Death Knight – Unholy PVP (Level 80)

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Introduction

Hello everyone, my name is Dave. Some of you may know me as “Justmarried” on Icecrown.

I’m making this guide because I want to share some information I have learned throughout my time playing as an Unholy Death Knight. This guide will explain talents, glyphs, gear and how to beat certain classes in duels. Additionally, I will also list ideal arena compositions that you should be playing and a basic idea on how to defeat certain compositions.

A big thanks to Markux for helping me write this guide.

Talents and Glyphs

For BGs and Duels:

Speccing into Corpse Explosion will give you a really nice bit of additional burst. If used at the right time it can be a game changer. Imagine many scenarios in an arena when you wanted a little extra burst to land a kill or force a defensive cooldown – Corpse Explosion satisfies this need. Timing is pretty essential though, since using Corpse Explosion sacrifices your pet.

For Arenas:

I don’t find Wandering plague that good in 2s arenas simply because it works better for multiple targets, even tho it does work good, to keep someone in combat for longer time and it also depends on the team setup you are playing with. Average hit from WP, is around 1k.

Glyphs

Major Glyphs:
Glyph of Dark Death*
Glyph of The Ghoul*
Glyph of Anti-Magic Shell
*ESSENTIAL
Glyph of Disease or Glyph of Icy Touch can be used instead of Glyph of Anti-Magic Shell

Minor Glyphs:
Glyph of Pestilence
Glyph of Raise Dead
Glyph of Death’s Embrace

Macros

Chains of Ice

Code:
#showtooltip chains of ice
/cast [modifier:shift, target=focus] chains of ice
/cast [nomodifier:shift] chains of ice

Corpse Explosion

Code:
#showtooltip Corpse Explosion
/target pet
/cast Corpse Explosion
/targetlasttarget

Leap + Gnaw

Code:
#showtooltip Gnaw
/cast [nomodifier] leap
/cast [nomodifier] gnaw

Using Leap in conjunction with Gnaw makes it quicker for your Ghoul to reach your target.

Leap + Gnaw (Focus Target)

Code:
#showtooltip Gnaw
/cast [target=focus] Leap
/cast [target=focus] Gnaw

Death Grip

Code:
#showtooltip death grip
/cast [modifier:shift, target=focus] death grip
/cast [nomodifier:shift] death grip

Lichborne Heal

Code:
/cast Lichborne
/cast [target=player] Death coil

Using Death Coil on yourself heals you, so I made a macro for using it on myself. However, this strategy is not useful all the time, especially if you have any kind of healing reduction on you (Mortal Strike, Aimed Shot, etc).
Mind Freeze

Code:
#showtooltip Mind Freeze
/cast [target=focus] mind freeze

I use a dedicated macro for focus interrupting because of how essential it is. This is not something you want to mispress.
Death Pact

Code:
#showtooltip Death Pact
/cast [target=pet, exists, nodead] Death Pact; Raise Dead

This macro does two things: Casts Death Pact (Healing the Death Knight for 40% of Maximum HP) IF the pet is summoned and alive or, alternatively, summoning the pet if it is yet to be summoned.
Scourge strike

Code:
#showtooltip Scourge Strike
/startattack
/cast Scourge Strike
/cast Dark Command
/cast Claw
/cancelaura Chaos Bane

Using Dark Command on a player will keep them in combat (this is useful on certain classes) as it is a taunt. Also it can make your trinkets proc
Chaos Bane is the Shadowmourne proc, granting you 270 strength after proccing 10 Soul Shard stacks. Once you reach 10 stacks “Chaos Bane” is triggered, dealing Shadow damage to people around you. Unholy Death Knights deal 10% more Shadow damage so making it occur as often as possible will increase the amount of damage you do over time.
That said, there are still others who would rather maintain the extra 270 strength for 10 seconds.
Cancelaura

Code:
/cancelaura Lichborne
/cancelaura Hand of Protection

While in Lichborne you can get feared by a Paladin using “Turn Evil” or rooted by a Priest using “Shackle Undead” so being able to cancel Lichborne at will is a very useful thing.
Being able to cancel Hand of Protection is useful if you have been disarmed as you don’t need to sit in HoP for its entire duration. Furthermore, if using HoP has taken the pressure off you (causing a swap in an arena) you might want to cancel it so you can resume dealing damage.
Strangulate

