Home > Talents & Glyphs > Tanking Specs for 4.0.1 – Death Knights

Tanking Specs for 4.0.1 – Death Knights

This is part 5 of a 5-part series on tanking specs in 4.0.1. I recommend you view the introduction to the series first.

I’m very sorry for the long delay in this post. The paladin post took longer than I expected, eating up my free time on Tuesday and forcing me to postpone further blogwork until this weekend; when, of course, I was busy preparing myself for the patch. So here it is, the DK post.

EDIT: Please see the comments for discussion on a couple places I went wrong.

Death Knights

The usual disclaimers apply: my death knight is not yet 80, I do not play as blood and I do not tank on him. These recommendations are based on my knowledge of tanking and my research into death knights, not on experience. Shaker-full of salt and all that.

My Picks

Death knights have undergone a lot of changes, possibly more than any other class. The biggest change has been the removal of the dps/tank hybrid trees: the only conventional tanking spec for DKs is now Blood. To this end some of the iconic survival abilities from the other two trees in Wrath, most notably Bone Shield, have been moved to the blood tree; blood presence is the new tanking presence; and most interestingly to me, the proc requirements of Rune Strike have been removed while a DK is in Blood Presence. (Rune Strike can still be used in other presences, but requires the Death Knight to dodge or parry to make it available.)

From a resource standpoint, runes have been reworked into something approaching three different energy bars, with abilities costing runes now costing the equivalent of 50 energy. Runes can still refresh as Death Runes, though I’m not sure how that works with the fill-it-up style. The runic power bar still exists relatively unchanged.

The Blow-By-Blow

Improved Blood Tap – As before, blood runes are both a staple rune of blood DK threat and the most common required resource for survivability cooldowns. Whether or not you personally find it useful will depend mostly on your personal playstyle. As in Wrath, Blade Barrier rewards you for always having your blood runes on cooldown; so if you prefer reactive tanking to proactive tanking, you will likely find improved blood tap useful. If you prefer to work your cooldowns into your rotation proactively, you’ll find it less useful.

Scent of Blood – This talent is singlehandedly responsible for delaying this article by a week. (OK, I lie – but it was responsible for the original delay.) I had originally given Scent of Blood a “filler” rating, because at the time I had doubts that Rune Strike would have enough procs to make the extra RP worthwhile, on top of the base RP from abilities. Then on the 4th, the day after I outlined my talent pics in preparation for these articles, the blues announced that Rune Strike would not require a condition in Blood Presence. Since Rune Strike is now usable with only an RP prerequisite and has no cooldown, the more Runic Power we can generate, the better. Definitely a solid threat talent.

Scarlet Fever – The DK -physical damage debuff. This is where I would normally suggest considering speccing out of this talent if your usual cotank brings it to the table; but for DKs, it may be more complicated than that. Scarlet Fever may count as a disease. If it does, that means it increases the bonus damage of abilities like Obliterate, Blood-Caked Blade, and Heart Strike by 50%. While bears and warriors can provide the debuff, they can’t provide that threat benefit. The general consensus in the conversations I’ve seen on the subject is cautious pessimism: it sounds too good to be true, so it probably isn’t.

While we’re on the subject, I know that blood generally eschews Obliterate in favor of Death Strike; but the way I read Blood Rites, it seems like Blizzard intends to give blood DKs a choice between a heal & bubble (Death Strike) and a small threat/dps increase (Obliterate). I have a feeling that knowing when to switch to Obliterate will help to distinguish the great DK tanks from the merely good.

Blood-Caked Blade – This doesn’t feel like it belongs in Blood. Procs on auto-attack really shine with dual-wielding specs, so it feels out of place in Blood’s slow 2-hander style. Whether or not BCB is worth speccing will depend largely on a) whether Scarlet Fever counts as a disease, and b) your personal level of haste.

Blood Parasite – Bloodworms actually do a fair amount of healing – from what I’ve read, they heal each person in the explosion for 14.4% of the tank’s health at the time they spawned. I’m not sure if there’s a limit to the number of targets they can heal, though I expect there is, along the lines of a Circle of Healing or Wild Growth. The problem with this talent is that it is an incredibly stupid heal. Bloodworms can proc at any time, and don’t explode until about 15 seconds after they spawn. Unless healers regularly leave melee at three-quarters health in the new raiding environment, I suspect that the Bloodworm heal will have the highest overheal of probably any ability in the game. Of course, it’s not a severe problem if the tank overheals – it’s not like DKs have mana to conserve anyway. Still, the likelihood of overheal makes this talent less attractive than its pure heals would indicate.

Talk to your healers to decide if Blood Parasite is right for you!

Crimson Scourge – I’m a little iffy on this talent. As far as I know Plague strike is only good for applying Blood Plague, and with Pestilence there shouldn’t be much need to use Plague Strike to refresh it in AoE. That means this talent would only come into use in single target. Still, I think it’s worthwhile for single target because it allows you to refresh your Scarlet Fever without spending any runes on it, increasing your resources available for threat and survivability. If you end up speccing out of Scarlet Fever, you’ll want to spec out of Crimson Scourge as well.

