon Howling Blast and Chilblains Icon Chilblains talents. This becomes more apparent in 10-man raids where your crowd control options are much more limited due to the shear lack of players. If you like a specialization where the rotation is constantly changing, you find yourself in a group lacking the 5% Attack Speed or 4% Physical Damage taken group buffs or there is minimal competition for one-handed weapons, consider choosing Frost.



UnholyUnholy is a pet focused DPS specialization that deals the majority of its damage thanks to diseases and minions like your Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle. Unholy is best played with a two-handed weapon, so this is something to consider when choosing which specialization to play as competition for two-handed weapons can at times be quite fierce. Unholy focuses on maximizing damage done in windows by utilizing multiple cooldowns. For example your Unholy Frenzy Icon Unholy Frenzy ability will greatly increase the potency of your summoned gargoyle as your gargoyle is able to benefit from the added Haste Rating. Unholy also provides Ebon Plaguebringer Icon Ebon Plaguebringer and due to the nature of abilities like Outbreak Icon Outbreak and Pestilence Icon Pestilence will likely provide the highest uptime of the 8% increased Magic damage taken buff of any of the available sources. Unholy has the easiest time of the Death Knight specs maintaining diseases thanks to Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike. If you like a specialization that is pet-focused where the rotation is largely priority based, you find yourself in a group lacking the 8% Magic Damage taken group debuff or there is minimal competition for two-handed weapons consider choosing Unholy.


How Viable is Death Knight in Cataclysm?

Death Knight Class Art Death KnightDeath Knight is extremely viable and highly sought-after; You will rarely if ever see a raid without at least one Death Knight due to the sheer utility they bring in the form of group buffs, the ability to combat raise and the ever iconic Death Grip Icon Death Grip ability that finds great use in specific PvE encounters. BloodBlood is considered to generally be the strongest tanking specialization in the game due to its amazing ability to self sustain and its nearly endless supply of defensive cooldowns geared towards all different types of incoming damage. FrostFrost and UnholyUnholy are both viewed as two of the strongest melee DPS specs in the game due to their ability to deal massive damage while also providing powerful buffs that can otherwise be difficult to fit into a group, especially in 10-man content. Death Knight scales incredibly well with gear so you will not have to worry about becoming weaker in later phases compared to other classes. Regardless of the role or specialization you choose, Death Knight is quite powerful and you are unlikely to have any issues finding a spot in Dungeons, Raids or coordinated PvP.


Races For Death Knight

Death KnightDeath Knight is fortunately able to play as any race, both Horde and Alliance. giving you quite a few different options depending on your preference. Mentioned below will be the breakdowns of the benefits of each race.


Horde Races

  • Tauren Tauren — is widely regarded as the best race for Tanking due to its Endurance Icon Endurance racial which increases your base health by 5%. War Stomp Icon War Stomp is another great tool that stuns up to five enemies for two seconds. Tauren are also slightly more resistant to Nature damage thanks to their higher natural Nature Resistance stat.
  • Goblin Goblin — is a great choice regardless of what specialization you choose due to their increased Attack Speed from their Time is Money Icon Time is Money racial. Rocket Jump Icon Rocket Jump is another massive benefit as one of Death Knight's greatest weaknesses is their limited mobility.
  • Blood Elf Blood Elf — does not offer a ton of benefits but does have a slightly higher Arcane resistance as well as the ability to interrupt and silence nearby enemies with their Arcane Torrent Icon Arcane Torrent ability. Arcane Torrent also generates a small amount of Runic Power.
  • Orc Orc — is widely considered to be the best race for DPS due to its Blood Fury Icon Blood Fury and Command Icon Command racials. Blood Fury is a massive benefit to both DPS specializations due to the added Attack Power. Due to changes with how Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle functions the bonus Attack Power will yield much greater results than the Attack Speed found from troll. Command Icon Command is especially powerful for Unholy but also benefits your summoned ghoul as Frost.
  • Troll Troll — is a strong second choice to Orc due to the increased Attack Speed from Berserking Icon Berserking which synergizes incredibly with other Death Knight cooldowns especially Frost's Pillar of Frost Icon Pillar of Frost. Troll generally performs worse than Orc due to the reworks to how Gargoyle functions in Cataclysm as it is now global-cooldown capped but is still a strong option.
  • Undead Undead — similar to Blood Elf, Undead does not have a ton of in combat benefits as a Death Knight but the are naturally more resistant to incoming Shadow damage and are able to remove Charm, Fear and Sleep effect thanks to their Will of the Forsaken Icon Will of the Forsaken ability.

