Unholy Death Knight PvE Guide

Unholy Death Knight DPS GuideSpreading the Disease

As they say, you are a master of death and decay, spreading infection and controlling undead minions to do your bidding.

This Unholy Death Knight guide is primarily intended for PvE and Raiding at max level. However, the principals will still apply during the leveling process. If you’re looking for more advice on leveling your Death Knight, check out our Death Knight Leveling Guide.

Unholy Contents

  1. Talent Build
  2. Unholy Glyphs
  3. Unholy Stat Priorities
  4. Unholy Rotations
  5. Unholy Death Knight Gems
  6. Unholy Enchants
  7. Professions
  8. Race Choice
  9. Consumables
  10. Level Faster

If you want the same in-game step by step leveling guide that we use to get to the level cap as fast as possible, take a look at our favorite in-game leveling guide.


Other DK Guides: 


Unholy Talent Build

In Legion your talents can easily be changed IF you’re in a “rested XP” area, such as your garrison, an inn, or the big city. No reagents, trainers, or special rituals required. You can change your spec (go Frost or Blood) at any time that you’re out of combat, but for the individual talents you need to get to the rested area. As with changing specs, no special items are required for changing talents, you just have to be home, out of the raid.

So choose your talents wisely. 😉


Our picks are checked: Best talent

Tier 1 Talents

  • All Will Serve: A passive dps increase that happens to best on single target.
  • Best talent Bursting Sores: The best talent for most cleave (2+ enemies) situations and pretty close to All Will Serve for single target. Since you can’t change talents on the fly this will be the best overall pick if you’re looking at mixed encounters.
  • Ebon Fever: Makes Virulent Plague do all of its damage in half the time. Useful for fighting packs of short lived mobs.

Tier 2

  • Epidemic is by far the best talent in this tier for any sort of burst AoE. Let ’em all get infected then blow them up. This could have very interesting utility with large groups. 3 charges and a quick cooldown.
  • Best talent Pestilent Pustules: Should take this one just for the name… Your rotation is, in part, creating and popping Festering Wounds and this talent gives you runes for doing so. It’s the best overall pick.
  • Blighted Rune Weapon: A talent that you can only take when also talented in to Bursting Sores. Blighted Rune Weapon is only useful on AoE where you have set up and in Legion there just are not any scenarios where this talent is good.

Tier 3

  • Unholy Frenzy: A mostly passive talent that significantly increases your auto attack damage and increases the generation of Sudden Doom procs. It doesn’t do enough to compete with the other two.
  • Best talent Castigator generates many more Festering Wounds and consumes them just as fast. It makes it easier to build up wounds on new targets as well as doing significantly more damage overall.
  • Clawing Shadows is basically a ranged Scourge Strike. If you need to be a caster instead of melee, and you still have to apply those wounds, then maybe this would be useful. Most of the time Castigator will be much more effective.

Tier 4

  • Best talent Sludge Belcher: For any sort of PvE content this is almost mandatory. With this pet giving us a second grip, via it’s “Hook” ability, it is simply the best overall pick in this tier.
  • Asphyxiate: A 5 second stun on a 45 second cooldown. Generally it just isn’t as good as Sludge Belcher, but if you need a single-target stun…
  • Debilitating Infestation: This talent applies a slow when you cast Outbreak. Not generally as useful as the other two, especially if someone on your team already has slows.

Tier 5

This pick really depends on the set of fights you’re about to enter.

  • Spell Eater: Unless you are on a very magic-damage-heavy fight, there is little justification for taking this talent. Corpse Shield gives you a 90% reduction to all damage.
  • Best talent Corpse Shield: We’ll probably lose our ghoul if we take too much damage during the duration of the buff. With this in mind, this talent has great synergy with All Will Serve. If you are taking high sustained damage, you can constantly resummon your pet to keep the 90% damage reduction up for as long as possible. This talent has a lot of niche uses and will save you from a lot of damage and deaths. Don’t forget to activate your pet’s own defensive ability (Huddle or Protective Bile,) which will keep it alive longer.
  • Lingering Apparition: More mobility is never bad, especially since yours is lousy. If you don’t need the defenses of the first two, then it’s a good pick.

Tier 6

  • Best talent Shadow Infusion: Enables a much higher of uptime on Dark Transformation due to Death Coil reducing the cooldown of Dark Transformation by 5 seconds when Dark Transformation is not on your ghoul.
  • Necrosis will complicate your rotation, since you’ll be weaving your Death Coils and Scourge Strikes together. If you’re good at that and enjoy it, then it might well be worth your while to take Necrosis.
  • Infected Claws: More Festering Wounds since your ghoul/abomination can now deliver them. Note that it now becomes that much much easier to cap out your Wound stacks, making additional applications useless. If you’re efficient at popping wounds then this is a definite plus to your damage.

