Death Knight DPS Rotations

Many have been asking, so here they are - Death Knight Rotations to do the most possible DPS. Please keep in mind these are calculated with talent specs tailored for leveling, starting at level 61. Once you switch to a raiding spec, things will probably be different.



Talent Spec at level 61: Blood Leveling 61
Talent Spec at level 79: Blood Leveling 79

The point of this build is to convert to Frost/Unholy runes to Death Runes, allowing for more Heart Strikes.

DPS Rotation used

1. Icy Touch --> Plague Strike --> Death Strike --> Heart Strike --> Heart Strike --> Death Coil --> Obliterate
2. Icy Touch --> Plague Strike --> Heart Strike --> Heart Strike --> Heart Strike --> Heart Strike --> Death Coil --> Obliterate --> Death Coil
3. Repeat Step 2. until mob dies

Death Strike is used instead of Obliterate whenever you need healing to stay above 75% HP because of Blood Gorged.

Note: The rotation changes at level 67 once you get Epidemic.



Talent spec at level 61: Frost Leveling 61
Talent spec at level 79: Frost Leveling 79

Tests have revealed that Scent of Blood sucks for leveling, it doesn't provide enough Runic Power to validate the use of 3 talent points. Instead, we go 5/5 Bladed Armor, which has nice Synergy with 5/5 Toughness.

DPS Rotation used

1. Icy Touch --> Plague Strike --> Blood Strike --> Blood Strike --> Obliterate --> Frost Strike --> Obliterate
2. Icy Touch --> Plague Strike --> Obliterate --> Frost Strike --> Obliterate --> Frost Strike --> Obliterate --> Restart cycle

The point of this build is to use Obliterate and Frost Strike as much as possible, using Blood of the North to convert Blood Runes into Death Runes, allowing for one extra Obliterate in step 2.

Note: Whenever Rime procs, don't forget to use Howling Blast. There are several points in the rotation where you can squeeze it in without messing up your rotation. At the end of Step 1. for example, or after the 2nd Obliterate in step 2.



Talent Spec at level 61: Unholy Leveling 61
Talent Spec at level 79: Unholy Leveling 79

DPS Rotation Used

Icy Touch --> Plague Strike --> Scourge Strike --> Blood Strike --> Blood Strike --> Death Coil --> Scourge Strike --> Death Coil --> Scourge Strike --> Scourge Strike --> Death Coil --> Restart Cycle

Note: When soloing an elite, it's worth using Unholy Blight. The best moment to cast Unholy Blight is at the end of your rotation, skip the last two Death Coils in the rotation to make sure you have enough runic power to cast Unholy Blight. This changes once you get Butchery at level 63, then you only have to skip one Death Coil instead of two and still be able to cast Unholy Blight.


If you have any questions or suggestions regarding this article, please leave a comment.

37 Response to "Death Knight DPS Rotations"

  1. Anonymous says:

    What would the rotation be for AoE dps'ing with a group of mobs for unholy?

    Dar says:

    I wonder what your DPS would be if you considered taking up Sudden Doom instead of Vampiric Blood, Mark of Blood, and points in Blade Barrier/Bladed Armor.

    Zippi says:

    Again Jame, thank you very much. I am assuming this is more for the elite/long fights. For the typical fights on normal / somewhat even con mobs, I have been going with:

    Plague Strike --> Icy Touch --> Blood Strike --> Blood Strike --> Death Strike --> Death Coil (if needed)

    Usually the mob is dead before I get to the Death Coil and the Death Strike is typically enough to keep my health topped off.

    For AOE DPS... Uh, I am kinda clueless and inconsistent. I mash buttons, but it certainly is not based on any science by any means. I'd be interested in your thoughts and the brilliant minds of those that read your blog.

    Jame says:

    @dar It would be slightly higher I guess, a very small difference, we're talking +5-10 DPS here.
    You'd lose 10% parry and VB/MoB, which means you'd have a much harder time when trying to solo tough elite quests, or worse, they might just become too difficult for you to solo.

    Also, let's not forget that at level 67 you get Rune Strike, which is an awesome skill now. +10% parry from Blade Barrier means Rune Strike will be available more often. In the end the DPS lost from not taking Sudden Doom would probably be made up for with the extra rune strikes generated through Blade Barrier.

