Unholy Death Knight DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities — Dragonflight 10.0.7
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 — Dragonflight 10.0.7.
Unholy Death Knight Rotation
Welcome to our Rotation page for Unholy Death Knights. Here, we will go over everything you will need to know to optimally play your spec for Raiding and Mythic+ scenarios.
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.
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.
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.
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 separately further down!
- Army of the Dead Talented
- Apocalypse Talented
- Empower Rune Weapon Talented
- Abomination Limb Talented
- Unholy Assault Talented
- Unholy Blight Talented
- Summon Gargoyle Talented
- Defile Talented
- Use Army of the Dead.
- Use Outbreak.
- Use Festering Strike.
- Use Dark Transformation.
- Use Apocalypse.
- Use Potion + Trinket.
- Use Blood Fury (if Orc), Berserking (if Troll).
Single-Target Rotation for Unholy Death Knights
- Soul Reaper Talented
- Plaguebringer Talented
- Cast Outbreak or Unholy Blight to apply Virulent Plague on the target. Try to maintain 100% uptime on the disease.
- Use Death Coil when you have 80+ Runic Power, a Sudden Doom proc or Summon Gargoyle is active.
- Use Festering Strike to apply Festering Wounds on the target. Do this if the target has 2 or fewer Festering Wounds.
- Use Scourge Strike when there are at least 3 Festering Wounds on the target.
- Use Death Coil.
Now, we will take this priority list and put it into a wordier description!
- Cast 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! It is however not worth casting Soul Reaper if the target dies before the explosion!
- Use Defile if you have taken this talent to leverage the mastery buff. Make sure to use it once you have accumulated two charges so that you can chain the buff window.
- Ensure 100% Virulent Plague uptime with Outbreak and Unholy Blight.
- Use Death Coil to avoid capping Runic Power. Death Coil is your hardest-hitting button and you should avoid wasting any Runic Power that could have been spent on the ability!
- Use Festering Strike to build up 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 set up for our 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/ Clawing Shadows to burst your wounds. This is used in sync with 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! You use Scourge Strike as a high-priority to keep up your Plaguebringer buff as well!
- Use Death Coil as your filler spell when you have nothing else to do!
This priority does not include any Cooldowns. Instead, that is something we cover further down in this guide. Any cooldown will come at the top of the priority list!
With the Unholy Death Knight 2pc, we get another maintenance buff to care about. This will have high uptime by just doing your rotation normally. However, if you want to optimise it, we recommend getting a good tracker and making sure to spend your Scourge Strikes to optimise it. If you are running Plaguebringer, this will happen naturally as you keep up both buffs at the same time (as long as you make sure to burst wounds with your Scourge Strikes!).
Multiple Target Rotation for Unholy Death Knights
Unholy's AoE rotation revolves heavily around the application and bursting of large quantities of Festering Wounds with the Bursting Sores talent. We can use cooldown ( Unholy Assault, Vile Contagion and Dark Transformation with Infected Claws) or manually tab through targets with Festering Strike to apply the wounds. We then burst the wounds by popping down our Death and Decay and spamming Scourge Strike/ Clawing Shadows.
Outside these build and spend cycles, we pretty much play our normal single target rotation, swapping out Death Coil for Epidemic as our Runic Power spender.
To make it hopefully easy to understand, this is a simplified version of what your multiple target opener should look like.
- Use Outbreak or Unholy Blight to apply Virulent Plague on all targets.
- Use Dark Transformation.
- Use Festering Strike.
- Use Unholy Assault.
- Use Vile Contagion (on the target that now has 6 Festering Wounds).
- Use Apocalypse on the target with the most Festering Wounds (ideally 4).
- Spam Epidemic until you are out of Runic Power.
- Use Death and Decay.
- Spam Scourge Strike and use Epidemic if you are about to cap on Runic Power.
- After Death and Decay finishes, go to single-target rotation with Epidemic instead of Death Coil.
If Unholy Assault and Vile Contagion are on cooldown, use 1-2 extra Festering Strikes instead. After you have executed this opener, the pack is hopefully dead. If not, either pop down a second Death and Decay or move to your normal single-target rotation with Epidemic.
