What is the frost, unholy or blood rotation?

I get a lot of questions like “what’s the rotation for that spec?” Rotation is like Death Knight basics, and since I write on more advanced tanking questions, it’s not content I usually include. Besides, a DK should think in terms of priorities and not rotations. More on that distinction later.

But then I started writing this, and realised… there’s some of subtlety here. I’ve played a DK since they WotLK was released, so it’s second-nature, but if you are new to the class there might be some crucial info in this post.

So, here are the answers which I can then refer people to for what’s the frost/unholy/blood rotation or priority.

Important context on being a DK

Parry/dodge: As a DPS, you attack the boss from behind and have enough hit and expertise so you do not miss. Tanks face the boss, so generally can be parried. This difference alone means a tank rotation has to be flexible because you will re-do a strike once in a while after being parried. DPS DKs, when well-geared, do not have this problem and can use a very tight rotation.

Priority/rotation: Tanks need to think in terms of a priority system. Rotations are a stepping stones towards achieving those priorities. The best DKs do not stick to a rigid rotation, they stick to a priority system. If you have to run away from a boss to avoid his Big AOE thing, then run back in, your rotation will be meaningless if the diseases have fallen off. DK damage requires diseases, so your first priority is to put them back up.

Unholy presence: some DPS specs use unholy presence to they can stuff more attacks into the 20 second rune recharge cycle. If you’re using such a spec, you must know the rotation too, since they’re intimately connected, or you’re ruining your own dps. I will not cover any of those rotations here.

Frost or blood presence: the rotation/priority are the same for dps and tanks, you just use different presences. The below details will work for both.

Tank specs: use my tank specs launch page to find frost, unholy and blood tank specs.

Blood runes and blade barrier: a tank needs to always have blood runes used up or recharging. Even if they’ve become death runes, spend them asap. You need that for blade barrier. A DPS DK does not have that priority. The priority systems written below have an overriding principle of keeping blade barrier up, but there isn’t a hard and convenient rule I can give you.

I do whatever I can to keep blade barrier up. I have it as a watched buff. I’ll notice its remaining duration. Even if the boss has no diseases but barrier is about to expire, I’ll spend blood runes on blood strike/ pestilence/ blood tap /rune tap / obliterate (whatever) to get barrier back up. Exception is if you’re just starting the fight, you’d open by running in with an icy touch, plague strike in melee range, then use blood strike twice.

Runic power dump: frosties use frost strike, the others death coil. Tanks keep 20 RP at all times; save that much for rune strike or IBF. Don’t use it on a dump. If you have a spare GCD and nothing to do, hit horn of winter for some free RP.

Frost priority and rotation

All frost specs use the same system, even dual-wield. Frost gets the most threat if you watch for rime, confusingly its proc is called ‘freezing fog’ and killing machine procs (you need an addon or unitframe to put the proc in your face). Combine the two procs if possible by waiting, but at least don’t waste KM on an icy touch.

Single target (two diseases)

Rotation:

with epidemic

IT PS BS BS OB (FS)
OB OB OB (FS)  {you will have some time waiting for runes to recharge}

without epidemic

IT PS BS BS OB (FS)
IT PS OB OB (FS)  {shorter diseases)

Priority:

Tanks remember as a priority to keep up your 5% damage reduction from blade barrier.

  1. Frost Fever
  2. Blood Plague
  3. Killing Machine + Rime
  4. Obliterate
  5. Blood Strike
  6. Frost Strike

AOE

You get a bit more variety in AOE rotations, depending on how many targets, if there’s a melee mob who will come to you, and whether it’s a boss or just 5-man trash. I’ll give you a few ideas here.

Boss: you want two diseases. Trash: frost fever is enough. Longer AOE: two diseases.

Rotation for trash:

DnD – HB – BB

IT – PS – Pest – HB – BS

Opening rotation for boss:

DnD – IT – Pest – (blood tap) HB

Howling blast glyph (and single disease):

You can choose to take the HB glyph instead of unbreakable armour and use a single-disease rotation. It works well.

