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  1. #1
    Fluffy Kitten Zao's Avatar
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    Aug 2008

    4.3 Death Knight Tanking Guide and Discussion

    Updated for 4.3

    Hello and welcome to the new tanking sticky.

    While this sticky should give you all the basic information to step into raid and tank most content successfully, you should also check the tanking sticky on

    There you will find many people to discuss everything related to DK tanking with a strong focus on top notch tanking.

    And just a note here, since this question is asked extremely often (And yes, I will copy & paste this each time the question is asked):

    Nobody knows if Mastery>Avoidance or the other way around. Both ways are viable for endgame raiding and are fairly close together.

    Now to the actual guide.

    1. General Tanking Mechanics
    2. Talents and Glyphs
    3. Gearing, Gemming, Enchanting and Reforging
    4. Professions

    1. General Tanking Mechanics

    1.1 Threat
    Threat is mainly generated through two different ways (there are more but those bear little meaning to this guide).

    Damage: This usually has a 1:1 Damage to threat conversion, however, this threat can be modified by certain abilities and talents. For most DPS, threat reducing talents have been reduced, so most of them will have roughtly the same Threat per second (TPS) as they have DPS.
    Tanks all have a threat modifier of 500%, which basically means that we generate five times our damage as threat. This modifier is only active in the tanks tanking "stance", which would be Blood Presence for DKs.

    DKs also have two abilities that have a threat modifier of their own. One of those is Rune Strike, which has a modifier of 150%, which means that we get 7.5x it's damage as threat when calculating Blood Presence in.
    The other ability would be Death and Decay which has a modifier of 190% which makes it our most powerful AoE tanking ability.

    The second big threat generation comes from Healing. Healing causes 50% of the Effective healing value (everything that's not overhealing) as threat.
    This value is split amongst all targets if there's more than one, and is also modified by Blood Presence.

    1.2 Threat Generation
    Generating threat is one of the two important tasks a tank has, the other one being survival. Threat has an absolute value. As long as you can keep the #2 in your threat meter from pulling threat, it does not matter how much more you do since everything above that is wasted. That said: Try to do as much Threat as possible without sacrificing too much survival. You never know what might happen, and having a healthy threat lead might keep the crit lucky DPS from pulling threat during a Burst phase.

    To pull threat, a DPS (or a healer) is required to get above a certain threshold of threat above the current tank. This threshold is 110% above the tank if they stand in Meleerange of the boss and 130% if they stand out of range.

    But even if that happens, don't worry. Tanks have an ability that can prevent the DPS from wiping. That ability would be our taunts, Dark Command and Death Grip.
    Special encounter mechanics aside, taunts put you on top of the threat list during their duration and if you continue to generate more threat than the other people, you'll stay on top afterwards.
    Only use taunts in situation where a boss is actually running towards a DPS, it does not have an effect otherwise.

    1.3 Surviving
    Surviving is our second most important task.
    Now this is nothing that can easily be explained, I can only give you a few tips on how to survive as a DK tank.

    • React to boss abilities. Most bosses have a special mechanic that either requires the tank to run out/into something or to use a cooldown. Keep your eyes open to use a cooldown at the right moment or to run out of the fire.
    • Use your cooldowns intelligently. Even if there's no big boss ability coming, you should use your cooldowns on a regular basis, since everything that helps the healers, helps you to stay alive.
    • Never turn your back to a boss. If you turn your back to a boss, you can not parry or dodge, which increases your damage taken by a large amount.
    • Use your Death Strike to maximise the damage negated. More on this later.

    1.4 General Tanking Tips

    • If you have to move a boss, strafe away from him. This way you're able to run at a 100% speed, but you'll also be ablte to parry/dodge and to attack the boss.
    • If you need to move a boss a few steps back, just walk into his hitbox a bit and the boss will adjust himself.
    • Adjust to your raid. Even in guilds you'll have different setups. Get used to how the people in your group play and adjust yourself.

