Character Class

Unholy Death Knight – 4.3 How To Guide

So now that I have been able to get back to Unholy from my experiment with Frost, I felt it was time to update my old Unholy how to guide since the last I touched on it which was way back patch 4.0.6.

Since then a lot has happened, Unholy fell out of favor, with the raid DPS crowd in favor of Frost, so my transition to that spec provided the push to create a Frost DPS guide at that point.

Spec & Glyph

Your spec and glyphs haven’t changed too much but you really want to start off with the base 5/0/32 spec, Leaving you with 4 points to play around with.  For one option I highly recommend take 1/3 Runic Power Mastery, anymore than 1 point and you will not get much added value, as per your rotation you should be below 100 RP most of the time with the exception of when you are using your anti-magic shield and gain a sudden bump in your runic power.  Now I do recommend at minimum 2/3 into Magic Suppression, but going even further especially in Dragon Soul, I have found maxing it, along with picking up Anti Magic Zone is very beneficial in a lot of the fights where there is a lot of AoE magic damage.  Also your healers will like you a lot.  Your own real valid PVE option is to put points into Improved Blood Tap, while more runes are good, it can be hard to properly work blood tap into your rotation as unholy, but if you can more power to you.

For me personally I end up with the following spec: 5/1/35

For your glyphs there aren’t many options so you want to use the Prime glyphs of Glyph of Raise Dead, Glyph of Scourge Strike and Glyph of Death Coil.  For AoE you heavy fights you can replace DC and SS glyphs with Glyph of Death and Decay and Glyph of Icy Touch.

Your Major glyphs should be Glyph of Anti-Magic Shell, Glyph of Pestilence, Glyph of Blood Boil.  For these slots there really is no other solid option for us.

For your Minor glyphs, while working in Blood Tap is tough, the glyph can be helpful. I recommend using the Glyph of Blood Tap.  Two other minor glyphs I recommend are Glyph of Path of Frost and Glyph of Horn of WinterGlyph of Death Embrace can be useful if you find yourself healing your minion with death coil a bunch.  There aren’t many minor glyphs to choose from and these are just two that I use, but any you want are fine as they won’t noticeably impact your DPS.


Gone are the days of follow this rotation, don’t deviate.  The Death Knight, especially the Unholy requires you to manage your resources and understand the priority of each ability so you know when to use it.

Single Target Priority

Make sure you are doing this priority rotation in Unholy Presence!

  1. Get Your Diseases Up! – Use Outbreak to apply, and use it to reapply when its not on cooldown
  2. Dark Transformation
  3. Death and Decay/Scourge Strike (If Both Unholy Runes or Death Runes are up)
  4. Festering Strike (If Both Blood Runes AND Both Frost Runes are up)
  5. Death Coil (If Sudden Doom Procs or your Runic Power is high)
  6. Death and Decay / Scourge Strike > Festering Strike > Horn of Winter

Why Death and Decay for single target?  Because it provides a great tick of damage, with the exception of high movement fights, and its easy to get it down on the ground when its not on cooldown to provide a nice damage increase.  Think of it almost like another disease you can apply.

Remember Scourge Strike is our main attack and should be used properly as much as possible.  However using Scourge Strike without diseases is a DPS loss, so make sure to get those diseases up and keep them up, keep the diseases up using Outbreak and Festering Strike.  Very rarely should you ever have to manually apply each disease.

AoE Priority

You will want to perform the below priority rotation in Frost Presence

  1. Get those diseases up, then hit Pestilence
  2. Dark Transformation
  3. Death and Decay/Scourge Strike (If Both Unholy Runes or Death Runes are up)
  4. Blood Boil (If Both Blood Runes AND Both Frost Runes are up)
  5. Death Coil (If Sudden Doom Procs or your Runic Power is high)
  6. Icy Touch (Burn those unused Frost Runes)

This set of priorities is mostly used just for trash packs or on bosses with a lot of adds.  Most times with a few adds, you will want to stick with the single target priority.

Stats, Gemming & Enchants

With patch 4.3 things are a bit different, but mostly the same below is the order for your stats.  As always though, use Ask Mr Robot to help automate your reforging decisions.

  1. Strength
  2. Hit to Cap (961 hit rating, 841 for Draenei)
  3. Haste
  4. Critical Strike
  5. Mastery
  6. Expertise to Cap
  7. Attack Power

For 4 piece Tier 13 (ilvl 397, not LFR) and the 403 Gurthalak, stat weights are slightly different, but as always use Ask Mr Robot as a helpful guide in your reforging needs.

