Frohike's tanking guide 4.0.6

Death Knight
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    1. Changes in the last patch
    2. Tanking for dummies
    3. Tank stats
      3.1. Expertise
      3.2 Hit
      3.3 Playing without hit or expertise
      3.4 Threat
      3.5 Armor
      3.6 Racials
    4. Reforging
    5. Facts worth knowing
    6. Stamina and avoidance
    7. Diminishing returns
    8. More about threat and taunt
    9. New rune mechanic
    10. Talents .............................................. choosing a build
      10.1 Explanation
      10.2 Playing without diseases
      10.3 What happened to dw?
      10.4. Leveling
    11. Glyphs
    12. Raid Buffs and cooldowns
    13. Priorities ........................................... how to play
    14. Abilities and mastery
    15. Gems, enchants, and runeforging
    16. Gear
    17. Professions
    18. Macros and addons
    19. Acknowledgments

This guide is available in spanish:
You can repost this guide elsewhere, but please, include a link back to this topic.

Please, report any mistake you find so I can correct them.

4.0.6 patch notes: (to be released)


  • More threat:
    • 9% free spell hit for all DKs.
    • Heart Strike now deals 175% weapon damage plus 15% per disease, up from 120% plus 10% per disease.
    • Improved Death Strike now increases the damage of Death Strike by 30/60/90%, up from 15/30/45%.

  • More protection:
    • If Death Strike is used while a Blood Shield is already active, the new absorb will stack with the old one instead of replacing it. However, DS healing is now 15% instead 20%.
    • Bone Shield now has 4 charges, up from 3.
    • Icebound Fortitude breaks and protects from stun.

  • One more button to press:
    • Scarlet Fever now applies via Blood Plague, rather than Blood Boil.
    • And half Death Strike lost because we are spending a rune on Blood Plague.

  • A small improvement:
    • Will of the Necropolis no longer refunds a Blood Rune when it resets Rune Tap's cooldown. Instead it makes the next Rune Tap free while Will of the Necropolis is active.

  • Draenei heals 20% over 15 seconds.
  • Dwarfs reduce all damage taken by 10%.
  • Cooldown reductions for gnomes, humans, and worgens.
  • Night elfs can shadowmeld while shapeshifted. Taurens can War Stomp while shapeshifted.


  • BOOST: We get a lot of threat/dmg:
    • 9% spell hit is around 30% more damage with diseases.
    • DW may be viable with the increase in threat, but it will be still worse because you are wasting 3 talent points and doing less damage than 2h.

  • Protection against damage:
    • BOOST You can't dodge/parry when stunned, but now you have a chance to break the stun if Icebound Fortitude is available.
    • BOOST Blood Shield stacks.
    • BOOST: This change to Will of the Forsaken prevents you from losing your blood rune when spamming HS. Just easier to play
    • NERF: Death Strike heals for 5% less, which also decreases the amount of blood shield.
    • NERF: Scarlet Fever moved to Blood Plague now means you have to use Plague Strike and Pestilence again. You lose half Deah Strike when Outbreak is not available.

The change to Death's Embrace glyph means Lichborne spec is not as good, but it is still the best option for survivability. The other spec option, Desecration, is only useful for certain fights. Get the Risen Ally minor glyph (nearly useless), or Horn of Winter if you are lazy.

90% of the tanks use this build:

  • You don't need any hit or expertise unless you are raiding heroic mode.
  • Reforge all hit, expertise, crit, and haste, to mastery and/or dodge/parry.
    Mix sta/dodge/parry/mastery until you reach 150k hp. Then reforge and gem full mastery.
  • Enchant your weapon with Stoneskin Gargoyle or Swordshattering.
  • Always use Blood Presence.
  • Death Knights tank using DPS two-handed weapons.

Am I ready to tank?
  • The gear you need to tank an instance is the gear that drops on the previous instance. That is, normal -> heroic -> 10 man raid -> 25 man raid. Example: If your gear is mostly 333, you can move to easy heroics (Vortex Pinnacle).
  • Everytime you move to the next tier of content (eg: normal to heroic) it will be challenging and you'll feel undergeared. That's normal.
  • If you keep your stats balanced, you'll be properly geared when your hp reaches 150k in heroics, 175k in raids, 200k in hc raids.

HOW TO PLAY _________________________________________________

Start like this:
  • Drop Death and Decay if available.
  • Use Outbreak while you approach the group.
  • Use Blood Boil to increase initial threat on all the enemies.
  • Use Pestilence to spread the Frost and Scarlet Fever created by Outbreak.

This reduces damage taken in 20% (Frost Fever) + 10% (Scarlet Fever). If Outbreak is not available, you need to use Icy Touch and Plague Strike to apply the Frost and Scarlet fever debuffs.

Continue like this:
  • If there are one or two enemies use Heart Strike as much as you can.
  • For 3 or more enemies use Blood Boil as much as you can.
  • Use Death Strike after receiving damage.
  • Use Rune Strike when you can't use anything else.

These are your defensive cooldowns: Vampiric Blood, Bone Shield, Icebound Fortitude, Rune Tap, Anti-Magic Shield, Dancing Rune Weapon, Lichborne + Death Coil, Raise Death + Death Pact.
You should use one cooldown after the other during the whole fight, unless you are saving for later. Don't wait until your hp drops. Death is related to how much damage you take and HOW you take it. Go smooth all the way.

More stuff:
  • Use Empower Rune Weapon to regenerate runes on an emergency.
  • If there is only one enemy, you don't need Death and Decay or Pestilence.
  • When I need to refresh diseases I use Outbreak + Blood Tap + Pestilence.

Read ability descriptions at least once, and practice on training dummies to understand your abilities.

