Can you feel the chill on your breath? Do you sense death approaching? Good. Dread it. Fear it, for the Death Knights march upon you. These champions, deemed worthy by the Lich King to be raised in service once more, are undead titans that rule the battlefield with their unholy prowess.
Armed with mystical runes, the ability to command the dead, and an uncanny strength capable of wielding massive runeblades, Death Knights have the unyielding power to strike down their foes and continue the onslaught as undead juggernauts.
Though their abilities may differ greatly from the ones they held in life, none can deny the terrifying speed at which they adjust to their new unholy strength. As any champion from any race can be raised as a Death Knight, it begs the question — which race is the best for Death Knights?
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the best races for Death Knights in WoW: Shadowlands. We have iconic Death Knight options for Alliance and Horde players alike, and will be covering all types of gameplay.
Let’s get started!
Best Races for PVE Death Knights
As Frost and Unholy Death Knights are both melee DPS specs, you won’t have to worry about a substantial performance difference regardless of your racial choice if you plan to swap between the two.
However, Blood Death Knights will want to focus on races that provide them extra sustainability and better resource management given their sustain playstyle as tanks.
Best Races for Frost/Unholy Death Knights
Death Knights are known for two things — survivability and an absolute lack of mobility. While you have the tools to slow down your enemies and bring them to you (mainly via Chains of Ice and Death Grip), you don’t have much in terms of escape. Much like your namesake implies, you’ll be fighting until death.
For that reason, Mechagnomes are the best Alliance race for Frost and Unholy Death Knights. Despite being a newer race (and one of the most ridiculous-looking ones), Mechagnomes have the racial abilities that make them ideal for long drawn out fights.
Of particular note is Combat Analysis — the longer you’re in combat, the more you gain of your primary stat. Every five seconds, you’ll gain another stack of the ability (up to a total of eight stacks). Given how long most fights go on in raids and other high-end content, you’ll often gain max value from this ability.
Emergency Failsafe is another very strong racial ability that instantly restores 15% of your max health if zyou fall below 20%. While it’s on a 2.5-minute cooldown, it adds another emergency defensive to your repertoire. Remember, dead DPS do no damage, so anything that helps you survive is appreciated.
If you really hate the idea of playing a Mechagnome, feel free to go with a Human. Their performance is largely similar thanks to The Human Spirit racial which boosts their secondary stats by an additional 2% from all sources.
In terms of absolute DPS numbers, it’s hard to get away from the Orcs and their Blood Fury racial ability. It grants a tremendous boost to your attack and synergizes incredibly well with your major offensive cooldowns.
However, Goblins make a compelling argument as the best Horde race for Death Knights solely due to their Rocket Jump ability. This racial ability lets you immediately jump forward twenty-five yards on a 1.5-minute cooldown. Given Death Knights’ near complete lack of mobility options (outside of Death’s Advance), this can be the difference between dying to a mechanic or successfully clearing it.
While the 1% boost to haste from Goblins’ Time is Money and extra damage from Rocket Barrage is nice, neither ability makes an overwhelming difference to Death Knights. When considering which race to choose, ask yourself if you struggle with positioning during fights.
Best Races for Blood Death Knights
There’s a single reason Dwarves will shine eternally as one of the best tank races — Stoneform. Having an ability to clear all debuffs every two minutes is ridiculously insane for a tank. Even better, you gain eight seconds of 10% physical damage taken after using it.
Given that most tank mechanics involve swapping aggro between yourself and the other tank due to stacking debuffs, this ability can be used to cheese those mechanics. Combine this with your class’s Anti-Magic Shell for even more debuff clearing.
While you’re not likely to stack much crit, the Dwarves’ Might of the Mountain racial can also help out with your self-healing if you manage to get a lucky crit. Since your class is all about self-sustaining via Death Strike, this can help out quite a bit by providing a bit more healing.
Horde: Blood Elf
Despite the Horde having access to the traditional tanking races of Tauren and Highmountain Tauren, it’s the Blood Elves who are the best race for Blood Death Knights. This is largely due to how powerful Arcane Torrent is for covering some of the Death Knight’s weaknesses.
For starters, you have no way to cleanse/dispel enemy effects as a Death Knight. While normally you have to rely on your party members, it can be stressful counting on someone else when a single second can be the difference between life or death. This lets you have an AOE dispel on a two-minute cooldown that you can utilize without missing a beat on controlling your enemies’ positions.
Additionally, it grants you 20 runic power instantly. Given all your critical abilities for staying alive tend to require runic power, it can be a fantastic emergency button to ensure you have the resource to use your abilities.
Best Races for Death Knights in PVP
If you’ve read our other articles on the best race for each class, it should come as no surprise that any class that can choose Human or Orc will have those two races be the go-to ones for PVP.
Versatility and stuns are king in PVP, and Humans provide an answer to both. The boost to your secondary stats from The Human Spirit can go a long way to enhancing your combat effectiveness, especially once you reach higher gear levels. While versatility might not be your most ideal stat as a Death Knight (unless you’re going Blood), it’s critical for surviving in PVP.
On top of that, Will to Survive lets you cleanse all stuns immediately. Most players run a Gladiator’s Medallion as one of their PVP trinkets for CC removal. Having this ability allows you to choose a different PVP trinket that can complement your playstyle more. Especially nice given that Blizzard added new PVP trinkets with this season (and presumably going forward).
Blood Fury is already an amazing attack steroid. Combine that with how important it is to burst your opponent down in PVP after they burn their defensive cooldowns, and it becomes even more amazing. Simply pop it with your remain offensive cooldowns to ensure you can obliterate the enemy.
