Unholy Death Knight DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (WoD 6.2)

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Unholy Death Knight Art Image
General Information

On this page, we list your Unholy Death Knight core abilities and how they should be used together (rotation) in World of Warcraft WoD 6.2. We also explain when to use your various cooldowns. Then, we go deeper and present all the subtleties that you will need to know if you want to excel at playing an Unholy Death Knight.

The other pages of our Unholy Death Knight guide can be accessed from the table of contents on the right.

About Our Reviewer

This guide has been reviewed and approved by Skullflower, a main raider in Midwinter and who is obsessed with Death Knights. He owns/operates SummonStone. Skullflower has been soul reaping since Wrath of the Lich King launched, and began playing the game in early 2005.

1. Single Target Rotation↑top

The single target Unholy Death Knight rotation differs depending on your Tier 1 and 7 talent choices. Breath of Sindragosa Icon Breath of Sindragosa and Defile Icon Defile should be used with Plague Leech Icon Plague Leech, whereas Necrotic Plague Icon Necrotic Plague should be used with Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight. The rotation follows a very specific priority system, with notes on situational talent and ability usage.

  1. Cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation when you have 5 stacks of Shadow Infusion Icon Shadow Infusion.
  2. Cast Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight
    • When Necrotic Plague Icon Necrotic Plague is not ticking on the target AND/OR
    • When Necrotic Plague is below 15 stacks.
  3. Cast Breath of Sindragosa Icon Breath of Sindragosa (see below for details)
    • when you have over 75 Runic Power AND
    • your first set of runes are available.
  4. Cast Plague Leech Icon Plague Leech
    • only when you have 2 runes fully depleted AND
    • Outbreak Icon Outbreak is within 1 second of coming off cooldown OR
    • your diseases are about to expire.
  5. Cast Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper (use Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap if a rune is needed)
    • Only when the target is below 45% health.
  6. Cast Defile Icon Defile, if you have taken this talent (use Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap if you need a rune).
  7. Maintain your disease(s) (Frost Fever Icon Frost Fever and Blood Plague Icon Blood Plague, or Necrotic Plague Icon Necrotic Plague) up at all times.
    • Apply disease(s) with Outbreak Icon Outbreak or Plague Strike Icon Plague Strike. Using Outbreak while stacking Necrotic Plague with Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight will add another stack. This should be done when you are below 15 stacks and you have an available global cooldown to cast it.
  8. Cast Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike
    • to extend the duration of Necrotic Plague Icon Necrotic Plague OR
    • if you have two Blood or two Frost runes available.
  9. Cast Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike, when you have an Unholy or a Death rune available.
  10. Cast Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap when you have 10 or more Blood Charges.
  11. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil

When using Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike to refresh Necrotic Plague Icon Necrotic Plague, the duration of Necrotic Plague should either match or exceed the remaining cooldown duration on Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight. Maximising the uptime of 15 stacks of Necrotic Plague is crucial for dealing damage with the Necroblight playstyle.

This rotation works best while using the Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap talent. Managing Blood Tap is a simple matter of making sure to use your charges before they cap (at 12). The easiest way of doing this is to use your charges while runes are recharging as Blood and Frost, or by triggering Unholy (Death) runes to avoid rune desynching (explained below).

1.1. Presence

You should always be in Unholy Presence Icon Unholy Presence.

2. Multiple Target Rotation↑top

The multiple target (AoE) rotation is based closely on the single target priority listed above, with the following notable changes depending on the amount of targets in cleave range.

  • Against 2+ targets
    • While using Defile Icon Defile or Breath of Sindragosa Icon Breath of Sindragosa
      • Use Blood Boil Icon Blood Boil once every 30 seconds, if the targets will live for the majority if your diseases' duration.
      • Use Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay on cooldown, placing it above Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike in the aforementioned priority.
    • While using Necrotic Plague Icon Necrotic Plague
      • This naturally jumps to targets within range each time that it ticks for damage. If there are a large amount of enemies, Blood Boil Icon Blood Boil can be used to instantly spread the plague to every target within range. Keep in mind that Blood Boil will prioritise spreading the longest duration Necrotic Plague that is active on any target within range.
      • As with single target, the priority with Necroticblight AoE is to also maintain a 15 stack plague until Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight's cooldown is up. Weave in Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike in between your Blood Boils as necessary to extend the duration enough to match or exceed Unholy Blight's cooldown.
  • Against 4+ targets

2.1. Presence

You should always be in Unholy Presence Icon Unholy Presence.

3. Cooldown Usage↑top

As an Unholy Death Knight, you have a total of 3 DPS cooldowns. Below, we explain how they are best used.

