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Lichborne: Guide to PvE blood death knights in Mists of Pandaria

Daniel Whitcomb
Daniel Whitcomb|August 28, 2012 2:00 PM
Mists of Pandaria Guide to PvE blood death knights in Mists of Pandaria
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Lichborne for blood, frost, and unholy death knights. In the post-Cataclysm era, death knights are no longer the new kids on the block. Let's show the other classes how a hero class gets things done.

With Mists of Pandaria fast approaching, we continue our basic guides to the specs as they stand in the expansion. This week, we catch up with blood tanks. As a reminder, the following guide is for the basics of the class and spec.

Blood basics in Mists of Pandaria

Blood has changed remarkably little in Mists of Pandaria. Our basic setup is still using Death Strike to get our Blood Shield up, while trying to keep threat at the same time. Vengeance is now based off the amount of damage you've taken in the last 20 seconds, which won't be a huge deal but may lead to some attack power and threat spikes in the long run. Be aware that, especially at the start of a fight, you may need to work slightly harder for threat.

The two things you will probably notice the most are the 1-second global cooldown and the loss of 30-second Outbreak. The GCD change was one that was very much needed for DPS death knights but wasn't really an issue for us. However, since Blizzard decided to make that GCD change global to the class, we do have to deal with it. It may cause some noticeable downtime. That said, it will also allow you to fit in more emergency health-gaining cooldowns faster, so it may be a fair trade. Overall, it's something that should be easy to get used to and may work to our advantage more often than not.

A 30-second Outbreak is a little more of a solid nerf, in that you will have to deal with Outbreak's being on cooldown just when you need it most, but Blizzard has taken most of that agony out of the equation, since Scarlet Fever now allows Blood Boil to refresh diseases. Just be sure not to let diseases completely drop, and you're golden.

Stamina, mastery, avoidance, and other stats for staying alive

Stat priorities have also changed very little in Mists of Pandaria. This is in part because since we already had an active mitigation ability, we didn't see an increased need for hit and expertise. As usual, though, tank stat priorities are a little more nuanced than DPS stat priorities, so we'll go over them.
  • Stamina, as usual, is king. The more HP you have, the more hits you can take. As before, though, there is such a thing as too much stamina. There is going to be a point at which your healers can keep you alive through most stuff, and your health pool is large enough they'll have time to react. That point is going to be different for every raid group (due to healer skill, your skill, and the raid size), so discuss it with your raid leaders, then decide when to stop stacking.
  • Mastery continues to be a very important secondary stat. The more you stack, the bigger your Blood Shields will be. Conventional wisdom in Mists dictates this will still be the most important secondary stat to stack for most death knights after you have your preferred amount of stamina.
  • Dodge and parry You'll have more parry naturally simply because strength will give it to you in rather large amounts. In addition, diminishing returns have changed enough that parry is slightly better. If you want to keep it simple, just favor parry for the most part, but don't worry about dodge if you have it.
  • Hit and expertise While I originally thought they were removing the ability for Blood Shield to trigger even if you missed with Death Strike, here's some good news: They haven't. With that in mind, hit and expertise go down to somewhat non-critical again, and you certainly don't need to stack more than the 7.5% soft caps in either stat. That said, if you need some extra threat, hit and expertise are a good place to start. The more attacks connect, the more threat you gain.
  • Strength provides both a good amount of parry rating for survival and attack power for threat, but you won't really be focusing on getting it. Your tank gear should have strength on it by default, and that should be enough.
A talent for bloody work

Almost every talent has decent situational uses for blood death knights, so there's not really a cookie-cutter build. We'll look at each tier one by one and discuss the issues.

Tier 1 Plague Leech will provide an extra death rune that you can then convert into part of a death strike, so it's a very solid talent choice and likely the min-maxing raid boss talent of the choice. The only downside is that you'll have to reapply diseases eventually to get Weakened Blows back up, so you'll want to make sure Outbreak will be off cooldown. If gaming Plague Leech feels like trouble, don't sweat it. Just pick another talent on this level. Unholy Blight is excellent both for AoE situations and for filling in disease gaps when Outbreak is on cooldown, and Roiling Blood synergizes nicely with Scarlet Fever to make sure your diseases stay up and spread after that initial Outbreak as long as at least one mob is left alive.

Tier 2 Lichborne continues to be an excellent choice for the self-heal trick, and if certain bosses have fear type effects, it becomes the obvious choice. Anti-Magic Zone will be useful primarily for helping out your raid. If you're facing a boss with high magic damage and there's an AoE that's unavoidable (or your raid members are bad at avoiding it), it might be worth picking this talent up. Purgatory looks ironclad at first glance, but understand that if you and your healers are not on your toes, all it does it add another couple of seconds to your lifespan. You'll need to not only heal out of the Purgatory debuff, but make sure that you have enough health to survive the boss' next hit. If you're healed back to 1,000 health and the boss hits for 2,000 health, the boss is still going to kill you, even if Purgatory technically saved you. It also has an internal cooldown of 3 minutes, meaning you can use Lichborne more often than you can count on Purgatory to save you.

