- Author: Nevermore
- Date: July 16, 2022
- Expansion: WotLK Classic
In Wrath of the Lich King, Death Knights are available for every race, without restrictions.
As with most of the classes, when it comes to performance, each faction has one or two races that are vastly superior to the others because of their racial effects.
Orc is the strongest race from Horde for an Unholy Death Knight. This is mainly due to two of their strong racial effects: Command, which improves their pet damage, and Blood Fury, which can be used to severely enhance their burst capabilities. They also have Axe Specialization, which is extremely powerful, considering that the best weapon you can acquire in the expansion is an axe — the Shadowmourne.
Orcs are often considered the best available race for Unholy Death Knights, providing several strong effects that enhance their tool kit. That’s not all that surprising: after all, they are seen as one of the predominant races for the Horde.
- Axe Specialization increases your expertise by 5 when using axes or fist weapons. There are a lot of very powerful axes out there, including Shadowmourne, the strongest two-handed weapon in the game. Thus, this racial is extremely powerful.
- Blood Fury is an on-use spell that increases your Attack Power and scales with your level. At level 80 it will provide +322 attack power for 15 seconds on a 2-minute cooldown. The fact that this is an on-use ability has big implications for burst phases / stacking your cooldowns.
- Hardiness provides you with resistance to crowd control effects, which is better suited for PvP scenarios, but it can also help you during certain PvE encounters.
- Command is a very powerful racial that enhances both your gargoyle and your ghoul. This bonus alone can become a clear difference between an Orc Death Knight and a Death Knight of another race.
Trolls are an interesting choice for Unholy Death Knights. This race comes with two strong racial effects which get them the second spot for PvE performance in the Horde.
- Berserking is an on-use spell that offers +20% increased attack speed for 10 seconds on a 3-minute cooldown. The fact that this is an on-use ability has big implications for burst phases / stacking your cooldowns.
- Beast Slaying increases your damage dealt to Beast type enemies by 5%, which is very powerful in theory. Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of Beasts in Wrath of the Lich King, specially inside raids, making this racial not too impressive in practice.
- Da Voodoo Shuffle passively reduces the duration of movement-slowing & immobilizing effects on you by 15%. Generally, this is mostly a PvP racial, but it can occasionally come in handy in PvE as well.
- Bow Specialization and Throwing Specialization increase your critical strike chance with bows & throwing weapons by 1%. Sadly, Death Knight does not benefit from this racial effect.
- Regeneration increases health regeneration by 10% and allows you to regenerate health during combat at 10% of the your normal regeneration rate. While this racial is mostly only relevant while leveling or questing, it can have situational uses in end-game content as well when it comes to increasing overall survivability.
Taurens provide a mediocre choice, at best, when it comes to Unholy Death Knight, with bonuses that are better suited for a Blood Death Knight. Still, the bonuses can prove to be useful in certain situations, considering that they increase your overall survivability.
- Endurance increases base health by 5% — meaning, your natural health at level 80, without your extra health or stamina from the equipment, buffs, etc. This can help you survive slightly better than other Death Knight races, but is generally not very noticeable.
- War Stomp gives you an on-use AoE stun with a 2-minute cooldown. While it’s mostly useful in PvP situations, it can also be used to provide a quick crowd control effect to aid your tank or your healer. However, it’s generally not too useful.
- Nature Resistance reduces the chance you will be hit by Nature spells by 2%. This is a mostly negligible racial for PvE.
- Cultivation increases your initial Herbalism skill by 15. This doesn’t have a gameplay impact besides minor convenience.
Undead provides racial effects that are more suited for PvP content, thus making them a weak choice for PvE. You still could choose this race for their aesthetics, despite their weaker PvE performance.
- Will of the Forsaken removes charm, fear, and sleep effects. This will be the most beneficial racial for PvE, as it will help mitigate certain raid mechanics.
- Cannibalize allows you to feast on the corpses of your slain enemies to restore your health. This does not have big implications for PvE, but does come in handy when doing solo content.
- Shadow Resistance reduces the chance you will be hit by Shadow spells by 2%. This is a mostly negligible racial for PvE.
- Underwater Breathing helps you survive for a very long time underwater.
Blood Elves are the worst choice for an Unholy Death Knight, having weak racial effects for PvE content, and being much more of an aesthetic choice.
- Arcane Torrent is a racial effect that provides an instant AoE silence, while also giving you 15 runic power. This racial effect can be considered rather weak, having a 2-minute cooldown and only providing 15 runic power that can be used to, effectively, summon your gargoyle faster.
- Magical Resistance reduces the chance to be hit by spells by 2%. This racial effect, while useful in definition, does not provide a considerable gameplay bonus when in raids.
- Arcane Affinity increases your initial Enchanting skill by 10. This does not have any significant gameplay implications, only providing an initial minor bonus.
Human is seen as the strongest option for Alliance Unholy Death Knights, mainly because of their Every Man for Himself racial effect, which allows them to remove any form of crowd control. They also have other strong racials that enhance their performance, such as the Sword Specialization & Mace Specialization, which increase their expertise by 3, and Diplomacy, which allows them to grind reputation way easier.