3.1. Summon Gargoyle

Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle is a very powerful cooldown that is free of cost. You generally want to use it whenever it is available, but you can save it for a period when you need to do extra damage. The gargoyle scales with spell haste, and using it together with Heroism Icon Heroism/Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust/Time Warp Icon Time Warp allows the gargoyle to get a few extra casts off, increasing its damage slightly.

3.2. Empower Rune Weapon

Empower Rune Weapon Icon Empower Rune Weapon refreshes all of your runes and grants you 25 runic power. It has a 5-minute cooldown and, as such, it can realistically be used only twice per fight.

Empower Rune Weapon should be used when all of your runes are on cooldown and you have low runic power. It is useful in providing a large burst of DPS, so keep that in mind when deciding when to use it.

3.3. Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead summons a number of ghouls to fight at your side for a short while. It has a high rune cost, so it is only worth using before the pull, as long as your runes have a chance to regenerate at least 50% before you engage the boss.

4. Optional Read: Mastering Your Unholy Death Knight↑top

The above-mentioned priorities (and the resulting rotation) may appear complex and confusing. To alleviate this, we will explain, among other things, the rotation in a bit more detail.

4.1. Dark Simulacrum

Dark Simulacrum Icon Dark Simulacrum is a very special ability. It places a debuff on the target, which causes you to mimic their next spell cast that costs Mana to use. This grants you the ability (it will replace Dark Simulacrum on your bars) for a short amount of time. Using this mimicked ability can be very beneficial (even exploitative) on some encounters.

Note that Dark Simulacrum does not work, most times, in PvE.

4.2. Diseases

Thanks to Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike prolonging the duration of your diseases, they should only drop off very rarely. In case your diseases to drop off, you should simply re-apply them with Outbreak Icon Outbreak. In case Outbreak is also unavailable, Plague Strike Icon Plague Strike will apply both diseases.

If you have chosen Plague Leech Icon Plague Leech as your tier 1 talent, then you should use this ability to consume your diseases every time Outbreak Icon Outbreak is available, or whenever the diseases are about to expire on their own. Then, you should re-apply them.

4.3. Necroblight

Necroblight is a playstyle that involves using both the Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight (Tier 1) and Necrotic Plague Icon Necrotic Plague (Tier 7) talents. These two talents synergise very well, leading to a playstyle that has excellent results in AoE and cleaving situations. The playstyle also affects the single target priority and playstyle.

Instead of normal disease management, your goal becomes to maintain 15 stacks of Necrotic Plague Icon Necrotic Plague for as long as possible. Each time the effect gains a new stack (through the use of abilities that normally apply your diseases), it jumps to a nearby enemy. Moreover, Necrotic Plague can be spread to all nearby enemies with Blood Boil Icon Blood Boil.

To make ideal use of Necroblight, you should start by using Unholy Blight, which will result in a 10-stack Necrotic Plague, and then extending this Necrotic Plague long enough for Unholy Blight to come off cooldown once again. To extend Necrotic Plague, you should use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike and Outbreak Icon Outbreak (in other words, you should use them as needed, violating the single target priority we listed at the start of this page).

4.4. Breath of Sindragosa Playstyle

Breath of Sindragosa Icon Breath of Sindragosa has a 2-minute cooldown and it requires ample preparation to use correctly. Before you activate it, you should have saved up between 80 and 100 Runic Power, as well as 3 available runes.

While Breath of Sindragosa Icon Breath of Sindragosa is active, you should follow a strict and unique priority system to optimise the damage and duration of this talent, as follows.

  1. When Breath of Sindragosa Begins ticking
    1. cast racial abilities like Blood Fury Icon Blood Fury or Berserking Icon Berserking;
    2. cast on-use trinkets;
    3. consume a Strength potion;
  2. Cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation when Shadow Infusion Icon Shadow Infusion reaches 5 stacks.
  3. If a spell damage ability can be absorbed, cast Anti-Magic Shell Icon Anti-Magic Shell to generate Runic Power.
  4. Cast Plague Strike Icon Plague Strike or Outbreak Icon Outbreak if diseases are not ticking on the target.
  5. Cast Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike on Blood and Frost runes while you have less than 80 Runic Power.
  6. Cast Arcane Torrent Icon Arcane Torrent if you are a Blood Elf and you have less than 70 Runic Power.
  7. Cast Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike on Death and Unholy runes if you have less than 88 Runic Power.
  8. Cast Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap if you have 5 or more Blood Charges.
  9. Cast Plague Leech Icon Plague Leech if 2 runes are fully depleted.
  10. Cast Empower Rune Weapon Icon Empower Rune Weapon if you have less than 60 Runic Power.
  11. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil when you have a Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom proc.

