Character Class

Tanking with Blood Death Knights (4.2)

co-authored with Ceraphus

This is a how to for Blood Death Knight tanking in patch 4.2.  We have many unique abilities compared to other tanks that make us superior in many fights.  I recommend taking some time to research the more in depth and smart WOW thinkers forums like elitist-jerks and other forums and learn as much as you can about how the DK works and what your gear priorities are to give you the best understanding of your class.  It is VERY important to understand each and every spell you have and how it is supposed to work and when you should use your abilities during the boss encounters.

Tanking is all about survival, and when it comes to what buttons to push to ensure survival, no one has more than the DK.  Lichborne / Death Coil, Icebound Fortitude (IBF), Vampiric Blood (VB), Dancing Rune Weapon (DRW), Raise Dead / Death Pact, Army of the Dead, Empowered Rune Weapon, Anti-Magic Shield and a passive damage reduction if hit below 35% HP.  This doesn’t take into account any on-use trinkets you may have as well.  That is a lot of mitigation my friends.  But how do you use all of this?  Where and when is the best way to hit all these in succession to ensure that you are not taking damage?  These are the questions you need to be asking yourself for each and every encounter that you are tanking.  If you are not, then rethink the way you tank as a DK.

Boss Encounters

For a standard boss encounter where there is no super hit/ability where you absolutely need to save a cooldown for, I highly recommend that you are rotating your cooldown abilities.  No longer are the days of stand and cast till the boss dies.  The new Firelands bosses are all about moving and surviving.  You need to be able to survive as long as possible with sometimes minimal healing will be done because the raid is mobile for a short time.  If you are tanking an instance, you had better know the fights inside and out.  I recommend tankspot and youtube for countless videos on boss encounters.  Use the new dungeon journal also to find out just how much damage is coming out of each ability the boss has so you can ensure that you are using all of your abilities to mitigate as much damage as you can.  As a tank that is your job.  If you are looking at a boss and do not know its abilities, you should not be tanking that fight.  You can agree/disagree with that all day long, it’s just my opinion.  So tanking tip number one, know the fight more than anyone else in the raid.

Talents, Glyphs, and Runeforging

Generally speaking there are 2 specs, one that is focused heavily on you as the DK doing most of the interrupts and the other where you are not.  Usually because of the spec where the DK focuses more on the interrupts, many call it the 10 man spec, because of the fact there are less people available to perform interrupts.

10 Man – DK improved interrupt spec

25 Man / DK without improved interrupt spec

Note: the extra point you can put anywhere you want but its recommended to put in Epidemic

The Glyphs you should be using are:

Prime: Death Coil, Rune Strike, Heart Strike

These 3 are ideal for the Lichborne spec.  If you decide you don’t need Lichborne for whatever reason, the Death Strike glyph can replace Death Coil.  Though it is recommended to stick with the recommended prime glyph combination.

Major: Bone Shield, Vampiric Blood

These 2 are the required ones, the first provides great introductory and periodic mobility, and t

he second gives a big 15% boost to healing done to you.  The 3rd one is up to you, Dancing Rune Weapon is decent but threat really isn’t an issue, Anti-Magic Shield is marginal, as extending the duration doesn’t increase the cap on damage it absorbs, Rune Tap is decent in situational fights with a lot of AoE damage.  So really this one is your choice.

Minor: These are totally your call, whatever you want

For runeforging you will want to add to your Two-Handed tanking weapon Rune of Swordshattering.  This adds additional damage avoidance, which is always a good thing.

Gear & Stat Requirements

There is a little bit of variance for gear and how you want to set up your gear.  You can either stack up the avoidance and let mastery be a little lower, or you can go crazy with mastery and let the avoidance stay in line.  I suggest you play around with these.  I spent a lot of time looking at logs from weeks on end to see what my mastery/avoidance numbers were at and how much damage I would take on the same boss encounters from week to week.  I find for myself, the sweet spot for mastery is a rating of 20.50 and an avoidance of about 33% with parry being 7% more than dodge. At that point, your Death Strike heal for approximately 127% of damage done and your bubbles start soaking a lot of damage.  This is my “sweet spot” I like to maintain for my gear.  I have tried stacking as much mastery as possible and found that I was getting hit more often so my bubbles would get eaten up too fast.  So yes while mastery is important I feel a good combination of the two is also helpful.

