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Unholy Death Knight DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (Legion 7.0.3)

Last updated on Aug 29, 2016 at 13:37 by Vlad 211 comments

Table of Contents

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 Legion 7.0.3. 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 Tegu, one of the best DPS Death Knights in the world, who raids in Serenity. You can follow him on Twitter, and you can watch his stream on Twitch.

1. Single Target Rotation

The single target Unholy Death Knight rotation differs depending on your talent choices. In this section, we will cover two different rotations to account for the Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter and Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper tier 7 talents.

1.1. Dark Arbiter

  1. Maintain Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague on the target, using Outbreak Icon Outbreak to refresh it when it is about to expire.
  2. Cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation.
  3. Cast Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter.
    • Only use Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter when you are at or close to the maximum amount of Runic Power.
    • While Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter is active, spend as much Runic Power as possible by spamming Death Coil Icon Death Coil.
  4. Cast Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike.
    • This applies 2-4 stacks of the Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound debuff (up to 6 if you have taken the Castigator Icon Castigator talent), which caps at 8 stacks. Do not use Festering Strike if you are at maximum stacks, and ideally avoid wasting any potential stacks unless  Icon Apocalypse is available or will be available shortly (so try not to cast it when you have 5 or more stacks).
  5. Cast  Icon Apocalypse.
    • Ideally, you want to use  Icon Apocalypse when you have 8 stacks of Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound. It is also acceptable to use it with 7 stacks, but not with any fewer.
  6. Cast Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike (or Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows, if you have taken this talent).
  7. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil and avoid capping Runic Power.
    • If you are using the Shadow Infusion Icon Shadow Infusion talent, you should pool some resources so once Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation expires, you can cast back to back Death Coils and reduce the cooldown of Dark Transformation.

If you get a proc of the  Icon Scourge of Worlds trait, you should prioritise Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike over anything else as long as you are not going to cap your Runic Power and you have Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds up.

If you have the Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads Icon Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads legendary item, Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation should be used once your pets are active, so after you use Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter or  Icon Apocalypse, so that they can benefit from the buff.

1.2. Soul Reaper

  1. Maintain Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague on the target, using Outbreak Icon Outbreak to refresh it when it is about to expire.
  2. Cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation.
  3. Cast Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike.
    • This applies 2-4 stacks of the Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound debuff (up to 6 if you have taken the Castigator Icon Castigator talent), which caps at 8 stacks. Do not use Festering Strike if you are at maximum stacks, and ideally avoid wasting any potential stacks unless  Icon Apocalypse is available or will be available shortly (so try not to cast it when you have 5 or more stacks).
  4. Cast Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper while the target has 3 or more stacks of Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound. Follow this up with 3 Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike/Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows casts while Soul Reaper is still active in order to get 3 stacks of the Haste buff Soul Reaper provides. If  Icon Apocalypse is active, use it after Soul Reaper instead.
  5. Cast  Icon Apocalypse.
    • Ideally, you want to use  Icon Apocalypse when you have 8 stacks of Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound. It is also acceptable to use it with 7 stacks, but not with any fewer.
  6. Cast Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike (or Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows, if you have taken this talent).
  7. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil and avoid capping Runic Power.
    • If you are using the Shadow Infusion Icon Shadow Infusion talent, you should pool some resources so once Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation expires, you can cast back to back Death Coils and reduce the cooldown of Dark Transformation.

If you get a proc of the  Icon Scourge of Worlds trait, you should prioritise Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike over anything else as long as you are not going to cap your Runic Power and you have Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds up.

If you have the Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads Icon Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads legendary item, Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation should be used once your pets are active, so after you use Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter or  Icon Apocalypse, so that they can benefit from the buff.

2. Multiple Target Rotation

The multiple target (AoE) rotation is based on a rather strict priority.

2.1. Against 2 Targets

  1. Maintain Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague on all targets, using Outbreak Icon Outbreak to refresh it when it is about to expire.
  2. Cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation.
  3. Cast Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike.
    • This applies 2-4 stacks of the Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound debuff (up to 6 if you have taken the Castigator Icon Castigator talent), which caps at 8 stacks. Do not use Festering Strike if you are at maximum stacks, and ideally avoid wasting any potential stacks unless  Icon Apocalypse is available or will be available shortly (so try not to cast it when you have 5 or more stacks).
  4. If you have taken the Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper talent, use it when you have at least 3 stacks of Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound on the target.
  5. Use  Icon Apocalypse, only if there are 8 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound stacks on the target.
    • When using the Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper talent,  Icon Apocalypse should only be used when Soul Reaper is on the target; if Soul Reaper and Apocalypse become de-synchronised, wait up to 5 seconds before casting Apocalypse without Soul Reaper being on the target.
  6. Cast Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay on cooldown.
  7. Cast Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike (or Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows, if you have taken this talent), if there are 3+ Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds on the target.
  8. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil if you have 80+ Runic Power.
    • Avoid capping Runic Power and wasting Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom procs.
    • If you are using the Shadow Infusion Icon Shadow Infusion talent, you should pool some resources so once Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation expires, you can cast back to back Death Coils and reduce the cooldown of Dark Transformation.

