Death Knight - Best Leveling Spec

Here we go again. A new series of parses to check what's the best talent spec for leveling. This time I've done things a little differently:
  • No ability with a cooldown of 1 minute or higher was used. This was to reflect more accurately a leveling situation. You don't use your cooldowns on every monster when you level up, you generally save them for elites or big fights, so that's why I didn't use them to run those tests
  • Consequently, I only used the ghoul for the Unholy spec. However, I didn't use Unholy Blight, because in a real leveling situtation, you don't use it that often.
  • A level 61 Death Knight with the full blue set from the starting zones was used for all 3 tests.
  • The tests were done on a level 58 Servant of Sevine in the Blasted Lands and were each 10 minute long.
Anyway, let's see those numbers!



Talent spec used: Unholy lvl 61 Leveling Spec

Total: 629 DPS

Observations: Unholy is still very strong. Stronger than in the previous patch. The Death Knight's DPS alone is 517 and that's without even using Unholy Blight. This is due to the fact that Death Coil is now much stronger and easily makes up for the loss of dps from not casting Unholy Blight. This is good news because when leveling, we don't use Unholy Blight that much.

We must also remember that this was done on a single target. Unholy's DPS goes up the roof when taking on 2, 3 or 4 targets, which happens quite often when leveling, especially if you use the DK's ability to gather mobs quickly (Death's Grip and Strangulate for casters, ghoul / icy touch / death coil for the rest).

So in my opinion, Unholy is even better than before for leveling.


Talent spec used: Frost lvl 61 Leveling Spec

Total: 545 DPS

Observations: This is definitely better than before, the Death Knight's personal DPS is actually higher than the one of the Unholy tree, which is a first. However, with the ghoul combined it's still behind in terms of DPS. This is normal though, as frost is more and more geared towards tanking. The most significant change is the one to frost strike, it's really strong now and where it should be. Howling Blast was only used when Rime procced by the way.



Talent Spec Used: Blood lvl 61 Leveling Spec

Total: 598 DPS

Observations: Blood is now pretty close to Unholy as you can see. Heart Strike is definitely worth spamming now and so is Death Coil, which is why I put one point in Morbidity at level 61.


DPS Ranking

1. Unholy
2. Blood
3. Frost

Damage Taken

1. Blood - 8234
2. Frost - 14905
3. Unholy - 15209

Note: The Blood spec takes much less damage than the other two because of Blade Barrier. Frost takes less damage than Unholy thanks to Toughness.

Against Multiple Targets

1. Unholy - By far the best for AoE leveling thanks to Unholy Blight, Wandering Plague and 2 extra diseases
2. Frost - Second best thanks to Howling Blast
3. Blood - Nothing in the blood talents for extra AoE power.

Against Tough Elites

1. Unholy - Slightly better than Blood thanks to the high amount of health healed with Death Strike while 4 diseases are up. Shield of Bones and Summon Gargoyle also contribute to give it an edge.
2. Blood - Close second. +10% Parry and a large amount of life draining talents (Bloodworms, Mark of Blood, Vampiric Blood) make it very good against elites.
3. Frost - Lichborne and Unbreakable Armor help against elites, but the lack of lifedrain compared to the other two specs make it by far the weakest against tough elite mobs.


1. Unholy - One A Pale Horse simply trumps every other utility talent while leveling. +20% Mount speed, from level 57 to level 77 is a big deal.
2. Frost - Hungering Cold can be nice to get away from bad situations
3. Blood - Nothing in this department

Final Ranking

1. Unholy
2. Blood
3. Frost

Unholy is still without a doubt the best spec for leveling, followed closely by Blood. Frost is far behind, but is still a viable spec if you want to focus on tanking instances a lot while leveling.

31 Response to "Death Knight - Best Leveling Spec"

  1. Whyzer says:

    Ah brilliantly superb. Even though i was thinking frost should be nice for fast leveling wheres my conceptions were all derived from watching youtube im glad that you have made this guides so when exp hits i can lvl faster without noobish errors cause i couldnt get into beta.

    Michael says:

    Well, most of the frost videos around were from the time after the obliterate nerf and before the scourge strike buff. Frost was extremely powerful at that time with Frost Strike critting for 5k+. It has been severely nerfed since then unfortunately :(

    I'm surprised that Unholy is better than last patch due to the nerfs to Black Ice and SS. Lets see how blood does.

    kotten says:

    Very good job as usual but do u think u can add an lvling spec up until lvl 79 for those who dont know what to spec after we hit lvl 61?

    Zippi says:

    Great work as always Jame. For each of your tests, could you post the rotation you used? Thanks tons!

    Jame says:

    The full leveling spec up to 80 will be included in my death knight leveling guide.