If the pack lives for up to 40 seconds your priority will change slightly. When you have your Unholy Assault and Vile Contagion combination, you want to delay your Dark Transformation until 2-3 GCDs inside your first Death and Decay window. This will prevent any overcapping on Festering Wounds, as well as set up for your second Death and Decay window (with Death's Echo). After you have finished with your first window, dump your Runic Power with Epidemic and then move straight into your next window!
Keeping Track of your Resources
Since Death Knights have multiple resources that they need to track, it is very helpful to customize your UI, 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 help you maximize your damage and positioning.
- Dark Transformation should be used off cooldown and as an opener on packs of multiple mobs.
- Sacrificial Pact should only be used to save yourself from death.
- Summon Gargoyle should be used on cooldown. Once used, prioritize Death Coil above everything else.
Cooldown Usage for Unholy Death Knights
As an Unholy Death Knight, you have potentially 14 unique cooldowns to keep track of, depending on what you choose from your talents and get from your covenant.
Defile sees play in Mythic+ and becomes an ability you use everywhere once you pick it up. We want to aim for maximum buff duration here which means the following. Accumulate two charges of Defile. Cast Defile on Cooldown 4 times, waiting 3.5 seconds between each re-cast. This will keep up the buff for 40+ seconds if done properly! For AoE, we recommend waiting until your first Plaguebringer refresh before initialising this long buff window.
Empower Rune Weapon
Empower Rune Weapon provides a 20 seconds buff, granting one Rune and 5 Runic Power every 5 seconds, as well as 15% haste. The first Rune and Runic Power are granted on-use and the ability is off the global cooldown.
Always combine Empower Rune Weapon with your other powerful cooldowns. Save it for Summon Gargoyle if you are using that, otherwise use with your Apocalypse and Dark Transformation.
Abomination Limb provides you with an extra limb for 12 seconds, pulling targets towards you every second and dealing damage around you. Also grants a proc of Runic Corruption every 4 seconds.
Abomination Limb should be used on cooldown to gain the most benefit from its higher damage. Do save it if there are add waves that you can time it with, especially if gripping these adds helps your group to kill them!
Unholy Blight infects nearby targets with Virulent Plague every second for 6 seconds. Additionally, applies the Unholy Blight disease that lasts for 14 seconds and stacks up to 4 times, dealing increased damage for each stack.
Unholy Blight is primarily an efficient way of applying Virulent Plague, with the added benefit of some extra disease damage. Use this ability on cooldown in all situations. It is especially good at applying Virulent Plague whenever adds enter a pull during some time, like when the tank runs around to pick up all the mobs!
Unholy Assault instantly applies 4 Festering Wounds to your target, deals some moderate damage and provides 20% haste for 20 seconds.
Unholy Assault is a strong haste buff as well as a very efficient way of applying Festering Wounds. It should be used on cooldown in single-target, ideally timed with your other cooldowns to leverage the haste buff. In AoE, it should be used early in a pull to help stack up 6 Festering Wounds on a single-target. Vile Contagion is then an excellent follow-up cooldown to quickly spread up to 42 Festering Wounds!
Vile Contagion spreads the Festering Wounds of your primary target to up to 7 nearby enemies.
Vile Contagion is a huge AoE DPS cooldown that helps to set up an AoE pull for a big burst window. It is ideally paired with Unholy Assault (both are 1.5m cooldown) where you do Festering Strike -> Unholy Assault -> Vile Contagion for a 3 GCD 48 Festering Wounds infection. You then follow up with Runic Power dumping, Death and Decay and Scourge Strike/ Clawing Shadows spam.
Apocalypse summons a member of the Army of the Dead for each stack of Festering Wounds, up to 4. Also generates 2 Runes on use.
Apocalypse should be used when you have at least 4 stacks of Festering Wounds. It will only consume 4 stacks, even when you have 5 or 6.
Apocalypse should be used on Cooldown as much as possible. Convocation of the Dead and Army of the Damned will bring the cooldown down to below 30 seconds, allowing for a larger number of minions to be spawned! If you are not running Convocation of the Dead, always align Apocalypse with Dark Transformation every 45 seconds.
Army of the Dead
Army of the Dead summons several ghouls to fight at your side for 30 seconds. It is a major cooldown that will end up being a significant part of our overall damage in any situation.