ADDONS ______________________________________________________

The following addons are of great help for a tank:

Tidy y Tidy Threat show a bar with your threat over the nameplates of the mobs. This tells you who to hit, and who is about to attack a member of your group. It's also very informative to show you the effects of your actions.

Blood Shield Tracker shows an estimated healing bar for Death Strike. This addon will tell you when to use DS so you get the most of it.

Power Auras shows visual cues indicating when a buff or debuff are active. I use it to see when an enemy has Frost Fever and Scarlet Fever active (-30% dmg taken). A graphic on top of your character is easy to see, unlike your debuffs in the middle of a dozen more.

Section 18 explains how to configure some of these addons.

The following are tank stats:
    effective health (armor | stamina | mastery)
    avoidance (dodge | parry)
    threat (expertise | melee hit | strength)


  • Expertise decreases the chance that your melee abilities are dodged or parried by the boss.

  • Your melee abilities are those based on weapon damage: Blood Strike, Hearth Strike, Plague Strike, Death Strike, and auto attack.

  • At level 85, a level 88 raid boss has a 6.5% chance to Dodge attacks from all directions, and a 16% chance to Parry attacks from a 180° arc to his front. Expertise decreases the chance of a boss dodging or parrying your hits in 0.25 per point. This means you would need 26 to avoid dodges, and 56 to avoid parries.

  • To reach 26 expertise you only need 32.79 *20 = 655 expertise rating because we get 6 expertise from "Veteran of the third war".
  • From 80 to 85, the expertise needed to prevent dodge is 23 and not 26.

3.2 HIT

  • A Death Knight has both melee and caster abilities:
    • Spell abilities: those not directly related to weapon damage, that is: Icy Touch, Howling Blast, Death Coil, and Pestilence.
    • Melee abilities are those based on weapon damage: Blood Strike, Hearth Strike, Plague Strike, and auto attack.

  • Death Knight spell abilities are not affected at all by spell damage.

  • Hit is the source for two different stats:
    • Melee hit: you get 1% melee hit per 120.109 melee hit rating.
    • Spell hit: you get 1% spell hit per 102.446 spell hit rating.

  • To avoid failing your hits against a boss you need:
    • 17% spell hit (1741 rating) for spell abilities (only 6% in heroics).
    • 8% melee hit (960 rating) for melee abilities.


What happens with 0 expertise?
The boss will dodge and parry 6.5% and 14% of your attacks.

What happens with 0 hit?
You will miss 8% of your melee attacks, and 17% of your spell attacks.

What happens when you fail an attack?
If an ability is fueled by runes, the runes are not used, and you lose the 1.5 seconds of global cooldown that it takes to repeat the ability.
If an ability is fueled by Runic Power, the Runic Power is lost. Note that Rune Strike can't be dodged or parried by anyone.

What is the chance of failing DS?
In blood spec and 0 hit/expertise from gear you have 8% miss + 5% dodge + 12.5% parry = 25.5% chance to fail against level 88. That is 0.255*0.255 = 0.065 (6.25%) chance of failing 2 DS in a row, and 0.255^3 = 0.016 (1.6%) chance of failing 3 DS in a row.
9% avoidance (or 9 mastery) is a HUGE protection and offsets by far the risk of being 1 DS away from death and failing that DS. This would only change if in some heroic mode you are guaranteed to go down to 10% hp or so (I don't have any experience in heroic modes).

How about interrupts?
The logic behind playing without hit and expertise is that the benefit of getting survival stats outweigh the risk of failing an interrupt.
If you are in a normal 5man or raid, you should survive. If you are on a heroic 5man or raid, there are spells that will kill you depending on your gear. On such cases, maybe, you'll want to invest on the Virulence talent or increase your hit in some way.

How about tank DPS?
Only important enough if you are running against a timer enrage. And even then, think twice how important that is against your survival.


It's a non issue in raids thanks to Vengeance. Vengeance provides 5% of damage taken in attack power up to 10% of our hp. When we start a fight we should receive Tricks of the Trade or Missdirection to increase our threat, and later we stack enough Vengeance to keep our threat very high.

If you don't get have enough threat, there are several explanations:
  • Your playstyle.
  • Your gear.
  • Too many target changes.
  • Mobs apart from each other so you can't cleave with Heart Strike.
  • Everyone burning their cooldowns at the start, and rogues/hunters not boosting your threat.

  • Armor mitigates all damage except bleed (a kind of physical damage) and spells.

  • Effective Health is how much your health would be if you had no damage reduction or avoidance but could still take the same amount of hits. You can increase effective health getting armor and stamina gems.

  • As armor goes up, it takes more armor to get each extra percentage point of damage reduction, but that's countered by the fact that each additional point of damage reduction is more valuable than the last to increase your time to live. So in terms of absolute time to live, armor is not subjected to diminishing returns.

  • On a purely physical fight 11.7 armor equals 1 stamina in terms of effective health. eg: the Glyph of Indomitability trinket has 1792 armor, which equals 153 stamina. On Sindragosa the damage is 60% magic, 40% melee so it would be worth 153 * 0.6 = 91 stam.

  • If an item has the armor in green in its tooltip, it means that it has more armor than other gear of the same level.

  • See the following for related math:

  • Base armor of a Death Knight is increased to 51.6% thanks to 30% Blood Presence, 10% Toughness, 4% Stoneskin Gargoyle, 2% Austere Shadowspirit Diamond.

  • Damage reduction from armor for levels 81 and above is:
    DR% = Armor / (Armor + 2167.5 * attackerLevel - 158167.5). AttackerLevel would be 88 for a boss. The number you see in the armory is calculated for an attacker with the same level as the player.

  • Total damage reduction is calculated multiplying damage reduction effects:
    % DR = DR from armor * 0.08 Improved Blood Presence * 0.06 Blade Barrier.
    You should be able to keep Blade Barrier active most of the time (you have to keep your blood runes in cooldown for this).


