Unholy PVE Guide (5.2)

Death Knight
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Greetings my fellow DKs!

I'm afraid my real life work responsibilities have eclipsed the time I once used for guide writing. You may have seen on Elitist Jerks that I passed my responsibilities to the very capable Mendenbarr and he has stewardship over the Frost and Unholy spec guides now. As such, my sticky here is not the latest information on our class any longer and I encourage you to seek more up to date sources of class news :).

I hope that someone here on Battle.net will write an all new Unholy Guide. Writing here is rewarding, often humorous, and allows you to meet a lot of players.

It has been a most distinct pleasure to write and answer here, and while I no longer have the resources to contribute on this board, I hope to see plenty of you online or in #Acherus Chat:

Info on #Acherus:

Suffer well!

Content Current to 5.2, Mists of Pandaria

I've moved servers to Zul'jin! Unfortunately, my profile doesn't seem to be updating with any of my posts, so here it is for reference:

Corrections & Updates
If you find any inaccurate, incomplete or omitted material, I would very much appreciate a polite reply so that I can make the necessary corrections. It's entirely possible for me to mistype or forget to include something. It would never be my intention to knowingly confuse or misinform people. I appreciate suggestions and hope this can be a springboard for better play, comprehension, and discussion.

I will make updates and additions as is feasible and desired. If changes in between a patch affects the core material, I will make the necessary updates. Otherwise, I believe patch-to-patch should be sufficient.

Special Thanks
I'd like to give an especially thankful shout-out to Magdalena. Your help with this thread was invaluable!

Cheers (and pie) to the core group of #Acherus. Every time I log into chat, I'm reminded of what makes this group great. I have been impressed all year long by the threads and initiative of my many DK friends. You all better come to Irvine next year for Blizzcon!

I would like to thank Consider for his sagely and invaluable contribution. He kept us on the path to good DPS and made me personally appreciate the value of research, testing, and thinking about this game critically.

Thanks to Verelyse for inspiration on making organized multi-posts. No other guide on the WoW forums uses her format, and it is easily the cleanest and most professional I've seen. Also, being a rogue, she pulled a quarter out of my ear which was very cool. I am, however, now missing my wallet.

I. Introduction
  • Scope of Guide
  • Summary of Changes

II. Talents
  • Tiers
  • Suggested Glyphs

III. Priority/Play
  • Presence
  • Runeforge
  • Priority
    • Single Target
    • Aoe Targets
  • Ghoul
  • Survival
  • Interrupts
  • Buffs

IV. Gear Optimization
  • Stat Priorities
  • Reforging
  • Gems
  • Enchants
  • BiS

V. Mods

VI. Macros

VII. Resources

[Change Log]
3/1/2011 - Created
4/26/2011 - Updated for 4.1.0
6/23/2011 - Updated for 4.2.0
11/29/2011 - Updated for 4.3.0
8/28/2012 - Updated for 5.0.4
9/25/2012 - Updated for launch of 5.0.4
3/5/2012 - Updated for 5.2
I . I N T R O D U C T I O N
The Thunder King is here...

Unholy Related Notes (aka "Confetti Time!"):

  • Death Siphon now heals for 150% of the damage dealt (was 100%).
  • Conversion now costs 5 Runic Power plus 5 per second thereafter, down from 10 Runic Power plus 10 per second.
  • Death Knights now maintain the same health percentage when switching into and out of Blood Presence.
  • Blood Plague now deals 15% more damage.
  • Frost Fever now deals 15% more damage.
  • Strangulate's cooldown has been reduced to 60 seconds (was 2 minutes).
  • Asphyxiate's cooldown has been reduced to 30 seconds (was 1 minute).
  • Unholy
    • Reaping now also applies to Icy Touch.
    • Summon Gargoyle no longer costs Runic Power.
    • Gargoyle Strike now also deals Shadow damage, in addition to Nature damage.
    • Ebon Plaguebringer now causes Plague Strike to inflict Frost Fever, in addition to its other effects.
    • Scourge Strike now deals 3.8% more damage.
  • Frost and Unholy Tier-14 2-piece set bonus has been reduced to 4% (was 10%) increased damage on Frost Strike, Obliterate, and Scourge Strike.

Back to Table of Contents
I I . T A L E N T S

T i e r s
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The following talent tables include a description of each option and the uses they are most suited to. At the end of each tier, I will make a final analysis to help explain the pros, cons, and key differences between your options. There is no set spec anymore; ultimately, you may pick your current talent lineup based on available information, your personal preference, and the fight at hand.

