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WoW Classic WotLK: Death Knight Leveling Guide (55-80)

Death knights are the first hero class (and only one) in WoW Classic. Added to the game with the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, they start at level 55, making them much easier to level than other classes. Death knights can skip vanilla content altogether, jumping straight from their unique starting zone to Outland and then Northrend. We’ll help guide you in leveling a death knight through WotLK Classic, and soon you’ll be leaving nothing but corpses in your undead wake.

How to Unlock Death Knights

As a hero class, the death knight class is not selectable for your first character. You will need to level another class to 55 before you can create a death knight on the same realm. You can also only have one death knight per realm. For most players, this will mean they can only make one death knight.

Acherus, the Ebon Hold - the private hub for Death Knights.
Death knights get their own private hub: Acherus, The Ebon Hold. (Image: Blizzard via HGG / Sarah Arnold)

If you need to level another class to 55, be sure to check out our other class leveling guides!

Best Death Knight Leveling Spec

We’ll be using the unholy talent specialization for this death knight leveling guide. Frost and blood are both viable options, but unholy offers the highest damage as well as the very useful On A Pale Horse talent, which lets you get around faster.

Unlike in retail World of Warcraft, you will need to visit your class trainer in order to learn new spells as you level up. Your trainers are all located in Acherus, The Ebon Hold. You should train at least every few levels, because new ranks and new spells can make a huge difference to your damage and efficiency.

Best leveling talents (unholy) for a Death Knight in WotLK
The unholy talent build we’ll use for this guide. (Image: Blizzard via HGG / Sarah Arnold)

Gear and Stats

As an unholy death knight, here are the stats you should look for on gear, in order of importance:

  1. Strength is your strongest stat (no pun intended), with each point granting two points of Attack Power. You should be able to get lots of it on your gear without having to look for it specifically.
  2. Attack Power increases the damage you do with most of your abilities and is the main secondary stat you should aim for.
  3. Critical Strike increases your damage by causing more of your abilities to critically hit.
  4. Haste speeds up your attacks, increasing the amount of damage you can do over any given window of time.
  5. Hit is much more important at level 80. You won’t see much of it as you level, but when you do, it’s good to grab.
  6. Agility is useful because it increases your Critical Strike.
  7. Stamina does nothing to boost your damage, but is important for your survivability. It should come naturally on your gear without needing to look for it.

Death knights can use any type of armor, with plate offering the best defenses. But you should focus on the stats above rather than worrying too much about armor.

For your weapon, death knights can use both one- and two-handed axesmacesswords, and polearms. Keep in mind that each individual weapon type has its own separate skill in WoW Classic. If you swap to a different weapon type, you may need to level its skill before you can be effective with it.

As far as choosing your weapons, you should generally grab the weapon(s) with the highest DPS stat.

Runeforging is a unique feature to Death Knight.
Death knights get a free, powerful weapon enchantment via Runeforging. (Image: Blizzard via HGG / Sarah Arnold)

Best Heirlooms for Unholy Death Knights

Heirloom gear is well worth getting if you have a level 80 character and are able to purchase it. They scale with your level, so you don’t have to keep replacing your gear as you go. Chest and shoulder pieces also provide a buff to your experience gained, increasing your leveling speed significantly.

These are the heirloom pieces you should look for if you are leveling a death knight:

  • Shoulder: Polished Spaulders of Valor
  • Chest: Polished Breastplate of Valor
  • Trinket: Swift Hand of Justice
  • Trinket: Inherited Insignia of the Alliance/Horde
  • Weapon: Bloodied Arcanite Reaper
Best Heirlooms for Leveling a Death Knight in WotLK
The best heirlooms for death knights. (Image: Blizzard via HGG / Sarah Arnold)

Guide to Leveling a Death Knight in WotLK

Now let’s get to leveling! Death knights start the game at level 55, so that’s where we’ll begin.

Level 55-57

Zone: Death knights get their own unique starting zone, the Scarlet Enclave, a special instanced version of the Eastern Plaguelands. This zone introduces you to some key characters and storylines for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion while also setting you up as a higher level character with a mount and many key abilities.

Runeforging: Death knights get their own personal weapon enchanting skill with Runeforging. Be sure to use it any time you get a new weapon for some big, easy stat buffs. You’ll want to use Rune of Cinderglacier until level 70.

Mount: You will earn your first mount by completing a quest in your starting zone. This is an epic mount with a speed of 100%, much better than the basic ground mount. It’s also free!

You get a free mount as a Death Knight.
That’s a nice mount, I think I’ll take it. (Image: Blizzard via HGG / Sarah Arnold)

Talents: You will unlock a whopping 48 talent points as you quest through the starting zone. This will catch you up to other level 57 characters. Here are the recommended talents for our build, in the order you should take them:

  • Virulence (3/3)
  • Vicious Strikes (2/2)
  • Ravenous Dead (3/3)
  • Epidemic (2/2)
  • Necrosis (5/5)
  • On a Pale Horse (2/2)
  • Blood-Caked Blade (3/3)
  • Impurity (5/5)
  • Night of the Dead (2/2)
  • Master of Ghouls (1/1)
  • Desecration (2/2)
  • Desolation (5/5)
  • Bone Shield (1/1)
  • Crypt Fever (3/3)
  • Ghoul Frenzy (1/1)
  • Scourge Strike (1/1)
  • Wandering Plague (3/3)
  • Ebon Plaguebringer (3/3)
  • Morbidity (1/3)

Glyphs: By the time you leave your starting zone, you will be able to use two major and two minor glyphs. Your best options for major glyphs are Glyph of the Ghoul and Glyph of Icy Touch. For minor glyphs, Glyph of Pestilence and Glyph of Raise Dead offer the best benefits.

