Unholy Death Knight playstyle and rotation guide

Patch 9.2.5 Last Updated: 30th Jul, 2022
Kwepp Unholy Death Knight Author
Kwepp

Playstyle & Rotation

Rotation

Necrolord Single Target Opener: 

  1. Fleshcraft 8 seconds before you pull the boss when using Plague Deviser Marileth
  2. Army of the Dead as you are running towards the boss. (use your pet's Leap to make your Ghouls jump to the boss if they spawn out of melee range.)
  3. Festering Strike
  4. Festering Strike
  5. Potion of Spectral Strength (off gcd)
  6. Berserking / Blood Fury (off gcd)
  7. The First Sigil (off gcd)
  8. Unholy Blight
  9. Dark Transformation
  10. Apocalypse
  11. Abomination Limb
  12. Unholy Assault *If talented*

Continue Necrolord General Single Target Priority List after.

Necrolord General Single Target Priority List:

  1. Soul Reaper - when the target is below 35% health (if talented)
  2. Outbreak - If you are playing with Unholy Blight ignore this step
  3. Death Coil - At 80+ Runic Power or when you have a Sudden Doom proc
  4. Festering Strike - If your target has 3 or less Festering Wound
  5. Scourge Strike - If your target has at least 1 Festering Wound
  6. Death Coil

Night Fae Single Target Opener: 

  1.  Army of the Dead as you are running towards the boss. (use your pet's Leap to make your Ghouls jump to the boss if they spawn out of melee range.)
  2. Festering Strike
  3. Festering Strike
  4. Potion of Spectral Strength (off gcd)
  5. Berserking / Blood Fury (off gcd)
  6. The First Sigil (off gcd)
  7. Unholy Blight
  8. Dark Transformation
  9. Apocalypse.
  10. Unholy Assault *If talented*
  11. Festering Strike
  12. Death’s Due
  13. Scourge Strike until 4 stacks of Death’s Due

Continue Night Fae General Single Target Priority List after.

Night Fae General Single Target Priority List:

  1. Soul Reaper - when the target is below 35% health (if talented).
  2. Death’s Due and Scourge Strike straight after to maintain 4 stacks of Death’s Due
  3. Outbreak - If you are playing with Unholy Blight ignore this step
  4. Death Coil - At 80+ Runic Power or when you have a Sudden Doom proc
  5. Festering Strike - If your target has 3 or less Festering Wounds
  6. Scourge Strike - If your target has at least 1 Festering Wound
  7. Death Coil

Multi-Target Setup/Burst Window (Clawing Shadows + Unholy Blight):

  1. Festering Strike (If the pack doesn't last very long, forget this step)
  2. Festering Strike (If the pack doesn't last very long, forget this step)
  3. Apocalypse (If the pack doesn't last very long, forget this step)
  4. Unholy Blight
  5. Dark Transformation
  6. Abomination Limb *If available*
  7. Death and Decay / Death’s Due
  8. Clawing Shadows / Scourge Strike (Use repeatedly until out of runes or you are about to overcap on runic power, use Epidemic to spend runic power)
  9. When Death and Decay finishes, use the General Single Target Priority List but replace Death Coil with Epidemic instead.

Multi-Target Setup/Burst Window (Infected Claws + Bursting Sores):

  1. Outbreak to apply Virulent Plague to all of your targets
  2. Dark Transformation (give your Abomination some time to stack up some Festering Wounds on the pack before you use Death and Decay.)
  3. Festering Strike
  4. Festering Strike
  5. Apocalypse
  6. Abomination Limb *If available*
  7. Death and Decay / Death’s Due
  8. Unholy Assault *If talented*
  9. Scourge Strike (repeatedly use until you are out of runes, then use Epidemic to proc Runic Corruption so you can keep using Scourge Strike during Death and Decay)
  10. Once Death and Decay has ended, dump all of your runic power by using Epidemic
  11. Use the General Single Target Priority List but replace Death Coil with Epidemic instead.

