I run heroics and 10 man raids on my death knight. There's simply only so much time in the day and I already raid pretty heavily on my warrior, so when I began seriously leveling a death knight I knew I would probably want to play something I felt very comfortable with. And so my flirtation with blood was born. While frost has seen some love in the most recent patch, I'm still not much for the DW DK style, and I've never really like the pet management of unholy, so I currently have two blood specs on my DK, a DPS spec and a tanking spec.
What I've always loved about blood is its strong self-healing and physical damage based nature. As a blood tank, you end up taking advantage of these aspects of the tree, which provides strong single target threat, good AoE threat and solid cooldowns and survivability. While it doesn't have the snap AoE threat of a Howling Blast or unholy's strong group threat, Blood can still tank a group quite effectively with diseases and Heart Strike, while the recent patch 3.3.3 has greatly buffed single target threat for all DK tanks and made Will of the Necropolis far more attractive for the Blood DK tank.
First off, let's talk spec. There are quite a few options for any DK tank, although most usually get the 5/5/5 triefecta of baseline talents in each spec. The spec I'm currently playing around is this, a spec that goes deeper into unholy than this spec that Daniel recommended in a previous column. You'll also notice that I chose to take talents like Scent of Blood and Rune Tap over Sudden Doom - you could easily move the points around to fit your comfort zone The strength of Blood as a tanking spec is that it has a variety of options to either increase survivability or threat depending on what you feel like you're most in need of.
Talents I really enjoy as a DK tank:
- Blade Barrier - I like this ability because it rewards you for being proactive and using your runes.
- Bladed Armor - You're going to have high armor anyway. Might as well get some threat out of it.
- Scent of Blood - Some DK tanks feel like they already have plenty of runic power, but for a tanking DK I don't think you can ever really have too much, and Scent of Blood is a nice, reliable way to fill up the gas tank for that Rune Strike spam you know you'll be doing.
- Death Rune Mastery - Helping free a DK tank from the tyranny of frost and unholy runes, this ability makes rune management (which is a big part of the threat cap for a blood DK tank) much less onerous.
- Rune Tap - Kind of pricy at the cost of a blood rune, but that's what Death Rune Mastery is for, and 10% health every minute is pretty hot.
- Spell Deflection - I'm at 20% parry without doing more than getting it on gear, which means I have 20% chance of taking almost half as much damage from direct damage spells. I'm okay with this, even though too many bosses get around it in my opinion.
- Sudden Doom - If you find yourself absolutely fine on runic power, these free Death Coils generate you threat without costing you anything, and trigger off of abilities you'll be using anyway.
- Veteran of the Third War - Strength (threat and avoidance), Stamina (health) and Expertise (threat). Pretty cheap, too.
- Abomination's Might - It's an aura now, but I don't really care about that (although the DPS probably does) - I take it for 2% strength, which is parry and threat. Win/win.
- Vampiric Blood - This is one of my favorite tanking cooldowns, hands down. Increases health by 15% and increases healing taken by 30%? On a one minute cooldown? Are you seeing a bad side here? Because I'm not.
- Improved Death Strike - One of the most attractive aspects of blood tanking is the incremental self healing a blood tank can do to make healer's lives easier (we're long past our glory days on Vezax, of course, but it's still pretty good) and Imp DS makes the self heal strike heal for 50& more. It also boosts the damage of the move by 30% and increases its crit strike chance by 6%, increasing its threat, which is pretty necessary for a move that uses up two runes. (Which is one reason why we take Death Rune Mastery, of course.)
- Heart Strike - Pretty much necessary for any blood DK, but especially useful for AoE tanking.
- Willl of the Necropolis - Especially now that this ability no longer has an internal cooldown and can be more easily activated, it's very nice. DK's generally have a slight issue with spike damage (it's a common complaint from those healing us) and having the ability to reliably reduce it as we get into the danger zone is pretty bloody nice all told.
The biggest issue with blood tanking is making sure to manage your runes. In the example above, D&D is the most expensive ability to use with a three rune cost, which means that if you throw it down, use IT and Plague Strike, and then use Pestilence to spread your diseases on an AoE pull you will have put all your runes on cooldown. This is why I mentioned Emp Rune Weapon/Blood Tap, as they will free up a rune for an immediate Blood Boil. It's important to monitor your runes and to use abilities like Rune Strike and Death Coil to bleed runic power when your runes are on cooldown when tanking as blood.
Single target tanking you'll most likely use IT - Plague Strike and either Heart or Death Strike. Rune Strike you'll use to burn runic power when it lights up just like any other DK tank, no changes there. For single target/boss tanking D&D probably isn't worth it, and Heart Strike is cheaper than Death so you'll only use DS when you expect to take a lot of damage. Remember that you can potentially have Rune Tap, Vampiric Blood and Icebound Fortitude as your cooldowns, giving you a lot of options to reduce or heal incoming damage.
Okay, this covers the most basic basics of blood tanking. It's a fun and powerful tanking tree, so go out and have fun tweaking it for your own use.