Verified for 3.22 plus commentary on no-epidemic unholy.
What are the specs and talent options for levelling up a Death Knight? Fortunately, they’re all good. Here are some templates to help you decide between unholy, frost and blood levelling specs.
I have had the (un)fortunate pleasure of levelling two DKs. As of writing, I’m L68. My previous main Gravity tanked Ulduar 25 in England but because of a move back to Australia, I decided to reroll. (You can’t transfer EU to Oceanic servers).
You can get to L68 in about 1 day and 12 hours played (I did) by using a flying mount at L60 (costs 620g with no faction discount).
I’ve included L68 and L79 versions of the specs so you can see how you build out the spec as you go. I even did some dps sims.
First a few explanatory notes.
Levelling as dps, not tank
It’s not worth levelling in a tank spec really, just pick a DPS spec. If you are dead-keen to tank instances whilst levelling (even though it’s not time efficient exp/hour), throw in a few tank talents to make a hybrid. You don’t need the 5/8/5. Your frost presence does provide a lot of tankage.
You could dual spec of course.
AOE pulls: An L60+ DK can take on 5 same-level mobs whilst grinding out the kill-quests. This means a talent like corpse explosion can be quite powerful. If, like me, you look for opportunities to get another add into your pull then corpex might be useful, but if you generally single-target kill it’d be a waste.
PvP servers: I have spec’d these for PVE servers. If you’re on a gank realm, you’ll want to pick some different talents for escape, slowing and gap-closing. I’ve not provided those here.
Battlegrounds: I levelled L58 to L60 in Alterac Valley mostly. At L59, I gained between 22K and 26K experience per Alterac Valley in average of 14 minutes, when winning. They were coming one after another, with up to 5 or 10 minutes at most between. During the downtime, I levelled skinning and mining. When the BG is over, you’re ported back to where you were, Durotar for example. Re-queue from the new PvP menu then repeat.
Very popular levelling tree because having a ghoul is fun, pale horse is a time saver, bone shield looks cool, and the DPS is strong on both single and multiple targets.
You have two choices:
- Deep Unholy (Scourge Strike). Spec at L68, spec at L79.
- blood presence, standard rotation (IT PS SS BS BS DC, SS SS SS DC).
- No-epidemic. At L68 it does about the same dps as traditional.
- Has a bit less AOE due to shorter diseases and lacking death runes might be frustrating for killing mobs one after another, or doing a sequence of death strikes to self-heal. Here’s the L68 spec and L79. You can also read my longer article on no-epidemic in general including the unusual rotations.
- This spec does dps in unholy presence, and so gets the runspeed boost in your dps presence, which is convenient
- The Unholy Obliterate build is not viable anymore; 3.22 broke it.
- you can get Corpse Explosion
- spec into improved unholy presence for the Deep Unholy build (run speed), you can dps in that presence too its about the same as blood just weaker again on AOE.
I think this is the best levelling spec even though its DPS isn’t the top. You can tank quite well, too. For solo, you are unkillable with self-heals. I’ve accidentally pulled too many mobs and been fine because of: vampiric blood, then with its +heal aura up for 20s using death pact, heal potion, death strikes, rune taps.
The cleave of heart strike is plain awesome for levelling since two-pulls are the most common. You can also get pale horse for improved mount speed.
- bloodworms are cool but they can pull other mobs (they can sometimes run on the ground underneath while you fly) and don’t hit very hard. Since you’re so hard to kill, that’s not really a problem, so Hysteria, Improved Rune Tap or Sudden Doom are alternatives.
- for talent path up to L68, you can go for Heart Strike or Pale Horse first. HS is very powerful, but mount-speed saves you time. You should decide early.
This tree doesn’t really have any stand-out levelling talents except howling blast for multiple targets. It has imposing options for PvP realms though, and is the only choice for dual-wield. You might have trouble replacing your excellent starter weapon with worthy 1Hers until L66 or so.
Negative: can’t get pale horse unless you create a stupid spec.
Whilst you can hybrid Frost to tank/dps, I would go with Unholy or Blood instead because their choices are more useful for solo.
Your choices are:
- Dual-wield at L68 and L79. Weapon ideas #1 and #2, or if you can get friends for Durn #3. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with DW.
- Frost two-handed at L68 and L79.
- I don’t think there are many really, except for dropping Icy Talons to buy PvP talents. Frost doesn’t have many optional talents.
DPS model commentary
I’ve had to use the MMO Champion talent builder because it lets me import to the simulator. I input my own L68 stats into it (450 str, 181 agi, plus 120 bonus AP which I estimated while redoing this October 1st). I was wearing only quest greens and blues, no enchants, no twinking. Used Cinderglacier and Sigil of Dark Rider. I didn’t sim the DW build, too fiddly.
Remember to get yourself an improved sigil from the easy daily PvP quests in Venture harbour, Grizzly Hills.
Note the simulation generates optimal, perfect DPS, so don’t expect to actually do that yourself in-game. However it’s very useful for side-by-side comparisons of specs within the simulator, since their relative performance is accurate.
That said, the results, using the L68 specs above, with L68 stats:
- Unholy with scourge strike 981 dps, no-reaping build 950 to 1040. Unholy-oblit not tested.
- Blood 924 dps (single-target, with heart strike you’ll kill two mobs as quick as one).
- Frost 2H 1096 dps, DW didn’t sim.
Conclusion? They’re all close enough together that you go choose whichever tree you want.
October 1st: fixed bonus attack power in the sim. Sept 30 changes: added no-epidemic analysis, and fixed all unholyspecs to use Glyph of Ghoul