DK Tanking in Pandaria: Talents and Their Applications
Once again, DK tanks are about to undergo some radical changes with the advent of a new expansion. This shouldn't really be anything new to those of us in this class, as even Wrath of the Lich King had us undergo several major changes between the major patches. In Wrath, we found ourselves in a strange place as tanks, with 3 viable tanks specs in each tree, and eventually ending the expansion with blood tanking at the forefront due to the strong self-heals tied to deathstrike, frost pulling in second with what was, at the time, similar function to warriors, and unholy pulling up the rear of the specs in large part due to bone shield's weaknesses as a damage reduction tool at that time. All three suffered though as we had the liability of receiving more damage than our brethren in tanking. Blood tanking eventually took the lead when Blizzard introduced a stronger version of Will of the Necropolis which gave the squishy DK tank much needed damage reduction once pushed below 35% health. In 3.3, this talent made the blood tank more than just a novelty and was eventually nerfed, reducing the frequency which it could trigger.
Fast forward into Cata, and we went through the major change of being placed squarely into blood tanking. The idea that Blizzard had originally fostered of a unique class with potentially three tank trees withered under the difficulty of trying to deliver on that promise. Blizzard also took steps towards homogenizing the 4 tank classes, with our notable gain from this being blood shield. This went a long way in making-up for the lack of damage reduction devices that DK's had in comparison to those that warrior and paladin have always had. Through the expac, mastery became more and more important for the DK tank, pushing this class (at least) into a spot that Blizzard had stated that it did not want to go with the tanks..... mastery stacking and stam stacking. Talents changed once again, with DK's gaining the once-snubbed bone shield as part of its tanking repetoire once again, but in a useful manner. It also became commonplace for tanks to reach into the frost tree for Lichborne, making use of a macro to take advantage of a runic power-fueled self-heal through the used of death coil on ourselves.
Now we find ourselves on the eve of a new expansion, and talents are changing once again. This time however, we don't have talent trees to contend with, or being shoe-horned into a line of optimal talents. Yes, we are seeing a touch more of Blizzard's attempt to homogenize the tank classes, but we are seeing across the board, for tanks at least, greater utility in the talents.
All talents will be broken down by their "tier", with a grade of the talent for usefulness and strength of it in tanking situations on a scale of 1 through 10 (1 lowest, 10 highest).
TIER ONE: Level 56 Talents
Again, we find ourselves in an unusual place as we are the only "hero" class, and start off at 55. Previously, we gained swaths of talents rapidly and we filled the trees out in rapid manner. This is again the case, as we gain talents in our first few levels gained.
Roiling Blood (Score: 6)
An excellent talent for a DK tank, but this one will require a change to how we normally would approach tanking. In the past, blood boil sat on the sidelines as a lackluster ability that provided weak AoE aggro for a DK. This talent would tie in one of our major abilities for spreading diseases throughout mobs and base AoE threat management management tools in with blood boil. Essentially, this would give us a two-for-one bang-for-the-buck ability with blood boil that epidemic gave us. This in theory, should help us step up our initial AoE threat when tanking, and help ensure that it stays ahead as we progress through an encounter. A good AoE tank tool, but of negligible use in single-target tanking.
Plague Leech (Score: 2)
This talent appears as a DK version of the rogue talent Redirect. Instead of losing the diseases which we had placed on a target near death, we're able to scavenge these for a free death rune. This could be of use in multi-target tanking, where we are assured that a target is going to drop and could benefit from the free resources as we change to a new target, but overall, appears to be a talent targeted more towards questing, where opponents will have short lifespans. It could also see use for a DK in a PvP setting, however, its use will be limited in being used only on targets upon whom the outcome is not in doubt, as in PvP, you would not want to lose the damage bonus diseases grant our other abilities when trying to finish an opponent off.
Unholy Blight (Score: 8)
An interesting talent for us, as it gives the DK tank another tool to rapidly spread diseases around a large number of targets in a hurry. This effectively would reduce the rotation needed to establish AoE diseases on mobs from at least two global cooldowns to one. It's not a strong tool for snap aggro however as diseases have never hit hard enough to rapidly ramp up threat. A good parallel for this ability would be the paladin's Consecrate, or to look at this as a player-centered Death and Decay. Overall though, and excellent DK ability for any spec, and for a DK tank in a multi-target or even single-target encounter.
TIER TWO: Level 57 Talents
Lichborne (Score: 6)
A DK tanking mainstay returns mostly unchanged. Still the useful talent that it once was, and still dependent upon having runic power (and a little macro magic) to make it a worthwhile self-heal tool. Again, the downside to this talent is that the strength of the self-heal per Death Coil has never been amazingly strong, and the cost in runic power resources to maximize effectiveness take a little away from this talent. Best used as a self-heal in a last ditch situation where Death Strike or Rune Tap were not available. The added bonuses of immunity to charm/fear/sleep effects remains to be seen. Those have not been significant issues for tanks in PvE environments as of late. I don't anticipate this changing as the amount of hate and discontent Blizzard would face would likely result in a rapid nerf to that mechanic.