    BigGoofy says:

    What kind of DPS numbers are you getting? In Unholy, I can't manage to get above 1500. I'm on Murmur using a premade. I'm not using any Glyphs or any abilities with a long cooldown. I'm on the Heroic dummy.

    Anonymous says:

    Hey im curious on your choice of rotations for Unholy.

    The choice of BS in place of BB which i hear is the common. Not saying your wrong just wondering why the change. (obviously not that familiar with unholy)

    Id assume its due to lvling purposes vs. raid rotations which I am probably used to seeing.

    Also since EP got nerfed to half its previous dmg will that have any effect on unholys grasp on the best leveling spec?


    Jame says:

    Hey. Blood Strike is now used instead of Blood Boil in rotations on single targets, since the change to Reaping (before, Blood Strike didn't change blood runes into death runes, that's why people used Blood Boil on single targets anyway).

    Blood Strike does more damage than BB on single targets, so we use it now since the reaping change :P

    Unholy is still the best leveling spec, even with this change. It's close but it's still better than blood.

    Storm says:

    Why isn't Impurity talent taken for unholy build? It would seem that 25% more benefit to spell damage from attack power would be huge, or am i missing something?

    Thanks =)

    Jame says:

    Impurity would be small DPS Boost, it's true. I had to choose between 3 points in impurity or 3 points in Anticipation.

    After doing the math, I decided that +3% Dodge was just better than the DPS improvement brought by impurity. That was a while ago though, so I might have to re-do some tests.

    Storm says:

    Hope to see the results of the test! Also, do you have any idea what the scaling for attack power to spell damage is? Are there any lists out to the direct ratio's yet? That talent would be much easier explained with real numbers showing, especially if another 25% attack power to spell damage only added a total of like 5 dps, would be great to know!

    Vampid says:

    For those interested, I did a comparison to having impurity vs. not having impurity. Blizz was kind enough to separate out the damage of frost fever and blood plague. Looking at the tooltips alone, with impurity at lvl 80 with a premade pvp toon, FF gives 148 damage per 3 seconds. Without impurity, the dps on frost fever is 144 damage per 3 seconds. That means you get only a little over 1 damage per second from that disease. Blood plague is 153 / 3 seconds with impurity, 150 per 3 seconds without. Again, only 1 dps higher on the tooltip. This is with around 3k attack power. Add them together, that's an extra 2.3 dps for the talent, add in crypt fever, that means you're looking at 60% more damage from diseases. That would mean around 1.38 more dps on top of that, so you're looking at 3.7 more dps for the 5 point talent. Now if you figure in unholy blight damage, that's an additional 1 dps or so. So overall, assuming you keep all diseases up at all times, impurity adds about 5 extra dps total. Now if you get wandering plague, it may be more significant, but not by enough to matter for leveling. All that changes when raiding of course, that extra 5 dps over the course of a 5 minute (300 second) fight would add up, but not by enough to make the talent worth it in my book, unless you just have floating points you need to put into something.

    Vampid says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Vampid says:

    As far as aoe damage rotations for unholy, the biggest thing is to be certain you have wandering plague. Even if you don't, you can still do substantial aoe damage. Use the exact same rotation Jame posted earlier with only 2 real changes.

    Icy Touch --> Plague Strike --> Scourge Strike --> Blood Strike --> Blood Strike --> Death Coil --> Scourge Strike --> Death Coil --> Scourge Strike --> Scourge Strike --> Death Coil --> Restart Cycle

    Instead of the first bloodstrike, use pestilence, and as stated earlier about working in unholy blight, do that as soon as you can since it will give more dps with multiple mobs to affect. Other than that, the rotation is the same. Now, you may want to use blood boil instead of the 2nd blood strike if there are 4 or more mobs, but the damage is about even with 3 mobs, I just prefer bloodstrike for focusing on the main kill target. In addition, unless you have Icy Talons, instead of re-applying the diseases to all the targets, I just switch to an offtarget the 2nd time around, and use pestilence on him. This re-diseases the main target without having to burn up an UH and frost rune. Then I go back to the main target and get an extra scourge strike instead of doing icy touch and plague strike again. If you have the icy talons talent as unholy, you're best just reapplying the diseases and redoing Jame's well thought out dps cycle with pestilence worked in.