Unholy Command – This talent will be excellent for gauntlet-type events and off-tanking on multiple-add fights such as the Lich King. It will also be nice for pulling trash in instances. It’s not really a talent that has much use on conventional boss fights, though, which is why I haven’t selected it for this build. Come Cataclysm this will be the talent of choice for getting to Morbidity, but for now I think we’re better off investing those 2 points in the blood tree.

Virulence – The spell hit cap is still significantly higher than the spell hit gained from gearing to the melee cap; and since tanks generally don’t gear to the melee cap, this talent alone will more than halve your chance to miss with spells. Considering that Icy Slam is a spell and the DK tank’s primary pickup tool, this is a big deal.


Prime Glyphs
  • Glyph of Rune Strike – Increases the critical strike chance of your Rune Strike by 10%.
  • Death and Decay – Increases the duration of your Death and Decay spell by 50%. Like the Glyph of Consecration for protadins, this is a resource conservation glyph; but unlike the Glyph of Consecration, this comes with no downside.
  • Glyph of Heart Strike – Increases the damage of your Heart Strike by 30%. This is the largest percent damage increase glyph I’ve seen, and you should take it.
  • Glyph of Death Strike – Increases your Death Strike’s damage by 2% for every 5 runic power you currently have (up to a maximum of 40%). The runic power is not consumed by this effect. I would strongly recommend against using this glyph. With Rune Strike as a spammable RP dump, DK tanks should never suffer from an excess of RP. Just because it has your primary ability’s name does not necessarily make it a good glyph for  tanking.
Major Glyphs
  • Glyph of Dancing Rune Weapon – Increases your threat generation by 50% while Dancing Rune Weapon is active. I approve. Remember, this is multiplicative with the 50% increase in threat you already gain from the weapon, for a total of 125% increased threat generation from Dancing Rune Weapon. Very, very powerful.
  • Glyph of Anti-Magic Shell – Increases the duration of your Anti-Magic Shell by 2 seconds. This will naturally be a situational glyph; I’m sure my cotank would have liked to have it while I was failing on stack clearing on Sindragosa, for example. 2 seconds isn’t a long time exactly, but given the already short duration of AMS this is nearly a 50% increase in duration, which is nothing to sneeze at.
  • Glyph of Blood Boil – Increases the radius of your Blood Boil ability by 50%. This is a matter of personal preference; but given the quality of the other DK major glyphs, you’d have to be very uncomfortable with the default radius of Blood Boil to justify it.
  • Glyph of Bone Shield – Increases your movement speed by 15% while Bone Shield is active. Does not stack with other movement speed-increasing effects. That second sentence there makes this glyph a pile of utter crap. Run speed enchants (or talents when applicable) are practically required for raiding, so this glyph will do absolutely nothing for a tank. Shame.
  • Glyph of Death Grip – Increases the range of your Death Grip ability by 5 yards. Another personal preference glyph; it’s a nice bit of utility, but might be hard to justify in light of some of the other choices.
  • Glyph of Pestilence – Increases the range of your Pestilence ability by 5 yards. Yet another personal preference glyph.
  • Glyph of Rune Tap – Your Rune Tap also heals your party for 10% of their maximum health. Wow. Can you imagine having this glyph for XT when it was new? (This is one of those glyphs it’ll be hard to justify taking personal preference glyphs over!)
  • Glyph of Vampiric Blood – Increases the bonus healing received while your Vampiric Blood is active by an additional 15%, but your Vampiric Blood no longer grants you health. This is the Death Knight tradeoff cooldown-modifying glyph, and I have to say I’m not impressed. Last Stand effects are quite useful, and as most of a DK’s healing abilities are based on their max health, I’m not sure the additional 15% healing taken is worth it. On the other hand, this more than any of the other tradeoff glyphs epitomizes the difference between reactive and proactive cooldown use. If you’re a reactive CD user, this glyph is absolute crap for you. If you’re a proactive CD user, it might be appropriate in some cases.
Minor Glyphs
  • Glyph of Blood Tap – Your Blood Tap no longer causes damage to you. This isn’t a large benefit, but since you generally Blood Tap to use a survival cooldown, every little bit of health counts.
  • Glyph of Horn of Winter – Increases the duration of your Horn of Winter ability by 1 minute. Meh. It’s not bad, but with a spammable RP dump, there’s no reason not to use Horn of Winter on cooldown. If you regularly hold Horn of Winter in reserve, though, this may be a valuable glyph for you.
  • Glyph of Resilient Grip – When your Death Grip ability fails because its target is immune, its cooldown is reset. Can I get a hell yes?
  1. Uthragar
    October 12, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Virulence – Almost useless to a dk tank. Since runes aren’t used on a miss, the only real issue with a miss is the loss of a gcd. Which is only problematic early on. On the other hand…

    Epidemic – Almost essential. An additional 12 seconds of desease uptime means 12 seconds of not applying them. Meaning more death strikes, or more gcds dumped to threat or to making sure those deseases stay up.

