PvP Unholy Death Knight Rotations & Abilities

wotlk pvp unholy death knight rotations & abilities

Player-versus-Player requires a bit of a different mindset compared to the PvE content. It necessitates fast thinking, fast reactions, and adaptability to each situation. This guide will go over all of your useful spells, and cover how to use them as effectively as possible.

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. However, not all builds use Desolation, making this ability a simple Blood Rune spender.
  • Death Coil deals direct shadow damage to an enemy, or heals any friendly undead unit. As an Unholy Death Knight, this will be your main runic power spender, providing you with a powerful offensive ranged tool or a very powerful healing spell, especially when combined with Lichborne.
  • Scourge Strike deals hybrid damage — direct weapon damage and 12% shadow damage for each disease present on the target. This will be one of your main offensive abilities. However, keep in mind that you do not want to mindlessly spam this 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, with a 3-minute cooldown. Generally, you will want to use this ability as fast as possible; however, choosing the appropriate moment will be the key to victory!
  • 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 battlegrounds or to keep your enemy’s fleeing ally in combat. You can also use this ability to refresh the duration of your diseases on all affected targets by using a special glyph.
  • 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 can use this ability in two different ways: you can either use it to benefit from free damage in a specific zone while making sure you keep your target in the area, or you can use it to discover stealthed targets.
  • 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, providing you with a steady self-healing tool. You should spam this ability as much as possible when your enemy attempts to burst you.
  • Empower Rune Weapon resets the cooldown of all your runes, while also giving you 25 runic power. This ability should be counted as a part of your burst, allowing you to use all of your abilities again. We recommend that you use this one in conjunction with your trinket procs and your gargoyle, to maximize the damage.
  • Corpse Explosion allows you to use your favorite pet as a makeshift bomb! You can pretty much order your ghoul to sacrifice its body for its master, inflicting heavy damage on anyone caught in the explosion blast. This ability has a small channel duration, so it is best used on targets that have just been afflicted by either a stun effect or Chains of Ice.
    • Keep in mind that if you fail to land this ability properly, you could leave disadvantage yourself, losing your trusty minion. Make sure that your Raise Dead ability is not on cooldown before using it!
  • Chains of Ice is an extremely powerful ability, especially in the context of PvP. We can treat it as an offensive ability in PvP combat — besides its huge utility in reducing your target’s movement speed by up to 95%, it also infects them with Frost Fever!
    • You will generally want to use this ability every time your opponent regains the majority of their movement speed back, or manages to remove the effect. This ability also allows you to set up other abilities at our disposal, such as the Corpse Explosion.

  • Icebound Fortitude 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. Beware that you cannot use this ability to escape stun effects — you can use it only to become immune to any future stuns! This ability should be used when you are about to receive heavy damage, or you anticipate that your opponent plans to stun you.
  • Anti-Magic Shell gives you a magical damage shield that offers you Runic Power whenever you absorb magical damage. This ability also prevents you from being afflicted by any magical effect, effectively transforming you into the most powerful anti-caster tool in the game. However, there is one spell that can pierce this mighty shield — beware of the Chaos Bolt!
  • Bone Shield reduces damage you receive while it’s active and increases your overall damage by 2%. In PvP, you should always aim to maintain Bone Shield active because of its damage boost, even if it only has 3 charges!
  • Anti-Magic Zone deploys a large zone that reduces all magical damage taken in that area by up to 75%, for both you and any ally inside the zone. This ability is one of your last resorts when fighting against casters, as it is best used for avoiding any incoming heavy burst damage, if you happen to be caught off-guard.
  • Lichborne is an ability that transforms you into an “Undead”, granting you immunity to charm, fear, and sleep effects for 10 seconds. Normally, every player character, no matter the race, is tagged in the game as a “Humanoid” target. With this spell, you can bypass that effect.
    • Lichborne can be used to not only gain immunities associated with the undead, but also gain the ability to heal yourself with Death Coil. However, beware that you will be susceptible to the Turn Evil and Shackle Undead spells while under the effect of Lichborne!
  • Death Pact destroys your ghoul in exchange for 40% of the Death Knight’s maximum health. This ability is extremely potent and should be used only as a last resort, since sacrifing your ghoul will severely impact your damage output.