Cooldowns & When To Use Them

You want to make sure you are pairing as many cooldowns together as possible, so with that in mind, here is how you want to go about doing precisely that:

Army of the Dead

You always want to use Army of the Dead with Unholy Blight and Dark Transformation. It will do significantly more damage when used in conjunction with these other cooldowns. You should use it at least 5 seconds before your other cooldowns because the Ghouls from Army of the Dead have a spawn time/animation. The Ghouls from your Army of the Dead last for 30 seconds, so as long as your other cooldowns start and finish within these 30 seconds then you are not losing any value. The only time you want to use Army of the Dead without Dark Transformation & Unholy Blight is when they will not be off cooldown before the boss dies, then you would use Army of the Dead on its own, so you do not miss out on a cast of Army of the Dead.

The First Sigil

Always use this with Army of the Dead. Even if you will miss out on an overall use, you should always pair this with Army of the Dead. If you are on a sub 5.5 minute encounter like Sludgefist, you should use The First Sigil when you Bloodlust, so for Sludgefist you will want to hold your Sigil until the 4th pillar (which is typically when you Bloodlust on that encounter). In that scenario, you will miss out on a use of The First Sigil, but that use would be with no other cooldowns so you wouldn’t really gain any value from it anyway, so it is better to hold it for when you have everything together.

Dark Transformation

You always want to pair this with Unholy Blight, and you will always want to use it AFTER Unholy Blight. There is never a scenario where you do not want to pair these together.

Apocalypse

You will ideally always want to use your Apocalypse after Unholy Blight and Dark Transformation. This is because the Ghouls from Apocalypse have a spawn time. The Ghouls are active for around 11 seconds once they finish spawning, so using Apocalypse after Dark Transformation will give Unholy Blight time to stack up. It will be at 4 stacks for 12 seconds when your Apocalypse Ghouls become active, resulting in a perfect overlap. However, because your Apocalypse timings are not set in stone and can vary based on Festering Wounds popped and Death Coil / Epidemic casts, your Apocalypse may not line up perfectly with your other cooldowns.

Here is a list of conditions for when to hold it and when to use it:

  1. Hold Apocalypse if Unholy Blight Dark Transformation are ready in around 15 seconds or less
  2. Hold Dark Transformation Unholy Blight if Apocalypse is ready in around 10 seconds or less
  3. If none of the two conditions above apply, your Apocalypse is out of sync. You should use it as soon as you can
  4. If you do not have the Convocation of the Dead conduit & Army of the Damned talented, use Apocalypse on cooldown and ignore everything above

Another small tip, when Apocalypse is around 10 seconds left on its cooldown, you want to start hovering around 4 stacks of Festering Wound, so you can use Apocalypse as soon as it's off cooldown. If you use Unholy Blight Dark Transformation, then have to use x2 Festering Strike to generate the wounds, your Apocalypse will desync and lose some value from Unholy Blight.

Abomination Limb

You will always want to use Abomination Limb in conjunction with Unholy Blight, Dark Transformation & Apocalypse to make use of the Abomination’s Frenzy legendary effect. Using Abomination Limb after your Unholy Blight has reached 3-4 stacks, Dark Transformation is active and your Apocalypse Ghouls have finished their spawn animation; will result in full uptime of the Abomination’s Frenzy buff for the rest of your cooldowns. In some scenarios, you may want to hold your Abomination Limb if you will not get another cast off for the rest of the fight. In that case, you may want to hold it for the next/last Army of the Dead as long as that is also paired with Unholy Blight, Dark Transformation & Apocalypse. This will result in more value, and you will still not lose a cast.

