The Blood DK Guide (WIP)
Disclaimer: I do not claim to be a “professional” DK or the greatest source of knowledge on the subject. Many items along the line of spec, enchants, gems, glyphs, etc. are a matter of preference and playstyle. This is a guide and should only be used as a reference for playing a Death Knight as a tank.
And please note, this page is currently a Work-In-Progress.
Since the last patch of Wrath of the Lich King, Blood has been the primary tanking spec for Death Knights. All major survivability talents come from the Blood tree, and Blood Presence is the presence that grants us extra Stamina, Armor and Threat.
Very specific situations can make Frost an adequate spec for tanking, and I will touch on that briefly at the end of this guide.
Spec and Glyphs
As a DK, the first thing you should be familiar with is the class’ Talent Window. When you open the Talent Window for the first time, it will look similar to this screenshot from WoWhead.
For the purposes of this guide, which is only focusing on tanking, we are going to choose the Blood tree. Just for choosing Blood as the primary tree, you get a handful of Specialization Bonuses:
- Heart Strike – one of your primary AoE tanking abilities.
- Veteran of the Third War – a passive ability for tanking.
- Blood Rites – Death Runes are your friend.
- Vengeance – this ability goes to every tank and basically the more damage you take, the more Threat you gain.
- Mastery Ability: Blood Shield – every point of Mastery you acquire on your gear adds to the size of your Blood Shield.
Below is the spec I use at Level 85. This is primarily for gearing up through dungeons (especially PUG’ing) and soloing or dual-boxing.
Explanation of Points:
- Blade Barrier: Less damage taken equals happier healers.
- Bladed Armor: Basically, the more Armor you have, the more damage you do – this equates to a lot of damage for a tank.
- Improved Blood Tap: Blood Tap refreshes a Blood Rune, situational.
- Scent of Blood: Great for maintaining Runic Power, as you should always have mobs hitting/missing you.
- Scarlet Fever: Mobs do less damage when infected by your Blood Boil – more happy healers, situational, especially if you do not take Crimson Scourge or if another party/raid member has this debuff.
- ALTERNATE – Hand of Doom: Reduces Strangulate’s cooldown, situational.
- Bone Shield: While active you take less damage and deal more – win/win.
- Toughness: Increased armor = less damage you take.
- Abomination’s Might: Group buff for Attack Power, situational, but if you are mostly PUG’ing or solo this is a big plus.
- Sanguine Fortitude: Bonus to your Icebound Fortitude and makes it free to use.
- Blood Parasite: Bloodworms that attack your enemies and heal you and friends – they are non-controllable but win/win.
- Improved Blood Presence: Reduces mobs crits against you – a must have as a tank.
- Will of the Necropolis: This activates at low health, making you take less damage and finishing the cooldown on your Blood Tap for a self-heal to boot.
- Rune Tap: A self-heal, Glyphed this also heals friends.
- Vampiric Blood: Temporarily gives you more health and makes you easier to heal.
- Improved Death Strike: Makes Death Strike hit harder and heal for more – win/win.
- Crimson Scourge: Causes Blood Boil to do more damage and targets with diseases can proc free Blood Boils, situational, especially if you do not take Scarlet Fever.
- Dancing Rune Weapon: Mirrors your attacks for more damage and increases your Parry, situational.
- Unholy Command: Killing similar level mobs and players refreshes your Death Grip, situational.
- Epidemic: Increases the duration of your diseases – this is a plus so you can focus on harder hitting attacks and chase down any stragglers.
- ALTERNATE – Virulence: Increases the damage of your diseases, situational.
Stats Priority for Blood
Mastery > Stamina > Dodge = Parry > Expertise Soft Cap (26) > 8% Melee Hit
Enchants and Gems
When gemming, enchanting, and reforging think Mastery Mastery Mastery!
