Death Knight Tanking in Cataclysm: The Basics

This is going to be my first in a series of guides in an effort to explain – and rationalize – the PvE spec that I plan to build during Cataclysm. I was an Unholy DPS Death Knight throughout Wrath of the Lich King that accomplished essentially all that I wanted to, but being a PvP player and being DPS makes raiding very hard should you want to do it. Because of that I decided to take a different direction this go, and this post is an attempt to educate my fellow DK’s of how I am doing it. Also, that is completely not me in the above picture.

TALENTS: 33 / 6 / 2
Before Cataclysm there were a few different ways that you could tank as a DK, but following Deathwing’s return Blood talents now represent the dedicated tanking spec. The linked spec above is what I have been running, which is the accepted Elitist Jerks’ endgame tank spec. Note that it is not listed as the ideal Heroic grinding spec, however I will tell you that my tanking to and at 85 have been a breeze using it. To dive into a few talents:

  • Scent of Blood – putting 3 points into this creates stacking issues where you essentially don’t get full functionality of it, so just put 2.
  • Scarlet Fever – this talent essentially works as a warrior’s Demoralizing Shout or whatever the hell Druid tanks have that reduce physical damage. If you have those classes with you this is not as important, however more often than not you will want to be hitting Blood Boil as often as will be called for later under Rotation.
  • Bone Shield – always keep this up. If you get in the habit of recasting this as soon as it pops up, what happens most of the time is that you pull a pack of mobs with this on you, and when you finish the pack it’s either back up or close. By doing this right away, you can potentially time it to engage a boss with it and recast it during the same fight.
  • Abomination’s Might – this spec is listed as an option for the last 2 talents by Elitist Jerks, and being a former DPS who loves big numbers I took it as well. You could potentially take Blood-Caked Blade instead, but to be honest the attack buff provided by AM for the entire raid will be much more than BCB would ever be.
  • Rune Tap – use it when it’s up. It really helps the healers out.

With tanking glyphs there is the essential list that a lot of trees have, but with the optional glyphs there is very little difference in choosing one over the other.

  • Prime: Glyph of Death Coil – works like a Paladin’s Lay on Hands during a fight. Runic power tends to stack up fairly quickly, and a healer low on mana or needing help will be very happy you were able to heal yourself via Lichborne. Glyph of Rune Strike / Glyph of Heart Strike – RS provides more threat than the Glyph of Death Strike (not bolded so you don’t pick it). There is an analysis at Elitist Jerks to prove this, I certainly can’t. Other than that HS glyphed is awesome.
  • Major: Glyph of Bone Shield – this is minor and really won’t affect a lot, but remember earlier when I said get in the habit of reapplying Bone Shield after fights? Well, this grants you unholy run speed to prevent you switching to unholy and forgetting to switch back. Glyph of Vampiric Blood – again with helping out your healers, it has a quick cooldown and is up way more than I tend to use it. Great for when you are staying fairly low and you need to help your healers catch up. Glyph of Dancing Rune Weapon – I went with this one despite a lot of people not liking it, and the reason they don’t is because DRW costs 60 runic power. The tradeoff is that it is a HUGE aggro producer, but the argument is that Death Grip and Taunt already take care of this. Feel free to choose something better, but if there was something better. You could make a case for Glyph of Rune Tap and Glyph of Blood Boil – your call.
  • Minor: Glyph of Death’s Embrace – this again goes with Death Coil to help out your Lichborne self-heal. This glyph cuts the cost of DC in half. The next two are meh, but I went with Glyph of Horn of Winter and Glyph of Resilient Grip. I usually stay away from HoW glyph in PvP because I am always casting it regardless, but when tanking I have a lot of things going on and HoW can be the last thing I am thinking about at times. Resilient Grip sounds like a great glyph but it’s use is much less than I expected. The only DG’s that are refunded come from ice blocks, bubbles, etc. on mobs – what I expected were resisted DG’s as well for absolute DG aggro-getting spam.

