The when, how, and if of questing in Molten Front
The obvious questing choice in patch 4.2 is certainly the Molten Front. Starting with Thrall's quest at Mount Hyjal, which will give you a new cape, you can then proceed to the Sanctuary of Malorne, where Matoclaw will start you on the Molten Front quest line. After doing all the introductory quests and the first set of dailies, you'll gain access to Zen'Vorka, a vendor who will sell you a necklace good for both tanking and DPS, and a pair of tanking boots, both of which are equal to tier 11 raiding gear, if not slightly better. It's only a couple hours of work, so there's no real reason not to do it.
As to whether it's worth it to keep doing the dailies, that's another question altogether. First, check out our guide to Molten Front death knight gear to see what you can unlock from other vendors. There are some very good, very clear upgrades to any gear you'll see out of heroic dungeons. However, most stuff will be only sidegrades or very slight upgrades to ilevel 359 gear you can get from tier 11 raiding or justice points.
Because of this, whether you continue with the dailies for the sake of new gear depends in large part on your chosen path. If you're looking to get tier 12 raiding as soon as possible, you may find that it's a better use of your time to farm JPs and get in on tier 11 raid PUGs. You can probably pick up enough ilevel 359 gear to step into Firelands before you unlock all three vendors.
That said, if you don't have a Firelands group waiting for you or you're taking your time, it's probably worth it to unlock the three vendors.
This is also a good time to talk about the Masterwork Elementium Deathblade. When it first came out, it was a nice heavy hitter, with a 3.8 speed and a high-end damage to match. This made it a very clear upgrade over any normal tier 11 weapon and, even a 20k gold price tag, a pretty smart buy for any casual 2H-wielding death knight looking for an easy upgrade.
Unfortunately, since it's gone live, it's been nerfed to 3.5 speed, with a lower high-end damage to match. This has suddenly dropped it down to being a barely a sidegrade for most ilevel 359 weapons and arguably worse than some of them.
Now, it's no good to overreact to the nerf. It is still a very well-itemized sword, with haste and mastery meaning it's great for both 2H death knight DPS specs and even passable for tanking. It's still going to be an upgrade to any heroic dungeon weapon, including those from the Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub heroics.
However, there's a strong argument that it's no longer worth the 20k you'll have to spend on it. It's barely an upgrade to 3.6 speed choices like Akirus, the Worm-Breaker, and it's arguably worse than 3.8 speed, ilevel 359 options such as Reclaimed Ashkandi. Because the top-end damage on a weapon is such a crucial component of how well our strikes hit, a 3.8 speed, ilevel 359 weapon will simply hit harder and do more damage, despite the slight stat loss.
Essentially, if you don't have cheap access to the Truegold needed to make this sword, you may just be better off saving your money and running BWD and BOT PUGs for an ilevel 359 weapon instead.
Other questing choices at level 85
While a lot of the gear on some of the other Cataclysm reputation vendors has arguably been rendered obsolete by the Molten Front, ilevel 359 JP epics, and easy tier 11 raids, there are still a few things that are good enough that they're worth picking up, even if only for stopgaps until you get drops from tier 11 raids or Zul dungeons.
If you chose the DPS cloak from the Thrall quest line, you'll want to grab the Wrap of the Great Turtle from exalted Guardians of Hyjal for your tanking off set. You'll get exalted pretty easily from Molten Front dailies.
At revered with Therazane, you'll be able to pick up an ilevel 346 ring for either tanking or DPS. You should be close to revered if you leveled up through Deepholm, and if you're interested in endgame PVE, you'll want exalted for the shoulder enchant anyway.
Sandguard Bracers come from exalted Ramkahen and should serve you well as tank bracers until you buy VP bracers.
At revered with the Wildhammer or Dragonmaw clans, you can get both an ilevel 346 tanking helm and an ilevel 346 set of DPS gloves.
If you gather enough currency with your side's Tol Barad faction, you can pick up some ilevel 359 trinkets. Impatience of Youth is a solid DPS trinket until you can get some tier 11 drops, and Mirror of Broken Images is still used by many tanks for magic-heavy fights even today.
