Unholy Death Knight playstyle and rotation guide

Patch 10.1 Last Updated: 29th May, 2023
Kwepp Unholy Death Knight Author

Playstyle & Rotation

Gargoyle Single Target Opener: 

  1. Outbreak / Unholy Blight (if talented)
  2. Army of the Dead
  3. Festering Strike
  4. Summon Gargoyle & Dark Transformation
  5. Death Coil
  6. Death Coil
  7. Death Coil
  8. Death Coil (If you get a Sudden Doom proc)
  9. Unholy Assault & Empower Rune Weapon 
  10. Apocalypse
  11. Death and Decay (if you are using Unholy Ground)
  12. Vial of Animated Blood (at 18 seconds of Summon Gargoyle)
  13. Blood Fury (in the last 15 seconds of Summon Gargoyle)
  14. Berserking (in the last 15 seconds of Summon Gargoyle)
  15. Irideus Fragment in the last 15 seconds of Summon Gargoyle
  16. Death and Decay in the last 10 seconds of Summon Gargoyle

Continue to the General Single Target Priority List.

General Single Target Priority List:

  1. Defile (If talented) during Dark Transformation to maintain 8 stacks
  2. Death Coil - ONLY if Summon Gargoyle is active.
  3. Soul Reaper - When the target is below 35% health (if talented).
  4. Outbreak / Unholy Blight - When Virulent Plague is about to drop.
  5. Death and Decay - if you are using Unholy Ground and Dark Transformation / Apocalypse / Army of the Dead / Summon Gargoyle are active
  6. Death Coil 
  7. Festering Strike - If your target has 3 or less Festering Wounds.
  8. Scourge Strike - If your target has at least 1 Festering Wound or you do not have Plaguebringer (if talented) active.

Standard Single Target Opener: 

  1. Outbreak / Unholy Blight (if talented) on pull
  2. Army of the Dead
  3. Defile (if talented)
  4. Unholy Assault
  5. Dark Transformation
  6. Apocalypse & Empower Rune Weapon
  7. Death and Decay (if you are using Unholy Ground)
  8. Irideus Fragment / Vial of Animated Blood
  9. Blood Fury / Berserking

Continue General Single Target Priority List after.

Short Multi-Target Setup/Burst Window:

Use this for packs of mobs that die quickly

  1. Outbreak / Unholy Blight (if talented)
  2. Algeth’ar Puzzle Box
  3. Defile (If talented)
  4. Dark Transformation
  5. Festering Strike
  6. Unholy Assault
  7. Vile Contagion (if talented)
  8. Apocalypse
  9. Abomination Limb & Empower Rune Weapon
  10. Irideus Fragment / Vial of Animated Blood
  11. Death and Decay
  12. Scourge Strike (Use repeatedly until out of runes or you are about to overcap on runic power, use Epidemic to spend runic power)
  13. Defile to refresh refresh Defile stacks before they expire (if talented) 
  14. Once Death and Decay finishes use the General Multi-Target Priority List.

Long Multi-Target Setup/Burst Window:

Use this for packs of mobs that take longer to die/will last at least 20 seconds.

  1. Outbreak / Unholy Blight (if talented)
  2. Defile (If talented)
  3. Festering Strike
  4. Unholy Assault
  5. Vile Contagion (if talented)
  6. Death and Decay (If you are not using Defile)
  7. Scourge Strike (ignore runic power unless you have 0 runes / 0 wounds)
  8. Dark Transformation & Empower Rune Weapon (4 seconds into Death and Decay)
  9. Irideus Fragment / Vial of Animated Blood (if you are not using Algeth’ar Puzzle Box)
  10. Scourge Strike (ignore runic power unless you have 0 runes / 0 wounds)
  11. Abomination Limb (After Death and Decay finishes)
  12. Apocalypse (even if you only have 1 Festering Wound applied to your target)
  13. Defile to refresh refresh Defile stacks before they expire (if talented) 
  14. Death and Decay

Continue General Multi-Target Priority List

General Multi-Target Priority List:

