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Unholy Death Knight Guide (6.0.3)

This guide is not only a starting place for players looking to learn the basics of Unholy Death Knight, but is also a great place for advanced players to sharpen their skills. Now with more Frost!


The 5.4.7 Guide... has been put into a Spoiler at the bottom, and will be kept around for retro-reference (is that a word?), and future arena servers, since whenever I go to play on an older arena server, I can never find any information to refresh myself on how the hell we played back in the stone age good days.

A number of changes were made for Death knights, however Frost and Unholy's rotations remain the same overall.

  • Frost Strike replaces Death Coil for Frost Death Knights.
  • Obliterate replaces Blood Strike for Frost Death Knights.
  • Necrotic Strike has been removed (RIP).
  • Raise Dead (and by proxy, master of ghouls) is now only available to Unholy Death Knights.
  • Rune of Cinderglacier has been removed.
  • Unholy Frenzy has been removed.
  • Horn of winter no longer generates runic power, and has no cooldown.
  • Pestilence has been removed and its effects have been caked into Blood Boil (Rolling Blood talent is now baseline).
  • Army of the dead now sucks deals 75% less damage.
  • Death Coil now costs 30 Runic Power and has a 40 yard range for both allies and enemies.
  • Icebound Fortitude now lasts 8 seconds, down from 12.
  • Rolling Blood has been removed and replaced with Plaguebearer, a new Level 56 talent. Plaguebearer causes Death Coil and Frost Strike to extend the duration of Frost Fever and Blood Plague, or add a stack of Necrotic Plague.
  • Blood Boil now deals 50% more damage, but no longer deals additional damage per disease on the target.
  • Pillar of Frost now increases Strength by 15%, down from 20%.
  • Obliterate now deals 25% more damage [on both main and offhand], but no longer deals additional damage per disease on the target.
  • Rune of the Fallen Crusader now increases Strength by 20%, up from 15%.
  • Scourge Strike no longer deals additional damage per disease on the target. It now deals 100% physical weapon damage, and 50% shadow weapon damage. The shadow portion can once again independently crit.
  • Frost Strike's damage has been increased by 100%, but its Runic Power cost has been increased to 25 (40 in non Frost Presence).
  • Icy Talons now increases attack speed by 20% (down from 45%), and haste by 5% (up from 0%).
  • Might of the Frozen Wastes now increases Obliterate damage by 50% (up from 40%), and melee damage by 35% (up from 30%) while wielding a two handed weapon, and increases the damage of Frost Strike by 50% (up from 35%) while dual wielding.
  • Razorice now deals 4% additional weapon damage (up from 2%), and increases Frost damage by 2% per stack, down from 3%.
  • Obliterate's damage has been increased by 30%.
  • Necrosis: Necrosis is a new passive ability for Unholy Death Knights. It causes Multistrikes from Festering Strike, Pestilence, Plague Strike, Scourge Strike, and Soul Reaper to also deal a burst of Shadow damage. The amount of burst damage is based on Attack Power, not the damage from the triggering Multistrike.
  • Unholy Might now increases Strength by 10%, down from 35%.
  • Death Pact no longer sacrifices your Ghoul or a portion of it's health. It now heals the Death Knight for 50% of their maximum health, and places Necrotic Strike a healing absorption shield on the user for 50% of the health granted.
  • Anti-Magic Shell will now restore 2 Runic Power per 1% of max health absorbed.
  • Desecrated Ground now also makes the Death Knight immune to Roots, Snares and Silences.
  • Conversion no longer has an initial tick, and now costs 10 Runic Power/second for Frost, and 20 Runic Power/second for Unholy.
  • Level 60 and 75 talent rows have swapped places.
  • Blood Tap now generates one charge for every 15 Runic Power spent; Runic Empowerment and Runic Corruption now have a 1.5% chance to trigger per Runic Power spent.
PvP Talents
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This is the default talent core that every Death Knight should start with. It is the go-to set of talents for the majority of matches you will play, and is well rounded. Talents and glyphs are like a tool box, where you get to chose a few of the most effective tools to get the job done in the cleanest way possible: talents should be changed to benefit you the most. Always take into consideration what composition you are playing as, what you are playing against, and strategies that might be used by both teams during a match. In 6.0.3, even though the talents look mostly the same; there is a lot more flexibility because of how other classes, and how the game itself has changed.