Racials reward you with mobility, threat, and survival. These are the best imo:
  • Alliance: Night elf for +2% miss or dwarf for 10% less damage
  • Horde: Goblin for +1% passive attack speed and other cool stuff. Like rocket boots (very useful in pve too) that work as blink, a banker NPC, and ranged damage for PVP.
  • See the full list here:

OR choose whatever you love the most. You will be looking at your character for a long time. Some thoughts to help you decide:
  • Expertise bonus = bad, you get the caps from gear anyway, and reforging 3 expertise to stamina is still bad.
  • Spell resistance = bad. Most of the damage is physical.
  • Tauren 5% base hp and Draenei heal are straight bad, they don't scale.


  • Reforging allows you to change 40% of one secondary stat of a gear item into another stat not present on that item.
    • Primary stats (non reforgeable): agility, intellect, resilience, stamina, strength, attack power, spell power, armor.
    • Secondary stats (reforgeable): critical, dodge, expertise, haste, hit, mastery, parry, spirit.
    • You can't reforge enchants, gems, or weapon damage.
  • Reforging to mastery increases Blood Shield. There is no cap on mastery or it isn't known.
  • To find a reforge vendor ask a city guard.
  • Reforging costs around 10g. Undoing the reforge is free.


  • Always reforge critical, haste, to any of the tank stats (dodge, parry, mastery, hit, or expertise).

  • Thanks to Vengeance, taunt not being able to miss, and parry haste gone, you can reforge away yuor hit/expertise to avoidance or mastery.

  • If you are a beginner, reforge mastery to avoidance or use a mixed avoidance/mastery. If you are a seasoned tank, go full mastery. The difference is that mastery only shines if you use Death Strike correctly.

According to simulations by Lichloathe, mastery and avoidance have equal value on melee fights. See
But given that most boss fights have around 20% magic damage (I got this number browsing world of logs), and avoidance doesn't protect against that. Therefore..

Mastery seems to be potentially superior to avoidance on most fights, assuming that you use Death Strike correctly.

Because this is based on a simulation, results may vary depending on your in-game use of Death Strike.


Again, if you go all mastery, you have to look at the Blood Shield Tracker addon, use Outbreak as much as possible (to save frost runes for DS), and use DS carefully.

If your mind is not free to focus on your Death Strike, go avoidance. You will get better results. This will always be the case if you are a beginner and you feel there is too much going on. Avoidance works automatically, it's easier to play, and frees your mind to focus on something else.


Some tanks are reforging away all hit and expertise to dodge/parry/mastery, and relying in Missdirection/Tricks of Trade until they gain enough Vengeance stacks. This strategy aims for maximum survivability.

Tanks in high level guilds are reforging avoidance/mastery/stamina in all kind of ways, except prioritizing stamina. All stamina doesn't seem necessary since at 200k hp you can't be one shotted, and playing correctly you are able to survive without heals long enough.

Here are the DK tanks from the world's 25 fastest Nefarian kills (25 man):



Choosing gear without hit or expertise will get you 9% more avoidance or 9 mastery points, and a 21% increased chance of delaying DS by 1.5 seconds.
I got 4x Will of the Necropolis buffs in Omnitron Defense System using ilvl 350 pre-raid gear. That's below 30% hp (around 50k hp).

How many of those times was I saved by 1 DS?
How many times more would I be below 30% if I was taken 10% more damage?

It's a gamble, depends on how challenging a given fight is, "I think" it's worth it because 10% is a big difference, but I don't have the math the prove it.

  • A player level 85 never receives Crushing Blows because the level difference with the boss is less than four (85 vs 88).

  • A tank with Improved Blood Presence can't be critted by a NPC 3 levels above the player. However, there are special cases where game mechanics override this.

  • NPCs and players can not parry attacks from behind.

  • Spell power have no effect whatsoever for Death Knights.

  • Resistance to a specific spell school grants the chance of avoiding damage completely (if the spell has a secondary snare component) or partially.

  • There is no parry haste effect in Cataclysm. If you don't know what that is, forget about it, it's gone.

  • Raise Dead + Death Pact is a 25% self heal.

  • You can't dodge or parry while casting Army of Dead, but you take (dodge+parry rating) less damage.

  • You can only parry when your swing timer is active, so you can't parry while disarmed.

  • There are four categories of spell resistance:
    • Immunities: things like the paladin Divine Shield.
    • Damage reductions: things like the druid Barkskin.
    • Absorptions: things like the DK Anti Magic Shield.
    • Resistances: things like Cloak of Shadows.


  • 1% dodge = 176.71899 dodge rating
  • 1% parry = 176.71899 parry rating
  • 1% melee hit = 120.109 melee hit rating
  • 1% spell hit = 102.446 spell hit rating
  • 1% crit = 179.28 crit rating
  • 1.3% haste = 128.05701 haste rating
  • 1% expertise = 30.0272 expertise rating
  • 1% mastery = 179.28 mastery rating

See also:

Basic information:
  • Avoidance reduces the chance of receiving several consecutive hits. Stamina reduces the chance of death during those risky situations.
  • "Effective health" is the amount of damage you can take without avoidance or a healer. I consider this to be a mix of mastery, stamina, and armor.

  • You can't dodge/parry ranged attacks, spells, or bleed effects.
  • You can't dodge/parry while being stunned/knocked down.
  • You can't dodge/parry when the attacker faces your back.
  • Blizzard encourages a mix of avoidance/stamina through gear bonuses.
  • The chance of a dodge/parry proc increases with each successful hit taken. It is increasingly unlikely getting several (eg: 5) hits in a row having 66% avoidance, but on a 5 minutes fight it will eventually happen. Most tanks have 60% avoidance inside ICC. The chance of receiving strings of 5 consecutive hits in a sample of 150 hits (5 minutes at 1 hit every 2 seconds) is highly likely to happen.


