This post is out of date as of october 12. With the release of patch 4.0.1 the information about specs, skill and gear is obviously out of date. Still, the general progression of acquiring a gear set is still relevant.
When I came back to WoW in december 2009 I made it a goal of mine to try to tank in raids. At the time the decision was mostly motivated by the fact tanks seemed to have an easier time finding groups and I wanted to try something new, tanking in raids.
This guide is there to help every new Dk tank who wants to make the switch from dps to tanking or just a plain new level 80 who wishes to raid as a tank. I’m assuming in this guide you don’t have a guild raiding ICC and carrying you along to gear you up and that you are doing things by yourself. Finaly this guide will not refer to specific gear pieces when possible. This is not a grocery list but rather a guide to how to get from zero to tanking in ICC.
Things to know before starting
-Currently, theorycrafting sites and high-end elitist guilds put the death knight near the bottom of the tank list along with druids for two reasons. The first being that the 20% ICC debuff to dodge affect DKs the hardest since we rely on avoidance and second because our base health pool is the lowest of the tank classes. While the theorycrafting is not false in itself it doesn’t mean Dks can’t do the job, only that there’s more efficient choices out there. You will have to fight this stigma from time to time.
-Knowing that you also need to know our strengths. With all our interrupts, silences and abilities to reduce magic damage (anti-magic shell and others depending on your spec) we can be very efficient against casters. Also, our access to a lot of crowd control abilities and ranged damage makes us fantastic kitter tanks. We also have impressive dps for a tank class and our damage reduction cooldowns let us survive phases when the boss hit harder. Finally we also have superb AoE tanking abilities. So if anyone is giving you trouble about your health don’t hesitate to point all of this out. In short the death knight is a superb tank during movement fights, resist burst damage and survive magic heavy bosses.
-As with any tank class fast reactions, adaptability and superb environmental awareness are required. If you are not willing to work on these attributes or don’t want to you should reconsider tanking altogether.
-Have deep pockets. Gearing up a tank is a very money intensive process. I have spent over 4000g in the space of a month gemming, enchanting, respecing and paying repairs and that was starting from a previous tank set. It was not uncommon to change the same gem on the same piece of gear two or three times to squeeze out every possible stat out of my gear. Also, tanks are expected to always be top-gemmed and enchanted. A single blue gem might result in you being replaced even if in reality you lost only 6 stam.
-Be confident. No matter what happens or what you think you’re the tank. You’re the one others rely on and no matter what, you always know your job and your always on top of things. You must radiate confidence. There needs to be no doubt in your group about you. You wouldn’t trust a pilot who’s saying he doesn’t know how to fly a plane with you life…
-Be ready to do research and truly understand you class. Tanking is not simply a matter of going to Elitist Jerks and copying the current tank spec. A lot of variables will means you will have to adapt these resources to your current situation. For example right now I’m using a few +10 strength/+15 stam gems in red slots since I need to do more threat but I’m already expertise capped. This has helped me more than +hit since I’m closing on that cap too. Using your head and understanding how stats will affect you is required to be a good tank.
Before 540 defense, my first tank set
Know this number! Love it! 540 defence (un-crittable) is the defence cap for tanks and until you reach this magical number don’t even think about tanking heroics. Altough it’s possible to tank without 540 defence in heroics it will make everyone life easier (including yours) if you meet that cap. Nothing is more frustrating than having the tank disappear in a puff of blood and gore because the boss got lucky and critted.
It’s important to note that 540 is the cap for raids and that the actual cap for heroics is 535. I still recommend aiming for 540 because it will be easier to figure out your gear options from that point and also because it’s pointless trying to explain to pugs that 535 is okay. Save yourself headaches and go straight for 540.
So what do we do since we want to tank but can’t? Run normals??? Hell no!!! You don’t want to be doing this forever. Instead we are going to abuse the LFG tool. Sign up as dps for heroics and roll need on every tank upgrade you see. Also spend badges on gear as soon as you can. Don’t hold up for that 75 badges helm and instead grab the 30 badges gloves. You want to hit that 540 def cap asap to be able to stand on your own. Even if your dps gear is atrocious it doesn’t matter. Get carried for a change because soon you’ll be the one carrying people. When able to start stocking up on enchant mats by choosing the disenchant option. You will be needing quite a few mats soon.
As far as enchanting and gemming goes do put blue(rare) gems to increase your defence. Every other defence enchant is also a good starting point. At this step, defense should be your first priority.
Gems and enchants:
Finally there’s decision to be made right here about wether or not you’ll be tanking with a 2-handed weapon or two one hands. This of course ties in with what spec you are going for. Here’s a quick rundown:
-Frost, 2-hander: The spec I’m using right now and the “classic” frost dk tank spec. Very resilient and less demanding on disease upkeep with Glyph of howling blast. Threat comes in burst however wich means you have to be on the ball for you threat generation early in the fight. Howling blast makes for great AoE tanking also.
