Updated for Mists of Pandaria Patch 5.2 & 5.3
|This Unholy Death Knight guide is primarily intended for PvE and Raiding at level 90. However, the principals will still apply during the leveling process. If you’re looking for advice on leveling your Death Knight, check out our Death Knight Leveling Guide.
If you want the same in-game step by step leveling guide that we use to get to level 90 as fast as possible, take a look at our favorite in-game leveling guide.
Other DK Guides:
Unholy Talent Build
Tier 1 has 3 talents that alter the way we apply or use our diseases.
- Roiling Blood is for tanking, which we don’t do unless somebody screwed up somewhere.
- Plague Leech lets us consume our diseases on a target to activate a depleted Death Rune. This choice is decent, but even when managed perfectly only offers a minor increase in damage dealt and solely on single target fights.
- Unholy Blight is ideal given the emphasis Unholy places on diseases and makes spreading them quite easy. This is my preferred choice for most situations.
Tier 2 has three survivability tools, all of them fairly promising if used properly.
Anti-Magic Zone is more generally useful to the raid/party, however Lichborne is also quite beneficial if you’re having survivability issues and need to worry more about yourself rather than the raid during an encounter. Purgatory has situational benefit, but more often than not is inferior to Anti-Magic Zone and Lichborne.
- Lichborne lets us use Death Coil to heal ourselves adding to our survivability. This is the best overall choice unless an encounter fits the specific criteria of either of the two options below.
- Anti-Magic Zone gives us raid damage mitigation cooldown, valuable for encounters where you expect to take heavy magic damage.
- Purgatory lets you screw up and live. This is best used for fights where you anticipate taking spike damage that might drop you before a healer can react, such as on newer encounters where you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with the fight mechanics. Purgatory could also be used as a creative workaround to phases/situations that would otherwise mean certain death, this is something you’ll have to determine for yourself.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a perfect get out of jail free card, you still need to be healed for the amount of the healing absorption effect within 3 seconds or you’ll die anyway.
Tier 3 gives us an option between mobility and two methods of crowd control.
- Death’s Advance grants us a decent mobility upgrade, valuable considering the wide range of abilities a melee class has to worry about when DPSing a raid boss. This is your recommended choice unless you can find some fight specific reason to take either of the following talents.
- Chilblains only finds use in dealing with trash before a boss or adds during the encounter. Frost makes more use of this than we would due to easier application of Frost Fever.
- Asphyxiate is unlikely to assist in any crucial manner that I can imagine at this time, but hey, that doesn’t mean it’s completely worthless.
- 5.2 Changes: Asphyxiate’s cooldown has been cut in half.
Tier 4 offers us three methods of healing ourselves.
- Death Pact is the optimal choice of seal-healing, particularly given that it no longer kills our minion. This is more relevant for us than other Death Knight specializations with how much we depend on the ghoul and his bigger, roid raged transformation for extra damage.
- Death Siphon doesn’t heal for enough and costs a rune to use making it unviable for the time being.
- Conversion is similar to Death Siphon, and by that I mean it’s not worth taking.
- 5.2 changes: Death Siphon now heals for 150% of the damage dealt (was 100%.) Conversion cost has been reduced, which might make it slightly more useful. Since you will always have a ghoul up the Death Pact talent will be more useful.
Tier 5 has us choose our favored method of Rune regeneration.
- Blood Tap is the most difficult to manage method of rune regeneration, but also offers the greatest control as you decide when to activate the ability once you’ve gathered enough charges. Blood Tap offers us the greatest damage output at this time, at least when used properly.
- Runic Empowerment is more of a Frost Knight thing, which doesn’t mean you can’t take it, just that it’s currently sub-optimal.
- Runic Corruption is the easiest of the three to use, probably because the only real ‘use’ involved is when you pick it in the talent window. After that, it’s all smooth sailing because the effect is purely passive.
- Tier 6 seems to be largely composed of PvP talents save the occasional use of Desecrated Ground to handle raid mechanics that affect control of your character or Remorseless Winter to pretend you’re a Frost Knight for a bit.
