Thursday, November 4, 2010

4.0.1 Death Knight Frost DW DPS Primer

Everything you want to know about ("casual") Death Knight Frost DW DPS, right here, in one article.  Or something like that.  Hopefully it'll at least get you started.  My goal is a bit different from the standard end-game raiding scene.  Mostly I run BG's with this toon, but it is also my alternate raider when needed.  Thus, my DK is designed to be respectable and fun, not the top dog.  If I want to /flex, I'll go on my 'lock, but that doesn't mean I want to look like noobsauce on this toon.

The Spec
With that in mind, I went with a 2/32/2 spec.

It's important to note that my aim is to be able to do two things well with this spec. The first, I'd like to be able to DPS in a PvE environment competitively. The second, I'd like to feel useful in PvP Battlegrounds. Thus, some points are chosen for that sort of utility, even though I know it makes my spec not "the best" raiding spec or "the best" PvP spec. It's a hybrid spec. For instance, my PvP needs are what entice me to spec into Chillblains and use the Glyph of Hungering Cold.  You may want to go another route if you're wanting a pure raiding spec.

If you checked out my preliminary spec right after the patch dropped, you may notice that I changed up my plans a bit.  Originally, I had taken Improved Icy Talons and Bladed Armor at the expense of the blood and frost talents that cause you to generate more runic power.  My thought had been that I never had a problem generating RP before, how much would these really help?

After mucking around on a dummy for a while, it quickly became apparent to me that without those talents, RP generation is just too slow.  I wasn't firing off nearly as many Frost Strikes as I'd like, and my DPS wasn't where I wanted it to be.  So I respecced, dropping IIT and Bladed armor in favor of RP generation talents.  I plan to get some points back into those talents soon, but for now this is what I believe makes the spec playable. 

The Glyphs
You can see from the link above that I'm going with:
  • Prime: Howling Blast - To spread Frost Fever and, thereby, Chillblains. Awesome for keeping melee away from demolishers, etc.  Also great to spread out the deeps.
  • Prime: Frost Strike - Less cost = More Strikes = Moar Deeps.
  • Prime: Obliterate - OB tends to be my big finishing move in BG's.  Great idea to buff it.
  • Major Glyphs - Pestilence, Strangulate, Hungering Cold- Pest will help in AoE situations to hit more folks.  Strangulate should be good against casters.  Hungering Cold for free is good stuff in a BG.  It works as both an interrupt and a freeze.  I find it incredibly useful.
  • Minor Glyphs - Horn of Winter, Path of Frost, Resilient Grip - Minor's are decently useful for DK's.  First, there's nothing like extending your horn. Second, we make our water walking spell a bit more hardy.  Third, we more chances with our MK-Scorpion-like talent.  Not all that exciting, but could be useful. 
The Rotation
As most specs change from less of a rotation to more of a priority system, I want to break down what I do into two ideas: an Intro sequence and then Ongoing Priorities.  To me, DK DPS works best when you think of it as setting up, and then moving into a "maintain" phase, so that's how I'm going to approach it.  I'll start off as if we're just worried about a single target, and then note the changes for multiple targets later.

Intro: Howling Blast > Plague Strike > Blood Strike > Obliterate > Frost Strike

Ongoing Priorities:
  1. Keep Diseases Up - With Rime procs and the glyphed HB, you should never have a problem with Frost Fever.  Keep an eye on when you might need to toss in a Plague Strike.
  2. When the side auras for Killing Machine show up try to use an Obliterate or Frost Strike.  Obliterate is the better choice, but don't miss a proc waiting for it to show up.
  3. When Rime procs, throw a Howling Blast (frost aura above your head)
  4. Use FrS to dump your Runic Power whenever it caps or as filler when your runes are on cooldown.
  5. Weave in Blood Strikes when your other stuff is on cooldown in order to convert some blood runes to Death Runes.  I like to try to keep one Blood rune as a Death rune at all times.  Just try not to have it where both of one type of rune are sitting unused.    
  6. If everything else is good, then you should just be popping OB's every time they're up and dumping RP in between, watching for procs and the priorities above.  That should keep you busy enough.
Since HB costs simply a single Frost Rune now, it basically replaces IT (hence why I dropped the glyph).  You may want to keep IT handy for any situations where some AoE splash is a bad thing, but otherwise HB is the way to go.  If you're Dual Wielding like I am, you want to run in Frost Presence.  Otherwise, I've read where 2H benefit more from being in Unholy, but that's not what I'm doing here.  Check it out on EJ if you're curious, they have a pretty solid article that helped me out a lot. 

