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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{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

Fengshuter September 2, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Very nice, straight to the point. tyvm


Hugh Hancock September 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm

No worries! Glad you liked it.


Rodrigo Fogagnolo September 11, 2012 at 11:38 pm

I disagree about Tier 2 and Tier 5 of talents… I think Purgatory and Blood Tap are much better


Hugh Hancock September 12, 2012 at 10:43 am

I’d strongly recommend reading the EJ guide on talents – it explains why I didn’t recommend Purgatory, amongst other things. Purgatory is one of those talents that looks great but doesn’t exactly perform as anticipated.

Blood Tap is a strong alternative choice in Tier 5 if you want to avoid RNG.


Kalc September 25, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Excellent introductory guide!

One suggestion I have, however, is that you revise the portion about reforging dodge and parry to equivalent levels. In fact, our dodge and parry suffer from diminishing returns at incredibly different rates, meaning that for each percent of dodge, we’d want 2 or more percent parry (depending upon our current rating levels, the balance is actually in exponential decay) to get the maximal amount of avoidance. More information is available at the links below.



Hugh Hancock September 25, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Whoops! OK, that was a holdover from previous patches – fixing it now. Thanks!

Update – OK, I’ve updated it. I know the rule of thumb there isn’t ideal, but I want to cater to people who may not be confident copy-pasting complex macros. Thanks again for pointing that out!


alec September 26, 2012 at 6:38 am

and by plague leach he means roiling blood


Hugh Hancock September 26, 2012 at 9:56 am

Not really. What’s your argument in favour of roiling blood?


charles September 26, 2012 at 11:47 am

id of said rolling blood as well, especially with Aoe tanking means wasting runes and rolling through targets putting them up


Hugh Hancock September 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm

OK, yeah, I’d agree on that one. If you’re mostly doing AoE tanking, Roiling Blood is a good option.


Andy November 25, 2012 at 8:04 am

I would have to agree with Roiling Blood as far as perhaps trash goes, and then switch to Plague Leech when fighting bosses, as Roiling Blood is fairly pointless when it comes to boss tanking.


Andy November 25, 2012 at 8:10 am

Also I would ask why the use of Rune of Swordshattering, is Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle not a better option seeing as it not only increases stam but boosts armour by 4% as well. Surely from a tanking perspective the added stam and armour would be beneficial to our survavibility which then leads to less pressures on the healers. However slight the boost would be surely something is better than nothing.

Hugh Hancock November 26, 2012 at 10:36 am

Rune of Swordshattering vs Rune of the Stoneskin Guardian: EJ has a discussion of that very question at .

The short version: a Parry boost is a better deal than the stam/armour boost unless Effective Health (time-before-you-drop assuming no healing) is more of an issue than mitigation (reducing overall damage you take).

Lawtwo December 3, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I love rolling blood and I Marco all my self heals like
/cast lich borne
/target self
/cast death coil
Works great

/cast raise dead
/cast death pact
Works for the wtf healers sucks

/cast empowered rune weapon
/cast death strike
All great macro to use for self heals


Rodrigo Fogagnolo December 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I use the death pact macro too, but with vampiric blood:

/cast raise dead
/cast vampiric blood
/cast death pact

So if you have 500k hp, instead of healing 250k, you heal (if you have Glyph of Vampiric Blood) 350k! 40% more


Robert Dillinger December 13, 2012 at 7:24 pm

I have a epic, yet long self heal macro that casts I believe 6-7 spells in sequence, I also like what they had to say about talents, I have double blood, one for AoE with Rolling Blood, and second for bosses with Plague Leech


char June 26, 2013 at 9:02 pm


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