3.2 Death Knight tank specs

For 3.3, see my Unholy, Blood and Frost posts.

This post is for 3.2.2.

Here are the 3.22 cookie-cutter tank specs for DKs. These are fairly min-max maintank builds.

In summary form, written to also help officers or non-DK tank readers.


Blood 54-8-9 or I have three alternative blood tank specs. This section remains accurate for 3.3, since nothing changed that impacts Blood.

Blood remains the best single-target raid tank spec, but it does not have the same gigantic edge it did in 3.1.

  • The template above is a strong raid-MT oriented build, with a few points you can move around (eg. take 1 from Hysteria to max out Morbidity for AOE or Subversion for single-target)
  • Has the most user-choice, with many raid buffs and different ways to spec.
    • This in fact makes blood fun in a way; you can personalise it quite a lot more than the other trees. You can spec into raid buffs, or single-target threat, or survivability.
    • I have a diagram showing where you could move talents to
  • Blood AOE in this spec is weak, and may struggle in heroics against geared DPS.  This spec is for maintanking in 25-mans and this version includes many raid buffs.
  • Powerful tanking cooldowns (Vampiric Blood and Will of the Necropolis).
  • Bonus cooldown of Mark of Blood; acts like a mini shield block.
  • Includes 2/2 Abominations Might, but optionally 1 of 2 Abomination’s Might will give you about 75%+ uptime on a single-target fight due to probability


Unholy 11-8-52 no epidemic.

(For Unholy in patch 3.3: read my full analysis.)

The no-reaping build is now the best unholy spec, and I’ve written a longer post about it, including one even higher-threat spec, and describing its unique rotation. Below are general points.

Single-target was improved in 3.22 with subversion benefiting scourge strike, and in 3.1 by Death Coil gaining a DoT, but still great for sustained AOE. Great all-round spec, and fun.

In 3.22, the change to 1 minute tank cooldowns has escalated this spec to my #2, edging ahead of Frost unless you are desparate for single-target threat in which case blood or frost remain better choices. A really big change is that epidemic (longer diseases) and reaping (death runes) are no longer mandatory.

  • Has the best anti-magic tanking capability and a great tanking cooldown (Bone Shield) which stays up longer with high-avoidance. Remember to use anti-magic shell, it has 100% reduction when talented. AMZ is like having ~17k more health against a big magic attack, can help healers catch up on AOE damage too if your party can cluster in the bubble.
  • Disease ticks with Impurity will be high, 700-850, due to the synergy of magic-buff talents
  • Does not need glyph for Death and Decay for Heroics, because Impurity buffs blood boil and DnD enough as it is
  • Still the least single-target threat of the three trees but it is enough; only about 10% less TPS at most
  • You glyph bone shield, rune strike and dark death.


I always liked this spec when it gave 6% stamina, but it’s not really viable anymore. The closest you can get is this spec, which requires someone else is bringing the +13% spell damage debuff you need. I wouldn’t use it, but must say it’d be pretty solid against magic-damage if threat was not an issue.

The spec’s threat is 6% below deep Unholy.


Frost 13-51-7

(For Frost in 3.3, see my detailed post).

A very balanced tree: has the best snap-agro for AOE and excellent single-target threat. Formidable in Heroics and can MT raids too with the same spec, so deserves to be a very popular tree.

  • Tank cooldown (Unbreakable Armour) is fixed in 3.22 to become useful. An average tank will take 13% less damage with UA up. Glyphed, they take 15% less (calculations).
    • Glyph: the new glyph isn’t great (effectively it adds 5% of your armour, making UA a +30% armour talent), but nor is it a waste. I suggest to take it unless you need more threat, in which case you can happily drop it.
    • UA at 20s has a longer duration than Blood’s 15. Factor that into your thinking; five seconds more 13% damage reduction does make up for it not being as powerful say as Unholy’s 20% reduction.
    • If you do not glyph UA, put in Frost Strike instead
  • Heavy tree means you get little flexiblity in talent choices though.
  • Extra 3% miss-chance is even more valuable at avoidance levels of 55%+, combined with flat 2% less damage, makes it well suited to mana-intensive healer fights
  • Acclimation is actually quite good, but it’s just hard to get in a tank build. You run out of points. Here’s how I’d spec into it. It’s a mitigation talent, so you should consider it. I left it out of the main linked spec because many people consider it for PvP only.
  • Optionally, you can use Howling Blast instead of IT to apply Frost Fever. Glyph it. Preferably, glyph frost strike for more single-target threat.
  • Simulation results on HB -vs- Oblit.