    I will add the rotation used asap.

    elwonko says:

    Yikes - as an 80 Blood Death Knight on the Lich King beta server, I've gotta say that your Blood leveling spec leaves a LOT to be desired! Only 1 point in Bladed Armor, no Blood Aura, no Vendetta, no Rune Tap (or the excellent bonus points in Improved Rune Tap), and worst of all no Sudden Doom for automatic critical Death Coils?!?

    Here's a much, much stronger build for a level 60 Blood DK:

    You'll want to drop Blade Barrier, Scent of Blood, and Bloodworms - these are all really weak leveling talents. Blade Barrier and Scent of Blood are really purely tanking talents - when leveling as blood you don't need the extra parry, nor you need more Runic Power (you'll almost always be at max). Bloodworms are just a waste in general - their poor damage translates into heals that are indistinguishable from those you're getting from Blood Presence. Vendetta is a much stronger talent investment for passive healing.

    Jame says:

    Thanks for your comment Elwonko, but please let me prove you wrong. I actually have tried different talents and have parsed them, so I actually have data to back up my talent choices.
    I also have a level 80 Death Knight and let me tell you that talents are lot different at level 80 than at level 61. My talent choices are purely geared towards leveling in the 60's, so that's why you might not understand some of the choices, from a level 80 point of view, but believe me, these are the talent which will make you level the fastest.

    You say we should take blood aura, 2% extra passive healing. That doesn't even compare with the healing from Bloodworms. I think you've got your facts wrong about bloodworms. At level 61, they add about 25 DPS and provide about as much healing as Blood Aura actually. Definitely a better use of your talent points while leveling, because you don't care for more healing anyway as a Blood DK, what you care about is more DPS here and there. So Bloodworms > Blood aura, hands down.

    You say that when leveling as blood you don't need the extra parry. That's also wrong. My DK leveling guide doesn't only have you kill easy normal mobs. There are a lot of elite quests you can solo in my guide as a Death Knight, and +10% extra parry is a big help to help you take on certain hard hitting elite mobs. Anyway, +10% parry for just 5 talent points is some really crazy good stuff. I'd agree with you if leveling was only about killing normal mobs, but it's not the case whe you're a Death Knight and you actually can solo elites.

    You say we don't need more Runic Power (you'll almost always be at max).
    Well, I don't know how what kind of rotation you use, but that almost never happens to me. You can always squish in 1 or 2 death coil per rotation and never waste any runic power.

    There's also a contradiction in your critic. You say we don't need more runic power, yet you say we should take Sudden Doom, which basically makes you save runic power.
    I'm sorry, but 5 talent points for a meager 20% chance on Heart Strikes to get a free Death Coil seems like a pretty poor talent to me, I'd rather have +10% Parry or a more steady Runic Power generation via Butchery.

    It's also a mistake to think that Blade Barrier and Scent of Blood are purely tanking talents. When you're leveling, you always tank, you're the one taking damage all the time, and Scent of Blood procs a lot.

    However, there's one point where I agree with you. I should take Bladed Armor instead of Scent of Blood/Butchery, because it is true that Blood DKs don't need runic power that bad. I had done my math wrong and had come with a ridiculously low number for Bladed Armor when calculating how much AP it gives at level 61.
    I re-did the math and it's actually about +140 AP at level 61, which is pretty damn good, so I'll include it.

    Rune Tap - Well, I will probably include it in the build suggested in my guide anyway, simply to help solo tough elites.

    I won't included vendetta however. Blood DKs already got enough healing as it is, and vendetta is just overkill. Not only is it overkill, but it doesn't help you at all when fighting tough elites.

    So those 3 points could be spent better elsewhere.

    Anyway, thanks for your comment, it actually made me reconsider one of my choices and made me come up with a better leveling build.

    Jame says:

    My final Blood Leveling Talent should look like this, if you're interested:

    Blood 61 Leveling Spec

    Great post, this blog is really helping me out. Could you list your rotations next when you are trying to do max damage?
    Would love to see your rotations at 80 aswell.If you've managed to copy a premade.

    elwonko says:

    Jame, I'm still not quite sure about some of your choices and reasoning. I've run plenty of tests myself via Recount in leveling content, raids, and solo tests, and I've got to say that I remain a bit apprehensive about your leveling build for Blood.

    Did you miss the fact that Sudden Doom forces the Death Coil to crit? I don't know about you, but - thanks to the buff to Death Coil damage a few beta patches ago - that means that my Death Coils are hitting for around 3k at level 80 for zero runic power, and easily over 1.5k in the 60s - well worth the use of a global cooldown. With two Heart Strikes in an opening rotation, that means there's a very good chance I'll get a Sudden Doom proc - leaving me with even more runic power to dump once I'm out of my initial runes.

