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Blood Death Knight Tank Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (WoW 4.3.4)

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In this article, we list your Blood Death Knight (WoW 4.3) core abilities and how they should be used together (rotation). We also explain when to use your various cooldowns. Then, we go deeper and present all the subtleties that playing a Blood Death Knight will face you with. The other articles of our Blood Death Knight guide can be accessed from the table of contents on the left.

1. Single Target Rotation↑top

Generally speaking, your goal during each fight is to use your resources (runes and runic power) to generate threat and to stay alive. This is the recommended way to use your abilities:

  1. Apply and maintain Frost Fever Icon Frost Fever and Blood Plague Icon Blood Plague, either through Icy Touch Icon Icy Touch and Plague Strike Icon Plague Strike, or through Outbreak Icon Outbreak. If the debuffs provided by these abilities are already provided (attack speed reduction and physical damage reduction) by other tanks, you do not have to apply them.
  2. Use your Frost and Unholy runes (including when they become Death runes) on Death Strike Icon Death Strike. This is detailed in a subsequent section.
  3. Use your Blood runes on Heart Strike Icon Heart Strike. Never use Heart Strike if both of your Blood runes are on cooldown, as this will use up a Death rune, which should be saved for Death Strike.
  4. Use your runic power on Rune Strike Icon Rune Strike to generate threat and dump runic power. Only use Rune Strike when at least one of your Frost or Unholy runes is fully depleted.

In case you wish to generate a very large amount of threat at the pull (when threat matters most), you can use Dancing Rune Weapon Icon Dancing Rune Weapon before pulling, provided that you are using Glyph of Dancing Rune Weapon.

As you can see, this does not take into account the use of your many survival abilities. You will often find that you must mix these abilities with the above rotation in order to stay alive. Please refer to the sections below in order to better understand how to use all of your survival abilities.

2. Multiple Target Rotation↑top

The other tanking classes are far better equipped in AoE situations. However, should you have to tank multiple enemies, you should use this priority list:

  1. Use Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay on cooldown.
  2. Apply your Frost Fever Icon Frost Fever and Blood Plague Icon Blood Plague diseases and spread them to all targets with Pestilence Icon Pestilence.
  3. Use Death Strike Icon Death Strike on any enemy, for the self-heal and Blood Shield Icon Blood Shield benefits that it provides.
  4. Use any Blood Boil Icon Blood Boil procs from Crimson Scourge Icon Crimson Scourge.
  5. Use Heart Strike Icon Heart Strike is you are fighting 3 or fewer enemies and use Blood Boil Icon Blood Boil if you are fighting 4 or more enemies.
  6. Use Rune Strike Icon Rune Strike to dump runic power, when at least one of your runes is fully depleted.

3. Taunting↑top

Dark Command Icon Dark Command is your main taunting ability. It only works on a single target and has an 8-second cooldown.

Death Grip Icon Death Grip grabs your target and moves it to your location. It also has the effect of taunting the target and interrupting spellcasting. The movement effect does not work against most raid bosses.

4. Presence↑top

You should always be in Blood Presence Icon Blood Presence. There is no exception to this.

5. Survival Cooldowns↑top

As a tank, you have many survival cooldowns that you need to often insert into your rotation to survive the various abilities that your enemies will throw at you. There are 3 kinds of cooldowns: proactive cooldowns (to protect yourself before high damage spikes occur), reactive cooldowns (to heal yourself after taking damage), and cooldowns that are both proactive or reactive (meaning that you can use them however you want).

Below, we present all the cooldowns at your disposal, with a short explanation of what they do. More information about each cooldown can be found in subsequent sections.