Dreadplate blood

This hybrid spec (21/41/5) doesn’t generate enough threat to be viable.

Dual-wield tanking

I have written a whole post on DW DK tanking. In short: it’s viable if you’ve 30+ expertise with fast/fast weapons. It’s a good spec overall.

Rotation and priorities

See the dedicated post I have on rotations and priorities.

My recommendation

If you can have two tank specs, one should be Blood. The other you can choose Unholy or Frost. I prefer Unholy because of bone shield and anti-magic talents, and think with one-minute on bone shield it’s the better choice simply due to its damage reduction.

If you can only afford one tank spec, it’s a more difficult decision. In a 25-man guild, you could go with Blood and lean on other tanks for AOE. In a 10-man guild, you should choose Unholy or Frost for their AOE buttons. If you don’t raid much, you could have a blood tank heroic spec.

DPS spec

Your dps spec can be whatever you fancy:

I’ve tanked raids and heroics pre-3.2 in all the trees. I have no subjective bias.

Related posts

Related Posts:

42 comments to 3.2 Death Knight tank specs

  • Super quick, they are below.
    The whole IT/PS thing is discussed in detail on other forums. I tend to lead with IT because you can do it at range and you therefore save a gcd, but PS may ultimately be a tiny dps (and therefore threat) increase for some specs. Regardless, the general rotations are as follows, and as Gravity implies don’t really differ from dps rotations. Where tanking differs is in cooldown usage and target switching to keep agro as needed – these things can’t be placed in a ‘rotation.’ Sometimes you’ll switch the non-disease strikes around due to trinkets or sigil, but that’s another topic :) So, the simple version is below.
    IT PS HS HS DS dump
    HS HS HS HS DS dump
    IT PS OB BS BS dump
    OB OB OB dump
    IT PS SS BS BS dump
    SS SS SS dump

  • Nice updates!
    I really want to try unholy tanking to see how the bone shield synergizes with avoidance… I might give it a go, but since I can only have one tank spec, I’m fairly likely to go blood for 25-man OT and 10-man MT. It is still as you point out, great for single target threat and it’s self-healing means that on less hard-hitting bosses/adds it requires less attention from healers. It can be trouble if tanking many adds to hold them during a dps burn, but I would usually just ask dps to hold off long enough for me to get pest up, D&D, and then one blood boil for threat before going nuts.
    .-= Hinenuitepo´s last blog ..ONY!!! ONY!!! ONY!!! =-.

  • Chonete

    Hey gravity. New here and new to DK tanking.
    I have a druid tank already but felt curiosity on DK tanking but need some guidance. I’m not 80 yet, but as a good player (or at least trying to be :P ) I like to research way before I get to 80 so I can know where I am going…
    Basically my concerns are that as I have read, the mechanics for a DK tank are WAY different from a Druid of course. So, I have read is important to have both deseases up of course, keep Blood Runes in CD always, hit Rune Strike every time it is available, spam Death Coil for Runic Power dump and so on… Also, from what I have read, DW is sucky if you don’t have tons of expertise, so I guess 2H is more viable than DW until you have very high gear.
    So, I would basically like to know which spec is better not at 3.2 for AOE and single target and why. What are a few pros and cons of a DK tank, what are the caps for  hit, parry and dodge (well, of course the less you get hit the better, but I would like to know a minimum you should get before stacking stamina). See, here is the difference from the druid, its dodge “cap” is around 40% unbuffed, but the druid actually NEEDS to get hit to build rage i.e.
    Also, I have read so far the majority of DK tanks are Frost, so I would like to know also if Frost is the spec that does more aggro atm or just for AOE…
    Well, think it is all for now. Have fun answering :D
    Hope you can help.