    That's also why Scent of Blood is useless for leveling - weaving in Sudden Doom procs means you'll only have perhaps a single global cooldown before your runes refresh in your rotation, enough for one extra Death Coil which you will have more than enough runic energy for. I believe this is why they moved SoB up in the blood talent tree recently - to better compliment a heavier runic power consuming build like deep Frost.

    While I can see your point where Bloodworms may win out for purely solo activities, I'm still not sure it's superior to Blood Aura - particularly if you do any grouping at all, ever. Blood Auras mean stacking healing on damage done which ultimately mean that you can take 3+ Blood Death Knights and do most Outland leveling instances without a dedicated healer. I ran Ramparts, Blood Furnace, Slave Pens, and Mana Tombs in all-DK groups while at the appropriate level and found it generally easier and faster than doing those instances with a more traditional group composition on a live server.

    As for soloing elites - yes, that's something Blood does very, very well. There's hasn't been a single group quest that suggests 3 or fewer players that I haven't been able to solo at the appropriate level in either Outland or Northrend. It's lots of fun to be able to solo the entire Nessingwary questline in Nagrand at 65, or Hour of the Worg in Grizzly Hills at 75 - but you certainly don't need Blade Barrier to do it.

    In fact, I'd argue that the excellent Glyph of Death Strike (which increases Death Strike's damage and healing done by 2% per 5 runic power, doesn't consume the runic power) is far more important to soloing tough elites as a deep Blood build - our low runic power consumption means that a Glyphed Death Strike can hit almost as hard as an Obliterate while healing as much as a deep Unholy's Death Strike. This, coupled with Frost Presence, means you can tank even the toughest elite with relative ease.

    The only reason I can think of to take Blade Barrier while leveling is for more Rune Strikes - now that it hits for 200% weapon damage and activates on dodges/parries, this may be enough of a dps increase to justify 5 points in the talent. I'd have to run some tests on it to be certain, however.

    As for Vendetta - I think you may be looking at the talent wrong. It's not for soloing elites - it really shines on multiple mob pulls. Blood has very few tools for effectively fighting more than one mob at a time, but with Vendetta you can turn that weakness into a strength. Simply pull 3-4 mobs, drop Icy Touch and Plague Strike on one, Pestilence to keep the other 3 focused on you, then continue to dps down the first mob with your normal rotation. Blood's natural passive heals and strong single target dps, coupled with Vendetta, mean you will remain well above 75% health (if not closer to 90% health) at all times.

    It's very interesting to see people's take on Death Knight leveling for me, particularly because the class is both new and so incredibly great at leveling. Having run a half-dozen different classes to 70 over the past few years, I think the Death Knight is by far the easiest (and maybe the most fun) leveling class in WoW. To that end, I can't help but feel we're quibbling over minutiae - a few percentage points of damage or survivability for a class seemingly designed to cut through the open-world content like a hot knife through butter. Regardless, I can't wait to check out your final conclusions and leveling guide, Jame!

    Jame says:

    You bring up some very interesting points Elwonko, and I really appreciate your coming here and discussing talents with me.

    I agree that right now we're both nitpicking over details which wouldn't change much in terms of leveling efficiency, but that's fine, at the end of this discussion we might both learn a few things and end up picking a better talent spec for leveling our DKs when WotLK hits the shelves.

    It's a little late and I had a long day so I won't post a wall of text today, but this is definitely an interesting conversation and I'll come back to continue it once I have done a few more tests with blood talents :)

    Jame says:

    @Richard Jacobs

    Yes, sorry, I'll make a post and list rotations used to do max dps while leveling tomorrow :)

    Haha cheers mate.


    I always find my exp/hour to be awesome while in rested state doing instances, so I generally like to group when rested and solo quest while not rested. After reading this article and discussion, I'm going blood for sure for solo and DPS work (I love tanking less damage and getting lots of self heals). As a Tank, what is the truth behind the “Any tree can tank” idea for the DK? Is this actually true, or is there one clearly better tank tree with the other two being merely serviceable?

    Nick says:

    Hi Jame

    Love the guides and the blog, it's been really helpful.

    3 of us are planning on power levelling DK's next week.

    We're going to try having 1 frost, 1 unholy and 1 Blood, using similar levelling specs to what you have here.

    My guess is that Quest XP > Mob XP for us at all times and we should try to do the instances once we have the quests?

    We're going to follow the guide someone posted on your site for 58-60 so hopefully that will give us a few quick levels before entering outland or silithus.

    Either way we're keeping a blog at so hopefully it'll go well and we have enough energy drink.

    Any tips appreciated though I'm sure you're busy atm!

    Jame says:

    @n christian

    You can tank normal instance modes with any of the 3 specs, all you have to do is use Frost Presence and you should be fine.