  • Horn of Winter imbues you and your allies with increased strength and agility, adding +155 to both. This ability also generates 10 runic power, making it a part of your rotation. This ability should be used before the fight, and then during the initial part of the encounter, in order to generate enough runic power to speed up the deployment of your Gargoyle or Anti-Magic Shell.
  • Path of Frost lets both you and your entire raid group 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 or to quickly close the gap between you and another player in the open world.
  • Blood Tap converts one of your Blood Runes into a Death Rune. This ability can be extremely useful when used by a skilled player, allowing them to use abilities such as Scourge Strike or Death Strike an additional time.
  • Strangulate allows you to silence an enemy for up to 5 seconds. This ability is an extremely powerful crowd control tool, allowing you to pretty much nullify any caster’s potential in a fight. Use it in conjunction with your other abilities to ensure a powerful CC chain.
  • Mind Freeze 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’s basically free to cast with the build we have put together in this guide.
  • Death Grip is a unique displacement ability that allows a Death Knight to pull any mob directly to them. This ability is best used to isolate targets! Use it to pull a valuable target right into the middle of the fold, dragging either a healer or a high-priority caster right into the middle of your team in battlegrounds. Alternatively, you can use this ability in arenas to peel for your healer, or to engage!

  • Blood Presence allows you to deal 10% increased damage while also healing yourself for 4% of all damage done. You will want to use this presence only on rare occasions in which you need to heal yourself more with Death Strike. All in all, Blood Presence will see close to no play in PvP other than for self-sustain.
  • Frost Presence allows you to gain 8% increased stamina, 60% armor value contribution from items, and 8% reduced damage, all while also increasing the threat you generate. This is your “panic button,” so to speak. You will want to immediately change to this presence when you are about to take heavy physical damage!
  • Unholy Presence increases your attack speed and movement speed by 15% while also reducing your global cooldown by 0.5 seconds. This presence can be extremely strong in certain situations, or while using certain talent builds, allowing you to just spam your abilities. However, you cannot 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 in this Presence. Unholy Presence will be your main presence for PvP!

Strategy & Spell Priority

Keep in mind that every matchup is entirely different and it requires a different approach. Depending on whether you are fighting a caster or a melee physical damage dealer, your approach to combat will drastically change!

We will now go over the different strategies and spell priorities that you can use depending on which type of the encounter you find yourself in.

General Spell Priority

Caster Fights

As an Unholy Death Knight, you are a pure caster killer. Any type of caster that dares cross your path will end up being completely obliterated. Your kit is impressively constructed: not only can you negate any effort made by a caster for at least 10 to 15 seconds, but you can also counter any type of a plan that they might concoct in general.

First of all, just like in any other combat situation, the first priority is to place your diseases on the target. However, due to how many potentially dangerous spells they have in their arsenal, you will want to incapacitate your enemy first. Depending on the distance between you and your target, you may want to use Death Grip in the beginning to close the gap. If the target is in reasonable proximity, you will want to generate enough runic power to mitigate any resistance that they might attempt.

You can easily achieve this goal by using Anti-Magic Shell, an ability that makes you immune to any type of magical effect, with the exception of Chaos Bolt. AMS will protect you against any type of spell, including diseases and curses. However, what makes it truly special is the fact that you will be immune to any form of magical crowd control while it is active. To generate enough runic power in order to use Anti-Magic Shell at the beginning of the fight, you can use a combination of Icy Touch and Chains of Ice! You can add Horn of Winter into the mix as well, if you have not used it before the fight.

Once AMS is deployed and you have placed your diseases with Plague Strike and either Chains of Ice or Icy Touch, you will want to make sure that two things happen. First of all, you should make sure that your diseases cannot be dispelled by applying Unholy Blight with a single use of Death Coil. Secondly, you will want to make sure that Chains of Ice remains active on the target to remove any kind of possible mobility from them.

If your target attempts to flee with a spell such as Blink or Demonic Circle: Teleport, simply re-apply Chains of Ice, or drag your target back to you with Death Grip.

