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Guide: Learning how to pve Unholy DK

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Hello, this is a guide I wanted to write to help people learn to play their unholy death knight. I see many people post that it is too complicated or there is too much work with too little pay off. I hope to teach you that the unholy dk rotation is actually fairly straight forward and can do a ton of damage (and be a ton of fun biggrin.png)


Play style choices:

As an unholy dk there are generally 2 play styles, basic rotation and festerblight. Festerblight involves slightly altering your rotation to increase the duration of your diseases. As an unholy dk your diseases are one of your strongest weapons. As such, I feel right now the only viable choice is festerblight play. Next expansion there is room for a new one I call festerbreath (which uses sindragosas breath in the times you won't be spending runic power, but, more on that later).


That being said, lets first jump into how you gear and stat prioritize. The guide here on icy veins answers that but your secondary stat of choice once your hit and expertise are up is critical strike. You want as high as critical strike as possible, so when your diseases hit, the dot is as powerful as you can make it. So, lets look at rotations


Single Target Rotation:

 You have 6 runes at any given time, you start with 2 blood 2 frost and 2 unholy. When they are spent on abilities you end up with 6 death runes. Blood frost and unholy runes are spent only on specific abilities while death runes are a freebie, you can spend them on any ability.


As an unholy dk you have to be a little bit more aware of your runes than the other specs. your playstyle isn't quite, burn all the runes as fast as possible. 


Your runes basically come down into 2 phases, phase 1 and phase 2. Phase 1 is when you have your variety and phase 2 is when they are all death runes. Understanding where you are in your phase is key to the death knight and your rotation will literally just rune between phase 1 and 2.


So, you have a few abilities at your disposal, scourge strike, festering strike (extends the duration of your diseases), summon gargoyle, unholy frenzy (only in mop), out break, death coil, dark transformation, and soul reaper. These are what you will be using throughout your single target rotation.


The first part is applying your diseases to your target. At the start of the battle target the boss and cast summon gargoyle and run up into melee range. The goal here is to get your trinkets to proc, you want as high as strength as you can get before you cast your diseases, summon gargoyle does a good job of this. Once you are boosted as high as you can be use unholy frenzy. this is a personal buff that will increase the potency of your diseases. Last, cast outbreak to apply your diseases. This gets your diseases going as strong as possible on the boss. If your rotation is done perfectly you won't have to cast your diseases again (if it doesn't, reapply your diseases when you can, ideally with a trinket buff or any buff, but don't let them fall off).


From here we start spending runes, for phase 1 I like to alternate between scourge strike and festering strike. So


phase 1: 2 blood, 2 frost, 2 unholy

Scourge Strike, Festering Strike, Scourge Strike, Festering Strike: This helps maintain your diseases longevity and burns all your phase 1 runes moving you into phase 2.


phase 2: 6 death

Here you have a choice. You can cast 6 scourge strikes in a row rapid fire for maximum damage. This does increased damage and builds a lot of runic power, however, you risk your diseases falling off. My recommended choice is


Scourge Strike x 4, Festering strike x 1.

this burns your death runes, and they refresh into phase 1.


So, as an unholy dk you are really just alternation the ability order depending upon your phase. This also gives room for really high burst damage. At the end of phase 2 when phase 1 is still recharging you can cast empower runic weapon to immediately start phase 1 again and keep the rotation going.


So, we can get lazier, and make this easier. Crude rotation (after applying diseases)


Scourge strike, festering strike, scourge strike, festering strike, Scourge strike, Scourge strike, Scourge strike, Scourge strike, festering strike, repeat from start


Seems pretty easy right? This gives you optimal uptime on diseases and optimal damage. Now, as you get good with this phase 2 lets you make more decisions, if your diseases are falling off your you know you are going to be moved further away from the boss, you cast festering strike early. as long as you remember scourge strike costs 1 rune and festering costs 2, it should be fairly easy to navigate between your 2 phases biggrin.png


Now you may be asking, what about the other skills? Don't I have a pet or something too? Indeed you do


As an unholy dk you have a perm pet that is going to contribute to your dps. How do you use him? Well frankly, he'll attack who you attack so there isn't much there however, you can make him stronger. While casting scourge and festering strikes, you will create a lot of runic power fast. You use this to cast death coil. This does some damage but gives your pet a buff. At 5 stacks you can use 1 unholy rune to cast dark transformation, turning him into a giant abomination of power and evil. So, where do you cast death coil? Basically whenever your runic power is going to hit max, or, if you are inbetween phases. The unholy rune used to transform him can be from either phase, just make sure you take into account that you have 1 less unholy rune to play with. 


