Unholy Death Knight DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities in Battle for Azeroth (BfA) 8.0.1

Last updated on Aug 18, 2018 at 12:41 by Abyssalwave 34 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 Battle for Azeroth 8.0.1. 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 Author

This guide has been written by Abyssalwave, a top level Death Knight player. He is a former US #2 hardcore raider who currently raids with Club Camel. You can also check out his YouTube channel.

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. Cast Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper if you have fewer than 2 Runes.
  3. Cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation.
  4. Cast Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse when you have 4 stacks of Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds.
  5. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil to avoid capping Runic Power (80+ Runic Power) OR if you have a proc of Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom.
  6. Cast Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay (if you have taken the talent Pestilence Icon Pestilence) / Defile Icon Defile on cooldown.
  7. Cast Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike (or Clawing Shadows Icon Clawing Shadows, if you have taken this talent), if there are 1+ Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds on the target.
  8. Cast Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike.
    • This applies 2-3 stacks of the Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound debuff, which caps at 6 stacks. Do not use Festering Strike if you are at maximum stacks, and ideally avoid wasting any potential stacks unless Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse is available or will be available shortly (so try not to cast it when you have 4 or more stacks).

This single target rotation assumes you have taken the tier 7 talent Unholy Frenzy Icon Unholy Frenzy. In order to maximize this talent, you should use it when you are very low on Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds and have at least 2 Runes available to cast Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strikes after using the cooldown.

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 Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike 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 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.

You should save Unholy Frenzy Icon Unholy Frenzy for when you are low or out of Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds due to the amount of Festering Wounds it generates.

3. Cooldown Usage for Unholy Death Knights

As an Unholy Death Knight, you have a total of 3 DPS cooldowns. 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.

3.1. Apocalypse

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.

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.

3.2. 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. It has a 8-minute cooldown.

3.3. Dark Transformation

Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation transforms your ghoul for 15 seconds, causing its frontal attacks to cleave in a frontal cone. This cooldown is reduced by 1 second each time you cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil or Epidemic Icon Epidemic.

4. 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.

4.1. 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.

4.1.1. 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.

4.1.2. 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 maximise your Runic Power expenditure.

4.2. 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 Icon 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).

4.3. 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 1. If you 0 stacks, you should instead generate some more using Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike.

4.4. 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.

4.5. Abilities and Cooldowns from Talents

4.5.1. Tier 4 Talents

Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper should be used if you have fewer than 2 Runes. You always want to make sure you have at least 3 Runes on cooldown so use Soul Reaper Icon Soul Reaper as a moderate Rune generation cooldown as well as a DPS cooldown.

4.5.2. Tier 6 Talents

Epidemic Icon Epidemic takes priority over Death Coil Icon Death Coil when there are 2+ targets. Pestilence Icon Pestilence when run in a single target rotation causes you to cast Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay off cooldown.

4.5.3. Tier 7 Talents

Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle 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 the Gargoyle is active, you should follow a priority system to optimise the damage of this talent.

Your priority during Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle is as follows.

  1. Use Death Coil Icon Death Coil (spending Runic Power during Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle increases its damage, and Death Coil is the best ability to spend Runic Power on in order to buff the Gargoyle).
  2. Use Outbreak Icon Outbreak to maintain Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague, if it is about to fall off.
  3. Use Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse with at least 4 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound stacks.
  4. Use Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike (with at least 1 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound on the target).
  5. Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike with fewer than 4 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds on the target (fewer than 3 if using the Infected Claws Icon Infected Claws talent).

Your priority outside of Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle is as follows.

  1. Use Outbreak Icon Outbreak to maintain Virulent Plague Icon Virulent Plague, if it is about to fall off.
  2. Use Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation (you will usually get 3 of these between Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle casts).
  3. Use Apocalypse Icon Apocalypse with at least 4 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds.
  4. Use Death Coil Icon Death Coil with 60+ Runic Power (this will keep you from overcapping and wasting your Runic Power).
  5. Use Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike with at least 1 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wound.
  6. Use Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike with fewer than 4 Festering Wound Icon Festering Wounds on the target (fewer than 3 if using the Infected Claws Icon Infected Claws talent).
  7. Use Death Coil Icon Death Coil.

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.

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 Summon Gargoyle to your on-use trinkets.

  • #showtooltip
  • /cast Summon Gargoyle
  • /use 13
  • /use 14

5. Changelog

  • 18 Aug. 2018: Removed Chains of Ice from the single-target rotation.
  • 12 Aug. 2018: Updated for Battle for Azeroth launch.
  • 21 Jul. 2018: Fixed the single target rotation priority to show Defile and to better word Death Coil usage.
  • 21 Jul. 2018: Fixed the Cold Heart tooltip to show the Legendary instead of the Frost talent.
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