If you get a proc of the  Icon Scourge of Worlds trait, you should prioritise Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike over anything else as long as you are not going to cap your Runic Power and you have Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds up.

If you have the Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads Icon Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads legendary item, Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation should be used once your pets are active, so after you use Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter or  Icon Apocalypse, so that they can benefit from the buff.

A few more mentions are in order. It is more beneficial to use Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay/Defile Icon Defile + Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike/Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows on targets that are stacked up, but not if they are spread out (and can therefore not all be damaged by the Death and Decay/Defile and cleaved by Clawing Shadows). If the targets are stacked up, you will use Epidemic Icon Epidemic, but you will only do so when Death and Decay/Defile is on cooldown.

Stacking Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound on a target should ideally be done before the additional adds start, so that you can benefit from the stacks during your AoE phase. In any case, you should only be casting Festering Strike during your AoE rotation if both Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay/Defile Icon Defile and Epidemic Icon Epidemic are on cooldown.

It is important to note that, when using Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike/Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows while you are standing on top of your own Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay/Defile Icon Defile, these abilities cleave everything in range of your primary target. If you are using Clawing Shadows (which has a 30-yard range), you can drop Death and Decay/Defile at your feet and cleave adds that are within 30 yards of your position, as long as you are standing on top of Death and Decay/Defile.

2.2. Against 3+ Targets

  1. Maintain Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague on all targets, using Outbreak Icon Outbreak to refresh it when it is about to expire.
  2. Cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation.
  3. Use 1 charge of Epidemic Icon Epidemic (if you have taken this talent) before using Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay is order not to waste any stacks of Epidemic.
  4. Cast Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay on cooldown.
  5. Cast Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike (or Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows, if you have taken this talent), if there are 3+ Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds on the target.
  6. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil if you have 80+ Runic Power.
    • Avoid capping Runic Power and wasting Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom procs.
    • If you are using the Shadow Infusion Icon Shadow Infusion talent, you should pool some resources so once Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation expires, you can cast back to back Death Coils and reduce the cooldown of Dark Transformation.
  7. Cast Epidemic Icon Epidemic if the targets are affected by Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague, and if they are not stacked together or if Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay (or Defile Icon Defile) is on cooldown.
  8. Cast Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike on the same target to stack Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound on them, and burst the stacks with  Icon Apocalypse when there are 7 or 8 stacks.

The same notes about the rotation apply as when fighting 2 targets.

3. Cooldown Usage

As an Unholy Death Knight, you have a total of 2 DPS cooldowns, and you gain another from your artifact weapon. Below, we explain how they are best used. Your talents can provide you with a few other important abilities. We cover them in a subsequent section.

3.1. Apocalypse

 Icon Apocalypse is your artifact ability. It summons a member of the Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead for each stack of Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds, up to 8. Those ghouls deal decent damage, and they also interact with other artifact traits like  Icon Portal to the Underworld and  Icon Armies of the Damned, which causes them to explode when they die.

 Icon Apocalypse should be used when you have 8 stacks of Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds, but using it with 7 stacks is also viable (it is better than using Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike just to apply a single stack).

3.2. 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.

3.3. 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, but it also deals a lot of damage. You can use it before the pull, but if you require high burst damage during the fight it is perfectly acceptable to channel it during combat.

4. Optional Read: Mastering Your Unholy Death Knight

To help you better understand how to play the Unholy specialisation, we will explain some concepts in more detail below.

4.1. Runes and Runic Power

Death Knights use a dual resource system of runes and Runic Power. While it is quite straightforward in how it works, we will explain it here for the sake of completion.

4.1.1. Runes

You have a total of 6 Runes, which are available by default. Some of your abilities have Rune costs, and whenever you use an ability that consumes one or more Runes, those Runes will immediately begin recharging. The exact amount of time it takes a Rune to recharge depends on how much Haste you have.

Whenever a Rune is consumed, you gain 10 Runic Power (more on that below).

At most, 3 of your runes can be charging up at the same time. It is therefore optimal to keep at least 3 runes on cooldown in order to maximise the recharge rate over the course of the fight.

4.1.2. Runic Power

Runic Power is a resource that resembles Rage, in the sense that it decays when out of combat, but does not decay during combat. As mentioned above, consuming Runes generates 10 Runic Power per Rune spent, and this is the primary means of generating Runic Power, although some abilities also help with this. You can have a maximum of 100 Runic Power.

In general, spending Runic Power should only be done when 3 Runes or more are charging up, or when you are about to cap Runic Power. This is not the case when Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter is active, during which time you should try to maximise your Runic Power expenditure.