Tier 1: Plaguebearer

Now that Rolling Blood is caked in, Plaguebearer does a nice job of taking its place. Plaguebearer increases the duration of your Blood Plague and Frost Fever (and will add a stack to Necrotic Plague) every time you Death Coil or Frost Strike by Five (5) seconds. Seeing as Frost Death Knights do not have Festering Strike, and Unholy Death Knights don't want to be spamming Festering Strike, this is a great way to keep your diseases lasting until the golden years while spoon feeding your target damage. Currently, it seems the diseases wont extend past 40 seconds. If the Plaguebearer will cause the duration to exceed 40 seconds, then the diseases in question will be set to 40 seconds instead. Additionally, Festering Strike will allow diseases to exceed 40 seconds. However; if the duration has exceeded 40 seconds via Festering Strike, the next Death Coil will reset the disease(s) in question to 40 seconds. Yes this is a bug, though it is irrelevant as disease snapshotting no longer exists.

Tier 2: Lichborne

Lichborne turns you undead, allowing you to break free of fears, charms, and sleeps. Additionally, while undead, you are immune to polymorph effects (Sheep, Hex) and incapacitates (Sap, Gouge), and may heal yourself by casting Death Coil on yourself (Unholy only). Polymorph and incapacitates will not break when you are already bound; however, like Cloak of Shadows and Anti-Magic Shell, you will be immune to these effects as long as you have the Lichborne buff. Sleep, Fear, and Charm effects will break when using Lichborne, even while you are already bound by them.

Tier 3: Asphyxiate

Asphyxiate is an improved version of strangulate that stuns your opponent instead of silencing them. Additionally, it costs no rune. On occasion you may be playing a composition where your team mates have too many stuns already, and standard strangulate may be a better choice. In this case, Chillblains is your next best bet, as you will gain a three second duration root on Chains of Ice, as well as a built in slow. Strangulate with Chillblains combos extremely well with Defile, Chains of Ice root, Death and Decay glyph, and Remorseless Winter.

Tier 4: Blood Tap

All three talents in this tier are fairly close, however Blood Tap gives you the control over when runes are reset. It also gives you Death Runes, allowing you to use Necrotic Strike more frequently Obliterate when you have Killing Machine procs.

Tier 5: Conversion

Conversion allows you to sacrifice runic power per second to gain health per second. Activating it while it is already active will double both the runic power sacrificed and the health gained at the cost of one global, for one global. Take Death Pact against teams that attempt to only kill you in high burst swaps.

Tier 6: Desecrated Ground

An extra trinket that will make you immune to all forms of CC other than silences, disarms, roots, and slows while you are standing in it. Remorseless Winter is useful against double melee teams where the chance of needing to trinket multiple things is low, and where and extra peel is required. Mandatory for non human Death Knights, and depending on the situation, can be interchangeable with Remorseless Winter, depending on whether or not the opposing team has spells like Hand of Freedom, or Master's Call.

Tier 7: Defile

After some extensive testing, Defile seems to be the way to go. All three talents in this tier are massive crowd control breakers, which can lead do some class compatibility problems down the road. Defile does three times the damage of Death and Decay, which recently received a 20% buff (the 20% damage increase also carried over to Defile as well). At maximum growth rate, it will grow to be about 50% larger than its starting size, making it great for dropping behind crates on Dalaran Arena or other small maps. It is also effected by Glyph of Death and Decay, causing it to slow enemies in it in the same way that old Desecration did (Restoration Druids can not shift out of this).

