This guide is not only a starting place for players looking to learn the basics of Unholy, but is also a great place for advanced players to sharpen their skills.
There are no changes to Death Knights from 5.4 to 5.4.7, however there are large changes to PvP:
- Base Resilience has increased to 77% up from 72%.
- Battle Fatigue has increased to 60% up from 55%.
- "Gladiator's Distinction", the set bonus for wearing two PvP trinkets now grants 5280 resilience up from 2600 resilience.
- Item level on the new gear is 550, up from 522 on the old gear.
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.
Tier 1: Rolling Blood
Rolling Blood casts pestilence on any target hit by Blood Boil, making it easier to spread diseases. Right now, Death Knights are all about damage; and this is one of the simplest ways to maximize it. This is the most effective talent to wear down your opponent.
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.
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.
Tier 4: 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. While Death Pact is normally a viable option, currently Battle Fatigue causes the ability to suffer too much to put into practice.
Tier 5: 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.
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.
Three strongly PvP oriented glyphs make choosing glyphs for Death Knights easy, however there are times when glyphs can be swapped in or out.
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).
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.
Death's Embrace (Minor) - Restores runic power when healing a friendly undead minion. Save some runic power to heal your Ghoul or Gargoyle up.
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.
Stats - Gemming / Enchanting / Reforging
3% Hit >= 3% Expertise > Strength
At the passive ratio of 1.35 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%) 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. Here is an example. Grievous Gladiator's Dreadplate Legguards have one red, and one blue socket, with a 120 PvP Power socket bonus. In this case, the damage gained from having two Strength gems and ignoring the socket bonus is greater than respecting it. On the other hand, Grievous Gladiator's Dreadplate Gauntlets have a blue socket, and a 60 Strength socket bonus. In this case the damage increase from using a Strength/PvP Power gem yeilds more damage.
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 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 twice as hard, 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.
Mastery boosts your shadow damage and gargoyle's damage. A less RNG way to keep our damage up over multiple targets, and when we are not on our primary target, mastery will increase the damage of just about everything you do other than your Auto Attack, Necrotic Strike, and frost damage.
A quick word from our friends over at Elitist Jerks about secondary stats priority:
"Unholy secondary stat weights are all very close right, so close in-fact that there are obtainable gearsets for every possible stat priority. This means there is no one "right" way to gear, as it will vary from person to person"
Elitist Jerks Death Knight Guide Author
Granted that was wrote with PvE in mind, it applies to pvp as well. You are encouraged to play the stat priority that feels best for you, here is some background knowledge of the the secondary stat priorities when it comes to PvP. Keep in mind a secondary stat's usefulness increase and decrease based on what team composition you are playing, and to a lesser extent, what team composition you are playing against.
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.
Enchanting is fairly straight forward as there are not a lot of options.
Head - None
Shoulders - 200 Strength / 100 Crit
Back - 180 Crit
Chest - 200 REsilience or 80 to all Stats
Wrist - 180 Strength
Hands - 170 Strength
Legs - 285 Strength / 165 Crit
Feet - 140 Mastery / Run Speed Increase
Weapon - Runeforge: Rune of the Fallen Crusader (15% Strength Multiplier)
#Showtooltip /cast !ConversionAllows you to recast Conversion while Conversion is already active.
#showtooltip /cast [target=pet] Death CoilCasts Death Coil at your Ghoul, healing it.
#showtooltip /cast !Lichborne /cast [target=player] Death CoilCasts Lichborne and then Death Coil at yourself, healing yourself.
Focus Death Grip
#showtooltip /cast [target=focus] Death Grip /cast [target=focus] Chains of IceCasts Death Grip at your focus target, and then slows them. The Chains of Ice line is optional.
#showtooltip /cast [target=focus] StrangulateStrangulates or Asphyxiates your focus target.
#showtooltip /stopcasting /cast [target=focus] Leap /cast [target=mouseover, exists][exists] Leap /petattackBecause 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.
#showtooltip /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 wont show).
Focus Mind Freeze
#showtooltip /cast [target=focus] Mind FreezeInterrupts your focus target.
Raise Dead/Dark Transformation
#showtooltip /cast [@mouseover,dead] Corpse Explosion /cast [nopet] Raise Dead /stopmacro [nopet] /cast [target=pet,exists]Dark TransformationPush 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).
#showtooltip dark simulacrum /cancelaura Ice Block /cast [nomod] Dark Simulacrum; [mod:alt, @focus] Dark Simulacrum /click MultiBarBottomLeftButton12Back when traditional focus macros didn't work because of how Dark Simulacrum is composed (entire spell name changes to the name of copied spell, making it impossible to use the copied spell on your focus target with a traditional macro), this was how I made it work. No idea if a regular /cast@focus macro works with copied spells; either way this gets the job done. Replace "12" in "MultiBarBottomLeftButton12" with the corresponding action bar slot you place this macro into.
#showtooltip /cast [@arenax] Death Grip /cast [@arenay] Death GripOnly used when playing with a hunter against comps with multiple trap eaters (KFC), set x and y to arena 123 numbers corresponding to the dps on the team. Use when your hunter's trap is just about to activate. EG: arena 1: Warrior, arena 2: Hunter, arena 3: Shaman macro is as follows:
/cast [@arena1] Death Grip /cast [@arena2] Death Grip
#showtooltip /cast Remorseless Winter /cast Desecrated Ground /run SetMacroSpell("T6",GetSpellInfo("Remorseless Winter") or "Desecrated Ground")Combines Desecrated Ground and Remorsless Winter into one macro. Requires the name of the macro to be the same as "T6" in the last line of the macro, or the tooltip will not display.
#showtooltip /cast [@player] Unholy Frenzy /use Grievous Gladiator's Badge of Victory /use 10 /cast Summon Gargoyle /focus pettarget /petfollow /petattack /petattack [@focus]Because of the Gargoyle's strange behavior, this is the only way to ensure that your gargoyle switches targets when you want it to. Repressing this macro while he is already out will force him to switch targets. This macro will consistently mess with your focus target, so it is advised to run a set focus target macro. An example is provided below.
#showtooltip Necrotic Strike /startattack /cast Blood Tap /cast Necrotic Strike /focus arenaxAs stated in the Gargoyle macro which resets your focus target to your kill target, it is advised to run a macro to reset your focus back to the target you want it by macroing it into a frequently used keybind. I chose Necrotic Strike. Replace the "x" in /focus arenax with the corresponding arena123 target that you want to be your focus target. Additionally, Blood Tap is macroed here, so that blood tap charges are primarily used for Necrotic Strike.
*Keep in mind that macroing Blood Tap is purely a suggestion; I find when playing manual blood tap, I lose out on charges more often which is essencially wasted damage. Others have suggested macroing it into Death Coil (more of a PvE thing), however that means you lose the control that you're trying to gain by taking Blood Tap in the first place. I macro it into Necrotic Strike, because generally I only really use Necrotic Strike when bursting/looking to get defensives and trinkets, and thus maintain control over when I want the damage.
Most often I'm asked how I do damage. Unholy isn't quite as straight forward as Frost is, and is generally foreign in concept to players looking to pick up the class.
Simply putting diseases on your targets should be your first priority when not looking for a kill. It is important that your diseases are on as many targets as you can get them on (players, hunter pets, warlock pets, ect). At the end of the day, Blood Plague is going to be your top damage in every arena game. When diseases are not up and you are not looking for a kill, your priorities should be:
Acquiring Death Runes - Death Runes are how you are going to put the hurt on your opponents, as they will allow you to use Necrotic strike, making the damage you do hard to heal though.
Stacking Shadow Infusions - Casting Death Coil will give Timmy one stack of Shadow Infusion, granting him 10% increased damage. Get five, and turn him into a Monstrosity, granting him 100% increased damage, and new abilities. While the damage increase is nice, the abilities are more valuable when going for a kill. Just because you have five Shadow Infusions does not mean you have to Dark Transform Timmy. You're more than welcome to wait until you set up crowd control and go for a kill to force defensives.
Stacking Blood Tap charges - Blood Tap is an ability that stacks to 12. Every five charges allows you to reset one of your fully depleted runes, and change it into a Death rune. Ideally, you want around 10+ Blood Tap charges when going for a kill, as this will allow you two Necrotic Strikes in addition to the Death Runes you already have.
Dealing damage as a Death Knight isn't as consistent as it used to be in previous expansions. Most of our damage is easily healed though unless backed up by Necrotic Strike, in which case it becomes much more difficult to heal though. However, as of Mists of Pandaria, Necrotic Strike now requires a Death Rune instead of an Unholy Rune, making the ability much less used overall in comparison to Cataclysm, where it was highly spammable. The most effective way to get necrotics off in sequence is to start by converting all of your Blood and Frost Runes into Death runes. You can do this via Festering Strike, or using Icy Touch and Blood Boil. How you do it is up to you. Additionally, you should have 10+ charges of Blood Tap, for the two extra Necrotic Strikes.
When I describe how I deal damage to new Death Knights, I often call it a build and dump "rotation". You build up your Death Runes, Blood Tap charges, and Shadow Infusions, and then dump them all at the same time, causing unhealable burst. When done properly, you either have to be peeled off, or you get defensive cooldowns/trinkets, or they die.
When playing PHD ([healer]/Hunter/Death Knight), you will pretty much be free to walk around and do as you please, unless facing a spell cleave. Haste is highly valuable , as most teams will ignore you and tunnel your squishy Hunter. PHD is all about damage. Sure hunters have good crowd control, but Dks do not. Pair any other DPS with a hunter, and there will be more crowd control between the two of them than there will between you and a Hunter. This means its more than important to get the little crowd control that you have off early, to gain momentum, than it is to wait for an ideal opportunity.
Treat Asphyxiate as your Hunter's cooldown. You should consistently let eachother know when your Asphyxiate and traps will be ready, for early coordination. You should be going for Asphyxiate-Traps as soon as possible. Its not uncommon for Asphyxiate to be your second global, especially against other Hunter cleave teams. If the team you are playing against has multiple ways to get to their healer to eat traps, be prepared to grip them off. If a warrior is on the other team, he should be able to Intervene-Reflect every single trap if he is not sitting in crowd control. Be prepared to Icy Touch his reflect off, and then grip him immediately afterward. Often, hunters will sit on their healers to eat traps, since standing next to a Death Knight as a healer isn't all that threatening compared to a Warrior (Shockwave, Intimidating shout, Disrupting Shout). In this case you'll either have to Gnaw the Hunter, or Death Grip him off as well. However while traps are important, it is not the end of the world if you miss them. Asphyxiate-Wyrven Sting-Scatter Shot-Silence Shot combinations or variations are more than enough to force trinkets or defensive cooldowns, especially if Gargoyle is out.
Typically a healer killer, Shadowcleave capitalizes on heavy consistent spread damage with the goal of either running a healer out of mana very quickly, or having a healer fall behind to where they can't pick their team back up, making multiple swap opportunities. Generally speaking, a healer will be able to heal though your team's damage fairly easily if you (the Death Knight) are not on the healer. You don't have to start on the healer, or tunnel them for the whole game, but you should switch to them every Asphyxiate. For the first two Asphyxiates, your Warlock will have Dark Soul dots up.
Sometimes you will play against comps (specifically double melee) that will either tunnel your Warlock, or tunnel your healer (depending on the healer you play with) into the ground. Many Death Knights see their healer panic, or ask for help, and as silly as it sounds, that is NOT your job as a Death Knight. If you know how to do damage properly, your best peel is often soloing their healer, though its fair to throw the occasional Chains of Ice or Death Grip. Simply ask for a Spell Lock, or a Mortal Coil if possible, but know that it is not required. More than often you will see your opponents DPS come running to get you off their healer, and rightfully so. Sometimes either their healer will not ask for help, or the DPS will play with the mind set that "Its just one Death Knight...", and their healer will simply die. If he doesn't die, hes using all of his defensive cooldowns to live, and his partners are rotting away to your Warlock. Now you are in a great position, as their entire team is probably low health, causing their team to play defensive and allowing your Warlock to stop peeling for a while and do real damage. Finish up the game on your next Asphyxiate.