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Death Knight tanks work very differently from other tanking classes, because their dedicated tanking talent tree, Blood, is a tree that allows for consistent and reliable self-healing, instead of the typical damage reduction and avoidance seen in other tanking classes' talents.
How others see you as a Tank
In PuGs, especially LFD groups, Death Knights often have the stigma of being poor and inexperienced tanks. In general, this stigma dissipates at higher levels and is mainly prominent in early Outland dungeons, because this is where some people who play Death Knights queue as tanks to get faster dungeons, but where those with no idea how to tank, are concentrated. Once they get to higher levels, such people are usually told off by frustrated party members, so if you actually are a good Death Knight tank, you will not suffer this prejudice in Northrend.
At Wrath of the Lich King end-game content, Death Knights are considered one of the stronger tank classes. Many high end raiding guilds have DKs as Main tanks and Off tanks, because of their flexibility and high effective health.
- Main article: Tank
Tanks have 3 roles in an effective raid or group. Firstly, to hold Aggro by maintaining the highest Threat on all enemies. Second is Survivability, which is the tank's ability to mitigate and avoid incoming damage, and to increase the total damage they can receive. Third is Raid awareness and functionality, and what is meant by this is boss placement (both location and direction).
- Threat, in detail:
A tank must generate enough Threat to hold Aggro off of the DPS and Healers in the raid or group. Threat is a number based system in which each individual Mob or Raid boss keeps track of the damage and high threat attacks caused to them, and focus their attention at the highest threat player or NPC in the vicinity. Threat comes in two types, Area of Effect based threat (usually associated with Trash (mob)s) and Single target threat (usually on Raid Bosses and Strong Trash (mob)s).
- Survivability, in detail:
In general, survivability is a tanks ability to stay alive through mitigation and avoidance of incoming damage. Mitigation is the lessening of damage per hit, and is generally seen as the most effective tank method of increasing survivability. Mitigation mostly involves the rotation of tank-based Cooldowns, as well as static Armor. Avoidance, which is seen to be finicky and unreliable survivability stats, involve Miss Dodge, Parry and Block (DKs do not use shields, and cannot block). Finally, total Stamina is extremely important, as it increases total health pool and gives the healers more reaction time to heal you, as well as helps absorb chained non-avoided attacks. In current end-game content, it is generally agreed upon that "Effective Health" is the most important stat for a tank. Effective health is the total health pool of a tank, multiplied by the static physical damage mitigation from armor. In other words, Tanks' most effective method of increasing their survivability is to increase the total damage they can take before dying by increasing armor, static damage reductions and Health.
- Raid Functionality and Awareness, in detail:
Certainly, every raid member should be aware of their surroundings and know their role in it, and tanks have a very key and central role in almost every fight in end-game content. Most fights require bosses to be placed in a certain location and faced in a certain direction. An example of this would by Onyxia, a Dragon who cannot by faced towards the raid (because of Flame Breath) and cannot be faced directly away from the raid (Tail Swipes); she also must be tanked with the tank's back against a wall, or he will constantly be knocked back by wing buffets. Some fights require a boss to be kited, or moved, from specific location to another area. An example of this would be Professor Putricide, who must be kited back and forth through the room at every add spawn, kited out of goo, ooze and Choking gas bombs. Many fights also have Adds that spawn, and must be picked up by an Off-Tank, and placed in a certain location. An example of this would be Anub'arak, who spawns Nerubian Adds who must be picked up and placed on patches of ice, so they will not burrow. Remember: Every boss encounter is different, and everyone will expect you to know exactly what you're doing. Research the fight before attempting tanking it, and if you still don't feel comfortable, do the fight a couple times as a DPS until you get the hang of it.
Generating Threat and Holding Aggro
- Main article: Threat
Death Knights are unique in their methods of threat generation. Unlike Druids, Warriors and Paladins, Death Knights use much the same rotation as a Wrath-era DPS Death Knight would, with a few small variations. Death Knights have a 200% Threat Multiplier while in Blood Presence, which doubles the threat caused by the damage put out by that Death Knight. Other moves have multipliers as well, in order to generate threat and give structure to DK Tank rotation:
- Rune Strike: Consumes Runic Power and 1 Global Cooldown. Produces extra threat.