Regardless, you will probably want to get to friendly with each Cataclysm
reputation, then grab their tabard from their vendor. Then, as you run dungeons for JPs and VPs, you can wear the tabards, get exalted, and get what gear they have as possible stopgaps for any gear you haven't grabbed from dungeons or JPs yet. While you're waiting out the dungeon queues (if you're DPS), you can also do those factions' dailies, although doing non-Molten Front dailies isn't really mandatory anymore.
For some idea of how to gear up, check out our death knight gearing list series:
Basically, the lower down the list the article is, the more current it is. So Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub choices will almost always beat out choices in the pre-raid articles, although tier 11 drops will beat out almost anything else. Also, now that tier 11 VP gear is purchasable with JPs, you should be able to bypass waiting for a lot of these drops and instead buy the upgrades directly with JPs.
Knowing when to queue for heroics
Figuring out when you're ready to queue for dungeons can be difficult, but remember this first of all: Queueing for level 85 normal dungeons still gives you JPs. Not only will you get 140 JPs for the first seven dungeons you complete after each Tuesday server reset, but bosses will drop small amounts of JPs. This means you can run normal dungeons as long as you need to, until you've bought all the ilevel 359 JP gear you need. You can buy all three of your tier 11 set pieces, buy the other ilevel 359 accessories, then grab whatever ilevel 346 gear you need to fill in gaps until you get Zul dungeon or raid drops instead, all without setting foot in a heroic dungeon. Don't be afraid to take your time in normals, because you will be moving forward when you queue for them, even if at a slower pace.
That said, if you're impatient to get started on heroics, it's still good to set some personal goals. Of course, Blizzard won't let you into heroics until you hit a certain minimal gear level, but said gear levels are often pretty arbitrary and don't always say anything about how ready you are. When I play a DPS, I always make sure I am capable of at least 8k DPS against your average boss in a normal dungeon before I set foot in a normal heroic. This is sort of the classic pre-4.1 minimum competency level and a decent jumping-off point, so I know I won't be a complete burden. For a Zul heroic, try getting to the 10k DPS threshold. That's also a good rule of thumb for whether or not you're ready to try for a Baradin Hold group. Tier 11 PUGs are a little stickier, and I'd tend to shoot for 12k DPS for those, though you might still be able to get away with 10k DPS, assuming no one else in the raid is any lower than that.
For tanks, it's a little harder to judge. Remember that pure stamina won't always get you by
in the new Cataclysm
era. You'll definitely want a good chunk of mastery, and probably some avoidance (parry and dodge rating) while you're at it. My general rule of thumb for a Zul heroic is to have at least 140k HP self-buffed without gemming or enchanting specifically for stamina. Also, remember to use your cooldowns. Keeping your cooldowns cycled so that one is up as much as possible or so that one is up when the mob is doing increased damage, especially on boss fights, can do just as much as good gear in keeping you good to go in dungeons.
Why PVP gear isn't for PVE
When trying to make the minimal gear level for heroics or even normal dungeons, it's very tempting to go to AH or dip into any honor points you have saved up from leveling and grab a piece of high-level PVP gear in order to make the cut.
Just remember, if you do this, that the gear level is a lie. This is because a large portion of the gear's budget will be taken up with resilience. Resilience does nothing against PVE damage. It does not strengthen your character in dungeons and raids. It cannot be reforged away, either. Thus, a seemingly strong ilevel 358 piece of PVP gear turns out to be barely as strong as an ilevel 333 normal dungeon drop for PVE purposes, if that.
If you're thinking of buying PVP gear with your honor points in order to get into PVE dungeons, stop. Instead, go to Edlan Halsing
in Stormwind or Rogoc
in Orgimmar. Either of them will trade you JPs for your honor points. That will put you well on your way to a much more useful piece of ilevel 359 PVE gear.
A similar thing can be said of agility gear. Since a recent patch, agility no longer gives dodge chance to tank classes. This means that death knights who formerly sometimes grabbed agility weapons or jewelry as a tanking stopgap aren't doing themselves any favors. Leave that stuff for the hunters and the rogues now, because just like PVP gear, a large part of the item budget is almost completely useless to you now, and you'd be better off grabbing even an inferior piece that has the stats you can use.
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.