Unholy Death Knight DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (WoD 6.1.2)

55 comments
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 6.1.2. 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 Mendenbarr, a prominent theorycrafter who maintains Death Knight guides on Elitist Jerks. He also works on Destiny Softworks, a blog for DPS Death Knights.

1. Single Target Rotation↑top

The single target Unholy Death Knight rotation uses the following very specific priority system:

  1. Use Plague Leech Icon Plague Leech
  2. Cast Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper
    • Only when the target is below 45% health.
  3. Cast Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap when you require a rune to use Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper.
  4. Keep your diseases up at all times (apply with Outbreak Icon Outbreak or Plague Strike Icon Plague Strike, and extend their duration through Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike).
  5. Cast Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike when both Blood or both Frost runes are available.
  6. Cast Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike when both Unholy runes are available.
  7. Cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation.
  8. CAst Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap if you have 11+ charges.
  9. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil if Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation is not up OR if you are at 81+ runic power.
  10. Spend your runes when you have or are about to have 2 of the same type available, as follows
  11. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil if you have a Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom proc.
  12. Cast Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap if you have 5+ charges.
  13. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil, unless Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation is about to come off cooldown.

This priority assumes that you are using Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap and Plague Leech Icon Plague Leech. If you are using Runic Corruption Icon Runic Corruption instead of Blood Tap, simply ignore the Blood Tap lines.

The priority does not take into account your Tier 7 talent, since each of these talents can change the priority significantly. We discuss these variants later on in the guide.

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.

  • Against 2 targets
  • Against 3+ targets, in addition to the other changes, replace Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike with two casts of Blood Boil Icon Blood Boil in the priority.

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.

The goal is that, once you have activated Breath of Sindragosa, you should keep it active for as long as possible. Doing this requires that you are able to generate as much Runic Power as possible while Breath of Sindragosa is active. This is done mostly through spending runes, but you should also make sure to use Anti-Magic Shell Icon Anti-Magic Shell in such a way as to absorb magic damage and generate more Runic Power each time you use Breath of Sindragosa. Finally, you should also activate Empower Rune Weapon Icon Empower Rune Weapon during Breath of Sindragosa (for the first cast in the fight, and for every third cast after that).

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 75% 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 don't 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.

5. Changelog↑top

  • 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.