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Lichborne: Frost DPS 101


Welcome to Lichborne, where we're taking a break from all the Cataclysm info and analysis to focus on the here and now in death knight issues.

One of Patch 3.3.3's biggest focuses was adjusting frost DPS to be viable at the end game. The changes proved to be mostly successful, and as a result, dual-wield frost DPS is back on the map and may have an outside chance of not getting you laughed out of a raid. With that in mind, it's a perfect time to take a look at the spec.

This guide will give you a rundown of the basic stuff you need to know to break into the ground floor of the spec. The goal is to make speccing, gemming, glyphing and doing damage as simple to understand and implement as possible, making it easier for you to break into the playstyle and start using it on your own character. In some cases, this means "cutting corners," and in other places it means making judgment calls on gemming and glyphing options that are still a bit more nebulous once you get to the really heady theorycrafting stuff. This article is meant to make being moderately success at frost an easier task. Without further ado, then, let's begin!
1. What is frost DPS?

As of Patch 3.3.3, dual-wield frost DPS is a solid, competitive build that keeps pace with unholy for raid damage. It does its damage through a combination of frost damage and physical weapon strikes and brings utility to the table primarily in the form of group melee haste buffing.

2. Frost DPS benefits
  • Competitive single-target DPS and the best burst AoE DPS of all three trees
  • Melee haste buffs
  • Only tree that can use dual wield competitively
3. Frost DPS drawbacks
  • You can't use two-handed weapons as frost DPS if you want to stay competitive.
  • Slightly more complicated rotation due to multiple situational procs. Of course, if you prefer more complication, this may be a plus to you.
4. Stats to Look For

These stats are listed in order of general importance. You don't have to rigidly comply to this stat progression per se, but as you're looking at what's dropping, you should essentially check for these stats and prioritize your DKP spending or rolling choices accordingly.
  • Weapon speed and damage You want two slow, high-damage one-handers. This is because the high damage allows your weapon strikes to hit for more, thus raising your DPS. Let the rogues have the fast stuff; you need something that has high-end damage out the wazoo.
  • Hit The basic goal for frost, much like the other DPS specs, is to hit 8% hit in order to eliminate misses on special attacks in raids. Since Nerves of Cold Steel provides 3% melee hit for one-handers, you technically only need 5% hit to reach that goal, or 164 hit rating. You'll need up to 17% hit rating to make spells not miss, and 24% (with Nerves of Cold Steel) to completely knock off white damage misses. That said, it's generally agreed that that 8% mark is all you really need. Still, if you overshoot it by a little bit, don't sweat it. You're still getting benefits.
  • Expertise You need 26 expertise to get to the "dodge cap," where your weapon hits will no longer be dodged by the enemy. You'll want to cap this when you can. Luckily, you'll automatically get 5 expertise from Tundra Stalker, so you should only need 21 from gear and racials.
  • Strength This is the mainstay workhorse stat for DPS death knights. Once you have hit and expertise at the 8% and 26 caps, you can rarely go wrong stacking strength, as it provides attack power that boosts the damage on every attack you make, even the spell like ones. Endless Winter makes strength even more desirable.
  • Armor Penetration On single-target fights, you'll do a good chunk of your damage from Obliterate and white damage, making this a valuable stat. Strength's still the better all-around stat, though.
  • Critical Strike Rating This isn't quite as good as raw strength, but it can't hurt to have a bit of it anyway. Guile of Gorefiend means your critical strikes will generally hit pretty hard.
  • Haste This will probably get a whole lot more valuable in Cataclysm, but for now it basically just makes you swing faster. It's not worthless, but there's a lot more stats that you'd be better off pursuing.
5. Stats to avoid

