Unholy DPS and you


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Why spec Unholy when you could go Blood which currently holds superior single target sustained dps, superior single target burst, Hysteria, and Abomination's Might to its name?

Why spec Unholy when you could go Frost which now holds equivalent (if not superior) single target sustained dps, superior AoE burst, Improved Icy Talons, and a more dynamic rotation to its name?


This question is vital to the understanding of anything in this thread. After all, if there were no reason to spec Unholy over the alternatives, why would this thread even exist?

Fortunately, Unholy has more than its fair share of upsides, thus it's an easy argument to make. The more notable advantages of Unholy include:

* Superior Sustained AoE Dps
Unholy is, unarguably, the strongest spec in the game at this role. No one - caster or melee - can top an Unholy DK on any fight with significant AoE, not if the DK knows his stuff. The lead in this area isn't a matter of a couple percent; it's quite significant (varying on the exact number of mobs - the more, the larger the gap becomes). With the previous tier of content being heavily AoE-centric, this virtue came to shine and gave the spec its claim to fame. Although AoE isn’t quite as omnipresent in ICC as it was in TotC/TotGC, it’s still important on a number of fights.
* Superior Raid Utility
Abomination's Might and Improved Icy Talons, although obviously excellent, can be provided by other classes and other specs with the exact same potency. Ebon Plague, on the other hand, cannot be. Warlocks and Moonkin cannot provide their magic damage debuffs on multiple targets at the same time - not without incredible hardship and the sacrifice of their entire personal dps (or a majority thereof). What more is that Ebon Plague does something no other class or spec in the game can do: It increases disease damage by 30% - a significant amount. If your raid contains at least two DKs, one being you, it is always worth it for one to go Unholy for EP alone, even if you ignore the other strengths of the spec. Not only that, but with Devouring Plague being 10-15% of a shadow priest's damage, it's 3-5% more additional dps for them. EP is often underestimated and simply clumped together with CoE/EM, when it provides huge benefits which those two debuffs do not. It’s a must for almost any raid.
* Superior Survivability
Bone Shield provides a near-passive 20% damage reduction. That's 20% less damage from every single AoE, every single nuke, every single add melee hit you take - everything. It's highly underrated, but can be the difference between life and death in a million and one situations. Vampiric Blood and Unbreakable Armor, although excellent from a tanking point of view, don't compare for dpsers. Both are active cooldowns which cost you dps to use. Bone Shield is essentially passive and grants you dps.

The fact of the matter is, speccing Unholy makes you unique. It provides you with tools which no other class or spec can bring. It provides you with dps in an area (AoE) which no other spec can hope to reach. Everything Blood* and Frost bring to the table, on the other hand - be it their raid buffs, their single target dps, their survivability, their playstyles, whatever - can be matched or, in several cases, surpassed by others in a raid – often by the Unholy DK itself.

In a world of increasing homogenization, this fact makes Unholy one of the most "different" specs around today and, as such, it becomes one of the most valuable. The same cannot be said about Blood or Frost.

Whether you choose to spec it or not, is completely up to you. Blood and Frost are obviously not worthless and, depending on your typical raid composition and current level of progression, may in fact be ideal. It all depends on your personal circumstances, and there honestly is no right or wrong answer - at least not one which can be provided by others, only by yourself.

The point is: Unholy is more than worthy of its raid spot. Anything to the contrary is utterly incorrect, be it coming from some random forum troll, a fellow guildmate, or an ignorant Blood/Frost DK.

*Hysteria aside.


[Blood Sub-spec Without Reaping] 17/0/54
The most optimal single target build when poorly geared (which, in this context, is anything before 4P T9). The primary reason this spec is best at lower gear levels is due to Bladed Armor and Dark Conviction. Bladed Armor hardly scales since armor values on dps hardly scales, and thus gives a near-constant amount of AP regardless of gear level, making it a strong talent at the start, but relatively weaker as gear goes by. Dark Conviction provides a flat amount of crit, and crit gets weaker the more of it you have (i.e, 50 -> 55% crit is a smaller dps increase than 30 -> 35% crit). Once you get to 4P T9 and beyond, the two alternative specs will easily pull ahead, largely thanks to the failings of these two talents. Your auto-attack will be the highest percent of your total damage, followed by your Scourge Strike and then your Ghoul. Scourge Strike will be your hardest hitting individual ability, followed distantly by the combination of Death Coil and Unholy Blight.

[Frost Sub-spec Without Reaping] 0/17/54
The most optimal single target build when moderately geared (which, in this context, is anything from 4P T9 and beyond) and using a proc weapon (Bryntroll or Shadowmourne). The primary reason this spec scales better than its predecessor is due to Icy Talons and Endless Winter. Auto-attack damage has always scaled incredibly well (partially due to the fact that it benefits from every stat, and partially due to Necrosis), thus Icy Talons just improves upon that. Strength has always been our best stat, and Endless Winter just makes it even better. As well, this spec contains some benefits not directly related to single target dps: higher AoE dps (than 14/0/57 or 17/0/54), free interrupts, and greater dps while moving/at range. Your auto-attack will be the highest percent of your total damage, followed by your Scourge Strike and then your Ghoul. Scourge Strike will be your hardest hitting individual ability, followed distantly by the combination of Death Coil and Unholy Blight.

