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Lichborne: Death knight tank pre-raid gear guide


Every week, WoW Insider brings you Lichborne for blood, frost, and unholy death knights. Join World of Warcraft's first hero class as we head into a new expansion and shed the new kid on the block label.

So a few editions of Lichborne ago, we talked a bit about stat priorities for death knight tanks. Because of that, I probably won't go over it much more before we head into this week's gear guide, but I did want to give you a quick refresher course. Let's run it down one more time:
  • Stamina is still king, but not as much as it was in previous expansions. You may find that there comes a time when more avoidance or absorption is better than a higher health pool, as the extremely high health pools and new boss design philosophies of Cataclysm mean, for now, that you'll rarely die from a couple hits.
  • In the mastery vs. avoidance struggle, you'll essentially need to experiment to find your best balance. Which stat is best for which tank will depend on personal playstyle and competency, healer and raid competency and composition, and other factors. You should take a balance of each, but where that balancing point is will vary. Recall that Death Strike is getting a slight nerf in patch 4.0.6, which will in turn nudge the balance more toward avoidance for most people.
  • When gearing for avoidance, try to keep dodge and parry percentages as close to each as possible, as they have the same diminishing returns. This means you'll always want to raise the one that's lower for optimal effect. You can do this by regemming and reforging instead of regearing in many cases, especially now that solid gems in every slot isn't 100% mandatory.
  • Hit and expertise are not as mandatory as they are for most DPS, but you may find they help you with threat. That said, you should never go beyond 8% hit rating and 26 expertise. If you're mastery-heavy, you'll want to focus a bit more on these stats, as missing a Death Strike could prove catastrophic.
With all this in mind, let's take a look at some of the stuff you should be rooting up as you prepare to tank the first tier of Cataclysm raiding. Note that while some ilevel 333 items may be decent stopgap options for a raider with an experienced raid group that doesn't mind a bit of undergearing, I've left them off this list, and you really should just try for the higher-level options. Finally, don't feel too guilty if you can't afford some of the crafted or world drop BoEs on this guide. Most raid groups probably won't hold it against you, and in some cases, they're arguably inferior to or only marginally better than BoP drops anyway.