Once your Anti-Magic Shell expires, you will want to instantly apply Strangulate! In WotLK, silence effects can’t be removed by trinkets, instantly granting you 5 seconds of total dominance over any caster. While your target is silenced, you will want to burst it as much as possible with your Summon Gargoyle and Corpse Explosion. If you are going to use Corpse Explosion, make sure that Raise Dead is available, to gain back your trusty minion right away.

The normal spell priority for a burst rotation will look like this:

If your target is still somehow alive after 10 to 15 seconds since the beginning of the fight, you will want to use either Gnaw to stun them or Mind Freeze to interrupt them.

The whole idea behind fighting a caster class as an Unholy Death Knight is to prohibit the use of any magical spell in their arsenal. If a caster is instantly denied access to magic, they will simply represent cloth-wearing, easy targets.

Lastly, if you are targeted by a caster from afar, you can simply negate their efforts with Anti-Magic Zone. This ability will grant you a protective zone in which all magical damage is reduced by 75% for 10 seconds. You can use AMZ to protect yourself in case either of your crowd control spells is on cooldown, effectively mitigating your opponent’s damage and giving you time to recuperate your cooldowns or LoS your target.

Melee Fights

Melee fights will be a bit more challenging than fights against casters. While fighting against a caster, you have total dominance over the outcome of the encounter. However, when fighting a melee physical damage dealer, the outcome is purely based on skill and matchup.

Just like with any other combat scenario, your first priority is to apply your diseases. This can be done quicker in a fight against a melee class, since you won’t need to spend your initial moments prioritizing Anti-Magic Shell.

Fights against melee classes are usually a combination of kiting your foe and being right in their face. In matchups with opponents like Warrior, Paladin, and Death Knight you will want to kite the target as much as possible. Meanwhile, in matchups against Rogues and Feral Druids you will want to be as close to them as possible.

No matter the fight you find yourself in, you will always want to start by placing Chains of Ice on your target, followed by Plague Strike to ensure that your diseases are up. Immediately after, you will want to place Unholy Blight on them — cast Death Coil to ensure that your diseases are not dispelled.

What follows after is entirely dependent on your matchup. In matchups with Warrior/Death Knight/Paladin, you will want to kite the target as much as possible and use Summon Gargoyle as quickly as possible. Your strategy is likely going to be slowly melting your opponent with your minions and diseases, while keeping a safe distance and abusing the movement speed granted by the Unholy Presence.

If one of the aforementioned classes attempts to quickly burst you at the beginning of the encounter, make sure to pop your defensive cooldowns, like Icebound Fortitude and Anti-Magic Shell, to ensure your survival while attempting to gain distance. If gaining distance from your target is not possible, spam Death Strike in combination with Empower Rune Weapon to survive their burst.

Keep in mind that Strangulate can still impact a melee damage dealer’s performance. However, it will not completely prohibit all of its abilities, only the ones that are tagged as spells.

In matchups against Rogues and Feral Druids, you will want to take a different approach, keeping close to the target by constantly using abilities such as Death Grip and Chains of Ice.

Against those classes, you will rely more on abilities like Death Strike, Blood Strike, and Scourge Strike, rather than kiting. The reason for this is quite simple: Feral Druids can escape movement-impairing effects through Shapeshifting, while Rogues can use Cloak of Shadows and Vanish to reset the fight.

Finally, if a physical damage dealer manages to get you extremely low on health, use Lichborne and Death Coil to heal yourself as much as possible.


In battlegrounds, you should never think to do solo fights, even if you are a big bad mean Death Knight! Instead, work together with your allies — literally form a “blob” as a frontline to either pick off solo targets or fight off the enemy group together.

Your role in a battleground is strictly to isolate targets and draw them into the fold! Considering that you have access to Death Grip, you are perfectly fit for the job!

Your spell priority will be exactly the same, especially in a battleground group. We advise you to always try to isolate dangerous magic casters or healers from the opposing group. By doing so, you can pick off a valuable target and instantly burst it down together with your allies without resulting in any significant loses or penalties.

