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Thread: DK Tanking Thoughts

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    DK Tanking Thoughts

    Taking this from the beta boards in case they get eaten. Sunny (a well thought of DK in beta) wrote this up, figured I'd save it over here. Lots of good information/thoughts.

    There's been quite a few people who have asked me about tanking, and specifically about builds for tanking. I tend to not answer those since I don't really like to subscribe to any sort of "This is the build you should use, and if you don't you suck" philosophy. Tanking is a role, not a straight jacket. Further people tend to question asking for build critiques, when it is clear they don't understand the fundamentals. There's usually no reason to have a full build critique. So, without further adieu, here are the basics to tanking, from a DK perspective.

    The Role

    TLDR: Your job as a tank is to get things to hit you, and be able to survive things hitting you.

    In order to understand what build to use, you need to understand the fundamental role of tank. When broken down to the simplest level, a tank needs to do two things:

    #1. A tank needs to be able to keep most/all things his or her group is trying to kill to *not* attack the rest of the group. This can be done through threat generation (the most common way), but can also be done through things like kiting, CCing or stunning enemies.

    #2. A tank needs to be able to survive getting hit by these things long enough for the healers to heal him or her. This is typically done through avoidance and mitigation.

    These are the basic two things a tank must do. This post will mostly focus on handling these two things. Any prospective tank should note that #2 is effectively capped, but #1 is not. Once your healers have a sufficiently easy time healing you, increasing your mitigation (making it easier on healers) will not help the group as much as being better at threat. This is because enemies will not increase their damage the fourth, tenth, or sixtieth time you kill them, but your gear should get better.

    The Mindset

    TLDR: To help smooth your tanking experience out, you must try to lower the chances of as many 'random' elements as possible from happening to you. This works both on an offensive and defensive level.

    As a tank, your main responsibility is to make the raid run as smoothly as possible, by lowering the chance of as many random (bad) occurrences happening as possible. Further, as a tank you must understand that you live in a situation of worst-case scenarios. If you are a tank that can avoid hits 99% of the time, but that 1% will result in an instant death, you are not a good tank. You will cause a raid wipe that 1% of the time, and it will be likely unavoidable. That's not a good thing. As a tank, you always want to be able to do your job. Someday that dice roll is going to come up snake eyes, and you want to minimize how much trouble that causes your group as much as possible. You want to be as reliable and dependable as possible, because healers hate surprises when they are healing.

    The first thing any tank must do in WoW is remove as many random factors are possible. The standard raid boss (max level +3) has a 5.6% chance to critically hit somebody, and critical strikes can lead to spikes in damage that can potentially string together and kill you before you can get a heal (see #2 above). In order to remove this possibility, as a Death Knight you need 140 defense skill (688 defense rating) above your naturally capped defense of 400. You can also use resilience to reduce your chance to crit, but it will not have as good an effect overall as defense rating, since you also raise your chance to parry, dodge and be missed while lowering the chance to be crit. You need 82 resilience rating at level 80 to lower your chance to be crit by 1%.

    Random chance can also be removed from #1 above as well. You naturally have a 9% chance to miss an attack on a boss. The boss has approximately 6% chance to dodge, and (typically) around 15% chance to parry. This means that hit rating and expertise rating are much more valuable to you as threat stats than attack power, because even though the threat per second might be the same overall, you are a tank and live in a world of worst-case scenarios. In this situation, it doesn't matter if your overall threat per second is the same. If your first attack is dodged, second misses and third is parried, you've generated 0 threat. Your friendly neighborhood mage unleashes a massive frostfire bolt crit of around 10k damage. The boss charges the mage, hits him once for 9000 damage, leaving him with a sliver of health. One of the healers immediately heals the mage, then the boss attacks again and the mage dies. It immediately turns and starts squishing healers and other DPS. The raid wipes.

    Basic Training

    TLDR: You tank by damaging things. The more damage you do as early as possible, the bigger cushion of comfort level you provide for your groupmates.