Your last ability is your finisher soul reaper which you can cast when the boss has less than 35% health. It costs 1 unholy rune, which we can afford in either phase 1 or 2. So like dark transformation , cast it when applicable, and decide where in your rotation it fits.


So, a lot of text but summed up


Scourge strike for damage, festering to prolong diseases, death coil to burn runic power, dark transformation to power up your pet, and soul reaper as your finisher biggrin.png and you do all these while moving in between your 2 rune phases. 


There are just 2 other things worth mentioning for single target. you have 2 defensive cooldowns, anti magic shield and icebound fortitude. Icebound is to be cast when you are going to take a big hit. Anti magic shield is a little bit special, it turns damage into rune power for death coil and pet buffing. Use it when your runic power is low and make sure you spend all that power biggrin.png


AOE Rotation

I won't lie. For unholy our AOE gets... messy. Death and Decay costs 1 unholy rune and is your big aoe attack, dump it on your enemies. From here you want to apply your diseases and spread them with blood boil or unholy blight. Blood boil is your big aoe attack but think back to your phases. Phase 1 we are burning blood and unholy but not touching our frost. Therefore we get only 4 death runes. For short term fights, you shouldn't care much. Burn all 4 with blood boil and call it a day. For long term fights you need to burn your frost and blood together with festering and then dump 6 blood boils with all your death runes. Honestly, I would just stick with the first part because not many fights have long term aoe (yet) and your diseases should knock off the enemy pretty quick. 


Talent Choices

Only a couple talents really really matter to your dps as an unholy dk. Your lvl 56 and your lvl 75. Your lvl 56 talents are rather varied. Choosing roiling blood is great for your aoe because you already are using blood boil and it spreads your diseases to your targets. Unholy blight spreads diseases all around but it has a 1 min cooldown. Your choice comes down to your single target rotation


Remember way back up there, where the first thing you do is try to maximize your diseases? Well, you can't spend all day waiting for procs, you need to apply them quickly. But what happens if you apply them, and then all your various things proc and you get a huge buff? Plague leech gives you a chance to redo your initial disease application. it sucks away your diseases giving you 2 death runes. this can be spent on plague strike to reapply your diseases but stronger.


So for maximum potential dps plague leech is better but, I would only recommend it once you are comfortable with your disease application.


The lvl 75 talents influence your rune regeneration. The easiest one is blood tap, macro it to scourge strike, or death coil, and you get free runes without thinking about it.


Moving Forward

We are on the eve of a new expansion coming out. What does this mean for unholy dks? Well pretty good things, death coil is cheaper and dark transformation doesn't cost any runes. That means we get our pet stronger faster and with no resource cost.


The lvl 100 talents are interesting. Currently necrotic plague at maximum stacks does the same amount of damage as your current diseases but, it ticks 1 second faster. As an unholy dk this means a lot to our dps as our powerful dps do their damage faster. The longer the fight goes the more damage this means.


Defile replaces death and decay or more so upgrades it. It costs an unholy rune though so for single target I'm not too interested.


Sindragosas breath burns runic power to deal damage until you rune out of runic power. This is very interesting, currently in the beta my scourge strike does about 3k, and sindragosas breath does 4k every second. With our increases rune power and our ability go generate it quickly, this is pretty powerful. I believe incorporating this into our rotation (festerbreath) will lead to a powerful combination. When your pet is transformed there really is no reason to spend your runic power. You wait until he reverts so you can build him back up. The second you use dark transformation, build back up that rune power, and then cast sindragosas breath to spend all that rune power you would otherwise be spending. It has a 2 min cooldown but as long as you keep enough rune power it'll keep going and going and going. The cooldown begins when you cast it, so its very possible, to burn it for awhile, re-transform your pet, and burn it again. We'll see how this plays out when the expansion drops biggrin.png


Closing thoughts-comments

This ends my first version of this guide, and I hope my explanations made unholy make more sense. You really just spend runes between 2 phases, burn runic power to boost pet, and.... well that's it. It's an involved rotation and I think it is incredibly fun. I hope using my guide you will learn to love unholy as I have. Please leave any questions comments or concerns below and I will try to update the guide to make it clearer or more useful. Please keep comments constructive biggrin.png this took awhile and i'm sleepy


cheers biggrin.png

Edited by demonardvark
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There are a couple of things that I would like to point out about your guide:


