A Death Knight’s Great Debate

I see a lot of Death Knight’s wondering the same things I did when I first started tanking, so I decided I would try and help you out without having to sift through a ton of useless information.

RUNEFORGING – There is really only 2 options here for tanking, Swordbreaker or Stoneskin. Swordbreaker gives 4% parry to a 2H weapon, while Stoneskin gives 25 defense (skill, not rating) and a 2% stamina boost. 25 defense skill translates into about 2% dodge, while the 2% stamina increase will vary how much hp it gives you depending on your gear.

When you first hit 80 and you are still gearing up to tank heroics and raids, you will want to use stoneskin. This makes hitting 535 defense (the heroic defense cap) and then 540 defense (the raid defense cap) that much easier to obtain as well as giving the extra hp boost. Once you have geared up and are at 565 defense you will have the option to change to swordbreaking. You will then have to consider what your current overall avoidance is (parry + dodge = overall avoidance) and your max hp raid buffed. Do you need more hp from the 2% stamina increase, or do you need 2% more avoidance.

I personally chose to keep stoneskin, as my unbuffed avoidance is at 47% but my max hp is only at 30k. In a melee encounter you will generally want to have more avoidance, but when tanking bosses like Hodir and Stormcaller Brundir who put out a lot of magic damage, you will need the highest hp pool you can get. This leads me into my next subject… Avoidance or HP?

AVOIDANCE Vs. HP – Both are equally important. It really depends on the encounter. Are you fighting Patchwerk or are you fighting Hodir? With Patch, you will want avoidance as you only need to have about 30k raid buffed hp and as long as healers keep you topped off, you will be ok. With Hodir, you will want the highest hp pool you can get.

This can be accomplished by swapping trinkets. You should have 2 stamina trinkets, and 2 avoidance trinkets, to maximize your flexability as a tank. You should still balance out your hp and your avoidance regardless. I wouldn’t recommend gemming all stamina, and I wouldn’t recommend gemming all avoidance either.

Another quick thing to remember: Our single target threat generation is based off our avoidance through “Rune Strike”. The less avoidance you have, the less threat you will be able to generate due to lack of Rune Strike’s.

SPEC- Well, this is everyone’s biggest question. Most DK’s will grab a cookie cutter frost tank spec and stick with it until something changes and they just grab another tanking cookie cutter spec. I tanked as Frost for awhile, and I have recently switched over to Blood to test it out. I’ll go over some of the strengths of each school right now.

Unholy– The only thing of value for tanking when you go deep into Unholy is Bone armor. I would not consider this a viable tanking spec in any way shape or form. Anticipation is a tier 1 talent and is a must for any tank spec.

Frost– Well, I would consider Frost spec the best AE tanking spec for DK’s. Frigid Dreadplate is another 3% dodge. As well as gaining Unbreakable Armor as another CD to reduce incoming damage. You also get Howling Blast which is amazing for maintaining AE aggro. Toughness is essential for any Tank spec as well.

Blood– Blade Barrier is awesome, and is a must for any tank spec. Bladed armor is also great. More AP = More DMG = More threat. Deeper in you get Vampric Blood and Mark of Blood. Both are amazing talents. You will have to be careful with what you use Mark of Blood on though, some bosses its more effective than others. AE’s take 1 charge per person it hits so bosses that AE a lot are going to each through you mark in about 10 seconds. For other fights such as “The Iron Council” in Ulduar, where you are required to tank Steelbreaker, it can be quite useful. Veteran of the Third war is also amazing, giving a 6% increase to both strength and stamina.

I am sure there are things I missed out on along the way, but there will be more to come. I hope I was able to answer some of the questions for Death Knights that were wondering some of the same things I did when I started tanking. Thank you.


  1. Kurtosis says:

    I hear that once you reach a certain level of avoidance, bone shield makes UH the best tank spec. Bones only disappear when you’re hit, and the also have an internal cooldown. I don’t recall the specifics, but with enough avoidance reducing the amount of times you are hit, you can keep BS up for almost 45s or so, for 20% mitigation that whole time. Check tankspot.com for the details. Alot of Ulduar tanks use UH for that reason.

  2. Budlitenite says:

    In my personal experience, I have never seen an Unholy DK tank in a serious raiding guild. Most are frost, with the top end guilds having all their DK’s as blood for the massive HP pools they can reach.

  3. Dead wrong on one point= Patchwerk. Avoidance means nothing at all if your healers are failing. Even with low avoidance levels you’re avoiding many attacks anyway, you’re still way better off stacking stam.

  4. Budlitenite says:

    To Dread – First off, if your healers are fail, then your probably going to die anyways. Second off, im not sure how much you tanked Naxx when it was THE end game content ( patch 3.0 ) but avoid was valued as much or the same as hp was during naxx. As the content progressed it became almost necessary to stack stamina, and now with ICC, it is becoming necessary to balance both now with gemming and enchanting.

  5. I am not level 80 yeat but I tank just fine in DPS gear at level 76 in Halls of Stone regular specced as frost.