I've been searching around the forums, and have yet to see a DPS guide for Frost DKs in Cataclysm. I have decided to create such a guide to better educate players who don't quite understand how to maximize their DPS as Frost.
This guide will teach you how to maximize your DPS with your CURRENT gear. The idea is NOT to tell you "You need X iLvl to be good". Regardless of what your gear looks like, this guide will be beneficial.
Glyphs & Spec
Regardless of that class or spec you play, Glyphs play a major role on DPSing.
Glyphs that a Frost DK would use are the following:
- Glyph of Frost Strike - Reduces the cost of Frost Strike by 8 Runic Power
- Glyph of Obliterate - Increases the damage of your Obliterate ability by 20%
- Glyph of Howling Blast - Your Howling Blast ability now infects your target with Frost Fever
- Glyph of Hungering Cold (Situational) - Your Hungering Cold ability no longer costs Runic Power
- Glyph of Dark Succor - Causes your Death Strike ability to always restore at least 15% of your maximum HP when used while in Frost or Unholy presence.
- Glyph of Horn of Winter - Increases the duration of Horn of Winter by 1 minute.
- Glyph of Resilient Grip (Situational) -When your Death Grip ability fails because its target is immune, its cooldown is reset.
- Glyph of Blood Tap - Your Blood Tap no longer causes damage to you
I have found these specs to perform the best, however, yours doesn't have to be exact. Do as you please. This is simply an outline you can follow when specing into Frost.
Plate Armor & Item Stats
As a Death Knight, you have a passive skill in your spell book called "Plate Specialization". This ability increases your primary base stat by 5% - in the case of a Frost DK, this will increase your Strength by 5%! In order for this passive ability to remain active, you must be wearing plate armor in EVERY armor slot. This passive ability is a "MUST HAVE" and can be learned at lvl 80 through the DK spell trainer.
Now you're in the hunt for plate armor - fantastic! But those +113 intellect shoulders aren't going to do you much good. You're going to need plate armor with specific stats, such as Strength, Haste, Mastery, Crit, Hit Rating, and Expertise. But be careful, these stats have different levels of priority.
From research and personal experience, the stat priority list goes like this:
Strength > Hit (until 8%) > Expertise (Until mob dodge is 0%) > Haste > Mastery > Crit
If you find any plate armor with these stats, then it's exactly what you're looking for! And remember, Strength is ALWAYS the number 1 priority stat!
Reforging & Choosing your Items
Reforging your items plays a huge role in your DPS. It prevents having too much of a certain stat - such as having too much hit or expertise if you're already at the cap. From research and personal experience, I have found this to be the best way to reforge:
Hit (if over the cap) => Haste. If the item already has Haste, then do Hit => Mastery
Expertise (if over the cap) => Haste. If the item already has Haste, then do Expertise => Mastery
Mastery => Haste. If the item already has Haste, don't reforge it.
Crit => Haste. If the item already has Haste, then do Crit => Mastery
Remember that crit is the least desired stat and should always be reforged into something else if possible. After having a good idea about how a Frost DK should reforge, you'll find it easier to decide if a dropped item would be better or worse for you. Here's an example.
Say you have a cloak with +112 Haste and +112 Crit, but you've reforged it so now it has +112 Haste, +67 Crit, and + 45 Mastery. You run a heroic and a cloak with +112 Haste and +112 Mastery drops - need it. Your current cloak already has Mastery on it, however, it also has Crit - which is an undesired stat. The new cloak also provides more Mastery than your reforged one, and thus doesn't require any reforging at all.
Duel Wielding VS Two-Handers
Duel wielding and two-hander DPS are in no way greatly superior to the other. In fact, the differences are very subtle - but they do indeed exist.
With the ability Nerves of Cold Steel, duel wielding requires less hit rating (but also slightly more expertise), and thus leaves room to reforge into other stats, such as haste or mastery. Also, your off-hand weapon's damage is increased by 25% for both auto-attacks and special attacks. However, your auto-attacks still have a chance to miss - even over the 8% marker. But don't let that scare you. Your auto-attack damage still plays a big role in your dps, and attacking with two weapons is still faster than a 2-H weapon, and thus gives you a better chance to proc Killing Machine. Reforging out of hit is indeed safe, stats from higher-end gear should put you at around 9.5%-10% hit - it's a dps increase, but not by a significant margin.
Accompanied with Threat of Thassarian, your crits from Killing Machine hit harder than 2-H weapons, thus compensating for missing auto-attacks. Duel wielding and Improved Icy Talons are best friends. They love each other. They love each other even more if your weapons have a 2.60 speed or slower. The slow/slow weapons typically hit harder than faster ones, and your haste bonus makes them hit almost at the same rate as a fast weapon. You get the best of both worlds - power and speed.
