Unholy Death Knight DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities — Shadowlands 9.2.5
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.
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.
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 seperately further down!
- Use Outbreak.
- Use Army of the Dead.
- Use Festering Strike.
- Use Festering Strike + Potion + Trinket.
- Use Dark Transformation.
- Use Apocalypse.
- Use Blood Fury (if Orc), Berserking (if Troll).
- Use Covenant Ability.
Single-Target Rotation for Unholy Death Knights
- Soul Reaper Talented
- Cast Outbreak or Unholy Blight to apply Virulent Plague on the target. There is no need to use Outbreak on pure single target if you have Unholy Blight talented.
- Use Death Coil when you have 80+ Runic Power or a Sudden Doom proc.
- Use Festering Strike to apply Festering Wounds on the target. Do this if the target has 3 or fewer Festering Wounds.
- Use Scourge Strike when there is at least 1 Festering Wound on the target.
- Use Death Coil.
Now, we will take this priority list and put it into a more wordy 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! With the 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 uptime with Outbreak or 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. Usually though, Outbreak is rarely used!
- Use 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 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 setup 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!
- Use Death Coil as your filler spell when you have nothing else to do!
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, and while Death and Decay is active, you should use Scourge Strike/ Clawing Shadows as much as possible, while also spending Runic Power and Sudden Doom procs on Epidemic.
For multi-target on packs that will last fairly long, you may have the option to use Festering Strike once on a few of the targets before using Death and Decay and 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/ Clawing Shadows cleave while you are standing in your own Death and Decay. 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.
To make it easier 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 Festering Strike up to two times. If pack dies very fast, use 0.
- Use Apocalypse on the target with the most Festering Wounds (ideally 4).
- Use Dark Transformation.
- 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.
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.
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.
When you have Convocation of the Dead and the talent Army of the Damned, you will want to start syncing Apocalypse with Dark Transformation and Unholy Blight. When you are timing these abilities, use Apocalypse last. If you happen to desync your Apocalypse (more than 10 seconds left when Unholy Blight and Dark Transformation are up), simply start using it on cooldown.
Army of the Dead (Core)
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 and 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, Dark Transformation, and trinkets if this is the case! If you only get to use it once, always use it with Bloodlust/ 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, Dark Transformation, Potion, they all have to come at least 5 seconds after you press the button!
Dark Transformation (Core)
Dark Transformation transforms your ghoul for 15 seconds, causing its Claw to cleave all enemies near your pet. This cooldown is reduced by 1 second each time you cast Death Coil. 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. Always time this ability with Unholy Blight if you are running this talent. This means holding Unholy Blight for a couple of seconds every time.
Sacrificial Pact (Core)
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 is up, since it will waste the remaining duration of Dark Transformation. This ability is not used in single-target situations. Generally just use it to save yourself from dying.
Unholy Blight (Talented)
Unholy Blight applies a 14-second DoT to all targets around you every second for 6 seconds. It also applies Virulent Plague. The 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, Dark Transformation, Apocalypse, and Summon Gargoyle.
- Always use Unholy Blight with Dark Transformation, holding it for the 0-5 seconds required to do so.
- Ensure to use Army of the Dead 5-10 seconds before Unholy Blight.
- Use Apocalypse after Unholy Blight unless you need to wait more than 10 seconds to do so.
- Use Summon Gargoyle 10 seconds before Unholy Blight.
Unholy Assault (Talented)
Unholy Assault deals a decent chunk of damage, applying 4 Festering Wounds and providing 20% haste for 12 seconds. Use this ability right after Apocalypse on single target. For AoE, use it at the start of engaging a new pack.
Summon Gargoyle (Talented)
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 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 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 (Talented)
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 for 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!
Once you acquire the Unholy DK 4-Piece bonus, your 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, 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!
Abomination Limb (Necrolord)
Abomination Limb summons arms around you for 8 seconds, pulling targets toward you, dealing heavy AoE damage and generates 3 procs of 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 Legendary, you want to make sure you time your second use of Army of the Dead with your third use of Abomination Limb.
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 fully before you pull any boss!
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.
Death's Due (Night Fae)
Death's Due replaces your Death and Decay ability, retaining all its functionality. In addition, any Scourge Strike/ 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, Defile, and 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 / 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!
Shackle the Unworthy (Kyrian)
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 window in AoE
Swarming Mist (Venthyr)
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!
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 window and follow up with Epidemic spam before we then move into the Death and Decay window once we deplete our Runic Power.
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 in order 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, and also granting you 3 Runic Power. All of the stacks are consumed if the target dies.
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.
- 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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