It has been said that Necrotic Plague was nerfed down to be buffed back up later, but as for right now, that spell is not an option to us. Without a large rework, Necrotic Plague will have to do at triple the damage our regular diseases do at maximum stacks. Necrotic Plague is very clunky in its current design, and needs an overall rework; it can not crit, therefore messing with our secondary stat priorities. While it ticks twice as fast, it does about half the damage that Blood Plague and Frost Fever do. Before it was nerfed, it did significantly more damage, and jumped around to gain stacks. Plaguebearer and Festering Strike increased the duration in addition to adding a stack, so that if you managed to get your Necrotic Plague to maximum stacks, it would sit there for a while until running out or being dispelled. This made the glyph of Enduring Infection worth something despite the damage reduction. High stacks are frequently dispelled, and even when it does reach maximum stacks, it doesnt stay there for long because of its short duration.

Sindragrosa's Breath does great damage, and has burst potential. It will be interesting to see how this ability plays out. So far, its major flaws are: Long cooldown. Requires very heavy pooling of runic power, like Summon Gargoyle used to. This causes a heafty rampup time, and requires a lot more setup than the other options available (not necessarily a bad thing, but makes it hard to use in conjunction with your partners' abilities. Additionally, even with Empower Rune Weapon and a full set of initial available runes, I found that its still pretty hard to keep up for more than five seconds (hue hue hue).


Three strongly PvP oriented glyphs make choosing glyphs for Death Knights easy, however there are times when glyphs can be swapped in or out.

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Shifting Presences - Allows you to switch presences and retain 70% of the runic power you had before the switch. A must have, as presence swapping without this glyph will slow down your damage and may put you into risky positions (Swapping to Blood Presence when being switched to, and not having runic power to convert if you are using Conversion).

Icy Touch - Your Icy Touch will now dispel one beneficial magical effect from your opponent. Purge is a very powerful spell, and any class that has the option to take it should.

Dark Simulacrum - Reduces the cooldown of Dark Simulacrum by half, and increases the duration the debuff stays on the target by 4 seconds. Dark Simulacrum can be your strongest spell if used properly. Being able to use it twice as often increases the chances of having it ready when a juicy spell is about to be used. Can be used every Asphyxiate, allowing you to steal major defensive cooldowns from healers that can be cast while stunned. This is the glyph that you should swap in and out with other glyphs if you want to use something else.

Death and Decay- Slows any target that takes damage from your Death and Decay ability, for as long as they remain inside of the effected area. Works with Defile. This glyph works great with Arthas Combo (Defile+Remorseless Winter).

Death's Embrace (Minor) - Restores runic power when healing a friendly undead minion. Save some runic power to heal your Ghoul or Gargoyle up. Only relevant if you are Unholy, or if you are running some weird shit, like Double [Unholy] Death Knight.

Resilient Grip (Minor) - Resets your Death Grip if your target is immune to both the pull and the taunt (Iceblocks/Divine Shield/Cyclone) - For those unlucky situations.

Path of Frost (Minor) - Causes you to take less fall damage while the aura is active. Good for Rated Battlegrounds, like Arathi Basin.

Stats - Gemming / Enchanting / Reforging

Take these with a grain of salt, as they are simply based on my own experiences and personal non-mathmatical testing.

Stat Priority


While these stat priorities are definitely a "beta version", it is clear so far that either mastery or multistrike will be in the lead for Unholy.

3% Hit >= 3% Expertise > Strength > Multistrike > Haste


Frost on the other hand is seems to be preforming best with the basics.

3% Hit >= 3% Expertise > Strength > Multi = Versatility


At the passive ratio of 1.35 1.10 Strength per point of Strength (thanks to our good friend Unholy Might), Strength is your dearest friend. Additionally, our Runeforge enchant grants us half more the Strength that Unholy Might gives us (15%, 20%) as a proc that is up most of the arena, as long as you are hitting things. Gem and Enchant Strength wherever you can, while respecting Strength increasing socket bonuses.


Your GCD is affected by various factors such as expertise, Time Warp, your connection speed ect. 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. Haste becomes more valuable the more uptime that you have on your target. Ideal for comps like PHD, where most teams will focus down your hunter and allow you to do as you please.