This is where a lot of you just panned down to find, and I’m sorry – I’m going to tell you the same thing. There is no more set rotation, Cataclysm has went with the dynamic system that requires you to make decisions on the fly, and I hope to help you out in doing so. All that said, it’s really not that hard:

  • Use Death Strike every 5-8 seconds for self-heals and keeping up your blood shield. The way DS works is it restores 30% of the damage you just received (minimum of 10%), so spamming it not only kills runes (1 unholy, 1 frost) but it would be like refreshing diseases before they expire.
  • Use Rune Strike for threat or as your runic power sees fit, remember you have other abilities dependent on it (DRW if you recall).
  • Use Heart Strike after applying diseases via Outbreak for threat and because it hits like a truck.

Of note, the catch phrase with Blood tanking so far is “Diseaseless Tanking”. For a quick explanation diseaseless tanking it is essentially what you would assume in not applying disease, but recall Outbreak does not consume runes to be cast. Every minute you can use this, and having IT/PS on a target makes Heart Strike hit even harder. The reason you do not use IT/PS is because it burns a frost and unholy rune, which if you recall from a paragraph ago is the same requirement for Death Strike. Which would you rather have?

For a quick comparison a DK tanking guide on the Official Forums quotes the difference between using Diseases and going Diseaseless as:

Net differences between Diseases and Diseaseless:
– 6.1% less damage dealt
– 5.1% less threat generated
– 1.6% less damage taken
– 21.9% more damage absorbed
– 21.8% more damage healed

…obviously being the result of not using diseases. What that essentially says is that your diseases in blood presence really don’t amount to shit, and you gain 20% more survivability by not burning runes on IT/PS.

I have been known to use Icy Touch on some pulls and then drop a Death and Decay for the pack to run into, Plague Strike, Pestilence and then Blood Boil. After that opener aggro is laughable to maintain, and having 2 snap aggro mechanisms if one does get away ensures your aggro as you switch into your normal DS/HS/RS tanking. Keeping 100% uptime on diseases are a distant third place to keeping aggro and staying alive. I should bold that, maybe just a quote to make it look like someone more qualified is saying it:

Keeping 100% uptime on diseases are a distant third place to keeping aggro and staying alive.
Some Godly DK

The debate on Effective Health (if you’re not familiar) is still somewhat theoretical amongst the end game guilds (at least from what I see), so for definitive gemming/enchanting you may want to consult Elitist Jerks or other sites you may use. Do know that the WotLK belief that “Stamina > All” is archaic, despite players still judging the quality of tanks by their total health pool.

My absolute goal so far is to gem/reforge to Mastery, and if that is unobtainable then I will likely gem for Stamina. The hit cap is not as essential as it always has been (taunt effects no longer are based on hit), but getting Expertise to its cap of 6% heroics/6.5% raids comes after these first two. Reforging Dodge/Parry to hit the Expertise cap is not out of the ordinary. Note that no where have I stated to gem for Dodge/Parry.

Your Meta gem will be the Austere Shadowspirit Diamond, which I guess also brings up a spot where I should tell you that you need to be swinging a 2-hander. Perhaps you came here wondering about dual-wield tanking and are pissed it has taken this long, but 2H Blood is the way to go. There is proof of this out there that I have seen at Elitist Jerks, and if you really want to question my word the answers are there as their’s is good enough for me.

I’m not going to throw out numbers or even bother to look up the best ones, I am a 525 Blacksmith and a 525 Jewelcrafter. I get 2 extra gem slots where I can put whatever type of Chimera gem I want (extra stats). Leatherworking and Enchanting offer stamina bonuses as well, but I also make a boatload of cash from my 2 professions which allows me to do whatever I want in game almost. Almost.

My next installment of tanking-related posts will be a pre-raid gear list, and this paragraph will be replaced with a link to it when I post it. Feedback is always appreciated.


7 Responses to “Death Knight Tanking in Cataclysm: The Basics”

  1. Tradarian Says:

    Did I mention that I love you?? Thanks for this post, incredibly helpful!

    • I originally started the post saying this was a “series of short guides…”, but I had to go back and change all of that when I finished. Good lord it really turned into a wall of text.

      • Come on Vikt. I need more knowledge on tanking. I have been dps since prox was born. The 40 min QUE done me in. Im now tanking. Waiting anxiouslly !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Ha, I’ll see what I can come up with. I haven’t started my heroics grind yet to get at least full 346, but I have created a spread sheet that I would use for upgrades. I’ll post it early this week.

  3. Good article; thanks for the heads up. I just started tanking on my DK this week.

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