-Frost, two 1 hand: Same resilience as frost and threat building is more steady but lot more demanding on rotation and disease upkeep. Requires someone who can juggle both tanking and disease rotations. Increased parry at the price of more boss parries too. Interesting for the combinations of stats two weapons can procure.
-Blood, 2-hander: Self-healing strikes make for great survivability and reduces healer stress. Nice threat build-up too with the blood tree talents to increase damage and strength. However it does not possess much in the damage reduction department wich can leave a blood tank more vulnerable to heavy hits.
-Unholy, 2-hander: Basically a dps doing a tank job. Unholy got great magic damage reduction talents and bone armor is awesome to reduce damage. Unholy got great threat, dps and aoe tanking. However it lacks many talents to reduce damage from big hits that frost can procure and it doesn’t have the self-healing of blood. This build requires a very skilled player and very good gear to make up for the weakness in damage reduction.
I strongly recommend going over Satorri guide to Death knight tanking over at tankspot wich goes in great detail over each tank spec.
I got 540 defense! Now what?
Now is the time to run heroics like mad and get you epicced out!. At this point you should be standing at about 24k hp self-buffed (frost presence). Obviously it’s still a far cry from our target but it’s enough for heroics.
Here our goal is to get rid of all those blue gear pieces you still have and for that we are going to need badges.. lots of badges. So we will be chain-running heroics until we drop dead. Seriously, you do run a ton of them. This time around aim first for the big pieces. You want to give the impression that you are more advanced than you really are and a big piece often make people forget about the not so great ones you have. Also, you might get lucky and pick up a drop or two that will allow you to skip buying said piece. Expensive badge pieces are less likely to get replaced this way so they stay with you longer.
Finally, milk regular ToC and the regular version of Forge of Souls, Pit of Saron and Halls of Reflection as soon as you can. These can and should be ran as much as you can since it’s easy epics that can make the rest of the gear collection a lot easier.
As you are tanking these heroics you will get a lot of people complaining about how you should have 40k hp to tank heroics, how you fail at holding agro, how you fail at life, etc… Don’t listen to them, ever. 24k hp is enough to tank most of the old heroics and the 5.5k gearscore hunter can watch his agro for once. Do try to improve yourself by tanking as best as you can but don’t drive yourself crazy when you can’t hold agro on dps who insist on pulling before you or doing split dps. Worst case scenario is they kick you after 15 mins and they have to wait 10 minutes for a new tank while you get instantly into a new heroic.
As you gear up every item above iLevel 200 should be epic gemmed and enchanted to the best of your ability. At this point gem for pure stam since DKs most obvious flaw when starting to tank is their low health pool when compared to other tanks. Only exception of course is for the meta-gem. Enchants should be done according to the best one in slot while giving preference to hp/threat/armor when possible. The right mix is up to you but when starting out aiming for health is always the best option. Also, try to refrain from gemming for defense unless forced to. Your gear should provide enough defense all by itself by the time you are done.
A quick aside about PvP gear. PvP gear has a lot of stamina and most of the time also some of the other stats that a tank migh desire. Plus resilience will help with being uncrittable While it might be tempting to get said pieces for the stamina I strongly suggest you do not do it. The first reason is that while the gear has a lot of stamina you are going to loose at lot on the others stats like hit, strength and expertise. Normal tanking gear provide those but PvP gear will leave you lacking in one area if not more.
The other reason is simply that most raid leaders will see this as the sign of a lazy raider who doesn’t want to work to gear himself. The very opposite of the image you want to give. Tanks are held to higher standards than most raiders and PvP gear will not cut it.
Once the LFG start assigning you to Heroic FoS, PoS and HoR it means you are nearly done. Start running them every day to give you the best chance of picking up the drops from those. Be on the look-out for:
-BlackSpire sabatons (FoS)
-Tyrannical Beheader (PoS- if tanking with a 2-hander)
-Fossilized Ammonite Choker (HoR)
Once you have successfully tanked HoR with a few PuGs it’s time to move on.
Finishing touches before the raids and threat.
Before offering to tank a few raids like Tournament of crusader(ToC) or Onyxia there’s a few things you can do to give you better chances of being chosen as a tank.
Get rid of all blue items and iLevel 200 items: With badges, the new heroics and crafting it’s possible to get rid of all you blue items and iLevel 200 items. Sure it will mean downgrading a lot of badge and farming a bit but it proves to the raid leader you take things seriously enough to be trusted with a raid. The exception would be trinkets but make sure even these are epics. If the raid leader inspects you and doesn’t see all epics you can be pretty sure you won’t be taken for the raid.
