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Lichborne: Death knight leveling 68-80

Lichborne: Death knight leveling 68-80
Daniel Whitcomb
Daniel Whitcomb|October 5, 2009 5:00 PM

Welcome to Lichborne, WoW.com's column for all things deathly, knightly, and death knightly.
So, death knight. You're through with Outland. You just dinged 68 in Nagrand and want to move on to whiter, snow covered pastures. Maybe those pastures are in Northrend. Maybe those pastures are in Alterac Valley. Either way, let's discuss getting through those final levels and pushing you through to the end game.


So if you've read our previous Death Knight leveling guide, you may have picked up an upgrade or two. Then again, you may have decided to keep your starting gear because it looks so awesome, which is cool. However, once you hit Northrend, that gear's going to start looking pretty weak. Luckily, you'll have a wealth of quest gear to grab.

You can starting by checking out our Northrend Starting Zone Gear Guide from a while back. If you need a sum up of that, the basics are that Borean Tundra has a great blue 2-handed axe reward, so you should probably quest for that first. After that, Borean Tundra has more straight strength and critical strike rating on its gear, while Howling Fjord has more haste and armor penetration. You can probably level up in either pretty safely, though I went with Howling Fjord simply because I enjoyed the story lines there more. Haste turns out to be good for Unholy, and Armor Penetration for Blood, so the gear there is actually a bit better than it might first appear to the untrained eye.

Once you've kitted yourself out in the basic gear, you should be able to get to level 80 relatively easy, grabbing minor upgrades you go. We'd be here all day if I went over every zone, but there are a few things I can recommend you focus on:

Leveling the PvP Way

I thought I should make mention of PvP leveling possibilities since it is the new hotness. While the Patch 3.2.2 adjustments did cool down the gain a bit, you can still get 10-12k experience per a tower burning in Alterac Valley (before heirloom adjustments), so it's at least a good break from questing.

The main thing to remember about leveling as PvP is that unless you're twinked out, you're going to be sort of squishy from around levels 70-75. This means that if possible, you may want to find other ways of helping the offensive than charging headlong into the onrushing Horde. You can keep an eagle eye on flags and interrupt any Horde capturers until the more powerful members of your team can defeat them - one point of damage prevents a flag capture. Also, don't be afraid to use Chains of Ice, Strangulate, and other crowd control and interruption skills to help shut down casters.

Also, you may want to review my PvP tips for death knights. While the specs mentioned are a little outdated, and the tips still refer primarily to level 80s, you should find something in there you can adapt to the situation.

Skill Check: Old Skills

As far as talent trees go, all three can be used successfully for leveling, but a Blood/Unholy build is probably going to be the quickest and easiest to level, with great damage and self-healing. That said, I leveled as Unholy and found the experience enjoyable, and even Frost should be able to muddle through.

Your best bet for leveling quickly is to get a good rotation down. Essentially, you want to get both your diseases up. Then, you want to hit your Frost/Unholy strike (Death Strike for Blood, Scourge Strike for Unholy, Obliterate for Frost), then hit a couple Blood Strikes (or Heart Strikes if you're Blood), followed by your runic power dump. Then, you can start over again. Always make sure your diseases are up, since they will increase the damage of your strikes, and if you use Death Runes in your build, use those to unleash your most powerful runic strike (Heart Strike for Blood, Obliterate for Frost. This used to be Scourge Strike for Unholy, but end game Unholy builds currently eschew Death Runes and just start the whole disease cycle over again).

If you're AEing, the basic idea should be to get down your diseases, use Pestilence to spread them, and then use the remaining three runes for a Death and Decay. This will change a bit depending on your spec and role (for example, if you're DPSing in a group, be careful not to pull aggro off the tank with that DnD), but this method should be fine for solo DPSing up to 80.

Both of the above are very much the basics of rotation, and in the raid and heroic game somethings will change, but these basic methods will get you to 80, at least. Now, let's check on some of the other skills you'll getting as you head toward 80.

New Skills

Rune Strike: While you technically get this at level 67, I feel it's important enough to point out -- you need this skill.

Anti-Magic Shell: This level 68 skill is often overlooked, but it can be very useful both for tanking and DPS. Not only does it take the brunt of magical damage, but it provides extra runic power. If you're fighting magic using enemies and you have the runic power, put this up just before they send a spell your way or cast an AoE that you'll get caught in. Not only will you take a lot less damage, but you'll find yourself with a bit of extra runic power. Good death knights learn to use this well.

Rune of the Fallen Crusader: This comes along at level 70. You should probably head straight back to Ebon Hold, learn it, and apply it to your weapon. It's the undisputed king of enchantments for Blood and Unholy DPS, and even Frost builds will generally use this on their main hand, with Razorice for the offhand.

Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle: This one's pretty simple. If you're tanking and having trouble hitting the defense cap, using this enchant (or the one-handed version coming with Patch 3.3). If not, the parry enchant will probably serve you better.

Unholy Presence: If you're an Unholy Death Knight with low haste, you may find this presence useful for fitting in a proper rotation. It's also a easy way to get a quick burst of speed if, say, you're running deep into a dungeon after wiping. For the most part, though, Blood Presence will be the superior DPS presence.

Raise Ally: This is a nice little bonus if you're in the middle of a big battle, an ally has fallen, and the Druid's battle rez is on cooldown. That said, the Ghoul raised with this ability will probably be a bit weak. Still, it's better than nothing.

Empower Rune Weapon
: This ability comes along at level 75. It will put all your runes off cooldown and grab you a chunk of runic power. In short, it's the perfect burst ability. In PvP or PvE, if something needs to go down fast, get off your first set of abilities, and while most of your runes are on cooldown and your runic power near depleted, hit this cooldown and lay into your target with a fresh set of strikes. Never underestimate this ability.

Army of the Dead: This level 80 ability can be both a help and hindrance. It's a great emergency button because it not only grants you extra protection while you summon, but the Ghouls taunt, peeling mobs off you and giving you time to bandage or Death Strike. They're also a surprisingly good amount of damage. Of course, they also have a downside. Since they taunt, they can peel off the tank if you're in a group. If a monster is tauntable and needs to be positioned a certain way (such as if he has a frontal cleave or cone AE spell), your ghouls can make life hell for the group, dragging the target all over the place. Take a little time to study your prey, though, and you should be able to determine if Army of the Dead is safe to cast.

Once You Hit 80

Once you hit 80, you know what time it is: Time to gear up again. Luckily, we already have a few good articles for you.
Once you have some gear under your belt (and don't forget to enchant it!), a lot of different options will open up to you. You can choose a tradeskill if you haven't already, or decide on your dual specs. Then it's off to raid, PvP, run dungeons, and do all that other good stuff, and that's when it's time to start hitting the rest of the Lichborne articles. We'll see you at the end game!
Welcome to Lichborne, the new class column on the new WoW class, the Death Knight, where we discuss Patch 3.1 cookie cutter builds, basic defense gear and Heroic defense gear for the Death Knight tank, 5-man Crusader's Coliseum gear previews for tanks and DPS, and basic Death Knight statistics and mechanics. You might also want to check all the other articles in our Death Knight category.
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