Level 56

Roiling Blood
Your Blood Boil ability now also triggers Pestilence if it strikes a diseased target.
Roiling Blood is suitable whenever you will be AoEing a lot of mobs that do not spawn all at once, i.e. in staggered aggro. With this talent you can immediately Blood Boil because it will act as an automatic disease spreader between the targets who are already infected and those that are not.
Plague Leech
Draw forth the infection from an enemy, consuming your Blood Plague and Frost Fever diseases on the target to activate a random fully-depleted rune as a Death Rune.
Given that Unholy has Festering Strike to prolong the duration of our diseases, we are looking at a benefit of 1 Unholy Rune every minute (we're not saving a Frost Rune anymore because Plague Strike now applies Frost Fever). This ability and benefit reads nicely on paper but the practical use of it can be a challenge. Diseases should be consumed by Plague Leech within < 3 seconds remaining and that's a small window of opportunity. For the users of the default UI, timing an ability that accurately is difficult since your visibility is limited to two very tiny boxes. For users of mods, the visual complication can be removed but it's still one more element to micromanage.
Unholy Blight
Surrounds the Death Knight with a vile swarm of unholy insects for 10 sec, stinging all enemies within 10 yards every 1 sec, infecting them with Blood Plague and Frost Fever.
In a perfect single target situation, Unholy Blight wouldn't be needed because you've managed to maintain your diseases on the target with only Festering Strike and Outbreak. Again in reality, a.k.a. the unfortunate place we've found ourselves in, diseases sometimes fall off the truck when Outbreak is on cooldown. Maybe there was nasty stuff on the floor, there were movement problems, you had to rez someone, or you made a mistake. If you're ever faced with having to manually reapply diseases through IT/PS, Unholy Blight becomes a slight rune savings and quality of life improvement, simple as that. Unholy Blight can also be useful apart from being a cooldown band-aid. For AoE, trash clearing, and 5-mans, and scenarios Unholy Blight is a quick, Pestilence-free disease applier.

Final Analysis: If you're undaunted by, or actually enjoy, micromanaging the timers required to Plague Leech correctly, it has a slight (~1-1.5%) benefit over Unholy Blight. Otherwise, Unholy Blight is plenty useful in dungeons and has repairing effects on play errors if Boss battles get messy. Roiling Blood can be taken when improved, staggered AoE is demanded.

Level 57

Draw upon unholy energy to become undead for 10 sec. While undead, you are immune to Charm, Fear, and Sleep effects, and Death Coil will heal you.
This talent will probably appeal more to Blood spec and PvPers. For us, Death Coil healing is obviously a direct trade for DPS. Lichborne Death Coils will unfortunately not contribute towards Runic Corruption or Runic Empowerment because they do not operate off of heals (only damage).
Anti-Magic Zone
Places a large, stationary Anti-Magic Zone that reduces spell damage done to party or raid members inside it by 75%. The Anti-Magic Zone lasts for 10 sec or until it absorbs at least X spell damage.
Anti-Magic Zone sets itself apart as the only talent in this tier that has party and raid-wide benefit. Like our classic AMZ, this stationary bubble shields us and anyone smart enough to take a hint. Unlike the classic AMZ, we can now target the location where it will be dropped (akin to how DnD is cast). Also, one important thing that a lot of people underestimate is the amount of damage that AMZ can absorb. Its best use is against a large amount of damage that occurs to everyone simultaneously. A good example of this would be the Elementium Bolt on Madness of Deathwing. When damage occurs in one burst, the Zone will first absorb 75% of the magical attack regardless of the amount. It then registers whether the amount absorbed exceeded the stated amount on the tooltip. If so, then it poofs.
An unholy pacts grants you the ability to fight on through damage that would kill mere mortals. When you would sustain fatal damage, you instead are wrapped in a Shroud of Purgatory, absorbing incoming healing equal to the amount of damage prevented, lasting 3 sec. If any healing absorption remains when Shroud of Purgatory expires, you die. Otherwise, you survive. This effect may only occur every 3 min.
Purgatory is what you could call 'redshirt insurance'. When you would receive damage that is fatal, you're instead dropped to 1 hp and given 3 seconds to heal back the amount of damage that you should have sustained. The best outcome is that you and your healers are able to dissipate the Shroud of Purgatory in time. Alternately, i.e. the 'classic Samurai movie' outcome, is that you sustain too much damage but you go down with a dramatic, drawn out death scene where you compliment your killer's excellent technique. Timmy will weep for your loss and seek appropriate revenge for his fallen master by taking up your sword. (Ok, why is this not a real addition to the talent? Just saying.) You'll notice that if you've used Purgatory, you receive Perdition (a debuff) that prevents the effect from occuring more than once every 3 minutes.

Final Analysis: Anti-Magic Zone carries the most universal benefit when spell damage is prevalent and you're providing enhanced survivability for someone besides yourself. Purgatory can be a great choice during risky progression fights or when a gear check causes personal survival issues. Lichborne isn't forgotten, but there are few occassions where you'll be inclined to take it.

Level 58

Death's Advance
Movement speed increased by 30%. Cannot be slowed below 100% of normal run speed.
Death's Advance is an amazing talent.

We've been asking for ways to help us deal with the parity between casters and melee and increased mobility is a welcomed addition.
Victims of your Frost Fever disease are Chilled, reducing movement speed by 50% for 10 sec, and your Chains of Ice immobilizes targets for 3 sec.
This is another talent which is going to appeal much more to other specs and PvPers. The only noted use for us is when we're talked into kiting mobs that would not be sufficiently handled by the Glyph of Death and Decay. Really though, if your main goal is kiting nasty things, you might as well go Frost.
Lifts an enemy target off the ground and crushes their throat with dark energy, stunning them for 5 sec. Functions as a silence if the target is immune to stuns. Replaces Strangulate.
Again, this talent seems better geared towards PvP since there tends to be other people in a group who are better suited to stunlocking a mob. That said, if you need a Choke-a-Cola, this is certainly a tasty one.