Using a 2-H weapon provides harder-hitting auto attacks compared to duel wielding. It also ensures that both special attacks and auto-attacks will never miss - assuming you're at 8% hit. The ability Might of the Frozen Wastes increases the damage of your auto-attacks by 12% - but keep in mind that the damage of your special attacks remains unchanged. This ability also has a 45% chance to generate 10 runic power, thus allowing you to use frost strike more often. However, a 2-H weapon is a lot slower than a 1-H weapon, and therefore your Killing Machine procs may not occur as often. And because Might of the Frozen Wastes only applies to auto-attacks, your crits won't hit as hard. But your ensured auto-attack hits compensate for the lower crit numbers. Wielding a 2-H weapon requires more hit rating, but less expertise. The increase in hit rating required doesn't leave much room to reforge into other, more beneficial stats.
Remember, using a 2-H provides harder hitting auto-attacks, which never miss (if you're at 8% hit)! Those two facts compensate for any of the less attractive qualities of 2-H DPSing.
People are misled into thinking that duel wielding results in better dps - however, most haven't even tried 2-H DPS, and if they have, they were trying to force the 2-H to act as duel wielding, or in other words, they didn't change their play-style to maximize their dps with a 2-H.
If you can master either of these weapon types, and you know your rotation, the damage meters will show that the outcome is almost the same.
Runeforging your weapons should be pretty simple. One weapon should be enchanted with Rune of Razorice, and the other with Rune of the Fallen Crusader. Although some might say that it doesn't matter which order you're wielding them, I say differently. Putting Rune of Razorice in your main-hand weapon provides more damage, simply because your main-hand weapon hits more often than your off-hand weapon, causing your enemies to constantly be vulnerable to frost attacks such as Frost Strike and Howling Blast.
Rune of the Fallen Crusader is no less important however. When it procs, it provides 15% additional strength for 15 seconds and heals you for 3% of your maximum HP. This can be very useful when popping cooldowns at the same time.
Your weapon should be forged with Rune of the Fallen Crusader, simply because it procs off of auto-attacks, which, with a 2-H weapon, never misses. This way, there is a better chance that your runeforged weapon will proc at more convenient times - such as blood lust or other cooldowns. However, you must consider that you only have one weapon, therefore losing the benefit of Rune of Razorice.
Hit Rating & Expertise
Some people are misled into thinking that hit rating and expertise are just semi-important stats - stats which can be somewhat ignored. This idea is false. These two stats are vital to max performance. I'll explain.
An 8% hit rating means that all of your abilities (Frost Strike, Obliterate, and so on) will NEVER miss your target. Missing attacks can be severely detrimental to your dps. It may not seem important - but it is. Think of it this way:
In 5 seconds, you can attack about 4 times, each attack landing 20k. Now lets say you miss one attack. During those 5 seconds, you've done 60k damage, when you should have done 80k damage. Now lets say you're fighting a boss and the fight lasts 2 minutes. Theoretically, missing 1/4 attacks.
At the hit cap, you'd attack 96 times, and hit every time. Putting you at 1,920k damage. Not hit capped however, you would have done only 1,440k damage. That's a 480k difference!
However, there are other ways your attacks may not land on the target - this is where Expertise comes into play. Mobs in the game can dodge and parry attacks, and Expertise tries to prevent that. The higher your Expertise is, the less likely your attack will be dodged or parried.
You only need enough Expertise to obtain a 0% dodge chance on mobs. Once you've acquired this much, lvl 87/Skulled monsters still have about a 7% chance to parry your attacks - but don't worry. As DPS, you should ALWAYS be standing behind your target, which means they cannot parry your attacks. And with a 0% chance to dodge your attacks, accompanied with 8% hit, your DPS will be significantly higher than before!
Rotation & Managing Runic Power
The frost DK rotation is pretty simple. Initially, start off with Bowling Blast => Plague Strike => Obliterate.
Your go-to ability is always going to be Frost Strike, since you only want to use Obliterate when your Runic Power is too low, or when Killing Machine procs. Refresh your diseases when they're low, as they increase the damage of Obliterate by 12.5% per disease. Rhime procs, accompanied with the Glyph of Howling Blast, should constantly keep your Frost Fever up. However, in order to keep your Blood Plague going, you have to spend an unholy rune on Plague Strike, or you could use Outbreak - which is the better choice if it's available.