Code:
#showtooltip Strangulate
/cast [modifier:shift, target=focus] strangulate
/cast [nomodifier:shift] Strangulate

Silence/Focus Silence. Pretty self explanatory.
Weapon1

Code:
/equip [nomodifier] Shadowmourne
/equip [nomodifier] Wrathful Gladiator's Decapitator

Weapon2

Code:
/equip [nomodifier] Shadowmourne
/equip [nomodifier] Wrathful Gladiator's Greatsword

Why these two macros? Getting disarmed or silenced can be very problematic for Death Knights. You should use two different rune enchants on each of the secondary weapons (I prefer Wrathful weapons due to fact that they provide resilience) meaning that you can alternate between the two to get some seriously helpful utility. The two enchants I use on these secondary weapons are:
Spell Shattering – This is essential as it deflects 4% of all spell damage and reduces the duration of silences by 50%. It is really useful against Shadowpriest/Rogue comps as well as Mage comps that might silence you so you can’t use Death pact or AMS (for example if your partner gets polymorphed and you expect incoming damage, switching to this might save your life if the Shadow priest silences you reducing what would be a 5 second silence to a 2 second one, giving you enough time to use AMS.

Sword Shattering – Increases parry change by 4% and reduces disarm duration by 50%.
While I don’t use this as much as Spell Shattering, it has its place. It can be useful against comp that can disarm you since most disarms last 10 seconds. This enchant reduces it to 5 seconds, a very big difference. However, if you have a Holy paladin partner he/she can use Hand of Protection, removing the disarm effect. Remember to cancel this effect with the macro I provided previously to resume dealing damage as quickly as possible.

Gear – Gemming and Enchanting

This is the gear that I use. I use 1020 resilience in 2v2 arenas due to fact that I am playing with a Holy Paladin. You don’t really need more resilience than that given that as a Death Knight you can heal yourself and you got quite alot of defensive CDs.

Stat Priority:

  • 5%Hit Rating
  • 135 Spell Penetration (4x Stormy Majestic Zircon and +35cloack enchant)
  • Strength
  • Crit Rating (If you got wandering plague talent, if you don’t, then haste is better)
  • Haste
  • Resilience 1000-1200.

I personally do not go over 1050 if I play 2v2 with a healer but you can go for more if you’d rather take less damage. For 3v3 I would suggest going up to 1.2k. If your comp requires it you might want even more than that.

Helmet: Wrathful Gladiator’s Dreadplate Helm with a Chaotic Skyflare meta gem and +10STR+10Resil gem and Arcanum of Triumph enchant(Wintergrasp Vendor, 50AP+20Resil)
Necklace: Penumbra Pendant(Ruby Sanctum, Halion 25HC)I use +10STR+10Resil Rating gem.
Shoulders:Wrathful Gladiator’s Dreadplate Shoulders, +34Resil gem from Jewelcrafting, Inscription of Triumph enchant(Wintergrasp Vendor, 40AP+15Resil)
Back: Winding Sheet(Icecrown Citadel 25HC Rotface)I use +20Resil Rating gem and Spell Piercing enchant which gives you 35Spell penetration to achieve spell penetration cap.
Chest: Wrathful Gladiator’s Dreadplate Chestpiece, +10Str+10Resil and +34Resil gems,Exceptional Resilience enchant(+20resil)
Wrists: Wrathful Gladiator’s Bracers of Triumph, Greater Assault enchant(+50AP)
Gloves: Wrathful Gladiator’s Dreadplate Gauntlets, +25Spell pen gem, Crusher enchant(+44AP) or as I use,Hyperspeed Accelerators enchant from Engineering(on use +340haste for 12secons, 60seconds CD)
Waist: Wrathful Gladiator’s Girdle of Triumph, 2x +25spell pen gems, Eternal Belt Buckle enchant(Adds one more socket bonus)
Legs: Wrathful Gladiator’s Dreadplate Legguards, +10str+10resil and +25spell pen gems, Earthen Leg Armor(+40resil +28stamina)
Feet: Apocalypse’s Advance(Ruby Sanctum 25HC)2x +10str +10resil gems, Greater Assault enchant(+32AP)
Ring1: Skeleton Lord’s Circle(Icecrown Citadel 25HC Gunship) +20resil
Ring2: Ashen Band of Endless Might(Icecrown reputation) +34Resil
Trinkets: Death’s Verdict HC and Death’s Verdict Normal. Obtainable in Trial of the Crusader 25 N or Heroic.
Weapon: Shadowmourne, 3x +10str +10resil gems and Rune of the Fallen Crusader as the enchant.
If you can’t get Shadowmourne, get Glorenzelg (Drops from Lich King 25 man). As I stated before it’s preferable to get two other weapons as well so you can switch between rune enchants.
Sigil: Sigil of the Vengeful Heart

Professions

Jewelcrafting: Lets you make and use 3x +34 Strength or Resilience gems (depending on your preference and amount of PvE gear) instead of +20 ones.

