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A Death Knight's first dungeon: Dos and don'ts, part one

Amanda Miller

Since day one of Wrath of the Lich King, people have been rolling Death Knights. While many seem to be getting along just great, many others are in need of guidance.

This will be a two-part article, and will focus on the things that you will need to know when working with others in a dungeon setting.

Today, I will be discussing the basic things that any meleer should know when entering a dungeon.

Many Death Knights have never had a melee character, and may not know how to avoid aggro while dealing high damage and staying out of the tank's way.

In part two, I will discuss your AoE abilities and their place in a dungeon setting, as well as covering the buttons you should never, ever push while in an instance.

I will also run down some very basic rule of thumbs for your gear and talents, as well as including a discussion about some of the group-oriented talents that you could acquire.

Melee Basics

If you have never played a melee class before, then chances are that your first trip to a dungeon as a Death Knight is going to cause a few corpse runs. You might think, "wow I am so OP" because, obviously, you are pulling aggro because your damage is so high, right? Wrong.

There is one cardinal rule of melee DPS that you simply must follow: Always stand behind the mob unless you are told to stand beside it.

Allison Robert recently wrote an article explaining why this is imperative, but I'll reiterate here for the masses.

  1. Mobs like to pew pew anything in front of them, even if they are not targeting you.
  2. More of your attacks will not land. Because mobs have invisible eyes in the backs of their heads, they can dodge your attacks even if you hide behind them. When you're in front, they can also parry and block them. Everyone wants to do high damage, right?
  3. When a mob parries you, it hits the tank faster. Just say no to screwing over your tank.
On rare occasions, you will end up beside a mob. This usually happens during fights with dragons that have menacing tail abilities, or when attacking a mob like Nightbane in Karazhan, where fancy floors, however pretty they might be, will burn your toes.

Aggro: How to avoid it, and why it is bad
for melee
Everyone knows that earning a mob's (or several) undivided attention is a bad thing. You can not top the DPS charts when you are dead, and repair bills are not your friend.

Now that you are a shiny melee player, you will need to avoid it all the more.

Switching into story mode, I remember one PuG of Zul'Farrak that I once healed that included a rogue. I was baffled at how high maintenance he was! He had aggro more often than the tank, and was incredibly rude to me about how often he was dying.

When I asked him to avoid grabbing aggro from the tank he replied that I was, in fact, a noob. Didn't I know that rogues did high damage, and that there was nothing they could do to help it?

Well, you are not a rogue, and you do not have the many aggro-reduction talents that said rogue did not understand. In addition, you are going to pull aggro not simply because you are Mr. or Ms. Wonderful. You are pulling it because you are in melee range.

Again, Allison has covered this, but the basic rule is:
  • Ranged characters pull off the tank when they have done 130% more threat than the tank.
  • Melee characters pull off once they have achieved only 110% of the tank's threat.
There is also one very important thing to note. When you pulled aggro as your previous self, perhaps as a mage or a hunter, there were several buffers that helped make it not such a big deal. Perhaps you could bubble, slow the mob, feign, trap it or fear it. You had time for some brave soul, ideally the tank, to pull it from you before it even reached you.

When you are a melee character, the mob will simply turn and pwn you into the ground.

How your healer sees it
You might also want to note that your healer may have you low on the priority list for healing. Speaking from the perspective of a healer, melee characters are often, though not always, fairly low on my priority list. Sure, if I have extra mana and everything is under control, the heals will come.

Unfortunately, melee is extremely vulnerable to not only aggro, but also AoE effects, and unless you are top DPS, or perhaps my mana battery, I will probably have to concentrate my heals elsewhere if I am contrained.

Another problem with healing a melee class is that often, it is a complete waste of time. You might go down so quickly that, though I was frantically trying to save you, there just was not enough time.


In part two of this guide, I will discuss some of the basic rules you will need to know about your gear and talent points, but I have to mention one talent in this particular section.

You absolutely must have 3/3 points in Subversion in the first tier of the Blood tree. You have no aggro-reduction abilities and lots of buttons that, perhaps unbeknownst to you, are going to send you soaring to the top of the threat charts.

Argue if you like, but prepare yourself to spend a lot of time dead and on the /ignore lists of many good healers.

Your rotation
The best piece of advice I can give you is to avoid spamming your strikes. If you are reading this, then you probably have not figured out your rune system to the point where it is second nature anyway, meaning that your DPS should actually increase if you take your time.

You should also never begin with a strike. Most strikes depend on various diseases being present on the target first for optimal damage. Applying these at the start gives your tank some extra aggro-building room and boosts the strike's damage.

Death Coil is a wonderful tool that you can use when you have most of your runes on a cooldown, and a whack of runic power. Still, each strike, including Death Coil, is essentially a burst of damage. If you know how to use a threat meter, procrastinate throwing one out if you see yourself climbing too high.

One strike that you can use with relative safety is Death Strike. This does significantly less damage than your other strikes, but heals you for a small amount. If there is a fair amount of AoE going on, or you simply want something to do while you coast to a lower setting on the threat meter, then go for it.

If you snag yourself [Glyph of Death Strike], which I highly recommend doing, then the more runic power you've generated, the more healing you'll get out of it.

Stay tuned for part two, in which I will discuss your AoE mechanisms, the buttons you should never push in a dungeon, some bare bones rules for your gear and talents, and the talents that you can take to help out your group.

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