In that regard you’ll notice Dk tanks have few options when it comes to bracers. I would recommend getting yourself crafted the Saronite swordbreakers.Crusaders Orbs can be bought with badges and you can buy/get crafted the titansteel bar while working on heroics.
Work also on having a decent dps set. It will come in handy in your first raids when you might be asked to switch from tank to dps depending on the boss or if they have a better tank available.
Then there’s the threat issue. With the gear and weapons available from heroics you may notice you’re having trouble with tanking when there’s high dps (6k+) around. Skill here will play a big part in how good you are at keeping agro with this kind of dps around and dps can also help you a bit here by using abilities to lower their threat or simply go easier for a few seconds to give you time to pull ahead.
You need to know that it’s normal your having trouble since your reaching the limits of your gear. Until you can get your hand on raid upgrades and weapons(battered hilt if you are really lucky) you will be struggling with keeping agro from fully geared raid players. Try to use this time to improve your tanking skills as much as you can but do remind the dps to give you a hand too if it becomes a problem.
When you are hovering at 4800 gearscore (2600 at wow-heroes) and about 34k hp in frost presence it’s time for the next step.
The suck period, the wall.
Here you will be faced with an interesting dilemma. You can’t raid ICC yet because you’re not geared enough yet. So your being told to pug ToC(Tournament of the crusader) and Onyxia. The problem is that Pugs for those two want tanks geared at ICC levels since they want a quick run and are not interested in trying with a less equiped tank. But you need those runs since you can’t really upgrade from heroics anymore…. what to do?
The answer is to lie and cheat you way into raids or join a casual guild just starting to raid and in need of a tank. I’ll explore the cheating and lying way first.
First of all do research on the raids you’re aiming for. Knowing how to beat the beast of Northrend will go a long way toward being able to successfully tank it even if you have never done it before. If anything it will allow you to be saying the truth when asked if you know the fight.
So you see an add for a ToC10,5k gearscore and pst with achievement. Your answer? Of course you will go offtank for them. The achievement? Done it on another character. And when you get into the raid and you’re asked why your gear is not high enough just pretend you din’t notice. If you have the dps gear, offer to dps instead if they let you roll on tank gear. Most raid leaders won’t bother to waste time finding new people once everyone is inside the raid since they want to get going fast.
PuG raids often have ridiculous requirements that won’t allow someone to gear up following the “normal” progression. If you wait until you get that raid wich will take someone geared in heroic gear you will wait a very long time. So you need literally to jump in, offer a quick prayer and hope you get a drop that will help you climb that wall until you are ready to jump into ICC.
Once you get into the 36khp range try sneaking in ICC with pugs. If anything you could get a few rep points and start working toward that ring. As always try to offer being an offtank since it’s a bit easier to get in but don’t turn down main tank either.
At some point and luck willing you should get a few drops from ToC10/25, Onyxia or even maybe your ring from ICC. Once you hit the 5k gearscore mark it’s time to start hunting for a guild to do ICC.
Hunting for a guild and making a spot for yourself
First I want to say there’s other guides out there on guild hunting that are way more detailed that this one. I’m putting this here as part of the progression of a Dk tank.
When in your progression you start hunting for a guild will determine a lot about what kind of guild you are aiming for. If you do it early when coming off heroics you choices are limited. Since you can’t raid ICC yet you have to find a guild that’s either just starting raiding in ToC or one that’s trying to form up for ICC and is willing to help you gear up. The sad thing here is that most of these guilds are often very uncertain things. Since they are building up their team for raiding raids may or may not happen, wipefests are more likely than success and they can disappear in a single day as a few key people move on to other guilds once they get their gear.
I do not recommend this and rather recommend that you gear up with pugs until ready for ICC. However there’s one big advantage to these guilds that can make it worthwile. If you get lucky and land in a guild that actually has what it takes to make it you can join the team early and be assured of your position as a tank once you start raiding the higher content. The sad part is that 99% of the time(guessed number) you will end up in a guild doomed to fail wich you want to avoid if possible.
So assuming you did gear up in Pugs and are ready for ICC how do you find a guild? The first thing you are going to notice is that unlike heroics most raiding guilds don’t really need new tanks. After all if they are raiding it means they already have tanks. What you have to be on the look out for is guilds building second ICC groups and/or guilds of ex-raiders reforming or server transferring. Trying to replace an established tank is often pointless.
Also, be cautious of guilds saying they need tanks when in fact they already have them. A lot of guild leaders love to recruit extras for those “just in case” moments and you don’t want to be waiting on the bench forever. Be upfront when joining a guild in saying you want to tank.
So once you find a guild that’s willing to let you tank ICC now comes the time to establish yourself. It’s very important that you get very knowledgeable about the different encounters and that you are present when you say you will be. The first and most important part in being a main tank for a guild is to be reliable. If you are not don’t expect a long raid tank career.
Hang in there a few runs and before you know it you’ll be the tank your guild relies on.