Final Analysis: Death's Advance, all day long.

Level 60

Death Pact
Drain vitality from an undead minion, healing the Death Knight for 50% of their maximum health and causing the minion to suffer damage equal to 50% of its maximum health.
This talent has seen a lot of improvement. Firstly, we're no longer throwing Timmy under the bus and secondly we're being healed a lot more (+25%) in return. If you happened to have your Army of the Dead active, they can be used for Death Pact too. Another upshot is that it doesn't require any resources and it's off the GCD.
Death Siphon
Deal X Shadowfrost damage to an enemy, healing the Death Knight for 150% of damage dealt.
This ability received a +50% healing buff in Patch 5.2. Death Siphon, for Unholy, is superior than using Death Strike but it requires the expenditure of a Death rune and it is on the GCD. The positives are that it can occur as often as you feel like spending Death runes, it's ranged, and it scales with AP and mastery. Death Siphon could be good on fights where the boss is playing peek-a-boo with you (like Alysrazor or Hagara) and you are left with some resources and no target.
Continuously converts Runic Power to health, restoring 3% of maximum health every 1 sec. Only base Runic Power generation from spending runes may occur while Conversion is active. This effect lasts until canceled, or Runic Power is exhausted.
Conversion costs 5 RP on the first tick to cast and has an upkeep of 5 RP for as long as you have RP to spend or cancel the effect manually. Sacrificing an almost full pool of Runic Power would net you close to 60% of your maximum health over 20 seconds. This trade can also impact the effectiveness of your Level 75 talent if you have significantly less outgoing Death Coils. If you compared Conversion to Death Pact, the obvious pants kick is that you have to spend 100 RP to gain 1-10% more health. Still, there are other aspects to keep in mind. One positive is that you're not limited to a 2 minute timer, so you could apply heals over time as often as you had the RP to back it up. You could also change your perspective to look at Conversion as more of a recuperative effect during a lull rather than an "Oh sh!#, hold my beer!" type of heal. If, for example, you're inbetween pulls or phases, you could use your leftover RP to heal yourself rather than watch it go to waste.

Final Analysis: Death Pact offers us the most healing for the least opportunity cost to DPS.

Level 75

Blood Tap
Each damaging Death Coil, Frost Strike, or Rune Strike generates 2 Blood Charges, up to a maximum of 12 charges. Blood Tap consumes 5 Blood Charges to activate a random fully-depleted rune as a Death Rune.
In its most current iteration, Blood Tap is back off the GCD and the Blood Charges have a duration of 24 seconds which is refreshed with each new generation. One other distinguishing feature of Blood Tap is that the consumption will activate a fully-depleted rune as a Death Rune. Even though it's not in the tooltip, Blood Tap's priority for Unholy spec is to activate depleted Blood and Frost Runes rather than Unholy ones. It would be wonderful if this was a baseline ability, but such is unlife.
Runic Empowerment
When you land a damaging Death Coil, Frost Strike, or Rune Strike, you have a 45% chance to activate a random fully-depleted rune.
Its effect on rune activation is random but it's completely passive and not open to error.
Runic Corruption
When you land a damaging Death Coil, Frost Strike, or Rune Strike, you have a 45% chance to activate Runic Corruption, increasing your rune regeneration rate by 100% for X sec.
The time that a Runic Corruption will last is variable and decreasing based on your character's haste because RC's actual duration is 30% of your rune regen time. So, if you had a base rune speed of 7s, your RC would alter your rune speed to 3.5s for 2.1s. Again, this talent is completely passive and it affects all runes equally.

Final Analysis: Choose where you want your regen shot administered. "Would you like this shot in the bum, shoulder, or 'surprise me'?" They're simulating very closely with one another (all within <2% range). Blood Tap is testing highest and provides an elective window to use the proc which places the reward or blame on you. If you're more dependent on Death Runes (for Death Siphon or perhaps Necrotic Strike), then Blood Tap provides that specific gain you're looking for too. Runic Empowerment can also be manipulated to a small degree (i.e. 'gaming') by purposely avoiding the full depletion of a rune. Runic Corruption suffers some due to the inverse haste scaling, but its mechanic is still interesting to a number of players.