- Death and Decay (death knight ability): Consumes 1 Global Cooldown and 1 Unholy Rune, 1 Blood Rune places an AoE move on the ground, Produces extra threat.
- Death Strike: Consume 1 Frost Rune, 1 Unholy Rune and 1 Global Cooldown. Heals the Death Knight for an amount proportional to recent damage taken and activates the Blood mastery, shielding the Death Knight against future physical damage.
- On multiple targets, Death and Decay should be used whenever possible, because it deals significant bonus threat.
- Blood Presence should always be used while tanking. The Presence increases armor contribution from items by 30% and total stamina by 8%. The key dynamic is the increased threat generation. Blood Presence grants a 200% bonus to threat generated (multiplied by the bonus threat from Rune Strike and Death and Decay).
- Death Strike should be the primary(if only) ability on which you expend Frost and Unholy runes.
The dynamic allows a DK to tank without a shield (similar to a Druid’s Bear form). Because a DK can achieve moderate armor without a shield through Frost Presence DKs can equip two-handed weapons(and are balanced around using them).
When opening combat on a group of multiple enemies, the easiest way is to walk in close and, just as they start to attack you, lay down Death and Decay at your feet. Diseases may be spread via Outbreak->Pestilence, but manual reapplication of diseases should be avoided as it costs you short-term survivability(runes compete with Death Strike). All Unholy, Frost and Death runes should be spent on Death Strikes, while Blood runes should be spent on Heart Strike. If facing a very large number of enemies, or to grab a small amount of snap aggro, Blood Boil may be substituted for Heart Strike. Even on pulls larger than three mobs, tabbing and using Heart Strike and Death Strike will produce much more overall threat and damage than using Blood Boil.
Alternatively, you can lay down a Death and Decay at your feet, and then use Death Grip to pull an enemy to you - if the rest of the mobs are melee, they will run into your waiting AoE. When using this method, obviously pick out the caster(s) in the group for Death Grip. Then continue the rotation as above.
Death and Decay, if you watch your runes, can be extremely helpful if you have a problem with sustained AoE threat (or new adds) - 2/2 Morbidity is a great talent to help this. However, your AoE are likely to hold threat without extra uses of D&D in something such as a heroic.
For opening attacks on a single target, you should use Outbreak from a distance. You should not use Death and Decay. Once in melee range, make sure to use Death Strike to gain a blood shield and try to keep your Blood runes down to maintain Blade Barrier.
For either single-target or AoE, you'll want to save your runic power for Rune Strike. Rune Strike should be used whenever both Frost or both Unholy runes are on cooldown. Avoid using RS when both Blood runes are down, as this can proc a free Blood rune and cause you to lose Blade Barrier.
Like all other tanks, Death Knight tanks should specialize in Mastery. After Mastery, DK tanks should focus on stamina and avoidance(dodge and parry). Expertise and Hit are also useful for additional threat, but not as essential, as Parry Hasting has been all but removed from the game. Taunts and off-GCD interrupts are no longer able to miss.
There are a few other abilities important to tanks:
- Dark Command is a standard taunt. It commands the target to attack you, but has no effect if the target is already attacking you. It may be used once every 8 seconds.
- Death Grip draws the target toward the DK and taunts the enemy, focusing its attacks on the caster for 3 seconds, and interrupts spellcasting. While it may be tempting to use this ability whenever possible, Dark Command is the more effective taunt because it has a much shorter cooldown. Use Death Grip only if Dark Command is on cooldown or if you need to pull a caster mob into melee range. Most bosses are immune to the 'grip' effect, but the 3-second taunt is still applied.
- Strangulate is a ranged silence. It will make a spellcasting mob run into melee range with you.
- Mind Freeze is a standard interrupt. While DPS classes should be interrupting spells, too often they will forget, and the job will fall to you.
