Unholy Death Knight DPS Spec, Builds, and Talents — Shadowlands 9.0.2
On this page, you will find out the best talents for each tier for your Unholy Death Knight in World of Warcraft — Shadowlands 9.0.2. We also have default talent lists for various types of content, such as raiding or Mythic+. If you play with Warmode on, we have your PvP talents covered as well.
Talent Choices for Unholy Death Knight
|15||? Infected Claws||✓ All Will Serve||✗ Clawing Shadows|
|25||✓ Bursting Sores||✗ Ebon Fever||✓ Unholy Blight|
|30||? Grip of the Dead||? Death's Reach||? Asphyxiate|
|35||✓ Pestilent Pustules||✗ Harbinger of Doom||✓ Soul Reaper|
|40||? Spell Eater||? Wraith Walk||? Death Pact|
|45||✗ Pestilence||✓ Unholy Pact||✗ Defile|
|50||✓ Army of the Damned||? Summon Gargoyle||✓ Unholy Assault|
Talents can be freely changed when out of combat and in a rested XP area (such as an inn or a capital city). Moreover, Tome of the Tranquil Mind and Codex of the Tranquil Mind can be used to temporarily allow players to change talents anywhere, as long as they are out of combat.
The recommended talents do not account for specific raid encounters, which can require a specific talent or build. For a boss-by-boss breakdown of the talent choices for specific encounters, you should check out our dedicated raid page listed below.
Mythic+ can vary very heavily in the optimal talents that you take, depending on the affixes or the dungeons themselves. If you want advice that is specific to Mythic+, and how to deal with certain affixes and dungeons, then you should check out our Mythic+ page linked below.
This is the best generic-single target build for the Shadowlands pre-patch.
- Level 15: All Will Serve
- Level 25: Unholy Blight
- Level 30: Player Choice
- Level 35: Soul Reaper
- Level 40: Player Choice
- Level 45: Unholy Pact
- Level 50: Army of the Damned
This is the best generic-AoE/Cleave build for pre-patch.
- Level 15: Infected Claws
- Level 25: Bursting Sores
- Level 30: Player Choice
- Level 35: Pestilent Pustules
- Level 40: Player Choice
- Level 45: Unholy Pact
- Level 50: Unholy Assault
Talents can, and usually do, change your rotation or add new abilities into your priority. For a more detailed breakdown on how your rotation will look with optimal talents, check out our rotation page linked below.
Tier 1 (Level 15) Talents for Unholy Death Knights
|? Infected Claws||✔ All Will Serve||✘ Clawing Shadows|
- Infected Claws grants your ghoul's Claw a 30% chance to apply Festering Wound on the target.
- All Will Serve causes Raise Dead to summon a skeletal minion in addition to the ghoul. The skeletal minion lasts indefinitely and it uses a ranged attack against your target and cleave onto targets nearby your focus.
- Clawing Shadows replaces Scourge Strike. It has a 30-yard range (instead of being melee only) and it deals all Shadow damage instead of Scourge Strike's part-Physical and part-Shadow damage.
Infected Claws is currently a viable choice for most AoE situations, due to the cleave ability of your ghoul applying Festering Wounds to multiple targets. This has good synergy with the talent Bursting Sores and the ability Death and Decay.
Clawing Shadows is a strong choice that turns your Scourge Strike into a 30 yard range ability, which can help if you are away from the target very frequently. Another thing that makes this talent different from Scourge Strike is that it is 100% Shadow damage, whereas Scourge Strike is half-Physical, half-Shadow, making it scale better with Mastery. This talent is currently a very strong a choice along with All Will Serve for Single Target/Cleave.
All Will Serve is a strong single target choice currently, however it does add value to AoE situations. Currently, the Risen Skulker that is summoned when this is talented attacks the target near your focus.
Tier 2 (Level 25) Talents for Unholy Death Knights
|✔ Bursting Sores||✘ Ebon Fever||✔ Unholy Blight|
- Bursting Sores increases the damage of bursting Festering Wound by 25%, and also causes all enemies within 8 yards of a burst Festering Wound to take Shadow damage.
- Ebon Fever passively reduces the duration of Virulent Plague by 50% while causing it to deal 15% more damage.
- Unholy Blight grants you a buff that, for 6 seconds, causes you to infect nearby enemies with a disease which lasts 14 seconds from the moment of application and stacks up to 4 times. It has a 45-second cooldown. Your minions deal 3% more damage per stack to enemies infected.
Bursting Sores is currently the best option for AoE/cleave situations and Mythic+. A good way to use this talent in AoE is the apply Festering Wounds on multiple targets then casting Death and Decay then casting Scourge Strike to pop multiple Festering Wounds in an AoE setting.