    But if you want to tank in raids or heroics, you probably should go deep frost, it has the most tank talents of the 3 trees.


    Replied to your comment on wow-pro, should answer your question, I hope :)

    Rodney says:

    Oh man, I just came across this post and it made me very excited because the parse screenshot you posted is from the combat log parser I wrote. :D

    *high five!*

    Jame says:

    Hehe, that's great. Your parser helped me a lot, it was the only working one in WotLK beta, as far as I could find anyway, so thank you :)

    About FRost DPS

    Odd.....i was testing frost dps on a dummy at 58 and could barely get 600dps ;/

    i dont even have obliterate!!!

    RETRO says:

    err i see you have made a level mistake in unholy

    you simply chose 3 % more "Dodge" chance

    than 30% more dmg with plague strike pestilence and blood boil????

    dont you want that instead of phafetic 3 % "Dodge" ???

    im sure you got a reason or maybe its just a mistake :)

    Ben BBQ says:

    Im just wondering about this that what is truly the best spec for leveling as that you measured wasn't about experience per hour just basic dmg in certain time frame. If you could do a new study between the 3 trees i would appreciate it greatly.
    I just wanted to point that out for you if blood can heal themselves alot and unholy not as much IMO then maybe blood will be better in the long run?

    ohcnavi says:

    blood is the best for leveling im sure always full health good dps u just cant die u can solo instances with 5 dks blood runic is alwys at max all ur stats are always at max its really hard to kill any of teh classes in the game when they are at full health+mana or health+rage and bloods are always full i have aonly died 4 times as a blood level 66 and they were instances wipes

    Jame says:

    Sorry to shatter your beliefs, but Unholy has been and still is the fastest spec to level up.

    The first 5 DKs who hit level 80 Worldwide were all Unholy.

    I've done the math, and you can't arguee with math :P

    Unholy kills faster and can AoE a lot better.

    Blood has more lifedrain potentila, that's true, but while leveling it's totally overkill and unecessary.

    3 Diseases + Death Strike with Unholy is more than enough healing (you can see that in my AoE video as well).

    However, Blood still is pretty close and remains a great spec to level up. So if that's what you like, go for it!

    Crusnak says:

    Hello, i test a template, and I like to know what software you use to calculate your dps ... seen in screen.
    Sincerely Tiger

    Ad says:

    I'd just like to add my ten pence worth... I think this blog is fantastic and it's highlighted some major flaws in my original build. However I would suggest Blood spec to people on PvP servers, as i am... The fact is that you get ganked, and i mean ALL the time. There are DK's all over the place in Hellfire all levelling up and plenty of cowardly gankers preying on them. The lvl "skulls" we can't do anything about - you're 1 shotted whether you like it or not. BUT i've noticed that 3-4 levels above me keep trying it on. When i was unholy there was nothing i could really do to stop them, but after i'd gone blood (specialise in mark of blood, rune tap etc) the survivability of your DK goes through the roof. I will quite happily let any player 4 levels above me have a go (if he thinks he's hard enough) and he'll invariably lose. It's a great feeling my friends.

    So, while I agree Jame, that unholy is definitely best for solo levelling, i would err on the side of caution for PvP server players and remember that for now we're cannon fodder. There's so damn many of us - and so damn many gankers just waiting to try and kill us.

    ... and by the way, do these gankers not realise that we ALL have mains? They lvl 80s get a real shock after the serial gankathon when i suddenly appear on my lvl 80 rogue and kick them into late last year... lol

    Awesome guide though!

    Hello James,

    I have been following your Death Knight + Leveling guides since the start of my DK. They are great guides, and WoW is much more enjoyable now :-D

    What I am missing tho, is a few guidelines as soon as we reach Level 70, because lots of things change.

    What kind of DPS are we expecting with a Unholy-build DK at Level 70? Any recommendations for gear (assume the occasional dungeon as well :D)?

    Thanks very much for your time!!

    Zachary says:

    Hey, i love all the data you have here.

    I was wondering what if any glyphs you were using for the tests and what glyphs would you recommend and for each spec if you would change them.

    Abruzzi says:

    What is the best leveling spec as of Patch 3.1 for Death Knights?

    dude how are u going to try to calculate frost dps without using there primary move that would be like calculating blood without a weopon or unholy without a pet i mean come on how are u guna say that frost is weakest when i can easily kill multiple mobs in one howling blast so if ur guna make a blog about dks make sure u use them right

    Benjamin says:

    I noticed that your Talent sheet guides are for level 61, but use only the talent points equivalent to a level 40 dk...

    Keep in mind this is out of date. The leveling spec is wrong due simply to the changes with the Death Knight Talent Tree since this was written. At the time of writing he used all the points. This is no longer a useful breakdown since the spec has changed so dramatically in recent patches.