  • If you get to revered with the Dragonmaw or Wildhammer clans, you can grab the Crown of Wings or the Grinning Fang Helm. It's a nice quick and easy start to your tank set, with dodge and expertise rating.
  • The Headcover of Fog is a heroic dungeon option, this time from the Vortex Pinnacle. It's more or less a fraternal twin to the reputation helm, providing parry and hit rating instead of dodge and expertise.
  • You can get the Helm of Setesh from Setesh in heroic Halls of Origination. It's arguably somewhat inferior to your other options, if only because it swaps some defensive stats for more strength. Then again, if you're having threat problems, that could be just what the doctor ordered.
  • You can spend the justice points to get Helm of the Proud. If you have justice points to burn and can't seem to grab any of the above helms, here's your solution. The fact that it has both dodge and parry rating can also be helpful if you really feel like you need some extra avoidance.
  • If you have money to spare or access to a jewelcrafter, you can grab an Elementium Guardian. It has no mastery, but it does have a blue socket that promises more stamina than even the JP necklace if you gem it, making it pretty much the perfect pre-raid tank necklace choice.
  • The justice point necklace, The Lustrous Eye, is a good option for death knights going for mastery stacking. It also carries some dodge rating.
  • You can grab the Darkhowl Amulet from Temple Guardian Anhur in the heroic Halls of Origination. Dodge and expertise make it a great option for avoidance-based death knights.
  • The Carrier Wave Pendant from Ascendant Lord Obsidius in heroic Blackrock Caverns is well-itemized for death knight tanks, with both parry and mastery. The heroic version also carries none of the low item level issues of its non-heroic counterpart.
  • The Pauldrons of Edward the Odd are a BoE world drop. Of course, you may want to take into account that will cost a lot of gold, but if that prospect doesn't faze you, it may be very much worth it to keep these if they drop for you or buy them if they show up on your AH. They're arguably a little less tempting now that mastery's getting a slight nerf, but it is hard to argue with all that stamina and parry rating.
  • The Sunburnt Pauldrons are your justice point option. They have no mastery, but they do have lots of stamina and a blue gem slot for even more stamina. Dodge and hit rating make them a great option for avoidance-seeking death knights.
  • Your best heroic option here is probably the Earthshape Pauldrons from Drahga Shadowburner in heroic Grim Batol. They have both mastery and dodge rating.
  • Another heroic option are Raz's Pauldrons. Mastery and hit rating mean they're pretty perfect for a mastery-focused death knight tank who needs to make sure that Death Strikes land.
  • If you can, just get exalted with the Guardians of Hyjal and grab a Wrap of the Great Turtle. It has mastery, dodge, and tons of stamina, and even with the mastery nerf, the item level alone makes it the best easy to get strict pre-raid option you're going to find.
  • If you don't mind the time or money needed for BoE world drops, Zom's Electrostatic Cloak provides a great alternative to the reputation cloak, especially for tanks who prefer avoidance to mastery, with dodge and expertise rating. It has considerably less strength than the Wrap of the Great Turtle, but if you're not having threat trouble, that should be no great loss.
  • The Twilight Dragonscale Cloak is a leatherworking crafted option that you can pursue. The blue gem slot makes it arguably better than heroic boss drop options, and the dodge and mastery should prove useful to just about any tank death knight.
  • If you seriously don't have the time to get exalted with Guardians of Hyjal (or money to drop on a BoE option) before your first raid, you can grab the Billowing Cape from Asaad in heroic Vortex Pinnacle.
  • You can kill Karsh Steelbender in heroic Blackrock Caverns for the Burned Gatherings, which have mastery and hit rating, if you're gearing mastery heavy.
  • The Icebone Hauberk is your world drop option here. Parry and hit rating are hard for any tank to argue with, and it has more stamina than you'll know what to do with. Again, the question is whether you want the monster stats or the gold you'd be giving it up by buying it and/or not selling it instead. If you ignore the set bonus, it arguably even gives our tier 11 breastplate a run for its money.
  • Another BoE option comes from blacksmithing. The Hardened Elementium Hauberk has no gem slots, unlike all of our other options, which means the other options, even the lower ilevel ones, will end up with more stamina if gemmed with straight-up solid gems. That said, it does have massive amounts of parry and expertise rating to make up for it. It's definitely going to cost you some money, though, with multiple Chaos Orbs and Truegold Bars involved in the crafting.
  • If you've stockpiled justice points, you may consider grabbing the Chestplate of the Steadfast. It's well-itemized for death knights.
  • You have a heroic option in the form of Beauty's Plate, which provides parry rating in place of the dodge rating on the Chestplate of the Steadfast but is otherwise very similar. It drops from Beauty in heroic Blackrock Caverns.
  • If you can get exalted with Ramkahen, the Sandguard Bracers have a lot of great tanking stats. The stamina alone outpaces most other options, and the dodge and expertise make them a pretty perfect choice for an avoidance-focused death knight.
  • The Alpha Bracers off of Anraphet in the heroic Halls of Origination have hit and mastery rating, and a gem slot with the potential to give them more total stamina than the Sandguard Bracers. They're a pretty solid choice for a tank who needs more mastery.
  • If you can't get either of the above options, another boss in heroic Halls of Origination, Isiset, drops a more traditionally itemized set of tank bracers, the Armguards of Unearthly Light, which should work for more avoidance-focused itemization.
  • In heroic Shadowfang Keep, the Shackles of Undeath provide both parry and dodge rating in equal amounts, making these a great choice for a tank who feels like he needs a huge infusion of avoidance. They drop from Lord Godfrey.