  1. Defile (If talented) to maintain 8 stacks
  2. Outbreak / Unholy Blight - When Virulent Plague is about to drop
  3. Death and Decay - if you are using Unholy Ground and Dark Transformation / Apocalypse / Army of the Dead / Summon Gargoyle are active
  4. Epidemic - When you are at 80+ runic power, or have 0 runes
  5. Scourge Strike - If you have Festering Wounds on your targets or you do not have Plaguebringer (if talented) active
  6. Festering Strike - Apply Festering Wounds to low health targets or to your main target
  7. Epidemic

Important Buff Management


Festermight will be one of the main buffs that you will play around. It lasts 20 seconds, and you want to ensure your cooldowns get the most out of this buff. If Festermight is going to drop within 5-7 seconds, then you want to hold your cooldowns until it has finished, so you can start a new Festermight window with your cooldowns so that they benefit from the full 20-second buff.

You will usually always start your first Festermight window with Apocalypse, but if you trigger your next Festermight window immediately after the first one, you will have a 5-second gap between Apocalypse and your current Festermight dropping. So after your first Festermight window (triggered by Apocalypse), you want to hold off on popping any Festering Wounds for at least 3-4 seconds before you start a new 20-second Festermight window, that way, it will drop off just before Apocalypse comes off CD. This is important because you don’t want to have a desync between Festermight and your cooldowns, and you don’t want to hold your cooldowns just because you are waiting for Festermight to drop before.


Most of the time if you follow the rotation guide above then you will keep a good uptime on this buff, but you always want to have this rolling. However, it is a lower priority than Death Coil during Summon Gargoyle or Soul Reaper during execute, so keep that in mind. You always want to ensure you have Virulent Plague (and Blood Plague / Frost Fever when you are using Superstrain) applied to your target before you proc Plaguebringer. Without any diseases applied to your targets, Plaguebringer will do nothing. One final note, it is not worthwhile to use Scourge Strike on a target without Festering Wounds just to maintain Plaguebringer uptime, so always make sure you are popping wounds whenever you use Scourge Strike, even when maintaining Plaguebringer uptime.

Death Rot:

Similarly to Coil of Devastation, Death Rot should naturally stack up and remain applied to your target as long as you do not have any significant downtime or rotational errors. It is an important buff to keep an eye on, so make sure not to drop it.

Coil of Devastation:

As long as you Death Coil every 10 seconds, you will keep a good uptime on this debuff. It is an important debuff for single target, so it is good to keep an eye on and maintain as much uptime on it as possible.


When playing with Defile, a very important part of this talent is the additional Mastery which you gain over the course of its duration. This buff lasts for 3.5 seconds and will retain its current stacks upon refresh, so you are able to sustain your Defile stacks by casting another Death and Decay just before your Defile buff is about to expire. This is possible when using the talent Death’s Echo, as it gives you 2 stacks of Death and Decay (Defile) so make sure to always extend your Defile stacks as much as you can to maximize your damage.

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 would want to go about doing that.

Dark Transformation:

You want to use this as frequently as possible, and along with Summon Gargoyle, Army of the Dead and Apocalypse so you can buff them with Commander of the Dead. You will generally always use Dark Transformation on cooldown, but make sure your Apocalypse is used within 10 seconds so Apocalypse can fully benefit from Commander of the Dead. They should generally come off cooldown close to each other because they are both on a 45 second cooldown, however the opener will desync them slightly. Make sure to ALWAYS use your Dark Transformation 4 seconds after Army of the Dead and right after Summon Gargoyle, they are both a very significant portion of your damage and it is vital that they get the full benefit of Commander of the Dead.

Summon Gargoyle:

You always want to use Summon Gargoyle with Army of the Dead, typically 4 seconds after so you do not waste any value from Commander of the Dead (due to Ghoul spawn times). You will always want to make sure you use Summon Gargoyle in conjunction with Army of the Dead and with as many other cooldowns as possible. If your Army of the Dead is not ready yet, you should hold Summon Gargoyle for your next Army of the Dead. If you are not going to get another Army of the Dead in the fight, then use Summon Gargoyle with as many other cooldowns as possible (Unholy Assault, Dark Transformation, Apocalypse, Empower Rune Weapon).