With Butchery from the Blood tree and Runic Power Mastery from the Frost tree, you may quickly find yourself with more Runic Power than you can handle. Trying to get full Runic Power is never a good idea. You want to be constantly spending it. And the best way to do that is by using Frost Strike. This ability is very powerful and you cannot properly DPS without it. Costing 32 Runic Power (Glyphed), this ability should be your only major Runic Power dump. The more runic power you spend, the faster you can dish-out Frost Strike. Now you may be thinking, "That doesn't make any sense! Wouldn't spending more Runic Power just mean I use Frost Strike less?" However, that isn't the case.
Lets say you have 110/130 Runic Power. You COULD use Obliterate, however, the better choice would be to use Frost Strike. Obliterate generates about 30 Runic Power, meaning you'd cause yourself to lose 10 runic power, since 130 is your cap. But using Frost Strike, THEN Obliterate, allows you to gain the full amount of Runic Power from that ability, therefor giving yourself more opportunities to use Frost Strike, since you're generating more Runic Power.
The best way to take advantage of your KM procs is to use Obliterate once it's proc'd. Some people like to button mash their abilities that are still on GCD - I say this is bad. Killing Machine may proc just as the ability comes off GCD, either using your runes on something else other than Obliterate, or using Frost Strike.
My advice is to pace yourself, only press Frost Strike when it's off the GCD to prevent yourself from wasting a KM proc that should've been used with Obliterate. Using Frost Strike and Obliterate in that fashion not only increases damage output, but also helps sustain Runic Power - increasing overall performance.
Pillar of Frost
As a Frost DK, your most valued Cooldown is Pillar of Frost, which increases your Strength by 20% and only has a 1 minute cooldown! Almost every boss fight you come across lasts a little over 2 minutes, which is good for you. This means that you can pop Pillar of Frost at the beginning of a fight, and pop is again towards the end! Accompanied with 15% additional strength from your Rune of the Fallen Crusader, you'll be hitting some nasty numbers! But hold on - using Pillar of Frost can mess up your rotation, as it costs a Frost Rune. However, there is a way to fix that. Once you click on Pillar of Frost, immediately click on Blood Tap, which converts a Blood Rune into a Death Rune, therefore setting your rotation back on track.
Icebound Fortitude & Anti-Magic Shell
Just because you're not a tank, doesn't mean you won't be getting damaged. This is a fact - an unavoidable fact. However, lessening the amount of damage you take both keeps you alive and makes your healer very happy. When you're taking more physical damage than you'd like, pop Icebound Fortitude - which decreases physical damage tken by 20% and causes you to become immune to stuns. If it's Magic damage, pop Ant-Magic Shell - which absorbs 75% of damage from spells and makes you immune to debuffs and DoTs. Taking the time to click on these abilities might reduce your DPS a bit, however, it's still much better than dying and your party losing all of your 10K+ DPS.
Empower Rune Weapon
Empower Rune Weapon is a very useful ability - it immediately activates ALL of your Runes and generates 25 Runic Power. However, this ability has a 5 minute cooldown, and shouldn't be used frequently. Personally, the only time I ever use this ability is when Blood Lust/Heroism or Time Warp is casted. However, this ability can be used whenever you're in a sticky situation - a situation that's a matter of staying alive or dying.
This ability converts a Blood Rune into a Death Rune. Probably one of the most important cooldowns of a Frost DK is Blood Tap. This may seem strange, but it's true. Without Blood Tap, you may have to wait up to 4 seconds to use an ability! However, you do have it - so use it. However, be careful! Don't use it if your Pillar of Frost is almost off cooldown, that way you can use Blood Tap and Pillar of Frost, increasing your Strength by 20% and still maintaining your normal rotation.
Macros are an excellent way to save bar space and save clicking/pressing buttons. With a macro, you can have certain ability tied into one button! But be careful, if you try to macro abilities from your main rotation together, it'll turn out sloppy. So leave them alone. The code isn't as smart as you, so don't be lazy - individually click/press your main rotation abilities. The only abilities you should macro together are those in which don't share the same GCD as your other abilities. Such as Blood Tap, Pillar of Frost, Raise Undead, and even Trinkets!
Here's an example of a macro I use for Burst DPS
#showtooltip Pillar of Frost
/cast Pillar of Frost
/cast Blood Tap
/use Might of the Ocean (this is a trinket)
/cast Raise Dead
All of these abilities don't share a GCD, and so I can tie them into a macro - using them almost simultaneously! I would highly suggest using this macro and using it instead of your regular Pillar of Frost button. If you can macro correctly, you will save time - which increases DPS!