Patch 4.3 Unholy Death Knight (DK) Quick-Start Guide: stats, spec and talents, glyphs, gems, reforging, and rotation

Ah, Unholy. After a brief and unpleasant interval at the bottom of the tree in 4.1, it’s going from strength to strength as it heads into Patch 4.3, and the Fight with Deathwing’s Appendages. So, get your stats, specs, glyphs, gems, reforging priorities, rotation and all that other stuff sorted out right here, and let’s get on to the slaying.

Updated Nov 29th 2011 for Patch 4.3

Unholy Death Knight changes in Patch 4.3

Unholy only has a few changes, but they’re good ones. Unholy Might now offers 25% additional Strength, up from 20%. In addition, all DK pets now properly inherit Crit and Spell Penetration stats from their master, and Unholy’s gargoyle will now always use its ranged attack, which will make it more effective. Finally, we’re the beneficiaries of the global 4.3 melee DPS buff, giving us an extra 10% attack power.

Unholy set bonuses in T13 are strong, but don’t significantly change gearing or rotation once achieved.

Rotation / Priorities

Unholy DKs, like most DPS classes in Cataclysm, do not have a “rotation” as such. Instead, they work on a priority system – use the most important abilities whenever possible before less important ones.


Top Priority: Diseases and Dark Transformation. Apply or reapply diseases as first priority, preferably using Outbreak, and use Dark Transformation whenever it’s available.

Second Priority: Death and Decay or Scourge Strike if Death Runes are available. Use DnD even on single-target fights. Use Scourge Strike if DnD is on cooldown.

Third Priority: Death Coil IF Sudden Doom is up or Festering Strike. Only use Festering Strike here if it will extend your diseases.

Fourth Priority: Death and Decay or Scourge Strike. This is your bread-and-butter.


For standard dungeon packs, you still want to use the single-target rotation above. Only use the AOE rotation here for LARGE packs of mobs. Switch to Frost Presence when using this.

Follow the same priorities as for Single Target – however, ignore Festering Strike, and use Pestilence to spread your diseases.

Other abilities

For the love of Pete, remember that you can use Raise Ally to combat-res! Other abilities to bear in mind are Icebound Fortitude (to not die), Death Strike (to not die) and your various interrupts.

As far as your damage cooldowns go, Empower Rune Weapon, Gargoyle, and Unholy Frenzy should be used together, ideally. Army Of The Dead is best used on a pull or a phase transition – and be SURE that your ghouls won’t taunt anything important before using it. Seriously. Or you will be very unpopular.


Best Unholy DPS Spec

The unholy forces of Elitist Jerks and #Acherus on IRC align to agree that this build (Patch 4.3) is the best option.

At Tier 3, you’ll have to spend a point in one of two places – either Unholy Command or Desecration. Unless you have a specific need for mob slowing abilities, take Unholy Command.

There are also 3 points left at the end of the talent build that you can spend in a variety of places. Good options include:

  • Improved Blood Tap (Second Tier, Blood) – can be used to increase your DPS with more runes. Not always useful, but a handy option.
  • Runic Power Mastery (First Tier, Frost) – increases your maximum Runic Power. Useful, but less so than you might expect because you’ll usually be below 100. One point highly recommended.
  • Magic Suppression and/or Anti-Magic Zone (4th and 5th Tier, Unholy) – very useful survival talents with some DPS application. Anti-Magic Zone is very situational, Magic Suppression generally useful.

Stats, Reforging and Gems

Strength is by far your most important stat, followed by Hit to the Hit Cap (961 for anyone except Draenai, for whom it’s 841), then Haste, Crit, Mastery, Expertise to the Expertise cap of 26

Gems: Always choose a Bold Inferno Ruby unless a socket provides 20 or more Strength or 40 or more of another important stat. In the latter case, use either Fierce Ember Topaz or Etched Demonseye as appropriate.

Reforging: Reforge to Hit up to the hit cap. Then, reforge to Haste, or Crit if that’s not possible. Never reforge Haste to anything else, including Hit.

Buffs: Stay in Unholy Presence and use Rune of the Fallen Crusader. Keep Horn of Winter up whenever possible.

Enchants for Unholy

Remember to check if your profession offers better enhancement options for a slot!

Head Arcanum of the Wildhammer (Alliance) or Dragonmaw (Horde)
Shoulders   Greater Inscription of Jagged Stone
Back Enchant Cloak – Greater Critical Strike
Chest Enchant Chest – Peerless Stats
Wrist Enchant Bracer – Major Strength
Hands Enchant Gloves – Mighty Strength
Belt Ebonsteel Belt Buckle
Legs Dragonscale Leg Armor
Feet Enchant Boots – Haste or Precision if you’re not hit-capped
Weapon Rune of the Fallen Crusader

Glyphs for Unholy

Prime: Glyph of Death Coil, Glyph of Scourge Strike, Glyph of Raise Dead unless you want to focus on AOE damage, in which case replace the first two with Glyph of Icy Touch and Glyph of Death and Decay.

Major: Glyph of Anti-Magic Shell, Glyph of Blood Boil, Glyph of Pestilence.

Minor: Glyph of Blood Tap, Glyph of Death’s Embrace, Glyph of Path of Frost – all of these are actually useful!

  • Elitist Jerks – Unholy Guide – Unusually well-written and easy to follow for EJ, this is a superb guide. If you want more detail than this article has given you, go here. Updated for Patch 4.3 already!
  • Son Of A Lich – from the people who also write the EJ Death Knight guides, a superb site for all DKs.
  • #Archerus IRC channel on – GREAT DK community.

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