Army of the Dead:

You always want to use Army of the Dead with Dark Transformation and any other cooldowns such as Unholy Assault and Empower Rune Weapon. 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 30 seconds, you are not losing any value. The only time you want to use Army of the Dead without your other cooldowns 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.


You want to use Apocalypse as frequently as possible and within 10 seconds of your Dark Transformation as they both have a 45 second cooldown (though the opener will create a slight desync). However, make sure not to use Apocalypse if Festermight is about to drop off. You want to hold it until Festermight has dropped, and then you can start a new Festermight window with Apocalypse (starting you off with 4 stacks).

Unholy Assault:

As Unholy Assault is a 1.5-minute cooldown, it will always align with Dark Transformation, Apocalypse, and Summon Gargoyle. You will always want to use it in conjunction with Summon Gargoyle / Army of the Dead, and if those are on cooldown, then you will want to use it with Dark Transformation and Apocalypse.

Empower Rune Weapon:

You will always want to use this with Summon Gargoyle & Army of the Dead in Single Target. It should also always line up with Unholy Assault and should be used alongside it, in both AoE and Single Target.


When you are playing with Defile in a Single Target scenario, you want to make sure you have 2 charges of Defile ready for your Dark Transformation/Apocalypse window, so they can fully benefit from the 8% mastery buff in their duration. It is ideal to use Defile before Dark Transformation & Apocalypse, so by the time your Ghouls have spawned from Apocalypse you will already be at 4-5 stacks of Defile

As for AoE, you should want to use Defile as much as possible while also extending the duration of your 8 stack Defile buff.

Death and Decay:

Death and Decay should only be used when you are in cleave/AoE scenarios. The main reason for using Death and Decay in these scenarios is to pop Festering Wounds on multiple targets at once with Cleaving Strikes. This not only does a lot of damage but also gives you a lot of Festermight stacks, which is a key component to your AoE throughput as Unholy. 

If you do not have many Festering Wounds applied to your targets, then do not waste your Death and Decay. Instead, wait to build up some more Festering Wounds by using Festering Strike on each target, waiting for your Dark Transformation to apply more wounds with Infected Claws, or by using Vile Contagion on a target with multiple Festering Wounds.

Vile Contagion:

As mentioned above, Vile Contagion is a way to spread Festering Wounds on multiple enemies around your main target, and it’s a very potent cooldown that greatly speeds up your “ramp/setup” for AoE. You want to use Vile Contagion once you have applied Festering Wounds on your main target; generally, you will do this with either Festering Strikes and/or Unholy Assault, so that you apply 5-6 Festering Wounds on all other targets around it. Then you can place down Death and Decay and start popping them all! Doing a lot of damage (especially with Bursting Sores) and also building up a lot of Festermight stacks!

Abomination Limb:

Generally, you will want to use this on cooldown along with some of your other cooldowns, but you should never hold onto it for so long that you miss a usage. If you take this ability for AoE, you will want to use it whenever you use your other cooldowns to get the maximum burst damage possible during AoE. The only additional time that you may use it differently is if you are using it as utility during an encounter that involves gripping multiple targets, but typically in these scenarios, you will be using your cooldowns anyway to cleave the targets down.

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. When in magic damage-based fights, Anti-Magic Shell is insanely strong, and taking the talent Anti-Magic Barrier allows you to use it more frequently, as well as increasing its duration and absorb amount.

Icebound Fortitude:

This is your main heavy mitigation ability that makes you immune to stun effects. This can be very useful in encounters that have stun mechanics. It does have a lengthy cooldown, however, so use it wisely. The cooldown of this ability can also be reduced to 2 minutes if you talent into Acclimation.

Anti-Magic Zone:

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.


On its own, it's only beneficial in niche situations where you will be Feared, Charmed, or put to Sleep. However, when using the talent Unholy Endurance it becomes a valuable extra mitigation ability that you will want to use in high-damage encounters.

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 certain encounters.

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.

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 Refreshing 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.