Blacksmithing: Gives you ability to have 2 more bonus sockets, 1 on wrists and 1 on gloves.

Engineering: 340 Haste for 12 seconds on demand is great.
You can also get Cobalt Frag Bomb the target for 3 seconds and deals 750-1000 fire damage (can’t be used in arenas) and Rocket Boots.

There is no doubt that Jewelcrafting and Blacksmith are ideal for arenas. However, I use Engineering instead of Blacksmithing. I find this to be more fun due to the fact that you can use Rocket Boots and Cobalt Frag Bomb which might save your life in World PvP or a battleground. In addition to that, the Haste on demand enchant will make your gargoyle shoot like a machine gun!

Rotation And Spells

Rotation

This is the basic rotation you must do when attacking a enemy.

  • 1.Diseases, You must ALWAYS keep them on your target. Your damage is highly dependent on the amount of diseases you keep on your target so it is essential that you are looking at this.
    – Chains of Ice
    – Plague Strike
  • 2.Scourge Strike for damage or Death Strike if you need to heal up.
  • 3.Pestilence to spread diseases around to other enemies or Blood Strike if there are no other targets nearby.
  • 4.Dump your runic power using Death Coil, another primary damage source.

 

Spells and Tips

Presences: Unholy Death Knights will use Unholy and Frost presence only. You’ll be spending most of your time in Unholy presence while using Frost if you are anticipating or need to tank a lot of damage. Also I would like to mention each faction races that you might want to play as, stated from best to worse:
Alliance: Human- Double trinket. Dwarf- Removes all poison, disease and bleed effects, increases armor by 10% for 8 seconds. Gnome- Removes any slow or immobilization effects.
Horde: Tauren- health increased by 5%(passive), Aoe stun that affects 5 enemies around you for 2 seconds. Orc- Duration of stun effects reduced by 15%, Increased pet damage by 5% (Both are passive), Blood fury- Increases attack power for 15 seconds by 345. Blood elfs- Reduces the chance you will be hit by spells by 2%(Passive), Arcane Torrent- Silences all enemies within 8 yards for 2 seconds and restores 15 runic power. This is what I like for myself, you are free to choose what suits you better.

  • Gargoyle – Every non-DK hates Gargoyle. Make sure that you have as many buffs and procs as possible because that will scale your Gargoyle. However it can die really fast, so do not use it in random situations. I have seen people say that Gargoyle targets whatever it wants. This is not really true as the Gargoyle should switch on whatever target your ghoul attacks so make sure your ghoul attacks the Gargoyle target before you summon it. The only time you can’t control it is if your ghoul is dead.
  • Anti-Magic Shell – This spell can be used not only as defensive, but also offense. Opening against priest/mage in an arena with AMS will ensure that you won’t get any slows,fears or dots. Careful to not overextend, though – you’re not invincible! Make sure you’re paying attention to when AMS ends so you know that rambo time is over and your healer will thank you for it. Using Horn of Winter, Death and Decay just before a duel starts (2seconds) will grant you enough runic power to use AMS which can suprise the enemy given the immediate immunization to fears, polymorph, charm, etc. and if they will cast spells while you have AMS, they will only give you runic power which you can use to spam death coils. This works quite well against any caster, death knight or ret paladin.
  • Anti-Magic Zone – Turns the zone you cast it around into a large Anti-Magic shield for everyone inside, except that you are not immune to CC. It reduces spell damage done to party or raid members by 75% while they are in it lasts 10 seconds.
    Use this to cancel enemy burst (provided it’s magic damage), potentially saving yourself from a lot of trouble
  • Horn of Winter – Buff that grants Strenght and Agility by 155, make sure it’s up all the time, it also gives you 10 runic power, so if you are in arena and your runes are on CD, feel free to use this spell.
  • Bone Shield – Reduces 20% damage taken on the next 3. Use this when you enter the Preperation room before your arena starts so that when it begins Bone Shield will no longer be on cooldown. This means that you will later on be able to use it as a defensive spell that can soak some of the damage from a high damage spell such as Chaos Bolt or a Lava Burst.
  • Lichborne – By using this ability, you can break out of fear effects. You can also avoid Polymorph, charm effects as well as Sap but you must use lichborne before these effects are put on you as Lichborne won’t allow you to break free from these effects.
    Against a mage I will use Lichborne when a Polymorph is just about to finish being cast (around 90% of the cast bar full). More experienced Mages may even fake cast Polymorph to make me waste Lichborne so looking out for that is important.
  • Empower Rune Weapon Re-activates all your runes and grants you 25 Runic Power. I tend to use this after my first rotation to get my Gargoyle up and start bursting.