Level 90

Gorefiend's Grasp
Shadowy tendrils coil around all enemies within 20 yards of a target (hostile or friendly), pulling them to the target's location.
Gorefiend's Grasp is like an AoE deathgrip, but with some crucial differences. Firstly, it doesn't taunt the enemies and secondly, it pulls nearby enemies to a target. The target could be you or someone else entirely. The obvious PvE example would be to cast Gorefiend's Grasp on your tank in order to draw the mobs closer to them. Or, if your job was to help AoE a certain group of enemies, you could cast it on yourself to help keep those mobs in your range. The only caveat with Gorefiend's Grasp is don't attract more mobs than you can handle. Lastly, you may have also noticed that this talent says you can designate a hostile target for Gorefriend's Grasp. Are the wheels turning yet? I'll let your imagination help you decide how best to use that.
Remorseless Winter
Surrounds the Death Knight with a swirling tempest of frigid air for 8 sec, chilling enemies within 8 yards every 1 sec. Each pulse reduces targets' movement speed by 15% for 3 sec, stacking up to 5 times. Upon receiving a fifth application, an enemy will be stunned for 6 sec.
Remorseless Winter could be used in a similar manner to Gorefiend's Grasp. After casting it on yourself, you become a mobile snare to either help a tank or condense mobs for AoE. If you're able to keep the mobs within your 8 yard range for 5 seconds (5 stacks), the resulting stun has a fair duration.
Desecrated Ground
Corrupts the ground in a 8 yard radius beneath the Death Knight for 10 sec. While standing in this corruption, the Death Knight is immune to effects that cause loss of control. This ability instantly removes such effects when activated.
The talent is roughly equivalent to the effect of a basic PvP trinket or a Shaman's Tremor Totem. Desecrated Ground has a 2 minute cooldown and will be a reprieve in more specific situations.

Final Analysis: None of these talents impart directly damaging effects, so your decision will revolve around the dungeons or raids at hand. Speaking generally, Gorefiend's Grasp and Remorseless Winter will have the widest appeal since they impart added mob control on a 1 minute timer. Desecrated Ground, on the other hand, is so specific that it will be a deliberate substitute for certain fights.
G l y p h s
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The only caveat about Major Glyphs is that you'll tend to avoid the Glyph of Outbreak. It's difficult to generate RP and there are other ways of applying diseases by different means (like talented abilities, glyphing for pestilence range, or changes in timing/placement). So, for example, if you need to multidot quickly, then consider changing your level 56 talent before taking a glyph like this.

  • Glyph of Anti-Magic Shell
  • Glyph of Unholy Frenzy
  • Glyph of Death and Decay
  • Glyph of Pestilence
  • Glyph of Icy Touch
  • Glyph of Dark Simulacrum

Minors tend to have a very small impact on gameplay, but I see a few of particular interest to us. You can pick whatever you like best.

  • Glyph of Army of the Dead
  • Glyph of Death's Embrace
  • Glyph of Tranquil Grip (although keep in mind, Death Grip is now our only taunt)
  • Glyph of Path of Frost

Back to Table of Contents
I I I . P R I O R I T Y / P L A Y
There are two "schools" of Unholy play being discussed right now at the onset of 5.2: standard and "Festerblight".

The principle of Festerblight is rather simple: you use all your trinkets and buffs then apply your diseases with Unholy Blight. For the duration of the fight, you use Festering Strike more often to keep these original diseases applied. Not too complicated, right? Mendenbarr has a thread that covers the details of Festerblight if you'd like to dig in and give it a try:


What dictates whether Festerblight outperforms a standard rotation?
  • AoE and target switching scenarios are unfavorable fights for Festerblight
  • Immunities and prolonged phasing will also interfere with disease rolling
  • Your trinkets will heavily impact the peak of buffs that can you achieve at the start of a fight and the overall effectiveness of that playstyle

Regardless of whether Festerblight interests you (and what changes occur over the next few weeks), knowing when to roll or reapply diseases is the staple of any good DK.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled style...

P r e s e n c e
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Unholy (always)

R u n e f o r g e
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Rune of the Fallen Crusader

P r i o r i t y S y s t e m
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Single Target Priority

Target < 35%, Soul Reaper
> Diseases
> Dark Transformation
> Scourge Strike/Death and Decay* (Unholy|Unholy or Death Runes are up)
> Festering Strike (Blood|Blood and Frost|Frost are up)
> Death Coil (Sudden Doom, high RP)
> Death and Decay/Scourge Strike
> Festering Strike
> Horn of Winter

Soul Reaper
Whether it's a boss or a lesser-type jerk, you want to take advantage of the direct damage and/or the haste bonus. Prepare yourself for the execute phase in of two ways:

For lower HP creatures, execute them as a source for the haste bonus; use Soul Reaper just before their life is gone.

For significant monsters and bosses, the slower decay of the health pool will obviously afford you multiple damaging uses. If you are feeling confident, you can be 'predictive' with your cast of Soul Reaper. For instance, if your target is =>35% but you feel, with a high amount of certainty, that it will dip below 35% within 5 seconds (or 45% if you have the T15 4 piece bonus), you can pre-cast Soul Reaper to increase the number of potential uses you will get. Every 6 seconds recast Soul Reaper until the target's death is imminent. Retain the necessary runes to make sure you can Soul Reaper without delay.

From the start of combat, you can cast Outbreak or Unholy Blight (if you chose it as the lvl 56 talent option) to apply your diseases quickly. If Outbreak and Unholy Blight are unavailable for whatever reason, you will have re-apply diseases manually. Ah, but here's some good news! Plague Strike (via Ebon Plaguebringer) now applies Frost Fever for us. So, what was once an awkward tickle fight is now a gentlemanly subtitution of Plague Strike for Scourge Strike. Runes are left in a smoother order and that allows you to keep your rhythm which, I think, ultimately makes the spec more fun to play.