Proactive Cooldowns
Anti-Magic Shell Icon Anti-Magic Shell
  • Reduces all magic damage taken by 75% (up to a maximum of 50% of your maximum health)
  • Prevents most magic debuffs from being applied on you
Icebound Fortitude Icon Icebound Fortitude Grants you a 50% damage taken reduction
Dancing Rune Weapon Icon Dancing Rune Weapon Grants +20% chance to parry (also increases threat generation with Glyph of Dancing Rune Weapon)
Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead
  • While this ability is being channeled (4 seconds), all damage taken is reduced by the sum of your dodge and parry chances (for example, if you have a 15% chance to dodge and a 16% chance to parry, all damage taken will be reduced by 31%)
  • The ghouls created by this spell will attempt to taunt enemies (with the exception of raid bosses)
Bone Shield Icon Bone Shield
  • Reduces all damage taken by 20% and increases damage dealt by 2%
  • Remains active until you receive 6 damaging attacks.
Reactive cooldowns
Lichborne Icon Lichborne For 10 seconds, your Death Coil Icon Death Coil is empowered with self-healing capabilities and only costs Runic Power
Death Pact Icon Death Pact Heals you for 25% of your maximum health after sacrificing your Raise Dead Icon Raise Dead ghoul or one of your Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead ghouls
Rune Tap Icon Rune Tap Converts a Blood rune into 10% of your health (remember that the 30-second cooldown of Rune Tap is sometimes reset by Will of the Necropolis Icon Will of the Necropolis when your health drops below 35%)
Mixed (Proactive or Reactive) Cooldowns
Death Strike Icon Death Strike
  • Heals you for a minimum of 7% of your maximum health (without taking Improved Death Strike Icon Improved Death Strike into account)
  • Protects you with a damage absorption shield (thanks to Blood Shield Icon Blood Shield)
Vampiric Blood Icon Vampiric Blood
  • Grants you 15% additional health
  • Increases the healing you receive
  • With Glyph of Vampiric Blood, you gain no health but the healing you receive is increased by an additional 15%
Empower Rune Weapon Icon Empower Rune Weapon Instantly regenerates all runes and grants 25 Runic Power (very useful for casting Death Strike Icon Death Strike, Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap, Death Pact Icon Death Pact, or Death Coil Icon Death Coil)
Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap Instantly regenerates a Blood rune and converts it into a Death Rune for the next 20 seconds (useful for casting Rune Tap Icon Rune Tap or an extra Death Strike Icon Death Strike)

6. Optional Read: Mastering Your Blood Death Knight↑top

While the information we gave in the previous sections will yield very good results, there are many things you should be aware of, in order to play your Blood Death Knight to its full potential. In particular, we explain in great detail how to properly use your various survival cooldowns.

6.1. Vengeance

Vengeance Icon Vengeance is a passive ability that you receive for choosing the Blood specialisation. Essentially, it increases your attack power for 5% of the damage you receive, up to a maximum of 10% of your maximum health. It is an essential mechanic in allowing you to maintain aggro of mobs.

6.2. The Runic Resource System

Death Knights use a unique resource system. Because this system is quite intricate, we have written a separate, comprehensive guide dealing with it. We strongly advise you to read it, and familiarise yourself with the resource system, as it holds a central place in the Death Knight paradigm.

6.2.1. Tips

Horn of Winter Icon Horn of Winter, in addition to providing your raid with 549 Strength and Agility, also grants you with you 10 Runic Power. You can use this ability to generate some extra Runic Power each time your runes are on cooldown and you are not at maximum Runic Power.

6.3. Dark Simulacrum

Dark Simulacrum Icon Dark Simulacrum is a very special ability. It places a debuff on the target, which causes you to mimic their next spell cast that costs mana to use. This grants you the ability (it will replace Dark Simulacrum on your bars) for a short amount of time. Using this mimicked ability can be very beneficial (even exploitative) on some encounters.

Note that Dark Simulacrum does not work, most times, in PvE.

6.4. DPS/Threat Abilities in Detail

The following abilities are important for single target DPS and threat generation:

  • Icy Touch Icon Icy Touch: this ability applies Frost Fever Icon Frost Fever on the target, which deals some Frost damage over time and reduces the target's attack speed by 20%. It does not stack with other attack speed reducing abilities, such as Thunder Clap Icon Thunder Clap.
  • Plague Strike Icon Plague Strike: this ability applies Blood Plague Icon Blood Plague on the target, which deals some Shadow damage over time. In turn, thanks to Scarlet Fever Icon Scarlet Fever, Blood Plague applies Scarlet Fever Icon Scarlet Fever on the target, reducing its physical damage done. This effect does not stack with similar effects such as Demoralizing Shout Icon Demoralizing Shout.
  • Outbreak Icon Outbreak: this ability automatically afflicts the target with both Frost Fever and Blood Plague. This ability has a 30, and with talented Epidemic Icon Epidemic, your diseases have a 29 second duration, meaning that you can apply your diseases with this ability every time.
  • Rune Strike Icon Rune Strike: this ability costs runic power to use, and generates a high amount of threat. Additionally, thanks to Runic Empowerment Icon Runic Empowerment, it has a 45% chance to instantly refresh one of your fully depleted runes.
  • Death Strike Icon Death Strike: this ability costs 1 Frost and 1 Unholy rune to cast. It deals a very high amount of damage and generates a high amount of threat. It also heals you for 7% of your current health or 29% of the damage you took in the previous 5 seconds before using it (which ever of the two is highest). Additionally, thanks to Blood Shield Icon Blood Shield, it places an absorption shield on you, for a base of 50% of the amount that Death Strike healed you for. Death Strike will heal you even if it misses or it is dodged or parried. Death Strike is an important part of your survival and self-healing, and its proper usage will be discussed in a section below.
  • Heart Strike Icon Heart Strike: this ability costs 1 Blood rune and deals a high amount of damage and threat to the target and two nearby enemies.