- Glyph of Anti-Magic Shell increases the absorption effect of your shield to 100% instead of 75%, although it still absorbs the same amount of total damage.
- Glyph of Unholy Frenzy provides minor benefit as it no longer damages the target of Unholy Frenzy.
- Glyph of Pestilence boosts the range of Pestilence by a small amount.
- Glyph of Tranquil Grip removes the taunt effect from your Death Grip, a very useful glyph in the event that you need to use Death Grip on an encounter as it avoids disrupting the tanks control of a mob while still allowing you to maneuver it with Death Grip.
- Glyph of Army of the Dead - Since you’re not the Tank you don’t really want your ghoulies taunting things, do you? This removes that ability from them.
- Glyph of Path of Frost - Because from time to time you just might take a fall.
- Glyph of Corpse Explosion - Because blowing up whatever you just killed is the perfect demonstration of your awesomeness. This macro will make it easier to be awesome:
- #showtooltip Corpse Explosion
- /cast Corpse Explosion
- Primary: Strength >>> anything else
- Secondary: Expertise and Hit Cap (7.5%) > Haste
- Weaker: Mastery > Critical
Reforging: One you have your Hit and Expertise, reforge everything else into Haste.
In-Depth Rotation Guide
Apply and maintain your diseases, Frost Fever and Blood Plague, at all times.
- Outbreak can be used to apply diseases to begin an encounter, Festering Strike to extend their duration.
- Death Coil is used to build charges of Shadow Infusion on your ghoul which can then use Dark Transformation once it has 5 charges. Death Coil should be cast whenever you either have excess runic power and no other abilities to use or when Sudden Doom procs.
- Dark Transformation should be used as often as possible.
Note that your ghoul cannot build charges of Shadow Infusion while Dark Transformation is active therefore you should save your Runic Power for the duration of the transformation and then immediately cast it on your ghoul as many times as possible once the transformation ends.
Use Scourge Strike as your primary attack ability and Festering Strike to maintain your diseases on the target. The damage of Scourge Strike is increased by 18% for each disease present on the target.
When you have nothing else to do, cast Horn of Winter to generate Runic Power and maintain the buff.
If entering an extended AoE fight, use Festering Strike to convert your Blood and Frost runes into Death Runes before expending them with Blood Boil. Continue to use Death and Decay, Outbreak and Pestilence as normal in addition to Blood Boil as often as possible.
- Unholy Frenzy increases melee and ranged haste by 20% for 30 seconds and, unless you use the Glyph, also causes them to lose 2% of their maximum health every 3 seconds. This buff should be applied to yourself on cooldown.
- Summon Gargoyle should be used on cooldown, preferably immediately after Unholy Frenzy to boost the damage of the Gargoyle.
- Army of the Dead should be used prior to engaging a boss to avoid having to channel the spell mid-fight. Use this only if the taunt of the ghouls won’t interfere in some way with your tanks as it is unlikely to do when raiding due to Raid Bosses being immune to the ghoul’s taunt ability.
- Use Empower Rune Weapon on Cooldown to refresh runes and generate Runic Power. Ideally you’ll use up your Frost and Death runes prior to activating this for maximum return.
- Lichborne can be used to heal yourself with Death Coil.
- Use Plague Leech when diseases are about to expire followed by an immediate Outbreak to re-apply them to a target.
Unholy Death Knight Gems
Strength is looking like it’s by far, the #1 stat, so unless a socket bonus offers Strength, it’s more effective to gem for pure Strength and ignore the bonus. You should try to get your Hit and Expertise through reforging and save the gems for Strength.
|Unholy Gem Priorities|
|Meta||Reverberating Primal Diamond: +216 Str & Increased Crit Effect|
|Red||Bold Primordial Ruby: 160 Str|
|Yellow||Quick Sun’s Radiance: +320 Haste|
|Orange||Fierce Vermilion Onyx: +80 Str and 160 Haste|
|Prismatic||Bold Primordial Ruby: 160 Str|
|Cogwheel||Quick Tinker’s Gear: 600 Haste - requires an engie helm, such as this.|
Unholy Death Knight Enchantments
Enchant for Str where possible, Haste > Mastery otherwise.