Also, in a trash-oriented tank spec (like if you have a blood MT spec and a frost trash/aoe spec), you might get the howling blast glyph for serious snap agro.

In single-disease, you simply do not use plague strike, and use howling blast instead of icy touch to to put up frost fever. On the initial pull of a fight, you may well use IT because of range, but thereafter you’d use HB. The priority is otherwise the same.

You must think in terms of priority to get the most out of this glyph.

Single-target rotation:

HB – BS – BS – OB (FS)  {always watch for Rime procs and use HB}
OB – OB – OB (FS)  {you will have some time waiting for runes to recharge}

This glyph doubles as an AOE booster, making the HB hit targets buffed by the fever it also applies.

AOE rotation:

DnD – HB – BB
OB – OB – BB – BB

Unholy priority and rotation

Unholy in 3.22 use a no-reaping rotation, which is described in my post on that spec.

In 3.3, it uses a more traditional rotation. I’ve reported on that too; 3.3 unholy.

In both patches, the priority system is the same: two diseases always.

The key difference between 3.22 and 3.3 is because there is no reaping (so no death runes to convert into scourge strike). Those two posts above include rotations.

For completeness I’ll include the 3.3 version here.

Single target

3.3 Priority:

  1. blood plague (from plague strike)
  2. frost fever (from icy touch)
  3. scourge strike
  4. blood strike
  5. death coil (saving 20 RP for rune strikes and IBF).

3.3 Rotation:

  1. IT — PS  – BS — BS — SS — DC
  2. SS — SS — SS — DC  (has some waiting for runes)

AOE

Keep both diseases up, they hit really hard. If you have an aoe spec, you can glyph with DnD and Disease for awesome AOE, then use another Pest to refresh diseases. If you’ve got corpse explosion, use it when you can.

If your spec includes Desolation, you would use one blood rune for a blood strike to proc it’s +4 or 5% damage. That’s shown as (or BS) below. If you only have 1 or 2% in the spec, use blood boil instead. (I haven’t done the maths on where the cut off point is for best tps, though, this is more my instinct).

In 3.3:

DnD – IT – PS – Pest

SS – BB (or BS) – SS – BB

Blood priority and rotation

Blood’s rotation needs to be more flexible because Death Strike and Rune Tap will heal you, and should both be used regularly, but use runes you’d have otherwise spent on damaging the boss. You need to use heart strike initially to get your threat lead against the dps, then once you’re comfortably ahead you can start to self-heal.

Blood is easier to play with 26+ expertise skill too, because you can use more heart strikes.

Single target

Opening rotation

IT – PS – HS – HS – DS

DS – HS – HS – HS – HS – (DC)

Ongoing rotation

IT – PS – HS – HS – DS

lots of DS or HS or Rune tap (DC)

Priority

Bear in mind, rune tap and death strike’s priority goes up higher if you’re low on health. Try to only DS or HS on a target with both diseases, they’re very weak.

  1. frost fever
  2. blood plague
  3. heart strike
  4. death strike
  5. death coil

AOE

Blood isn’t the best AOE spec. You need to choose whether to use heart strike’s cleave or blood boil, depending on the number of targets. If you have 5 targets, use blood boil. Four or less targets, just switch your heart strike around so everyone gets cleaved.

So on four targets, you use the single-target rotation, but you should stick down a DnD too.

DnD – IT – PS – Pest

DS – BB – BB – DS

The death runes from DS then set you up for a nice long sequence of blood boils.

Glyph of disease

A nice glyph to use for an AOE-oriented tank spec. I tested Glyph of Disease (“GoD”) on Blood and found it wasn’t as strong threat as the alternatives. Check my latest Frost or Unholy pages, in 3.3, they don’t gain from GoD.

Some people like it for the simplified rotation, even on single targets, which you enjoy once the diseases are set up. For some dps specs, depending on which version of WoW we have :) , it can be a dps boost. For example: Unholy dps, GoD in 3.3 will not be a boost, dark death beats it, but it was fairly close.