    Death Knight tanking, at its most basic level, stems from doing the above two things. You won't be generating a lot of extra threat anymore; most of your threat will come directly from your damage multiplied by your frost presence threat multiplier (145%). Your goal as a DK tank is to deal as much damage to as many targets as possible, but to weight *most* of the damage on the target that will have the most people hitting it. This is important. Depending on what spec you choose, your initial attack order will differ.

    Generally, I prefer to err on the side of starting off with more initial threat, rather than maximizing mitigation early on. This is because I believe that the start of the fight is often the stickiest part (see above). You have no comfortable threat lead yet, so you must get yourself established as soon as possible. It does add a little risk, since you may not have all of your maximum mitigation up (e.g. blade barrier), but if your healers cannot keep you alive at the very beginning of a fight, you probably have bigger problems to deal with.

    When tanking, you generally lead by setting up the most damaging attacks you can. This front-loads as much threat as possible, giving the DPS players and healers the biggest cushion they can get, so they can work their magic with minimal problems. Depending on the group, sometimes this means taking a non-optimal (overall) choice of abilities, like using Scourge Strike or Obliterate without any diseases up. That doesn't matter, since the goal isn't efficiency, it's smoothing out the fight as much as possible. This isn't to say you have to do this; you can also just say "Hey group, wait until you see diseases on the target before attacking". However, as we all know, we tanks live in a world of worst-case scenarios, and the worst case scenario is often Moron the illiterate idiot somehow mentally translating "Wait until you see diseases" to "open up with the biggest nuke you have as fast as you can".

    Your spec will affect your initial attack sequence, and thus your threat generation. For example, in an optimal situation (Moron the afk idiot is not in the group), an unholy tank will lead with Plague Strike, then Icy Touch into Scourge Strike. This establishes the Blood Plague first to kick off Ebon Plaguebringer and Rage of Rivendare's bonus damage, then Icy Touch will take advantage of that and add its own damage and Frostfever at +10% each, followed by Scourge Strike to hit with three diseases on the target. This sequence changes when you bring in multiple mobs. On an AE pull, an unholy DK would start with Plague Strike > Icy Touch > Pestilence (establishing Blood Plague on all targets within 10 yards, 15 glyphed), followed by Death and Decay (D&D then gets the full benefit of Rage of Rivendare + Ebon Plaguebringer).

    If you are a blood spec, you don't have to go this way. Instead, you start with Death and Decay (since you start with Blood Gorged active), followed by your choice of Icy Touch and Plague Strike, then pestilence at the end.

    Frost specs will choose Icy Touch before Plague Strike to kick off the Tundra Stalker bonus.

    If Moron is in the group, a frost spec may have to go with the sub-optimal, but higher front-loaded threat of Icy Touch > Pestilence > Howling Blast. You won't be able to get a Death and Decay in there, but it will cement them to you for at least a little better. Blood and Unholy specs should lead with Death and Decay if moron is in the group.

    Remember that the goal is to front-load your damage as much as possible when starting. After that, you try to keep your rotation such that you maximize the threat you can. This generally comes from figuring out how long the fight should last, and choosing the appropriate ability.

    Once you begin, you should try to prioritize keeping Blade Barrier up. When it comes to using runic power, blood and frost should always prioritize Rune Strike. It is simply the best RP to threat conversion you have available. I suggest macroing it to every normal skill you have, in order to keep it up. Rune Strike cannot be parried or dodged, so if you have sufficient Runic Power to keep it activated, you remove another element of randomness from tanking. Unholy should also prioritize Rune Strike, unless you are tanking a lot of mobs at the same time. In that situation, it depends on how many there are (2, stick with rune strike. More than 2, switch to UB). The reason for this is because rune strike is an on next swing attack. Since most DKs will be using 3.4 speed weapons or faster, you can expect to attack once every 2.5-3 seconds or so. This means that if you are trying to rune strike more than one creature, you're looking at a lag time of around 8-9 seconds between rune strikes when you have 3 targets. That introduces that random element again (Did Moron crit the one you left alone for 7 seconds?) which we have established as a Bad Thing.