    1.5 How to use your abilities

    Death Strike: Death Strike heals you for either 7% of your total Health or for 20% (29% with improved Death Strike) of the damage taken during the last 5 seconds, whichever is higher. Our Mastery also shields us for a certain amount of the damage healed, no matter if it's overheal or not, but you cannot get a shield with a value greater than 100% of your health.
    Now to use DS the most effectively, you need to know the bosses abilities, just wait to use DS until after a big hit comes in and if that's not the case within the next 5 seconds, DS right away. Our new ressource system allows us to use DS while our second pair of F/U runes is regenerating, without loosing any TPS. But you should try not to use RS during that time either, so you do not waste any Runic Empowerment proccs.
    Of course the above only applies if you're having a good threat lead.

    Cooldowns: Now for most Cooldowns you should always use one for a big hit ability from a boss. If the boss does not have any of these, or if you know that your CD will be over by the time the next hits, you should use them whenever possible to reduce the stress on your healers. The exception of this is Vampiric Blood, which does not reduce the damage taken, but instead increases your Health. Aside from a rather minor gain in DS healing it does not affect the healing you require and should be saved for one of those "zomfg I'm at 10% health" moments.

    1.6 "Diseaseless Tanking"
    This term was coined when Outbreak still had a 60 second CD. With 4.3 we can apply diseases for zero cost and a 100% uptime.
    You should still keep Plague Strike and Icy Touch on your bars however, because Outbreak can miss. And if that happens, you'll have to apply the debuffs manually.

    1.7 "Rotation"/Priority System
    First off: We don't have a rotation. The new rune system in combination with RE makes that nigh impossible.

    Priority System:

    1. Survive. It doesn't matter if you're on top of damage, or if you mitigate 2% more damage. If you don't use a CD when it's necessary or run out of fire, you're doing it wrong
    2. If the 20% Haste/10% damage debuff are not on the boss, apply them
    3. Use DS intelligently. Section 1.5 helps with that, as well as the addon "Blood Shield Tracker"
    4. Use RS when at least either a Frost or Unholy Rune ist on cd and has not begun to regenerate. I'll add an advanced section for that later
    5. DRW Can either be used at the beginning, or during the fight. Just check your threat meter.


    1. Mark Stuff. Be a good tank and at least mark a skull and maybe a cross. If cc is available, use it and mark a cc target
    2. Death and Decay a bit in front of the group, so the tip of it just touches the mob closest to you. This is to prevent that mobs don't run out of DnD while you're still running towards them.
    3. If necessary: DG a caster to you
    4. IT on skull
    5. Pestilence
    6. Blood Boil
    7. Depending on your Blood Runes either DS or BB (if >3 targets) or HS (if <4 targets)
    8. Rune Strike, and if you have a comfortable threat lead, tab through targets and RS them too.
    9. Interrupt and use DSi

    2. Talents and Glyphs

    It's commonly agreed on, that the Lichborne subspec is the superior one, but the Unholy subspec has the same points in blood

    2.1 List of Controversial Talents
    Now, not everyone will agree witht the above specs, since there are some talents that are not considered mandatory and whose distribution will differ from player to player.

    Butchery Yes, the RP it provides is tiny. But it's still a better choice for survivability than BA

    Bladed Armor For raiding this talent has lost a lot of it's appeal. 1000 AP doesn't make much difference when you're already running around with 20-30k. The points are better spent in Butchery and SoB for a slight boost in RP and therefore survivability.

    Improved Blood Tap You should take iBT if you use it regularily. It's half a DS every 30 seconds, which is quite powerful. But if you find yourself not using it, it's safe to skip it.

    Scarlet Fever: This is a utility talent. But it's suggested running with it, since you can't always count on another player applying it.

    Blood Caked Blade: Since you'll be running without diseases half of the time, the worth of this talent is greatly reduced.

    Bone Shield: It's a decent cooldown, but the Runecost makes it very impractical to use after the pull. It's a strong cooldown, but you must use it itelligently, because under certain circumstances BSh can be far weaker or far stronger than the average DS heal+shield.

    Abomination's Might: This relies on your raid setup. In most 25 man groups you can safely skip it. In 10 mans it can be an issue though.

    Blood Parasite: The healing from the worms is quite powerful and rather intelligent. Their problem is, that the healing is often overheal outside of raid content and that the hitbox of some bosses (mainly dragons) causes issues with the heal's range.

