Death Knight 101: Overview

In November of 2008, the Death Knight class was made available to the public, alongside a plethora of other new content in their recent expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. Death Knights were made unlockable by simply having a level 55 character in the same realm, and ss of patch 3.0.8, the realm restriction was lifted.

Death Knight classes are trademarked by plate armor, parry, the ability to both use 2-Handed Weapons and dual wield, and their famous runic system. All of these features will be discussed in further detail in upcoming editions of DK101.

After the break: strengths, weaknesses, talent schools.

Solo PvE

Death Knights have a wide variety of abilities that allow them to perfom a multitude of tasks while solo. Their fantastic mitigation spells, coupled with great burst damae, allows them to take on single elites, or large groups of normal mobs. Various spells that freeze, snare, or pull enemies back to the caster provide precise control over the target.

The inability of a death knight to use shields causes them to rely mostly on avoidance-based defense, meaning that attacks on them are mainly hit-or-miss. While soloing, stretches of bad luck may result in a Death Knight taking more damage than it is used to, and unexpected downtime may be spent to recover health.

Other than that, Death Knights do not have that many glaring weaknesses.

Group PvE

The ability to provide large mounts of sustained melee damage makes Death Knights an asset in a group setting. They also have a variety of tools for AoE situations. Because of these two reasons, they can hold threat very well as a tank. Depending on talents, they can provide auras that can boost their party’s stats.

In a tanking role, Death Knights cannot use shields, and are thus reliant on avoidance and the RNG (random number generator) to mitigate damage. Because of their inconsistent rate of taking damage, healers are challenged to predict incoming spikes, and run the risk of overhealing, resulting in mana inefficiency.

Most prominently, the novelty and complexity of the runic system can provide a challenge to many novice players, which may result in a large number of people unable to play their death knights to its fullest potential. As a group leader, it can be difficult to predict at a glance whether or not a DK can perform his role well. This “deathtard” stigma can prevent skilled players from joining groups.


Death Knights have a large number of spells and abilities that help combat ranged caster classes, including a variety of interrupt and silencing effects, the ability to pull enemies to melee range, and abilities that either absorb magic damage or increase resistance.  Due to high armor and overall mitigation, they are fairly good at surviving streams of damage, potentially being able to regenerate health through their attacks.  They are also capable of dealing damage in large bursts.

Many Death Knight abilities revolve around cooldowns, meaning that once an ability is used, it cannot be used again for a specific duration of time.  Due to the brief nature of PvP encounters, if the Death Knight’s abilities are still “on cooldown,” then he or she is very vulnerable to counterattack.  As a melee class, they are also forced to get into close-combat with ranged classes in order to win, which can be very difficult if their abilities are still on cooldown.

Talent Schools

Like all classes, the Death Knight’s talents and spells belong to one of three schools. The three schools are Blood, Frost, and Unholy. In later editions of Death Knight 101, these schools will be looked at in greater detail, regarding their talent trees.

The Blood school is based on weapon based combat. A number of abilities and talents help increase the strength and attack power of your own attacks, as well as members in the same party. Blood also has a very strong vampiric theme, converting damage dealt by the Death Knight into health regeneration.

This school allows for great burst damage and minimal downtime, making Blood an attractive option for those who like to quest or DPS in dungeons. They have a few talents that help them tank as well.

Frost is the school that uses the harshness of cold to defeat enemies. Mitigation via armor bonuses and numerous cooldowns are abound in this school. Many spells found in this school can be used to slow down enemies, or freeze them completely. The brittleness of ice makes is strongly represented by a large number of talents and abilities that increase the chance and damage of critical strikes.

The Frost school features its own disease called Frost Fever, which can slow down enemy attacks and provide steady streams of periodic damage. Due to the control over mobs and its multitude of mitigation, Frost provides a strong base for those who wish to tank, while still being very capable of dealing large amounts of damage.

The Unholy arsenal of spells and abilities are strongly related to death and disease. Not only can death knights provide a handful of diseases pertaining to this school, but can also increase the effects of other diseases such as Frost Fever. Minions are a strong theme in the Unholy school, allowing Death Knights control over summoned , even able to resurrect the dead, both enemy and ally alike.

The Unholy Death Knight have a variety of twisted spells, many of which serve as a counter to enemy spells. Individuals who like to play warlocks and hunters can identify with Unholy’s ability to use ghouls as combat pets, which provide a good deal of damage.

Lesson Plan

Now that you have a good idea of what a Death Knight is about, you can now decide whether or not the class is a right fit for you. For those who wish to continue learning the basics of Death Knighthood, stay tuned for more editions of Death Knight 101, which will include:

Runic System
Spells and Abilities
Basic PvE Tactics
Basic PvP Tactics
Scool-specific Strategies

See you on the other side of Acherus!


One thought on “Death Knight 101: Overview

  1. Sounds good to get some basic lessons about DK. Will come in handy when I’ll ever come around to level one in the future. (Hasn’t happened yet, I never seem to get time for it.)

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