Much like in our blood and unholy DPS guides, these stats here are not exactly worthless, but it is far, far better to get one of the above stats. If a stat isn't listed here, you can pretty much assume it's more or less worthless or superfluous for frost DPS.
  • Agility Agility will at least give you some melee critical strike, but you really want critical strike rating for that, especially since raw critical strike rating will also apply to spell-like stuff like Howling Blast. Leave the agility jewelry and capes to the rogues and hunters.
  • Attack power Sure, we do get some benefit from attack power. It does make us hit harder. But strength, again, gives you more bang for your buck, especially since strength can be directly buffed by Endless Winter. It's also worth noting that come Cataclysm, almost all items with attack power will have that attack power converted to agility. Again, leave the attack power jewelry and capes to the hunters and rogues
  • Stamina Stamina certainly isn't a bad stat; it keeps you alive. But chances are getting straight-up DPS gear will give you enough stamina to survive, at least at the raid and heroic dungeon levels. Let the stamina come to you, don't go to it.
6. Typical PvE talent build

This 3/53/15 build is a good starter grouping and raiding build for level 80s. It allows you to get most of the major group utility talents and toys from frost, gets some spell hit help and the ever-valuable Necrosis from unholy, and grabs Subversion from blood for the threat reduction.

It's worth it to note that you can play around with this build a little bit, depending on your needs. If you have no problem with threat, it will almost definitely be a solid DPS boost to take the points out of Subversion and stick them in Blood-Caked Blade, especially if you have a decent amount of armor penetration. If you find you have more than enough runic power to churn out all the Frost Strikes you need, you may want to take points out of Chill of the Grave and stick them in Black Ice for a nice DPS boost. You can also take a point out of Killing Machine to shore up one of the above "optional" talents if you wish.

7. Glyphs

For optimal major glyphing, you'll want to go for Glyph of Disease, Glyph of Frost Strike and Glyph of Obliterate. Current parsing suggests you'll be better served spending a blood rune on refreshing your diseases than using it for a blood strike, since it allows you another, more powerful Obliterate.

That said, if you're unable to keep your diseases refreshed consistently using Pestilence, you may with to drop Glyph of Disease for Glyph of Icy Touch. It's an overall DPS drop if you're performing at peak, but if you can't keep those diseases refreshed using Pestilence, Glyph of Disease is doing you no good.

Minor glyphing is for the most part inconsequential. I'd personally go for Glyph of Pestilence, Glyph of Horn of Winter and Glyph of Raise Dead, though. They provide the most consistent utility for your average DPSer.

8. PvE DPS rotations

Ice has a slightly more complicated "rotation" than the other trees just because you have to weave in procs from Killing Machine and Rime and will be using Pestilence to refresh your diseases, but you can still boil it down to a basic priority system, like so:

I. If Killing Machine procs, use Frost Strike
II. Make sure Frost Fever is up.
III. Make sure Blood Plague is up.
IV. Use Obliterate.
V. Use Blood Strike (if you have blood runes up and don't need one for Pestilence).
VI. Use Frost Strike.
VII. If Rime has procced, use Howling Blast.
VIII. If all your runes are down and you don't have the runic power for Frost Strike, use Horn of Winter for the extra runic power.

In AoE DPS situations, things switch up, of course:

I. If Killing Machine procs, use Howling Blast.
II. Keep Frost Fever and Blood Plague up and spread to all targets via Pestilence.
III. Use Death and Decay.
IV. Use Howling Blast. If it's on cool down, use Obliterate instead. If you're lucky, you'll even get a Rime proc. If you get a Rime proc, use Howling Blast.
V. Use Blood Boil.
VI. Use Frost Strike.

You will be wanting to use Blood Presence when DPSing at all times.

9. Gems

Much like blood and unholy, your gemming priority is pretty easy to figure: Fill pretty much every slot with Bold Cardinal Rubies. You can use Rigid King's Amber if you aren't hit-capped yet, but you're almost always going to get the most bang for your buck by gemming for strength. For your metagem, use the Relentless Earthsiege Diamond, and stick a Nightmare Tear into one of your gem slots to fulfill the blue gem requirement.

10. Enchantments

As always, these are just your basic enchantment choices and do not take into account any specialized profession enchants.

Welcome to Lichborne, the weekly class column on the newest WoW class, the death knight, where we discuss PUG etiquette and Emblem of Triumph gear for the death knight tank, 5-man Icecrown dungeon gear and basic death knight statistics and mechanics. You might also want to check all the other articles in our death knight category.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Death Knight, (Death Knight) Lichborne

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