- Red – either Skillful or ___ (orange) – Strength/Mastery or Parry/Mastery (I use Strength/Mastery simply because my Parry is always a lot higher than my Dodge and I try to keep them even)
- Yellow – Fractured (yellow) – Straight Mastery (And Jeweler Gems for Mastery if you are a Jewelcrafter)
- Blue – Puissant (green) – Stamina/Mastery (I do not promote Stamina-stacking in ANY situation, but to match a blue socket, Stamina is second best to Mastery)
- Prismatic – Fractured (yellow) – Straight Mastery
- Meta – Austere – Stamina/Armor
- Head –
- Shoulders –
- Chest – +20 to all Stats
- Wrist – Mastery
- Hands – Mastery
- Belt – Ebonsteel Belt Buckle (not an enchant, but very important to remember!)
- Legs – Stamina and Dodge
- Feet – Mastery and Movement Speed
- Back – +250 Armor
- Weapon – Rune of Swordshattering (DK Ability)
Only after you have maximized your stats through gemming and enchanting should you head to the reforger. Be sure to look at your gear overall before you start reforging, or the process may end up costing you more money.
- Expertise Soft Cap – Expertise is fairly important for a DK, though not as desperately so as pre-4.3.
- Hit – Yes, you probably should have your hit capped, but once again, this is not a huge deal at this point in DK tanking.
- Mastery – Any piece that you have not reforged for 1 and 2 should have Mastery on it, and if it does not – reforge Mastery onto it.
- Dodge/Parry – Because of Rune of Swordshattering, DKs tend to have an overabundance of Parry compared to Dodge. For this reason, I tend to make a point to reforge to Dodge – even if I am reforging some Parry to Dodge. Diminishing returns mean you will get the most bang for your buck by keeping Parry and Dodge mostly equal.
Rotations and Pulling
Death Knights do not have a rotation so much as a list of priorities. In its simplest form, here is what you should be focusing on:
Diseases (spread, if AoE’ing) > Death Strike (if you have taken damage recently) > Rune Strike (if you have Runic Power) > Heart Strike/Blood Boil (only on AoE pulls, or if Blood Boil procs)
Easiest way to decide between using Heart Strike and Blood Boil:
- 3 or less mobs = Heart Strike
- More than 3 mobs = Blood Boil
- Blood Boil is also better for rounding things up than Heart Strike because of its range – just beware of CC’d mobs nearby, especially if you have Blood Boil Glyphed!
AOE Trash: I like to pull with Death and Decay whenever I can (while running in), as it is a high threat ability and good for rounding up trash quickly, especially if your DPS is a very go-go-go and/or you have a pre-HoT’ing Druid. Otherwise, Blood Boil is okie for tagging everything quickly. Then, disease (with Outbreak, if it is up, Icy Touch and Plague Strike, if not), spread your diseases to all the mobs. Then, use melee abilities during cooldown periods for your AoE abilities and when all diseases are still up.
Single Trash: If there is no chance of pulling another group by doing so, and as long as it is not on cooldown, run in while casting Death and Decay. Apply your diseases and go to town. Following up with some Rune Strikes as soon as you have the Runic Power is good, especially on single mobs, as the DPS is likely to go all out.
Boss: Remember to go all out, right from the beginning, as that is probably what your DPS will do. Death Coil (if you have Runic Power) or Icy Touch (if you have no Runic Power) are fairly adequate for pulling – but not by themselves. I usually like to drop my Death and Decay on the pull, while I am running in. A cooldown like Icebound Fortitude (while your healer gets into position) and your Dancing Rune Weapon are good ways to start a Boss fight.
Maintaining Threat: This is usually not an issue while taking on a DK, from my experience. However, while you are still at a low iLevel, or tanking for party members doing exceptional DPS and/or burst damage, there are times when you may need to pick up stray mobs or keep a particular mob from getting distracted.
One last thing about pulling: Do not start a pull with Death Grip. Death Grip causes the mob to attack you for a few seconds but causes zero threat and merely allows the DPS to start gaining aggro on you. If you must single pull a mob, use Death Coil (if you have Runic Power) or Icy Touch (if you have no Runic Power).