    Crimson Scourge The RP gain per point is slightly lower than a third point in SoB would bring.

    2.2 Subspecs
    Obviously there are only two real choices.
    Unholy or Frost.

    Unholy: The main reason to take unholy is the fact that all 8 points you spend give you a (minor) benefit to your threat. Epidemic increases the uptime of the diseases applied by Outbreak and IT/PS, which can help in the case you need to run with IT/PS and otherwise is just some free threat. However: Threat is not an issue in current content, and therfore the LB subspec is recommended
    Morbidity is a very strong buff to your AoE threat and while that doesn't really help on pure singletarget fights, it sure is very helpful.

    Frost: The only reason for subspeccing Frost is to take Lichborne. Everything in the first tier of Frost is completely useless for tanking (and for most DPS specs while we're at it). Lichborne however can be quite powerful when combined with a full stack of vengeance and something around 60 RP. SInce a Deathcoil can heal you for 30k in that case.
    It does require a lot of planning though, and pooling around your RP for that is a loss in threat (RS) as well as a loss in DS (through Runic Empowerment)
    But it can be quite powerful when used skillfully.

    2.3 Recommended Glyphs
    Since Glyphswapping has become a lot easier after 4.0.1 it's not as big an issue as it was before.So I'll make two sets: One for Singeltarget and one for AoE tanking.

    Glyph of Death Coil For The unholy subspec you'd want Glyph of Death and Decay
    Glyph of Heart Strike
    Glyph of Death Strike


    Glyph of Vampiric Blood
    Glyph of Rune Tap
    Glyph of Anti-Magic Shell

    Glyph of Blood Tap
    Glyph of Path of Frost
    Since the nerf to the GoDeath's Embrace, it no longer has any use.

    2.3.1 Glyph discussion

    Glyph of Death and Decay For AoE tanking this is very helpful, on the usual bossfight without adds, it doesn't have much use though
    Glyph of Death Coil This glyph is very powerful in the usual LB ubspec and should replace one of the three threat glyphs we have.

    Glyph of Heart Strike Glyph of Rune Strike Glyph of Death Strike Since threat is not an issue currently, we can choose those glyphs for the average DPS increase, which would rank them like this: DS>HS>RS. If you wnat the highest TPS increase it's DS>RS>HS. But I would still recommend HS over RS because of the cleave effect.

    Major Glyphs:

    Glyph of Anti-Magic Shell This is a good albeit situational glyph. The two additional seconds can provide a bit more absorbption on constant magical damage effects like magic auras, or it extends the range in which it can be used on abilities that do not have a fixed timer and are instant cast.

    Glyph of Blood BoilFor AoE tanking this is quite powerful as it allows you to pick up adds that are a bit further away, or to catch that nasty caster that stands right outside your range.

    Glyph of Bone Shield This is a good glyph, since running around faster when you need it is always great.

    Glyph of Dancing Rune Weapon Great threat glyph. But threat is currently something we have plenty of and DRW is not ready at the beginning of a standard bossfight, which is when we could need a 50% threat buff the most.

    Glyph of Pestilence Pretty much the same arguments like GoBB

    Glyph of Rune Tap Rune Tap should be used often, since a 10% heal is quite powerful. And helping 4 other people also out with their health is cool and pleases your healer. Keep in mind though that it really only works on your party, not your raid.

    Glyph of Vampiric Blood Often overlooked. My personal experience is that the standard iteration of VB doesn't help much, because when youre at 10% health already, something must've gone wrong already. And it doesn't help outside of the "oh shit" moments. Glyphing it however makes it something that you basically want to use on cd since it's a great help to your healers, and if they have to heal you less, they can save more mana.

    Minor Glyphs:

    Glyph of Blood Boil Reduces damage taken when you use Bloodtap. While the damage you take from BT is neglible, it's still something and only few of the minor glyphs have an actual use for tanking.

    Glyph of Horn of Winter Not that useful, since it saves you one gcd every 6 minutes. and blood isn't exactly gcd starved

    Glyph of Path of Frost has situational use on a boss that has some sort of knock up. If that's the case, it's a very powerful glyph however, since even a moderate falling distance might cost you a good 30k health and GoPoF reduces that significantly.