If you are able to survive alone long enough for the healer to fill back all your hp, you could argue that having more hp won't benefit you, but in practice it gives the healer the freedom to help other members of the group. Given enough healing, you could argue that more stamina is not needed, but then the same could be said for any other tank stat. In summary, effective health is always good, and keeping your stats balanced is even better.


The chance of avoidance failing 5x times in a row decreases dramatically beyond 40% avoidance (see, which is the reason why Blizzard originally introduced Chill of the Throne. Without it, spiky damage would have been needed to kill a tank (remember Gormok the impaler?), and fights would have been more unpredictable.


  • If there is magical damage, bleeds, knock backs (avoidance won't help you here).
  • If your gear is bad enough to die in less time that it takes for a healer to fill your hp bar. You will be better served trusting in high hp than in RNG.
  • Boss damage is unavoidable. eg: Gormok impale.
  • If it helps you to survive another hit. eg: LK 25, you can survive 2 hits shifting avoidance to mastery.
  • If healers are safe.


  • In pure melee fights, avoidance and mastery are equal (a 0.5% difference). So avoidance is better given that it doesn't require that you use DS correctly.
  • On special hits. eg: in Saurfang teh boss gains a buff when he hits you.
  • When mastery is not working. eg: as Chimaeron offtank you sit there getting no damage, and then you get 2 extremely high hits.

Diminishing Returns (DR) means that a stat is less effective as its quantity increases. DR makes impossible to cap dodge, parry, miss with the current gear. DR affects avoidance gained from strength and gear, but not from talents, spells, or runeforge.

Dodge and parry has the same diminishing returns in 4.0.1.

What is reduced by DR is the amount, not the effect.
When you add 1% at 0% avoidance you gain 1% damage reduction. But when you add 1% at 50% you gain 2% damage reduction of the damage you were getting before (not the total damage you would get at 0%, that is irrelevant). To prevent the exponential effectiveness of this effect, DR reduces the amount of avoidance so you get a similar improvement of effectiveness disregarding the amount you already have.

In plain english: avoidance is always a good investment. Even when you already have a lot of it. Diminishing returns are just a way to prevent avoidance from becoming too powerful.

So the only thing that matters about DR is that you get a bit more avoidance if you keep parry and dodge close to each other. Even better if parry is slightly behind, because it will go up when you gain strength from horn and kings. This way you get smaller DR on each, but a bigger effect when combined.

If you want to see the math that leads to this conclusion read This post is calculating with a ratio of 3x more dodge than parry, but the formulas are still valid if you want to repeat the calculations.
And if you like math, here is an inspiring thread from 2008 that never got updated:


  • The threat generated by an ability depends on its damage, healing, and the specific amount of threat assigned by Blizzard to that ability.

  • A boss changes target when a player has 10% (melee) or 30% (ranged) more threat than the current target.

  • You generate more threat while tanking because each time you dodge and parry you can use Rune Strike and stack Vengeance. Other classes have similar abilities so don't be surprised if you are below threat while not tanking.

  • Expertise and hit are the best threat stats until the soft cap, specially expertise.

  • Interrupts will decrease your threat. Example:
    Take a Jaraxxus fight: 1 Mind Freeze every 10 seconds = 120 Runic Power per-minute, that's 4 Rune Strikes per-minute, in a 10 minute fight that's 40 Rune Strikes less. After a while they won't matter, but at the beginning while Vengeance is still low you may note you have initial Threat issues so dumping Runic Power into Interrupts instead of Threat isn't really a great idea. --Vindictus <Dark Storm>


Taunt refers to an ability with one or more of the following features:
  • Forces the mob to attack you for a set duration of time (aka "fixate").
  • Sets your threat equal to the current aggro holder (that is, at 100%)
  • Makes you the current aggro holder.

The taunt abilities having the three components are:
Warrior Taunt, Druid Growl, Paladin Righteous Defense and Hand of Reckoning, Death Knight Dark Command and Death Grip.

The taunt abilities having only the fixate component are:
Warrior Mocking Blow and Challenging Shout, Druid Challenging Roar.

Since patch 3.3, taunt is only affected by diminishing returns if the target has been specifically flagged for that behavior. When DR is enabled, the fixate component is reduced by 65% of previous taunt duration. The sixth taunt will appear in the combat log as Immune. DR resets at 18 seconds.

The hit cap that applies to you is determined by the level of the mob you are attacking. When you are level 80:

  • Level 85 target => 4% miss
  • Level 86 target => 5% miss
  • Level 87 target (heroic boss and raid trash) => 6% miss
  • Level 88 target (raid boss) => 8% miss (Boss)
The taunt hit cap against bosses is the melee hit of 8%. The change from spell to melee hit happened in 4.0.1.

"Death Grip immune" means the grip part failed. "Death Grip missed" means the taunt part failed. "Death Grip failed" means you couldn't cast because the target wasn't in front of you.

How it works:
  • It takes 10 seconds to fill a rune.
  • Each rune used generates 10 Runic Power.
  • Runes of each kind (blood, frost, unholy) fill sequentially.
    Example: if you use two blood runes, one of them starts refilling while the other stays depleted.
  • A rune based ability doesn't cost any runes when it's missed, dodged, or parried. That's unlike the runic power based abilities, which won't refund the runic power used when they fail.
    Exception: Abilities that don't need a target always spend its runes, like Blood Boil and Death and Decay.
  • A death rune is only used if no normal runes are available for the ability you are trying to use. Death runes replacing blood runes are used before death runes replacing any other runes, no matter in which order they were created.

Other factors affecting rune regeneration:
  • Rune Empowerment has a 45% chance of refreshing a RANDOM rune whenever you use Rune Strike or Death Coil
  • Any attack power debuff will slow your rune regeneration.
  • 25.71 haste rating = 1% haste = 1% faster rune regeneration, same gcd.