    Jame says:

    Thank you Vampid, now I won't have to do the math myself :)

    As I thought, impurity is still pretty weak. Better spend those floating points in Anticipation.

    tywil says:

    Hey Jame,

    I read all your guides and have been following your death knight updates religiously.

    I was wondering if you could possibly put together a raid dps and raid tanking build if you get some time. I know you spend most of your time leveling but it would be interesting to see your thoughts on an end game build for either situation.

    Jame says:

    I'll do you one better. I'll write a guide about Death Knight Raid DPS'ing and a guide for Death Knight Raid Tanking.

    I don't know when though, but I'll do it as soon as possible :)

    Devin says:

    hmmm, for aoe, I've found D&D to be pretty darn good. Did I miss where you use it? I've used D&D with all three specs while dpsing. In combination with pest and BB, it is pretty impressive. I know it's three runes, but still. Thoughts?

    Jame says:

    I'll do more tests, but from my experience, the damage added by 1 D&D is not worth losing the Damage and healing from 1 Death Strike + the Damage from 1 Blood Boil.

    Gnordil says:

    Something I've been thinking about is why Corpse Explosion is not included in your Unholy build. It sounds to me like it can be a rather good spell for only one talent point, especially if you add the Glyph of Corpse Explosion (if a mob dies from the CE, it too will explode - can only occur once every 6 seconds). (Most of what I know about Death Knights is from your site, so I'm just speculating here.)

    Another (more stupid, perhaps) question is if Unholy Aura can speed up levelling or if the points there will do quite the opposite?


    Jack says:

    why put the 3 points in anticipation rather than in outbreak?
    wouldn't 30% plague strike, blood boil and pestilence damage be better than 3% dodge, especially when you're doing a lot of aoe

    Jame says:

    @jack That's what I recommend now, 3/3 outbreak. That was an old talent template, before I did all my AoE testing.

    Brian C. says:

    Jame, I have a small question.

    I am a 67 unholy DK, i totally followed your rotation on lvling and it went great! but today I got owned by a same lvl alliance DK, he finished me with 50% HP remaining, I couldn't believe it.

    The question is, when pvp comes up, do I still follow the rotation I use on lvling?

    Thank you for answering!

    Jame says:

    Don't worry too much about it. The spec I have you use isn't tailored for PvP at all, it's for maximized DPS only.

    You'll probably want to go with a more durable spec once you do PvP, something like that:


    And the rotation pretty much remains the same, IT > PS > Scourge Strike > Blood Strike 2x > Death Coil.

    Replace Scourge Strike with Death Strike whenever you need healing.

    The DK you fought probably had a more PvP focused spec and most likely also had better gear.

    Rain says:

    Question: When would I use obliterate, if ever?

    The advice here has been spectacular. I'm nigh unbeatable in duels (at 61 was beating 69's) and I've been soloing things at 66 I could never do even in my best geared 70's. Lovin' this blog.

    Curious where Obliterate fits in, and if I spam runestrike every time it's up. Also, due to rune strike, is it worth changing my gear up for increased parry/dodge rather than pure AP/Crit/stam?


    Adhdrox says:

    Thoughts on Anticipation and floater points in the 53pt leveling build for Unholy:

    Ok, bear with me here. The math i did was only rough figuring based on a day or so of Recount's data collection for my 70 unholy dk.
    I was contemplating whether I would benefit more from having Necrosis or Anticipation, and some of you may prefer a combination of the two, and that's fine.

    *Anticipation (5) - 5% dodge
    *Necrosis (5) - 10% of auto attacks dealt as additional shadow damage.
    **Note: While taking this data, i had no pts in anticipation, and 2pts in Necrosis (4% extra)

    Avg. Autoattack - 491
    Avg. Necrosis - 33
    Avg. Rune Strike(hit) - 1221

    To make it simple, assume the sample size we're testing is 100 swings. In fairness to Anticipation, we'll also assume the enemy swung on you 100 times as well, so 100 blow exchanges.

    In 100 swings, assuming they all hit, Necrosis will do 3300 dmg.