    Glyph of Resilient Grip Sounds great. However: The glyph doesn't tell you that it doesn't work on bosses.

    3. Gearing, Gemming, Reforging And Enchanting

    3.1 What's the best gearing strategy?
    Currently there is no consensus on what to gear for. Stamina has lost a great deal of importance, and is no longer the go to stat. However, there is still a certain amount of health you need, a general rule of thumb is to have enough Health to survive 4-5 Hits without healing. If you want a rough guideline take this:

    5 Man Heroics: 125k-150k buffed
    Normal Mode Raiding: 175k-200k buffed
    Heroic Mode Raiding: 200k+ buffed

    After you've got sufficent health, go for either Mastery or avoidance. It's been shown, that both are viable for endgame raiding, but it's unclear which is truly better. But it's clear that it's more beneficial to go for either avoidance or mastery and not the middle way.
    These are just guidelines. Chances are you'll be able to tank stuff with less health, so don't chicken out before you've tried it and be flexible with your gearing. Your healers should have a good impression on how well you've geared and you should listen to what they have to say.

    3.2 Reforging

    Expertise and Hit are threat stats with 4.3. They have almost zero survival value. But missing a string of DS in a row, especially at the beginning of a fight, can be quite hurtful. Generally it's not worth it though.

    Avoidance: Since Parry and Dodge both have an requal rate of Diminishing returns, you should try to keep the rating as balanced as possible. If you want to be exact: get around 300 more dodge than parry rating, since that's roughly the amount of parry rating you get through various buffs in a raid.

    Mastery: There's no Diminishing Returns and no realistically reachable cap on Mastery, so if you want Mastery, go all out for it.

    While gemming you should also keep an eye out for lucrative socketbonuses. Getting a 30 stamina bonus while only losing 10 parry rating by choosing a hybrid gem, may very well be worth it.

    For a Mastery setup you'd reforge your piece according to this template

    Piece has Avoidance and hit/exp? ->Reforge hit/exp into Mastery
    Piece has Mastery and hit/exp? -> Reforge hit/exp into an avoidance stat
    Piece has Mastery and Avoidance? -> Don't reforge, unless you need to balance avoidance ratings
    Piece has two Avoidance stats? -> Reforge an avoidance stat into Mastery
    Piece has Mastery + any other stat on it? -> reforge the DPS stat into avoidance and try getting a better piece of gear.
    Piece has Avoidance + any other stat on it? -> reforge the DPS stat into Mastery and try getting a better piece of gear.
    Always try to keep your avoidance ratings balanced obviously

    For an Avoidance setup you'd do the same according to this one:

    Piece has Avoidance and hit/exp? ->Reforge hit/exp into the other avoidance stat
    Piece has Mastery and hit/exp? -> Reforge hit/exp into an avoidance stat
    Piece has Mastery and Avoidance? -> Reforge mastery into the other avoidance stat
    Piece has two Avoidance stats? -> leave it as it is.
    Piece has any other stats on it? -> reforge that stat and try getting a better piece of gear.
    Always try to keep your avoidance ratings balanced obviously

    3.3 Gemming

    Meta socket: /

    For the other gemslots you should go for pure stats , unless a socketbonus is worth it, usually around 20 stat points or more, or if you need a higher amount of stamina for whatever reason.

    3.4 Enchanting

    4. Professions

    This is a short list of the tanking related bonuses professions proved. Please note: This is not a "most convenient to have" list. So while I'm aware that you can craft stuff with BS and Engi, I made the list more with an eye on raiding than the beginning of cata.

    Currently it looks like LW and JC are the strongest professions. Though I suggest being careful with LW, as its current strength comes from the fact that there's no Bracer - Stamina enchant in cata.

    Engineering is hard to measure as always. It's certainly not a bad choice. As a matter of fact: The only bad choices you can make are: Tailoring, Herbalism and Skinning.

    Note: 4.3 added epic gems to the game. These lower the value of JC and increase the value of BS. However: Not everybody has a full set of epic gems yet and depending on how many you have, JC' and BS' value stays the same.