Unholy Blight is by far the strongest single-target talent in this tier and has incredible synergy with the Unholy damage kit.
Tier 3 (Level 30) Talents for Unholy Death Knights
|? Grip of the Dead||? Death's Reach||? Asphyxiate|
- Grip of the Dead causes your Death and Decay to slow enemies standing in it by 90%, decreasing by 10% each second.
- Death's Reach increases the range of Death Grip by 10 yards.
- Asphyxiate stuns the target for 4 seconds. It has a 20-yard range and a 45-second cooldown.
None of the talents in this tier improve your DPS, but they still have a lot of potential usefulness.
Grip of the Dead should be used if you are in need of a slow. This effect decreases over the duration of Death and Decay, meaning your Death and Decay will slow the enemies standing in it for the entirety of the duration (although not by much by the end).
Asphyxiate provides a stun which can be very useful in dungeons, Mythic+, and certain raid encounters.
Tier 4 (Level 35) Talents for Unholy Death Knights
|✔ Pestilent Pustules||✘ Harbinger of Doom||✔ Soul Reaper|
- Pestilent Pustules causes your Festering Wound bursts to have a 10% chance to grant Runic Corruption.
- Harbinger of Doom causes your Sudden Doom to trigger 15% more often and increases your maximum charges to 2.
- Soul Reaper strikes an enemy for Shadow damage and afflicts the enemy with Soul Reaper (after 5 seconds, if the target is below 35%, this explodes, dealing Shadow damage to the target).
Soul Reaper is by far the best option in this tier and gives Unholy access to an execute option. Execute abilities are very powerful in raid progression.
Tier 5 (Level 40) Talents for Unholy Death Knights
|? Spell Eater||? Wraith Walk||? Death Pact|
- Spell Eater increases the absorption capacity of Anti-Magic Shell by 30%, and extends its duration by 5 seconds.
- Wraith Walk is a channeled spell that increases your movement speed by 70% for 4 seconds. While channeling, your movement speed cannot be reduced below 170%. It has a 1-minute cooldown.
- Death Pact heals you for 50% of your maximum health, but absorbs healing equal for 30% of your maximum health for 15 seconds. It has a 2-minute cooldown.
The talents in this tier do not increase your DPS either, but they can provide you with great benefits during raid encounters. They are quite situational, so you will have to choose based on the requirements of the fight.
Spell Eater is the preferred choice in fights with large amounts of magic damage, allowing you to survive if you make a mistake, to soak the damage of certain abilities, or to avoid certain mechanics altogether.
Wraith Walk is a great movement speed cooldown that, if chosen, gives you a second movement speed cooldown (along with Death's Advance). This should be chosen if you need a faster movement speed cooldown than the 30% movement speed increase of Death's Advance, or if you need this talent along with Death's Advance.
Finally, Death Pact provides you with a large heal which may be useful in Mythic+ or some raid encounters.
Tier 6 (Level 45) Talents for Unholy Death Knights
|✘ Pestilence||✔ Unholy Pact||✘ Defile|
- Pestilence causes your Death and Decay to have a 10% chance to apply a Festering Wound to any enemies standing in your Death and Decay.
- Defile replaces Death and Decay. With every tick, the Defile area of effect will increase if there are any enemies standing in it. Your Scourge Strike also gains a cleaving effect while you are in your own Defile. Finally Defile has a 20 second cooldown (as opposed to Death and Decay's 30 second cooldown).
- Unholy Pact makes it so your Dark Transformation creates a chain between you and your pet that deals Shadow damage over 15 seconds to enemies it touches. While this is active, your Strength is increased by 5%.
Currently, Unholy Pact is by far the best option in this tier, not only providing solid single-target, but also great AoE damage. The other 2 options simply do not provide competitive damage when compared to Unholy Pact.
Defile is currently not as strong as Epidemic is for AoE/cleave situations for open world. For single target situations it is close to Pestilence, making it a viable option.
Tier 7 (Level 50) Talents for Unholy Death Knights
|✔ Army of the Damned||? Summon Gargoyle||✔ Unholy Assault|
- Army of the Damned causes your Death Coil casts to reduce the cooldown of Apocalypse by 1 second and Army of the Dead by 5 seconds.
- Unholy Assault grants you 20% Haste for 12 seconds and infects your target with 4 Festering Wounds. It has a 1.25-minute cooldown.
- Summon Gargoyle summons a Gargoyle to fight by your side for 30 seconds. For every 2 Runic Power you spend, the Gargoyle will gain 1% increased damage. This ability has a 3-minute cooldown.