Death Knights have 4 ways to interrupt spellcasts. These are:
– Mind Freeze (arguably the most important one against healers as it will disable their heal spells if they are interrupted for 4 seconds).
– Death Grip
– Strangulate
– Gnaw (Pet Stun)
Watch out for fake casting. This is is when someone will cast a spell to 50-70% of the cast time and cancel it to make you waste an interrupt or cooldown. You might not need to use Mind Freeze on the first cast, second or even the third. I would suggest interrupting at 90%. It will take practice to do it correctly and you will likely waste plenty. Interrupting at the right time can be critical to the outcome of a fight by finishing off healers to completely cancelling burst phases – interrupting is an essential part of playing Death Knights properly and its importance cannot be overlooked.

Duels and Arenas

Duels

Death Knights have the benefit of being the best duelling class in Wrath of the Lich King. They can resist magic, physical damage as well as heal a good amount.
Hunters, Rogues and Warriors:
The general idea of duelling these three classes is that since they cannot heal themselves you want to just make sure you survive while letting your pet and diseases do most of the damage. Slow and steady. If you do this properly you’re pretty much guaranteed a win.
Go in Frost Presence and aim for a high amount of resilience. You might also want to use Corroded Skeleton Key and/or the Medallion of the Alliance/Horde.

Warriors: Chains of Ice (if Spell Reflection is up, cast Mind Freeze), keep your distance and let the warrior slowly rot away with your diseases and pet damage. Use Death Strike to heal up. When the warrior uses bladestorm make your pet use Huddle and use your Corroded Skeleton Key. If that is not available use Icebound Fortitude. You can use your Gargyole either in the beginning or [ideally] after Bladestorm (since the Gargoyle can die very easily).

Rogues: Use your pet’s Gnaw when the rogue opens on you. This will give a time window to use your Skeleton Key or Icebound Fortitude (or both), cancelling the rogue’s opener. However, most of the rogues might use evasion and you might miss the stun and take all the damage. In that case, after that use your Skeleton Key and apply your diseases. Heal up with Death Strike and Gargoyle only after the rogue uses vanish.

Hunters: Chains, Diseases, followed by Skeleton Key. A lot of hunters will attack you with their pet, which is a great way for you to heal up using Death Strike. I even use Gargoyle to kill their pet so hunters can’t use Master’s Call.
A lot of hunters tend to use Disengage and Deterrence at the same time so be careful when you use your Death Grip.

Casters: There is not much to say here. I usually open with AMS and Strangulate, using my offensive cooldowns (including Gargoyle) forcing them to play defensively and at that point, they are usually at around 20% health. Now of course this does not happen every single time so play smart.

Ret Paladins and Feral Druids: These two are some of the harder ones since they are able to self-heal quite a lot and burst pretty heavily.

Ret Paladin: I try to burst them down as quickly as possible. If Divine Protection is up, switch to Frost presence and spam Death Strike. This keeps your health up. Once it’s over switch to Unholy presence and keep the damage going. If that’s not enough damage to bring the ret down, go back to Frost presence, use Death Strike, wait for your cooldowns and stack some Runic power. Once that is done, go back to Unholy presence burst. When you’re close to landing the kill (20% hp left on the Ret) use Strangulate. This stop him/her from healing up, hopefully resulting in a win.

Feral Druids: You’re going to want to use a dps trinket and Corroded Skeleton Key for this. Be in Frost presence for the opener. Once they open, try to get your pet to stun the druid. Once that is done apply diseases and Death strike all the way.