With GoD in 3.22 you needed to be aware of your attack power (use a mod like Bleeding Hearts or DKinfo runes) and try to refresh when its highest. Not required in 3.3, patch changed it.

In general

The single target rotation is quite different after the initial IT/ PS have been done. It can use less GCDs which is helpful to as a tank (due to parries). See the readers’ comments below for more opinions on this glyph.

Note, GoD is not worth using in Frost. I tested it. Zero tps gain, because blood strike and icy touch hit fairly hard in frost.

The GoD rotation has two parts: (a) set up diseases (b) maintain them. The setup is like a normal rotation from above, but the difference is you save a blood rune until the last few moments of the disease duration, then hit Pestilence to renew all those diseases.

Then, you just maintain the diseases by basically spamming your IT/PS attacks of death strike or scourge strike, and refreshing diseases at the last moment. GoD means your hit rating is more valuable than otherwise, because you don’t want Pest to miss.

To comment

the discussion on this has moved to the forums.

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16 comments to What is the frost, unholy or blood rotation?

  • Gravity
    Twitter: gravitydk

    I’ve never used the GoD for long enough really to have an authoritative personal opinion on it. I have a view of it in theory, of course.
    For unholy tanking, it’s great for an AOE-oriented spec, but in terms of single-target TPS it is weaker than the alternatives (icy touch and rune strike).
    Frost, I’m not sure, I haven’t really looked at it.
    Blood, I like the simplified rotation it gives you but it does use a rune which otherwise could have been a powerful heart strike, so not sure of the numbers (yet).
    For DPSers, I know it’s a different story and have been reading Hinen’s blog about playing as a GoD-spec unholy DK; it has some quite specific moves.
    Opinions? I will sim it, but would like to hear some words of experience too.

  • Otarin

    I prefer to use GoD in my tank specs, because it’s nice to not have to waste 2 global cooldowns on refreshing my diseases. It also allows me to worry less about keeping them up. By having them both on the same timer and being refreshed on one button/ gcd, I can have my attention elsewhere.
    Could I get more threat out of not using it? Perhaps, but after using it for 2+ months now, I feel as though the loss would affect my threat and performance, at least until I got used to it.
    Although I generate less Runic Power, I don’t see that as an issue, especially since I dump my RP into Death Coils very little.
    I see GoD as a quality of life glyph, and one that allows you to spread your focus elsewhere.

  • Gravity, isn’t this rotation a better variation on yours

    IT, PS ,  OB, BS, BS, OB (RD)

    as if you do it like this your obiterate will be back faster. you will however have 2 GCD where you don’t have Blade barrier up

    And on a small sidenote. I use this when MTing shit that is a dps race like eg. saronite Animus

    IT, PS , BS, BS OB and then I reset the runed and OB OB OB. That should get you a +- 100K lead on the dps and then go back in the normal rotation. It is very snappie agro there and haven’t seen a DPS pull it off me yet.

    Further while we are on the rotation aspect is Glyph of disease a must cause it will add an extra obliterate and Will keep everything nice and tidy. If so what glyph can you replace …

    I have RS + OB + UA

  • Gravity
    Twitter: gravitydk

    Perhaps I should have a small section on ‘opening rotations’. Generally the best dps rotation is IT PS OB, you’re right, but it does leave your blade barrier down for a bit longer. (ps. I love how an unholy tank can run in with bone shield up without any rune problems).

    What did you mean by “RD”? Maybe I need a coffee this morning, but can’t work it out. :)

  • Rune Dump if needed I should have use FS or DC or something like that Sorry Gravity ^^.

    Boneshield should become a Spell and not a tallent :) Just cause it looks awsome and totally DK orientated :)

  • Gravity
    Twitter: gravitydk

    I’ve done blood and unholy now, was more difficult to codify than I’d thought since there are so many variables to a ‘rotation’. Please let me know if I’ve missed anything crucial or any mistakes!

