Blood Death Knight Tank Quick-Start Guide for WoW Patch 5.4 – Stats, talents and spec, glyphs, rotation, reforging and gems, priorities and tanking strategies

by on August 27, 2012

Bah! All the other tank classes are going on about this new “Active Mitigation” thing – but we’ve been doing it for years! Latecomers. Oh, well – if you want to know how to get your Blood Death Knight tank up, running, and kicking Garrosh’s oversized, over-detailed ass, here’s a quick start guide to WoW Patch 5.4 in the Blood world, including details on our priorities, glyphs, reforging, stats, talents and builds, and more.

Updated 17th September 2013 to World of Warcraft Patch 5.4

Blood Tanking “Rotation” and Priorities

Unlike other tanks who are just getting it in MoP, Death Knights have had an “Active Mitigation” playstyle for years now. As such, your defence and offense is rolled into a single priority list:

Single-target Tanking

Start by applying your diseases, ideally through Outbreak, or otherwise through Frost Fever and Blood Plague. You should always have diseases running on your target.

  • Top Priority: If your diseases have less than 5 seconds to run, use Blood Boil. If you’ve taken any damage and can do so, use Death Strike.
  • Second Priority: If you have Blood runes available, use Heart Strike. If it’s available, use Rune Strike. Otherwise, use Soul Reaper if the target is below 35% health
  • Third Priority: If Crimson Scourge has procced, use Death And Decay, or Blood Boil if Death And Decay is on CD or the target’s moving.

If your diseases fall off your target, reapply them with Outbreak.

Timing Death Strike can become a real art – see the Links section below if you’d like to get more advanced with this aspect of DK tanking.

AOE Tanking

Pull with Death and Decay, then either put diseases up on all your targets with Outbreak or via Frost Fever and Blood Plague, then spread them through Pestilence (or Blood Boil if you have the Tier 1 Roiling Blood talent). Alternatively, if you have the talent and all your targets are close, simply use Unholy Blight. Once that’s done:

  • Top Priority: Use Death and Decay on cooldown. Use Death Strike if you have taken any damage and can use it.
  • Second Priority: If Crimson Scourge procs or if your diseases have less than 5 seconds to run, use Blood Boil.
  • Third Priority: Use Heart Strike if you can. Otherwise, use Rune Strike.


Death Knight tanks rely very heavily on their cooldowns to survive, making them almost the equivalent of other classes’ Active Mitigation abilities. As a result, they have a lot – really a lot – of cooldowns.

  • Dancing Rune Weapon – Mostly used as a moderately powerful, moderately frequent mitigation against physical attacks. Can also temporarily boost your DPS if needed.
  • Icebound Fortitude – The heavy hitter of our mitigation abilities. Use to absorb periods of heavy damage.
  • Anti-Magic Shell – Only useful against magic damage, of course – but also prevents magical debuffs and DoTs.
  • Army of the Dead – Not only a DPS increase, but also significantly reduces the damage you take from magic (only) whilst you’re casting it. Remember that the ghouls will taunt, though!
  • Bone Shield – best used whenever it’s off cooldown.
  • Empower Rune Weapon – returns all runes to you. Multiple uses, including an emergency Death Strike or Blood Boil. Try to use when as many runes as possible have been expended.
  • Lichborne – Save Runic Power to use this – it’s a very, very strong self-heal.
  • Rune Tap – A frequent-use, not very powerful self-heal. Use on CD.
  • Vampiric Blood – A Last Stand equivalent – use when you’re about to die.
  • Death Pact – Another useful self-heal, but requires some preparation, as you have to summon a ghoul before you need it.

Yeah. Like I said. A LOT of cooldowns.


Make sure you’re in Blood Presence, and remember to keep Horn of Winter up.

Blood Death Knight Talent Choices

The new Mists of Pandaria talent selection is very fluid, and there’s no set “best choice” for talents yet. Indeed, most people expect they’ll be changing talents on a per-encounter basis. So, we encourage you to try different talents out and see what works for you.

Having said that, if you want to get going with an easy-to-use general talent selection, we recommend:

  • Tier 1: Plague Leech (gives yet another cooldown!)
  • Tier 2: Lichborne
  • Tier 3: Death’s Advance
  • Tier 4: Death Pact (Yet another cooldown if you have a ghoul active)
  • Tier 5: Runic Corruption
  • Tier 6: Desecrated Ground – grants a cooldown to avoid being controlled.

Note: Tier 6 is particularly situational. All 3 abilities are useful or useless in different tanking situations. Pick the best one for what you’re doing.

Stats, reforging and gemming for Blood Death Knight

For blood DKs, Mastery followed by Hit and Expertise to their caps at 7.5% appears to be the best way to go.

Reforging: Reforge anything without Mastery to Mastery. Then, reforge to Expertise and Hit up to the 7.5% caps, then to Parry and Dodge. Reforge from Hit and expertise over cap first, then non-tank stats (Crit/Haste), then Parry and Dodge.
Gems: Use Fractured gems in Yellow sockets, Puissant gems in Blue sockets and Fine gems in Red sockets.
Meta Gem: Austere Shadowspirit Diamond
Getting one- or two-shot?: If you’re getting killed before healers can heal you, replace blue sockets with pure Stamina (Solid) gems until that stops happening.

Note: this is a quick, simple and rough approach to Dodge and Parry in particular. If you’d like to set up your Dodge and Parry to be optimal, you should refer to this section of the Elitist Jerks guide and use the macro there.

Tank DK Glyphs

5.4 glyphs are very situational, but here are some good general choices with no downsides:

Major: Glyph of Outbreak, Glyph of Festering Blood, Glyph of Regenerative Magic
Minor: Whatever you like – they don’t affect your play.

Blood Death Knight enchants and item enhancements

You should almost always use a profession enhancement item if it provides appropriate stats instead of a general enchant – Inscription of the Earth Prince on shoulders from Inscription, for example.

  • Shoulders – Greater Ox Horn Inscription
  • Back – Enchant Cloak – Greater Protection
  • Chest – Enchant Chest – Superior Stamina
  • Wrist – Enchant Bracer – Mastery
  • Hands – Enchant Gloves – Superior Mastery
  • Belt – Ebonsteel Belt Buckle
  • Legs – Ironscale Leg Armor
  • Feet – Enchant Boots – Pandaren’s Step
  • Weapon – Rune of Swordshattering


As with other classes, info’s a bit thin on the ground at the moment, but there are a couple of good guides:

  • Elitist Jerks has an excellent, supremely in-depth 5.4 Dk tank guide – very long, but full of info.
  • Finally, as a WoW player, you should really check out the latest and greatest from the blogosphere on World of Warcraft, here at the Melting Pot.

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