I know that in the course of my research, it was tough to figure out what DW weapons to use. So here's the easy answer: you want a slower weapon in each hand in order to maximize the damage of your special spells.  Since they're calculated with respect to your base damage, and your base damage is directly relational to the weapon speed, you want two slow weapons.  Why?  Let's say you have two weapons, each with the same "DPS" but one is fast and the other is slow.  In order to equalize the DPS, the slow weapons has to have more damage per hit.  Since specials are calculated on damage per hit, I think you can see why we say "go slow".

I don't really change up the rotation for AoE situations except to try to use more HBs when I can to maximize my damage.  You still will want to put up and spread your diseases, though with the Pestilence nerf and HB being glyphed, you only want to use Pest for this if you have more than a handful of targets.  Otherwise, you'll just want to PS and then weave HBs and use your normal RP dump (still FrS).  Also, you'll want to use Death and Decay when it's off cooldown, though watch your threat.  Utilize BS to keep Death Runes coming.  More Death Runes means more HB's and that's really the key here.

The Stats
Hit (until melee cap) > Expertise (until cap) > Str > Mastery > Haste > Crit > Agility > Hit (to spell cap)

Ewww numbers: Melee hit cap is 8%.  This governs almost all of our special abilities that are melee in nature (though not "white noise" attacks).  More hit will still help, as our spells can go all the way up to 17% before cap.  Our spells include HB and IT, so after melee cap this stat weight only falls slightly for us, probably being in between Crit and Haste until Spell Capped.  Expertise cap is 23 (Thanks, Stop!). 

It's also good to rune you weapon with Fallen Crusader (MH) and Razorice (OH).

Wrap Up
That's it for my DPS DK.  Pretty short and simple, which is how I do my lone max-level alt.  She's a great change of pace and I love to PvP on her.  I only raid on her if I run into save issues on my 'lock or just to knock out old content with newer raiders. 

I'm sure a lot of you could come up with better pure raid specs, feel free to leave 'em in comments to help others out who stop by.  Also, if you're a frosty DK like me, do you roll with the same rotation?  Same basic set up?  This is one toon where I know I still have stuff to learn.


  1. Actually, due to accidentally rebalancing expertise against level 85, the expertise cap for current level 80 content has been lowered to 23. Forum post is here:

    It will be back to 26 for endgame Cataclysm content, though.

    My DPS spec is rollin' with almost the same glyphs (I think I have something else in place of Resilient Grip, but nevermind that), and one of the nice changes in 4.0.1 is that PvE and PvP specs aren't drastically different -- I'm using (when I dual wield) or (when wielding a 2H weapon). I actually lean slightly towards preferring 2H; I like the Unholy Presence playstyle while retaining the RP generation from 2/2 IFP.

  2. Awesome! Thanks. I'll fix that above. Can't troll the forums while at work :-).

    As far as PvE vs PvP: I noticed that as well. There were maybe only a few talent points that seemed more PvP oriented, but you needed a lot of them to advance the tree anyways, making the specs pretty similar. I think that's a good thing, though it does means a bit less of individuality.

    Once I pick up a good 2H weapon, I should probably try it out. The good thing is that it doesn't seem to matter a whole lot for DPS, the specs and damage output are pretty comparable. I've always been a fan of DW'ing, but will have to 2H tank, obviously, so it may grow on me. We'll see.

  3. re: hit cap, unless this got changed with 4.0.1, there's a large (19% I think) dual wield hit penalty. So there's no cap (soft or hard) at 8%. The inflection points for the value of hit will be at the spell hit hard cap (17%) and the melee hit hard cap (27%).

  4. Yeah, I'm not sure if the penalty still exists but it was for "white noise" attacks only. You melee abilities hit the same percentages no matter what you wield. Thus we want to hit the hit cap for melee abilities (I refer to as the melee hit cap), but I can see where that's confusing.

    I would assume the hard cap for white noise still exists as-is, but getting there isn't such a bit deal as making sure our abilities always hit (which happens at 8% for the strikes, 17% for ranged spells like HB and IT)

  5. Your* and also big* deal... not big, ugh. Proofreading fail... wtb comment edit for Blogger. :-)

  6. I did forget about the specials, but calling that 'melee' is kinda odd. I usually see that referred to as special attacks or 'yellow' damage. 'Melee' typically refers to just the 'white' damage, i.e. autoattacks/autoshot/(autowand?).

  7. I added a parenthetical in the next sentence to make it a bit more clear. I would argue that melee typically refers to anything "not ranged". However, I've also never heard "yellow damage", though I can see how it applies and there's hardly and official dictionary for these terms :-). Hopefully the addition makes it applicable no matter what nomenclature you're used to.