Use Army of the Dead as you run into any engagement, allowing the ghouls to spawn (they spawn over 4 seconds and are stunned an additional 4 seconds before starting combat). The baseline 8-minute cooldown is reduced to around 3 minutes with the Army of the Damned talent, allowing you to use it multiple times in a fight. Ensure to time it with any other cooldown that increases its damage, such as Dark Transformation with Commander of the Dead, Unholy Assault and Empower Rune Weapon. Always use Army of the Dead at least 5 seconds before using any other cooldown to buff it (except Dark Transformation that can be used immediately).
Dark Transformation transforms your ghoul for 15 seconds, causing its Claw to cleave all enemies near your pet. The conduit Eternal Hunger extends this duration to 18 seconds. Deadliest Coil causes your Death Coil to extend the duration of Dark Transformation by 1 second each time it is cast.
You should use this ability on cooldown. If you have talented into Commander of the Dead, always ensure you time Dark Transformation with Summon Gargoyle, Army of the Dead and Apocalypse. There is a 4 seconds grace period when pressing the cooldown, allowing the buff to apply to your other pets that are summoned after this point. It is generally safest to use Dark Transformation after the other cooldowns.
For Mythic+, it is important to use this cooldown early in a pull, allowing the lots of time to apply Festering Wounds, that you can then burst in your Death and Decay window. Ideally, it should be your second button press after applying diseases.
Summon Gargoyle calls down a Gargoyle to hit your target for 25 seconds. Every 1 Runic Power spent when this cooldown is active increases its damage by 1%. Also generates 50 Runic Power on use.
Once you have activated Summon Gargoyle, your highest priority above all will be pressing Death Coil to ramp up its damage. Ideally, you should be full on Runic Power already as you press the cooldown (remember that it provides 50 Runic Power so you only need to aim for maximum minus 50). You also want to ensure that you leverage all your other cooldowns that synergize with Summon Gargoyle when you use it. This includes Dark Transformation with Commander of the Dead, Unholy Assault and Empower Rune Weapon. In reality, you will get these big 3-minute burst windows where you use Summon Gargoyle and Army of the Dead in combination with everything else!
It is very important to note that even Death Coils that benefit from 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.
Soul Reaper initially strikes the target for ~70% of a naked Scourge Strike. After 5 seconds, if the target is below 35% health, it hits against 3.5 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 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!
Abomination Limb summons arms around you for 8 seconds, pulling targets toward you, dealing heavy AoE damage and generating 3 procs of Runic Corruption. You will either time this ability with add spawns, helping to group up any enemies that spawn, or with your major cooldowns every 3 minutes.
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.
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.
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 to maximise the recharge rate over the course of the fight.
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 is active (when using this talent), during which time you should try to maximize your Runic Power expenditure.
Runic Corruption has a chance of proccing whenever we spend Runic Power. It can also proc when we consume Sudden Doom and 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.
Virulent Plague is a Shadow damage DoT that is applied to targets using Outbreak or Unholy Blight. If the target dies while afflicted with Virulent Plague, it erupts for Shadow damage to all nearby enemies. If you are talented into Unholy Blight, this will be the only method of applying Virulent Plague in a single-target encounter.
Each time you use Festering Strike, between 2 and 3 stacks of a debuff called 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/ Clawing Shadows on a target that has Festering Wounds on them consumes a stack, causing the target to take Shadow damage. All of the stacks are consumed if the target dies.
Bursting Sores will cause any Festering Wounds that burst to deal AoE damage around them. This scales well in AoE and is the primary source of our damage in Mythic+. We can also talent into Replenishing Wounds to generate 3 Runic Power every time a Festering Wound is burst.
The ideal number of stacks at which to spend Festering Wounds is 4+. If you have 3 or fewer stacks, you should instead generate some more using Festering Strike.
Anti-Magic Shell Usage
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 to mitigate magic damage, before you consider how to use it to increase your DPS.
- 20 Mar. 2023: Updated rotation for Patch 10.0.7.
- 24 Jan. 2023: Reviewed for Patch 10.0.5.
- 11 Dec. 2022: Updated for Dragonflight Season 1.
- 28 Nov. 2022: Updated for Dragonflight launch.
- 25 Oct. 2022: Updated for Dragonflight pre-patch.
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