I'm planning on starting up a Death Knight with intent to be a tank, both for random dungeons levelling up and then with my group of friends at 85.

This question is asked post-Shattering, meaning currently the Death Knight tanking spec is Blood. I noticed the top Google searches for DK guides out there haven't been updated to account for the Shattering.

Short question: How do I tank?

More detailed questions...

  • What kind of talent decisions need to be made?
  • How do I properly enter a fight?
  • What sorts of ability rotations/priorities should I use?
  • What procs do I look out for?
  • What glyphs are useful?
  • What are the differences between tanking lots of mobs and tanking just 1 boss?
  • What tools can I use if things go wrong, like a ranged DPS pulls aggro or adds show up?
  • What other questions should I be asking?
  • The major changes to DK (and all classes), including blood becoming the dedicated tanking tree, happened at patch 4.0.1, not 4.0.3a ("The Shattering").
    – Cory J
    Commented Dec 6, 2010 at 0:21

2 Answers 2


Blood Deathknights should be spending their runes to use Heartstrike (which they get as their Blood Specialization) and Deathstrike (which is the focus of their Mastery specialization).


Here is an example talent spec: http://www.wowhead.com/talent#jcbG0srMusd

The core talents you want to be sure to pick up are Blade Barrier (reduces damage taken), Toughness (increases your armor), Bone Shield (tanking cooldown), Sanguine Fortitude (improves Icebound fortitude, a tanking cooldown), Rune Tap and Vampiric Blood (both tanking cooldowns) Improved Blood Presence (Crit immunity), and Dancing Rune Weapon (survivability AND threat cooldown).

After that, you have a choice between dipping into either Frost or Unholy. Unholy is almost always going to be strictly better, as you do not want to dual wield to tank (dual wielding has an inherently higher miss chance than 2-handed weapons, so your threat is going to be much worse) nor are you using obliterate (as you should be using death strike). Unholy gives you your choice of reduced taunt cooldown (Deathgrip), free +hit% for your spells (so deathcoil won't have a chance to miss) and morbidity (boosts the damage and thus, threat, of your runic power dump: deathcoil). Taking frost as far as Lichborne, however, means you can activate Lichborne, and then cast deathcoil on yourself to get a free heal if you're low -- a neat trick, and handy if you're low on health after a big boss burst.


Prime Glyphs:I would go with glyphs of Death Strike, Heart Strike, and Deathcoil for your prime glyphs, though depending on playstyle you may prefer to swap the latter for Runestrike (though I'll always take +damage over +crit chance, since the former is more consistent) or Death and Decay if you want additional AoE threat.

Major Glyphs: Dancing Rune Weapon is a no brainer, but beyond that your choices highly depend on your playstyle.

Minor Glyphs: I'd Glyph Blood Tap and Death Grip, but these are minor glyphs, and won't have much effect at all in regards to your tanking.

For further discussion, I'd point you toward the Elitist Jerks' Death Knight Forums, specifically the tanking thread, which can be found here.

  • 1
    Tanking DKs should rune strike as a RP dump, not death coil. DC might find use in conjunction with lichborne for self healing as a tank and even then rarely, but threat is king for tanking, and rune strike is specifically a threat ability.
    – DHayes
    Commented Dec 21, 2010 at 19:50

Information as of 5.0.4 (pre-Mop patch, level 85)

What kind of talent decisions need to be made?

You could not choose talents and do just fine in non-heroic content. Your talent choices make your Death Knight play differently, but they do not make your Death Knight work.

If you are overwhelmed with buttons already, I recommend going for passive talent choices: Roiling Blood, Purgatory, Death's Advance, Runic Corruption.

How do I properly enter a fight?