    For AE pulls, keeping with the tenets of Basic Training, you want to have both of your diseases ticking as soon as you can on as many of the bad guys as you can. This ensures that things like healing or general AE will not pull aggro from you. If you are blood spec, you should be tabbing through and heart striking, unless there are more than 6 targets. If there are more than 5, you should probably be using Blood Boil instead. For any other spec that does not include outbreak, that number goes down to 4. If you have outbreak, you use Blood Boil when there are 3 or more.


    TLDR: Spec for the mitigation you need, then spec as efficiently as you can for threat.

    Now we start to move into some of the meat and potatoes. The way DK tanking in LK works is that you choose a tree you like, and you go down the tree in much of the same way you'd go if you chose to spec DPS. The difference is that in each tree, there are different tank-specific (i.e. mitigation) talents also available, which you can choose to take. You must make your decision: DPS or mitigation?

    There are general talents that are and aren't good for tanking. The good news is that most talents that are good for DPS double as excellent tanking threat talents. Wandering Plague, Might of Mograine, Tundra Stalker, etc. all provide very good additional threat. I'm not here to hold your hand when it comes to speccing, but I will give you some advice when it comes to evaluating a specific talent. You want enough total mitigation to keep your healers comfortable. Whether this comes through talents or gear is up to you, but generally talents don't suffer from diminishing returns like others, so you get better bang for your buck if you invest in talents over gear. You need to ask yourself a few basic questions when you are deciding what talents to spend your points on.

    Q. How often will this talent be useful?

    "All the time" is better than "sometimes" is better than "Well, there's this one fight..." It is also important to note that even things that are passive abilities are not actually "all the time" talents. Magic Suppression, for example, is not an all-the-time ability. It is useless against some bosses (Patchwerk, for example). A passive ability like Frigid Dreadplate though? *All* fights require enemies to try to hit you. Additional chance to be missed is golden.

    Q: Does this talent scale?

    "Yes" typically outweighs "No". Toughness gets better as you get better armor. Anticipation does not. Thus, if I had to choose between them, I'd choose Toughness (though you should get both!).

    Q: If I get benefit from this talent, will it be affected by diminishing returns?

    One of the new things they added in LK was diminishing returns on avoidance (more on that later). Talents are generally unaffected by this, which makes flat talented avoidance better, because you'll need to stack a lot more dodge/parry/etc. rating to get the same benefit, especially as your avoidance levels climb. Note that this only applies to miss, parry and dodge so things like magical damage reduction isn't really affected.

    Q: Will this effect be available to me if I don't take it?

    Abilities like Icy Talons (and improved icy talons) can be (somewhat) replaced with other raid buffs like Windfury. Ask yourself what your group composition will be like. Do you have a regular Arms warrior to provide Thunderclap if you can't squeeze 3 points into frost for Improved Icy Touch?

    Q: What resources do I need, and will this talent help me get those resources?

    This question specifically deals with talents like Blood of the North, Reaping, Death Rune Mastery, Butchery, Scent of Blood, and Dirge. These talents provide you with resources more than damage, but resource management is also important to keep the tank train moving. If you aren't getting enough runic power to use for your rune strikes, think about what talents you may need to increase the runic power you get.

    Remember that the ultimate goal of your spec is to allow you to do the roles outlined above. If you can do them with the spec you've chosen, you've succeeded. When you discuss specs, I dislike discussing entire specs. You should discuss the merits of specific talents which you are considering taking (since that's pretty much what all spec discussions turn to eventually anyway).

    And, since I am a dyed-in-the-wool unholy DK... here's the spec I use for tanking.

    Talent Calculator - World of Warcraft

    I personally prefer more threat-oriented builds, since I (usually) have faith in my healers. I try to weigh things like movement speed as well, since there are many, many fights where things like positioning are incredibly important to the fight, and being able to move faster is a very good tank ability.


    TLDR: Gearing is like talenting. Get the mitigation you need, then start stacking threat.