    Improved Blood Tap – Personally with t10 id have to say dump both points into this. 12% dmg reduction cd for 10 seconds every 30 seconds..thats a total win to me.

    Scent of Blood – This one hasn’t changed at all with the new patch, and was generally only worth a point at the most in previous content. Runic Power is important but DK tanks are usually generating quite enough as is. I’d say just drop a single point into it for now.

    Blood Parasite – Incredibly useful, and in contradiction to earlier fears is actually a quite intelligent and powerful heal. Most testing seems to conclude that these little guys just build up stacks upon stacks and blow the instant they are needed, turning them into a pretty handy passive reactive heal. However, more testing needs to be done to determine exactly how useful they are. Personally id suggest putting at least one point into it.

    And now on to glyphs.

    Prime Glyphs – The two integral ones I feel are heart strike and death strike. The reason glyph of death strike is in fact useful is that rp generation is always going to be outpacing your ability to throw it away, and this handy little glyph turns death strike into an ability hitting just as hard as obliterate. This means we can have both the high threat/dps and the survivability. Best of both worlds. Glyph of rune strike is probably the only real contender for that third slot though.

    Major Glyphs – I agree with most of the choices here. Glyph of DRW is just awesomely powerful and impossible to pass up. The next most useful is glyph of rune tap. Given all the other choices and their marginal utility, why not help with some raid heals. The third spot is quite a bit more difficult. Personally im actually most tempted to go with glyph of death grip for that one due to the new minor glyph buffing the same ability. I do however completely agree that glyph of bone shield is useless, especially considering we have a presence that provides the same effect. In combat bone shield is gonna fall off too fast, out of combat just use unholy presence.

    Minor Glyphs – Resilent Grip, no alternatives. Infinite taunts are win. All the others are fairly up to personal preference.

    • October 12, 2010 at 10:58 pm

      I guess I’ll give you Virulence; that was me thinking like a warrior, where my abilities have cooldowns :P, so if my slam-type ability misses it’s bad.

      The reason I passed over Epidemic is due to a conversation you and I had a while ago about the Wrath glyph that refreshed diseases on the main target of Pestilence. You said that the reason it was a bad glyph was that the plague-applying abilities were important to the rotation; so I figured that extending the duration of the diseases would be a waste of talent points, since the rotation would have you using IT/PS sooner anyway. Obviously the rune change means that your rotation isn’t really a rotation anymore, so I can give you that; however, I do still think that a third point in Epidemic is wasted if you’re providing the AP debuff. For bosses, since Scarlet Fever has only a 30 second duration, you need to be Plague Striking slightly more often than every 30 seconds to proc Crimson Scourge. 2 points in Epidemic increases the disease length to 29 seconds, which is just about perfect.

      Improved Blood Tap’s synergy with t10 is definitely enough to make it a must have talent. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s now officially super OP and I hate you. :P

      I think that spammable Rune Strike will really change the runic power game. At the moment it’s an instant attack off the GCD with no cooldown that causes a high amount of threat and damage – I mean really. Really. This is probably going to get nerfed super hard.

      Though come to think of it, I’m not sure that the spammable Rune Strike is available in 4.0.1. I read a blue comment on it a week ago, but it was only in patch notes today… for Cata beta, not 4.0.1. If Rune Strike isn’t spammable yet, then Scent of Blood is significantly less useful.

      If bloodworms really do explode when their heals are needed, rather than after a set duration, then I take back everything I said about them. The discussion of the talent that I found definitely made it sound like the explosion was timed, though.

      The glyph of death strike’s usefulness, like Scent of Blood, will depend wholly on whether spammable Rune Strike made it into 4.0.1. If spammable Rune Strike exists in this build, then tanks will be at low RP pretty much all the time, making glyph of death strike useless. Also, please remember the rumor that Chill of the Throne is no more, which will significantly increase the number of Rune Strike procs you receive in the event that Rune Strike is still tied to dodge/parry. I think the 20% avoidance reduction has caused tanks in ICC to be RP flooded from lack of Rune Strike procs, so with that gone, the RP situation is likely to be completely different.

  2. Uthragar
    October 13, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Your point on epidemic is rather interesting, shall have to test that out. It might indeed be more efficient to just throw 2 points in it in order to have all refreshes occuring around the same time.

    When I tested yesterday, spammable rune strike was indeed not available. In addition even when it was procced I found myself sometimes skipping it over for more death strikes anyways. The result was I was quite comfortable on runic power throughout the instance I did. The problem I feel with rune strike is that i’m not really sure it needs to be spammable anyways. My threat felt fine without it.

    Of course the real test would to see how it handles in ICC. So shall refrain on further comments until then ^^

    As far as blood worms, my own minor testing had them exploding at different times. Though again its hard to say for sure at this point in the game. It’s really something I’ll have to ask healers to keep an eye on to determine how useful they are. If they aren’t smart heals like i’ve heard then yes, probably skippable.

  1. November 7, 2012 at 11:16 am

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