Ideally, you should begin saving resources for Breath of Sindragosa about 10-15 seconds before it becomes available.

4.5. Dark Transformation and Death Coil

Each time you cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil, you stack a buff on your ghoul that increases its damage done by 10% per stack, for 30 seconds. When the buff reaches 5 stacks, you can cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation, which consumes the stacks and significantly buffs your ghoul for 30 seconds.

To put it simply, you should use Dark Transformation on cooldown. Maximising the amount of time that your ghoul is transformed is an important part of your playstyle.

Note that your ghoul cannot gain any stacks of the buff while he is transformed, meaning that you should attempt to save your runic power and use a series of Death Coils as soon as his transformation ends. This does not apply if you have the 4-Part Tier 16 Set Bonus, which causes your Death Coils to increase the duration of Dark Transformation by 2 seconds.

Sometimes, you will get free Death Coil procs from Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom. In this case, you should use the free Death Coil regardless of the state of your ghoul's transformation, since it may otherwise be wasted by a new proc.

4.6. Soul Reaper

Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper can be cast at any time during the fight (provided that you have the necessary rune), and it works much like a DoT that has a single tick. Specifically, Soul Reaper instantly applies a debuff to the target, that lasts for 5 seconds, and at the end of this duration, it will tick once.

Soul Reaper will only tick if the target is at or below 45% health at the moment when the tick takes place. If the target has more than 45% health, the tick will do no damage, and the entire Soul Reaper will essentially have no effect whatsoever, other than using up the respective rune.

So, even though in our priority we mention including Soul Reaper in your rotation when the target is at or below 45% health, in reality, you can start using Soul Reaper slightly sooner than that, provided that the target will be at 45% health or less at the time that the 5-second debuff expires.

4.7. Anti-Magic Shell Usage

Anti-Magic Shell Icon Anti-Magic Shell absorbs 100% of all damage taken for 5 seconds, and grants you runic power based on the amount of damage that it absorbs.

While this ability has amazing survivability benefits, allowing you to often taken practically no damage from various raid-damaging mechanics, it also has great benefits for your DPS.

Indeed, the amount of runic power you gain if you absorb a lot of magic damage is far from negligible.

Therefore, you should always try to make use of Anti-Magic Shell to boost your runic power generation throughout the fight. The best way to do it is to know when a raid-damaging attack is coming, and to have Anti Magic Shell up for that time. Then, simply enjoy the extra runic power (and do not forget to spend it).

That said, make sure that your Anti-Magic Shell is not needed for something much more important to your own survival, before using it just to get more runic power.

Finally, while you can use Anti-Magic Shell to purposefully stand in void zones, you should be very careful when doing this.

4.8. Blood Tap and Rune Desync

One of the main benefits of Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap is that the rune it generates is always a Death rune. Death runes are inherently more valuable because they can always be the best rune for the given situation and because of the flexibility they provide. However, this interferes with Unholy's Reaping Icon Reaping passive. When a Frost rune that is currently recharging in Death status is activated with Blood Tap, that rune will refresh into a non-Death status when it gets used up.

So, instead of the 2 Frost (Death) runes that you would have had if you had waited for the rune to naturally recharge, you instead have 2 Death and 1 Frost runes after the rune recharges, meaning the net gain of the Blood Tap was a Frost rune.

Additionally, if you have not also generated a Blood rune with Blood Tap, you will have a spare Frost rune which cannot be paired with a Blood rune until you generate the same problem with your Blood runes. This means that Blood Tap can effectively generate 1 normal rune, and convert one other Death rune to normal, as you pair the orphan Frost with a Death that could have been otherwise used on Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike.

The only way to avoid this is to hold your Blood Charges and only use them while pairs of Blood/Frost runes are recharging in a non-death state. Alternatively, you can try generating an Unholy (Death) rune, as that rune can always be used on Scourge Strike, regardless of its Death status. If managed properly, the rune desync is trivial, however, this can be quite difficult to achieve due to the added micromanagement and potential for over capping Blood Charges.

Overall, you can use either Blood Tap or Runic Corruption Icon Runic Corruption, but we recommend learning to use Blood Tap. If you are likely to cap Blood Charges, Runic Corruption is the better choice. If you are using a macro to Blood Tap, Runic Corruption is the better choice as manual control of the talent is required to optimally use it.

5. Changelog↑top

  • 22 Jun. 2015: Improved the single and multiple target rotations, and added a section about rune desync.
  • 27 May 2015: Improved the single target and multiple target rotations, and added sections for the Necroblight and Breath of Sindragosa playstyles.
  • 09 Dec. 2014: Improved the single target rotation.
  • 07 Dec. 2014: Made a tiny update regarding the optimal use for Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead.