wotlk classic pve unholy death knight rotation & abilities
  • Author: Nevermore
  • Date: July 16, 2022
  • Updated: July 21, 2022
  • Expansion: WotLK Classic

Unholy Death Knights have to deal with Runes and Runic Power, which makes for a rather complex rotation. Do not fear! This guide will help you understand how to maximize your DPS as an Unholy DK, in both Single-Target and AoE encounters.

Abilities Overview

In the sections below we will go through each ability and explain how to properly use it.

  • Icy Touch deals direct frost damage and also afflicts the target with Frost Fever. This will be your main way of applying your Frost Fever, while also reducing the attack speed of your target by 20% and increasing yours. You will only want to use this ability to apply your Frost Fever, and not spam it mindlessly.
  • Plague Strike deals direct weapon damage and inflicts the target with Blood Plague. This ability will be your main way of applying your Blood Plague. You should only use this ability to place your disease, not spam it.
  • Blood Strike deals direct weapon damage, increased by 12.5% for each disease present on the target. This ability will be your main Blood Rune spender, mostly used to trigger Desolation.
  • Death Coil deals direct shadow damage to an enemy, or heals any friendly undead unit. This will be your main Runic Power spender, being used as a filler ability whenever your runes are not available.
  • Scourge Strike deals hybrid damage — direct weapon damage and 12% shadow damage for each disease present on the target. This will be your main offensive ability, and our first true filler ability. The standard build itself depends on using Scourge Strike as your main ability.
  • Summon Gargoyle allows you to call a gargoyle to your side to bombard your enemies with nature damage. This one will be your burst ability, having a 3-minute cooldown. You will want to use this one as often as possible, and also as soon as possible, considering the duration of average encounters.
  • Raise Dead — the most defining characteristic of the Unholy specialization is, of course, our access to a permanent pet, which we can summon with Raise Dead. While other DK specializations only get a temporary companion, we can control our Ghoul brother (or sister!) at all times.
  • Pestilence allows you to spread any disease placed on your target to any number of nearby enemies in a 15-yard radius. This ability will be your main AoE tool with massive damage, useful for your raid group or dungeon party.
  • Death and Decay is an AoE ability that allows you to desecrate an area, dealing medium to high damage to all of the enemies caught in it. You will only want to use this ability after you make sure that you’ve spread your diseases.
  • Ghoul Frenzy allows you to enhance the attack speed of your ghoul while also healing it for 60% of its health. This ability will only be present in your arsenal if you choose the Haste Build, allowing you to significantly enhance your ghoul’s damage. Since this ability has a short cooldown, you can empower your decaying companion indefinitely.
  • Death Strike deals direct weapon damage while also healing you for 5% for each disease present on the target. This will be your main survivability ability and should be used to lessen the burden on healers.
  • Empower Rune Weapon resets the cooldown of all your runes, while also giving you 25 runic power. This ability should be considered as a part of your burst, allowing you to use all of the abilities again. We recommend that you use this one in conjunction with your trinket procs and your gargoyle, to maximize the damage.

  • Icebound Fortitude is a defensive ability that makes you immune to stun effects while also reducing all incoming damage by 30% and granting you an additional damage reduction based on your defense rating. This ability should be utilized whenever there is an AoE threatening boss mechanic, as it can grant you massive survivability. Always make sure to keep this ability for dangerous situations that can result in a one-shot, there is no point in using this ability if the damage you are about to receive only takes a small chunk of your health pool.
  • Anti-Magic Shell is an ability that provides you with a magical damage absorption shield that provides you with Runic Power whenever you absorb magical damage. This ability also prevents you from being afflicted by any magical effect, making it a great way to dispel dangerous boss mechanics.
  • Bone Shield is a defensive ability that allows you to receive reduced damage while it’s active and also increases your overall damage by 2%. This ability should be maintained at all times due to its damage-enhancing effect.

  • Horn of Winter is an ability that imbues you and your allies with increased strength and agility, providing +155 of both. This ability also generates 10 runic power, making it part of your rotation. This ability should be used before a fight, and during the initial part of the encounter in order to generate enough runic power to speed up the deployment of your Gargoyle.
  • Path of Frost is an ability that allows both you and your entire raid group to create slivers of ice beneath your feet, allowing you to walk on water. This ability is mainly used to help you during traveling and leveling but it can also be used as a gimmick to troll other players in encounters such as Anub’arak, providing them with a quick and sudden death. (Yes, I am teaching them how to troll people, let them have some fun XO)
  • Blood Tap is an ability that allows you to convert one of your Blood Runes into a Death Rune. This ability can be extremely useful when used by a skilled player, allowing you to utilize an ability such as Scourge Strike an additional time besides the normal number of times.
  • Strangulate is an ability that allows you to silence an enemy for up to 5 seconds. While this ability is mainly used against players in PvP content, you can effectively use this ability in PvE content as a ranged interrupt effect.
  • Chains of Ice is one of your strongest abilities, allowing you to reduce your enemy’s movement speed by up to 95%, with the added effect of the target regaining 10% of its movement speed each second for up to 10 seconds. This ability is one of the most useful and powerful slow effects in the entire game, allowing you to save your allies from any mob incoming threat, allowing you to dampen a mob’s mobility so much that it completely stays still for a couple of seconds. This is an overall great ability that should be used as much as possible and is often coordinated by your raid leader when multiple Death Knights are present in a raid.
  • Mind Freeze is an ability that allows you to interrupt a target at the cost of runic power. This ability will be your main interrupt tool, being extremely useful not only because of its low cooldown but also because it basically is free to cast with the build we have chosen for you.
  • Death Grip is a unique displacement ability that allows a Death Knight to pull any mob directly to them. This ability is mainly used in order to reposition pesky adds during raids or dungeons. You will want to use this ability in order to help your tank gather ranged or caster mobs, however, you will not want to be the one to initiate an engage with this ability.
  • Dark Command is an ability that allows you to taunt a target, having only an 8-second cooldown, making it extremely potent. As a general rule of thumb, as an Unholy Death Knight you will not want to taunt and tank targets, however, this ability can be used from a safe distance in order to prevent some bosses from stacking debuffs on the tanks.

  • Blood Presence allows you to deal 10% increased damage while also healing yourself for 4% of all damage done. This will be your default presence in the later phases of the expansion, mainly being used with the standard build.
  • Frost Presence allows you to gain 8% increased stamina, 60% armor value contribution from items and 8% reduced damage while also increasing the threat you generate. While this ability might not be in any shape or form “standard” to an Unholy Death Knight, there are many situations in which you should utilize this presence in order to increase your overall survivability. While this ability might not be so useful against magical damage, it will provide you with a huge defense boost against physical damage.
  • Unholy Presence increases your attack speed and movement speed by 15% while also reducing your overall global cooldown by 0.5 seconds. This presence can be extremely strong in certain situations or while using certain talent builds, allowing you to effectively spam your abilities. However, you can not reduce your global cooldown below 1 second, meaning that any other haste effect that you are currently benefiting from will negate the GCD cooldown reduction while being in this presence. This presence is mainly used in the “Haste Build” that we have offered you due to the rune regeneration part.


When it comes to the Single-Target rotation, Unholy Death Knights have managed to perform extremely well in all the different phases of the expansion.

In this section of the guide, we will analyze the Single-Target rotation in-depth and look at different rotations and different ways that you can pull them off.


The first rotation will be used for the standard build while the second rotation will be used for the haste build.

When it comes to what Presence you will want to use, you will want to utilize Blood Presence in the first rotation and Unholy Presence in the second rotation.

Rotation 1:

Rotation 2:

In-Depth Explanation

When it comes to Single-Target rotations, you will want to make sure that you do not mash your buttons aimlessly, as this can instantly mess up your entire rotation. Unlike any other melee DPS classes, your main abilities are conditioned by the use of Runes, with each having its own internal cooldown. Furthermore, you also have access to another special resource named Runic Power, this resource is mainly used by an Unholy Death Knight to utilize Death Coil and Summon Gargoyle.

As a general rule, Death Knights also utilize 3 different special stances called presences. Each different presence will offer you different bonuses, each having its specific and particular use.

As stated above, we have shown you two different rotations, each of them belonging to a different talent build, with each of them utilizing a separate presence. Considering that the second rotation will be more useful in the early phases of the expansion, where you do not generally have access to a lot of haste, you will always want to be in Unholy Presence when utilizing that specific build.

With the standard rotation and build, however, we will be always maintaining Blood Presence.

Upkeeping your diseases on the target will be one of your main tasks, no matter which of the rotations and builds you choose to pursue!

Always remember to keep Bone Shield up! Not only that it will provide you with reduced incoming damage while it is active, it will also increase your overall damage done by 2%.

In both rotations, you will want to utilize Blood Strike as early as possible in order to trigger Desolation, with the end goal being to gather enough runic power as fast as possible to utilize Summon Gargoyle. After your gargoyle has been summoned, you will then want to spend what runes you have left and quickly utilize Empower Runic Weapon to regain them all in order to repeat your abilities.


When it comes to Area-of-Effect, Unholy Death Knights can be considered among the most powerful cleave classes in the entire game. The way this is achieved is by simply spreading diseases to all the targets in your vicinity. This can be done in a very simple and efficient manner.


When it comes to Area-of-Effect abilities, you have access to 3 abilities in your arsenal, however, those three abilities are way more powerful than any large combination of spells.

In-Depth Explanation

As mentioned earlier, the main way that you can spread your diseases is constituted by Pestilence. On top of that, you also have access to Death and Decay, a zone-based ability that allows you to devastate an area.

There are two main ways in which you can refresh your diseases, the first one is to manually reapply them to your main target and then cast Pestilence again, thus refreshing the disease duration to all the targets afflicted by the second Pestilence. The second way of refreshing your diseases in an AoE situation is to utilize the Glyph of Disease. By utilizing the Glyph of Disease, you will be able to refresh all diseases that are currently afflicting any mob in your vicinity by just simply casting Pestilence again, without the need to cast Icy Touch or Plague Strike on your main target first.

There is also one extremely important aspect when it comes to AoE damage, and that is Wandering Plague. This effect will provide you with an additional passive damage effect that is entirely based on your melee critical strike chance and can proc based on any disease that is affecting a target, meaning that the more diseases you have active on multiple targets, the higher the chance you will have of providing massive AoE damage, provided you have enough Critical Strike Chance in order to consistently proc the effect.


About the Author


Hey there folks, I am Nevermore and have been deeply passionate about WoW for more than a decade. Whether we talk about the hidden mysteries of Azeroth or the otherworldly Outland, my journey brought me here to share the things that I have experienced with you all.
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1 year ago

Why blood strike before plague strike? BS does increased damage when used after the PS disease is applied. It doesn’t make sense to me to reverse that order.

Reply to  phaiz
1 year ago

to proc desolation 5% dmg buff early

Reply to  vel
1 year ago

Sure but the BS 12,5% damage increase from PS is worth more than 1 second of 5% global damage increase, isn’t it ?
It’s like either you get 5% extra damage on PS and Frost Fever procs, or you delay the 5% extra damage for 1 second but your BS does 12,5 extra and then you get the same benefit on both diseases’ procs.
I don’t think the 5% early is worth more than 12,5% on BS over the short timespan of 1 GCD on your first rotation.

Last edited 1 year ago by Saryk
Reply to  Nevermore
1 year ago

His question boils down to which is worth more damage, the extra 12.5% to BS by having blood plague active, or the 1 second worth of 5% to all dmg from using BS first.

Reply to  Nevermore
6 months ago

Please reach out to me Via Email I would love to try to help this site out for UH DKs there are a lot of half mistakes I would love to fix.

Reply to  phaiz
1 year ago

Blood strike gives a bonus dmg increase to all your other abilities

Reply to  Jamielolx
1 year ago

Right, but is 1 second’s worth of the 5% bonus to all dmg worth more than the extra 12.5% dmg to BS by having blood plague active first?

Reply to  Menâce
11 months ago

Stat/Buff snapshotting.

You get the +5% dmg so your diseases get 5% more dmg on tick.

Otherwise you’d need to wait until the next time you refresh them to get the 5% bonus.

Icy Touch is only used earlier as you can drop it while “running in”
EDIT: spelling

Last edited 11 months ago by Alastiel
1 year ago

That second one was never a thing originally. It maybe some odd thing from private servers but in retail Wraith originally NO ONE used Ghoul frenzy ever

Reply to  Justin
1 year ago

Even on sim for 2h GF is trash… the rotation in the sim is holding Blood Runes… Im using EJ 3.3.5 spec and simming higher than their default sim specs. The rotation on the sim just looks not right. Idk if pserver just made DKs stupid but. Morb still higher ofc but i think playing 2h wrong makes it look really bad in comparison. We will see when they update the sim more.

I think 2h is under represented ALOT

8 months ago

Blood Presence = 15%, not 10%

6 months ago

This Rotation is wrong. always PS before BS as it is more dps in everyway.

6 months ago

these rotations are wrong as well as most UH info on this site… PLEASE contact me I like this site and would love to fix these issues but at this point you are giving people BAD information… NEVER USE BLOODSTRIKE BEFORE PLAGUESTRIKE this is a DPS loss

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