Build Shop: 51/0/20 "Disease-free" Build

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Warning: the info in this post was posted prior to patch 3.1, and as such, while there may be some relevant information in it, large parts of it may be outdated or irrelevant. You have been warned.

bloodknight I have to admit, when I first heard about the 51/0/20 “Disease-free” death knight build, I was extremely skeptical. I’d been running largely with a decently stereotypical two-hander 17/0/54 build, and a few things bothered me about this setup.

  1. I don’t like doing pet management with the Death Knight. While it’s unavoidable to an extent as a warlock, for some reason having to manage the ghoul just grated on my nerves. As a result, I had attempted to shortcut around it via macros and accidentally pulled early before with the ghoul. Never resulted in a wipe, but did result in a bit of chaos sometimes.

  2. There’s a lot of fiddling with this build to keep things up and running. Bone Shield has to stay up as often as possible. Unholy Blight has to stay up as often as possible. Frost Fever, Blood Plague, and Ebon Plague have to stay up as often as possible. Playing an Unholy-spec Death Knight sometimes feels an awful lot like playing an Affliction-spec warlock with heavy armor and a weapon you actually use. This means that on movement-heavy fights, like for example Grobbulus, I was doing about 1/4 of my normal DPS - diseases would fall off, the boss was out of range of unholy blight, and so on.

  3. No matter what gear I attempted to get, I never got about 3.0k, maybe 3.1k DPS, except on fights where movement was non-existent - like Patchwerk. However, I couldn’t crack that 4.0k ceiling.

The Search for Spock A New Build

So for a while, I basically gave a lot of things the ol’ college try, which meant a lot of experimenting with strange new experiences and waking up with no pants and no money. (Seriously, those respec costs hurt now, as does reglyphing every time.) I even tried dual-wielding, an experience I’m not particularly proud of (but which I would try again, provided I could get two Naxx-level one-handers - two reputation one-handers just can’t stack up to my Cryptfiend’s Bite).

The Build and Glyphs

And then, while dredging the depths of Elitist Jerks’ forums, I ran across word of a 51/0/20 disease-free build. This was a unique beast: unlike most death knight builds, it didn’t rely on any disease uptime at all, because it didn’t apply diseases. You heard me: no diseases. And, on top of that, it’s based on Blood, which was my first love and will always be my true favorite (I’m waiting for the day it’s even remotely viable for tanking). So, I gave it a try. I put the points in, I applied the glyphs, and I came out disease-free and looking a bit like this.

(EDIT: sorry to replace this with a pic, but MMO Champion updated their talent calculator to match the 3.1 build and therefore the previous link was totally broken. The post-3.1 diseasefree build will probably look a bit more like this 51/1/19 build)


Glyphs for this build: Glyph of Blood Strike, Glyph of the Ghoul, Glyph of Obliterate.

Caveat Sanguinator

First, a few up-front notes about things that look initially weird:

  1. Vampiric Blood instead of Rune Tap. The reason for this is simple: this build doesn’t have enough points to move around to take 3/3 Improved Rune Tap, at which point the skill becomes valuable. As it is, Vampiric Blood is largely an “oh shit” button, and I’ve been known to pop it just before or just after Hysteria. (The fun part about raiding, though, is that the health loss from Hysteria is rarely ever a problem except in fights where there’s massive raid damage, such as Loatheb.)

  2. Glyph of Raise Dead. This glyph is a little buggy for some people. Most notably, despite having the Glyph, Raise Dead will complain that it needs Corpse Dust - and if you get Corpse Dust, it will continue to complain that it needs Corpse Dust. If this happens to you, feel free to remove it. I haven’t had this issue yet. /knock wood

  3. Glyph of Blood Strike. Two points about this one.

    • First, it works on Heart Strike. I’ve tested it, lots of people have tested it, it’s verifiable - apparently anything that applies to Blood Strike also applies to Heart Strike, and the Glyph is no exception. This means that on any target that’s snared, my Heart Strikes do 20% more damage - and as you’ll see when I talk about the rotation, I do a lot of Heart Strikes.
* Secondly, there are a _lot_ of things that count as a snare. While you're solo, you may not see the extra damage pop up, and that's fine - honestly, you should be blowing through mobs so fast that it won't matter. However, this is a raid build, and when you're raiding, there are a lot of things that count as snares that don't necessarily snare a boss. The [Frostfire Bolt]( debuff jumps out at me as one obvious one; [Slow]( is another. (I loves my mages.) I believe Thunderclap counts as another, if you're running with warriors. Basically, unless your raid has a really strange setup where no snare-like effects are on the boss at all (which could happen fairly often in 10 man situations, I suppose), you'll see a lot of benefit from this one. I do - as it happens, Heart Strike is my #2 source of damage, right behind melee. 
  1. 3/3 Virulence. I don’t really like it, but the other option in that level isn’t even worth it. Basically this is 3% more chance for Death Coils to not miss.

There’s also a few things you should know, if you want to optimize your DPS in this build.

