Is Unholy still the best spec to level?

Updated with latest build - 8th November

Just a quick post to tell you guys that I've been doing another series of tests since the Unholy Blight nerf (in case you missed it, Unholy Blight no longer counts as a disease now).

For leveling, this nerf doesn't change much, for several reasons:

  1. When leveling, you don't use Unholy Blight that often, because you fight a lot of single targets.
  2. Unholy Blight still is very useful for AoE'ing
Basically, Scourge Strike does a little less damage now and Death Strike heals for a little less. On single targets, Unholy is very very close to Blood now, so if our only criteria was chain killing single targets, there would be no favorite, I'd recommend choosing either Blood or Unholy, without any preference.

However, Unholy still has an edge over Blood for leveling, because:

  1. It is a much better spec to AoE things. I just went back to those buzzards with my level 62 DK to see if I could still AoE 6+ packs non-stop and the answer is yes, I noticed no difference at all. Killed packs of 5, 6 or 7 buzzards and finished the fights nearly full HP.
  2. On a pale horse is still an awesome time saver, all the way to level 77 (and that's only if you got the money to unlock flying mounts in Northrend).


I still recommend to spend your talent points in Unholy while leveling.

Level 62 Talent Spec: 0/0/53
Level 80 Talent Spec: 16/0/55

This should max out your killing speed, both on single targets and multiple targets.
This is also a great talent spec for farming and questing at level 80.
It is also perfectly fine for tanking normal instances, just switch to Frost Presence and you're good to go.

42 Response to "Is Unholy still the best spec to level?"

  1. Storm says:

    Glad to have another update!

    So what I'm most curious about is how your guides are coming along, all I know from what you've posted is DK to 60.5, and northrend to 72ish, maybe 73?

    As always, keep up the good work!

    Nice to know, im a big fan of "on a pain horse" great time saver indeed.
    I just have one question. Will you be able to give us a estimate on how many hours it will take from 55-80? using your guide and spec'd correctly of course. would love to know a rough but fairly accurate estimate, as its getting time to start planning time off work :P

    cheers jame, this blog is my number 1 source for all things DK.

    Jame says:

    @storm DK is ready up to level 60.5 both for Alliance and Horde.

    I'll post an update tomorrow on the Northrend guides, I've made some major changes.

    @Richard I'd love to tell you but right now I really have no idea :/
    All I can tell you is that I'm pretty happy with my circuits so far, I've really busted my ass to make them as efficient as possible :)

    I know you're doing a great job. you deserve a medal. But surely i can get out a rough day number? like 4 days played or something along those lines. like a real maximum that you really cant see it taking longer if you are following your guide properly. I can only ask for the moon, if you really cant say then no worries :)

    Jame says:

    Without any rested bonus, I'd say approximately in between 7 and 9 hours per level, depending on class, gear, etc.

    So on average it should take about 3 days and half /played.

    I could be totally off though!

    Dar says:

    Following the guide(s) thus far, I'm up to level 62 with 14 hours /played. But I may be going quicker than your typical player, as I always try to optimize my XP/hour.

    I also think the levelling exp coefficient (or total exp required per level) may have been lowered since WotLK has been released.

    @Jame: Other players have indicate that Necrosis seems to give a 0.4% total DPS increase per point. Have you looked into removing 3 points from this and investing it into Outbreak? I'd assume there's a great deal more benefit in the DPS from this ability due to the greater likelihood of AoE'ing.

    Hi Jame,

    Huge fan of your guides, thanks so much for the hours you've saved me!!

    Quick question about Pale Horse - is the extra 5% speed over Unholy Aura really worth it when you consider that UA lets you move faster indoors / other places you can't mount?


    Jame says:

    @Dar Yes, I'm considering it. More than that, I think I'll definitely change this, since I'm finding that AoE opportunities are a lot more frequent than what I thought :P

    @afriendlysoul Unholy Aura only affects your running speed, not your mounted speed. So basically it's not +5% extra speed mounted, but +20% extra speed mounted, if you take On a Pale Horse instead of Unholy Aura.

    Teunis says:

    Unholy Aura is at 70, missing a speed bonus for 12 levels.
    Having a paladin i know what a big deal 20% can be, i notice even the difference between 10% and 20%.

