Unholy Death Knight Talents Guide

Patch 10.2 Last Updated: 7th Nov, 2023
Kwepp Unholy Death Knight Author

Class Talents

Dragonflight brings a brand new overhaul to the talent system, giving us a wide range of talents and abilities to choose from and form builds with. In this section, I will go over different Talent builds for Raiding and Mythic Plus, as well as give a general overview of each Talent and its strengths/synergies with other talents.

There are areas in these talent builds which can be altered depending on your scenario. This can include utility and some throughput choices.

Death Knight Class Tree Discussion

The Death Knight Class Talent Tree has a fair few options, and most of the throughput options are at the bottom of the tree. Below you will find a layout of all of the options available to the Death Knight Class Tree, as well as some more info about notable talents.

unholy dk class tree example

Important/Essential: The talents highlighted in Red are essential talents that you will not deviate from. You should always use these talents as they are too powerful to not have.

Stepstone choice: In order to reach further down the tree, you will need to select a stepstone choice to bridge the gap between talents, so these are the talents you can pick as a way to continue down the talent tree.

Utility options (with 2 points to spare): After picking up all of the mandatory talents, you will have 2 points to spare for some additional utility, you can use these points to either pick up some of the Stepstone choices or the talents highlighted in Cyan which are utility options.

Single Target/AoE: At the very end of the tree you will have one point to spare, with this point you will either spec into Abomination Limb for AoE/Cleave or Soul Reaper for Single Target.

Notable Talents

Abomination Limb: This is going to be your AOE/Cleave choice. It is great for damage and gathering enemies together for you and your group to cleave down. It may also be worth taking on specific boss fights that require enemies to be gripped together. It will cost you some single-target boss damage (although not too much), but it provides almost invaluable utility in the right situations.

Soul Reaper: One of Unholy’s strengths is that it has execute, and Soul Reaper is one of the main reasons for this. You want to pick this talent for any encounter that requires single target boss damage, especially when you need as much damage as possible during final phases (typically in the last few minutes of an encounter where the boss is within the execute range). It loses value outside of single target, so if you are going to be consistently dealing with more than one target, then Abomination Limb will pull ahead.

Runic Attenuation: One of Unholy’s primary resources is Runic Power. Runic Attenuation is an essential talent as it provides additional Runic Power, which results in you having more resources for Death Coil / Epidemic casts. 

Cleaving Strikes: To reach the talent Brittle, we have to take this talent, even in scenarios where we will not be using Death and Decay. However, this talent is significant in AOE, as it allows your Scourge Strike to cleave other enemies within your Death and Decay, which is how you will be bursting your Festering Wounds in AOE scenarios.

Blinding Sleet: If you are in a scenario where you need to disable/interrupt a group of enemies simultaneously, you can use Blinding Sleet to blind them all. This only works on enemies that are susceptible to crowd control effects. This talent is helpful in Mythic Plus and boss encounters that require additional control.

Coldthirst: This is an excellent talent to pick if you are in a scenario where you are using Mind Freeze a lot. It gives you a bit of Runic Power (a nice throughput bonus). It makes your Mind Freeze a 12-second cooldown instead of 14 seconds, which can be substantial depending on how frequently an enemy casts an important ability.

Unholy Endurance:  Lichborne is typically not very useful outside of immuning fear, sleep, and charm effects; however, this talent makes Lichborne a small personal defensive cooldown you can use in combination with another defensive like Anti-Magic Shell. It’s generally nice to have if you don’t need Death’s Reach / Grip of the Dead.

Asphyxiate: Just like Blinding Sleet, this is mostly used when you need to crowd control an enemy; however, it only affects one target, but the stun lasts for 5 seconds and does not break on damage (like the Blind effect from Blinding Sleet does). This is worth taking if you need additional crowd control.

Wraith Walk: This talent is very useful for getting out of root effects and being a nice movement ability if you need it. Although this talent is a bit out of the way and requires you to take Death Pact, Assimilation, or Asphyxiate to reach, it’s quite a commitment that will mean you will have to give up other forms of utility/defensives.

Acclimation: This makes your Icebound Fortitude a 2-minute cooldown. Most of the time, you will not use this; however, if there is a scenario where you take a big hit of damage every 2 minutes, then this talent could be a good option.

Anti-Magic Barrier: Anti-Magic Shell is a powerful ability that can be used to prevent a lot of negative aura effects and absorb a lot of magic damage, so increasing its duration, reducing its cooldown and increasing the absorb amount is very strong and you should use this talent in any encounter that involves magic damage.

Anti-Magic Zone: Most of the time, you want to take this talent as it is a raid cooldown; while it is not very strong for Unholy, it is still a helpful raid cooldown that can be utilized by your Raid or Mythic Plus team for magic damage encounters. If you are in a situation where no Magic damage mitigation is needed, you can save yourself a point and pick something else.