Plague Deviser Marileth:

You want your cooldowns to benefit from Kevin's Oozeling. With that in mind, here are the following conditions and their priorities:

  1. Use Abomination Limb 5 seconds before you use Army of the Dead
  2. Use Abomination Limb 20 seconds before you use Dark Transformation Unholy Blight
  3. If you are not going to get another use of Abomination Limb in a fight (let's say you have 1 minute and 40 seconds before the boss dies), you can hold Abomination Limb and then pair it up with your next Army of the Dead window before the boss dies. If you are not going to get another Army of the Deadthen pair it up with your next Dark Transformation & Unholy Blight

Bonesmith Heirmir:

  1. You can use Abomination Limb on cooldown or save it for AOE as long as you don't miss out on a single use of Abomination Limb during the encounter by doing so. It's generally better to be used with Dark Transformation, so it benefits from your Unholy Pact and the Frenzied Monstrosity legendary effect (if you are using it), but typically these line up pretty reliably if Abomination Limb is used on cooldown

Utility/Defensive Abilities

Anti-Magic Shell

This is one of the best abilities in a Death Knight's toolkit. It makes you immune to many magic auras and debuffs and prevents heavy amounts of magic damage when used correctly. If you pre-use Anti-Magic Shell before walking over a magic-based floor effect, it will make you completely immune to the damage and any additional effects it may apply to you while walking over it. It's important to note that using Anti-Magic Shell only prevents the application of magic debuffs and does not remove them once they have already been applied to you. So make sure you use Anti-Magic Shell before a debuff is applied. When absorbing magic damage with this ability, you also gain Runic Power, which can also be used offensively for a slight DPS gain.

Icebound Fortitude

This is your main heavy mitigation ability that also makes you immune to stun effects. This can be very useful in encounters that have stun mechanics, such as The Tarragrue. It does have a lengthy cooldown, however, so use it wisely. You can also gain more uses of this ability in longer encounters with the conduit Chilled Resilience.

Anti-Magic Zone

This has been nerfed since its first integration in the Shadowlands pre-patch. However, it is still a helpful raid cooldown that can help your raid team. It loses value based on how many allies are within it, so it will not be as strong in raids, but it's worth using along with some other healing cooldowns as an extra safety measure.

Lichborne

On its own, it's only beneficial in niche situations where you will be Feared, Charmed, or put to Sleep. However, when using the conduit Hardened Bones it becomes a valuable, extra mitigation ability that you will want to use in conjunction with Anti-Magic ShellFleshcraft, or Icebound Fortitude.

Death Grip

Death Grip is an iconic Death Knight ability that makes them stand out from other classes in the game. No other class can grip enemies into specific positions, making Death Knight very strong in add control encounters. Make sure to always keep an eye out for enemies outside of the rest, and grip them in so your group and cleave them down with the rest. It's also an effective way to interrupt a target from casting, even if they are uninterruptible, as it counts as a form of CC and not an interrupt. 

Death's Advance

A Death Knight's main weakness is mobility. Death's Advance usage is a key part of what makes a good Death Knight player. It's your only mobility spell if you are not talented into Wraith Walk, so it is crucial to use it at the right time. It also makes you immune to knockback effects which can be incredibly strong in encounters like Remnant of Nerzhul. You can increase its effectiveness with the conduit Fleeting Wind.

Raise Ally

Along with Druids and Warlocks, Death Knights are one of the only classes in the game that can resurrect an ally during combat. Raise Ally is an instant cast, so it is generally the best combat res if you need to get somebody back into the fight ASAP.

Sacrificial Pact

As Unholy, you will only ever want to use Sacrificial Pact as your last resort because killing your pet and resummoning it will result in a heavy damage loss, especially during Dark Transformation. However, you do no damage when you are dead, so if you have nothing left to survive, Sacrificial Pact is an excellent tool to utilize. 

Death Strike

After taking a heavy hit of damage, you can heal a significant amount after using Death Strike, making your healer's life a lot easier and maybe proccing Runic Corruption afterward. Ensure to utilize this ability after taking a large amount of damage if you are out of Spiritual Healing Potions and Healthstones.

Chains of Ice

Another helpful tool for Death Knights to use is Chains of Ice, which is very strong when an add needs to be slowed or kited by your tank. However, it does come at the cost of a rune, so using this too much will often leave you rune starved. Make sure only to use it when it's needed or called for. If you have multiple targets that need to be slowed simultaneously, consider using the talent Grip of the Dead instead of applying Chains of Ice to multiple targets.