    Blacksmithing: Two additional sockets, = 120 Stamina / 80 Mastery Rating/ 80 Avoidance Rating. After the introduction of Epic Gems, the value of BS has increased if you can add epic gems to all your sockets.

    Leatherworking: 195 Stamina - 40 stamina you could enchant as non-LW = 155 Stamina

    Tailoring: ~250 AP (1000 AP with a 25% uptime)

    Engineering: 300 Armor (1500 Armor with a 20% uptime) Or Rocket boost, which also occupies the belt slot.

    Jewelcrafting: 3x (either 3x 101 Stamina, 3x 67 Mastery rating, 67 Avoidance rating) against 60 Stamina / 40Mastery / 40 Avoidance youc ould usually socket = additional 123 Stamina / 81 Mastery rating / 81 Avoidance rating. JCs worth is reduced if you can add epic gems to all your sockets

    Enchanting: 2x 60 stamina = 120 Stamina

    Inscription: 195 stamina - 75 potential stamina = 120 Stamina /

    Alchemy: gives 420 instead of 300 Stamina = 120 additional stamina

    Skinning: Master of Anatomy

    Herbalism: Lifebloom

    Mining: Toughness = 120 Stamina
    Last edited by Zao; 2012-07-02 at 05:00 PM. Reason: Deleted the link to pwnwear, because it's dead.

  2. #2
    Nice guide, just one question how should I config power auras to show the 20% buff?

  3. #3
    Fluffy Kitten Zao's Avatar
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    Aug 2008
    Import this string:

    Version:4.9; Instance25ManHeroic:true; target:true; icon:Spell_DeathKnight_FrostFever; buffname:Frost Fever/Thunderclap/Judgements of the Just/Infected Wounds; x:-60; customname:Frost Fever; bufftype:2; Instance10ManHeroic:true; Instance5Man:true; Instance25Man:true; Instance10Man:true; customtex:true; Instance5ManHeroic:true; size:0.23; y:177; inverse:true

    You'll probably want to tweak the design and stuff, but it checks the debuff correctly.

  4. #4
    This is kind of an odd side question: What is the maximum DPS rotation?

    I've just been thinking about this as I level as Blood and am not in dire need of the healing from Death Striking. I was guessing it's the same as the old Blood DPS rotation, using Death Runes for Heart Strike rather than Death Strike (and eyeballing it it seemed like 2x Heart Strikes > 1 Death Strike in terms of raw damage). I figured having this knowledge it may be situationally relevant when you aren't in need of the healing while not actively tanking, although obviously it's not exactly a big deal what your tank DPS is.

  5. #5
    i havnt tanked on my DK since pre Ulduar, but i enjoyed it, i think i might collect some tanking gear for him and try it out.

    Derailed the Cereal Thread

  6. #6
    Fluffy Kitten Zao's Avatar
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    For a max DPS (which is not necessarily the max TPS) "rotation" you should run with the oldschool one, as you suspected.

  7. #7
    Damage per Rune: HS diseased > HS undiseased > Death Strike
    Use RS whenever you are above 80 RP or the target is below 15k HP
    (The dmg-bonus to DS from the glyph is too nice if you go for continuos killing, I love those 19k DS crits)

  8. #8
    I got a question about gemming, are we going for full stamina (and 1 red for meta gem, donno if it changed the requirements if so correct me please) or we putting Master/Stamina in yellow sockets and Full sta in blue sockets now?

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by FiXThEPiEcEs View Post
    I got a question about gemming, are we going for full stamina (and 1 red for meta gem, donno if it changed the requirements if so correct me please) or we putting Master/Stamina in yellow sockets and Full sta in blue sockets now?
    Look at section #3 in orginal post.

  10. #10
    Fluffy Kitten Zao's Avatar
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    And to answer it again: Theorycrafting really hasn't decided yet.
    The consensus currently is to go for full stamina and Mastery/stamina in yellow sockets if the socket bonus is also stamina.

    Just don't let common sense get out of the way. So if you'll have to socket a hybrid gem to get a 30+ stamina it.