If you feel as if the Feral is not doing alot of damage switch to Unholy presence and burst that kitty down.
When Berserk is used you’re going to want to use Frost presence, Skeleton Key, Icebound Fortitude (depending on how much damage you’re taking you might want to save this) and Death strike to heal up. Again, once their burst phase is over it’s your chance to return the favour – Strangulate, Gargoyle, burst burst burst.

Death Knights: Against Unholy death knights I tend to want to burst. When AMS is popped, stun him with your pet. This will likely result in a trinket (something you should also do). Kite a bit until AMS is gone and then keep bursting. When the other DK uses Gargoyle, you can either use AMZ, your Skeleton Key (if this is equipped) or you can just kill the Gargoyle. If you try to kill the Gargoyle, the enemy DK might move away from you so that they can grip you away from their Gargoyle. If you drop around 10k HP you can switch to Frost presence and get your health back up by using AMS, Lichborne and dumping your runic power into some Death Coils on yourself while also using Death Strike. Against Frost DKs it’s more or less the same. However, Hungering Cold is often used when you use Gargoyle. So you will want to trinket out of that and use AMZ where your Gargoyle is.

Blood Death Knight: Decline.

Healers: Death Knights are not made to beat healers in 1v1 scenarios but if you must then I’d suggest bursting with everything you have: Gargoyle>Strangulate>Gnaw. after that you might want to use AMS to avoid any kind of CC, interrupt any sort of healing (watch out for fake casts). Don’t be frustrated if you can’t kill healers on your own, though. Your class isn’t supposed to be able to kill healers as DKs do not have any sort of healing reduction.

Arenas

Viable 2v2 comps.

  • Holy Paladin – I find this as best comp for an Unholy Death Knight. It’s not very easy to play but it’s not easy to counter. It can beat pretty much any comp.
  • Shadow Priest – Best double dps comp for Death Knight – can absolutely be played to a high rating. Lots of Shadow damage.
  • Any healer – Any healer works of course if you master the comp, some are just harder than others. For example if you play with a Resto shaman your Gargoyle will benefit immensely from Heroism/Bloodlust.

Most of the time this is the basic gameplay you will need to do in arenas versus caster or healer comps.

Holy Paladin and Resto Druid comps are a bit annoying. Switching at the right time is very important because it will maximize your damage output on them, forcing as many defensive cooldowns as possible and eventually landing a kill.

Let’s use an example. Against Holy Paladin/Arms Warrior spread your diseases on both targets and leave your pet on paladin, use Death Coil on paladin every 10 seconds so that the paladin can’t dispel diseases. When you see that the Paladin has used Sacred Shield on warrior and is at around 80% health, Death grip so your Hpala can HoJ. Follow this with Gargoyle, Gnaw, Strangulate, forcing a trinket or bubble. This also works against Resto druids except instead of Sacred Shield you’re looking out for when the Heal over Time effects (HoTs) are about to end. When this happens Grip, HoJ (AMS if the DPS is a caster) forcing Barkskin or a Trinket. Once the druid has used these cooldowns, do the same thing but with all your offensive cooldowns.

Against Warlocks and Hunters killing the pet is a very good thing to do as it removes a LOT of their utility. Against double DPS comps you will likely want to switch to Frost presence depending on situation. If the double DPS comp is one that cannot heal much this strategy should be very effective. Like duel, you can make them slowly die using diseases as well as kiting.

DKs are excllent peelers, if not the best. Chains of Ice, Death grip, Desecration, Gnaw can all be used to keep players off your partner.

Position is also extremely important (for any class) so take advantage of Line of Sight removing spots such as pillars. Ending up in a bad spot will likely get you or your healer locked in CC giving casters an great opportunity to free cast on you while your healer has already used his/her cooldowns and is only able to watch you die.

Conclusion

I hope that this guide was informative on what you can do to become a better Unholy Death Knight. I have shown you how to become effective at duels and arenas as well as make sure that you pick the right talent points that suit what you prefer to do in PvP whether that’s battlegrounds, arenas or simply duelling in Elwynn Forest/Durotar. If you have any feedback on how this guide can be improved be sure to let me know. Furthermore, if you have any additional questions regarding what I’ve written in my guide you can find me in-game on “Justmarried”, playing as a Human on Ragnaros.

Have a nice day!

Regards,

Justmarried.