Death Knight Leveling Talent Build: Unholy is Best

Change of plans for my suggested leveling template! In yesterday's patch, they gave some love to all talent trees, and blood got (in appearance) the most attention in terms of dps upgrades.

However, in a previous post I mentioned that the Unholy Tree got one very significant upgrade with Master of the Ghouls now making your Raise Dead spell have no duration, which simply means that once you summon a ghoul, you can keep it forever, as long as it doesn't die. That seemed pretty powerful to me, so I had to check how the Unholy Tree now compared to the Blood Tree in terms of single target DPS.

After a few hours of collecting data, the least I can say is that I was surprised with the result:

Please note that this is at level 61, attacking a Servant of Grol (green to me) in the Blasted Lands. For each template, I took 3 samples of about 10 minutes each, and then I took the best out of the three to compare.


DPS Cycle used: Icy Touch --> Plague Strike --> Death Strike --> Heart Strike --> Heart Strike --> Death Coil --> Wait till Frost Fever is about to fade and Obliterate.

504.04 DPS, sustained over an approximate 10 minute period.

Hysteria used 5 Times
Dancing Rune Weapon used 5 Times.

Please also note that 9991 damage next to Hysteria should be substracted, because this damage was actually done to myself.
Also, I didn't use the ghoul. If I had, I would been able to use it twice, for a total of 4 minutes with the ghoul attacking. Knowing that the ghoul does about 200dps, this would have added:

4*60*200=48000 damage

Which means the total DPS we could potentially get is ~572 dps. Not too shabby for a level 61 in blues, right? What's also worth mentioning is the incredible amoung of healing done (33000!). That's without using vampiric blood, mark of blood or rune tap by the way. So you can imagine the amount of healing a Blood DK could do.

Anyway, keep your pants on...


Rotation used: Icy Touch --> Plague Strike --> Scourge Strike --> Blood Boil --> Blood Boil --> Unholy Blight.

Then it gets more complicated, so I'll just leave it at that. Basically, I kept all 4 diseases refreshed, converted all my blood runes to death runes and use Scourge Strike as often as possible, with the occasional Death Strike for healing. Gargoyle was summoned 5 times and kept alive for the full duration (that meant I had to stop refreshing Unholy Blight sometimes). A few Death Coils were also squished in whenever possible.

Gargoyle was used 5 times, its damage is included in the screenshot above.
Ghoul was of course up the whole time and did 210 dps (it does more dps than the other ghoul because of the Ravenous Dead talent). Those 210 dps are also included in the screenshot above.


At level 61, single target DPS

Unholy: 765 dps
Blood: 589 dps

We have a pretty clear winner here, but I know what you're thinking, single target dps isn't everything. So let's compare the rest.


In the lifedrain department, the Blood Knight is the clear winner. We all expected that. However, as it stands, it's just too much lifedrain, more than we need. The Unholy DK can lifedrain just fine when he needs it, and all he needs for that is Death Strike.

Death Strike heals a lot more when used by a Unholy DK, for several reasons:

  • They stack up 4 diseases. Frost Fever, Blood Plague, Ebon Plague and Unholy Blight. Consequently, Death Strike heals twice as much as it would for a Blood DK, who can only apply two diseases.
  • 2/2 Vicious Strikes and Ebon Plaguebringer (Unholy talent). Death Strike crits quite often and it crits big.
  • Thanks to 3/3 Reaping, you can get an extra Death Strike in every two cycles, should you need more healing.
  • 2/2 Epidemic also allows you to use an extra Death Strike every two or three cycles, instead of re-applying your two basic diseases.
So there you have it, they're actually fine in the healing department too.



+10% Parry with Blade Barrier (you can keep this up 95% of the time while soloing)


+5% Dodge
Bone Shield -- Which you can pre-cast before every fight and then recast in the fight. A great ability for just one point

Close call I guess, but I'd have to give a slight edge to Unholy here. Bone Shield is incredible.

AoE Killing

No contest here, Unholy totally dominates this field. Unholy Blight, 4 diseases that can be spread with pestilence, corpse explosion and a bunch of talents which increase your diseases' damage.

Soloing Tough Elites

That's the only point where Blood might still have an edge, thanks to the sheer amount of lifedrain it provides. I'm gonna try to solo Blacktalon the Savage with the Unholy Spec now, and I'll tell you guys how it went, in comparison to how it went with the Blood spec.

Stay tuned!