    I'm wondering if a xx/0/26 build is vital (

    Thanks for all the hard work on the guides.

    Is the death knight Chapter I guide actually available yet? If not when will it be released and what will we need to access it?

    Jame says:

    @whitefalcon No, not available yet.

    Check this link for Release Dates.

    When the guide will be available, it will be here:

    Jame's Death Knight Leveling Guide (55-60) (Alliance)
    Jame's Death Knight Leveling Guide (55-60) (Horde)

    Rauni says:

    Jame, i'm another user and lover of your guides.

    I have a question about the change in Unholy Blight.

    Before the changes, Unholy Blight was considered a disease, its damage was increased by Ebon Plague? And now?

    Jame says:

    Yes, Unholy Blight's damage was increased by Ebon Plague before. To balance that, they've increased Unholy Blight's base damage. So it does about the same damage as before.

    Hey Jame. (long time lurker and now two posts in a row...soon troll of the year ?)

    I've leveled a DK to 71. Did the first half in Unholy (and loving it) and the second half in Blood (and loving it).
    Blood is really a killing machine as long as you stick to 1 mob at a time. I forgot the existence of food and bandages. Even when I hit Northend at lvl 68.
    All in all I had the impression to have a bit more downtime in Unholy but more flexibility because of the pet. Makes dealing with adds much easier. And I love the "leap" ability :D

    I was expecting the Unholy AoE to be much stronger though and it was a disapointment but you soon realize (imho) that unless your AoE is huge (mage for instance) or your tanking abilities very high (think Paladin) AoE is something you can't really rely on while leveling. It only shines in 2+ parties.
    I saw your AoE video and my first reaction was "wow. I need to try again" but, as you know, a couple of AoE pulls here and there is not what changes the face of solo leveling.

    And it got me thinking about a slight modification to your Unholy leveling build.
    I'll go to 50 unholy, skipping Unholy Blight (really not needed in Outland), skipping Wandering Plague and Pale Horse (I have a Riding crop in bank and that's only 10% slower than this 2 points talent).
    It allows me to hit the early goodies of the Blood tree a bit earlier and I don't plan to pick UB until very late. If not at lvl 80 actually.
    Template at 70 :

    My reasoning with UB is that even if you manage to chain pull, its 20 seconds duration translate probably into 10/12 seconds of effective dps on average.If you try to make the most out of UB (which I did) you find yourself making hairy pulls which, in the end, hurts your momentum.
    UB looks to me more and more as an instance talent and I don't plan to run instances before lvl 80.
    I'm pretty tempted to apply the same reasoning to the Gargoyle...I don't think I've used it more than once an hour. And it was always an overkill anyway.

    To be honest I also applied the same approach to my Blood Build. I removed Dancing Rune Weapons and some of the "healing" goodies that were overkill (at least up to lvl 71) so that I could reach Epidemics faster.

    Does this make some sense to you ?

    On the 0/0/53 unholy spec I've been wondering why you go with Anticipation over Outbreak. The latter would provide more dps hence faster leveling wouldn't it?

    Jame says:

    Yes, that was before I realized how good DKs could AoE. In my latest build I go for Outbreak instead of Anticipation. :)

    How many points in Outbreak? Maybe put some in there instead of Necrosis?

    And what is it about Corpse Explosion that you don't like?

    Love your guides btw. Have always used them :)

    I agree with the comment before mine. While I leveled blood, i would find that corspe explosion owuld be a great tool to have in aoe situations. The only problem i see is that it might be a little dificult to find a corpse lying around, but other than that it could be a great spell for unholy.

    @ burburburbur
    "Will use a nearby corpse if the target is not a corpse."
    So that's not a problem.
    The only reason I see is when we aoe, almost everyone has the same %hp, so they will die anyway in the following seconds.

    But it is still a funny spell to use :)

    @ Minigreven

    Sorry i wasn't specific, i meant the only problme there oculd be is if there were no corpses around to explode, whether targeted or not.