  1. Your gear has to be pretty good to pull this off. There, I said it. You need to be hit-capped for special abilities (8%), you need to have a lot of Strength attack power, you need a good helping of crit rating. You could try this in heroics, or in early raiding, but I don’t know how much it’d help you. (That said, if one of my Blood-happy readers who’s just getting into the heroics would like to try it out and get back to me, please do so.)

  2. Sunder Armor is extremely beneficial to this build. All your damage, outside of Death Coil, is physical - you do it, your ghoul does it, your Dancing Rune Weapon does it. If you’ve got a warrior tank who’s slacking on the Devastates in favor of Shield Slam (as a lot of them are nowadays), ask him nicely if he’d throw a couple more in his rotation for you. I did, and I immediately saw the benefits. If you’ve got Fury or Arms Warriors, they may already be applying Sunders, so do a little research. This’s all about synergy.

  3. Be sure and utilize the ghoul, and be sure and do so when your Strength buffs (especially from Rune of the Fallen Crusader) are up. The ghoul lasts for a decent length of time even without him being a standard Unholy ghoul, so use him on bosses or any other time you need to boost DPS.

  4. Fire your Sudden Doom procs whenever you can. Remember, there’s a lot of Heart Strikes in this build, so you’ll see a lot of Sudden Dooms. Death Coil is almost always my #3 or #4 source of damage. And when you get them, your Dancing Rune Weapon gets them too, so be sure and use it then. Double RP-free auto-crit Death Coil? Yes, please!

  5. For movement heavy fights where you need to switch to Unholy Presence in order to keep moving (Heigan and Grobbulus come to mind), you should not see a drop in DPS. Period. You may have a couple seconds of dead time in which you’re not doing anything but auto-attacking, but even with the decrease in global cooldown, you shouldn’t see a ton of them. This is important, because in a lot of builds, running in Unholy Presence is pretty much just a way to embarrass yourself, and Blood Presence is recommended at all times. 51/0/20 seems to cope just fine with both. That said, I’d still stay in Blood Presence when at all possible.

  6. If given a choice between Haste and Armor Penetration on a piece of armor, go with Armor Penetration. All things being equal, this build will see a lot of benefit from Armor Penetration. It’s still inferior to just having Sunders, but it’s better than Haste in most cases; see point #1.

  7. This is one of the builds that benefits most from having Hysteria cast on itself. Feel free to toss it on you instead of a Warrior or Rogue buddy and watch yourself start hitting like a truck. Well, a bigger truck.


Puff Puff Then Pass, Don’t F@#$ Up Rotation

Alright, I’ve been talking for the entire post about the rotation. Are you ready for this? This is seriously the most forgiving rotation you’ll see in a Death Knight build, simply because of the removal of diseases as a requirement for doing damage.

Key: OB = Obliterate, HS = Heart Strike, RP = Runic Power dump (usually Death Coil, but also Dancing Rune Weapon once you’re at 100 RP)

OB > OB > HS > HS > RP
HS > HS > HS > HS > HS > HS > RP

That’s it. Seriously. That’s it. It’s the “Burning Crusade-era BM hunter” of Death Knight specs (ha ha, I kid BM hunters… but only a little). Stop to throw Death Coils whenever you get a Sudden Death proc, be sure and utilize your ghoul and Dancing Rune Weapon when you can, but otherwise… yeah. That’s it. Just thwack the enemy good.

It’s forgiving, it’s easy, and you’ll do a lot of damage. What’s not to love?


Holy shit.

I cannot state how dramatically my DPS jumped as a result of this build. Even in my gear, which still has a few weak points (like still being way overcapped on Hit and lacking in crit), I see some pretty dramatic DPS - like finally breaking that 4k DPS ceiling with ease, on pretty much every boss (unless something dumb happens like getting knocked down on Sartharion while trying to avoid a lava wave, eating the lava wave, getting turned around, and accidentally walking into the frontal cleave - not that that’s ever happened to me cough).

My only regret is that I no longer provide the synergy back to the raid that I used to in some cases - Ebon Plague was a help to all our casters. But I guess if you want to look at it another way, I’m now providing a benefit to all our melee instead in the form of Abomination’s Might.

And, in a less tangible benefit, this has gotten me talking to some of my raid-mates who I simply worked alongside before. My Death Knight hero (who I look up to for advice and gear and whatnot) and I switched specs at almost exactly the same time - both of us away from 17/0/54, him to a heavy-Frost burst-damage build, me to this build, and now we have a constant friendly rivalry for top DPS (and an ongoing dialogue too). I’ve had conversations with Mages I never really spoke to, got in touch with our Warriors - basically this build has made me feel like more of a component of a bigger machine, instead of just someone who deals damage. That’s a good feeling, ya know?

And, oh yeah - I hit like a truck. Can’t forget that. A heavily armed truck. A heavily armored and armed truck with spears on the front, that shoots sharks and lasers and yells “WELCOME TO THUNDERDOME!”


I love it. If you’re experiencing some build stagnation, or just want to try something new, go for it. Tell ‘em Queklain sent you.


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