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Lichborne: PvP pointers for Death Knights


Welcome to Lichborne, Your weekly peek into the world of the Death Knight.

Death Knights have it pretty good in PvP. Thanks to big whomping two-handers and magic damage strikes and spells, we can do massive burst damage and tear through armor defenses pretty easily. On the control front, we have Strangulate, Mind Freeze, Chains of Ice, and, depending on spec, maybe even a few other ways to silence, slow, or shut down an enemy player. Finally, our plate armor and defense cooldowns assure that should we the unlucky target of the burst train, we can hold out a lot longer than many.

Still, it's not just being a Death Knight alone that gets you PvP fame and godhood. It does help to have the right talents, gear, and strategy. So we're going to talk about that a bit, focusing mostly on the talents. Here's two popular PvP Talent builds.


0/17/54 is generally considered the premiere Death Knight PvP build (Some people like to take a point out of Impurity and stick it in Unholy Blight, or take a few points out of Toughness and stick them in Annihilation for some extra burst). Unholy certainly has a lot going for it. Since Unholy has 3 diseases, it means healers will have a much harder time keeping everyone cleansed, especially if you simply use Pestilence to re-spread the diseases. The controllable Ghoul allows you to use Leap and Gnaw as extra utility skills to interrupt spells and harass targets. Finally, since most of Unholy's Damage is shadow-based, You won't have to worry about Armor Penetration as much. In fact, you won't have to worry about gear as much, period. Unholy has enough innate power that as long as your gear isn't outright horrible, you should be able to get a foothold in the world of PvP.

This build can also squeeze off some pretty righteous burst. Isolate your target, use Strangulate and/or Mind Freeze if needed to prevent casting, and unload with multiple Scourge Strikes (optimally, you'll have already converted your Blood Runes to Death Runes so you can get off three), your Gargoyle, Your Ghoul, and, if you can spare the runic power, a few Death Coils.


Frost certainly looks like it would lend itself well to PvP. Abilities like Hungering Cold, Chilblains, and Endless Winter all provide extra control over the flow of the battle for sure. If there's one problem with Frost, it's that the burst potential is a lot lower. Your main burst combination will be squeezing out as many Frost Strikes as you can on a full runic power bar (which should be 3-4 with the glyph), along with Obliterates and, if you're lucky, a Rime'd Howling Blast.

The lower damage potential of this build leads many to claim you can't do much with it unless you grab some PvE gear. The biggest piece that makes this build work is the Sigil of the Vengeful Heart, off Heroic XT-002 Deconstructor in Ulduar. The sigil boosts Frost Strike up to a whole new level of damage. This has caused some resentment among pure-PvP Death Knights, but the fact remains that you'll have a definite advantage in Frost PvP if you have the Sigil.

General Death Knight PvP Observations and Tips

So once you have your talent, how do you play? In general, Death Knight PvP play is pretty intuitive, but here's a few things to keep in mind:

  • Know your diminishing returns. This can be helpful when choosing a partner as well. For example, if you're doing Frost PvP with a Mage, you may want to remember that Polymorph is on the same diminishing Returns as Hungering Cold. Gnaw is the other major one to watch out for here. If your target has recently been stunned, Gnaw may not be as effective.
  • Use your interrupts and crowd control wisely. Try to save that Death Grip or Chains of Ice to use on the Mage once his Blink is on cooldown. When interrupting a caster, use Mind Freeze first and Strangulate last to get as much effective silence time in as possible. Also, don't be afraid to use Anti Magic Shell as part of this rotation too. If you know someone's winding up a big spell on you and you don't have the time to get off one of your silences or interrupts, or just want to save those cooldowns for later, pop that AMS.
  • Don't forget your cooldowns. Hitting Empower Rune Weapon allows you to gain a second wind during a burst rotation, putting all your runes off cooldown (thus enabling, say, a couple extra Scourge Strikes) and giving a chunk of 25 runic power. Hitting Icebound Fortitude when that Rogue tries to Stunlock you can turn the tide against them pretty quickly. If you're the flagrunner in a WSG, this can buy you enough time for your teammates to get to you, if you're lucky enough to be in a battleground where they actually pay attention.
  • When bursting targets down, switching to Unholy Presence can help you squeeze in more abilities in a shorter amount of time.
  • Remember that you're a "tank." Even in PvP, you can take more punishment than most other classes. Not only do you have plate armor and defensive cooldowns, but your attacks are almost all instant, meaning interrupt abilities and melee damage don't slow you down as much. This means you shouldn't be afraid to get up in your enemy's face and force them to attack you. Death Grip and Chains of Ice are your best friends here. If the enemy finally decides they have no choice but to attack you, this leaves your healer and caster allies free to do their thing.
As far as choosing one's teammate in PvP, especially for arenas, I admit that my method has primarily consisted of finding out which of my buddies is interested at the time. Still, if you're looking for optimal partners, there's a few classes you can consider. Any healer works very well with a Death Knight, but in particular, consider a Shaman. Heroism can give your burst a nice bit of extra oomph, while Hex and Earthbind are great for isolating targets or making sure your target's teammate doesn't interfere while you're raining down destruction. For a DPS partner, consider a Warlock. Their DoTs plus your diseases means even more stuff to cleanse down for an already beleagured Healer. In fact, Warlock/Death Knight/Healer is fast becoming the spec to beat in 3v3 Arenas as well.

But really, as Zach's pointed out, PvP's not too difficult to get into right now. Even making a point to go to Wintergrasp a couple times a week or so can help you get some good starter PvP gear and get into the game. Hopefully, the tips above will help you get the rest of the way into it, at least on a casual level. With the Argent Tournament getting a bit repetitive and Ulduar only good for a couple nights of raiding a week, now is as good a time as any to break into a new aspect of the game. Good Luck!
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, Heroic DPS gear, and basic Death Knight statistics and mechanics. You might also want to check all the other articles in our Death Knight category and our Death Knight directory.

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