The following abilities are important for AoE DPS and threat generation:

  • Pestilence Icon Pestilence: this ability spreads your Frost Fever and Blood Plague to all enemies within 10 yards of the main target. Only diseases present on the target will be spread to the surrounding enemies. Diseases spread through Pestilence deal only 50% of their normal damage.
  • Blood Boil Icon Blood Boil: this ability deals damage to all enemies within 10 yards. It deals additional damage if the targets are affected by Frost Fever or Blood Plague.
  • Death and Decay Icon Death and Decay: places a damaging effect on the ground, which deals damage to all enemies within it. This effect persists for 10 seconds.

6.5. Generalities On Survival Cooldown Usage

Blood Death Knights take damage in a far more unpredictable manner, compared to the other tanking classes. This is due to the fact that the other tanking classes have passive abilities (block chance, in the case of Paladins and Warriors) that handle the mitigation of damage automatically.

Blood Death Knights, however, only have their dodge and parry chances, which are not very high (a combined total of around 30% is to be expected). This causes them to take fully unmitigated attacks far more often. To compensate for this, Death Knights have, as we have seen above, a very large number of survival cooldowns. In order to function properly during raids, Death Knight tanks will have to make extensive use of these cooldowns. Doing so well can have tremendously good results, while doing so poorly can make it seem like that Druid, Paladin or Warrior tanks are far easier to heal.

There is no set order in which you should use your abilities. Rather, you should use some cooldowns (proactive ones) in anticipation for an event in the encounter, in order to be better prepared for when it occurs. Other cooldowns (reactive ones) should be used to better recover from an unfavourable situation. Finally, there are a number of cooldowns that can be used both reactively and proactively, depending on the situation.

In the following sections, we go through all your survival cooldowns and explain how and when to use them.

6.6. How to Use Your Proactive Cooldowns

6.6.1. Anti-Magic Shell

Anti-Magic Shell Icon Anti-Magic Shell should be used whenever there is magic damage to mitigate (such as breath attacks, for example). The mitigation that it offers is very high. It has a short duration (5 seconds) so you will need to be quite accurate in timing it.

It also has the benefit of preventing the application of magical debuffs on you while it is active, and it can be used for this purpose, as well, depending on the encounter mechanics.

6.6.2. Icebound Fortitude

Icebound Fortitude Icon Icebound Fortitude is a only truly useful if it is used before you take a high amount of damage. It reduces all damage you take by 50% for 12 seconds, and it should always be used when you anticipate that you will take a lot of damage or that your healers will be unable to heal you.

6.6.3. Dancing Rune Weapon

Dancing Rune Weapon Icon Dancing Rune Weapon should be used before you take a high amount of physical attacks. It grants you 20% chance to parry for 12 seconds. It is, therefore, excellent against melee attacks and thus physical damage. It has a cost of 60 runic power, so using it will require a bit of planning and runic power pooling.

Note that it also has the benefit of boosting your threat generation by 50% with the Glyph of Dancing Rune Weapon, and it can be used for this purpose, although this is not the recommended use. The best time to use it for threat generation is right at the pull, when your threat output is at its lowest. This will also increase the chances that it will be available later on in the encounter, when it is needed.

6.6.4. Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead has two survival benefits, and it is useful chiefly against magic damage.

Firstly, while the spell is being channeled, your damage taken is reduced by the sum of your dodge and parry chances. Note, however, that while you are channeling, you cannot dodge or parry (so you will be hit by every attack made against you). Therefore, this damage reduction aspect is most useful against magic damage.

Secondly, the ghouls will taunt any mobs that they can, with the exception of raid bosses. This allows you some time to breathe and recover, while the ghouls are dying. Note that this effect can cause problems if the adds require some specific placement or handling, though.

6.6.5. Bone Shield

Bone Shield Icon Bone Shield offers you 20% damage reduction for however long the buff persists on you. The buff has 6 charges and each time you receive a damaging attack, a charge is lost. Damaging attacks cover both physical attacks as well as magic attacks. Damage from DoTs and ground based AoE abilities consumes a charge, although this is not always the case and it seems to depend from encounter to encounter.