25 Response to "Death Knight Leveling Talent Build: Unholy is Best"

  1. Keia says:

    Great analysis so far. I noticed that the Unholy linked to blade barrier, rather than the unholy talent build used to test the dps.


    Jame says:

    Err, good point. Should be fixed now :) Thank you.

    Elayza says:

    why not

    Jame says:

    Elayza, the build you are linking to is exactly the same as my build :P

    Elayza says:

    uhhm i mean :D

    Jame says:

    Ah. Well the build you linked is a level 80 build, so it's not really relevant to this article, since it's about leveling, a level 55 or level 60 build would be more appropriate.

    Also, there is a flaw in the build you linked. An Unholy Build needs reaping and unholy blight, those two talents are key talents for a sucessful unholy build.

    Should remove the points in Runic power mastery, because it's not a very useful talent for leveling,you generally spend your runic power before it reaches 100.

    This would be a correct level 80 build:

    Unholy leveling build up to 80

    If you have any questions, feel free to ask :)

    Wyrmsfire says:

    Been reading a fair amount about the Death Knight, but... admittedly, not as much as I should.

    I also do not have access to the beta, so I am still very confused as to how the whole Death Knight system works anyway.

    So, unless I get into the beta and am able to test drive a DK, I'll be going into Wrath completely blind.

    Your guides are going to be extremely helpful Jame. One thing I would like to see, and I am sure you have stated somewhere that you'll do it, is which talents to take and when to take them.

    Thanks again Jame for all of your hard work!

    Jame says:

    Hey Wyrmsfire.

    To tell the truth, my DK Guide is finished up to level 60 and a half. I'm just not releasing it yet for safety reasons. And yes, I've included all that in the guide, what talents to take and when, what dps cycle to use, etc. ;)

    Money says:

    Why blood boil instead of blood strike on the unholy build? Doesn't the strike do more damage vs a single target?

    Jame says:


    Good question.

    Blood Strike does a bit more damage than Blood Boil on a single target, however, Blood Boil converts your blood runes into Death Runes, allowing you to use an extra Scourge Strike or Death Strike every 2 rotations, and it's definitely worth it, because Scourge Strike can crit for mroe than 2K damage already at level 61 :P

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    I have been researching quite in depth for the last 3 weeks now about DKs and I must first say that your site is far and away the best one out there. So thank you for your amazing work, second I question if unholy is still best way to level and best dps? Many ppl say that DKs have no burst dmg? (Your thoughts plz)Blood spec seems to have better sustained dps then unholy and less down time but I didn't get to play beta. I have been toying with this build (51/3/17)
    Tell me what you think for leveling purposes and raid dps.

    Govind says:

    Really good stuff mate, would u be able to make me a unholy pvp spec for lvl 80? thanks mate
    keep it up

    Jame says:

    Can't say I'm an expert on pvp specs for the moment, haven't had the chance to do much pvp as you can imagine.

    In the future I will however make a DK PvP guide.

    Anonymous says:

    Hey Jame, thanks for the tips on DK's so far. With no access to the beta, people like you are giving me valuable insight on DK's, and I appreciate that.

    Have a couple questions:

    1) I was cuious as to why the two points in On A Pale Horse vs filling out Outbreak and Wandering Plague 2/3? At the least, the extra 10% in Outbreak seems worth it, even if it means your mounted speed is -10%

    2) How useful is Butchery to...well, really any DK build? It looks like an almost essential talent if runic power = casting ability.

    Neal says:

    Quick question in case you have not listed it as yet, I intend on leaving my Death Knight as unholy but I have not gotten a chance to experiment on Beta or anything so my knowledge is little.
    What do you recommend in terms of gear as you level past 60? I know you have been expanding this information as you go so maybe you could tell me.

    I at first figured that paladin styled gear, primarily spell damage + strength + stamina would be the best but I would love if you could fill me in a bit more.

    Then, from your current knowledge, is unholy a viable raiding spec or is blood preferred?

    yellow says:

    What's the application used to compare DPS numbers called?

    umm you talked about corpse explosion but i see you have no point up in it? just wondering if talent calculator is messed up or if your talent tree is how it shold be. thanks

    Timo says:

    Where is comparison against Frost spec? Do you have idea is't more close to Blood or Unholy?

    will says:

    I'm pretty sure 3/3 Reaping makes both Blood Boil and Blood Strike convert Blood Runes to Death Runes. I'm not sure if this was a recent change, but doesn't that mean that on single target you should be using Blood Strike over Blood Boil?

