Unholy Death Knight DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (WoD 6.0.3)

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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 6.0.3. 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.

6.0.2 Transition Guide

If you want to read all about the Patch 6.0.2 changes and learn how they affect your character, make sure to read our Death Knight Transition Guide!

1. Single Target Rotation↑top

The single target Unholy Death Knight rotation follows a priority system that can best be summarised like this:

  1. Cast Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper
    • Only when the target is below 45% health.
  2. Cast Defile Icon Defile.
  3. Keep your diseases (Frost Fever Icon Frost Fever and Blood Plague Icon Blood Plague) up at all times (apply with Outbreak Icon Outbreak or Plague Strike Icon Plague Strike, and extend their duration throughFestering Strike Icon Festering Strike).
  4. Cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation.
  5. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil if Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation is not up.
  6. Use your Death and Unholy runes on Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike.
  7. Use your Blood and Frost runes on Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike.
  8. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil if
    • You are at or about to be at maximum runic power (90 or more) OR
    • You have a Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom proc.

1.1. Presence

You should always be in Unholy Presence Icon Unholy Presence.

2. Multiple Target Rotation↑top

The multiple target (AoE) rotation can be summarised as follows:

  1. Apply your DoTs to one target. They will be spread to all others passively as you use Blood Boil Icon Blood Boil.
  2. Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike prior to starting your AoE rotation to convert Frost runes to Death runes. If you need to do this during your AoE rotation (because it came about unexpectedly, for instance), use Icy Touch Icon Icy Touch instead.
  3. Use all your Death runes to spam Blood Boil Icon Blood Boil.
  4. Use your Unholy runes to cast Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay (or Defile Icon Defile, if you have taken this talent) on cooldown and Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike.
  5. Use your runic power on Death Coil Icon Death Coil.

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. As it has a 10-minute cooldown, it can usually only be used once per fight.

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 never drop off. At the start of the fight, as well as any other time that they may 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. As soon as you have consumed the diseases (and gained the Death rune), you should use Outbreak to re-apply them.

4.3. 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.

4.4. 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.

4.5. 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.