Preparing to Launch
So the first thing a lot of new Death Knights might ask is, how do I spec? I'd say that you should level as 2-hand DPS (Dual wielding isn't very good at all as of patch 3.1, and even on a good patch, needs some high class gear). As to which tree you should go for, all three are really completely viable and likely to serve you well. If you'd like a more specific recommendation, I'd say go Blood if you prefer survivability, Unholy if you prefer to take down large amounts of things at once. Look at an Unholy build that looks something like this at 60, or a Blood that looks something like this at 60. In both cases, you can work from there until your build looks something like the cookie cutter specs posted in our patch 3.1 cookie cutter spec article.
If you've dual specced or are looking for a secondary tank build, check that patch 3.1 cookie cutter spec article as well. In essence, you can get through normal Outland and normal pre-80 Northrend dungeons as a tank by getting the 1st tier defensive talent in each tree, then working up to the major defensive talent in that tree: That is, Bone Shield, Vampiric Blood, or Unbreakable Armor. Now mind you, for Heroics or Raids, you are going to need to spec a little tighter, which is when you check the patch 3.1 cookie cutter article.
Now that you have your talent path decided, the next question is also pretty intuitive: How do I play? At it's most basic, Death Knight gameplay involves getting rid of your runes, then getting rid of the runic power that is generated by using the runes. A very basic rotation is something like this:
- Cast Plague Strike and Icy Touch on your target. This will apply your diseases, which will add extra damage as well as strengthen your weapon strikes.
- Use your Blood Runes. Use Pestilence if you have multiple targets who need diseases spread to them, Blood Boil if you have multiple targets who are already diseased, or Blood or Heart Strike if you only have one or two targets.
- Use your Frost/Unholy ability. Obliterate is the basic one you'll get, and the one Frost uses. Unholy will use Scourge Strike once they have the talents to use it, while Blood uses Death Strike. Of course, if you're low on health while soloing, you may want to use Death Strike regardless.
- By this time, you should have enough runic power to unleash one of your rune dumps. For Blood, that'll be Death Coil or Dancing Rune Weapon. For Unholy, that's Unholy Blight, Death Coil, or Gargoyle. For Frost, that's Frost Strike. Drain your runic power while you wait for your runes to refresh
- When your runes begin to refresh, repeat everything.
How much preparing should I do?
So to start a Death Knight, you need a character that's already at least level 55. This puts you in the position of being able to give your Death Knight a leg up relatively easily regardless of who you are. You can find a list of things to pre-gather here.
The big thing to pre-gather are those things that give you reputation and experience. If you have all the argent dawn turn-in items, and do a quick set of Cauldron runs in Western Plaguelands, you should find yourself at least 59 in almost no time. I'm a big fan of getting Unidentified Plant Parts out of the way too. They don't provide experience on their own, but you do have a chance for an experience giving drop, and the reputation boost at least helps out if you want to get The Exalted later.
But again, for a full list of what you might want to get ahead of time, check the list at this link. Also worth adding to that list are Heirloom items. Hierloom weapons cannot be runeforged, and therefore are less desirable than they might be, but you may want to consider grabbing Polished Spaulders of Valor or Strengthened Stockade Pauldrons to expedite your experience gain if you have enough of the proper currency lying around on your main.
Now, this said, if you want to start from scratch, either because your "main" is poor or you just don't feel like spending extra money, you can do that too. Death Knights start with a full set of 12-slot bags and get an epic mount from an early quest, which will really be all you need to get through Outland.
By the time you finish the Death Knight starting questline, you should easily be level 58, especially if you did a few extra turn-ins for Noth's Special Brew. This means that, even if you did no preparing, you can go straight to Hellfire Peninsula. We already have a roundup of some quest loot to watch out for at this link, but we'll give a quick run-through of the leveling process here.
Both sides will have essentially similar quests with similar rewards heading through Thrallmar and Honor Hold, then over to the other side of the zone between Falcon Watch and Temple of Telhamat. You'll be able to solo most things, though you will still probably want some help with Overlord or its Horde equivalent, as well as the giant-killing quests for the Cenarion Post. If you're collecting Unidentified Plant Parts, be sure to turn those in before you start on the Cenarion post quests.
By the time you clear Hellfire Peninsula, you should be at level 60 and have the basics of your build fleshed out. You'll have your "tree-defining" runic power dumps, strikes, and nukes. As you head into Zangarmarsh, take the time to get to know your specific rotation. Note how your tree converts Death Runes and use those Death Runes for your most devestating rune-using attack, be it Scourge Strike, Obliterate, or Heart Strike.
In Zangarmarsh, you'll have the Cenarion Outpost quests, and you'll find you can probably solo the 2-man quests, especially with the help of a flare. Moving on to the Horde and Alliance quest hubs, once again you'll find some decent overlap between the two, and not many item upgrades in sight. It's fine, your armor's pretty uber. Alliance will want to make sure they finish the quests at Orebor Harborage so they can quest in Nagrand later, of course.
After you clean out Zangarmarsh, you'll want to head down to Terrokar Forest. If you're lucky, you can grab the Bone Wastes for your side here and get a nice little experience gain buff. Be sure to hit the Lost Caravan in the Bone Wastes, the Sha'tar outpost in the Southeastern quarter of the Bone Wastes, the Cenarion Thicket, and your side's city. Again, you won't find any mind-blowing upgrades among the stuff here, but the experience should flow pretty quickly.
By the time you clear out here, you should hopefully be at least 65, which is a perfect time to head to Nagrand. Nagrand's another nice place for getting a bunch of quests bunched together. You'll find your major quest hubs at your side's village, at Nesingwary's Camp in the Northeast, and the Throne of Elements to the North.
What's a good idea here is to try to gather as many quests for a specific area as you can. For example, if you start in on the quest line that leads you to Lantresor, you can grab some quests that you can combine with other quests up at the Laughing Skull Ruins or Kil'Sorrow fortress easily. Also, there's one quest for Sunspring Village up at the Throne of Elements that you get from killing Air Elementals, which need to kill anyway for gasses for a certain goblin. Combine that with the small handful of Sunspring Village quests from your home village,
Once you're through with Nagrand, you should hopefully have a Honed Voidaxe or Halanni Claymore, and more importantly, level 68. Once you have level 68, even if it means leaving Nagrand half done, your best bet is to head straight to Northrend. Check out our Northrend starting zone gear guide, make your choice, and hop a boat. Once you set foot on the shore there, you should find it pretty simple to power through to 70, get a bunch of really awesome gear upgrades, and from there begin the push to 80 in earnest.