The Challenge Facing Unholy Death Knights (Legion)

As an Unholy Death Knight main, I often feel like the last man standing. So many of my fellows have given in to the turn of the tide and swapped over to Frost, I’m currently the only Unholy Death Knight remaining in my guild, out of four in my raid team alone. I wanted to take some time and talk about why this is, in the hopes that any of you aspiring Unholy DKs out there can share this with your raid leaders or on forums so perhaps they can understand a little bit of where you’re coming from when you say you want to raid and not play Frost, and so they can understand where Unholy’s strengths and weaknesses are.

Unholy’s Single Target DPS Isn’t Great, but our Cleave is!

Simply put, our output on single targets is not stellar. Many of our talents and abilities are designed around the Power of Cleave. (It might just pad your meters, that’s the power of cleave~)

  • The wide damage of Bursting Sores
  • The spread mechanic of Death and Decay, (combined with the growth mechanic of Defile in some cases)
  • The Rune replenishment mechanic of Pestilent Pustules
  • The effect of Portal to the Underworld
  • The area spread effect on our Abomination’s Vile Gas during Dark Transformation, compounded by the effect of Infected Claws
  • The automatic spread on Outbreak (plus Ebon Fever in some cases)

All these things contribute to our (admittedly strong, but not exceptional) point-blank AoE and Cleave DPS. But the vast majority of them have little to no benefit to our single target output

  • Bursting Sores. Portal to the Underworld, Virulent Plague, and Vile Gas do much less damage the less targets there are.
  • Death and Decay is useless if you don’t have 2+ targets to cleave for an extended period.
  • Pestilent Pustules is now much less effective than it was before, leading to resource starvation.

This also means that our snap DPS on priority targets is not great. We specialize in targeted sustained AOE, and there is no such fight in Nighthold, with the singular exception of High Botanist.

The Bracers, our best in slot legendary, help tremendously in this regard. As do our 2 and 4-piece Tier bonuses. However, these mainly only cover our resource generation weakness, exacerbate the over-reliance on cleave problem, and merely begin to mitigate our single target issues.

Too Much of Our Damage is Limited into in Pets and Cooldowns

(Numbers taken anecdotally)

On my most recent Star Augur Heroic kill, we had the DPS to essentially turn it into a Patchwerk fight and ignore the add completely. Anecdotally I think this is the best comparison to a low-movement, single target fight that I can find at the moment, with no significant buffs to damage during the encounter, (a la Tichondrius). The breakdown from my pets was as follows:

Overall Damage Dealt: 157.17M

  • 11.12% (17.47M) Sludge Belcher
  • 8.89% (13.96M) Army of the Dead (One 10 minute cooldown cast, 4 casts of Apocalypse for 6 Ghouls each)
  • 3.21% (5.04M) Summon Gargoyle

The problem is not that these cooldowns and pets exist, but that for the length of their cooldowns and/or the number of times they’re summoned in a fight? They don’t deal NEARLY enough damage. at 23.22% of my overall damage, on a fight lasting almost the exact perfect sim length of 5 minutes, they just BARELY beat out my Festering Wound damage ALONE, which was 23.10% of my damage, even factoring in that I have The Instructor’s Fourth Lesson, this is absurd.

By comparison, 4 casts of a Mage’s Mirror Images on the same fight are 27.31M of his damage by themselves. My permanent pet and Gargoyle (Longer cooldown, same life time of 40s) COMBINED don’t even come close to that. In order to outdo that damage I have to combine a permanent pet’s damage with a 10 minute cooldown, and 4 casts of Apocalypse. Simply put, that’s silly.

What Can We Do?

These are the major problems facing Unholy in Nighthold. Some minor concerns include our mobility, but by and large in Nighthold I’ve felt that Wraith Walk with Lingering Apparition, and the shift to Clawing Shadows largely solves much of this. Some quality of life changes could be implemented, but those small issues won’t solve the larger problem of our damage output.

I can only hope that with 7.2 a few of the changes I’m outlining below can be implemented.

  • Gargoyle damage needs to be increased by 150-200% at LEAST. The base damage increase could be lowered if our Mastery fully affects the Gargoyle’s damage. To my knowledge it currently does not. My white hits should never outdo a 3minute cooldown that I use twice to full effect.
  • Army of the Dead damage needs an increase 20-30%
  • Bursting Sores should deal bonus damage when there are no targets to cleave to, similarly to how Might of Krosus‘ cooldown checks the number of targets struck to reduce itself.
  • The Vile Gas nerf needs to be reduced or reverted, and/or the base Abomination damage needs to be increased.
  • We need to be able to interact with Virulent Plague in some way beyond just putting it on the target and hoping for Eruptions; Have every Xth (3rd or 4th?) wound burst on the target cause an automatic Eruption?
  • A tremendous quality of life change: Change Double Doom, such that instead of stacking two charges, that it causes the Sudden Doom Death Coils to auto-fire at a random target struck by your Clawing Shadows/Scourge Strike when your Runic Power is full (Or above a certain percentage). This would result in several good things:
    • Solid single target DPS increase.
    • Small increase to damage during AOE since you have no AOE runic power dump anyway, and you often cap.
    • Would help free up some GCDs allowing Unholy more flexibility on damage, without actually putting Death Coil off the GCD.

The only large-scale change here would be the last one, none of the others would significantly change our damage (Overall this would probably amount to about a… 8-10% overall damage increase) and it would help shift some of the power of cleave into our single target DPS, which is lacking, as has been mentioned.



My Star Augur Log:

My Comparison Mage for Mirror Image Damage:



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