  • Rune cooldown is more frequent.
    This is intended to give you time to react to procs and use instants and power dumps without having idle runes.
  • You can save runes for later.
    Having a full rune plus a second rune filling up, means you have a rune on reserve without wasting your refilling ability.
  • There is no rotation.
    You don't know what will be available, because Rune Empowerment will refresh a random rune, so you have to keep an eye on your UI. This reduces your environment awareness, which is a fair critic to the new system.
  • If you are unlucky with Rune Empowerment you can be out of runes and runic power.

Before patch you had to use full runes immediately, so they could start refilling and you were able to fit more hits. A lot like playing the piano, with the runes telling you what key goes next.

Now runes fill slower. You have to be conscious about what are you going to spend now or save for later, and you have more time for abilities not based on runes.

Basic info:
  • In Cataclysm talent trees were reduced to 31 points per tree to make them more meaningful, and remove fillers.
  • You get 1 talent point every 2 levels (41 points total at level 85).
  • The only tanking tree in 4.0.1 is Blood.

BLOOD 31/8/2

Every tanking build is a variation of that.
This build includes Glyphs. Move forward to the glyph section for a discussion.
Some people takes Unholy Command instead Endless Winter while leveling.


First you take every blood talent except three stinkers:
  • Hand of doom (refreshes strangulate)
  • Butchery (RP when you kill an enemy)
  • Blood-Caked Blade. 5% auto-attack dmg more, around 3% more total damage counting the RP from Scent of Blood. Not bad, but still less than Bladed Armor, and only useful on single target.

Lichborne is an additional cooldown that heals around 30k per Death Coil in heroics. Runic Power Mastery increases 30-40% damage on Death Strike if you keep your runic power near 100.

Not so cool talents:

  • Abomination's Might is a waste for 25 man raids. It can be provided by a Marksman Hunter (Trueshot Aura), a Enhancement Shaman (Unleased Rage), or one paladin for might AND another paladin (kings) or druid (wild) or drums of forgotten kings. Note that in 4.0.1 Drums of Wild is a potion.

  • Scent of Blood 3/3. This talent provides 45/90/135 RP assuming you are attacked once every 2 seconds. 3/3 means more RP, but given that procs may come together, you may not have time to do a melee hit to generate the RP and therefore the last point doesn't benefit so much as the first two. You are good with 2/3.

  • Crimson Scourge 2/2.
    In raids you are going to wipe in bosses not in trash, so Endless Winter is better because it saves RP for rune refresh, and you don't need to care if you will have enough for the next interrupt.
    On heroics you can choose Crimson Scourge, Unholy Command, or Endless Winter. It's a personal choice I suppose.


This was a popular style at the end of WOTLK where heroics were faceroll. Basically it increases initial threat faster at the cost of receiving 20% more damage from skipping icy touch+pestilence.

In Cataclysm the Death Knights get free diseases half of the time thanks to Outbreak (level 81 ability), and increased threat thanks to Vengeance. There is little reason to keep skipping diseases.

You have Nerves of Cold Steel and 2h specialization is gone, but not having access to Threat of Thassarian means around 1/4 less threat (more autoattack, 30% less dmg on abilities, a small gain on RP from scent of blood). You get more blood worms procs.

So basically you waste 3 talent points and get 10% less threat in return.

Viable? maybe, but clearly worse.


The blood tree is the same for raiding and leveling. Since 4.0.3 dual spec costs only 10g.

Blade Barrier 3/3
Blade Armor 3/3
Improved Blood Tap 2/2
Scarlet Fever 2/2
Scent of Blood 2/3
Toughness 3/3
Bone Shield 1/1
Improved Blood Presence 2/2
Sanguine Fortitude 2/2
Blood Parasite 2/2
Vampiric Blood 1/1
Rune Tap 1/1
56 Will of the Necropolis 1/3
57 Improved Death Strike 3/3
63 Will of the Necropolis 3/3
67 Dancing Rune Weapon 1/1

Playing without diseases:
69 Unholy Command 2/2
73 Runic Power Mastery 3/3

Use glyphs of Death Strike, Rune Strike, Heart Strike. Choose the others yourself.

At 80 respec to drop Unholy Command. Take Runic Power Mastery again and aim for Lichborne 1/1 and Epidemic 2/3.

If you need more aoe threat while leveling pick Crimson Scourge 2/2.


New glyph system:

  • 3 Prime: Increase to damage or healing.
  • 3 Major: Add a minor feature to a spell.
  • 3 Minor: Convenience or cosmetic changes.
Glyph slots are unlocked at level 25, 50, and 75.
New glyphs are learned as permanent spells in your book.
Changing a glyph requires a vendor reagent called "Vanishing powder" (level<=80) or "Dust of Disappearance" (level 81+).

  • Heart Strike: +30% dmg.
  • Death Strike: +2% dmg per 5 RP up to +40% (100 RP).
  • Rune Strike: +10% crit.
  • Death and Decay: +50% duration.
Not so good: Frost Strike, Howling Blast, Icy Touch, Raise Dead, Scourge Strike. Only Icy Touch fits a blood build, but +20% frost disease is not good enough.

  • Dancing Rune Weapon: +50% threat while DRW is up.
  • Blood Boil: +50% radius.
  • Pestilence: +5 yards on pestilence.
  • Vampiric Blood: +15% healing but -15% hp bonus.
  • Rune Tap: Rune Tap also heals your party for +5% hp.
Not so good:
  • Bone Shield: +15% speed when shield is up. Doesn't stack.
  • AMS: +2 seconds.
  • Death Grip: +5 yards
  • Strangulate: +2 seconds silence.
  • Chains of Ice: chains do some damage.
  • Hungering Cold: no RP required.

