Unholy Death Knight DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities — Shadowlands 9.2.5

Last updated on May 31, 2022 at 00:05 by Bicepspump 51 comments
General Information

On this page, you will learn how to optimize the rotation of your Unholy Death Knight in both single-target and multiple-target situations. We also have advanced sections about cooldowns, procs, etc. in order to minmax your DPS. All our content is updated for World of Warcraft — Shadowlands 9.2.5.

1.

Unholy Death Knight Rotation

Welcome to our Rotation page for Unholy Death Knights. Here, we will go over everything you will need to know in order to optimally play your spec for Raiding and Mythic+ scenarios.

2.

Mythic+ Rotation

Unholy is a very interesting Mythic+ spec because it has fantastic single-target and AoE burst potential. For more information about Mythic+ as an Unholy Death Knight, please check out our Mythic+ guide linked below.

2.1.

Easy Mode

Unholy can be a very complicated spec. If these rotations seem fairly complicated, then you may want to check out our Easy Mode page, which gives you a much more simplistic build and rotation to play.

2.2.

PvP

The guides on this page are for PvE content, so if you are looking for a PvP rotation guide, then please visit our PvP page linked below.

3.

Single-Target Opener for Unholy Death Knights

I have opted to include the core rotation in these sections, leaving everything that is considered a cooldown to be explained seperately further down!

  1. Use Outbreak Icon Outbreak.
  2. Use Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead.
  3. Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike.
  4. Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike + Potion + Trinket.
  5. Use Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation.
  6. Use Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse.
  7. Use Blood Fury Icon Blood Fury (if Orc), Berserking Icon Berserking (if Troll).
  8. Use Covenant Ability.
4.

Single-Target Rotation for Unholy Death Knights

  1. Cast Outbreak Icon Outbreak or Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight to apply Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague on the target. There is no need to use Outbreak Icon Outbreak on pure single target if you have Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight talented.
  2. Use Death Coil Icon Death Coil when you have 80+ Runic Power or a Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom proc.
  3. Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike to apply Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds on the target. Do this if the target has 3 or fewer Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds.
  4. Use Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike when there is at least 1 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound on the target.
  5. Use Death Coil Icon Death Coil.

Now, we will take this priority list and put it into a more wordy description!

  • Cast Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper whenever you can make the secondary effect trigger. In execute, Soul Reaper is your highest priority and you should save Runes so that you can use it as much as possible! With the Harvest Time Icon Unholy DK 4-Piece tier set bonus, it is also worthwhile to cast Soul Reaper on mobs that die before it explodes!
  • Ensure sufficient Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague uptime with Outbreak Icon Outbreak or Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight. We pretty much always run Blight in raid which means we rarely care about this; we simply press Blight on cooldown and that is it. For adds that show up outside of our Blight windows, it is worthwhile to apply our DoT with Outbreak Icon Outbreak. Usually though, Outbreak is rarely used!
  • Use Deadliest Coil Icon Deadliest Coil to avoid capping Runic Power. Managing your resources properly is crucial for maximising your DPS. Any Runic Power you generate that brings you above your max is wasted, which means wasted DPS!
  • Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike to build up Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds on the target. We want to aim for 3+ wounds at all times! This means casting Festering Strike whenever you dip below 4 wounds, but never when above 3! If you use Festering Strike at 4+ wounds, you risk going above the ceiling of 6, wasting resources! We stay high on wounds to help setup for our Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse naturally. If you sit at a low wound count you risk starving before your CDs come up, forcing you to delay them (we do not want that!).
  • Use Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike/ Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows to burst your wounds. This is used in sync with Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike to keep your wound count at a healthy level. You go up to 4+, and then use Scourge Strike/ Clawing Shadows to drop down to 3 again. You do want to go down to 0 if a mob is close to dying!
  • Use Death Coil Icon Death Coil as your filler spell when you have nothing else to do!
5.