    For some finer distinctions, I’m happy for readers to find it in the comments here.

  • I’ll have to look back at my posts regarding GOD and see if I’m clear on this.
    Here’s the big thing for dps (not sure for tanks since I’ve not tanked with GOD): IF USING GOD, you’re back to reaping.
     
    The ‘normal’ 3.2.2 unholy spec doesn’t use reaping or epidemic and refreshes diseases every rune cycle. It’s become very popular for both 2-handed unholy dps and for DW unholy dps.
     
    The GOD unholy spec uses reaping. That’s because after you have a nice stack of high-attack power diseases rolling, you don’t want to touch your icy touch or plague strike buttons again for the rest of the fight. They’d ‘write over’ your powerful diseases with less powerful ones.
    As Gravity has pointed out, there really isn’t a rotation for this. There’s a priority:
    1. Make sure to refresh diseases with pestilence, preferably within about a second of them expiring, but also right before you have to target switch or you get knocked out of melee range.
    2. Scourge Strike spam
    3. Death Coil if capped
    4. Blood Strike any blood rune not reserved for pestilence.
    5. Bone Shield should be refreshed when it expires (I usually blood tap immediately after to not lose that unholy rune for my next Scourge Strike)
    6. Horn of Winter if you have an empty global cooldown – for the runic power.
     
    If you’ve read my blog, you’ll see that I really like this spec. I find I’m doing very comparable dps on single target fights like heroic Northrend Beasts to the ‘classic’ blood single target dps, and if there’s even one add, this is considerably superior.
     
     
    Gravity, I like my comment, so I think I’m going to paste it in my blog as well. Thanks for bringing this up :)

  • Correction, and I feel silly now… :) we all make mistakes, though :)
     
    NO REAPING…. NO REAPING….
     
    my apologies. You still will use all your blood runes, one for pestilence, and the other to refresh desolation.
    I’ll have it all straight in my post on my blog.
     
    Sorry for the confusion.

    • Gravity
      Twitter: gravitydk

      Can’t you edit your own comments Hinen, with the various tools the site has; is there an ‘edit’ button? Then no-one would know you made a mistake.

  • Swan

    So with unholy you dont really use death strike at all, eh?

  • Matt

    Hey, I’m wondering if you happen to know any addons that announce when “Killing Machine” procs? I’m looking around curse, but am not really sure what to search for. I’ve just started to DK tank :P

    Thanks, Nice write up btw

  • Deathknugget

    I tank 5-man heroics only, and have no plans on ICC-5 or raiding right now. I am a HB glyphed 2-hand frost tank. My gear is ok (a mix of rep, crafted, and 2 pieces of T9). I am mostly concerned with AOE tanking.
    My AOE rotation may look like:
    D&D,HB,BB (FS)
    OB,OB,BB,BB (FS)
    I am looking for advice. I am considering glyphing for Death & decay and specing into Morbidity for extra openning threat? I want to keep Glyph of HB, so I’d have to drop Glyph of Rune strike or Oblidirate, and move point from Scent of Blood (currently 3/3).

    • Aracknight

      knugget, check out my frost spec. I have glyphed into DnD and reduced its cooldown. DPS find it impossible to pull aggro from me in five mans. My gear is probably better, but I can pull entire rooms of mobs with no issues. In ICC10, I hold aggro on the trash groups easily.

      http://www.wowarmory.com/character-sheet.xml?r=Medivh&cn=Aracknight

      As far as your aoe rotation, it looks good but make sure you’ve macroed Rune Strike into all your targeted strikes. Look on wowwiki for the exact syntax.

      I open like this: DnD, HB, BB, Blood Tap (for extra Blood rune), BB. I then take a nap while the DPS kill everything. With DnD on a short cooldown, this works on every pull (minus the BT, which is a longer CD).

      I feel strongly that a well-played Frost DK holds group aggro better than even a pally.