  • Blood Tap: Negates damage from Blood Tap.
  • Horn of Winter: +1 minute.
  • Resilient Grip: Refreshes Death Grip cooldown when target is immune.
  • Path of Frost: Now reduces fall damage.
  • Raise Ally: +25% hp and +15% speed on your guardian.


This is a short list of the most important buffs for a tank. If you want to see every single buff read:

Deathknight: Horn of Winter. 2 mins.
Hunter (Cat / Spirit Beast): Roar of Courage. 1 min.
Shaman: Strength of Earth Totem. 5 mins.
Warrior: Battle Shout. 2mins.

Death Knight: Abomination's Might.
Hunter: Trueshot Aura.
Paladin: Blessing of Might
Shaman: Unleashed Rage

Druid: Mark of the wild
Paladin: Blessing of Kings

Hunter (Silithid): Qiraji Fortitude
Priest: Power Word: Fortitude
Warlock: Improved Blood Pact
Warrior: Commanding Shout

30% HASTE, 40 seconds
Hunter (Core Hound): Ancient Hysteria
Mage: Time Warp
Shaman: Bloodlust / Heroism


DeathKnight: Frost Fever (cost: 1 frost rune)
Druid: Infected Wounds talent + Shred or Maul or Ravage or Mangle
Warrior: Thunder Clap (cost: 20 rage)
Paladin: Judgements of the Just

DeathKnight: Scarlet Fever (cost: 1 unholy rune)
Druid: Demoralizing Roar (cost: 10 rage)
Warrior: Demoralizing Shout (cost: 10 rage)
Paladin: Vindication talent + Crusader Strike or Hammer of the Righteous

Hunter and Shaman have a short attack debuff, and Warlock is able (but unlikely) to do the damage debuff. The only sane way to know when the debuffs are active is configuring Power Auras. I explain how in the Macros and Addons section.

If you want to compare how easy is for each class to apply the debuff, see this table:


These are spells from other classes that can be casted on you to reduce damage or prevent death.

Guardian Spirit
6% of base mana, 40 yd range
Instant cast, 3 min cooldown

Calls upon a guardian spirit to watch over the friendly target. The spirit increases the healing received by the target by 40%, and also prevents the target from dying by sacrificing itself. This sacrifice terminates the effect but heals the target of 50% of their maximum health. Lasts 10 sec.

Pain Suppression
8% of base mana, 40 yd range
Instant cast, 3 min cooldown

Instantly reduces a friendly target's threat by 5%, reduces all damage taken by 40% and increases resistance to Dispel mechanics by 65% for 8 sec.

Hand of Sacrifice
6% of base mana, 30 yd range
Instant cast, 2 min cooldown

Places a Hand on the party or raid member, transfering 30% damage taken to the caster. Lasts 12 sec or until the caster has transfered 100% of their maximum health. Players may only have one Hand on them per Paladin at any one time.

Divine Guardian
100 yd range
Instant, 2 min cooldown

All party or raid members, excluding the Paladin, take 20% reduced damage for 6 sec.


  • Curse: Druid, Mage, Shaman.
  • Disease: Paladin, Priest
  • Poison: Druid, Paladin.
  • Magic: Priest, Restoration Druid, Holy Paladin, Restoration Shaman, Warlock.

Read "Guide to Dispels in 4.0.1" by Rebecca Judd for details.


For survival:
  • Blood Boil...........10% dmg reduction every 30 seconds. Look for the Scarlet Fever debuff.
  • Death Strike........ 29% mitigation from DS heal and Improved Death Strike, plus 50% of that amount as Blood Shield, calculated over the dmg taken in the last 5 seconds.
  • Rune Tap............15% hp heal.
  • Cooldowns..........Icebound Fortitude, Vampiric Blood, Bone Shield, DRW, Anti-Magic Shield, and Lichborne (81).

For threat:
  • Diseases.............They increase the damage of HS and BB. Use IT and PS or Outbreak.
  • HS, RS................Main source of threat.
  • DRW....................50% more threat with 1.5 min cd. But it requires 60 RP. Use it for a threat boost.

For AOE threat:
  • Death and Decay
  • Blood Boil........If there are more than 3 enemies.
  • Heart Strike.....If there are 3 or less enemies (it hits up to 3 targets).

There are other, not so great, cooldowns:
  • Army of Dead = less (dodge+parry rating) dmg while casting but disables the ability to dodge/parry while the cast lasts.
  • Dancing Rune Weapon = 20% more parry.


There isn't a rotation due to the random refreshment of runes, so you need to know what you are doing.
  • On single target:
    • Diseases: BB, IT, PS, and spam HS. You should get -20% + -10% + -6% dmg reduction from this.
    • Use DS after getting damage.
    • Rune Strike.
    • Keep alternating HS, DS, RS, or refresh diseases if needed.
  • On multiple target:
    • Death and Decay if available
    • BB to spread -10% dmg reduction
    • IT (or Outbreak if available) + Pestilence to spread -20% dmg reduction.
    • BB (4 or more enemies) or HS (3 or less enemies) until you can't. This will also grant you the Blade Barrier buff.
    • DS to heal yourself.
    • Rune Strike

Use one cooldown after the other, instead using several at once and then having periods of time with no cooldowns available.


  • You are likely to get the most of DS if you try to use it once every 5 seconds, but:
    • If your frost/unholy runes are full, waste them so RE can refresh them.
    • If you anticipate a burst of damage, forget everything and keep your DS ready.
  • If you are orc, Blood Fury increases the healing of Lichborne + Death Coil.

  • Every tank class can apply the -20% attack speed and -10% damage debuffs. You can configure Power Auras to tell you when the debuffs are already active, which means you don't need to waste your resources overwriting the debuffs. I explain how to do this in "18. Macros & Addons".

  • You get the most of Bone Shield if you use it after DRW, because the parry from DRW increases the lifespan of BS.

