Get a rune addon
Now, those who know me know I am pretty minimalist when it comes to addons. There are a few I like, mostly for quick reference, but when it comes to combat, I generally use Blizzard's default stuff. It's less clutter, less hassle when a new patch comes out, and most of it gets the job done as long as I'm paying attention.
That said, the default rune UI for WoW is showing its age. It was created for a markedly different rune system in which all six runes refreshed independently, and even then, it wasn't always easy to see when runes actually refreshed or changed into death runes. At this point, even I have to admit it. The default rune UI just isn't up to snuff anymore, and most death knights will need a custom rune UI addon to reach their full potential.
Using your runes correctly and efficiently is one of the best things you can do as a death knight to increase your DPS or survivability, and a rune UI mod that moves your rune bar front and center and converts it to an easier-to-understand format is key to making this happen.
For me, the best rune addon I've found is Doc's Debug Runes. It puts all six runes front and center on your screen, converted to a bar format that makes it easy to figure out when they're going to refresh. In addition, it has bars to show disease durations on your current target, blood shield status, runic power, and any procs you may have waiting in the wings.
Sometimes, the difference between a great death knight and mediocre death knight is pushing the right button at the right time. Even a tenth of a second too late is a loss. Don't underestimate how much more effective you can be if you have all the information you need right in front of you. With a rune addon that shows you exactly what's on cooldown, exactly what debuffs are up, and exactly what procs you have available, you'll be better equipped to know which button to press and when.
Unfortunately, Doc's Debug Runes hasn't been properly updated since patch 4.0.3, but it still works fine for me. There are other rune addons out there of course, such as Magic Runes, that are still updated regularly and may prove useful enough for you. If you have a rune addon you've been using and love, I encourage you to share your experiences and sales pitches in the comments.
Use your cooldowns
As a death knight, based on your spec, race
, and gear, you may have various cooldowns you can use to give you a burst of extra DPS or extra survivability. If you aren't using them, you are not living up to your full potential.
Now, probably the best way to use your DPS cooldowns (at least on boss mobs) is to wait for a good burn phase or for your shaman or mage or hunter to cast their proper group haste buff. Once you're at that point, you should have a macro that hits all as many cooldowns as you can -- at least those that are off the GCD. Similarly, if you're tanking, you wait for a phase in which the boss is doing extra damage, and hit a defensive cooldown or two to make things easier on your healers.
That said, if you're just waiting for the burn or spike damage phase, sometimes you're still losing possible help. Trash mobs aren't as important, of course, but using your cooldowns can still help here; if they'll be back up by the time you hit a boss, there's no reason not to use them. By the same token, if a boss fight is going to last a decent amount of time, a very short cooldown could be used at the start of a battle and still be available for a burn phase. If nothing else, tanks can generally precast Bone Shield
before a pull and have it available relatively quickly if they need it again. Likewise, you may want to make a habit of using Horn of Winter
before a pull so you can make sure the buff is up at all times. Research your boss battles so you know how long they'll last and when you'll need to squeeze out extra DPS or survivability from your cooldowns.
While the most optimal thing to do is to learn how to time your cooldowns, if you're having trouble with a certain cooldown, sometimes it's not a bad idea to attach them to some skill you know you'll use more often. It does mean you may waste a few seconds of uptime if your target dies early or if that means the ability is on cooldown during a burn or spike phase, but if you wouldn't have remembered to push it anyway, at least you go some use out of it. The easiest thing to do is probably to connect it your runic power dump. For example, look at a macro like this:
/use Frost Strike
This allows an engineer frost death knight to get the buff from Synapse Springs
every time it's up and he uses Frost Strike. The "10" in this case refers to the glove item slot. You can create similar macros for trinkets: 13 is the number for your first trinket slot, and 14 is the number for your second. You can also use the exact name of the gloves or trinket you're wearing, but I like to use numbers so I don't have to change my macros every time I upgrade.
Learn to use Dark Simulacrum
, our level 85 skill, can be a bit daunting to learn to use. For some spells, you can cast it during the cast time and it will grab it just fine. For some spells, you have to cast it just before your target casts it. For some spells, it just plain doesn't work. Still, learning to steal the right spell at the right time, while sometimes a gimmick, can pull down some pretty sweet numbers.
For PVE, you'll get the most use out of it in heroics. For example, if you can grab Bloodlord Mandokir's Bloodletting right near the beginning of the fight, you can knock out a decent chunk of his HP right away. Simply wait for his first execution. If you cast Dark Simulacrum while he's leaping at his target (assuming it isn't you), you'll get to steal a nice, channeled health drain that should knock off a decent chunk of health.
Similarly, if you can cast Dark Simulacrum on Zanzil right when he's casting Zanzili Fire, you'll get the spell yourself. You can either cast it on him for a decent bit of damage or throw it at a bunch of his zombies, if they happen to be up. Either way, it's a great way to shorten that fight.
In Zul'Aman, if Hex Lord Malacrass Soul Siphons a caster, you can steal most of the stuff he'll cast, so it may be a good idea to just throw Dark Simulacrum on him and see what you get. If you have a paladin group member, grabbing his version of Avenging Wrath is a great way to get some extra DPS.
If you have any other places you know of where Dark Simulacrum works wonders, please feel free to share them in the comments.
For PVP, it's a bit more complicated. Your fellow players aren't so easily predictable, so predicting which spell they'll cast next isn't a matter of memorizing their patterns or installing a boss mod. That said, there are still some times you can try to put yourselves in their shoes and think about what you might cast in their situation.
If you're attacking a restoration shaman who doesn't have Earth Shield
up, there's a chance he'll try to put it up to give himself a bit more survivability. If you're going after a mage who's just Blinked, there's a chance he'll turn around and try to cast Cone of Cold
, Frost Nova
, or Polymorph
-- all great crowd control spells you'd probably love to be able to use.
Remember, for the most part, Dark Simulacrum only works on stuff that uses mana, so don't waste it or a rogue or warrior. It also helps to know that even for players who notice the Dark Simulacrum debuff and cast a junk spell to get it off, you've just delayed whatever CC or damage spell they planned to cast by one GCD. Thus, even if it feels as if you wasted the spell, it may be all you need to press your advantage or allow your teammate to get away.
Learn the ropes of endgame play with WoW Insider's DK 101 guide. Make yourself invaluable to your raid group with Mind Freeze and other interrupts, gear up with pre-heroic DPS gear or pre-heroic tank gear, and plot your path to tier 11/valor point DPS gear.