Your class trainers are all in Acherus, the Ebon Hold.
Your class trainers are found in Acherus, The Ebon Hold. (Image: Blizzard via HGG / Sarah Arnold)

Rotation: Starting out, you’ll have more abilities available to you than most classes, and you will quickly acquire new ones. The starting zone quests will introduce you to some of your abilities and provide some unique opportunities to use them.

As a death knight you have both a Runic Power meter and three types of Runes to spend on abilities. Your rotation is a priority system in which you should always choose the highest ability on the list that has its criteria met. The first priority is applying and maintaining your two diseases. Here is your full starting rotation:

  1. Use Icy Touch to apply/reapply Frost Fever.
  2. Use Plague Strike to apply/reapply Blood Plague.
  3. Use Death Coil when you are close to full on Runic Power.
  4. Use Pestilence when fighting two or more enemies to spread your diseases. (Learned at level 56.)
  5. Use Blood Strike to gain the buff from your Desolation talent.
  6. Use Scourge Strike if you have Unholy Runes to spend. (When you learn the talent.)
  7. Use Blood Strike if you have Blood Runes to spend.
  8. Use Icy Touch if you have Frost Runes to spend.
  9. Use Death Coil if you have Runic Power to spend.

Starting out, you will also have the Death Grip ability, which is very useful and fun to use. Use it to put enemies where you want them or simply to stop a spellcast. You’ll also start out with Blood Presence and should keep it up at all times. It will remain your preferred presence all the way to level 80. At level 57, you gain another useful utility spell in Mind Freeze, your interrupt ability. You’ll also pick up the Bone Shield talent, a decent defensive ability on a short cooldown.

The Scarlet Enclave is a unique leveling zone for Death Knights in WotLK
Death knights get their own unique starting zone: Scarlet Enclave. (Image: Blizzard via HGG / Sarah Arnold)

Level 58-67

Zones: Head to Outland as soon as you finish the death knight starting zone. The items you can get there are much better than those in the lower level zones. Don’t forget to pick up a Hearthstone by talking to an innkeeper, as your original Acherus Hearthstone will be removed when you complete the starting zone.

Mount: At level 60, you can purchase your first flying mount. A basic flying mount has a flying speed of 150% and a ground speed of 60%, costing 300 gold total. The Flying trainers are located in Hellfire Peninsula and Shadowmoon Valley.

Talents: Beyond the starting zone, you’ll continue gaining talent points for every level, like other classes.

  • Level 58-59: Morbidity (3/3)
  • Level 60: Summon Gargoyle (1/1)
  • Level 61-65: Rage of Rivendare (5/5)
  • Level 66-67: Reaping (2/3)

Glyphs: You won’t get any new glyph slots until level 70.

Rotation: You’ll add three more abilities to your rotation, which will then stay the same all the way to level 80:

  1. Use Horn of Winter before you pull. (Learned at level 65.)
  2. Use Icy Touch to apply/reapply Frost Fever.
  3. Use Plague Strike to apply/reapply Blood Plague.
  4. Use Death Coil when you are close to full on Runic Power.
  5. Use Pestilence when fighting two or more enemies to spread your diseases.
  6. Use Blood Strike to gain the buff from your Desolation talent.
  7. Use Death and Decay when fighting three or more targets. (Learned at level 60.)
  8. Use Scourge Strike if you have Unholy Runes to spend.
  9. Use Blood Boil to if you are fighting three or more targets and have Blood Runes to spend. (Learned at level 58.)
  10. Use Blood Strike if you have Blood Runes to spend.
  11. Use Icy Touch if you have Frost Runes to spend.
  12. Use Death Coil if you have Runic Power to spend.

As far as utility, you will learn Chains of Ice at level 58 and Strangulate at level 59, both useful crowd control abilities. At level 62, you’ll gain Icebound Fortitude, which you should use for defense, and Death Pact, which gives you a way to heal yourself.

Through the Dark Portal and to Outlands!
Head to the Dark Portal to start your Outland adventure. (Image: Blizzard via HGG / Sarah Arnold)

Level 68-80

Zones: Head to Northrend as soon as you reach level 68. The quest rewards are much better and you can start working on the reputations you will need at level 80.

Mount: You can upgrade your flying mount at level 70 if you choose. An epic flying mount has a flying speed of 280% and a ground speed of 100%, costing 5100 gold. But you will not be able to use it in Northrend until you train Cold Weather Flying. This can be done at level 77 for 1000 gold, or if you already have a level 80 character, you can purchase a Tome of Cold Weather Flight for your death knight to use as early as level 68. Northrend flying trainers are located in Dalaran, Storm Peaks, and Sholazar Basin.

Runeforging: You’ll want to switch to Rune of the Fallen Crusader as soon as you’re able to at level 70.


  • Level 68: Reaping (3/3)
  • Level 69-70: Butchery (2/2)
  • Level 71-73: Blade Barrier (3/5)
  • Level 74-75: Two-Handed Weapon Specialization (2/2)
  • Level 76-80: Bladed Armor (5/5)

Glyphs: At level 70, you can use a third minor glyph. Glyph of Blood Tap is a solid choice. You won’t get the third major glyph slot until level 80.

Rotation: Your rotation will stay the same. At level 68, you’ll learn Anti-Magic Shell, a powerful defensive ability. At level 75, you’ll get Empower Rune Weapon, which you should use on cooldown to speed things up.

Congratulations on level 80!

You'll discover your purpose during your starting quests.
Your starting quests introduce you to some key figures in Warcraft lore. (Image: Blizzard via HGG / Sarah Arnold)

Join the High Ground

Thanks for reading! Hopefully this guide has helped with leveling your death knight through WotLK Classic. If you have any questions, leave a comment below, and be sure to subscribe to High Ground for more useful guides!

Happy gaming!

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