  • You get the most of Rune Tap if you use it after Vampiric Blood, because the increase in hp makes RT heal for more.

  • If your health goes below 30%, you get a free Rune Tap thanks to WotN. It has a 45 seconds cd. Did your ass got kicked? -> press Rune Tap.

  • If you have nothing else to do, click Horn of Winter for 10 RP.

  • If you want to practice your rotation, soloing Pit of Saron is more realistic and fun than the dummies.


Runic Empowerment, Passive
When you use your Death Coil, Frost Strike, or Rune Strike ability, you have a 45% chance to activate a random fully depleted rune.

A fully depleted rune is the one that sits idle and empty while the other rune of the same kind is refilling. But here is what the tooltip doesn't tell you: If there is no depleted rune, a random refilling rune gets refreshed instead.

There are three things to know about this...

#1: There is no way to know when a rune is going to refresh, so you need to play with the UI on sight (which sucks).

#2: You should have one "fully depleted rune" before using Rune Strike, because it's more of a gain to refresh one whole rune than one refilling rune.

#3: You can game the system and increase your DS or HS.
  • If you have one blood rune full AND one frost or unholy rune depleted, the RE proc will regenerate F/U runes to fuel your Death Strikes.
    Unfortunately this means means your Blade Barrier will be down (6% damage).
  • If you have one blood rune depleted AND one frost and unholy runes full, the RE proc will regenerate more blood runes to fuel BB/HS.
    Unfortunately this means less death runes from Blood Rites, which could also be used for BB/HS.

Playing with RE to increase the number of HS/BB/DS seems like a lot of work with no clear reward, so I rather play wack-a-mole than caring about any of this.


A deadly attack that deals 150% weapon damage plus (((330 * 150 / 100))), healing you for 25% of the damage you have sustained during the preceding 5 sec (minimum of at least 7% of your maximum health).
  • Note: tooltip says 25% but it is wrong!, it is actually 20%.
  • DS generates Death Runes thanks to the passive ability Blood Rites, and can be used to prepare a Blood Boil spam.
  • Vampiric Blood increases health and healing received. Death Strike is only affected by the increase in health, not by the increase in healing power.
  • The healing effect doesn't require diseases up.
  • The "7% maximum health" is not affected by Improved Death Strike or Vampiric Blood.
  • The Blood Shield:
    • Blood Shield is 50% of the DS heal and increases by 6.25% per point of Mastery. That is, 50% + 1 mastery point equals 56.25% blood shield.
    • It absorbs only physical damage, not magic.
    • DS heals AFTER you receive the hit, therefore damage reduction effects work before absorption.
    • It doesn't stack.
    • The absorption effect decreases the damage taken, and therefore the amount healed by Death Strike.
    • It doesn't benefit from the increased heal of DS under the ICC buff (it behaves as if there was no buff).
    • It scales negatively with avoidance and mitigation: it doesn't heal what you avoid or mitigate.
    • Because it scales with damage taken, it is similar to a percentage based reduction.

Your melee attacks have a 10% chance to spawn a Bloodworm. The Bloodworm attacks your enemies, gorging itself with blood until it bursts to heal nearby allies. Lasts up to 20 sec.
  • They will only use their healing power if they reach max stacks or you are below 100% hp.
  • They heal allies on melee range up to 10% of their hp.
  • Blood Parasites have around 25% of the hp of the DK.
  • Blood Parasites will despawn without healing anyone if they don't explode in 20 seconds.

Strike the target for 150% weapon damage plus (1.5 * AP * 10 / 100). Only usable while in Blood Presence, or for 10 sec after the Death Knight dodges or parries. This attack cannot be dodged, blocked, or parried, and causes a high amount of threat.
  • Macros no longer work.
  • You need to use a separate hotkey. Rune Strike and Deatch Coil now gives you a 45% chance to get a free rune of random type thanks to Runic Empowerment.
  • Death Coil costs twice as much and hits half as hard, so always try to use Rune Strike instead.

Boils the blood of all enemies within 10 yards, dealing (297 + 0.08 * AP) Shadow damage. Deals additional damage to targets infected with Blood Plague or Frost Fever.
  • It must be used on bosses to apply 10% damage reduction debuff thanks to the tier 2 blood talent Scarlet Fever. Always refresh Scarlet Fever with this. This has the same effect that the warrior talent Demoralizing Shout.
  • You get a free BB when you reapply blood plague, so don't let those diseases fall!

A disease dealing (0 * 1.15 + AP * 0.055 * 1.15) Frost damage every 3 sec and reducing the target's melee and ranged attack speed by 20% for 21 sec. Caused by Icy Touch and other spells.
  • Similar to warrior's Thunder Clap.

Spreads existing Blood Plague and Frost Fever infections from your target to all other enemies within 10 yards. Diseases spread this way deal 50% of normal damage.
  • Note the 50% less damage. :/

When a damaging attack brings you below 30% of your maximum health, you generate a Blood Rune and the cooldown on your Rune Tap ability is refreshed, and all damage taken is reduced by 25% for 8 sec. This effect cannot occur more than once every 45 seconds.
  • Different but similar WotN.

Runic Empowerment:

When you use your Death Coil, Frost Strike, or Rune Strike ability, you have a 45% chance to activate a random fully depleted rune.
  • Runic Empowerment always refreshes a queued depleted rune, not the rune that is being currently filled.
  • This means you should have a rune on cooldown before dumping RP.
Draw upon unholy energy to become undead for 10 sec. While undead, you are immune to Charm, Fear and Sleep effects.
  • You can heal yourself using Death Coil while you are undead. Use /cast [@player] Death Coil
  • Death Coil is affected by Attack Power and any increased healing effect.
  • Having 30000 armor, Blade Armor is 666 AP at 2/3, and 1000 AP at 3/3. This is a small advantage if you compare with 10000+ AP from Vengeance.[li]It's a good survival build to go for Lichborne beyond 80.