If you've spec'd into Plague Leech, you will want to consume your diseases with less than 3 seconds remaining and reapply them ASAP afterwards.
Ebon Plaguebringer was reworked so that Blood Plague applies a physical vulnerability and for each disease you apply to a target, your Scourge Strike will deal an additional 25% of the physical damage (up from 18%) done as shadow damage. Diseases should never be neglected anyways, so this is just one more good reminder.

Dark Transformation
Your Death Coils, aside from damaging your target, will apply a Shadow Infusion buff on your Ghoul which is capable of stacking up to 5 times. The player can consume the 5 charges of Shadow Infusions on the Ghoul to transform it into a powerful undead monstrosity for 30 seconds. A huge factor in your overall DPS is maximizing Dark Transformation's uptime (see the Mods section in this guide for suggestions about monitoring DT and Shadow Infusion). It is key that you super-size Timmy as often and as quickly as you can. One can reserve Runic Power during an active Dark Transformation for quick reapplication of Shadow Infusion stacks the moment Timmy returns to normal. As a general rule, you will want to 'throttle' your non-Sudden Doom Death Coil usage so that you approach the RP cap just as DT fades.

Scourge Strike/Death and Decay*
Scourge Strike hits harder than Death and Decay by a margin so in a true single target scenario, you will only be using that attack. *Death and Decay can be used instead if there's a second target that would take multiple ticks of the spell.

Festering Strike
In the continued philosophy of utilizing our runes and managing cooldowns, supplement your priority with Festering Strike. With Reaping (from our Unholy specialization), the runes consumed by Festering Strike (as well as Pestilence and Blood Boil) will become death runes when they reactivate. Also, Festering Strike serves the very important purpose of adding 6 seconds to your diseases. Mechanics allowing, our diseases are sustainable. It’s like watering a plant of doom.

Death Coil
Similar to efficient rune expenditure, we want to capitalize on Sudden Doom procs. Death Coil may be done freely to make use of Sudden Doom procs, to build Shadow Infusion stacks quickly (as prioritized above in Dark Transformation), to proc our level 75 talent of choice, and to avoid the RP cap.

Scourge Strike/Death and Decay* and Festering Strike
This is your ‘rinse and repeat’ in order when you have runes (and the cooldown) available. *Again, only use Death and Decay if there's some amount of collateral.

Horn of Winter
When all else fails, you can toot your horn for RP and to maintain its uptime for yourself and cohorts. It’s a step above twiddling your thumbs during a GCD.
AoE Target Priority

Diseases + spread (based on your talent pick at level 56)
> Dark Transformation
> Death and Decay (Unholy|Unholy)
> Blood Boil (Blood|Blood and Frost|Frost or Death Runes are up)
> Scourge Strike (Unholy|Unholy)
> Death Coil (Sudden Doom, high RP)

Firstly, you will no longer change presences for AoE since Frost's effects have been altered. Secondly, our AoE rotation works best when we're prepared and have planned our runes out ahead of time. The ideal way to enter AoE combat is with 4 Death Runes (DD|DD|UU). This allows us to spam Blood Boil ad nauseum. 2 Festering Strikes are an obvious way to fully deplete Blood and Frost Runes so that they come back as Death Runes.

For staggered AoE situations, players with Roiling Blood can spread their diseases immediately from one infected target to others through Blood Boil (which saves a GCD). Players with Unholy Blight can of course use this ability to infect everything within 10 yards. If neither option is available, and the mobs will live more than a few seconds, then Pestilence is in order. Pestilence would also help to convert any remaining Blood Runes into Death Runes. One caveat on this: do not Pestilence if it will pull an adjoining group or if there is a CC nearby. This is particularly noteworthy if you are glyphed for extended range on Pestilence. Mages get really frustrated when their sheep spasms with cooties and comes to cough in their face.

Dark Transformation
Transforming Timmy when he's ready to hulk out is still very important.

Death and Decay/Scourge Strike
Drop Death and Decay to begin the cooldown and have a sustained AoE while you Blood Boil. Scourge Strike whenever your Death Runes are refilling and DnD is on cooldown.

Blood Boil
Blood Boil is now a part of Reaping for Unholy DKs which means that anytime we use it, those runes will become Death Runes when they activate. Fire at will!

Death Coil
Same as with single target priority.

G H O U L ( T I M M Y )
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Timmy is still some of your best damage so it’s wise to learn how to use him properly.
For extra control, bind his Attack/Follow/Stay & Huddle commands to keys/buttons you can access quickly (I use Shift + letters, but whatever works for you). For the most part, Timmy is a resilient pet. He has an unspoken 90% AoE damage reduction and can be healed by your Death Coil (discounted healing with Glyph of Death’s Embrace). Rather than putting your pet on cruise control, it's far better to have an awareness of him and his actions (particularly given the AI's observable hiccups). It will greatly help survivability, group tactics, and your DPS.

