You can use the general information from this post in conjunction with the Death Knight Tanking Guides for AoE rotations I use for questing. I use pretty well the same exact concepts and rotations when doing AoE Tanking on my Death Knight when the situation calls for me to focus on AoE to grab and maintain agro in an instant so that I can then settle into a tanking rotation.
For the purposes of this article when you see any form of “(BFU)” it is an expression of the ability’s Rune Cost, where “(##)” will show the amount of Runic Power that is required for abilities with RP costs rather than Rune costs. When using our Death Runes they will be noted as “(DD)”.
This guide also contains only information up to level 70, so spells obtained only at higher levels will not appear in this guide.
Death Knight Specs: Quick Overview
Any Death Knight spec can do AoE grinding to at least some degree. Frost and Unholy are much better off than Blood is in the AoE category (though perhaps not so much in the survivability area), but any spec can technically do it. Some just need to branch out a little bit more than others.
All DK’s have access to Death and Decay which is a solid AoE ability though it does come with a heavy Rune cost.
Spending 11 points in the Unholy tree grants you access to Corpse Explosion which serves as a Runic Power version of AoE damage to be used when you are in a Rune Blackout (all runes used and on cooldown). Corpse Explosion does require a non-elemental, non-mechanical corpse in order to be used, but it is another option for AoE damage once you’ve laid down the hate and started piling up the corpses. But any corpse will do, including a fallen comrade.
With 8 points in the Blood tree you can have Scent of Blood 3/3 which gives you a 15% chance after a dodge or parry to have each of your next three auto-attacks generate 10 Runic Power which could be taken in addition to Corpse Explosion to help fuel its repeated use. I don’t know that it’s a great option, but there it is if you happen to be a CE freak (like me).
You can spend 14 points in the Blood tree to get both Rune Tap (B) which will restore 10% of your health when used, as well as Death Rune Mastery which will cause the runes used for Obliterate and Death Strike to regenerate as Death Runes. Having both Death Rune Mastery and Blood of the North maxed will give you four different attacks that will grant Death Runes to help fuel whatever ability you might want to use.
Since I’m focusing on Frost here, I will point out that I suggest you get all the way through the Frost tree (level 60 minimum) before you branch off into the other trees. As for the rest of the spec, I suggest you follow the guide I offer in my DK Tanking: Frost Edition guides.
Frost AoE: General Information
You can use either a single disease or a double disease method for this, though my personal suggestion is that you go with a double disease, dual wielding Frost build.
Howling Blast (FU) is your largest source of AoE damage, and using things like your Killing Machine procs and your Deathchill ability to maximize your damage by providing auto-crits go a long way towards burning down the largest group of mobs in the shortest amount of time. Rime procs will give you free uses of Howling Blast as well as resetting its cooldown, so keep a keen eye out for those as well. You may want to consider using an addon such as PowerAuras Classic to help you keep track of your procs if you have trouble with them.
With Frost you are going to make frequent use of Howling Blast for AoE damage and applying the Frost Fever disease, Obliterate (FU) to generate Rime procs for free Howling Blasts, Blood Boil (B) for DK-centered AoE damage, Pestilence (B) for disease spreading, and potentially Death & Decay (BFU) as well. If you branched out into Unholy for Corpse Explosion (40) then you have a Runic Power AoE as well, which is centered on the corpse that it’s used on.
As a Death Knight you have several tools to use for pulling mobs. The most obvious of these is Scorpion’s famous move, Death Grip, which will pull the targeted mob to you and “force” them to attack you for three seconds. Some mobs are immune to the physical pull, but they will still agro you and chase you down after you use it. Death Grip has a pretty big cooldown all things considered, but it does not require any runes or runic power to use.
You also have two sources of ranged AoE pulling, in the form of Howling Blast (FU) and Death and Decay (BFU), which can both be used to pull a group of mobs instead of just one. Howling Blast is a bit better if you are pulling the group and moving on to pull others as well, where Death and Decay is probably better off cast as you near the end of your pull so that you can make use of its DoT (Damage of Time) AoE effect.
You also have two forms of single-target ranged pulls in Icy Touch (F) and Death Coil (40). Death Coil requires RP to cast, so it’s not the greatest spell for pulling, but when you find yourself high on RP and nothing else to spend it on just yet you might as well get some use out of it.