Tier 3 Death's Advance is hard to pass up on this tier. Not only do you get the great passive speed boost, but you can trigger it for an emergency rush of speed. That makes it great for catching runners, snagging adds, or chasing after a mob who's chasing after a DPSer who's running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Chillblains can be useful for making sure mobs stay wrangled. It's a lot easier to keep a mob in your sights when it's slowed. In addition, if you come across a fight that requires kiting, you'll have a great way to make that easier on you.

Tier 4 Death Pact is probably the closest thing we have to a mandatory talent. It heals for a huge chunk of health and isn't incredibly disruptive to your ability to generate Death Strikes or build threat. Simply pop Raise Dead, pop Death Pact, and you've just been healed for a whole heck of a lot. If Conversion or Death Siphon fit your playstyle or might provide some situational advantage for a specific fight, go for it, but I'd strongly recommend Death Pact.

Tier 5 Blood Tap makes a lot of sense for blood death knights on this tier, simply because it provides a death rune that you will be able to use for a Death Strike every single time. In addition, since it's off the GCD now, you can either macro it or keep it handy for an emergency, and it won't disrupt your existing threat rotation. You can also take Runic Empowerment here, and either let it alone or use the old "rune tetris" standby rotation where you keep a blood rune off cooldown at all times.

Tier 6 Remorseless Winter feels like the default choice for this tier, certainly for AoE trash clearing. Slowing and eventually stunning mobs just makes for easier control, easier threat, and better survival all around. Gorefiend's Grasp is another strong talent for wrangling mobs. Just remember, it doesn't give you threat automatically, so be ready to lay down some AoE when you pull with it. The other thing to remember about Gorefiend's Grasp is that it pulls mobs to your target. This means you can use it to pull mobs to your off tank or main tank if you're in a two-tank setup or to kite mobs by pulling them to a far-away target. Just be sure the spell won't pull anything that shouldn't be pulled or otherwise moved before you cast it.

The glyph situation

Glyphs are pretty tertiary in a lot of ways this expansion, at least for PvE death knights. Avoid Glyph of Tranquil Grip, because you will definitely want that Death Grip taunt. Other than that, most glyphs will be either situational or a matter of personal preference. See our death knight glyph rundown part 1 and part 2 for more information.

Threat rotations

Unlike DPSers, we don't always have to feel constrained by a constant flurry of activity and a set rotation, though your aim as a death knight tank should be to generate as many death strikes as possible while keeping threat at a good level. You will, of course, want to be using a two-handed weapon, and you'll want to be in Blood Presence with Bone Shield up. Here's some basic advice on spending your resources:
  • Get your diseases up via Outbreak and keep them up. Try to avoid spending runes on disease upkeep if at all possible by refreshing them with Blood Boil via Scarlet Fever or via your tier 1 talent if you choose not to take Plague Leech.
  • Use Death and Decay for AoE threat if needed
  • Use Death Strike for your death, frost, and unholy runes otherwise.
  • Use Rune Strike for your runic power when your frost and unholy runes are on cooldown.
  • If there are more than three adds or you need to refresh diseases, use Blood Boil for your blood runes.
  • Use Soul Reaper for your blood runes if your target is below 35% health.
  • Use Heart Strike for your blood runes otherwise.
  • Game your runes as proper for your tier 5 skill, either using "rune tetris" for Runic Empowerment or using Blood Tap such that it will be more likely to convert a blood rune. If you're having trouble gaming runes, don't get too frustrated; it probably won't be important unless you're a bleeding edge progression raider.
Of course, this is just the bare-bones basics for what you need to, and you'll need to adjust as the situation demands, such as using more Blood Boils for extra AoE threat at the cost of a bit of survivability, if needed. In addition, be sure to weave in survivability cooldowns like Vampiric Blood and Icebound Fortitude as the situation demands.

Addendum: After some further testing and based some discussion and the comments below, I realized I was making a few faulty assumptions about hit and expertise. They're still very valuable stats, but you won't need them to keep your Blood Shield up. I've corrected that in the proper section above.

Learn the ropes of endgame play with WoW Insider's DK 101 guide. Make yourself invaluable to your raid group with Mind Freeze and other interrupts, gear up with pre-heroic DPS gear or pre-heroic tank gear, and plot your path to tier 11/valor point DPS gear.

Lichborne: Guide to PvE blood death knights in Mists of Pandaria