Using a full Festerblight rotation really isn't that good anymore. It's generally just done in 2 minute cycles now. You apply your diseases at the beginning of the fight with full procs, and then around every 2 minutes, or just when your trinkets proc together again, you reapply diseases. The reason that we kept our diseases up the whole time during ToT was because it was hard to determine when your trinkets would line up perfectly together again due to RPPM mechanics, and how strong the Feather trinket was. It's not longer the same case. To add on to that, Unholy Frenzy does nothing to our diseases. Haste doesn't affect DK diseases, so it doesn't really matter when you cast them.


Onto rune management, using Death Runes on Festering Strike is a bad idea and a DPS loss. With Festerblight you should only be using Death Runes on FS if you feel like your diseases are going to fall off before you can fit another one in. Ideally you'll only be FS with Blood/Frost runes.


Also, our biggest priority as an Unholy DK outside of keeping your diseases up is to get your ghoul transformed. The higher the uptime on Timmy's transformation, the better your DPS is going to be. This means that as DT is ending, you need to be saving up RP so that you can dump as many Death Coils to rebuild his DT. I feel like you didn't make this very clear in the guide.


I also feel like you didn't state how important DC is. DC is our hardest hitting ability outside of Soul Reaper and our Gargoyle. If you look at any log of someone who knows what they're doing, the highest Damage outside of White Swings and Gargoyle is going to be DC. It's important to not waste any RP since a pretty large margin of our damage will be coming from DC.


Soul Reaper as Unholy is our hardest hitting ability per rune spent. You should be using this off cooldown over Scourge Strike sub 35%.


You also shouldn't ever macro Blood Tap. It's a bad habit and really isn't an efficient way of using the talent. The reason that talent is so good is because you have control over when you can generate a Death Rune. If you just macro it, you may as well just be using Runic Corruption or Runic Empowerment. It isn't difficult to manage in the slightest. All you have to do is make sure that the stacks never cap. 


And lastly onto WoD Unholy. Our rotation is pretty much the same as it's always been, but our diseases are less important since snapshotting no longer exists. It's still important to keep our diseases up, but Festerblight is pretty much gone. There is a pseudo-Festerblight that you can run with Necrotic Plague, but NP is absolutely awful in it's current iteration, so it's not really worth noting. NP is currently not worth taking since our regular diseases do more damage than it does. Defile is currently, and probably will be barring a NP buff, our best single target talent. Breath of Sindragosa is a pretty good talent. But you mention "festerbreath", which I assume you're meaning keeping it up for an extended time. While it sounds good in theory, you won't actually be able to keep it up that long during the first tier. Maybe as the tiers progress and we have faster rune regen, but in the first tier you'll be lucky if you keep it up even for 30 seconds. 

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Oops, I'll fix the unholy frenzy part later. Frankly I think i'll mention it crudely but more or less leave unholy frenzy out since we are losing it next xpac.


For most of the 1st batch of comments I'm not going to change too much yet. I feel the already posted icy veins guide does a good job of the finer details, my guide is more to just help get a feel for the rotation and how it works. So, I guess my vision is to start with mine for basic play, and study the icy veins one for master play biggrin.png


That's why I suggested festerblight, although not optimal at bis gear it's a good way to ease yourself into unholy and gives you an idea of what to start with. Same with blood tap, it's easy to macro it out. I find even without manually controlling it, its more reliable than the other 2 talents, at least from the 2 phase perspective. 


Then anything WoD is speculation at this point, but in the beta I can keep up sindragosas for about 45 ish seconds on average. Timmy does de-digivolve however, so there will be questions about what is optimal when it comes. 


P.S. When WoD drops and we have patches, I'll try to keep this guy upgraded. In general for basic unholy understanding I don't think much will change but again, we'll see 

Edited by demonardvark

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Just a minor correction, using Scourge Strike does not turn your Unholy runes into Death Runes. They stay Unholy. So your "Phase 2" will be 4 Death Runes and 2 Unholy. You can still fire off 6 Scourge Strikes, or 4 and 1 Festering Strike with that set up, but it does limit your AOE rotation. If you do Death and decay, Scourge Strike, Blood Boil, Blood Boil, you will enter Phase 2 with 2 Death Runes, 2 Unholy, and 2 Frost (which were never used).

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