Another important role for you in a battleground is as a flag carrier. Because of your plate armor and heavy magical resistances, you are the perfect candidate for the flag carrier role! Well, provided that you bring one or two pocket healers in case the situation takes a wrong turn.


Arenas work differently than battlegrounds or solo encounters. In arenas, your priorities will change significantly depending on the composition of your team.

As an Unholy Death Knight, you have the option of having multiple types of arena comps, with the general Death Knight/Healer comp being the most recommended. However, you can totally opt-in for a double DPS composition, even if it will not be the most convenient for a high rating!

If you choose to partner up with a healer, you will be the sole damage source of the comp, requiring you to adopt an attrition approach. That is, you should be spreading your diseases and applying constant pressure on both of your opponents while also keeping an eye on your healer and “peeling” for them.

Trivia: The term “peel” means to keep your ally safe by making sure that you crowd control any enemies that attempt to harm them, or by providing your ally with support abilities such as Death Grip, Chains of Ice, and Anti-Magic Zone.

When partnering up with a healer, you will have to combine your efforts in order to turn the constant pressure that you are applying to the enemy team into an opportunity for a burst-kill!

If you choose to partner up with another damage dealer, your mentality should change entirely. The best comps that you can create with the double DPS frame are usually with you as a Death Knight and another class that has the term “hybrid” in it. This can either be a Shaman, Paladin, Priest, or a Druid.

When choosing to play a double DPS comp, your goal should be immediate crowd control on a target, followed up by a powerful burst from you and your ally. Your strategy will revolve around killing a target as fast as possible while suffering as little damage as possible in the process. The reason why you will want to partner up with a hybrid class is that, if things go sideways, you will always have a backup healer!


Macros will help you fight your foes more efficiently! You will want to utilize macros in order to trigger multiple spells at the same time or to improve your overall quality of life!

Startattack Macro

The start attack macro assures you that your character will attack your target with basic attacks, no matter what spell you will utilize! You will genuinely want to make startattack macros for the majority of your spells!

#showtooltip Chains of Ice
/cast Chains of Ice

Corpse Explosion Macro

This macro will allow you to easily setup your pet and force him to explode, inflicting massive damage to everyone around it!

#showtooltip Corpse Explosion
/cast [@pet] Corpse Explosion

Lichborne Macro

You will want to utilize this macro to quickly heal yourself through the use of Lichborne, without you requiring to swap targets!

#showtooltip Lichborne
/cast !Lichborne;
/cast [target=player] Death Coil


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

Hey can i ask why there is no Icy Touch in rotation? Sorry if its stupid question but im new in DK class. Thanks for respond

Reply to  Masterkoo
1 year ago

Its replaced with Chains of Ice, however you can switch them both, I use Icy Touch instead just because I rather manage the Chains of Ice differently. With that being said you don’t want to use both at the same time like Hit Icy Touch then right after use Chains of Ice because you lose both Frost Runes which take away the hard hitter Scourge Strike. If you end up using both you’ll be on cooldown and ruin the rotation. You could play it different if you’d like but it would rely on Blood Tap, so for example. Icy Touch, Chains of Ice, Blood Tap, then continue the rotation like normal, but Blood Tap is 1min cooldown.

Last edited 1 year ago by Linkz
Reply to  Linkz
1 year ago

Thank you very much for explanation 🙂

1 year ago

Do you not use blood tap in pvp? New to dk here too thanks

Reply to  Jason
1 year ago

Yes blood tap is essential for converting Blood runes into death runes which count for any rune. This will help if you need another death rune for Chains of Ice if you have no frost runes available to keep and enemy slowed or you need to Death Strike to stay alive. Blood tap is your go to for when you need a rune thats on CD for an ability thats needed in that situation.

Last edited 1 year ago by Guchi
Reply to  Jason
1 year ago

But then you’ll miss Lichborne on the Frost tree which is godly for PvP against fear and you are able to cast Death Coil on yourself for healing.

Last edited 1 year ago by Panda
Reply to  Panda
1 year ago

Why? blood tap isnt a talent, he doest mean rune tap.

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