- Army of the Dead summons ten ghouls to fight by your side for one minute or until killed. In 5-man instances, many Death Knights use this on bosses, but this is ineffective and somewhat dangerous: the ghouls will repeatedly taunt the boss, spinning it around and potentially exposing other party members to cleave or AoE attacks. There are two situations in which the ability is actually useful: very tough multiple-target packs, and to prevent a wipe. In both cases, the ghouls will distract the enemies for 20-30 seconds, allowing your healers time to top everyone off and you to build up enough threat. As of Patch 3.3.3, AotD also causes a Tanking Cool Down of static reduced damage equal to your Dodge % + your Parry % while channeling the spell.
Level ?? are immune to the taunt effect, but any adds they may spawn will not be.
Horn of Winter is a typical part of most Death Knight DPS rotations, and has a place in tanking rotations as well. The buff to agility and strength amount to significant dodge and parry increases as well as providing free runic power. This ability should be used whenever you have a free global cooldown(not that often).
Death knight tanks use a two-handed weapon. There are three two-handed runeforge options for a death knight tank:
- Rune of Swordshattering increases parry rating.
- Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle increases armor and stamina.
- Rune of Spellshattering decreases magic damage taken. This rune has utility in certain fights, for example, Ultraxion in Dragon Soul.
A DK needs to survive in order to do his/her job of holding aggro. Not dying is always a plus, and since a tank earns his/her pay by getting beat up, let’s take a look at how a DK can best mitigate damage.
All DKs (regardless of spec) have some abilities that help survival:
- Icy Touch chills the target for X Frost damage and infects them with Frost Fever, a disease that reduces ranged, melee attack, and casting speed by 15% for 12 seconds.
- Mind Freeze is a spell interrupt. Useful on mobs that have a powerful attack with a long cast time.
- Death Strike deals 60% weapon damage plus X and heals the Death Knight for a percent of damage done for each of <his/her> diseases on the target. Core ability for Blood, occasionally useful for Frost and Unholy.
- Strangulate silences an enemy for 5 seconds. This is an instant cast with a 30 yard range and a two minute cool down. Very useful for drawing casters close.
- Death Pact sacrifices an undead minion, healing the Death Knight for 40% of his/her maximum health. Needs to be prepared in advance, since death knight tanks do not have a permanent ghoul. will make this ability less taxing.
- Icebound Fortitude freezes the Death Knight's blood to become immune to Stun effects and reduce all damage by 20% for 12 seconds. The amount of damage reduced can be increased by Defense. At 535 defense (which every tank should have), damage is reduced by about 45%. This is the largest Death Knight tanking cooldown.
- Anti-Magic Shell surrounds the DK with a shell that absorbs 75% of the damage dealt by harmful spells. Damage absorbed by shell energizes the DK with additional runic power. Lasts 5 sec. Useful for mobs that use a long-cast-time PBAoE spell, obviating the need to run away from the attack. Also useful for bosses with strong magical attacks, such as Sindragosa's Frost Breath.
- Chains of Ice Shackles the target with frozen chains, reducing their movement by 95%. The target regains 10% of their movement each second for 10 sec. Useful for kiting mobs that hit so hard that they cannot be tanked for very long, like the Blistering Zombies in the Valithria Dreamwalker encounter.
Each of these abilities helps the DK to survive in one way or another, either to reduce the damage that he/she sustains, or to replenish some of the health that the DK has lost. DK’s combine the mitigation/avoidance with health replenishment in their survivability mechanisms.
Tanks are asked to work in one of two potential scenarios – tanking trash and tanking bosses. The player will need to decide where he/she would like to specialize, because the three talent trees emphasize different aspects of tanking.
Blood Tree Talents
The Blood tree specializes in increasing healing done to the tank (you), self healing and effective health. Tank-specific blood tree talents are:
• Blade Barrier (5/5, Whenever your Blood Runes are on cooldown, you gain 5% damage reduction for 20 seconds.) Every tank regardless of spec should have this ability.