Multiple Target Rotation for Unholy Death Knights

The multiple target rotation is essentially the same as the single target rotation, with one important change. When facing 3 or more targets, you should use Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay, and while Death and Decay is active, you should use Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike/ Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows as much as possible, while also spending Runic Power and Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom procs on Epidemic Icon Epidemic.

For multi-target on packs that will last fairly long, you may have the option to use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike once on a few of the targets before using Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay and Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike, since you will then have more wounds to pop on the targets. You will have to decide when it is worth doing this based on the number of enemies you are facing.

Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike/Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows cleave while you are standing in your own Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay. If you are using Clawing Shadows (which has a 30-yard range), you can drop Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay/Defile Icon 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 Icon Death and Decay/Defile Icon Defile.

To make it easier to understand, this is a simplified version of what your multiple target opener should look like.

  1. Use Outbreak Icon Outbreak or Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight to apply Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague on all targets.
  2. Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike up to two times. If pack dies very fast, use 0.
  3. Use Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse on the target with the most Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds (ideally 4).
  4. Use Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation.
  5. Spam Epidemic Icon Epidemic until you are out of Runic Power.
  6. Use Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay.
  7. Spam Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike and use Epidemic Icon Epidemic if you are about to cap on Runic Power.
  8. After Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay finishes, go to single target rotation with Epidemic Icon Epidemic instead of Death Coil Icon Death Coil.
5.1.

Keeping Track of your Resources

Since Death Knights have multiple resources that they need to track, it is very helpful to customize your UI, in order to easily track your resources. Unholy Death Knights have a very clunky opener, so being able to easily focus on your rotation and resources can really help you maximize your damage and positioning.

6.

Cooldown Usage for Unholy Death Knights

As an Unholy Death Knight, you have a total of 4 core DPS cooldowns and 4 Talented DPS Cooldowns. Below, we explain how they are best used.

6.1.

Apocalypse (Core)

Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse 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 4. At Level 58, Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse Rank 3 makes it so your Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse generates 2 Runes.

Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse should be used when you have at least 4 stacks of Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds. It will only consume 4 stacks, even when you have 5 or 6.

Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse gains a lot of value when paired with Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight, but it is not worth wasting a cast to line them up.

When you have Convocation of the Dead Icon Convocation of the Dead and the talent Army of the Damned Icon Army of the Damned, you will want to start syncing Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse with Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation and Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight. When you are timing these abilities, use Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse last. If you happen to desync your Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse (more than 10 seconds left when Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight and Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation are up), simply start using it on cooldown.

6.2.

Army of the Dead (Core)

Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead summons a number of ghouls to fight at your side for a short while. It costs 1 Rune and also deals a lot of damage. You can use it before the pull, however since it now only costs 1 Rune, it is better used right as you reach the boss to maximize the duration of the ghouls. It has an 8-minute cooldown. With Army of the Damned Icon Army of the Damned and Deadliest Coil Icon Deadliest Coil, it gets reduced to approximately a 4-minute cooldown. There are many instances when you will use this ability more than once in a boss fight. Always make sure to time it with Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight, Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation, and trinkets if this is the case! If you only get to use it once, always use it with Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust/Heroism Icon Heroism.

When using it with other cooldowns, cast it at least 5 seconds before everything else. The ghouls take multiple seconds to crawl out of the ground, making any buffs you apply to them early wasted. Trinkets, Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight, Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation, Potion, they all have to come at least 5 seconds after you press the button!

6.3.

Dark Transformation (Core)

Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation transforms your ghoul for 15 seconds, causing its Claw Icon Claw to cleave all enemies near your pet. This cooldown is reduced by 1 second each time you cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil. The conduit Eternal Hunger Icon Eternal Hunger extends this duration to 18 seconds. Deadliest Coil Icon Deadliest Coil causes your Death Coil Icon Death Coil to extend the duration of Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation by 1 second each time it is cast. Always time this ability with Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight if you are running this talent. This means holding Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight for a couple of seconds every time.

6.4.