    So now that you've gotten your spec, start looking at gear. Before you do anything, make sure you get yourself uncrittable. If this means socketing everything you have with +defense rating gems, then do it. It doesn't matter what else you do; a crittable tank is a tank that gets kicked out of the group.

    Once you reach uncrittability, there are two major foci to consider when gearing. First is overall mitigation and time to live. Time to Live (and effective health) are terms coined to deal with how long a tank could live without any heals. You want your TTL to be a little more than it takes for your healers to heal you. After a certain point, though, you don't need it much higher than that. Increased mitigation will make healing you easier, but if your healers can keep you up without any trouble, additional mitigation or Time to Live really doesn't help any more. The only thing that would affect your Time To Live is a new boss that hits harder and lowers your TTL below your healers' comfort level again. I point this out because many tanks out there have found themselves overgearing instances, and thus switching out certain tanking pieces in favor of more damage-oriented pieces to increase their threat level. They don't need the mitigation, and the threat provides the DPS a bigger comfort zone.

    Your groupmates (Specifically the DPS) will typically be keeping pace with you. Generally, as you get upgrades, they will get upgrades too. This means that they will be dealing more damage, and at some point their damage output will outpace your threat output unless you take steps to raise your threat output. The instance bosses you fight won't get any tougher than they are when you first fight them (in fact, they will actually get easier as you get better gear and learn the fights better). So you what you have is essentially a constant threshold of mitigation you need for a specific fight, and then the choice to start gearing for threat.

    When it comes to mitigation, you want to have a relatively even balance of parry and dodge. Due to the diminishing returns system, the parry and dodge you gain from defense, parry and dodge rating will go down as you stack more of it. This is intended; the devs were unhappy with needing to put in stupid stuff like Sunwell Radiance in order to penalize players who were naturally pushing avoidance levels to ridiculous amounts. The consequence of this new system is that the more of something you have, the less valuable *more* rating becomes. Thus, if you have 500 parry rating and 400 dodge rating, an additional 50 dodge rating will be more valuable to you than 50 parry rating.

    Threatwise, Expertise is a little less than twice as valuable as Hit until you get up to about 213 expertise rating (enough to eliminate dodges from a lv83 boss mob). Once you reach that, expertise is a little less valuable than hit. The reason expertise is a little less than twice is because you get double benefit from expertise (chance to dodge and chance to parry is reduced 1% for each 32.8 expertise rating, for a total enemy avoidance reduction of 2%) while 32.8 hit rating just lowers your miss chance by 1%. However, hit rating affects Rune Strike and your spells too, and expertise does not. Thus, expertise is generally better than hit, but not quite enough to be 2x. Strength is better than AP since we get a little bit of parry rating (on diminishing returns) from strength and we get it magnified through strength multiplication talents (veteran of the third war, ravenous dead, shadow of death) and buffs (Blessing of Kings).

    Remember our example from earlier. The constant looming threat of Moron will ensure that you need to keep your eyes open in the worst case scenario situation.

    Rubber, meet road. Road, meet Rubber

    TLDR: Cooldowns used earlier are better than dying. It is imperative to know where everything is. Don't stand in the fire.

    For the newer tanks out there, it is now a question of when to use your tools, and what tools to use for which occasion. The basics are in place, but you also need to learn certain specifics.

    We DK tanks have a lot of special tanking cooldowns. Anti-magic Shell, Icebound Fortitude, and our various spec-specific tanking cooldowns. Unless you are saving them for something specific that you know is coming (e.g. Brutallus stomp, Maexxna Enrage + web, Grand Widow Faerlina enrage, etc.), you are better off using them if you are getting nervous than not. Our cooldowns are short enough that it is ok if you blow them a little early; better to use them and not need them than to need them and not use them. A dead tank is a wipe, a living tank that used his or her cooldowns is just one that has to sit around for 3-5 minutes for them to come back on the next attempt.