Assimilation: When using Anti-Magic Zone, you give up a potential offensive spell cast, so gaining some additional Runic Power from Anti-Magic Zone is a nice bonus. Can be very useful to gain additional runic power for Summon Gargoyle ramps.

Death’s Echo: You get a lot of value from this talent as you gain 2 charges of Death’s Advance (which greatly helps with mobility), 2 charges of Death Grip (which is super nice for gripping adds into place) and 2 charges of Death and Decay which works really well in AOE as you can use Death and Decay back to back, for 20 seconds of Scourge Strike cleave. If you are using the Defile then this talent will also allow you to extend your Defile stacks a lot more, making this talent even more invaluable.

Spec Talents

In this section I will be discussing each of the talents in the spec tree, where you would want to use them and how they synergise with other talents. This should add some context to the choices in the builds below.

Dark Transformation: This is one of your most essential cooldowns. It turns your Ghoul into a Monstrosity and empowers it for 15 seconds. Your Dark Transformation interacts with many talents in the Unholy Spec Tree, including Eternal Agony, Infected Claws, Ghoulish Frenzy, Unholy Aura, and Commander of the Dead, so it is a vital part of your kit.

Epidemic: Death Coil starts to lose value when you are dealing with 3-4 or more stacked targets, and this is when Epidemic is a good choice if you need a consistent Runic Power spender for AOE scenarios. It does a lot of damage when you are using it on large numbers of stacked enemies and is a great way to stack Death Rot on multiple targets at once.

Unholy Blight: Unholy Blight is an excellent way to apply your diseases to multiple enemies around you over 6 seconds, as well as applying an additional disease. This talent plays well into Morbidity and Plaguebringer, due to Plaguebringer increasing the rate at which your Unholy Blight disease does damage and the other diseases you have applied to the target. It's mostly used in AoE/Cleave scenarios, as you need to commit a point into Epidemic if you want to reach it.

Infected Claws: We want to pick this talent mainly because it allows you to reach very strong talents such as Reaping and Plaguebringer. The talent is also excellent, enabling your Ghoul to apply wounds to your target(s) while using other abilities such as Death Coil. It is also a vital part of your AOE because Dark Transformation causes your Ghoul to cleave with its attacks, so Infected Claws will cleave applications of Festering Wounds to a group of enemies.

Apocalypse: One of your core abilities is Apocalypse, and it will also be provided a good portion of your damage by summoning Ghouls, as well as Magus of the Dead. You will want to use this talent in almost all scenarios unless you are doing constant sustained cleave/AoE, then Apocalypse loses value.

Defile: This is a very solid talent to pick up in any form of AoE/Cleave scenario as it gives you a lot of additional damage from the mastery buff. It also makes your Death and Decay a 20 second cooldown, so it allows you to maintain the 8% mastery buff for a while when used in combination with Death’s Echo.

In Season 3, this talent has a lot of synergy with our new tierset, because you can chain the 8% mastery buff for most of the duration of your Magus of the Dead’s, which makes this talent a very strong option for single target scenarios as well. Defile buffs extending/management will be covered more in the Important Buff Management section, later on in this guide.

Plaguebringer / Clawing Shadows: This is an interesting choice node, as it offers two uniquely strong talents that will alter your gameplay a fair bit. Plaguebringer is focused around your diseases, and it’s a buff that you will want to keep as much uptime on as possible. It works very well with Superstrain and Unholy Blight, as it affects all diseases you inflict your target(s) with.

Clawing Shadows can be appealing due to the 30-yard range on Scourge Strike, and also because it makes Scourge Strike deal 100% shadow damage instead of 50% physical and 50% shadow. So it does mean that your Scourge Strikes will deal more damage naturally, as magic damage ignores armor and scales better with your Mastery: Dreadblade.

All Will Serve: Generally a single target talent. However, it’s worth noting that it loses a lot of value in encounters where the boss moves large distances, due to pet AI. Your Skeletal Archer will be doing nothing while it tries to catch up to the boss, then it will attempt to shoot again, by the time it’s about to finish its cast the boss will be out of range again, so the cycle will continue and your Skeletal Archer will be essentially AFK so it’s good to keep in mind.

Bursting Sores / Ebon Fever: Both talents are well suited for Cleave/AOE scenarios. Bursting Sores is more oriented around very big burst AoE for a large amount of targets.When used in combination with Vile Contagion, Infected Claws & Festermight you will be getting a lot of value from this talent in AOE.

Ebon Fever is not burst-oriented like Bursting Sores, but it still scales well in AoE and sustained cleave fights. If you combine this talent with Morbidity and Plaguebringer, you can get a lot of damage out of it. It is also strong in single target when used alongside Plaguebringer. The targets need to last long enough for you to get most of the disease ticks before they die, so if enemies are dying super fast and you want frequent AoE burst , then you won't see much value at all from Ebon Fever and are probably better off with Bursting Sores.

Magus of the Dead: Does solid damage and benefits from Unholy Aura & Commander of the Dead and extra stat buffs such as Festermight. It's very strong in Season 3 for both single target & AoE scenarios, and you will want to use it in every scenario due to its interaction with the new tier set (the tier set is designed purely around this talent, so it’s obvious must have).

