We come at last to the death knight, the red-headed stepchild of the tanking family that nobody really likes but everyone has to put up with because despite all of their flaws, they’re still part of the family.
During the course of Wrath, death knights have enjoyed an interesting spot in the tanking family. While, largely speaking, they haven’t been exactly the most popular tanks to roam around during the expansion, they’ve had a very cozy niche spot in the world of tanking archetypes.
They were built more as AOE tanks like the paladins but not quite as good. They had a great potential for mitigation like the bears but again, not quite as good and they had a decently sized toolset for a variety of tanking situations like warriors but…not quite as varied. They were a perfect jack of all trades type tank.
Their talents trees accented this customizable factor. They could be built to mitigate magical damage or to enhance the raid’s magical damage with the Unholy tree. They could build for stronger snap AOE threat and enhance the raid’s physical damage with the Frost tree and finally, the Blood tree makes them an excellent makeshift bear tank with the stronger mitigation and self healing.
With the coming expansion, death knights are getting bigger and more changes than any other tanking class. While currently, death knights are capable of tanking with any of their three classes, Blizzard is moving towards making death knights more in line with the other tanks by giving them one dedicated tanking tree. This serves the function of allowing them to concentrate their tanking talents into a single area rather than to spread them out across three separate trees, making it hard for a devoted tank to pick them all up.
With the shift to making Blood the dedicated tanking tree, it makes it a lot easier for a death knight in Cataclysm to BE the dedicated tank, though it comes at a cost to versatility. If you’re playing a death knight tank right now, chances are good that when the expansion hits, there are going to be a lot of talents that you rely on now to do your job that won’t be there anymore, or will be placed out of reach. It’s going to be a lot harder for you to tank outside of the blood tree than it is now. While I’m sure that it will be possible, it’s likely not going to be something that’s going to be common or all that popular from the looks of it now. More than likely, it’ll turn into the tanking situation now, where while you can tank as a fury warrior or a druid specced as a cat, it’s not really recommended.
At the end of the day, it’s a little fitting that it’s the death knights that are hit with the biggest changes when new expansion will hit. Because warriors, druids and paladins have been around a lot longer, they’ve had a lot more time under Blizzard’s iterative design to be polished and have their mechanics tweaked. This expansion will likely be only the first of many major changes that death knights go through during the course of their tanking career, but rest assured, the class that comes out of the other end will be stronger and a lot better for it.