Currently, Army of the Damned is the best option for both single target and AoE fights. However Unholy Assault is still a very viable option and has potential in some instances to be the go-to option.
PvP Talents (War Mode)
In this section we will rank the PvP talents that are best for leveling and doing open world content.
- PvP talents enabled in the outdoor world.
- 10% increase in World Quest rewards at maximum level.
- 10% more experience gained while leveling.
- Earn Conquest Points which can reward gear every week.
With the benefits of enabling War Mode for leveling and PvE content, it is recommended to enable the feature to maximize your leveling and rewards at maximum level. However, you will make yourself available for open world PvP, and the possibility to be "ganked" while leveling or doing World Quests exists.
Unholy Death Knight War Mode Talents
In this section we will rank the PvP talents best for leveling and doing solo / small group PvE content. Below is a ranking of both General PvP Talents and Unholy Death Knight-specific PvE talents.
General PvP Talents
- Adaptation is likely your most passive choice since it will automatically remove loss of control effects over 5 seconds. It is recommended for leveling to take this PvP talent.
- Gladiator's Medallion is an on-use ability that removes all movement impairing effects and all loss of control effects.
- Relentless is also a passive ability but it does not automatically remove crowd control abilities but instead reduces the duration.
Unholy Death Knight PvP Talents
- Life and Death causes targets afflicted by your Festering Wounds when they heal to also heal you for 10% of the amount. It also causes your Virulent Plague to deal 400% of the normal eruption damage when it is dispelled. This is powerful for world PvP however it does not get much value when just World Questing.
- Necromancer's Bargain reduces the cooldown of your of your Apocalypse by 45 seconds however your Apocalypse doesn't summon ghouls but instead applies Crpyt Fever to the target. Crpyt fever deals up to 8% of the targets maximum health as Shadow damage over 4 seconds. Healing spells casted on the target refresh the duration of Crpyt Fever. This is a strong choice for World PvP.
- Raise Abomination replaces Army of the Dead and is a 1.5 minute cooldown that raises an Abomination for 25 seconds that applys Festering Wounds when it melees a target and affects all nearby targets with Virulent Plague. This is very strong for both World Questing and World PvP.
- Lichborne replaces Icebound Fortitude. It is a 1 minute cooldown that makes you Undead for 10 seconds, reducing the damage you take by 30% while also making you immune to Stun, Snake, Fear, and Root effects. While you are under the effects of Lichborne you cannot move faster than 50% normal speed.
- Anti-Magic Zone creates a bubble on the ground that lasts for 10 seconds and reduces spell damage taken by raid members inside it by 60%. It has a 2-minute cooldown and it is a good talent if you are expecting mostly magic damage.
- Necrotic Strike is a melee ability that deals Plague damage and converts 1 Festering Wound into a Necrotic Wound. Necrotic Wounds absorb healing received by the target. This ability costs 1 Rune. This talent is only useful for world PvP situations.
- Reanimation reanimates a nearby corpse summoning a zombie with 5 health for 20 seconds which slowly moves towards the target. If it reaches your target, it explodes, stunning all enemies within 5 yards for 3 seconds and dealing 10% of the enemies' health in Shadow damage. This ability costs 1 Rune. This can be a powerful talent for both open world situations and Battle for Azeroth leveling.
- Cadaverous Pallor is a passive that has a 20% activation chance when you are hit by a spell; when this activates, the damage of that spell is completely absorbed and converted into a disease on yourself dealing Nature damage over time. It allows you the manage and survive through bigger magical hits by acting as a psuedo stagger effect.
- Necrotic Aura causes all enemies within 12 yards to take 8% increased magical damage. This has good synergy with abilities such as Virulent Plague and Unholy Blight.
- Decomposing Aura is a passive that causes all enemies within 10 yards to lose up to 3% of their maximum health every 2 seconds, stacking up to 5 times, lasting for 6 seconds. Great talent for big trash pulls and larger fights.
Raise Abomination, Transfusion, Reanimation, and Necrotic Aura are good choices in PvE situations due to them adding to your damage output. Dark Simulacrum, Necrotic Strike, Life and Death, Cadaverous Pallor, and Decomposing Aura have more of a place in PvP as opposed to open world PvE content, as they are tough to use on NPCs. Anti-Magic Zone can be used well in both PvP and PvE situations.
- 23 Nov. 2020: Page updated for Shadowlands release. Updated talent recommendations.
- 12 Oct. 2020: Page updated for the Shadowlands pre-patch.
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