Unholy Death Knight DPS Spec, Builds, and Talents — Shadowlands 9.1
On this page, you will find out the best talents for each tier for your Unholy Death Knight in World of Warcraft — Shadowlands 9.1. 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 Still Mind and Codex of the Still 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+ has two distinct talent builds that you pick depending on preference, dungeon, and affixes. 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 Shadowlands.
- 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 build is able to put out very competitive AoE damage, so you will see many players using this build in Mythic+ and Raid.
This is the best generic-AoE/Cleave build for Shadowlands.
- Level 15: Clawing Shadows
- 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
Running the combination of Infected Claws and Bursting Sores is also a viable option. You gain a lot of AoE but sacrifice single target. Furthermore, you can also pick up Pestilent Pustules and Unholy Assault if you want to go for a full AoE build. We generally do not recommend to do so due to the loss in single target.
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 cleaves 50% off all other enemies within 8 yards.
- 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 AoE situations, due to the cleave ability of your ghoul applying Festering Wounds to multiple targets. This talent shines the most in Mythic+ content in conjunction with Bursting Sores.
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. This also helps greatly in Mythic+, as you can stand far away from any pack and cleave. Dangerous melee mechanics and kiting tanks are no issues when running this talent! 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 and avoid the armour reduction. This talent is currently a very strong a choice along with All Will Serve for Single Target/Cleave. This sees play on some raid fights in Castle Nathria and is our recommended choice for Mythic+.
All Will Serve is a strong single target choice currently that also adds value to AoE situations. Currently, the Risen Skulker that is summoned when this is talented attacks your target and cleaves all enemies close to that target. It does have a tendency to accidentally pull packs in Mythic+, making it a liability. This sees the most play out of all these talents in Raids.
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 8 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 good for high burst AoE situations. A good way to use this talent in AoE is to apply Festering Wounds on multiple targets then cast Death and Decay then cast Scourge Strike/ Clawing Shadows to pop multiple Festering Wounds in an AoE setting. This talent does also require you to use the talent Infected Claws to gain full benefit and you benefit from also using Pestilent Pustules. This talent still does not see much play compared to Unholy Blight.
Unholy Blight is by far the strongest single-target talent in this tier and has incredible synergy with the Unholy damage kit. This ability also is very strong in AoE thanks to the cleave ability of your Raise Dead minion being buffed by the stacks applied.
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. Also killing an enemy that yields experience or honor resets the cooldown of Death Grip.
- 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 open world content, 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). If the target dies while afflicted with Soul Reaper, you gain Runic Corruption.
Soul Reaper is by far the best option in this tier and gives Unholy access to an execute. Soul Reaper is one of the strongest executes in the game. Soul Reaper does take some planning to use effectively, however, since you can apply it before the target hits 35% or less health, as long as the debuff expires when the mob is in execute range.
Pestilent Pustules has fantastic synergy with Infected Claws. This talent sees play in Mythic+ where trash pulls are fairly large. If you are uncomfortable with using Soul Reaper, this is an easier talent to use.
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.
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. It can also be used for breaking any root effects, however this is usually only seen in PvP situations. This should be your go-to pick, unless one of the other talent in this row is needed for an encounter.
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/ Clawing Shadows 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. The chain effect of this talent works the same as Helchains did in Battle for Azeroth, hitting all targets between you and your pet.
Pestilence is a weak option that does not provide much of a gain to AoE or single-target damage compared to Unholy Pact. It is also capped in how many Festering Wounds it can apply: ~1 maximum per overall tick.
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 and Epidemic casts to reduce the cooldown of Apocalypse by 1 second and Army of the Dead by 5 seconds. Apocalypse and Army of the Damned also summon a Magus of the Dead for 15 seconds.
- Unholy Assault grants you 20% Haste for 12 seconds and infects your target with 4 Festering Wounds. It has a 1.3-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 in this row. However Unholy Assault is still a viable option and has potential in some instances to be the go-to option. This is usually only when a fight is under 3 minutes and Army of the Damned will not give you extra casts of Apocalypse. Make sure to sim these 2 talents with your expected fight duration to see which is better. Unholy Assault is also a possible choice in Mythic+ if you are going for a full AoE build.
Summon Gargoyle is currently the weakest choice and almost never sees play.
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 Unholy Death Knight PvP talents.
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 does not summon ghouls but instead applies Crypt Fever to the target. Crypt fever deals up to 8% of the targets maximum health as Shadow damage over 4 seconds. Healing spells cast on the target refresh the duration of Crypt 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 applies 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.
- Dome of Ancient Shadow increases the spell damage reduction effect of your Anti-Magic Zone by 60%. This is very strong in World PvP and can be strong for PvE, if you are expecting to experience caster mobs.
- 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 6 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 questing and leveling however it is difficult to use in World PvP.
- 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 8 yards to take 8% increased magical damage. This has good synergy with Unholy's damage kit and also helps increase your damage as a group if you are doing content with other players.
- 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. An mediocre talent for PvE and moderately strong in open world PvP.
- Transfusion is a fantastic World PvP talent, since it allows you to Death Strike more frequently for a period of time, which can easily keep you alive. The more Runic Power you have when using this ability, the better.
Raise Abomination, Transfusion, Necromancer's Bargain, 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. Dome of Ancient Shadow can be used well in both PvP and PvE situations.
- 29 Jun. 2021: Guide reviewed and updated for Patch 9.1.
- 10 May 2021: Added some more flavour to talent recommendations.
- 09 Mar. 2021: Reviewed for Patch 9.0.5.
- 19 Jan. 2021: Guide reviewed and completely updated.
- 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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