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Lichborne: Blood tanking 101


Welcome to Lichborne, your weekly journey into the world of the death knight. This week, we're getting ready for Cataclysm in our own round about way.

While sometimes less considered by the WoW population at large, blood tanking has long been known to serious players and theorycrafters as an incredibly dominant raid tanking spec, thanks to incredibly high health pools. It will also be the sole tanking tree for death knights in Cataclysm. While it is certain that the tree will change extensively under this new system, it is likely to have a lot of the same elements in place that make it distinctively blood tanking, even in the new expansion, so it might not hurt to start practicing with it now.

Whatever your reason for trying blood tanking, this guide is here to help you take the first few steps along that path. Remember as this is a 101 guide, we won't necessarily being doing hardcore theorycrafting, and we may simplify a few basic concepts that can be a bit more nuanced for an experienced, high-end blood tank.

Blood Tanking strengths

  • Superior effective health
  • Good single-target threat
  • Superior healability and self-sufficiency due to multiple ways to self-heal
Blood Tanking drawbacks
  • Inferior AoE threat
  • Less proactive damage reduction than other death knight tank specs
Stats to look for
  • Defense rating Pushing critical strikes off your incoming damage is one of the most important steps you can take to become a full-fledged tank. To do that against heroic dungeon bosses, you'll need 535 defense. To do it against raid bosses, you'll need 540. Mind you, that is defense skill, not defense rating, which is what is on most gear. You'll need 4.92 defense rating at 80 to get a single point of defense skill. You can also get 25 points of defense skill by using Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle. Those are actual skill points, not rating, so it will be a very significant boost. It's also worth noting that while 540 and 535 are the defense "caps" for getting critically hit, defense points above that are still useful, since they provide dodge and parry rating. You'll be better off getting raw dodge and parry rating instead, but if you squeak a little past 540, don't sweat it too much, those points are still useful.
  • Stamina Stamina means more health, especially once bonuses from Veteran of the Third War and Frost Presence are figured in. If you're at a loss as to what to gear for, it's very hard to go wrong with stacking stamina.
  • Armor Armor mitigates a percentage of all incoming physical damage. For physical damage boss fights, it's pretty much invaluable. After stamina, you're going to be wanting a ton of this. It's also valuable in that it does not really diminish in value as you get more armor, because every percentage point of reduction becomes that much more valuable. Always keep items with lots of armor handy.
  • Dodge rating Dodging allows you to completely avoid incoming physical attacks. That means you survive longer and your healer has less work to do. In other words, it's very handy to have. Dodge is subject to diminishing returns, but for the most, a beginning tank shouldn't have to worry about stacking so much dodge they reach the cap, so it's pretty safe to equip dodge gear as you find it.
  • Parry rating Like dodge, parrying also allows you to completely avoid incoming physical attacks. Like dodge, it is also affected by diminishing returns. Since death knights get parry from strength to begin with thanks to Forceful Deflection, they actually don't need to worry much about grabbing parry rating and should instead focus on dodge, especially when gemming.
  • Hit rating and expertise rating You can't gather threat if you don't hit your target. While it's not essential, it's still very helpful to try to get to the 8% special attack plateau for hit rating, and the 26 expertise plateau to prevent the enemy from dodging your attacks. You don't really want to give up too many valuable defense stats to hit those goals unless your ability to keep threat is abysmal, but don't eschew hit and expertise if you find them on gear either.
  • Strength The more strength you have, the more threat you'll get. In addition, death knights get a chance to parry from strength. That said, you don't really have to go out of your way to get strength. You should get more than enough it just from grabbing good tank gear.

Typical PvE talent build

A typical blood tank build is going to look something like this one. You always want to make sure you build on the basic 5/5/5 build, grabbing the defensive talent from each first tier, then build up as needed, grabbing tanking cooldowns and a few DPS cooldowns in your main tree.

It is possible to make a few tweaks to the above build if you want to mix stuff up. Rune Tap is included in part because it's off the global cooldown and therefore makes a very nice emergency self-heal button. If you'd prefer, you can also pull points out of it and and get Hysteria for some group utility or Mark of Blood for another healing button. If you already have someone in your regular group providing the attack power aura from Abomination's Might, you can take the points from there and keep Rune Tap intact. You might also take the points out of Morbidity instead, but the loss of a quick Death and Decay cool down will stunt your ability to generate AoE threat a bit. If you're fighting a lot of caster mobs, you may also want to consider taking points out of one of these talents to bolster Spell Deflection, but be warned that Spell Deflection only works on direct damage spell attacks and not on things like DoTs or damaging auras, so it may not be as awesome as it first seems.

Rotations and rune usage

Before we get into actually rotations for blood tanking, there are two general things to keep in mind when tanking. First, always be in Frost Presence. You'll need that extra armor, stamina and threat. When you're first entering a dungeon, double-check and make sure it's up. Second, use your Rune Strike as often as your runic power allows. It's just about your best single-target threat tool. If you need to, macro it to your other weapon strikes so it automatically gets used.

Now, as far as actual rotations, you'll basically be performing basic blood DPS rotations. For single targets, that's going to look something like this:

Icy Touch->Plague Strike->Death Strike->Heart Strike->Heart Strike
Death Strike->Heart Strike x 4 -> Death Coil

This is, of course, a very static rotation and your actual rotation in battle will change according to your needs for a particular encounter or battle. If you're lucky with activating rune strikes, you may not need to unload any Death Coils at the end of your rotation. Likewise, if you're low on health, you may end up replacing that group of four Heart Strikes with an extra set of Death Strikes. You'll also, of course, need to find ways to fit in your self-heal and emergency buttons. You may end up hitting Hysteria just after you apply diseases to give yourself an extra boost of threat, for example. If you need to fit Vampiric Blood in there, it's optimal to hit Blood Tap so that you can use a death rune and mess up your rotation as little as possible. Check this past issue of Lichborne for a basic walk-through on how to do that.

Your AoE rotation, as above, will be relatively similar to a blood DPS rotation and go something like this:

Death and Decay->Icy Touch->Plague Strike->Pestilence->switch targets->Death Strike->Heart Strike->Pestilence->Blood Boil->Death Coil

This series of moves will allow you to keep your diseases spread between multiple targets via Pestilence and target-switching. The same caveats apply as to the single-target method: Keep the Rune Strikes coming and be ready to use your self-heal and emergency buttons as needed.

Welcome to Lichborne, the weekly class column on the newest WoW class, the death knight, where we discuss PUG etiquette and Emblem of Triumph gear for the death knight, 5-man Icecrown dungeon gear and basic death knight statistics and mechanics. You might also want to check all the other articles in our death knight category.

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