Legion Class Preview Series: Death Knight

The first new class introduced to World of Warcraft after its launch, Death Knights came into the fray with an identity unmistakably tied to the Wrath of the Lich King story. The Death Knights of Acherus, their cold bodies lifted from the grave in the Scarlet Enclave, were commanded by the Lich King and Highlord Darion Mograine to slaughter every villager in Tyr’s Hand, New Avalon, and Havenshire, and to sack Light’s Hope Chapel, decimating both the Scarlet Crusade and the Argent Dawn.

Ultimately, as a result of such uncompromising ambition, the Lich King was betrayed by Highlord Mograine in an act that freed the Death Knights from their servitude. Under Mograine’s leadership they formed the Knights of the Ebon Blade and began joining the ranks of the Horde and Alliance forces bound for Icecrown Citadel to end the reign of Arthas, the Lich King. Though now free from the Lich King’s grasp, these once virtuous champions remain knights of darkness, wielding runeblades of death and destruction and mercilessly stealing the very life essence of their enemies.

We always want to reflect the Death Knight origin story and identity in how they play. The biggest area where we see room for improvement is in their resource system. Runes are a very iconic resource, but their functionality has always been convoluted. In Legion, we’re making Runes more straightforward by removing their division into separate Blood, Frost, and Unholy types. Death Knights now have six unified Runes to spend, with a maximum of three recharging at any one time.

With this change, it’s also important that we preserve the existing gameplay familiarity of Death Knights by making mostly minor changes to core ability functionality and cost—we don’t want the Rune change to create a situation where the best Frost rotation is just Obliterate, Obliterate, Obliterate. Finally, we’re reducing ability overlap between specializations, giving each a single disease with a unique trait and creating a talent tree that’s largely populated with spec-specific talents to better distinguish them.


The core abilities for Blood should be familiar, though we’ve touched them up to bring added clarity to the specialization. Each core ability now better leverages that sinister command of blood and bone to fuel your survivability. In particular, we’ve changed Death Strike to cost Runic Power instead of Runes. This results in a more clear choice of resource expenditure; you can’t lock yourself out of being able to heal if you spend a Rune at the wrong time, and also gives Runic Power generation a bigger impact.


The mechanics of the Frost Death Knight are quite solid and we don’t want to do too much to change that. You’ll notice that the core combat abilities listed below are largely familiar. One small area where we found room for improvement, however, is in Killing Machine’s passive interaction with the core rotation. While the automatic critical strikes it provides feel good, it’s often better to ignore its proc in favor of spending resources as fast as you can, as your damage output suffers if you wait for the different resources required for using Obliterate and Frost Strike to become available. Killing Machine now only affects Obliterate, and making wise use of its effect should feel more meaningful.


Unholy is receiving slightly more mechanical changes than Blood and Frost, to better realign with their unique identity. We want to ensure that Unholy continues to be the spec with the most active use of diseases. In this regard, we recognize that Festering Strike lost its luster over time and have developed a new mechanic to ensure the ability remains integral in the Unholy rotation.