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Raise Ally
Raise Ally is instant cast, costs 30 Runic Power (down from 50), and has a 10-minute cooldown. The requisite Runic Power means you must be in the midst of combat activity and temporarily forgo your personal DPS for the benefit of returning others to the field. It shares the same global battle resurrection cap with other players, so like our Druid and Warlock rezzers, communication with the raid before and during an encounter is required. Only one manner of resurrection is allowed in a 10-man and three within a 25-man fight (excluding self-resurrections) so there is stressed value in using it wisely. Also be aware that Death Knight resurrection brings the player back with 60% health (up from 20%) and 20% mana. Resurrections have raid saving potential so don't waste it by selecting the wrong person or watching someone accept prematurely. Often people are so eager to be rezzed that they will immediately take their resurrection and get killed again. Macros or Ventrilo are both fine ways to warn the recipient to take their rez with discretion.

Control Undead
Just like the tooltip says, we can dominate an undead creature. While controlled, the time between the undead minion's attacks is increased by 30% and its casting speed is slowed by 20%. The effect lasts up to 5 min. It won't work on bosses, hostile player ghouls, or hostile player's with Lichborne active. Mobs it does work on will follow you around like a spooky puppy until the spell wears off or you cross a loading transition (instances, portals, hearth, logging, etc.). The downside is that Control Undead counts as your one and only pet. You can't control an NPC and your ghoul so its reward must be weighed against the crucial benefit of Timmy's DPS and delightful banter.

Anti-Magic Shell
Using Anti-Magic Shell intelligently is one of the key aspects that separates the 'good' Death Knights from the 'great' ones. AMS provides a two-fold benefit and understanding it well will optimize your play.

Firstly, AMS is a powerful defensive ability that absorbs 75% (or 100% if glyphed) of the damage dealt by harmful spells up to 50% of your total health and prevents the application of harmful magical effects. In heavy damage situations, this is a lifesaver and aids on healing resources.

Secondly, and often underutilized, is AMS's DPS boon. Damage absorption will cause you to generate a substantial amount of Runic Power. When you can anticipate AMS a few seconds ahead of time, make sure to have very low RP so that you do not cap while under the effect.

The caveats associated with AMS is not to use it when you a required to get a magical debuff (which can be a gimmick in certain fights) and to not use it with AMZ expecting it to stack (Shell will override AMZ).

Other Resources
Don't forget that you have interrupts, Icebound Fortitude, Death Pact/Lichborne/Death Siphon, and Army of the Dead (aggro fodder if left unglyphed).
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I think we should always look for additional ways to pull our weight. Interrupts, therefore, are a valuable utility we can readily provide to groups. Effectively used interrupts will reduce healer mana expenditure, player damage or death, and status effects. As they say, "Silence is golden, but duct tape is silver"...

Mind Freeze
This is our primary interrupt and comes at no cost now, but had its cooldown increased slightly. I would not recommend glyphing this ability unless absolutely necessary.

The big daddy: both an interrupt and one of the strongest silences in the game. Its cool down has been reduced in 5.2 (hooray).

Dark Simulacrum
I know it isn’t actually an interrupt, but I think it’s related enough to mention here. If you can’t outright stop the spell, Dark Simulacrum is an enticing option.

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Unholy Frenzy & Gargoyle
Unholy Frenzy is essentially the same spell as before, however, it's not being treated as an enrage anymore (at least for the purposes of buff types). This removes whatever preferential treatment that Fury Warriors were getting previously. Hah! Take that, other class!

Unholy Frenzy and Heroism/Time Warp/Bloodlust do not stack, hence the former should be saved until the latter has worn off.

The easiest test for determining when/if you want to use Unholy Frenzy on yourself is whether you become GCD locked, simple as that.

Gary the Gargoyle has received quite a lot of love recently. Did those dance lessons pay off? Maybe it's Maybelline? Actually, it's probably because his cast no longer costs Runic Power AND his Gargoyle Strike now deals Shadow Damage in addition to Nature Damage. The removal of the Runic Power cost clears any doubt or reservation we may have had before about casting him. Call up Gary; that guy knows how to party!

Empower Rune Weapon
A potent reset button to activate all your runes and generate 25 runic power. With a 5 minute cooldown this will generally equate to a 1/boss fight use.

Army of the Dead
This is a long channel so it's best to cast either just before the pull, during a phase change, or when things go south. Army Ghouls will taunt adds and normal mobs unless you are glyphed so have that in mind before using. You might be screaming "No, no, no!" and all they hear is "Who wants cake? Who wants cake!?". Let me tell you something: They all do. They all want cake.

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I V . G E A R - O P T I M I Z A T I O N
Gearing, like your play choices, is also based upon a priority system.
Understanding the stat priority will help you make decisions on gear in general. Keep in mind that all these stats contribute to your DPS, but they become less and less desirable the further down the priority you go.

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Preliminary Level 90 Stat Weights

Strength 1.00
Hit (to cap) 0.77
Expertise 0.82
Haste 0.52
Crit 0.46
Mastery 0.40

These are normalized to strength.