The Death Knight is surrounded by whirling bones. The shield begins with 3 charges, and each damaging attack that lands consumes a charge. While at least 1 charge remains, he takes 20% less damage from all sources and deals 2% more damage with all attacks, spells and abilities. Lasts 5 min.
  • It has an minimum uptime of 4 seconds. Its internal cooldown is 2 seconds. See testing here:
  • You only lose a charge when you take damage. Damage avoided or absorbed won't waste a charge.
  • If you use it 1 minute before the fight you can use another right away.
  • If you throw in a Dancing Rune Weapon, it may last a little bit more thanks to the extra parry.
  • It's useful if you expect big hits (Saurfang, Putricide, Lich King).
  • It requires 1 unholy rune.

Summons a second rune weapon that fights on its own for 12 sec, doing the same attacks as the Death Knight but for 50% reduced damage. The rune weapon also assists in defense of its master, granting an additional 20% parry chance while active.
  • Increases the threat of your other abilities by 50% when glyphed.
  • Note this is a protection talent as much as a threat booster
  • Can't be used as opener since it costs 60 RP.

Temporarily grants the Death Knight 15% of maximum health and increases the amount of health generated through spells and effects by 25% for 10 sec. After the effect expires, the health is lost.
  • Old vampiric blood but costing no resources.

Here’s how the system works: As you spend points in a given talent tree, you’ll receive three different passive bonuses specific to that tree. The first bonus will increase your damage, healing, or survivability, depending on the intended role of the tree. The second bonus will be related to a stat commonly found on gear desirable to you, such as Haste or Crit. The third bonus will be the most interesting, as it will provide an effect completely unique to that tree -- meaning there will be 30 different bonuses of this nature in the game. This third bonus is the one that will benefit from the Mastery rating found on high-level (level 80 to 85) gear.
Simply put, when you choose a tree you get several bonuses. Here is what you get being blood:

Whenever you hit with Death Strike or Obliterate, the Frost and Unholy Runes will become Death Runes when they activate. Death Runes count as a Blood, Frost or Unholy Rune.
  • Each DS transforms one frost rune and one unholy rune to death runes, picking those runes with the longest refilling time.
  • A curiosity: DS does not necessarily transforms to death runes the same runes used to power the ability. If you have two death unholy runes and you use DS, one unholy rune and one frost rune transform to death runes, while the other unholy rune refills as unholy.

Instantly strike the target and up to two additional nearby enemies, causing 100% weapon damage plus 819 on the primary target, with each additional enemy struck taking 25% less damage than the previous target. Damage dealt to each target is increased by an additional 10% for each of your diseases present.

Each time you take damage, you gain 5% of the damage taken as attack power, up to a maximum of 10% of your health.
  • Vengeance takes advantage of the stamina increase in each tier to balance keep up in threat with the increased dps provided by each tier.
  • It works better on static bosses where it can stack.
  • It is an enrage effect and can be dispelled.
  • Any damage absorbed also increases Vengeance.
  • This blue post explains the Vengeance design:
  • It decays 5% per second while attacked, and 10% when not attacked.
  • It goes up an down again, see an example here:

Increases your total Stamina by 9% and your expertise by 6.

Each time you heal yourself via Death Stike, you gain 50% of the amount healed as a damage absorption shield. Each point of Mastery increases the shield by an additional 6.25%.

15.1 GEMS

Epic gems

Mix gems until you reach 150k hp, then go full mastery. For heroic raids get more stamina.


Enchants are the same that for other tanks (except weapon enchants, which are free for Death Knights).

  • Head:

  • Shoulder:

  • Hands:
    • Enchant gloves - Mastery.
    • Quickflip Deflection Plates. Requires engineering
    • Socket Gloves. Requires blacksmithing

  • Boots:
    • Enchant Boots - Mastery
    • Enchant Boots - Lavawalker for speed movement.

  • Weapon:
    • 2 hand weapon: Stoneskin Gargoyle rune or Sword Shattering.
      Don't use anything else. Fallen Crusader is only 6% health per minute. Mending is worse than Fallen Crusader.

  • Waist:
    • Ebonsteel Belt Buckle
    • Grounded Plasma Shield. 16-20k dmg shield. Requires engineering.

  • Legs:
    • Charscale Leg Armor: 145 stamina, 55 agility
    • Charscale Leg Reinforcements. Requires leatherworking.

  • Bracers:
    • Enchant Bracers - Dodge
    • Enchant Bracers - Major Stamina
    • Draconic Embossment - Stamina. Requires leatherworking
    • Socket bracer. Requires blacksmith.

  • Cloak:
    • Enchant cloak: Protection. 250 armor.
    • Flexweave Underlay. Parachute that stacks with the enchant. Requires engineering

  • Chest:
    • Enchant chest: Greater stamina. 75 stamina.

  • Ring: Enchant ring: stamina. Requieres enchanting. 60 stamina per ring.

First number is the level the runeforge is trainable at.

57 - Rune of Spellshattering (2h): Deflects 4% spell damage, 50% silence reduction.
63 - Rune of Swordshattering (2h): 4% parry chance, 50% disarm reduction.

70 - Rune of the Fallen Crusader: chance to increase strength 15% for 15 secs, plus chance to heal 3% hp. Fallen crusader is not worth it for tanking.

Fun facts for Fallen Crusader: You need 2666 strength to keep the 4% parry up for 15 seconds each minute. You would need 10667 strength to have equal average avoidance than Swordshattering.
It heals 6% total hp per minute (more than Mending).

72 - Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle (2h): 4% armor, 2% stamina.
63 - Rune of Swordshattering (2h): 4% parry, -50% disarm duration.

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