Anti-Magic Zone (Score: 8)
Again, another mainstay from the DK class returns to us, but once again, we steal a well-qualified talent from the Unholy tree and make it available to all. This is again, another crack at homogenization for Blizzard as we are seeing DK tanks gain a raidwide cooldown to match the ones that have been available to warrior tanks, paladin tanks, and to a lesser (and riskier degree) druid tanks. It's a strong ability in the sense that it does give us an additional magic damage reduction for not only ourselves, but for the whole raid/party, and it's even on a short cooldown, that would allow a DK tank to alternate this with Anti-Magic Shell to some degree. This is a strong talent as, historically, damage reduction tools that are effective versus magic effects of any type have typically been few and far between. In Wrath, DK's did have a spell reflect talent, but this was removed in Cata. Also, there were very few trinkets in Cata that offered much in the way of magic damage protection beyond additional stamina. A little sadly, takes away one of the unique strengths of the unholy tree and spreads it throughout the other DK specs, so, hopefully Blizzard will balance this out by making unholy a more compelling dps tree in exchange.
In a nutshell, this gives a DK another magic damage reduction tool, and in a world bereft of those, this is a strong advantage.
Purgatory (Score: 7)
This talent could be unbelievably strong for a DK in certain circumstances. I really wanted to give this higher value over Anti-Magic Zone but just couldn't due to two limiting factors. First, the duration of this is 3 seconds. 3 seconds COULD very well make or break a tank's survival with this talent. An overpowering strike that normally would be overkill is staved off and a healer has one last chance to keep the DK tank alive. You are probably thinking, "What are the downsides to this? This is great!"
My first issue here is, if the damage the DK is receiving is that heavy where they dropped to this point to begin with, it's likely the DK/Healer tandem were struggling to keep the DK up anyway, and have likely only delayed the inevitable ..... tank death. Secondly... it only gives the healer 3 seconds to bring the DK back up into positive numbers. For some healers, this isn't an issue, as a paladin could slap Lay On Hands. Again though, if the healer was struggling to keep the DK up anyway, they now are racing against the clock to do something that they were struggling with anyway.
Third issue? 3 min cooldown. This normally wouldn't or shouldn't be an issue, as simply having this talent is a tool of last resort. 3 minutes is an eternity in raid and essentially, you might only have the opportunity to make use of this talent twice at most in a raid. Even then, it's not something to brag about having to use.
Essentially, this is Will of the Necropolis' baby brother. What I don't like is that it requires damage to bring the DK down to the point of death before being useful.
The upside to this? It's an incredible anti-wipe tool and gives a tank/healer tandem a great last chance to pull off a save. Also, this talent doesn't state the source of the heals, so it is entirely possible that the 3 seconds granted allow the DK to make use of a Death Strike or any of their other tools to help stave off death.
I really wanted to like this talent more, but the situation that it demands for it to be used is such a horrible scenario that I can't emphatically and wholeheartedly advocate this talent. If you're at the point of death, and you're relying on a talent to save the day like this, I'm sorry, but the tank/healer tandem is frankly doing something wrong in PREVENTING death from occurring to begin with. It's nice.... but the duration of the effect needs to be extended, or the cooldown needs to be shortened, preferably the former.
Edit: This talent does not replace Will of the Necropolis. We still retain WotN in MoP. This talent "supplements" the durability increase by giving us another death-prevention device.
TIER THREE: Level 58 Talents
Death's Advance (Score: 5)
This talent makes a rather pathetic attempt at resolving one of the DK's true weaknesses as a tank by increasing our movement speed. In the past, we've been able to gain an 8% movement buff from a readily available boot enchant, and I don't envision that changing much. This gives us a 30% boost, on-demand, and the ability to negate any slowing effects completely when activated, and reduces our susceptibility to these fairly significantly passively. It could have significant usefulness as an on-demand ability also. A fair example would be Sindragosa, where a DK tank would have had a stacking slow effect placed on it by the boss. Is it a guarantee that this talent would even work in that situation?..... No. As Blizzard has been known to set-up boss mechanics to override abilities for the sake of making an encounter function in a suitably threatening manner. This talent isn't really outstanding, but it's a far cry better than the other options at this tier, granting this the score that it did earn.
Note: Again we see a step towards homogenization, where DK's gain an ability very similar to the paladin's Pursuit of Justice speed boost.
Chillblains (Score: 4)
As much as I love this talent in the frost tree, for tanking, it's a benchwarmer. It SOMETIMES.... on very rare occasion.... will have usefulness for an OT in a raid. Typically on trash pulls or on adds on a boss (think... Maloriak.... Cho'Gall.... Nef with the skeleton adds in P1 and P3..... Ragnaros....). A lot of times though, a slow can be a hinderance in positioning. Many times, slows aren't even effective on bosses.
This talent could be a true boon to a DK tank in the right encounter. In the wrong encounter, it could actually be a liability. A true utility ability with equal pro's and con's.
Asphyxiate (Score: 3)
YES!!!! FINALLY!!! I can finally live out my fantasy of being the World of Warcraft Death Knight "Darth Vader" and subject my will upon those whose lack of faith in the power of the dark side I find "disturbing".......
.... and then I wake up and realize this totally awesome stun will probably be next to worthless against most, if not all, bosses and many of the mobs we'll encounter in raids. We'll probably see more usefulness with this in dungeons, particularly on trash mobs, as a useful silence/interrupt/stun, but for raid, I suspect its usefulness will quickly taper off.
Chances are, this will be useful as a silence against some mobs.... but then again.... this replaces Strangulate and does not add an additional ability to our toolbox. Still, depending on the situation, this could be a great talent to have, but it wouldn't be part of my standard "build" and would be something I would keep sitting on the side for the right spots....
..... which is a real shame, as my dreams of this.......
.... have been somewhat dashed against the wall of "raid mechanics".
Note: This is once again, another homogenization.... matching us up with Concussion Blow, Hammer of Justice, and Bash.
Last edited by Leucifer; 08-20-2012 at 10:28 PM.
No one tanks in a void.........