Stat Priority

Strength > Hit to Cap > Haste > Crit > Mastery > Expertise to Cap > Agility

Standard Races +1% from Racial
Level 90 Hit Cap for Raid Bosses 2550 2210
Level 90 Expertise Cap for Raid Bosses 2550 2210

Hit to cap is still as important as ever. If you miss a lot, that’s 0 damage on a frequent basis. Meters can't discriminate whether your damage suffered because of low hit rating or because you were too busy watching Fresh Prince reruns to pay attention to the boss (the latter is slightly more acceptable). Also keep in mind that your Ghoul inherits your stats (with hit rating no longer rounding down).

There is a certain leniency for being slightly over or slightly under the cap, but you want to negotiate this very carefully. When in doubt, test yourself on a target dummy for extended lengths of time or run your character’s paper doll through simulations for a very general idea of how it will affect your real performance

Note: Do NOT gem expressly for hit. Always accomplish this through reforging (discussed further down) because you never want to lose out on potential Strength.

As stated at the beginning of the guide, expertise will negate dodge AND spell miss, then parry. Therefore whatever value you have for expertise will combine with hit to determine your spell hit. Expertise, as such, has become incredibly valuable for us!

Your GCD is affected by various factors such as expertise, Heroism/Bloodlust effects, your connection speed and so forth. The best way to approach haste itemization is whether or not you personally experience GCD locks. If you have no trouble expending resources, haste remains highly favored, simple as that.

Naturally, the fixes applied to minion stat inheritance has modified our stat priority selection.

Mastery boosts our shadow damage via Dreadblade and has a bit less parity than before.

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In regards to reforging your gear, start with the hit and expertise cap and manage your DPS stat priority as above. I’d recommend taking a look at Wow Reforge [1] to help you make your reforging decisions outside of the game.

When using Wow Reforge's site for Unholy, you will need to specify your caps for 'close to' 2550 (or 2210 if you gain a 1% benefit). By choosing 'close to', the calculator attempts to reforge your gear to the specified hit cap number but it also considers reforges in a tight threshold around the cap. It weighs the various configurations by the stats they provide and ranks them from highest to lowest in EP value. It may be that your optimum reforge puts you exactly at hit cap or it could put you a point over or under because the DPS is rated better. It will simply depend on your race and assortment of gear.

Tips for Reforging:
  • Your first calculation for reforging should be for your hit and expertise ratings. Sometimes you will want to reforge away a cap stat on one item only to add it back on another. Ex: forging hit to haste on Item A and forging crit to hit on Item B where haste already exists.
  • Don't reforge away haste unless you are experiencing GCD locks
  • Reforge unnecessary hit, mastery, and expertise into haste and crit at every available opportunity.
  • Don't forget that you have options to change your cap stat values through gemming and enchanting too.
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Red Bold Primordial Ruby
Yellow Fierce Vermilion Onyx
Blue Etched Imperial Amethyst

You will defer to the red gem unless the socket bonus would provide more strength or enough of an important secondary stat. By applying our stat weights to the stats offered between gem choices and socket bonuses, it lets you determine if an upgrade exists.

Never gem expressly for hit, even if you are under the cap. Given the stat priority discussed earlier, it is a greater DPS sin to miss out on potential strength. Reforging is the best and most flexible method to negotiate the proper hit rating.

Reverberating Primal Diamond

Bold Serpent's Eye
Note that JCs can have 2 Chimeras active at a time, not 3.

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[] Secret Tiger Fang Inscription (Inscription-only)
Back [] Enchant Cloak - Accuracy or
[] Enchant Cloak - Superior Critical Strike
Chest [] Glorious Stats
Wrist [] Enchant Bracers - Exceptional Strength or
[] Fur Lining Strength (Leatherworking-only)
Hands [] Enchant Gloves - Super Strength and
[] Synapse Springs Mark II (Engineering-only)
Waist Living Steel Belt Buckle
Legs [] Angerhide Leg Armor
Feet [] Enchant Boots - Greater Precision or
[] Enchant Boots - Greater Haste
Ring 1 [] Enchant Ring - Greater Strength (Enchanting-only)
Ring 2 [] Enchant Ring - Greater Strength (Enchanting-only)
Weapon [] Rune of the Fallen Crusader

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This list comes courtesy of Magdalena Whisperwind-US. Thank you Mags!

Head Helmet of the All-Consuming Maw
Neck Amulet of the Primal Turtle
Shoulders Pauldrons of the All-Consuming Maw
Back Yellow Dawn Lightningcloak
Chest Carapace of the Core
Wrist Bracers of Constant Implosion
Hands Gauntlets of the All-Consuming Maw
Waist Cloudbreaker Greatbelt
Legs Greaves of the All-Consuming Maw
Feet Tidal Force Treads
Ring 1 Ra-den's Ruinous Ring
Ring 2 Band of the Scaled Tyrant
Trinket 1 Primordius' Talisman of Rage
Trinket 2 Spark of Zandalar
Weapon Uroe, Harbinger of Terror

[1] http://wowreforge.com/

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V . M O D S
Some people are content with the out-of-the-box game experience, but others feel like they can play and monitor their character better with additional tools.

This addon helps you choose when to reapply diseases for maximum damage. It has color coded timers for when reapplying will deal more, the same, or less damage.