If you want to buy the best enchants, fund all of your alts, donate to the guild, etc., but don’t have the cash, then see what the Tycoon Addon can do about about fixing your poverty.
|Weapon||Rune of the Fallen Crusader: Chance for heal or increased Strength|
|Shoulders||Greater Tiger Fang Inscription: 200 Str and 100 Crit|
|Cloak||Accuracy: 180 Hit -or-
Superior Critical Strike: 180 Crit
|Chest||Glorious Stats: 80 to all stats|
|Bracers||Exceptional Strength: 170 Str|
|Gloves||Super Strength: 170 Str|
|Belt||Living Steel Belt Buckle: Add a Str gem to your belt.|
|Leggings||Angerhide Leg Armor: 285 Str and 185 Crit|
|Boots||Greater Precision: 175 Hit -or-
Pandaren’s Step: 170 Mastery & slightly faster movement.
Professions for Death Knights
All of the professions provide some benefit for any class/spec, though clearly some are better than others. Even the gathering professions have some value, especially Herbalism with its Haste effect, though you might be better served by using those to build a larger gold stash.
Most of the professions add an average of about 320 Str or so. Since gems with secondary stats are twice the value of those with primary stats (320 Haste or Mastery Vs 160 Int, for example) Blacksmithing might be the most valuable profession if you’re just looking for the buffs. Compare that to Jewelcrafting which provides only 320 in any stat over non JC gems. Given that Strength is looking like the most valuable stat for Unholy, by far, then Blacksmithing might not have that much of a lead over the others.
|Blacksmithing||gives two extra gems slots, one each for bracers and gloves. Since gems with secondary stats have twice the value of gems with primary stats Blacksmithing might be your best choice of profession. For example, you’ll be able to socket he two gems for 640 Haste instead of 320 Str. You can create keys, sharpening stones, useful gear and cool looking gear for Transmogrification.|
|Engineering||has lots of interesting toys, some of which have situational use, and Synapse Springs, which increases Str by 1940 for a short time. If you take this use a macro to activate it along with other short term buffs.|
|Jewelcrafting||Make nicer gems for your own use.|
|Inscription||Shoulder enchant adds 520 Int and 100 crit. Make all your own glyphs and make staves for your caster alts/buddies.|
|Alchemy||More effect from your own potions. Adds 320 Str and an extra hour to your main flask. Put a few potions of healing, Strength, Rage, Crit, etc. on your bars. You get better effect from your own potions than the other guy does.|
|Enchanting||Enchant both rings, for a total +320 Str gain.|
|Tailoring||Cloak enchant sometimes adds 4k AP for 15 seconds, but not much else of value to your plate armored self.|
|Leatherworking||Bracer enchant adds 500 Str., but this professions is otherwise pretty useless for you.|
|Skinning||provides 480 crit rating|
|Herbalism||Small heal and 2880 Haste for 20 seconds every 2 minutes.|
Unholy Death Knight Race Choice
Clearly the Undead are far and away the best choice for Unholy DKs. Their racials don’t add any DPS, however. None of the racials are very important to Unholy DPS ability save perhaps the Orc’s Blood Fury.
Pandarens cannot be Death Nights.
- Draenei – A small heal over time is nice, +1% to hit is also a nice stat since Hit is your most important secondary stat.
- Human – Expertise with Swords and maces, escape ability can break some PvE mechanics. Fester Rep gain.
- Worgen – 1% extra crit, sprint ability is quite nice every two minutes.
- Gnome – Expertise with swords, if you’re dual-wielding, is nice.
- Night Elf – No DPS abilities. 2% extra dodge is barely ever useful for you, shadowmeld has some very situational use, such as when the tank loses aggro.