The one exception to this is a caster mob. If running in an AoE’ing is not a logical move, I often pick out the caster and Death Grip them to me. This tactic is less successful if a pull contains more than one caster.
For the majority of trash pulls, do not pull mobs to you – run in. Obviously, a fair amount of awareness of your surroundings is necessary, but this keeps you moving forward and usually ahead of the DPS, no matter how go-go-go they are.
But the point is, Death Grip is more appropriate for oh-shit moments:
- I have a pack of mobs on me, but oh-shit the caster is over there and I am losing their threat.
- I have all the mobs attacking me, but oh-shit that Mage is OP and a mob is running straight for his face.
- I am tanking away on this pack of mobs, but oh-shit that patrol is coming by and going to aggro a party member.
Cooldowns and Survivability
Death Knights have a good number of cooldowns and survivability skills.
Beginner 85 Guide
My suggestion for leveling a DK you plan to play at 85 is to keep end-game in mind while you are leveling. That said, once you hit Level 80 and start approaching the current expansion’s content, it is a good idea to level with factions you will need at Level 85 high on your priorities. This means, leveling through zones you will need later: Hyjal and Deepholm, especially.
Hyjal (Level 80-82ish): Firelands dailies are a great place for gear (and cash) even now that we are in the next Tier. To access the Firelands dailies at Level 85, you have to have completed the majority of the Hyjal quests. So what better time to start then when the zone is level appropriate?
Deepholm (Level 82-84ish): Even though all of the Cataclysm faction head enchants are BoA (available from various factions, dependent on your stat needs), the shoulder enchants (available from Therazane rep) are only useable if you are Revered/Exalted with Therazane. So leveling through Deepholm is another good spot – get a jump on this now, so that your Therazane faction is easy to finish up at Level 85.
Twilight Highlands (84-85): There is no absolute need to level through Twilight Highlands, but it seems the quickest XP. Plus, there is the Crucible of Carnage, which is a great chunk of XP for the long haul from 84 to 85.
Dungeons and Dungeon Finder: I am not ruling out Dungeons in the least. Dungeons have great item drops for leveling and getting started in Heroics, and if you do your 7 Dungeon Finder queues per week, the end rewards are good cash and good XP.
Just keep in mind, if you are leveling with BoA’s, as soon as you hit Cataclysm content, you are going to face-smash into a wall. Cataclysm dungeons are the only normal dungeons with iLevel requirements. It will be necessary to either swap out your BoAs (the items that only work through Level 80 are high on this list) or at least carry with you equippable gear of a high enough iLevel to boost you into the appropriate range for dungeons.
BoAs have an iLevel of 1 – meaning that do not help your overall iLevel, in fact, they hurt it a lot.
There are some very specific situations where tanking in a Frost Spec is useful – the add-tank on Magmaw and the add-tank on Nefarion. Now obviously, my two given examples are from two Tiers ago in Blackwing Descent. I have not seen any other fights that I find Frost particularly useful, but who knows? The Frost Tank’s time may come again. (Or I may just still be sore that I loved Frost tanking in Wrath.) There also may be fights I am not familiar with that use this technique.
Basically, Frost is so nice for add-tanking because of the great AoE threat potential of Howling Blast added to Death and Decay.
Warning: Using a Frost Spec to tank requires a fair amount of kiting, as you have far less survivability than a Blood DK. Turn on Blood Presence for threat, AoE all the things, and run around screaming like a little girl and you’ve got it. In fact, I have known some PUG tanks that seem to have this idea down pat. ;) The biggest thing to remember – do not just stand there and let all the adds beat on you in this spec! Your healers will probably not appreciate it.
Mists of Pandaria Talents (Pre-release Peeks)
November 23rd, 2011: Today, Blizzard released a Talent Calculator for Mists of Pandaria. It is still in its early stages. Please see the comments by Bashiok, and remember that it is about 95% guaranteed that these will change before MoP release.
February 15th, 2012: Update released for all of the MoP talent trees. Available for review and more information here.