Class HUD featuring Disease durations, GCD timer, ability timers, runic power, runes, optional suggestion box.

What this mod should do...
is show you Runic Power, special cool downs (Gargoyle/Army), Runes, and Disease Timers in 1 add on.

What this mod should NOT do...
is replace your brain. Blindly mimicking its suggestions will produce ignorant, lazy play. After all, we’re trying to break the negative stereotype of our class, not reinforce it.
Used properly, the suggestion box can serve as a friendly reminder for when diseases reach low time or a cool down is ready. That’s a fine and reasonable use of a tool, just don’t confuse what it says you CAN do with what you actually SHOULD. You can also completely turn off the suggestion box if you don't like it or if you'd prefer more space.

Magic Runes
Magic Runes is a graphical display for rune cool downs.

If you don't like CLCDK's features or want a more specific rune UI, Magic Runes also provides a really nice, customizable view of your runes with several chart type variations. It's very straightforward and graphically clean. It does not show your procs or special cool downs (for better or worse), so you will need to set up other mods if you prefer having those features.

NeedToKnow lets you monitor specific buffs, debuffs, and totems as timer bars that always appear in a consistent place on your screen. You can track yourself, others, your target, your pet, and much more.

This mod is fantastic to let you watch your Shadow Infusion stacks, Dark Transformation timers, and Runic Corruption uptime. You can set colors, scaling, and different groups of bars. Very customizable and user friendly.

Deadly Boss Mods
Deadly Boss Mods is a boss alert mod. It consists of many individual "boss modules", mini addons that are designed to trigger alert messages and timer bars for one specific raid boss each. Instance modules will be loaded and enabled when you enter the corresponding instance.

If you don’t already have this, get it yesterday. I have glowing recommendations for all its included features.

Recount is a graphical combat log meter complete with damage, healing, and more.

This is the ‘How’s My Driving?’ equivalent of your DPS performance. Everyone has a job and ours is to put up big numbers. Hold yourself accountable by knowing your output and surpassing the expectations of others. I consider this mod another 'must have'.

Power Auras
This addon was created to provide visual cues (auras) when you gain buffs, debuffs and many more. Very useful for shorts buffs or debuffs, it allows you to draw in the center of the screen, or around your character, very customizable visual effects, rather than having to look at or mouseover buff/debuff icons/actionbars.

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V I . M A C R O S
Macros expand your ability to customize and automate certain actions via sequences of slash commands. If you are unfamiliar with how to make macros, I recommend reading WoWWiki’s ‘Making a Macro’ guide [1]. Don’t let the involvement of code deter you from macros. They’re generally very simple to write or, even better, just copy and paste ones that have already been created (as below).

Revised Attacks Macro
If you lack the runes to use an ability, this mod will clear the red error text on the top of your screen and your auto-attack will still begin. I use this macro for each of my major melee abilties where ‘Name’ is the spell/ability.
#showtooltip Name
/cast Name
/script UIErrorsFrame:Clear();

Targeting Toggles
You could replace Anti-Magic Zone with Death and Decay since the targeting systems are the same.
/cast !Anti-Magic Zone

Death Coil Pet Heal Toggle
By using modifier keys, you can toggle between a self heal, pet heal, or damage a target as normal.
/cast [mod:ctrl, @pet][] Death Coil

Max Camera Distance
This isn't so much of a macro as it is a one-time slash command. The following script will increase the allowable threshold of your camera's distance. This is wonderful for fights like Al'Akir where there are large scale effects and far away enemies. Just type the script into your chat window and scroll your wheel to experience the amazing new birds-eye view. [2]
/script SetCVar("cameraDistanceMax",30)

[1] http://www.wowwiki.com/Making_a_macro
[2] http://www.arenajunkies.com/topic/29851-macro-max-camera-distance/

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V I I . R E S O U R C E S
To further your individual research about the class, play, and so forth, I also have a list of online resources to recommend:

Death Knights Forum at Elitist Jerks - Theorycrafting, advanced spec discussion, BiS/gemming lists, etc. A slightly different version of thread is also available on their site.
MMO Champion - Breaking news, updates, and sneak peeks.
Wow Reforge Calculator - Excellent optimize feature and calculator.
Ask Mr. Robot - World of Warcraft gear optimization and theorycraft website.
Lichborne by WowInsider - DK oriented articles and news.
Simulation Craft - DPS simulation code project (Remember: sims are estimation tools, not actual gameplay results).
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Desecration is easier to apply than ever (Scourge Strike & Festering Strike)

Only error I noticed. Pretty sure Desecration only procs from Plague Strike, Scourge Strike and Necrotic Strike.

Otherwise, nice guide.
You are absolutely right, sir. I just made the correction. Thanks a bunch!
AMG! I've been looking for a guide like this for the longest time!! TY SOO MUCH!! THUMBS UP FOR STICKY!!!
This guide makes me want to pick up my alt again... thank you for posting something that's long been needed on this forum.

Voted for sticky.
Thanks so much. good job.
Very excellent write up combining lots of good sources.

Voted for sticky.


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