    Devin says:

    Just catching up on the blog, good stuff!
    I'd argue that choosing blood/unholy for leveling is a matter of playstyle and preference. you can actually aoe pretty well as blood, and I've run many 5-mans from 58-80 and compared the two. I've actually outperformed every unholy I've ever come across in instances, and leveling early in LK will probably need to be a mix of questing and instancing when areas are overcamped.
    One area blood shines at: soloing elites (of which there are quite a few). It's very easy to solo quest elites up to three levels higher, and I never had a problem killing higher level elites solo and quickly (not kiting etc required). Unholy, not quite viable as you need a healer or more dps to burn it down faster. But yes, for killing packs of nonelite mobs, unholy is beast!

    Jame says:

    I definitely agree that both Blood and Unholy are viable for leveling, it's down to playstyle.

    About soloing elites, I've tried with both and actually, it's easier as Unholy.

    Just pre-buff bone shield, pop the gargoyle and the mob will go down really quick, quicker than with a blood build.

    Not to mention Death Strike heals for more as unholy and you can use it 3 times in a rotation thanks to reaping.

    You can also let the ghoul tank at the start, for very hard hitting elites, and then you take over.


    I just looked at your Death Knight Leveling Guide - (55-61) (Alliance, and I must say that im impressed (again ;). The unholy spec makes much more sense now than before.
    Now I can memorise your guide at school.

    THANKS!!! :D

    Scorpio says:

    I'm wondering is this lvling build 17/0/53 good for tanking instances before hitting 80?

    Jame says:

    Perfectly fine for normal instances, even level 80 instances (not heroic mode). As long as you are in Frost Presence you'll be fine.

    Scorpio says:

    Thanks for fast answer, now I'm happy with my DK spec both for leveling and for guild MT duties :)

    Andres says:

    I commented on another post but I have another question. Three Deathknights a priest and a hunter leveling to 70. would you suggest all three go unholy for quick instancing?

    Jame says:

    If you're gonna do a lot of instancing, I'd suggest one of you guys goes frost.

    Have each DK go deep into one of the trees and get the aura talent. So you'll all be running with a lot of auras.

    Unholy Aura, Blood Aura and Icy Talons for everyone would be some really good group :)

    Josh says:

    hey, great guides, went from 30 to 63 so far on my mage in no time at all. starting a DK after tonight. Just one question, was wondering if there was a reason you didn't take any +hit in the lvl 55 build.

    I was trying to look at your wowhead bulds....but the link is broken or down? Can you please publish a new link to wow main site?

    Excellent information!

    Jame says:

    The links work for me. Wowhead must have been down when you tried them.

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

    Hey Mate

    I have been a fan of your leveling guilds for some time now. And now this. I can't fault it.

    Right now I'm really trying to use my death Knight the best I can.

    What is a ideal spell rotation for a Unholy DK. Just one on one mobs not AoE.

    Thanks for any help given.

    Kaberf says:

    Great guide and video. I was bored to tears with Blood spec, but find I'm having much more fun now that I'm using your Unholy build.

    Anonymous says:

    not sure if you read those posts at older topics but I'm wondering how you heal yourself somewhat with the unholy spec? since with Blood you have the Rune Tap which helps quite a lot, is there something similar with the unholy one?

    Death strike is more than enough :)
    and if you need, you can use dark pact and just summon a new ghoul.

    Anonymous says:

    thanks :-) seems to be working alright. so lemme get this straight, always plague strike to be able to heal right?

    also what's dark pact? :p

    dunno if i mentioned this earlier but im completely new to dks and pretty much new all in all to the game itself

    Hi Jame :) I've been always an enthusiastic reader of your blog, especially from your DK sections.

    I've learned to love your builds and your smart advices.

    I suppose that DK community is waiting anxiously your new revisions of the Blood/Frost/Unholy/Dual trees, and of course the updated links for Wowhead Talent Calculator.

    I give you my best wishes, and thanks for all your efforts.

    Joanne says:

    Will you be updating the Horde Death Knight Leveling Guide 55-61 anytime soon or at all?
    Joanne aka Pryceless on Cairne.

    there seems to be a discrepancy between the guide and the builds you post... I'm not sure which one to follow!

    T says:

    Your talent spec build is not showing the proper amount of talent points used Jamie.

    jrod says:

    I have 52 talent points and want to go Unholy. I like the idea or a perma-ghoul as well.

    The 0/0/53 build you link up the page goes to a WoWHead page with about 38 points in the Unholy tree...

    Please update this as soon as you possibly can.