Humans are probably the strongest choice for the Alliance when it comes to playing the Unholy Death Knight, coming with several strong racials that can help you go a long way when it comes to PvE performance.
- Sword Specialization & Mace Specialization increase your expertise by 3 when using swords or maces, respectively. This is lower than the +5 expertise that other races get with equivalent racials, but you have more versatility in picking different weapon types, while other races are generally forced into 1 specific weapon type.
- Every Man for Himself is a crowd-control removal ability, just like the one that the Undead race has, but this one has universal applicability. It is useful in PvE scenarios, but has much more use in PvP encounters, for which Humans are typically considered the strongest race in the game.
- Perception passively increases your stealth detection level by a small amount. Since there aren’t a lot of stealthed mobs in PvE, this benefit is not exceptionally useful.
- Diplomacy increases the rate at which you gain reputation by 10%, a major boost for your reputation grind. Whilst a beneficial quality-of-life racial, it doesn’t impact actual gameplay.
- The Human Spirit increases your spirit by 3%. This is, unfortunately, nearly useless for Death Knights.
Draenei can be considered the second strongest choice when playing an Unholy Death Knight, coming with two strong racial effects that can improve PvE performance. Apart from those two, many people mostly choose Draenei for their aesthetics.
- Heroic Presence increases the chance to hit with spells and physical attacks by 1% for you and all your party members within 30 yards. Every single DPS group will want to have at least 1 Draenei for this powerful buff.
- Gift of the Naaru places a heal-over-time effect on a single target that lasts 15 seconds, with a 3-minute cooldown. This can help save your life occasionally, and may even come in clutch with healing the tank during a high-damage period. However, it’s generally not that great of a racial for Death Knights.
- Shadow Resistance reduces the chance you will be hit by Shadow spells by 2%. This is a mostly negligible racial for PvE.
- Gemcutting increases your initial Jewelcrafting skill by 5. This doesn’t have a gameplay impact besides minor convenience.
Dwarves can be considered on the mediocre side of the performance chart for PvE content for an Unholy Death Knight, bringing only two notable racial effects: Mace Specialization and Stoneform.
- Mace Specialization increases your expertise by 5 when using maces. Most of the strongest weapons available to you tend to be axes and swords, making this racial better on paper than in practice. Regardless — it’s incredibly powerful if you’re using maces.
- Stoneform is an on-use spell that gives you +10% increased armor for 8 seconds on a 2-minute cooldown. For most classes and specs, this would be a purely tanking-focused boost, but, if we take into consideration the Unholy Blood Variant, we also gain a little bit of extra Attack Power from this racial thanks to the Bladed Armor talent.
- Gun Specialization increases your critical strike chance with guns by 1%. This racial effect is entirely useless for a Death Knight.
- Frost Resistance reduces the chance you will be hit by Frost spells by 2%. This is a mostly negligible racial for PvE.
- Find Treasure is a very cool racial from a roleplay point of view, allowing you to see treasure on the minimap. This is very fun to use while questing and leveling up but, unfortunately, has 0 relevance in raids.
Night Elves come with completely mediocre racial effects for the Death Knight class in PvE scenarios, having only one strong racial effect that can be situationally helpful.
- Quickness reduces the chance you’ll be hit by melee and ranged attacks by 2%. While this talent is way better suited for tank-focused Warriors, it also happens to be the only PvE-relevant racial you get as a night elf, occasionally causing attacks to miss you, which is… something?
- Nature Resistance reduces the chance you will be hit by Nature spells by 2%. This is mostly a negligible racial when it comes to PvE.
- Shadowmeld can be used to escape combat and become stealthed once every 2 minutes. It will also make you drop all threat on every target you’re currently engaged in combat with, but all of the threat will be restored the moment you leave stealth (which will happen the moment you move or take any action). Simply put, this racial has high applicability in PvP, but it also has high applicability in the early stages of PvE, especially dungeons, in case you pull a group of mobs or steal aggro from a tank by mistake.
- Elusiveness reduces the chance to be detected if you are stealthed. However, the only way to go into stealth as a Death Knight is through Shadowmeld, making this racial irrelevant in PvE content.
- Wisp Spirit increases your movement speed by 75% while dead. You generally don’t want to be dead.
Gnomes are by far the weakest race out of the Alliance roster for a Death Knight, having weak racial effects overall, that do not have any sort of advantage in PvE scenarios.
- Escape Artist instantly removes all movement-slowing and immobilizing effects on a 1-minute cooldown. While this can occasionally be useful in PvE, it’s generally better in PvP (where Humans are far better anyway), so this is overall not amazing.
- Engineering Specialization increases your initial Engineering skill by 15. This is slightly more useful than other profession-boosting racials, as Engineering has guardian-type summoned pets which scale with your Engineering skill. This racial makes your summoned pets level 83, which makes them a decent bit stronger, but as there aren’t many useful guardians, this racial isn’t really ground-breaking.
- Arcane Resistance reduces the chance you will be hit by Arcane spells by 2%. This is mostly a negligible racial for PvE.
- Expansive Mind increases your total Intellect by 5%. Death Knights do not benefit from intellect at all, rendering this racial effect entirely useless!