If you don’t have much, or any, Runic Power built up during a pull, feel free to use your melee abilities rather than simply body pulling. Primarily you want to use Plague Strike (B) for this in order to establish a disease, or Blood Strike (B) to get your Blood Runes converted to Death Runes for use in the next round.
There is one other spell I want to mention here for pulling, but it will actually be more useful after the next step happens to help get stray casters to come to your centralized area. The spell is called Strangulate (B) which is a single target, 30 yard ranged Silence spell that lasts for 5 seconds. When you use that on a caster they will rush towards melee range as long as they are silenced, and 5 seconds should be more than enough for you to get them within range of your AoE spells.
And of course you do still have the old fashioned, tried and true body pull which can be done either mounted or on foot, which simply requires that you get within agro range of the mobs. Some locations allow for or maybe even require that you use Line of Sight (LoS) techniques to agro the mobs and then move to a location that they cannot attack you from so that they must run around it to engage you; running to the other side of a wall is a perfect example of this as they will run around the wall as well and then stand there clustered together to help with your AoE.
In my other AoE Grinding guides I mentioned a step here that I called “Corral”, which is basically just gathering all the mobs up into a central area so that you can AoE them down from there. You want to do that with a Frost DK as well, but it’s not quite so big a deal as it is with a Mage; instead it’s more like grinding with a Paladin where as long as they are within your AoE range you really don’t care how close they are to one another.
To be technical on the subject, you do want the mobs to be within 10 yard of each other so that you are able to hit them all, but with the exception of casters they should all be ganged up around you to begin with. Again, using the various spells mentioned in the Pulling section above and things like LoS are key to getting the mobs centralized and ready to burn them down.
Where a mage wants to put some distance between himself and the mobs, a Death Knight just wants everyone to look straight into his scourgefire eye sockets and see their own deaths rushing forth to meet them. As a DK you need to embrace your tanking habits and be sure to get as many mobs as you possibly can to be in front of you so that you can make use of all of your avoidance on them. You do this by repositioning yourself which usually consists of just backing up while facing them so that they get in front of you.
Some mobs just move in odd patterns and constantly seem to move behind you no matter what you do. In those cases you can either plant your back against a wall, or just ignore that one mob until you’ve taken out the others. Another option that is open to you is to use your Hungering Cold (F) ability to freeze everything in place, reposition yourself where you want to be (with all the mobs in front of you), and then either wait for the spell to wear off or hit them with a ranged AoE like Howling Blast to break them all out again.
Strategic use of Hungering Cold can make the difference between a successful AoE grinder and an exceptional AoE grinder. Use it to freeze the mobs in place, use Pestilence to spread your diseases (which does not break the ice), and then use a bandage on yourself if needed to restore your health and also allow your other runes the time they need to cooldown. Once you’re ready (or the 10 second timer is up) spread your diseases again with Pestilence and then go back into your rotation. If you do not have the Glyph of Disease to refresh your diseases for you then you will need to reapply them via Icy Touch > Plague Strike > Pestilence. If you do have the glyph then as long as the diseases are still on your current target it will refresh them and spread them around once again.
Important Note: Because our survival talent from the Blood tree, Blade Barrier, doesn’t come into effect until our Blood Runes are on cooldown, I suggest you go ahead and use up any remaining Blood Runes during this step. If you haven’t spread your diseases yet or you did spread them but they’re wearing off, then use Pestilence, otherwise go for Blood Boil if there are two or mobs near you or Blood Strike if there is only one.
Death to the Living!
Once you’ve gathered up the mobs and got them in place it’s time to burn those suckers down. Each DK has their own personal play style, so if you have another way you prefer to do this then by all means go with your own if you prefer, and of course feel free to leave any comments, suggestions, or criticisms you might have.
1st Rune Set: Icy Touch (F), Plague Strike (U), Pestilence (B), Blood Boil (B), Howling Blast (FU), RP Dump
2nd Rune Set: Obliterate (FU), [Howling Blast (Free)], Howling Blast (DD), Obliterate (FU), [Howling Blast (Free)], RP Dump
Technically our first rune set will actually be a sporadic mishmash of whatever you happened to use to pull all of the mobs to you, but we’re talking about the rotation here.