Tier 7

  • Dark Arbiter: Dark Arbiter replaces your Summon Gargoyle. While it’s a pretty nice improvement to that Gargoyle, it’s outclassed by Soul Reaper.
  • Defile: If enemies are with in the area then it grows each second of its duration. As it grows it adds to your Mastery stat and your Scourge Strike will hit all targets within range. It doesn’t seem to be as effective (damaging) as the other two, though it might shine with large groups.
  • Best talent Soul Reaper: If you have Apocalypse then this talent becomes a lot easier to play. Due to Apocalypse popping wounds, you can easily line up Soul Reaper and pop 8 Festering Wound with Apocalypse to get the max value out of this spell. If Apocalypse is not up, you should have at least 3 Festering Wounds on the target (for maximum haste) before casting Soul Reaper. This is the best pick of the three for most situations, even without Apocalypse.


Unholy Glyphs

Legion pretty much did away with almost all of your glyphs. The only ones remaining are cosmetic only, like the old “minor glyphs.”

You now have:

Nothing like changing your pet’s appearance to improve your DPS, right



Stat Priorities:

Strength improves everything you do. All your attacks are based on it.

Mastery boosts your Shadow damage, which is pretty important to Unholy.

Crit is simply a damage boost. The Castigator talent allows more Festering Wounds, and more bursts, from your crits.

Versatility is a small add to your damage, healing, and damage reduction.

Haste lets you do everything faster, including your attacks, disease speed, reducing cooldowns, and so on.

Click here now to get your Unholy self to Max Level ASAP!Faster Leveling all the way to the Level Cap!


Unholy Rotation Guide



Your diseases base their damage off of your Str and whatever buffage you have at any given moment. Keep them on your target(s) at all times and when the buffs proc your diseases will adjust accordingly.

  • Outbreak can be used to apply your disease to begin an encounter or to refresh your diseases
  • Use Festering Strike to apply Festering Wounds and Scourge Strike to pop them.

Keep your Ghoul Happy

The goal here is to have your empowered ghoul up as often as possible.

  • Dark Transformation is now a buff with a one minute cooldown. It should be used whenever it’s available.

Single Target Attacking

Note: Defile hits harder than Scourge Strike if your target will last long enough and is stationary, so should be used on cooldown, even against single targets. Save it if adds will be coming in shorty, so you can attack all of then with the Defile.

To Begin: 

When facing multiple targets…

  • apply your disease with Outbreak
  • Use Runic Power for your Death Strikes and Death Coils.

Useful Cooldowns

  • Army of the Dead should be used when engaging a boss. They’ll swarm the area and attack everything, including any CCed targets.


Unholy Death Knight Gems

Sockets do exist on some items in Legion, such as on Ancient Maelstrom Amulet. If you do find yourself with sockets to fill, then this should be your priority (use similar, but lesser, gems if you’re cash poor:)

  1. Saber’s Eye of Strength – +200 Str
  2. Quick Dawnlight for +250 Haste or Deadly Eye of Prophecy for +250 Crit.

And if you need to gem pre-Legion Gear:

Pre-Warlords gear (under item level 600:)

Gem for Str and Crit till you get Mastery at 80, then Str & Mastery. “Perfect” gems will have the same stats and likely be differently priced. Get whichever is cheaper.

Gemming in Warlords of Draenor:

Strength is easily the #1 stat, but Draenor gems do not carry the primary stats (Str, etc.) You will be gemming for Multistrike.

Gem sockets have a (small) random chance to appear on Raid and other gear, they are not as common as before. There are no meta gems or meta sockets, there are no socket bonuses, and all sockets are “prismatic,” which means that they will take any available gem.

The gem themselves are actually available. They are all prismatic, meaning they fit into any socket. None have Int, they all have secondary stats (Mastery, etc.) There are no Meta sockets or Meta gems.

Older (Mists of Pandaria) gems work until item level 600, but the item squish cut them down a bit. What used to be 160 Int is now 10, for example. The new Prismatic gems are 50 points of Mastery or whatever.

Older gems (Mists of Pandaria and lower) that used to code for Hit now do Crit, gems that had Expertise are now Haste.

Gem Priorities
Mists of Pandaria Gems, for gear under ilevel 600.
Meta Reverberating Primal Diamond: +14 Str & Increased Crit Effect
Capacitive Primal Diamond: +20 Critical Strike, and chance on melee or ranged hit to gain Capacitance
Red Bold Primordial Ruby: +10 Str
Yellow Fractured Sun’s Radiance: +20 Mastery
Orange Skillful Vermilion Onyx: +5 Str and +10 Mastery
Blue Rigid River’s Heart: +20 Crit
Green Sensei’s Wild Jade: +10 Crit and +10 Mastery
Purple Etched Imperial Amethyst: +5 Str and +10 Crit
Cogwheel Requires an engie helm, such as this.
Quick Tinker’s Gear: +38 Haste
Fractured Tinker’s Gear: +38 Mastery


Unholy Death Knight Enchantments

In Legion, as it was in Warlords, you can only enchant Cloaks, rings, and neck items. Weapons are artifacts and cannot be enchanted, though the can be customized through other means.

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.

And for gear prior to Legion

Note that head enchants are gone in Mists of Pandaria. Shoulder enchants all come from the Inscription Profession. Warlords enchants are only for jewelry, cloaks, and weapons.