Because this spell has a 1 minute cooldown and 5 minute duration (unless all charges are spent before that time), it is ideal to cast it on yourself before combat, so that it has time to cool down. This way, you can chain the effect twice as soon as you engage the boss.

6.7. How to Use Your Reactive Cooldowns

In this section, we explain the ideal ways to use your reactive cooldowns.

6.7.1. Lichborne

Lichborne Icon Lichborne has a 2 minute cooldown. For 10 seconds, it allows you to heal yourself with Death Coil Icon Death Coil. Casting Lichborne does not cost anything, but Death Coil costs 40 runic power to cast.

6.7.2. Death Pact

Death Pact Icon Death Pact heals you for 25% of your maximum health, on a 2 minute cooldown. This is a very powerful heal (it cannot critically heal, though), so make sure that it does not end up overhealing you.

The ability itself costs 40 runic power to cast. Additionally, it requires you to have an active ghoul to sacrifice, either from Raise Dead Icon Raise Dead or from Army of the Dead Icon Army of the Dead.

You should aim to have your ghoul out before you anticipate that you will require the healing, so that you do not waste any time in casting Death Pact.

6.7.3. Rune Tap

Rune Tap Icon Rune Tap is on a 30 second cooldown and it heals you for 10% of your maximum health. It costs 1 Blood rune to cast. Basically, you want to use this ability more or less on cooldown, as long as it does not overheal you. In case you know for certain that a big amount of damage is incoming, you should save it for this time.

Also, you should not try to save this ability specifically for when you drop to a low health percentage. This is because each time you drop below 35% health (not more often than once every 45 seconds, however), Will of the Necropolis Icon Will of the Necropolis will reset the cooldown of Rune Tap and make it free of cost. Additionally, each time Will of the Necropolis procs, you will gain a 25% damage reduction for 8 seconds.

If you are in the process of taking a lot of damage, you should try to use Rune Tap normally, before you drop below 35% health, so that you can then use it again.

Finally, Blood Tap Icon Blood Tap can be used to instantly restore a depleted Blood rune (allowing you to use Rune Tap, provided that it is not on its 30 second cooldown).

6.8. How to Use Your Mixed (Proactive and Reactive) Cooldowns

In this section, we explain the ideal ways to use cooldowns that can be used both proactively and reactively.

6.8.1. Death Strike

Death Strike Icon Death Strike is your most important self-healing ability. It is also part of your regular ability rotation during combat. In order to make the most out of Death Strike and of your Mastery (Blood Shield Icon Blood Shield), you cannot simply use Death Strike whenever it is available.

There are two main things to keep in mind when using Death Strike:

  • Always try to use Death Strike Icon Death Strike after you have received one or more damaging attacks in a short space of time (5 seconds). This is because Death Strike's self-healing component is based on how much damage you have taken in the 5 seconds prior to using it. As such, the more damage you have taken just before using Death Strike, the bigger the self-heal and the resulting Blood Shield will be. Additionally, this ensures that the self-heal will not overheal you, as you have just taken damage.
  • If you are not the main tank, and you are preparing to taunt the boss or to pick up a newly spawned add, you should try to stack as high a Blood Shield as you can (note that Blood Shield's value is limited to your maximum health) by using Death Strike repeatedly on the boss prior to taunting it.

For tracking the amount of damage you have taken in the last 5 seconds, and thus the potential efficiency of your Death Strike's self-heal and of your Blood Shield, we recommend the Blood Shield Tracker add-on.

6.8.2. Vampiric Blood

Vampiric Blood Icon Vampiric Blood is one of your most powerful cooldowns. If unglyphed, it will grant you 15% extra health for 10 seconds, and increase your healing received (from all sources, including self-heals) by 25%. It can be used both reactively and in ancitipation.

For most encounters, we recommend that you use the Glyph of Vampiric Blood. This will cause the ability to not grant you any health, but increase all healing received by 40%. This makes it an amazingly potent cooldown for when you expect to require a lot of healing or that you will be taking a lot of damage. It can also be used reactively, if you couple it with some of your self-heals to raise your health up in a very short amount of time.

6.8.3. Empower Rune Weapon

Empower Rune Weapon Icon Empower Rune Weapon does not provide any survival effects on its own. It resets instantly activates all of your runes and granting you 25 runic power. It is very useful for providing you with extra resources when you need to use your survival abilities that have rune or runic power costs.

Its cooldown is quite long, so make sure to use it wisely.

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