Sacrificial Pact (Core)

Sacrificial Pact Icon Sacrificial Pact sacrifices your ghoul to deal Shadow damage to 8 nearby enemies while also healing you for 25% of your maximum health. Never use this ability while Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation is up, since it will waste the remaining duration of Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation. This ability is not used in single-target situations. Generally just use it to save yourself from dying.

6.5.

Unholy Blight (Talented)

Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight applies a 14-second DoT to all targets around you every second for 6 seconds. It also applies Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague. The Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight-DoT stacks up to 4 times, increasing both its damage as well as increasing your minion damage against the infected targets. This cooldown synergises very well with our other cooldowns, specifically Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead, Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation, Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse, and Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle.

6.6.

Unholy Assault (Talented)

Unholy Assault Icon Unholy Assault deals a decent chunk of damage, applying 4 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds and providing 20% haste for 12 seconds. Use this ability right after Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse on single target. For AoE, use it at the start of engaging a new pack.

6.7.

Summon Gargoyle (Talented)

Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle calls down a Gargoyle to hit your target for 30 seconds. Every 2 Runic Power spent when this cooldown is active increases its damage by 1%. Use this ability 10 seconds before you intend to use Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight and generally try to pool up Runic Power before using it (does not apply to the opener). Once it is active, prioritise spending Runic Power.

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 the Gargoyle, so it is important to make sure to use these procs right away during Summon Gargoyle and not have them wasted.

6.8.

Soul Reaper (Talented)

Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper initially strikes the target for ~70% of a naked Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike. After 5 seconds, if the target is below 35% health, it hits against for 3.5 Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strikes worth of damage. It is crucial as an Unholy Death Knight to trigger as many of these extra hits as possible. Use Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper whenever your target will reach 35% HP within the next 5 seconds. This means using it at ~36% Raid Boss HP. For adds, it generally means using it earlier. Timing it properly is very rewarding!

Once you acquire the Harvest Time Icon Unholy DK 4-Piece bonus, your Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper usage changes. Usually, it is not worthwhile to cast Soul Reaper on an enemy that dies before the secondary effect triggers. You get a proc of Runic Corruption Icon Runic Corruption, but it only really pays for the cost of Soul Reaper. With the 4-set, you will gain a 25% damage increase to your pet damage even if the enemy dies with your Soul Reaper effect! You do still want to aim for achieving the explosion, but it is now worthwhile to cast Soul Reaper even when enemies die!

6.9.

Abomination Limb (Necrolord)

Abomination Limb Icon Abomination Limb summons arms around you for 8 seconds, pulling targets toward you, dealing heavy AoE damage and generates 3 procs of Runic Corruption Icon Runic Corruption. This should be used on cooldown, ideally timing it with your other cooldowns. Specifically, if you are running the Plague Deviser Marileth Soulbind or the Abomination's Frenzy Icon Abomination's Frenzy Legendary, you want to make sure you time your second use of Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead with your third use of Abomination Limb Icon Abomination Limb.

6.10.

Fleshcraft (Necrolord)

Fleshcraft Icon Fleshcraft channels for four seconds, decreasing damage taken by 20% and creating a shield around you for up to 40% of you maximum health, scaling with channeled duration. It is a beast when it comes to defensive cooldowns, allowing you to survive most things a scenario can throw at you!

You always cast Fleshcraft Icon Fleshcraft fully before you pull any boss!

Fleshcraft Icon Fleshcraft is sometimes used in an offensive manner, when you are running Emeni or Plague Deviser Marileth. For Emeni, you channel it to full on cooldown. For Marileth, you tap the ability to get the buff from Volatile Solvent Icon Volatile Solvent.

6.11.

Death's Due (Night Fae)

Death's Due Icon Death's Due replaces your Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay ability, retaining all its functionality. In addition, any Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike/ Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows you use when standing in your Death's Due will give you a stacking buff, increasing your Strength. It also decreases the damage you take from the enemies you hit. Each target gives you one stack, and you can gain 4 stacks maximum with 8% Strength gain total.