Crit makes abilities hit twice 50% harder, and stacking crit makes it happen more often. Crit is a big damage boost to your diseases, which are always ticking on everything all the time. It can make our gargoyle deadly, in a much more RNG way than mastery. Typically great for spread pressure, crit allows you to keep your damage up while you're not on your target. Great for big Soul Reapers. This stat has diminished in 6.0+, as critical strikes hit half as hard as they used to.


Mastery boosts your shadow damage and gargoyle's damage for Unholy, and Boost your frost damage for Frost, namely Frost Strike and Howling Blast. Generally something to avoid as Frost, unless future patch notes say that Frost Strike will become the large burst.

This may or may not be relevant, depending on the patch:

Mastery is generally the stat most Death Knights pick today. Not only is it the most reliable way to keep damage up when kited, but it also directly effects your biggest burst: Summon Gargoyle. For heavy spread pressure, play mastery > crit. For fast damage, play mastery > haste. Using this information, you are encouraged to find the secondary stat priority  that is best for you.


Heal Ghoul
/cast [target=pet] Death Coil
Casts Death Coil at your Ghoul, healing it.

Self Heal
/cast !Lichborne
/cast [target=player] Death Coil
Activates Lichborne, then casts Death Coil at yourself, healing yourself. Note this only works with Unholy now, as Death Coil is now replaced by Frost Strike, for Frost Death Knights.

Focus Death Grip
/cast [target=focus] Death Grip
Casts Death Grip at your focus target, and then slows them. The Chains of Ice line is optional. A perk while leveling will slow targets that are Death Gripped.

Arena 1/2/3 Death Grip
/cast [@arenax] Death Grip
Casts Death Grip an arena target frame. The target is decided by "x". Replace "x" with "1", "2", or "3". The best way to use this macro is to have three separate key bindings, and three separate macros, both of which usually right next to one another. Example: Grip arena1 bound to F1, Grip arena 2 bound to F2, Grip arena 3 bound to F3.

Arena 1/2/3 Chains of Ice
/cast [@arenax] Chains of Ice
Casts Death Grip an arena target frame. The target is decided by "x". Replace "x" with "1", "2", or "3". The best way to use this macro is to have three separate key bindings, and three separate macros, both of which usually right next to one another. Example: Chains arena1 bound to F1, Chains arena 2 bound to F2, Chains arena 3 bound to F3.

Focus Strangulate
/cast [target=focus] Strangulate
Strangulates or Asphyxiates your focus target.

Focus Leap
/cast [target=focus] Leap
/cast [target=mouseover, exists][exists] Leap
Because of Leap's Buggy nature, this was the best way to get Leap to work properly. Its possible that the technical issues of Leap have been fixed, though the macro continues to do its job for me, and so I still use it. It will make your ghoul Leap at mouseover targets as well as your focus target. Mouseover has priority.

/cancelaura Lichborne
/cast Lichborne
/cast !Anti-Magic Zone
/run SetMacroSpell("Lich/AMZ",GetSpellInfo("Lichborne") or "Anti-Magic Zone")
Tap once to activate Lichborne, tap again to cancel it. Handy for avoiding Shackle or Paladin Fear. This macro will combine Lichborne and Anti-Magic Zone into one keybind. The Macro name must be the same as the the part listed in the last line /run SetMacroSpell("Lich/AMZ"), or the Tooltip will not update (and the cooldown won't show).

Focus Mind Freeze
/cast [target=focus] Mind Freeze
Interrupts your focus target.

Raise Dead/Dark Transformation
/cast [@mouseover,dead] Corpse Explosion
/cast [nopet] Raise Dead
/stopmacro [nopet]
/cast [target=pet,exists]Dark Transformation
Push to summon your Ghoul. While Timmy is active, push again to activate Dark Transformation (assuming Timmy has five Shadow Infusions). Also will cast Corpse Explosion at a moused over corpse (just for fun).