• Spell Deflection (3/3, Optional. If you are not having threat problems, it is better than an increase to damage talent)
• Veteran of the Third War (3/3, Increases your Stamina.)
• Rune Tap (1/1, Optional. However, if you are not having threat problems, there is no reason not to take this talent. If used properly, it can prevent wipes.
• Improved Rune Tap (3/3, Optional. Recommended if you spent a point in Rune Tap)
• Mark of Blood (1/1, Causes each attack done by the boss to heal the current Tank for 4% of their Maximum Health, up to 20 times)
• Vampiric Blood (1/1, Increases the amount of health generated through spells and effects by 35% and increases health by 15% for 15 sec.) The tooltip is misleading: all healing done to you benefits, not just your own. This results in a Tanking CD, that acts as a mini-Last Stand and Guardian Spirit simultaneously.
• Will of the Necropolis (3/3, When you have less than 35% health, your damage taken by any attack is reduced by up to 15%.)
• Improved Death Strike (2/2, Increases self healing from Death Strike to 15% of your Maximum Health)
The Blood Tree is filled with Health increasing and Self-Healing talents. Because threat should not be a problem for any DK Tank in 3.3.3 or above, there is no reason to waste potential mitigation and survivability opportunities on increasing already adequate threat. Hysteria, 1/1 would also be a good option for a raid buff for a feral druid, combat rogue or warrior DPS in your raid.
A Blood DK Tank, with the 4-set T10 Bonus (12% damage reduction for 10 seconds after using Blood Tap), should have enough CD's to rotate for any given length of a fight. The only CDs that should not be used on CD to maintain a constant tanking cooldown, are Anti-Magic shell (Save for large burst of magic damage) and Icebound Fortitude (An Oh SH** moment button, also useful for a large spike of damage, such as the Lich King's soul reaper ability).
As a Blood Tank, your normal Attack should be Heart Strike, as it strikes a target and its ally, increasing your AoE threat on mobs. Make sure to put points into Death Rune Mastery to convert your Frost and Unholy Runes to Death Runes after a Death Strike. Icy Touch can also be used for snap threat and weak threat tanks. Most tanks spec some into Frost and Unholy, for increased Frost Damage and Icy Touch Damage (Largest increase to overall threat) as well as Unholy for Spell Hit and Dodge.
Depending on your spec and gear as a tank, the best glyph choices for you will vary. The 2 piece Tier 10 set bonus for Death Knight tanks provides the same effect as , so if you have 2 pieces of Tier 10 already, this glyph is generally unnecessary. It is also unnecessary if you are not having trouble with AoE threat without the glyph. However, it should be noted that it does stack, and if combined with a Howling Blast or an Unholy Spec, the AoE is very high, and if Blood specced, it can provide the AoE threat that that tree somewhat lacks.
Every Death Knight talent tree has a 1 minute tanking cooldown in it. For Blood tanks, this ability is Vampiric Blood. For Frost tanks, this is Unbreakable Armor. For Unholy tanks, this is Bone Shield. In general, glyphing whichever of these three abilities you have is worthwhile. However, it should be noted that the Unbreakable Armor glyph is only useful for sub-Icecrown geared tanks, as it will only waste more armor over the Armor Cap (49,900 Armor). The Vampiric Blood glyph is espsecially important because it will cause your Vampiric Blood to last longer than it takes for runes to cool down, allowing at least one Death Strike heal to be increased by 35%.
Death knight tanks will look for Mastery first. Parry, Dodge, and Stamina will be secondary options depending on the type of slot. For example, it may be preferable to fill a red gem slot with an orange gem like the to fulfill the gem slot requirements for a bonus.
- Head Slot:
- Neck Slot: N/A
- Shoulder Slot:
- Back Slot:
- Chest Slot:
- Wrist Slot:
- Hand Slot:
- Waist Slot:
- Leg Slot:
- Feet Slot:
- Ring Slots: Enchant Ring - Greater Stamina if you are an Enchanter
- Weapon: See runeforging section above.