    Coragun says:

    Great information and stats. I have a 67 Unholy DK (8/0/51). My DPS is very close to yours, a little lower b/c I don't break out gargoyle or death & decay on anything less than 3 targets. I would like to show my build now and why for any comments/questions. I am tank, DPS and self healer with this build and have taken out 8 lvl 65 mobs. Sorry about the length, I'll abbr when poss.

    I have based my talents on what I've seen as my best rotation and analysis on my most contributing attacks on my recount. My single target rotation is (in Blood Presence) PS,IT,BS,BS,SS. Quite honestly, I usually don't get any farther than that on a non-elite. If still standing, I have about 60 RP by now and RB has procced. I am then able to do RB, DC, SS, DS (for healing by now), SS. A word about DS - Glyph of DS makes this incredible for survivability (+2% dam & heal per 5 RP = +40% @ 100 RP) I have had 2400 point heals from DS. Averaging 900 now while only sacrificing a bit of DPS. My talens are: Vicous Strikes 2/2 (Crit chance & dam for PS,DS,SS; Anticipation 5/5; Epidemic 2/2 (allows diseases to last thru 2nd rotation of 3xSS if necess); Rav Dead 3/3 (Str=DPS & Parry plus builds pet DPS; Better Parry also procs RS more often).

    I will post the rest soon, out time now.

    Coragun says:

    Continuing on: Outbreak 3/3 (+30% to PS, BB & Pest, all part of my mob rotation); On a Pale Horse 2/2 (more for the stun/fear reduction of 20%); Blood Caked Blade 3/3 (free 60% weap dam 30% of time); Corpse Explosion 1/1 (Great aggro keeper + good damage plus a hell of a lot of fun); Shadow of Death 1/1 (2% Str & Stam for pet, att pwr & parry); Summon Gargoyle 1/1 (Great Damage scaling with att pwr); Impurity 5/5 (tough decision on this one but also scales w/ att pwr for all spells +25%); Dirge 2/2 (controversial but in my build I need this for my RP abilities); Reaping 3/3 (needed to pull off 3 x SS on 2nd rotation - allows flexibility with 2 death runes if needed); Master of Ghouls 1/1 (no reason not too); Desecration 5/5 (no auto-procs w/ PS making all targets snared - this ties in to BS and Glyph of BS which increases dam by +20% and keeps runners close - also increases all your dam by +5%); Crypt Fever 3/3 (3rd disease adding 33% more dam to BS, DS & SS - plus increases all disease dam by +30%); more on next post

    Coragun says:

    Bone Shield 1/1 (40% reduction of 1st 4 attacks, plus extra 2% dam output - why not); Wandering Plague 3/3 (right now about a 20% chance to proc everytime a disease does damage x 3 diseases = all the time to do an extra 100% damage to all enemies w/in 8 yds); Ebon Plaguebringer 3/3 (adds more dam to diseases, more spell vulner and +3% more crit change with everything); Scourge Strike 1/1; Unholy Blight 1/1 (a great threat generator plus good dam and it follows you around; Butchery 2/2 (RP generator for DC, UB, RS, Gargoyle - yes, you need lots of RP); Blade Barrier 4/5 (I intend to finish this at future levels - reduces dam and helps RS proc); Bladed Armor 1/5 (I also intend to finish this one out; current armor is 5380/180= 30 att pwr per pt in this - the armor is only going to get better too).

    I saw a comment that Bladed Armor increases with Frost Presence, it does not. Only armor contributions count.

    My mob rotation is PS,IT,Pest,BS,SS;UB,RS
    After that rotation there are variables dependiing on how much damage I have taken.

    If I need health, I use Icebound Fort, Bone Shield,DS, BS.
    If not, Gargoyle, then first rotation again.

    Looking forward to hearing comments/suggestions on rotation and talents.

    lochie says:

    helped alot thanks for all the help on my dk

    Ruan says:

    hi jame.....i new to the on bloodcraft now and got my dk now level 64...but im so unsure about the talents...seems unholy is beter i like the perma ghoul XD...but plz can you make me a build with 55 points thats realy good in dps and leveling and pvp all togeter...maybe just unholy doesnt matter,they say some talents are bugged although i havent experienced...but plz make me build for level 64,i mean i was so desprate i put all my points in blood and loads of players are questioning me about it plz help!!! thanx