  11. #11
    Keyboard Turner Sunogard's Avatar
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    Dec 2010
    Arthas US
    First time poster long time reader.

    Currently with the number of mobs at least for heroics that are in need of interrupts the frost spec seems helpful so you dont have to conserve runic power. The 2 points in Hand of Doom are also useful to give you that second option. Heroics like Pinnacle and Tides with 2 healer pulls having the interrupt plus a silence is going to be pretty helpful and having it back up after a minute means your ready to roll alot faster.

    That said not having the spell hit to land the interrupts initially is why I went into unholy. Bone Shield is an extra cooldown if you really need it I would reach for the Icebound Fortitude and AMS before it any day of the week. Currently running 36/0/5 3 pt virulence and 2 point epidemic.

    You mentioned running no diseases a lot with outbreak why wouldn't we be running diseases?

  12. #12
    Fluffy Kitten Zao's Avatar
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    Hi and welcome aboard!

    The free interrupt is certainly useful on a few occasions, and the points are not wasted.
    I'd disagree with you on HoD though, since it would be the most sensible thing to cc that other healer and pull the other one with DG to you.
    And in the worst case you can always LoS the pull.

    As for your second question:
    Why should you use Diseaseless tanking? Because you gain one Death Strike per minute for a relatively minor loss in threat (somewhere around the 5% mark)

  13. #13
    Keyboard Turner Sunogard's Avatar
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    I played with the spec a bit today in some randoms and guild groups it was nice. I still like HoD because I would like to have the opportunity to do something additional to knock out a spell cast. More for post pull then pre pull more I can do gives me that "good feeling" about success when others may fail


    With the new points to % changes in tanking stats like parry what are your thoughts on the 4% parry instead of Gargoyle?
    Last edited by Sunogard; 2010-12-12 at 02:19 AM.

  14. #14
    Parry is still RNG, doesn't beat 2% Stamina 4% Armor.

    Nice OP, few links are just raw links (no text, if that makes sense) - Imp. Blood Tap, Tailoring, Drops - Cloak, Wrists, Fingers, and a few others.

  15. #15
    Whoever thinks about going engineer for tanking due to the awesome shield and glove tinker: Don't!

    I'm currently at level 85 with 525 engineering and the Grounded Plasma Shield has some serious issues.
    a) it can proc an AoE taunt with 40y range (bad in heroics, possibly bad in raids)
    b) it can proc this meanie: a 5s stun you can't even counter with IBF
    I had the first proc yesterday in Tolvir and 2 times in ICC10 today when we went there to try for the guild achievement (yeah, we are bad, we don't down LK10hc with half a group of 85s and half a group of people that never saw the fight but that's no issue here)
    Can't say anything about the glove tinker though, I'm currently using the Shocker (2m CD 5k nuke) and it didn't missfire even once.

    Basically right now, engineering is no solid choice for a tank. It's just a personal thing for the out of combat goodies you get.

  16. #16
    Thanks for the great guide!

    I have one question though.. Should I go for Stamina over Dodge/Parry?

  17. #17
    Fluffy Kitten Zao's Avatar
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    Yes. (Aside from the obvious Socketbonuses you should get)

  18. #18
    I am incredibly disappointed with Engineering right now. I would have dealt with the tinkers only failing outside of raids, but failing inside of raids is a huge issue. For now, I am happy I have a sweet helm early on, but I am going to stick it out with Engineering until they fix it, I can't imagine it was intended to fail in raids.

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Zao View Post
    Yes. (Aside from the obvious Socketbonuses you should get)
    Alright thanks! It's cause someone else had Stamina at the bottom of their priorities because, "healer's can run out of mana now."

  20. #20
    EJ thread doesn't discuss too deeply regarding hit and expertise, I get the feeling that they just assume it's old value.

    With 9% spell hit granted from UH, making your taunt and interrupt guaranteed (they are spells that use the melee hit chance) and with the amount of spare time we have in our 'rotation' then isn't the value of hit and expertise diminished? Also Rune Strike, our primary threat ability, cannot be parried or dodged.

    Threat simply isn't a problem, and key abilities won't miss. Would you agree that we can sacrifice these stats for more survival?

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