  1. Hit to Cap
  2. Strength
  3. Haste
  4. Mastery
  5. Critical Strike
  6. Expertise to Cap
  7. Attack Power

Because of this you will mostly use a red gem Bold Inferno Ruby or the epic, Bold Queen’s Garnet.  If you are a jewelcrafter make use of the Bold Chimera’s Eye.  Now if the socket bonus is +20 strength or more that is where you will want to think about using another gem.  Your best options are in these cases are:

Yellow Slot: Fierce Ember Topaz or Fierce Lava Coral

Blue Slot: Etched Demonseye or Etched Shadow Spinel

For your Meta gem you should use Reverberating Shadowspirit Diamond.

Now your enchants will mostly follow the below recommendations, however once again, these are the best of the best, if you don’t have access to them, find something similar and use Ask Mr Robot.

Managing Your Cooldowns

You have 7 main cooldowns

1. Empower Rune Weapon

The ability to activate all your runes can be very powerful in the right circumstances.  Where I like to use this is once I hit 2 Festering Strikes, thus turning both sets of my blood and frost runes into death runes, and both my unholy runes are down.  This lets me cast 6 Scourge Strikes in quick succession.  When would you do such a thing, well you need to time this up with a Heroism or Bloodlust AND after you blow through your runic power on Gargoyle and Death Coils to activate Dark Transformation (if available).

2. Blood Tap

The best time to use this, is in situations where you find yourself suddenly with an extra blood rune available, usually this will happen if you are in the middle of using Death and Decay or if your Festering Strike misses (which it shouldn’t) or you need to reapply diseases and your Outbreak is still on cooldown.  But as I mentioned earlier try to work this into your rotations where you can without sacrificing the priority order too much, could also be a good opportunity to use this right before a Heroism to have one more Scourge Strike to bump up runic power in order to prepare to summon Gargoyle

3. Outbreak

Outbreak instantly applies all your diseases to a mob.  This should be used beginning of the fight to get your diseases up immediately.  Also use this mid fight to refresh your diseases when they fall off.

4. Army of the Dead

This is a channeled spell so its best used before a boss fight starts.  If you aren’t able to cast it before the fight starts you want to try and cast it during phase transitions to limit your DPS downtime.  Remember while channeling the spell you do no DPS.  Also fear not the ghouls will only taunt adds and not bosses.  The summoned ghouls will taunt non-boss mobs, so be careful and mindful when using this.

5. Gargoyle

This spell will eat up 60 of your runic power and will take a snapshot of your Attack Power and Haste at the moment it was cast.  So its best to time this up with a heroism or bloodlust.  Know when that will happen because you will want to make sure you have the 60 runic power to cast this.

6. Unholy Frenzy

This is an enrage that grants 20% melee haste for 30 seconds.  Awesome stuff especially when used with Gargoyle.  However this does not stack with heroism or bloodlust, so use before or immediately after.  Also this will cause you to take damage, so be mindful of that especially of incoming damage during particular boss fights where there can be a lot of incoming damage.

7. Anti-Magic Shell

As Unholy you should have spec’d into Magic Suppression, thus allowing AMS to absorb more damage, and also converting it into Runic Power.  you want to use this as much as possible during times when you are about to take magic damage.  This will obviously provide you with more runic power to start dumping into death coil and ultimately getting Dark Transformation ready to go as well.  So before you use this, make sure you empty most of your runic power as to not let the RP you generate from using AMS to go to waste.

Useful Macros

Scourge Strike + Ghoul Claw

Because having claw on auto attack still doesn’t optimize the use of this ability for your Ghoul, macro’ing it to your Scourge Strike will improve its use and increase your pet’s DPS

#showtooltip Scourge Strike
/cast [target=pettarget,harm,nodead][] Claw
/cast Scourge Strike

Death Coil Modifier for Pet Heals

Replace your normal Death Coil with the following, so that you can sometimes heal your pet if need be.  This makes it that if you hit Death coil while holding your ctrl button down you will target your pet and heal him, else you will just cast Death Coil like normal.

/cast [mod:ctrl, @pet][] Death Coil

Unholy Frenzy + Gargoyle

This ties your Gargoyle to your unholy frenzy so it benefits from the extra haste if you cast it on yourself, as long as Bloodlust or Heroism wasn’t already cast.  Be mindful of the damage you do to yourself when hitting unholy frenzy.

#showtooltip Unholy Frenzy
/cast [nomodifier] Unholy Frenzy
/cast [nomodifier] Summon Gargoyle

Helpful Add-Ons

1. IceHud

IceHud will show you your health, runic power, your target’s health along with your buffs and debuffs.  It will also show your runes and the cooldowns of them.

2. NeedToKnow

NeedtoKnow is a buff and debuff timing mod.  I use it to track Blood Plague, Frost Fever and Ebon Plague on my target, and keep these bars front and center.  You can also use it to track your periodic buffs like Horn of Winter and Unholy Frenzy, to help with timing of gargoyle and army of the dead.

3. OmniCC

OmniCC is just a great little utility mod that works well with most addons to include a countdown timer on the spells and effects that are on cooldown.  It works great with IceHud and Bartender (both of which I use).

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