- Dwarf – No real DPS abilities. Stoneskin sheds some effects and reduces damage, expertise with ranged weapons is of no use to you.
- Orc – Blood Fury for more damage, expertise with axes, more damage from ghoulie.
- Troll – Increased attack speed for 20 seconds, ranged weapon expertise has no use at all.
- Goblin – Rocket Jump can be a useful movement ability, 1% Haste is a decent stat.
- Undead – No DPS abilities. Wash away fear, sleep, charm; drain life and restore some health from it.
- Blood Elf – No DPS abilities. Arcane Torrent silences casters and restores some Runic Power
- Tauren – No DPS abilities. Increased Stam, War Stomp stuns close opponents
All food buffs last one hour and provide only the one stat. Naturally Strength is that one stat.
If you have the Alchemy skill the effect and duration of flasks and elixirs will be increased, including the value of secondary stats, by about 30% and an hour. That makes your Str flask a bit over 1300 Str and a two hour duration.
- Black Pepper Ribs and Shrimp: 300 Str
- Potion of Mogu Power: 4k Str for 25 Seconds
- Master Healing Potion: Heals 120k HP, probably worthwhile to have a few of these on your bar.
- Flask of Winter’s Bite: 1,000 Str for 1 hour
Elixirs – you can have one battle and one guardian elixir up at a time. The 1k Str from your flask is, however, better than any combination of elixirs. Guardian elixirs are defensive and you won’t be needing them.
- battle: Elixir of Weaponry: 750 Expertise for one hour.
- battle: Monk’s Elixir: 750 Mastery
- battle: Elixir of the Rapids: 750 Haste
- battle: Elixir of Perfection: 750 Hit
- battle: Mad Hozen Elixir: 750 Crit
5.2 and 5.3 Patch Notes for Unholy DKs
See here for complete DK patch notes.
- Blood Plague no longer benefits from the damage increase granted by Tricks of the Trade.
- Frost Fever no longer benefits from the damage increase granted by Tricks of the Trade.
- Necrotic Strike‘s healing absorption effect has been increased to 225% from attack power, up from 200%.
- Sudden Doom now requires the Death Knight to be in Unholy Presence to activate the effect that causes Death Coil to cost no Runic Power.
- Unholy Might now increases the Death Knight’s Strength by 10%, down from 15%.
Tier 3 talents:
- Asphyxiate’s cooldown has been reduced to 30 seconds (was 1 minute.)
- Death Siphon now heals for 150% of the damage dealt (was 100%.)
- Conversion cost has been reduced: it 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.
- Strangulate’s cooldown has been reduced to 60 seconds (was 2 minutes.)
- Blood Plague now deals 15% more damage.
- Frost Fever now deals 15% more damage.
- Reaping now also applies to Icy Touch.
- Summon Gargoyle no longer costs Runic Power, it used to cost 60.
- 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.
- The 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.
Get Your Death Knight to the Level Cap ASAP
Unholy Death Knights to a ton of damage and have solid defenses, so leveling is going to be easy. Still, there are thousands of quests and a bazillion mobs to kill (not to mention other players, but they don’t count here.) Sorting out which quests are best and which series of quests will get you to 90 the fastest is the issue, otherwise you can waste a lot of time running hither and yon, getting nothing useful done. This is why we highly recommend Zygor’s Guide.
Zygor’s is an in-game guide and it almost automates the whole leveling process: you just pick your starting point, whatever level you are, and the guide tracks which quest you’re on, tracks the quest objectives, and automatically advances and updates as you complete your tasks and quests, and switches to the next quest you need to do. In addition, a waypoint arrow is set automatically, so you never have to any doubt as to where to go. All of the important quest info is also included in the guide so you never have to wonder what to do.
Playing with Heirlooms and/or Recruit a friend? Gaining a few Unholy levels in the dungeons or in PvP? Zygor has your back. The guide knows what level you are and will correctly suggest where to go next. It will also help you to dump all of your obsolete quests (if you want to do that.) And you will probably never have a need to look at your quest log again.
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