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Unholy Death Knight DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (WoW 4.3.4)

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In this article, we list your Unholy Death Knight (WoW 4.3) core abilities and how they should be used together (rotation). We also explain when to use your various cooldowns. Then, we go deeper and present all the subtleties that playing an Unholy Death Knight will face you with. The other articles of our Unholy Death Knight guide can be accessed from the table of contents on the left.

1. Basic Single Target Rotation↑top

The single target Unholy Death Knight rotation follows a priority system that can best be summarised like this:

  1. Keep your diseases (Frost Fever Icon Frost Fever and Blood Plague Icon Blood Plague) up at all times (apply with Outbreak Icon Outbreak and refresh through Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike).
  2. Cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation.
  3. Cast Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay/Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike if both of your Unholy or Death runes are available.
  4. Cast Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike if both of your Blood and Frost runes are available.
  5. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil if you have a Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom proc or you are about to reach maximum runic power.
  6. Cast Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay/Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike.
  7. Cast Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike.
  8. Cast Horn of Winter Icon Horn of Winter.

1.1. Presence

You should always be in Unholy Presence Icon Unholy Presence.

2. Basic Multiple Target Rotation↑top

The basic multiple target (AoE) rotation is also based on a priority system. It can be summarised as:

  1. Apply (and maintain) your diseases and use Pestilence Icon Pestilence to spread them to all enemies.
  2. Cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation.
  3. Cast Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay/Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike if both of your Unholy or Death runes are available.
  4. Cast Blood Boil Icon Blood Boil if both of your Blood and Frost runes are available.
  5. Cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil if you have a Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom proc or you are about to reach maximum runic power.
  6. Cast Icy Touch Icon Icy Touch.

2.1. Presence

For short periods of AoE damage, you should be in Unholy Presence Icon Unholy Presence. For extended AoE phases, you should use Frost Presence Icon Frost Presence.

3. Cooldown Usage↑top

As an Unholy Death Knight, you have a total of 5 DPS cooldowns. Below, we explain how they are best used.

3.1. Unholy Frenzy

Unholy Frenzy Icon Unholy Frenzy increases your melee haste by 20% for 30 seconds, at the expense of 20% of your maximum health, over its entire duration.

The following three things should be taken into account when using Unholy Frenzy:

  • It does not stack with Heroism Icon Heroism/Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust/Time Warp Icon Time Warp, so you should make sure not to have the two cooldowns overlap.
  • It should be used on cooldown (although it can be delayed slightly to time it with phases when the boss takes increased damage or when particular burst is required).
  • It should be cast together with Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle (but before it), as your gargoyle will inherit your attack speed.

Theoretically, Unholy Frenzy can be cast on any friendly party or raid member, but we recommend casting it on yourself.

3.2. Summon Gargoyle

Summon Gargoyle Icon Summon Gargoyle should always be coupled with Unholy Frenzy Icon Unholy Frenzy. Keep in mind that your gargoyle benefits from your stats at the moment when you summon him, so you should try to time it with any other procs, trinkets or your potion.

Other than that, simply refer to the guidelines listed above for when to cast Unholy Frenzy.

3.3. Empower Rune Weapon

Empower Rune Weapon Icon Empower Rune Weapon refreshes all of your runes and grants you 25 runic power. It has a 5 minute cooldown and, as such, it can realistically be used only twice per fight.

Empower Rune Weapon should be used when all of your runes are on cooldown and you have low runic power. It is useful in providing a large burst of DPS, so keep that in mind when deciding when to use it.

3.4. Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead summons a number of ghouls to fight at your side for a short while. As it has a 10 minute cooldown, it can only be used once per fight.

It is best to cast this shortly before combat or during phases when you cannot attack the boss, since it has a cast time during which you cannot attack.

3.5. Blood Tap

Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap will instantly turn one of your Blood runes into an available Death rune. You should use this on cooldown, but only if one or both of your Blood runes are unavailable.

4. Optional Read: Mastering Your Unholy Death Knight↑top

The above-mentioned priorities (and the resulting rotation) may appear complex and confusing. To alleviate this, we will explain, among other things, the rotation in a bit more detail.

4.1. The Runic Resource System

Death Knights use a unique resource system. Because this system is quite intricate, we have written a separate, comprehensive guide dealing with it. We strongly advise you to read it, and familiarise yourself with the resource system, as it holds a central place in the Death Knight paradigm.

4.2. Dark Simulacrum

Dark Simulacrum Icon Dark Simulacrum is a very special ability. It places a debuff on the target, which causes you to mimic their next spell cast that costs mana to use. This grants you the ability (it will replace Dark Simulacrum on your bars) for a short amount of time. Using this mimicked ability can be very beneficial (even exploitative) on some encounters.

Note that Dark Simulacrum does not work, most times, in PvE.

4.3. Keeping Diseases Up

In addition to the damage that your two diseases do, the damage done by Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike is increased by 18% for each disease present on the target (this extra damage is dealt as Shadow damage). For this reason, it is imperative to have a high up-time on your diseases.

Thanks to Festering Strike Icon Festering Strike prolonging the duration of your diseases, they should never drop off. At the start of the fight, as well as any other time that they may drop off, you should simply re-apply them with Outbreak Icon Outbreak.

4.4. Dark Transformation and Death Coil

Each time you cast Death Coil Icon Death Coil, you stack a buff on your ghoul. When the buff reaches 5 stacks, you can cast Dark Transformation Icon Dark Transformation, which consumes the stacks and significantly buffs your ghoul for 30 seconds.

To put it simply, you should use Dark Transformation on cooldown. Maximising the amount of time that your ghoul is transformed is an important part of your DPS.

Note that your ghoul cannot gain any stacks of the buff while he is transformed, meaning that you should attempt to save your runic power and use a series of Death Coils as soon as his transformation ends.

Sometimes, you will get free Death Coils proccing from Sudden Doom Icon Sudden Doom. In this case, you should use the free Death Coil regardless of the state of your ghoul's transformation, since it may otherwise be wasted by a new proc.

4.5. Death and Decay and Scourge Strike

Even against a single target, Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay has priority over Scourge Strike Icon Scourge Strike, but because it is limited by a cooldown, you will have to use Scourge Strike in between casts of Death and Decay.

Make sure that you place your Death and Decay in such a way that the boss or adds remain on the affected ground for its entire duration. If the mobs are being moved, simply delay your cast until you can be sure. Once you have a better mastery of the encounter, this will not be a problem.

4.6. Horn of Winter

The mention of Horn of Winter Icon Horn of Winter in the DPS priority list may seem odd, so we would like to quickly clarify it. As a Unholy Death Knight, there are certain moments in your rotation when there is literally no damaging spell you can cast. Occasionally, you can fill this dead-time with casts of Horn of Winter, which will serve not only to refresh the buff for your raid, but also to grant you 10 runic power.




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