Dark Simulacrum
#showtooltip dark simulacrum
/cancelaura Ice Block
/cast [nomod] Dark Simulacrum; [mod:alt, @focus] Dark Simulacrum

Summon Gargoyle
/use 13
/cast Summon Gargoyle
/petattack [@target]
Make sure your on use damage trinket is in slot 13.

Pillar of Frost
/use 13
/cast Pillar of Frost
/cast Death's Advance
Make sure your on use damage trinket is in slot 13.

Dealing Damage


Unholy is now straight forward. Stacking Shadow Infusions an bursting during Dark Transformation is key. This is when gargoyle should be used, and Death Runes no longer get any special treatment. Use them as you see fit. Scourge Strike is now the primary strike, and it will consume the majority of your runes. Remember, our level 100 set bonus grants us 20% increased shadow damage while Dark Transformation is active.


Frost is largely the same as it has always been. Keeping your diseases up, avoid using Killing Machine procs on Frost Strike. Soul Reaper at low health. Use saved up Blood Tap Charges for Killing Machine procs that you don't have the available runes to Obliterate with.

Interface and Addons

Unless you're practicing for a no-addon tournament, there is no reason not to customize your interface to your liking. Moving things to easier places for you to see can assist you greatly and help you to not overlap. There are few and far in-between addons that I would describe as mandatory, as Blizzard has certainly made the baseline interface more acceptable over the years.

Disclaimer: Yes, people have told me my interface is cluttered. I'm not advising you to have a cluttered interface, I'm giving you the basics. I've grown used to how my UI is, and have tried changing it before.

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A. Its important to know where players are, even if they are not your target. Nameplates are helpful, be it Blizzard's own, or an Addon. Some Addons will show you specific debuffs that you ask it to show you on name plates, others will show cast times within the name plates. The Addon I am using here is called Tidy Plates: Threat Plates.

B. No player should go without party frames. Personally, I find the base ones, and the standard one that comes with my normal unitframes clunky. I've taken a great liking to Blizzard's "boxes", the standard raid frames that the game comes with. They show debuffs and mana, and can be class colored.

C. If you're Unholy, it is your responsibility to know where and what your Ghoul is doing, specifically to monitor his health pools. At the beginning of expansions, healer mana is always tight. Give them a helping hand and keep an eye on Timmy.

D. Lots of players are wondering what is the best Rune Bar Addon to use. Its true, Blizzard's could use an update, even with move anything, its still largely basic and has no options to customize it. I have used the same Rune Bar Addon since Wrath of the Lich King, so I can't say I know what else is out there these days. Even so, Magic Runes gets the job done. With high customization, you can move, re-size , rearrange, and monitor both your Rune times, and DoT's. The alpha will fade when out of combat if you tell it to do so, making this my personal pick.

E. Lose Control, the Addon that inspired Blizzard's Loss of Control interface option, is able to show crowed control cast on enemy players as well. You can move it and put it where you want to, it becomes very hard to miss a CC cast on an enemy player. Additionally, it works with Sarena (an Arena Unit Frame Addon), and OmniCC (a cooldown counter Addon).

5.4.7 Guide (for retro-reference or future arena servers)




#1 flannelsoff

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 05:13 AM

Focus 123 on things like grip and chains are really good as well, i had it on shift 1 for grip arena 1 and alt 1 for chains arena 1. It also applies to dark sim too cause the third target might be important. Good guide mayte

#2 Losiro

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 05:27 AM

Who's the next to make a guide? Good explanations and even some strategy thrown in there for good measure.

#3 Vanguards

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 05:35 AM

It's nice to see more and more guides being made. Thanks again!

#4 Gosucloud

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 06:15 AM

I am The Lord of Death Knights, and I approve your guide. But some things can be more specified, and others need mentioning. Overall you did well.

#5 Neosaurfang

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 07:38 AM

Good read

#6 dusk1

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 10:17 AM

View PostVanguards, on 24 February 2014 - 05:35 AM, said:

It's nice to see more and more guides being made. Thanks again!

Looking forward to more guides.

