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Unholy Death Knight DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (Legion 7.3.5)

Last updated Yesterday at 19:03 by Vlad 475 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 7.3.5. 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 JaceDK, long-time Death Knight theorycrafter and moderator on the Death Knight Discord. You can also catch him on his stream or on his YouTube channel. He also raids in WHATEVER WERE AWESOME, a top guild.

1. Single Target Rotation for Unholy Death Knights

  1. Maintain Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague on the target, using Outbreak Icon Outbreak to refresh it when it is about to expire.
  2. If you have the Cold Heart Icon Cold Heart legendary item, use Chains of Ice Icon Chains of Ice.
  3. Cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation.
  4. Cast Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike.
    • This applies 2-4 stacks of the Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound debuff, 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 when you have 6 stacks of Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds.
  6. 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.
  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.
    • You should also avoid capping Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom procs, so if you reach 2 procs of this buff, you should immediately use Death Coil Icon Death Coil.

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  Icon Apocalypse and Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle, so that they can benefit from the buffs.

Note that if you have the The Instructor's Fourth Lesson Icon The Instructor's Fourth Lesson legendary bracers, you should use Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike with as many Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds up as possible on the target. You should still be careful not to overcap Festering Wounds by using Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike when you have too many active, though.

2. 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 Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows as much as possible.

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.

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

3. Dark Arbiter Opening Rotation

  1. Cast Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead 4-6 seconds before the pull.
  2. Cast Chains of Ice Icon Chains of Ice (only if you have the Cold Heart Icon Cold Heart legendary).
  3. Cast Outbreak Icon Outbreak.
  4. Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike twice to apply Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds.
  5. Cast  Icon Apocalypse.
  6. Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike.
  7. Cast Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter (if you have the legendary Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads Icon Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads shoulders, then use Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation before casting Dark Arbiter in order to prevent wasting a non-Runic Power generating global cooldown during Dark Arbiter).
  8. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil.
  9. Use Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation (with the Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads Icon Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpadsshoulders equipped, your Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter will gain the damage buff when Dark Transformation is cast).

4. Cooldown Usage for Unholy Death Knights

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.

4.1. 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 6. 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 6 stacks of Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds. It will only consume 6 stacks even when you have 7 or 8.

4.2. 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.

Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter replaces Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle when using the the Tier 7 talent. This is a very powerful talent that also has some strong synergies, mainly with the legendary Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads Icon Tak'theritrix's Shoulderpads shoulders, which increase its damage by 40%, and with the Unholy Frenzy Icon Unholy Frenzy talent, which increases attack speed thus giving you more Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom procs. These procs, while not directly spending Runic Power, still buff Dark Arbiter for the same amount as a normal Death Coil Icon Death Coil. Dark Arbiter' s attack speed scales with your Haste, so using it during Heroism Icon Heroism/Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust can lead to an extra few casts.

4.3. 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.

5. 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.

5.1. 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.

5.1.1. 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.

5.1.2. 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.

5.2. 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).

5.3. 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.

In Mythic+ if you are using the Soul of the Deathlord Icon Soul of the Deathlord legendary ring, you can stack up Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds on a target about to die and they will all do their burst damage to surrounding targets. The same goes for Unholy Frenzy Icon Unholy Frenzy, where you will gain seconds to your frenzy if a target dies with Festering Wounds active.

5.4. 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, 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.

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.

5.5. Abilities and Cooldowns from Talents

5.5.1. 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.

5.5.2. Tier 6 Talents

If you are using Necrosis Icon Necrosis, optimising it boils down to getting as many uses out of it as possible, so not chaining Death Coil Icon Death Coils whenever possible, and instead using up the procs on Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike/Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows. That said, if you do not have any wounds on the target for you to use Clawing Shadows, it is acceptable to chain Death Coils. In the same vein, if you do not have enough Runic Power to use Death Coil, it is acceptable to use Clawing Shadows without having used Death Coil first.

5.5.3. 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 priority system to optimise the damage of this talent.

Your priority during Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter is as follows.

  1. Use Death Coil Icon Death Coil (spending Runic Power during Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter increases its damage, and Death Coil is the best ability to spend Runic Power on in order to buff Dark Arbiter).
  2. Use Outbreak Icon Outbreak to maintain Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague, if it is about to fall off.
  3. Use  Icon Apocalypse with at least 6 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound stacks.
  4. Use Chains of Ice Icon Chains of Ice with 20 stacks (only if you have the Cold Heart Icon Cold Heart legendary equipped).
  5. Use Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike (with at least 1 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound on the target).
  6. Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike with 4 or fewer Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds on the target (3 or fewer if using the Infected Claws Icon Infected Claws talent).

Your priority outside of Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter is as follows.

  1. Use Outbreak Icon Outbreak to maintain Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague, if it is about to fall off.
  2. Use Chains of Ice Icon Chains of Ice with 20 stacks (only if you have the Cold Heart Icon Cold Heart legendary equipped).
  3. Use Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation (you will usually get one of these between Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter casts).
  4. Use  Icon Apocalypse with at least 6 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds.
  5. Use Death Coil Icon Death Coil with 75+ Runic Power (this will keep you from overcapping and wasting your Runic Power).
  6. Use Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike with at least 1 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound.
  7. Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike with 4 or fewer Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds on the target (3 or fewer if using the Infected Claws Icon Infected Claws talent).
  8. Use Death Coil Icon Death Coil.

Regarding Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation, if you are using Convergence of Fates Icon Convergence of Fates and Shadow Infusion Icon Shadow Infusion, then you should use Dark Transformation only after  Icon Apocalypse and Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter have been used, so that all pets are buffed by it. Once you have used it, you can use it freely while Dark Arbiter is on cooldown, but just make sure to save it in preparation for your next Dark Arbiter cast.

If you are not using Convergence of Fates Icon Convergence of Fates (and therefore not Shadow Infusion Icon Shadow Infusion either), you should just use Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation after Dark Arbiter Icon Dark Arbiter, but you can use  Icon Apocalypse freely, as it is not worth trying to tie its timing to that of Dark Arbiter.

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

6. ChangeLog

  • 25 May 2018: Updated Dark Arbiter section and added an opening rotation.
  • 29 Jan. 2018: Added another mention about Sudden Doom procs on the page.
  • 28 Aug. 2017: Updated/improved Dark Arbiter rotation.
  • 25 Jul. 2017: Removed Soul Reaper from the rotation since it is no longer recommended as a talent choice.
  • 12 Jun. 2017: Added a recommendation for using Necrosis.
  • 24 Apr. 2017: Removed a redundant sentence.
  • 27 Mar. 2017: No changes needed for Patch 7.2.
  • 11 Mar. 2017: Updated multiple target playstyle.
  • 10 Jan. 2017: Made updates to the existing rotations to bring them in line with Patch 7.1.5 changes.
  • 12 Dec. 2016: Updated the guide to reflect that Soul Reaper is now the only viable tier 7 talent.
  • 16 Oct. 2016: Added a mention about how the The Instructor's Fourth Lesson legendary bracers affect the single target rotation.
  • 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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