The first rune set establishes your diseases, spreads them around, and then hits with two AoE spells. Your Runic Power Dump for the first set is probably going to be Frost Strike (40). If you have enough points in Unholy then it can be used for Corpse Explosion (40) instead if you want more AoE.
Frost Strike hits hard and it’s great for chopping down your groups faster which will lead to better survivability overall, but CE will help bring down the group as a whole so use whichever serves best in your situation. If you’re taking quite a bit of damage then it’s better to increase your single target DPS with FS to kill some of them off, unless the mobs are already low enough on health that CE might finish one or more of them off for you. If you’re doing fine on your health then stick to AoE spells as much as you can so that you get the most damage on the most targets for the resources you spend.
In the second rune set we focus more on AoE damage to bring down the mobs as one. With the initial Obliterate we are hoping for a Rime proc to use Howling Blast, but if we don’t get one then we’re moving right along to a regular Howling Blast and getting those Blood Runes (Death Runes in this case) back on cooldown to proc our Parry buff again. Whenever Rime procs go ahead and use your Howling Blast; if that screws up your rotation because HB is on cooldown then simply replace the HB with Obliterate instead and try for another Rime proc.
Remember though that we aren’t trying to tank an instance with this, so we aren’t so much worried about maintaining threat as we are simply killing everything around us. If Howling Blast is available and you still have multiple mobs on you it’s perfectly acceptable to use HB instead of Obliterate for the AoE damage. Rime is more likely to proc when using two weapons instead of one, so it’s especially acceptable for a 2H build to use HB over Obliterate since the chance to proc Rime is lower.
I’M GONNA DIIIIEEEEE!!!
Settle down now, you’re a DK…you’re already dead. Before we get on into the next section, let us take a break and talk about what to do when things go wrong and suddenly you’re in trouble.
The first choice you have is something I already mentioned up above, which is using Hungering Cold to freeze everything within 10 yards of you for 10 seconds. This gives you time to either use a bandage or put your running shoes on and get the heck out of there (only a coward runs from combat, but only a “moron” throws his gold away on unnecessary repair bills).
Another option that we have open to us is Death Pact (40 RP, requires level 66) which requires you to sacrifice your ghoul in exchange for 40% of your health to instantly be healed. It’s a big heal and it comes in very handy. For this reason I save my ghoul for when I need heals rather than using him for extra dps, pulling, or whatever. The one thing you need to watch out for is the runic cost of Death Pact. If you are taking a beating, be sure to build up your RP but try not to use it unless you have more than 30-40% so that you can DP when needed.
You also have the use of Icebound Fortitude (20) after level 62 which will give you 12 seconds of damage reduction to lessen those blows.
You can also make an adjustment to your attack rotations, replacing Obliterates and/or Howling Blasts with Death Strike (FU) instead, to heal yourself for 5% of your maximum health for each disease you have on the target.
If things are really getting hot, you’ve already used everything available to you that we’ve talked about here, then the only other option you have left to you (besides potions and such which you should already be well aware of) is to make an emergency switch over to Blood Presence (B) which increases your damage by 15% and heals you for 4% of the damage you deal. By default you should be grinding in Frost Presence (F) which increases your Stamina by 6%, your armor from gear by 60% and reduces damage you take by 8%. Losing Frost Presence can be a very dangerous thing when you’re already getting beat on hard enough to be worried, but if you can dish out enough damage in a short enough amount of time then Blood Presence can potentially save your life by switching to it, landing a big attack for the heal (Death Strike is optimal for this), and then switching back to Frost Presence for your damage reduction.
All Your Sparklies Are Belong To Me
And now that they’re all dead it’s just a matter of collecting loot and moving right along to the next group. A lot of your damage is going to be dealt over time rather than in bursts. So when you do get procs like Rime and Killing Machine, it’s a good idea to move right into your next pull to take advantage of those if you aren’t in need of healing. Timing your Rime/KM procs so that they’re used together is an excellent way to bring down a lot of mobs in a short amount of time.
What Spells Do I Use Again?
|Howling Blast||Blood Boil|
|Corpse Explosion||Death and Decay|