#7 Glink

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 10:29 AM

My boy Shen. You were the DK partner I never had.

#8 Raak

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 10:39 AM

View PostCriterboyswag, on 24 February 2014 - 09:15 AM, said:

Fk dks dumb class please remove

Would it suit the new "don't be an asshole"-policy if class guide threads would be kept clean from waste of sperm like this dude?

#9 Forumz

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 10:41 AM

View PostOwnu, on 24 February 2014 - 04:59 AM, said:

Weapon - Runeforge: Rune of the Fallen Crusader (15% Strength Multiplier)
I'd like to add that, if you have the points for it, carrying a second weapon with Swordshattering can greatly affect games if you're good at swapping them at the right time.

#10 Marshmellow

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 10:59 AM

View PostCriterboyswag, on 24 February 2014 - 09:15 AM, said:

Fk dks dumb class please remove



#11 seadogsnrebz

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Posted 25 February 2014 - 04:16 PM

Great guide Shends.

I'd love to see the strategy section built out more.  Dk/ele, tsg, dk/enh, dk/mage come to mind

#12 Ownu

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Posted 25 February 2014 - 09:16 PM

View Postseadogsnrebz, on 25 February 2014 - 04:16 PM, said:

Great guide Shends.

I'd love to see the strategy section built out more.  Dk/ele, tsg, dk/enh, dk/mage come to mind

I plan to build it more, but I don't want to provide information  about comps that I'm not 150% positive I know the best option in every single situation. Once I get more expierence with dk ele, and dk Mage I'll throw those in. I'll be adding some things to it soon. When I get a chance later

#13 Covlol

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Posted 27 February 2014 - 02:09 PM

View PostElysiumtko, on 24 February 2014 - 06:15 AM, said:

I am The Lord of Death Knights, and I approve your guide. But some things can be more specified, and others need mentioning. Overall you did well.

U may be the self proclaimed "lord of dks", but I am the lvl 1 dk legend. Sit down sir.

#14 Ownu

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 10:27 PM

Fixed some typos, added my dark sim macro

#15 Execx

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Posted 25 March 2014 - 07:04 AM

Shen the dk god

#16 Ownu

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Posted 06 November 2014 - 08:32 PM

Working on the 6.0.3 update, boys. Periodically saving it [albeit unfinish] to avoid large format errors, so this explains why you might see half finished work. Also worried about typing for hours and then my session closing and losing all data. I will post again when it is complete. Should be sometime today.

#17 Ownu

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 02:53 AM

Updated for 6.0.3. Will develop "Strategies" section with time.

the 5.4.7 Guide is now in a spoiler at the bottom, and will not be deleted.

#18 Heero

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 04:35 PM

Currently on live 6.0.3 it is still possible to heal yourself with Death Coil during Lichborne.

#19 Treta

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 06:34 PM

I'm planning playing 3s with a SPriest and stuck deciding between a Frost DK or my Ret. Would you recommend the FDK over the Ret for that comp? Also, the only reason I'm even considering DK is that I absolutely hate pet management (especially DK's dumb garg) and Frost seems to be viable now. Do you guys see Frost being viable in the long run?

#20 Ownu

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 07:09 PM

View PostHeero, on 07 November 2014 - 04:35 PM, said:

Currently on live 6.0.3 it is still possible to heal yourself with Death Coil during Lichborne.
Is it? On beta I recall it not working. Could have been a bug, or maybe live is a bug. Either way I'lleavw it like it is until launch next week, and if it doesn't get patched, I'll remove the strike through.

View PostTreta, on 07 November 2014 - 06:34 PM, said:

I'm planning playing 3s with a SPriest and stuck deciding between a Frost DK or my Ret. Would you recommend the FDK over the Ret for that comp? Also, the only reason I'm even considering DK is that I absolutely hate pet management (especially DK's dumb garg) and Frost seems to be viable now. Do you guys see Frost being viable in the long run?

It's too early to know. As past history tells, frost is generally only good with melee cleaves. I doubt that's the case this time, but we'll see.