You have a few important jobs:

  1. Keep the mobs (particularly melee mobs) off the healer. Do this by establishing at least 1 point of damage on all mobs. BloodBoil/HeartStrike/DeathAndDecay are the tools for this.
  2. Provide the dps with a safe target. Mark it with Skull (I have skull on my middle mouse button. Hit that target with DeathStrike (a high burst damage ability).
  3. Survive - this might mean getting diseases (ScarletFever) up if you expect the fight to last more than 10 seconds. This might mean using a defensive cooldown to protect yourself from the full alpha strike of the pack. This might mean interrupting a spell.
  4. Gather the mobs for AOE opportunities. You may need to death grip (or use line of sight) to move a caster. If there are two casters, pull one to the other.
  5. Call for crowd control if there is some mob you don't want to tank or interrupt. Mark the CC target with Moon. Wait for someone to put it to sleep.

Finishing a fight: Once you've established enough threat that no mob will break from the pack, and you know you'll survive the incoming damage... you might want to conserve Runic Power for the next fight.

What sorts of ability rotations/priorities should I use?

Understand global cooldowns. Most abilities cause a global cooldown (gcd), which prevents you from using other abilities immediately. This is why you can't put out 2 DeathStrikes in the same second, they must be spaced. You can, however, use a DeathStrike and a BoneShield in the same second, since BoneShield is off the global cooldown.

Also understand Rune Recharging...

Suppose you HeartStrike twice in a row (2 blood runes). The first HS will cause your first blood rune to start to recharge. The second HS will consume the second blood rune, but that rune won't start to recharge until the first blood rune has completed its recharge. My Rune recharge speed is 8.33 seconds (shown in the character stats screen under melee). This means, I will have to wait ~16 seconds for that second blood rune to recharge.

You always want each flavor of Rune to be recharging (otherwise you are wasting the recharge). But you don't want to just spend all your runes and stand around.

I recommend DeathStrike -> HeartStrike -> RuneStrike -> something else -> repeat.

Something else can be Horn of Winter, Outbreak, a second RuneStrike if Runic Power permits, or a free BloodBoil. Or Something else can also be occasionally skipped, as you do have a second set of runes, or Runic Conversion may kick in and give you your runes back early.

If you truly get stuck without Runes, that's what EmpowerRunicWeapon is for.

What procs do I look out for?

Will of the Necropolis (big central indicator) : If your health gets low, you get to use a free Rune Tap

Crimson Scourge (bubbly side indicators) : melee attacks against diseased targets occasionally grant a free BloodBoil or DeathAndDecay. Those free BloodBoils are great for keeping your diseases up, thanks to ScarletFever.

What glyphs are useful?

I don't view any glyphs as critical for tanking 5-man normal. Maybe Glyph of DeathGrip, to be sure you're in range. If you're powering through groups quicky, Glyph of Outbreak might be good (you carry runic power from the previous fight).

What are the differences between tanking lots of mobs and tanking just 1 boss? What tools can I use if things go wrong, like a ranged DPS pulls aggro or adds show up?

Target switching. In a pack, a mob may break for the dps if they don't target your skull-marked safe target. You'll need to switch target to use DarkCommand/DeathGrip or some attack to get that mob back.

What other questions should I be asking?


  • Hit and Expertise are fine - use the tooltip to see if you need more to avoid missing.
  • Parry and Dodge are tank stats - don't be shy about getting those.
  • Haste, this lowers your Global Cooldown and Rune Generation speed. More abilities is a good thing.
  • Crit - doesn't really matter.

Addons... Go get TidyPlates. This will help with the target switching problem.

In the rotation question above, I talked a lot about threat building abilities. Here's a list of non-threat building abilities that you should be familiar with. All of these abilities cost no runes and are off the global cooldown, unless noted.

Defensive Cooldowns - Bone Shield, Rune Tap (1 Blood Rune), Icebound Fortitude, Anti-Magic Shield, Vampiric Blood, Dancing Rune Weapon (60 Runic Power)

Interrupts - Strangulate (Global Cooldown), Mind Freeze

Taunts - Dark Command, Death Grip

Resource Generator - Horn of Winter (Global Cooldown), EmpowerRunicWeapon

Think about positioning and facing - dragon breath goes forward, you don't want it on your group. Parry only works against attacks coming from your front.

Keep HornOfWinter and BoneShield up at all times.

Watch out for patrols (everywhere) - also Runners (if you're starting with Outlands dungeons).

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