[Blood Sub-spec With Reaping] 14/0/57
An alternate to the above build when moderately geared (which, in this context, is anything from 2P T10 and beyond) and using a non-proc weapon (Cryptmaker or Shadow's Edge). Generally speaking, 0/17/54 outperforms 14/0/57, even without a proc-weapon, but not always, and some prefer the threat reduction. Scourge Strike scales upward enough to make Reaping a dps gain once again, making this build the most optimal for single targets. The Frost tree is bottom-heavy (i.e, stronger talents are deeper in) while the Blood tree is top-heavy, and thus when taking Reaping you need to use a Blood sub-spec, as taking points from Dark Conviction is a much smaller loss than taking them from Endless Winter. Your Scourge Strike will be the highest percent of your total damage, followed by your auto-attack and then your Ghoul. Scourge Strike will be your hardest hitting individual ability, followed distantly by Death Coil and its subsequent Unholy Blight.

Optional Talents

Although these specs do not have any specific free floating points to spend on whatever you choose, one can take points from Dark Conviction, the weakest single target dps talent, or from Necrosis, the weakest multi-target dps talent, at a relatively minor dps loss in favor of the utility provided by other talents:

* Ghoul Frenzy – This talent should only be taken if you have trouble keeping your Ghoul alive. If you do, it becomes invaluable, as a dead Ghoul is a large portion of your dps down the drain (due to 30 seconds of absolutely zero Ghoul damage, followed by your Ghoul doing reduced damage for the remainder of the fight from missing buffs). If you don’t have issues with your pet going down, then skip this talent. In nearly every case it will be a strict dps loss.
* Improved Unholy Presence – Unholy Presence is occasionally taken solely for the run speed increase, which some consider worth the sacrifice. How much of a dps boost the run speed increase itself is is very difficult to calculate. The value varies drastically from fight to fight. On some, it's of inestimable value, while on others it does not a thing. The best option to determine its worth is to try it out yourself, see if you notice a difference and, if you do, decide whether or not it is worth the two talent point. There is no right and wrong answer as to whether or not one should spec into IUP.
* Morbidity – As readers of past versions of this thread may have noticed, I no longer bother to specifically differentiate between a single target spec and an AoE spec. Why? Because the only difference between the two, talent wise, is Morbidity. Morbidity is a strict dps loss on any single target encounter, yet invaluable on multiple-target encounters. If you don't have the luxury of dual-speccing a dps spec with it and a dps spec without it, simply look at how many fights in the current tier of content you actually use DnD on more than every 15 seconds, and decide how much those fights matter to you.


Single Target
* [Glyph of Dark Death]
* [Glyph of the Ghoul]
* [Glyph of Icy Touch]
Multiple Target / AoE
* [Glyph of Death and Decay]
* [Glyph of Disease]
* [Glyph of Icy Touch]
* [Glyph of Blood Tap]
* [Glyph of Pestilence]
* [Glyph of Raise Dead]

The major glyphs are set in stone for Unholy. No matter which of the “optional” talents you take, no matter what gear level you are currently at, no matter what tier of content you are currently progressing through, no matter what exact spec you chose, you’ll use the same three glyphs depending on if the encounter is primarily single target or multiple target.

The same goes for the multi-target glyphs.

It’s important to note that as of patch 3.3.2, Glyph of Disease will no longer cause Pestilence to ‘roll’ the AP value present when you applied diseases. Instead, whenever you case Pestilence to refresh them, diseases will look at your current value of AP (and then use that number until you cast Pestilence again). As such, one doesn’t have to worry about lining up trinket procs at the start of the encounter. This makes GoD non-competitive for a single target, but still a must for a multiple target encounter.

None of the minor glyphs will have any large impact on your dps, so which you choose is largely up to you. Glyph of Pestilence is the one exception – although it won’t increase your dps on paper or in a simulator, a 50% range increases on Pestilence is generally considered a godsend for AoEing, and to go without it would be rather silly.

Generalized Rotation

Single Target
Builds with Reaping
PS – IT – BS – BS – SS – DC – HoW
SS – DC – SS – SS – DC – (DC)

Build without Reaping
PS – IT – BS – SS – BS – DC – HoW
SS – BS – SS – BS – DC – DC– (DC)

The final Death Coil of the rotation is placed in parentheses as you will not always have the RP to perform it every two rune refreshes.

With Epidemic being taken once again, your rotation reverts back to the traditional Unholy one. Priority wise, it is the same as ever: Apply diseases (PS - IT), dump your RP if its capped (DC), burn your blood runes for Desolation and/or Death Runes (BS - BS), use your FU strike (SS), dump your RP (DC), use Horn if you have an extra gcd and are unable to do anything else (HoW).

Multi-Target / AoE
Initial: IT – PS – Pestilence – DnD – DC – HoW

SS – BS – BB – SS – DC – DC
SS – Pestilence – DnD – DC – HoW

As its name suggests, you perform the initial segment of the rotation with your first set of runes, then alternate between the second and third order of abilities for the remainder of the fight (or until diseases fall off). Do not make the mistake of repeating the initial rotation after the third; it’s unnecessary with [Glyph of Disease].

Blood Striking to proc Desolation is a larger net dps gain than Blood Boiling, for those who are curious. If Desolation is already up, then Blood Boiling becomes the clear winner, of course.

One common mistake players make is to Death and Decay before spreading their diseases. Doing so is a bad move (from a dps point of view. Tanking is another matter). Although it might seem like a dps gain to use Death and Decay initially so it is off cooldown sooner, it loses a lot of damage if your diseases aren’t on the target (15% from Rage of Rivendare, 13% from Ebon Plague, so on). As well, spreading your diseases sooner means more raid dps thanks to Ebon Plague.

Elitist Jerks are your friends. Although a bit Elitist at times.