4.2. Virulent Plague

Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague is a Shadow damage DoT that is applied to targets using Outbreak Icon Outbreak. Outbreak places a 5-second debuff on the target that causes it and any nearby enemies to have Virulent Plague applied to them.

When the target affected by Virulent Plague dies, the plague explodes dealing Shadow damage split between all nearby enemies. It also has a 30% chance to explode each time it deals damage (this does not remove the DoT).

4.3. Festering Wounds

Each time you use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike, between 2 and 4 stacks of a debuff called Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound is applied to the target. The debuff lasts for 23 seconds (and each added stack refreshes its duration), and does nothing if left alone. However, using Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike/Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows on a target that has Festering Wounds on them consumes a stack, causing the target to take Shadow damage, and also granting you 3 Runic Power. All of the stacks are consumed if the target dies.

The ideal number of stacks at which to spend Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds is 3. If you have fewer than 3 stacks, you should instead generate some more using Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike (assuming you have the Castigator Icon Castigator talent, or simply with spend them with at least 1 stack otherwise). This is because having any more stacks than 3 when you use Festering Strike could cause wasted stacks if it is a critical strike (which generates more stacks).

4.4. Anti-Magic Shell Usage

Anti-Magic Shell Icon Anti-Magic Shell absorbs 100% of all magic damage taken, up to 30% of your maximum health, 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.

As an Unholy Death Knight, you can boost the power of Anti-Magic Shell Icon Anti-Magic Shell using the Spell Eater Icon Spell Eater talent. The Acherus Drapes Icon Acherus Drapes legendary further boosts Anti-Magic Shell, increasing its potency and duration.

4.5. Abilities and Cooldowns from Talents

4.5.1. Tier 2 Talents

Epidemic Icon Epidemic could be used before the pull in order to generate Runic Power to feed Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter, or while dealing AoE damage, in case the targets are spread out or while they are stacked but Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay/Defile Icon Defile is on cooldown.

Note that you cannot start a dungeon or raid boss encounter with more than 20 Runic Power.

4.5.2. Tier 7 Talents

Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter requires preparation to use correctly. Before you activate it, you should have saved up 100 Runic Power (or very close to it), as well as 3 Runes. While Dark Arbiter is active, you should follow a somewhat strict priority system to optimise the damage of this talent.

If you are going to use Dark Arbiter on the pull (which you should do), you should follow these steps. At other points in the fight, simply start pooling resources for Dark Arbiter 10-15 seconds before it becomes available (and obviously exclude the pre-pull steps).

  1. Use Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead 7-8 seconds before the pull.
  2. Use a Strength potion slightly before the pull.
  3. If you are using Ebon Fever Icon Ebon Fever, make sure to apply/refresh Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague before casting Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter, otherwise it will drop during its duration.
  4. Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike (until you are about to reach maximum Runic Power).
  5. Use Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter.
  6. Use your racial ability (if it boosts damage) and any on-use trinkets.
  7. Cast as many Death Coil Icon Death Coils as you can.
  8. Use  Icon Apocalypse to burst your Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound stacks when you are at 7 or 8 stacks.
  9. Use Arcane Torrent Icon Arcane Torrent (if you are a Blood Elf).
  10. Use Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike/Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows to consume Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds if  Icon Apocalypse is on cooldown, and use up Runes.
  11. Use Anti-Magic Shell Icon Anti-Magic Shell to absorb damage and generate Runic Power to allow for more Death Coils, if possible.
  12. Use Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay combined with Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike as many times as possible, while casting Death Coil Icon Death Coil during AoE.

Once Dark Arbiter ends, you should simply return to your regular rotation.

If you have the Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads Icon Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads legendary item, Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation should be used once your pets are active, so after you use Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter, so that the Val'kyr can benefit from the buff.

It is very important to note that even Death Coil Icon Death Coils that benefit from Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom procs (and which, therefore, do not consume Runic Power) increase the damage of Dark Arbiter, so it is important to make sure to use these procs right away during Dark Arbiter and not have them wasted.

If you are pooling Runic Power pre-fight, make sure not to target the boss, and dismiss your pet and then summon it again so you do not accidentally pull.

You can use the following macro to bind your Dark Arbiter to your on-use trinkets.

  • #showtooltip
  • /cast Dark Arbiter
  • /use 13
  • /use 14

5. ChangeLog

  • 29 Aug. 2016: Updated for Legion's launch.
  • 22 Jul. 2016: Made a clarification not to target the boss while building Runic Power before the pull for Dark Arbiter.
  • 21 Jul. 2016: Removed mentions of a single target rotation using Defile (since this talent should never be taken), and added Death Coil to all the rotations.
  • 18 Jul. 2016: Updated for the Legion pre-patch.
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