Choosing your leveling spec
For a leveling spec, you'll probably want to go for either frost or blood. This isn't to say that unholy is an inferior tree, but the main reason I would tend to eschew it for solo leveling is simple: It's very hard to weave Death Strikes into the basic unholy rotation. On the other hand, blood uses Death Strikes as a matter of course, and frost allows you to replace your Obliterates with Death Strikes when needed without causing a horrible break in your rotation. Cataclysm mobs hit very hard, and you will want some self-healing to make it through. With the removal of the automatic health drain that formerly belonged to the old version of Blood Presence, Death Strike is our most reliable method of self-healing.
The other benefits of leveling frost are essentially two-fold: First, you get easy access to On a Pale Horse. That 20 percent speed boost will help you get everywhere faster, and, if you're racing for a server first, could make the difference between you getting it and someone else getting it. Second, Howling Blast remains an AoE leveling powerhouse. Don't get me wrong, unless you're in heroic ICC gear, chances are you aren't going to have much luck trying to AoE large groups of mobs. That said, if you do get caught with four or five mobs, Howling Blast will give you a better chance of survival through superior firepower for sure.
Here's a basic two-handed frost leveling build, including some recommended glyphs. If you want to try leveling dual wielding, it should be pretty intuitive which points to swap out. You'll notice that I chose to spec in Unholy Command and use a Death Grip glyph. You shouldn't underestimate the usefulness of Death Grip in leveling content. The faster you can pull in mobs, the faster you can level and complete those quests. As you level, you can use those last five points to fill out the blood tree.
Blood, on the other hand, is a beast at survival. You won't kill stuff quite as fast as you did as frost, but you'll be able to weather more thanks to more ways to heal, which is something you can't underestimate in Cataclysm. Stuff hits hard, folks, and leveling is going to be a challenge for a lot of players. If you're looking to level a bit more casually, I'd suggest leveling as blood so that you don't have to deal with dying quite as often, even if you do kill stuff slightly slower.
You can probably use a basic blood tank build with a few tweaks here and there. If you aren't planning to tank, you can in theory swap out Toughness and Blade Barrier for other talents, but since the whole point of leveling blood is to survive, you may find those two talents worth keeping after all. If you follow the blood build linked above, you may find it useful to fill out Unholy Command and Scent of Blood as you level. There's one more caution to give here: Don't DPS dungeons as blood. If you want to DPS a couple dungeons to fill out your leveling experience, make sure you have a frost or unholy secondary spec ready to go for those situations. Dual talent specs now only cost 10 gold, so you have few excuses not to do this.
Your solo leveling rotation will differ from your raid rotation mostly in the absence of diseases. Essentially, diseases take too long to ramp up, and for blood and frost especially, don't do enough damage to really be worth it. This will change a bit when you get Outbreak at 81, but for the most part, don't worry about applying diseases. Just stick with Death Strike or Obliterate as proper for your spec and health level, with Heart Strikes or Blood Strikes to use up blood runes. Diseases can be saved for elite or group mobs, or anything that isn't going to be dying in around 30 seconds or less.
Where to level
Leveling is on a pretty simple straightforward system in Cataclysm. You start your leveling experience in one of two zones, then continue on to 3 more zones one after another, like so:
- Mount Hyjal Level 80
- Vashj'ir Level 80
- Deepholm Level 82
- Uldum Level 83
- Twilight Highlands Level 84
In short, start in either Mount Hyjal or Vashj'ir, then follow the zones upward, from Deepholm to Uldum to Twilight Highlands. My personal preference is to start at Hyjal. While Vashj'ir is certainly a breathtakingly beautiful zone, and it's a lot less of a bother to move through the water than you might think, it's also a strangely claustrophobic zone, as you're constantly underwater with no real connection to the rest of the world, and you're on the run from place to place with no real breathing room. In addition, the real story of the zone doesn't seem to kick in until almost the last third of the place. Hyjal, on the other hand, gets started quicker and stays mostly more engaging, and it feels a lot more like something you can pause. In addition, it felt like gear upgrades came in a bit sooner in Hyjal back when I leveled through both zones in beta.
Speaking of gear, you shouldn't have to worry about it too much, especially if you're decked out in ICC gear. ICC 10-man gear won't really be replaced until Deepholm, with ICC 25-man gear lasting until at least the second half of Deepholm. Just focus on getting strength-based plate gear and weapons with high DPS and high high-end damage, and you should be fine until it's time to start running normal dungeons to gear up for heroics.
We have advice for everything from new strategies for regemming and reforging, pre-expansion specs and rotations, and major changes for pre-expansion DKs . Check out WoW Insider's DK leveling guides, and visit Lichborne every week for more death knight strategies and tips.