    Next, all tanks must have a good sense of spatial awareness. You need to know where everything and everyone is at all times if you are tanking. For Gothik, this means knowing where the elites are going to spawn. For Grobbulus, this means knowing when he the rings are, so you don't lead him into them. For trash, this means knowing where you stand, where the healers are standing, whether there are line of sight issues, and the like.

    Spatial Awareness is the most important quality for a tank, just because of how important positioning is in this game. A lot of TBC raiding was all about teaching spatial awareness to players ("Don't stand in the fire"), but this is even more important for a tank. If you don't position yourself correctly, you force everyone else to scramble to fix their positioning relative to yours, and waste time and resources. The tank leads the dance, by positioning both the boss and the rest of the raid relative to him. finding the correct spot to tank is important.

    As a tank, you should never. ever get caught in any sort of void zone thing on the ground. As a tank this stuff is inexcusable. I understand taking one or two ticks for special reasons, but you should never stand in it longer. All tanks have instant tanking skills, there's no reason you should be in a void zone longer than 2 seconds. The *only* time this sort of thing is excusable is when you are holding the boss in one position while the rest of the raid moves.

    Hm, I guess that's about it. I hope that this provides something useful to both new and old DK tanks alike. As always, much of it is just opinion on my part. The main goal is to inspire discussion, as usual. Remember that being a tank is also about being flexible. As the late General George S. Patton said, "Make your plans to fit the circumstances". Sometimes you'll need something specific, sometimes you'll need something more general, but you should always try to cover as many bases as you can. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. That's what it means to be a tank.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Thanks for preserving this, it's full of very valuable basic tanking information, and anyone who has not tanked before or isn't yet a big theory buff should really know this stuff.

    Aside from some nit-picky word fixes (Blade Barrier is avoidance not mitigation), I have a couple short corrections/adjustments:

    1.) I always value expertise over hit rating, even after removing dodges from the table. Removing Parry chance is a survivability issue, not just a threat issue (I'm sure you can find more discussion on this in the forum archives).

    2.) The parry rating gained from Strength is not subject to diminishing returns, the total parry rating is though. Strength adds parry rating, not %, but the point stands, in all cases take strength before pure AP gear for tanking (this will really just be a guideline for weapon choice once you have tank gear).

    3.) 1 Parry rating != 1 Dodge rating in value at any point. Diminishing returns works such that every increment will be as valuable as the last in raw survival value (though it'll give you decreasing amounts of %). The forumla uses a "cap" as the limiter to an avoidance stat for the calculation. For a DK that is 47% parry, 88% dodge. You get parry % from parry rating (fed through Str, but only the rating is diminished) and defense rating. You get dodge % from raw Agility, dodge rating, and defense rating. I'm working on a general guideline now, but suffice to say equivalent ratings will not likely end up the same. But again the general point is a good one, if you have high agility and high dodge rating and low parry rating, say 50 parry rating will be worth more avoidance than 50 dodge rating, but you can't base the comparison on direct rating comparisons.

    Things to take home, themes from his post:
    1.) You have to survive as a tank, first, burning up threat and dps comes second to that. A dead tank is saving no one if you can't survive the people you're holding on you. DPS can slow down if you can't go full tilt on threat, but they can't resurrect you if you get torn apart.

    2.) Welcome to the new world order, exemplified in the DK talent tree construction. There is not ONE way to do it. Be smart with your talents, don't just follow what someone else tells you. Test them, try them out, shift your specs until you find the one that works best for you, and match your rotation and play style to match your spec.

    3.) The most essential non-technical aspect of tanking is also one of the most overlooked in sub-par tanks. Spatial Awarness! You need to know where things are, where they're going, and when. Is something CC'd? How long until it comes loose? Did one of your mobs break loose and head for a healer? Did the hunter just back up and accidentally body pull another group? If you are always keeping your eyes open for these things, people will notice the difference and thank you for it.
    The (Old) Book on Death Knight Tanking
    The New Testament on Death Knight Tanking
    Quote Originally Posted by Horacio View Post
    Who f-ing divided by zero?!?

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