    Assuming this sample size is perfectly accurate, mathematically speaking, you should dodge an additional 5 incoming swings during this 100-blow-exchange.
    Given this, Rune Strike would do an additional 6100 dmg.

    Taking into consideration the 3.5 second swing speed my weapon has, this whole ordeal would last roughly 350 seconds, or 5 minutes 50 seconds.

    Over the course of 350 seconds:
    Necrosis DPS: 9.4
    Anticipation DPS via Rune Strike: 17.4

    In conclusion I have found that Anticipation is a much more valuable dps asset, if for no other reason than the additional burst damage it offers from time to time might save you in an otherwise unfavorable ending to an aoe fight. Meanwhile, Necrosis does remain a more consistent source of DPS, however at about half the value.

    Take it for what it's worth, just thought I'd share my findings.

    Postscript xD
    You Rock James! Really appreciate everything you're doing for the community.

    Keros says:

    Firstly thanks to all your hard work and posts that have already helped me with my DeathKnight now lvl 64 :)

    My question is this:
    Is there a talent build which would help my DK if I wanted to duel wield I understand that this would not be for everyone but for those of us who would love the fun factor of the duelwielding DK any suggestions would be very much appreciated.

    Thanks in advance!

    pajinha says:

    One question, since I changed my rotation to use SS instead of Death Strike I find my self without any HP left after a combat. Since I am a bit clumsy and do not want to use the "Death Strike" when I need it and instead be part of the rotation. Were should I put it? Should I replace SS, and use it when HP is high instead (this seams easier.. IT --> PS --> DS/SS --> BS --> DC --> DS/SS --> DC --> DS/SS --> DS/SS --> DC) ? ( By the way my rotation is done withe keys 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, etc, this way makes it very easy to follow ). And i could set the alt key for SS ...

    pajinha says:

    By the way, Great Guides!!!!

    Jame says:

    Yes, Death Strike and Scourge Strike have the same spot in the rotation, simply use either whenever you need HP or not.

    pajinha says:

    Cool, Thanks.

    Will use a macro for it and the default will be Death Strike the alt modifier will be SS. Much safer since DK dont have the Hunter talent of fake death, and if I f**up i just prefer it to be the reverse and just take longer to kill ... by the way, that rotation at lvl 69 it is a fast killer even in Northrand, only becomes problematic if 6 to 10 mobs get together them DS is very important ...

    Off course this only makes sense for lazy guys like me that dont want to memorize the rotation ...

    Mickyg says:

    Im Slightly confused about your blood lvl 79 specc wouldnt it be better for leveling if you put 13 points into frost for Annihilation, that way you can change your rotation when u get to 80 and start doing heroics, with out having to spend gold (seeming as tho when i started my DK i couldnt deside on a spec so spend over 300g respeccing) your new rotation could look something like this
    PS,IT,HS,HS,OB,DC(use untill uve got less than 40 runic power)then HS,HS,HS,HS
    then repeat from the beggining
    this has in my experiance been top dps in blood(still debating with myself which is higher blood or unholy)

    Wanting to thank jame for a big help on the Deathknight... I leveled my Main character and just started a DK... If it was'nt for Jame.. I would be lost

    This might be a silly question.. I was wondering what addon is everyone using to make the GUI on WoW to change black like most of the posts I see...

    i found that with James's DPS unholy rotation against an elite, IT an PS expires when i reach my 2nd DC just b4 my next 2 consecutive SS, shouldn't we need to reapply IT and PS?

    Jame says:

    My rotation takes Epidemic into account. I guess you didn't follow my talent spec recommendations?

    Anonymous says:

    not sure how active this blog is these days but I'm gonna go ahead and ask anyway

    I started playing a month ago basically, started off pally now doing DK, level 63 and I just went from blood to unholy because I like to try new specs since I don't really know much about the game itself. I "learned" how to use Blood Tap usefully 1 day ago and it healed quite great I must say, never really had to sit down and eat anymore while questing etc. Is there any solution or whatever for this as unholy? or is food my best friend?

    Mickyg says:

    for leveling if you have decided to go unholy your rotation should look something like this, ps, it, bs, bs, ss, RP dump, ss, ds, RP dump

    well atleast thats the rotation i used while leveling as unholy