Enchantments for Warlords of Draenor
Other enchants, for gear under item level 600.
Shoulders Greater Tiger Fang Inscription: +15 Str and +5 Crit
Chest Enchant Chest – Glorious Stats: +9 to all Stats
Bracers Enchant Bracer – Exceptional Strength: +15 Str
Gloves Enchant Gloves – Super Strength: +25 Str
Belt Livingsteel Belt Buckle: Sockets your belt, pop in the best gem.
Leggings Angerhide Leg Armor: +19 Str & 11 Crit rating
Boots Enchant Boots – Pandaren’s Step: +10 Mastery and Slight run speed increase.


Professions for Death Knights

It used to be that any gives profession would give you a bonus to your best, or some, stats. Blacksmithing, for example, would give you two extra slows for your gems.

In Warlords there are no professions bonuses. No special stat boosts that characters without the profession cannot get.

Professions now are for the gear and/or the gold. Most have something that can be used as starting raid/pvp gear or sold, such as ilevel 640 gear pieces. Leveling a profession can be done quickly and relatively easily once you get the Draenor version.

You can make some pretty nice starting raid gear, of which you can equip a max of three pieces. You can also, without a lot of expense, reroll the stats on those pieces until they are just right (or close enough.) By spending materials in excess of the what it took to make the original you can increase the item’s level. Examples:

Ideally the secondary stats on these should be Multistrike & Mastery. Your Truesteel Grinder will reroll the stats on the weapon and your Truesteel Reshaper will reroll it for the armor pieces.

The above will go much faster with your garrison forge and a minion assigned to the forge.

Some of the professions, eg: Engineering, have really useful items for leveling and world events. They’re not usable in raids, however (sigh.. no firing rockets at the boss…)

Blacksmithing Mail and Plate armor and weapons. Keys for locks.
Engineering has lots of interesting toys, some of which have situational use.
Jewelcrafting Useful rings and neck items, pretty gems, gemmed mounts.
Inscription Glyphs, some trinkets, caster weapons, fortune & Darkmoon cards, and more.
Alchemy Chemistry is fun, unfortunately you can’t make acids or bombs. You can make flasks and potions to boost stats and cause other interesting effects.
Enchanting Enchant all those items and cast illusionary enchants.
Tailoring Cloth armor, flying carpet, murlock chew toy.
Leatherworking Leather and mail armor, if your garrison LW shop has the follower minion you can make tents which will give you a 10% boost to all stats. This boost cannot be used in raids.
Skinning For gold gathering and for leatherworking
Herbalism For Inscription, Alchemy, and gold gathering
Mining Making gold and powering Blacksmithing and some engineering.


Unholy Death Knight Race Choice

Undead Death Knight states his opinionClearly 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.

Pandarens cannot be Death Nights.

In Warlords the Pandaren still cannot be Death Knights. All racials covering Hit or Expertise have been removed. New racials have been added to some races.

Note that all races now offer something to add to your DPS.


Worgen – 1% extra crit, sprint ability is quite nice every two minutes.

Human – Escape ability can break some PvE mechanics. Faster Rep gain. +2% to all secondary stats.

Draenei – A small heal over time is nice, bonus to Str.

Gnome – Added Runic Power, escape might occasionally be useful, +1% Haste.

Night Elf – 2% extra dodge is barely ever useful for you, shadowmeld has some very situational use, such as when the tank loses aggro. 2% faster movement, +1% crit by day which changes to +1% Haste by night.

Dwarf – Stoneskin sheds some effects and reduces damage, +2% critical effect to damage and heals.


Orc – Blood Fury for more damage, Command for a tiny bit more damage from ghoulie. Stun resistance will only rarely be of use.

Troll – Increased attack speed for 20 seconds.

Goblin – Rocket Jump can be a useful movement ability, 1% Haste is a decent stat.

Undead – Minor DPS ability in Drain life (which drains them and heals you. It also scales with your Mastery, since it does Shadow damage.) Also wash away fear, sleep, charm. Indefinite underwater breathing might have some use, somewhere.

Tauren –  Increased Stam, War Stomp stuns close opponents, +2% critical effect to damage and heals.

Blood Elf – Arcane Torrent silences (trash) casters and restores some Runic Power, +1% to Crit.


Unholy Consumables


Note that Pandarens get twice the food buff. All food buffs last one hour and provide only one stat.

Warlords note: There are no new DPS Elixirs, but there are for Potions and Flasks. There are no Str foods, either. Ditto for Legion.





  • Stout Augment Rune: +50 Str for one hour. Occasionally drops from WoD bosses (in Raid Finder mode) and is also rarely found as mission rewards from your Garrison. Stacks with flasks and other buffs.


  • Oralius’ Whispering Crystal: +100 to all stats.
  • Tents: (not usable in raids or arenas) These account bound items are available through your leatherworking hut, from the follower that you assigned to that hut. All the tents do the same thing, which is to add 10% to all stats for an hour. Very nice if you’re doing anything outside of the raid.


Get Your Death Knight to the Level Cap ASAP

Zygor's Guide, to hit the level cap fastUnholy 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 the cap 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 backThe 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.

Grab your copy here

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