Long ago it used to be all about STAM STAM STAM.  There are always arguments and still research being done about how helpful stamina is compared to the other stats like mastery.  Basically this is how I feel about stamina, your gear is going to determine your main stamina level, and the way you gem.  I gem to the color of the socket, socket bonuses are nice so I find a mastery/stam, avoidance/stam gem to fit the particular socket.  I suggest doing this so you are working on both stats at the same time.  If you are a jewelcrafter, you need to have 67 Mastery Gems in 3 slots, these are a must.  If you are really hardcore, get Blacksmithing and Jewelcrafting for the awesome gems and more gem slots.

Rotations, Rune & Cooldown Management

This is the nuts and bolts of tanking.  Everyone always looks for the perfect rotations or priority for every class.  Usually it depends on the play style and what works the best for you.  If you really want to use your DK to the fullest, take the time to read everything you can about your abilities.  I am still learning and finding new combo’s to mitigate damage every week.  OK here’s where I go into a little button pushing explanation.  By no means am I saying this is what you should do to open, or how it should be done, but this is what I do, and it works for me.  Try it out, practice, modify it so you are comfortable managing your runes/runic power.

Death Strike (DS) takes a Frost and Unholy rune, Heart Strike takes 1 Blood rune.  So if you swing 4 times with these two abilities right off the bat, you are locked out for 4 seconds.  At a point shortly into your boss fight, you will only be able to hit Death Strike once every 8-10 seconds depending on cooldowns running.  It is important to mention that you should always be keeping Blade Barrier up by keeping your blood runes on Cooldown. Death Strike also hits harder with the more runic power you have but only if you are using the Death Strike Prime Glyph.  I find 60 RP to be a good level to maintain to provide enough Rune Strikes (RS) in between your Death Strikes and Heart Strikes.  OK so I open with Outbreak as I move into range of the boss, use Horn of Winter for 10 runic power, having Bone Shield up and glyphed will also give you a speed boost.  I usually start with DS, then HS, then RS, then another DS.  Why don’t I just pile on the DS spam bubbles first?  It’s about rune management.  By spacing out your unholy/frost runes to exactly 50% of each cooldown, you will hit this more often and gain the most you can out of this ability.  The KEY to this is maintaining runic power.

The first cooldown I hit is Dancing Rune Weapon (DRW) and it is usually 10 seconds into the fight where I have my mitigation cooldowns started. You have a lot of cooldowns and if spread out properly you will have a cooldown rolling for most of a boss encounter. Vampiric Blood (VB) comes after the Dancing Rune Weapon usually for me.  I wait about 10-15 seconds between cooldowns just to spread them out over the fight.  Now if you are on a boss fight where you take an enrage, or super hit, obviously save of one or two of your abilities for this.  This rotation of mitigation cooldowns are for your standard bosses.  Where you go from here is up to you, usually I get my trinket CD going and then Icebound Fortitude, then VB again.

One really helpful damage reduction ability that is tough to use is Army of the Dead.  You get 5 seconds of damage reduction while you channel your army.  This take 3 runes to do so it should be used later in the fight well after you have a ton of threat.  Also the army is pretty dumb and will just go crazy on whatever is around, most bosses though the army will not taunt the boss off the tank.  Maloriak would not be the best place to pop this CD due to adds, but a 4 stack from the mind controls on Cho’Gall will be great.

Lichborne is a great cooldown which can be one of your big save your bacon cooldowns.  What you do is basically go undead, which makes you resistant to charm, fear and sleep.  But what happens is when you spam Death Coil on yourself after hitting this, you gain life, and can gain a good bit back.  Generally about 2 to 3 death coils will top you off after a big boss slam.  So be sure you have about 60-80 runic power before letting it go.  Also you will want to replace Lichborne on your action bar with the following macro, then just spam this button to ensure you get healed:

#showtooltip Lichborne
/cast Lichborne;
/cast [@player] Death Coil

Death Runes will be popping up all the time so use those for extra Death Strikes when possible.  Again if you space them out over a few seconds you will reduce the time that you sit without a bubble on.  After that its up to you, just remember to keep the runic power high, while spacing out the Death Strikes, and rotating your cooldowns and you will be getting hails from your healers in no time.


Know your boss fights, know when you NEED to have mitigation and when you can control your cooldowns.  If you save ALL your cooldowns for 30 seconds of no damage, it really puts you at a disadvantage for the rest of the fight.

I am Megadéath on the Dalaran Server.  If you have questions or want some help with timing or are having problems tanking a boss and want some tips, contact me.  I am always willing to help a fellow DK.