    • Gravity
      Twitter: gravitydk

      Hiya, happy to help. Good questions. If no other readers get to it before me, I’ll put something up in about 48 hours’ time. One quick point, I’d say most tanks are Blood, with Frost in second place. They’re both superb. Frost is completely superior for AOE though, and works just fine with a two-handed weapon.
      Update: need more time, busy. :)

    • Chonete

      It’s OK, RL first =D
      I have been doing my homework anyways and have read a LOT about it so I have a clearer picture now. It would be good still to read more of your comments since you are familiarized with DK tanking ;) .
      Unlike other classes, since all three DK specs can tank, the cooldowns depend on the spec you choose; unholy = bone shield/anti magic zone, frost = unbreakable armor, blood = vampiric blood / rune tap, etc… so here is another question:
      Tanking as blood, you will need to keep at least a blood rune available for Vampiric Blood or Rune Tap for example, in case of emergency; but at the same time you should keep Blood Runes in CD for Blade Barrier to be up most of the time and reduce damage. This makes me go a little bit more for Unholy for single target raid tank for Bone Shield and Anti-Magic Zone but well… I’ll better wait for your comments =D
      Take your time.

      • Gravity
        Twitter: gravitydk

        That’s an intelligent question, and you worked out the answer too. Blood Tap lets you cast your tank cooldown whenever required. A DPS DK will use blood tap for another strike, whereas a tank uses it for VB/UA/BS. So try to save blood tap for that purpose. Also, knowing a fight lets you plan ahead, which in turn means you’ll sometimes save a rune just for that purpose (in the same way you should save 20 rune power for an Icebound Fortitude). In some fights, you might save a frost rune for icy touch (to pick up ranged runners). The behaviour of sitting on your runes, and not consuming them for dps strikes, is a little unnatural at first. You will find a balance, with experience. I’m moving country shortly, so yeah, RL is taking a bit of precedent. You can also ask the guys at deathknight.info tanking forums for tips. (Edited, had used ‘rune tap’ by accident).

  • Chonete

    I believe you are talking about Blood Tap. Rune Tap is the one that uses a Blood Rune and heals you for 10% of your max health. I saw Blood Tap and with a Glyph and proper macros I should have no problem casting a Blood Runed Cooldown =D
    In any case, I think I am liking Bone Shield from what I have read. 10% aggro on other specs is more seductive however as you mention in other posts… but everything is about testing…

  • kaldaka

    Ive stayed on my dk since wrath came out, and i love it, i just got into tanking and a friend told me to go with blood tanking so i gave it a shot and failed, respecced to what a dk tank told me and its not that great, im doing 1k dps at best and can barely hold agro. This is my curent spec (39/32/0)-  http://www.wowarmory.com/talent-calc.xml?cid=6&tal=2055321203330310230000100000305050503000330120002000000000000000000000000000000000000000    What can i do better and where can i adjust it?

    • Gravity
      Twitter: gravitydk

      Don’t try to invent new specs until you’re more experienced. Your linked spec fails on so many levels, it’s not worth explaining, plus would suck at threat. Just use one of the specs I’ve provided, and you’ll be fine.

  • swept

    is the blood tree, still good to use as a tank and for leveling?

  • Faerian

    I’m currently levelling my DK (72 actually) and I search for a single dedicatd tree wich can permit me to tank in instance but also dps correctly for finish my levelling (I can afford the dual spec for the moment). Can you recommend me a spec to use ?
    Also, I would like to understand why you put Gorged Blood in your DK tanking build because our life always go up and down and don’t get benefits from it, no ?

  • I don’t understad how in your blood spec you left outside virulence and spell deflection.
    Spell deflection is really usefull when de cd of the antimagic shield is out and virulence is 3% hitchance with spells.

    • Gravity
      Twitter: gravitydk

      For tanks, spell to-hit (virulence) is not as good per talent point as nearly every alternative. Check the threat weightings. Deflection is situational depending on the bosses you’re fighting, so the general rule is not to take it.

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