Improved Death Coil: This gives Unholy some good damage in two target cleave scenarios, as the additional Death Coil will also apply Coil of Devastation and Death Rot to target it does damage to, which is a really nice interaction that can make a noticeable difference. With this talent, you will always prioritize Death Coil over Epidemic at 3 targets as it does more damage.

Vile Contagion: In the past, you would normally have to wait for your Dark Transformation to apply wounds to your targets before you could use Death and Decay and spam Scourge Strike to pop them all. However, with this talent, you can now easily mass-spread wounds across all your targets in a small area. It is incredibly powerful when you’re building around Bursting Sores.

Army of the Dead: This ability is iconic for Unholy Death Knight and is also one of your strongest cooldowns. You will always want this cooldown as it is a major source of your single target damage when you are benefitting from haste buffs such as Bloodlust and Power Infusion, and your own cooldowns/buffs like Commander of the Dead from Dark Transformation, Empower Rune Weapon, Unholy Assault, etc.

Summon Gargoyle: Summon Gargoyle is a single target talent that leads into Unholy Aura and then Commander of the Dead, both of which are some of our best single target talents so we will naturally always use Summon Gargoyle in single target just so we can get to those other talents. It also scales well with haste buffs like Bloodlust and Power Infusion and you will want to use it with other buffs/cooldowns in the same way as you use Army of the Dead.

Festermight: Festermight is a solid talent that provides a streamline of strength throughout an encounter.However, while Festermight is excellent in single target, its full potential lies in AOE scenarios. When combined with Bursting Sores, Infected Claws, and Vile Contagion you can quickly get to 20 stacks in AOE by popping a lot of Festering Wounds with each Scourge Strike. This all results in Unholy having incredible AOE burst damage, and this talent is one of the main reasons for that.

Army of the Damned: This is a very important talent, as it reduces the cooldown on your Apocalypse to 45 seconds  (which makes it align with Dark Transformation), and it also reduces the cooldown of your Army of the Dead, based on how much Runic Power you spend via Death Coil and Epidemic. Army of the Dead is a very long cooldown (8 minutes), but this talent allows you to reduce that cooldown duration significantly. 

With Army of the Damned, your Army of the Dead cooldown duration should average around 3 minutes, depending on your uptime (if you are unable to generate/spend runic power due to lack of uptime, then you will be losing out on potential cooldown reduction for Army of the Dead). In single target, it is vital that you reduce the cooldown of  Army of the Dead’s enough so it will  align with Summon Gargoyle. With the cooldown alignment perks this talent brings for Apocalypse and the cooldown reduction on Army of the Dead, you will want to take this talent in almost all scenarios.

Unholy Assault: This talent buffs your damage, and benefits your other cooldowns such as Summon Gargoyle and Army of the Dead. It lasts 20 seconds long, so you can use it in combination with Empower Rune Weapon so you have a perfect overlap of buff duration during your cooldowns. You want to apply both Unholy Assault and Empower Rune Weapon in conjunction with each other at 20 seconds of your Summon Gargoyle, this means you will get the full buff duration for your Summon Gargoyle and also Army of the Dead.

This talent also works very well when playing with Bursting Sores and Vile Contagion. You can use it to apply 4 wounds to your main target, then use Vile Contagion to spread those wounds across multiple targets and then you will have a damage buff from Unholy Assault and a haste buff from Empower Rune Weapon while you pop all of your wounds in your Death and Decay window. Overall this is a solid talent that you will want to pick up in most, if not all, scenarios.

Commander of the Dead: Finally, we come to Commander of the Dead, a major talent that shines best in single target, significantly buffing your major single target cooldowns Army of the Dead, Apocalypse (including Magus of the Dead), and Summon Gargoyle. Commander of the Dead is one of the most significant damage increases for your minions, so it is one of the strongest, if not one, of the best talents you can take for a minion-focused build.

Talent Builds

Bear in mind that these builds are just baselines, and some raid encounters/scenarios favor other talents which will alter these builds.

[Raid] Single Target & 2 Target Standard Build


This is your standard single target and 2 target cleave build. Most of its cleave will come from Improved Death Coil, so if you are fighting 3 or more targets, I recommend using the Defile build below.

[Raid] Defile Build


Build Note: This build is the better option sim wise for single target, however it does require the boss to always stay in Defile after placing it. If you are playing a high movement single target fight then I would recommend using the Standard build above.

This build also works well for cleave encounters when fighting 3 or more targets. I also recommend swapping Soul Reaper for Abomination Limb if you do not have a consistent priority target to execute.

[Mythic Plus] Disease Build


In Mythic Plus there is more room for flexibility for utility. If you will not need to self heal much with Death Strike, you can replace Improved Death Strike and go for some other options such as Grip of the Dead, Acclimation, Anti-Magic Zone, March of the Darkness etc.