On top of that, given how prevalent stuns are in PVP, having the Orcs’ Hardiness racial passive makes your life even better. Flat out reducing incoming stuns by 20% is incredibly strong, as each second can be the difference between life or death in most matches. Especially given how popular rogues are in the current meta.
Best Races for Lore Death Knights
For many Death Knights, they were heroes in life. Champions who answered the call to defend their home on Azeroth and made the ultimate sacrifice. Yet the rest they should have been granted was ripped away from them when they were raised in undeath to fight once more.
It’s impossible to mention Death Knights without some incredibly prominent humans coming to mind. The illustrious Darion and Alexandros Mograine, Thoras Trollbane the former king of Stromgarde, Sally Whitemane the former High Inquisitor of the Scarlet Crusade, and of course Arthas Menethil, the fallen prince of Lordaeron who became the Lich King.
Even the very first Death Knights were fallen soldiers of Stormwind who had their corpses reanimated as puppets and imbued with the souls of Orc warlocks. While those Death Knights were more akin to necromancers, it was still a horrible sight to witness the bodies of some of your greatest warriors turned into undead commanders.
Arthas Menethil would go on to become the first “living” Death Knight when he drew the cursed runeblade Frostmourne from its resting place and sacrificed his soul to wield its power. He and his remaining men would pledge service to the Lich King in exchange for being imbued with the powers of the Scourge. These new Death Knights would go on to slay and raise all those who opposed them. The strongest of the slain would also be raised as Death Knights, further bolstering their ranks.
Thankfully, many Death Knights would be freed from the Lich King’s service at the Battle for Light’s Hope and took up arms against their former master. In the wake of Arthas’ defeat, the Death Knights serve the newly crowned Lich King, Bolvar Fordragon, who struggles to resist the crown’s insidious whispers while maintaining control of the Scourge.
It was already a cruel twist of fate to be denied death and turned into an undead. To be chained to the mortal coil as a slave to the Lich King and forced to watch your home fall to ruin and decay. Crueler still to be raised again after your second “death” to become a Death Knight.
For those amongst the Undead, free will seems like a long forgotten dream. The first time they were raised in death, they largely became mindless drones serving the Lich King. It wasn’t until the banshee, Sylvanas Windrunner, led a coup to break away from the Lich King, did a semblance of free will return to them. Yet nearly all of their surviving former loved ones rejected them upon seeing their horrific undead forms, despite their minds still being who they once were.
With no place left to go except banding together with their fellow Undead, they attempted to carve a new home for themselves in the Undercity. Many of these Undead would go on to become adventurers, possibly a second time for some of them, and some of them would experience death once more. But even then, they could be denied death once more.
The Scourge was ruthless in their attempts to bolster their ranks with the fallen. Even the Undead who once broke free could be raised once more in service to the Lich King. To lose their free will once again. To be an Undead Death Knight could mean you’ve experienced death, the loss of self, and forced to be a monster twice in a single life time. It’s no wonder that some of them are so bitter at life.
Best Looking Races for Death Knights
Large imposing figures make for the best looking Death Knights. Thankfully, both factions have choices for hulking figures.
Alliance: Lightforged Draenei
Besides the irony of a being infused with the Light being raised as an undead, the Draenei in general make for great looking Death Knights. Take it a step further with the Lightforged who still glow with their Light-infused tattoos.
Few things would be as terrifying as a giant glowing undead alien marching towards you with massive blades clad in skull-adorned armor. Imagine the sheer sacrilege of watching an undead creature wield the Light. If that wouldn’t break the faith of a crusader, we can’t imagine what would.
The Tauren have always been known for cutting an imposing figure when donned in armor. Now imagine that with trails of frost, glowing blue eyes, and riding an undead skeletal wyvern descending upon you.
If you thought that this was the world’s way of punishing you for eating too much steak, we wouldn’t blame you. A particularly cruel Tauren Death Knight might even be inclined to add your bones as an ornament to their horns.
Best Races for Death Knights in Classic
With Wrath of the Lich King Classic on the horizon (slated for some time later in 2022), you might be already planning out your Death Knight. Especially since you can only have a single Death Knight per server and your racial choice has a greater impact during that era.
Unless some unexpected balance changes are made, Humans are undeniably the best race for Death Knights in WotLK Classic.
During this era, Expertise is still a stat that influences how likely you are to hit the enemy. For both PVE and PVP content, it was crucial to have enough of the stat to ensure your blows connect. Humans have Sword Specialization which automatically provides a small boost to expertise with all swords (two-handed and single). This lets you hit the expertise cap (the point where it no longer is efficient to add more expertise) and frees up some of your enchants/gems for other stats.
Additionally, as a Human you have Every Man For Himself — the greatest CC cleanse ability. Unlike the current retail version, the WotLK Classic version would cleanse all CC effects (not just stuns). This is absolutely amazing for both PVE and PVP.
Unlike current WoW, where each class has some ability to answer a situation, this era of WoW still saw limits. Providing a free CC cleanse in PVE allowed you to completely avoid being punished by certain mechanics. As for PVP, it allowed you to take a second damage trinket as opposed to a CC cleansing one. This is a massive power spike, and around 90% of the Death Knights you encounter in arenas will be Humans.
On the Horde side, Orcs shine as the best choice for Death Knights. This is once again due to Blood Fury still providing one of the best attack steroids in the game. On top of that, given that every Death Knight had access to Army of the Dead, the 1% bonus to your pets’ damage from Command could provide a sizeable boost.
While you’re more likely to wield swords, axes were a viable alternative due to Orcs having Axe Specialization. The boost to expertise made them arguably more useful than some swords. Additionally, Hardiness still provides a constant resistance. However, it’s only 15% during this era.
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