Alliance Races

  • Worgen Worgen — is considered to be the best race for for DPS as Alliance due to their Viciousness Icon Viciousness racial. While Critical Strike is generally not the most highly rated secondary stat for any Death Knight DPS spec it is the most DPS of what is available as Alliance. Worgen also offers Darkflight Icon Darkflight which offers a burst of movement speed, Death Knight is one of the least mobile classes in the game so any additional mobility tool helps.
  • Human Human— is another solid option as you will receive bonus expertise rating with a Sword or Mace equipped thanks to Mace Specialization Icon Mace Specialization and Sword Specialization Icon Sword Specialization. Human also has the ability to instantly remove all crowd controlling abilities in the form of Will to Survive Icon Will to Survive which can be extremely powerful in very specific encounters.
  • Dwarf Dwarf — is considered to be the best race for Tanking as Alliance due to their Stoneform Icon Stoneform racial. Stoneform is another Tank cooldown that reduces incoming damage by 10% for eight seconds and removes all Poison, Disease and Bleed effects. Dwarf also gains expertise when using a Mace thanks to Mace Specialization Icon Mace Specialization.
  • Night Elf Night Elf— does not offer a ton in the way of in combat benefits as a Death Knight though their Quickness Icon Quickness racial reduces the chance of being hit by 2% by Melee and Ranged attacks. Night Elf is also naturally more resistant to Nature damage.
  • Gnome Gnome — is naturally more resistant to Arcane Damage and is able to instantly remove any immobilizing/slowing effects thanks to their Escape Artist Icon Escape Artist racial.
  • Draenei Draenei— is another great choice for both Tanking or DPSing due to their ability to self heal with Gift of the Naaru Icon Gift of the Naaru that heals the target for 20% of their total health over 15 seconds. Draenei also passively have an extra 1% chance to hit thanks to their Heroic Presence Icon Heroic Presence racial.

Gearing and Stats

Death KnightDeath Knight can wear all armor types, but you should only be wearing Plate. Plate Specialization Icon Plate Specialization greatly outweighs any possible benefit you may find by wearing a non-plate piece due to the emphasis put on Primary stats in Cataclysm.

Death KnightDeath Knight is able to equip one and two-handed Swords, one and two-handed Maces, one and two-handed Axes, and Polearms. The Weapon you use will depend on the specialization you are playing, but generally speaking the type of weapon you use is irrelevant as long as it is offering you the most of your desired stats.

BloodBlood will be using a two-handed weapon and will focus primarily on stats that maximize your personal survivability. Threat is largely solved by multipliers found on abilities like Blood Presence Icon Blood Presence. Your stat priority as Blood Death Knight should be as follows: Stamina, > Mastery > Dodge > Parry >. Any Hit/Expertise rating you find on gear is beneficial but should not be your focus.

FrostFrost will be using two one-handed weapons. Though this specialization is able to be played with a two-hander it is generally recommended to play it with two one-handed weapons. Your stat priority as a Frost Death Knight should be as follows: Strength > Hit Rating (to cap 8%) > Expertise Rating (to cap 26) > Haste Rating > Mastery Rating > Critical Strike Rating.

UnholyUnholy will be using a two-handed weapon. Your stat priority as an Unholy Death Knight should be as follows: Strength > Hit Rating (to cap 8%) > Haste Rating > Critical Strike Rating > Mastery Rating > Expertise Rating (to cap (26).


Death Knight Addons and Macros

Addons and Macros can greatly improve your quality of life in Azeroth and Northrend. Listed below are some of our recommendations on Addons and Macros to help get the most out of your time playing the game.



  • 07 May 2024: Page added.
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