With Wrath more or less winding down and only the Ruby Sanctum before us at some nebulous point in the future, a lot of us are wandering around with full PvE gear and currency tabs full of emblems looking for a place to go. One easy place to let off some of that steam is with PvP. Be it arena, battlegrounds or (admittedly pretty rare these days) world PvP, this article will give you some basic tips to get yourself squared away with the gear and spec you need to start off on the right foot.
This is by no means a complete guide to absolutely every aspect of death knight PvP. This'll help you get your feet wet and get properly geared, but there's always more to learn, especially in the dynamic, ever-changing world of PvP combat strategy and tactics. Still, nothing gives you a better start on the road to skill than a good foundation in stats and speccing, so let's start this up.
Spec and talent advice
If you're serious about PvP these days, you're probably going to be speccing unholy, specifically something close to this 0/17/54 build. Unholy's very useful because it not only gives you extra resistance to magic damage, but also allows you to stack massive, armor-ignoring magic damage between Scourge Strike, diseases and Death Coil, as well as giving you an extra form of crowd control and healer harassment via the Ghoul. What's nearly as important, though, is how you spend points in the frost tree.
In the frost tree, you'll want to grab Runic Power Mastery so you can churn out three Death Coils when you're bursting down your target. Toughness will boost you to tier 2, and give you some resistance again snaring effects. In tier 2, grabbing Icy Reach will let you apply Chains of Ice from further away, and Black Ice makes your Death Coil hit that much harder. Of course, you'll get what you really came here for in the next two tiers: Lichborne gives you another get-out-of-trouble-free card and a way to self-heal with Death Coil, and Endless Winter makes your Mind Freeze free to use and gives you some extra strength for bursting down enemies.
Stats to get
In deciding which stats to get, resilience and stamina are of course, of supreme importance. That said, you'll get most of the stamina and resilience you really need from the PvP armor sets. if you're kitting yourself out with PvP gear, you'll get most of what you need. Besides staying alive, you also need to actually do damage, which means you need to focus on a few other stats:
- Hit rating 5% hit rating will let you hit people with your two-handed weapon and your weapon strikes. Let Virulence take care of the rest as far as spell hit goes, but you want that hit rating. Missing a key Scourge Strike or Strangulate could spell the difference between that priest dying or getting a heal off.
- Spell penetration You'll want to have approximately 130 spell penetration. Spell penetration gets your spell-like effects past any innate or buff-granted resistances on your targets. You'll be glad you have it when your Strangulate hits and stops that shaman from winding up another Chain Heal. Spell Penetration is also a lot easier to grab than you might imagine. Four Stormy Majestic Zircons will get you a cool 100 spell penetration, and you can use Spell Piercing on your cloak to get to 135 spell penetration.
- Strength and critical strike rating You'll want these as well. While a death knight's role in a PvP team is almost always primarily utility, you'll still be bringing a lot of DPS pain, so you'll want to buff your damage output as much as possible. Generally, strength is better than critical strike rating, but get a decent balance if you can. Your burst damage will thank you if you keep a decent critical strike rating. If you're not killing people fast enough, it may be time to start enchanting and gemming for strength after spell penetration and hit, or to use PvE DPS pieces on your rings, neck and cloak slots. However, don't overdo it on PvE pieces. You'll still probably at least want your main armor slots to be PvP gear.
Playstyle and general tips
Essentially, a death knight's role in group PvP will almost always be utility. We can dish out a decent amount of pain, but often it's best to leave the specifics to other DPS while we crowd control, interrupt and otherwise harass the opposition, especially casters and healers. Essentially, you are going to want to be read to deploy Death Grip, Strangulate, Mind Freeze, Chains of Ice and your ghoul's Gnaw ability at any time. Once you have that all ready to use, you'll want to use it -- but not all at once. Consider each button precious.
Learn to time skill use for when it's most advantageous. For example, use Death Grip and Chains of Ice to wrangle in a mage or warlock after they've used Blink or Demonic Circle. That way, they can't just teleport away. Use your Ghoul's Gnaw to break up a stunlock by using it just as your enemy's stun is about to wear off, giving yourself time to get away from them or put up your own defenses before they can recover (and in the case of rogues, use another stun). Death Grip is also great as an emergency interrupt.
Likewise, don't forget to use Icebound Fortitude, Lichborne and Anti-Magic Shell. Learn what status effects each one cancels or avoids and be ready to use them to outlast and survive. For example, Lichborne will turn you undead, thus make you immune to most forms of traditional crowd control, and Anti-Magic Shell not only absorbs magic damage but poisons too, and it'll leave you immune to negative effects such as traps and roots as well. Plus, the shell gives you plenty of runic power, so when it's time to burst your target down, you have three Death Coils ready to go.
Another important tool to remember for a PvP death knight is Empower Rune Weapon. This can give you emergency runes for a Chains of Ice or Strangulate or another such spell, or it can be used while burst to provide you with another couple Scourge Strikes if your first burst doesn't finish off your target. Keep this button handy for sure.
You'll also want to learn Ghoul control. Don't keep your abilities on autocast. You'll want to be able to cast Leap, Gnaw or Huddle at a moment's notice. You'll especially want to get good at using Huddle and Leap to help your Ghoul outlast or escape if it gets focused for killing. Remember, your Ghoul can use Leap to leap to an ally as well, which can be great for support or escape purposes.
As far as which presence to use, all three have their place. Frost Presence is useful when you're getting focus-fired, and many arena death knights like to keep it on at the beginning of a battle until they're sure they aren't going to be focused to start off. Blood Presence is still a good heavy hitter, but many death knights will stay in Unholy Presence in order to squeeze out more quick burst damage thanks to the shorter global cooldown and for the run speed increase.
As you fight more and more, you should start getting a better feel for what works and what doesn't, so keep it at it. I'd especially recommend checking out our Blood Sport and Art of War(craft) columns for all the latest PvP tips and tricks. Especially check out Art of War(craft)'s series on countering each class, even death knights themselves. If you know what tricks the enemy's expecting from you, it's easier to figure out your own ways to counter.
Welcome to Lichborne, the weekly class column on the newest WoW class, the death knight, where we discuss PUG etiquette and Emblem of Triumph gear for the death knight, 5-man Icecrown dungeon gear and basic death knight statistics and mechanics. You might also want to check all the other articles in our death knight category.