For AoE, you use Death's Due like you would use Death and Decay, no change there. For single-target though, Death's Due is a DPS increase to cast (unlike Death and Decay). The Strength gain is worth it even if the ability itself does little damage.

One notable use for single-target is when you combine this ability with Rampant Transference Icon Rampant Transference, Defile Icon Defile, and Death's Certainty Icon Death's Certainty. The effective CD is then reduced to below 15 seconds or so, allowing you to reapply the Death's Due buff before it runs out. You want to make sure to use Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike / Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows at the end of your Death's Due window, and then pop down Death's Due quickly again to refresh your stacks. You have tons of space to do so with this setup though, making it somewhat easy!

6.12.

Shackle the Unworthy (Kyrian)

Shackle the Unworthy Icon Shackle the Unworthy applies a 14-second, hasted DoT on your target. Any direct ability that costs Runes will spread this DoT to an additional target, using the current remaining duration as the new DoT's duration. It can only ever spread to one target at a time!

We use this on cooldown in single-target and before your Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay window in AoE

6.13.

Swarming Mist (Venthyr)

Swarming Mist Icon Swarming Mist summons a mist around you for 8 seconds, dealing damage and generating 3 Runic Power per target hit, per tick, and up to 15 Runic Power per tick. It is a great source of Runic Power in AoE that allows us to spam Epidemic Icon Epidemic!

We use this ability on cooldown in single -arget, not caring to line it up with anything. In AoE, we use it before our Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay window and follow up with Epidemic Icon Epidemic spam before we then move into the Death and Decay window once we deplete our Runic Power.

7.

Optional Read: Mastering Your Unholy Death Knight

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

7.1.

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.

7.1.1.

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.

7.1.2.

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 Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle is active (when using this talent), during which time you should try to maximize your Runic Power expenditure.

7.2.

Runic Corruption

Runic Corruption Icon Runic Corruption has a chance of proccing whenever we spend Runic Power. It can also proc when we consume Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom and Dark Succor Icon Dark Succor. The proc will always return a total of 0.9 Runes, regardless of haste. The proc also stacks on itself, adding any new duration to the previous remaining one. All this means you do not need to pay attention to this proc.

7.3.

Virulent Plague

Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague is a Shadow damage DoT that is applied to targets using Outbreak Icon Outbreak or Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight. If the target dies while afflicted with Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague, it erupts for Shadow damage to all nearby enemies. If you are talented into Unholy Blight Icon Unholy Blight, this will be the only method of applying Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague in a single-target encounter.

7.4.

Festering Wounds

Each time you use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike, between 2 and 3 stacks of a debuff called Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound is applied to the target. The debuff lasts for 30 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 Wound Icon 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 4+. If you have 3 or fewer stacks, you should instead generate some more using Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike.

7.5.

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, for progression content, we fully recommend first and foremost saving Anti-Magic Shell Icon Anti-Magic Shell to mitigate magic damage, before you consider how to use it to increase your DPS.

8.

Changelog

  • 31 May 2022: Page reviewed for Patch 9.2.5.
  • 20 Feb. 2022: Reviewed and approved for Patch 9.2.
  • 01 Nov. 2021: Reviewed and approved for Patch 9.1.5.
  • 29 Jun. 2021: Guide reviewed and updated for Patch 9.1.
  • 10 May 2021: Reviewed and expanded on multiple topics.
  • 09 Mar. 2021: Reviewed for Patch 9.0.5.
  • 23 Feb. 2021: Added rotation switches for the single target rotation.
  • 19 Jan. 2021: Guide reviewed and completely updated.
  • 08 Jan. 2021: Fixed the description for Soul Reaper.
  • 14 Dec. 2020: Fixed the disclaimer for the single target rotation.
  • 28 Nov. 2020: Fixed the Unholy single-target opener.
  • 23 Nov. 2020: Updated the rotation priority and guide for Shadowlands.
  • 12 Oct. 2020: Page updated for the Shadowlands pre-patch.
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