  • Your justice point option here is the Numbing Handguards. With mastery and dodge, they're a pretty solid all-around options.
  • If your dodge rating is a bit high or you're low on justice points, the Fingers of Light from Rajh in heroic Halls of Origination are another great option, with parry and mastery rating.
  • If you're not crazy about mastery (which you may not be after patch 4.0.6, especially), head for heroic Shadowfang Keep. The Gloves of the Greymane Wall drop off of Baron Ashbury, and they contain massive amounts of parry rating and a bit of expertise, although they sacrifice a lot of strength over the other two options, if threat is a concern.
  • If you don't mind laying out some cash, consider getting a Hardened Elementium Girdle. It's a relatively expensive blacksmithing recipe, but it's hard to argue with the stamina that comes with such a high item level. It also contains a nice balance of dodge and mastery rating. Note that it also has no gem slot unlike the options below, which may make it a less wise choice unless you have a lot of gold to burn.
  • The Girdle of the Mountains is your JP option here. It has parry and dodge and a gem slot, which is great if you need more avoidance and are trying to keep your avoidance stats balanced.
  • The Sand Dune Belt comes from Lockmaw in heroic Lost City of the Tol'vir and contains dodge and expertise rating.
  • If your hit rating is a bit low, you can get the Iron Will Girdle from Lord Walden in heroic Shadowfang Keep. It's the twin of the Sand Dune Belt, except that it replaces the expertise rating with an equal amount of hit rating. (and has a different and arguably inferior gem slot bonus, admittedly).
  • If you have JP stockpiled, you pick yourself up some Greaves of Splendor. Given the dearth of decent pre-raid tank legs, it's about the best you'll get pre-raid (yes, I am including Tol Barad as a raid). Luckily, it's well itemized, with dodge and hit rating.
  • Your other option here is the Triton Legplates, from Neptulon's Cache at the end of the heroic Throne of the Tides. If you need parry and expertise rating more than you need dodge and hit rating, you may want to pick them over the JP option.
  • Your best bet for your feet is to get exalted with either the Dragonmaw or Wildhammer clan, depending on your faction. Gryphon Rider's Boots (or Boots of Sullen Rock) are not only epic, but there's not really many other strictly pre-raid gearing options. They have both parry and mastery rating and a gem slot.
  • If you can't get exalted quite yet, you can run heroic Shadowfang Keep for Baron Silverlaine's Greaves. They'll never have as much stamina as the reputation boots, but they do have equal amounts of dodge and parry rating for avoidance junkies.
  • At revered with Therazane (which you may already have if you quested through Deepholm), you'll be able to buy Felsen's Ring of Resolve, which has more than enough mastery, stamina, and dodge to make it one of the best pre-raid tank rings you can get your hands on.
  • The Elementium Moebius Band, from jewelcrafting, takes a hit on mastery, but it does have a gem slot that you can use to push it higher in stamina than the option above.
  • At revered with Ramkahen, you'll be able to pick up the Red Rock Band, which has stamina, mastery, and expertise, making it passable for survival and keeping threat alike. Of course, some of that threat potential is lessened by its unusually low strength.
  • Siamat in heroic Lost City of the Tol'vir will drop the Ring of Three Lights, which provides parry, mastery and stamina enough to make it competitive with the Red Rock Band, at the least, especially if you don't need the expertise on said reputation ring.
  • The Umbriss Band, which drops from General Umbriss in heroic Grim Batol, is another threat option with hit rating and mastery.
  • If you need a break from all the mastery, you can grab the Phosphorescent Ring off of Corborus in heroic Stonecore. It provides parry and expertise rating.
  • The Entwined Nereis is your other non-mastery option. It has dodge and hit rating, and oddly enough, one more point of stamina than most ilevel 346 rings. It comes from Lady Naz'jar in heroic Throne of the Tides.
  • The Notched Jawbone from inscription may be a little expensive, but it has enough stamina and mastery to make it a strong choice for your tanking relic, if you don't mind dropping the gold. It's also one of the few decent high-level pre-raid relics with tanking stats, period.
  • The Stalagmite Dragon comes from Slabhide in heroic Stonecore and offers dodge and mastery rating. If you like avoidance or are low on gold, this is your best bet.
  • The Halted Clock is a world drop relic with a good amount of dodge and some decent stamina, if you don't mind dropping the gold (or refraining from selling it if it drops for you). I usually wouldn't suggest something so low-level, but there are seriously not many pre-raid tanking relics.
  • Leaden Despair drops from High Priestess Azil in the Stonecore and provides a good bit of stamina along with a triggered burst of armor when your health drops too low, making it probably one of your best all-around pre-raid trinket bets.
  • If you're an avoidance junkie, pick up Throngus' Finger from heroic Grim Batol. It provides a good chunk of parry rating and a proc that provides some dodge rating when you parry an attack.
  • The Porcelain Crab drops from Mindbender Ghur'sha in Throne of the Tides provides a good amount of dodge rating and a mastery proc.
  • The armor on Heart of Thunder from heroic Vortex Pinnacle comes with an on-use panic button that provides a larger health pool, which may not be as useful as it once was in this era of huge health pools. Still, if you can't get any better, this will pad your item level.

For weaponry, I'll simply link you to my DPS pre-raid gear guide and advise you to pick any of the 2H weapons there. Go for a weapon with hit or expertise if you can grab it, although any good, solid 2H weapon should do it for you.

Follow our road map to leveling your DK from 80 to 85, and then learn the ropes of endgame play with WoW Insider's DK 101 guide. Gear up with pre-heroic gear for DPS DKs and keep track of what's happening on your hotbars with our guide to DK spell alerts.

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