Tanking to be less squishy

DK tanks can feel squishy compared to block-tanks in 5-mans. You can offset a lot of this through skill. We have a pretty impressive arsenal to use.

Here are some important pointers which are often overlooked by new DK tanks. It’s a good checklist.

Tank tree cooldowns

Use your tree’s big cooldown a lot: [spell]vampiric blood[/spell], [spell]unbreakable armor[/spell] or [spell]bone shield[/spell]. They’ve got short cooldowns. Use them on trash.

I use UA on trash very happily, it’s ideal for that purpose. BS is just awesomeness and AMZ can be very nice but most Unholy DKs will have spec’d into threat instead of that talent.

Many padawans tanks save all their cooldowns for bad moments then end up struggling on trash. On a boss fight, of course, you should save them for the damage spikes you know about. On trash though, use them on the pull to reduce initial damage or if you get to 50% health during the pull. Don’t do 10 minutes of trash and never use your cooldowns.

VB isn’t so great in 5-mans, as its more a throughput talent that’s for raiding, so in 5-mans its better suited to oh-shit moments than the other two trees. That said, blood has Rune Tap which can be used liberally.

Icebound Fortitude

Think ahead, and don’t waste [spell]icebound fortitude[/spell] if you are going to need it on the boss who’s coming up, or a huge pull of AOE adds, but otherwise use it liberally.

IBF scales with defence. You gain 0.15% of damage reduction per defence skill over 400, added to its base of 20%. This creates another benefit to Nerubian runeforge, even if you end up over the minimum of 540.

400 Defence – 20%
540 Defence – 41%
550 Defence – 42.5%
560 Defence – 44%
570 Defence – 45.5%
600 Defence – 50%

IBF makes you immune to stuns. This can be helpful if you can predict one’s coming up. You cannot avoid when you’re stunned. It doesn’t remove stuns.

Anti magic shell

AMS is great and under-utilised by tanks. Use it more often.

If you’re fighting a caster, use it. If you’ve an ugly debuff, try it out; might reduce the effect. It prevents harmful magic effects too: it makes you “immune to magic debuffs”. Also remember it gives you RP, so tanks will know it reduced your damage because you’ll suddenly have more RP afterwards.


For a 5-man, choose useful trinkets from your stable and use them. Same philosophy as for tank tree cooldowns: don’t save them if you can still have them ready in time for the boss. Deploy trinket powers against trash too.

Mind freeze

Have it keybound somewhere convenient. Use it to stop a caster finishing his damaging spell. Preventing damage is also reducing the damage you take. I do this a lot.


[spell]Strangulate[/spell] is useful to pull ranged casters in towards you. I save it for that purpose rather than interrupts on trash. Halls of Reflection is a classic scenario to use it.

Knowing fights

I wrote how planning ahead helps in many ways.

Step backwards

Gather up your mobs, then take a step back to ensure they’re all in front of you. You can’t avoid someone doing you up the ass. Keep melee in front of you. This is very important. I often re-position mobs when I’m aoe tanking, as they move around a bit.

Death strike

You should care about your own health. Do not naively think your health is entirely the healers’ responsibility. If you’re getting low, it’s your job to do everything in your power to stay alive. Use death strike.

Frost fever

Nearly all DK tanks should have talented icy touch for the melee haste debuff. You only skip it in unusual raid compositions where you can be certain the debuff is applied by someone else. That’s so uncommon, that I instead consider it a mandatory talent.

So, get that fever up on all the mobs! It reduces the damage you take. I really like glyph of HB for this reason too, since it puts the debuff up on your AOE opening move.

Blade barrier

This is obvious. Keep it up. Keep your blood runes busy for barrier. I have my UI customised so my own buffs are filtered to show blade barrier, IBF and the others I care about no others (like motw/kings is hidden). Once I had used Elkano buff bars to the same end, and made them really big.

Horn of winter

The buff gives you avoidance. Don’t let it fall off. I cast it in between times when there’s no rune availabe or action I can take. Gives RP too.

Death pact your ghoul

If I’m worried about the way a fight’s going, I’ll raise my ghoul so he’s ready. I’ll then keep my RP up, so I can cast [spell]death pact[/spell] as a huge self-heal.

Army of damage reduction

Has two uses. [spell]Army of the dead[/spell] has a damage reducing feature which is excellent if you’re not taking melee damage, but want to avoid large environmental magic damage.

Once they’re up, because the little buggers taunt everything they then take damage away from you. Great to use against the Black Knight’s own army in ToC-5.


If you know of a boss fight or other scenario when it’s great to use army or ams or something like that, let me know and I’ll add it in to give more examples.

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14 comments to Tanking to be less squishy

  • Xaris

    As always – nice article.  I love that I can point other DK tanks I know to this site and know they get solid information in a format they can understand.
    AMS is great and under-utilised by tanks. Use it more often.
    One use of AMS that I continually see DKs fail at is as fear protection.  Pop AMS when the “memory” summoned by Paletress is about to do it’s fear effect and you don’t get feared.   Hit AMS at the right time against Onyxia and again, you don’t get feared.  Pure win.
    It’s not called the “I win” button for nothing.  As far as I’m concerned, unless you are saving it for something specific (Emalon’s Nova for example) a DK should use AMS just about every time it is available.

  • Ténacity
    Twitter: xxiceman720xx

    I’ve noticed this “squish-ness” you speak of. I try to limit myself to using my tank cd’s which have a 1 minute cd and saving my trinkets and other 2-3 min cd’s as panic buttons.
    I don’t understand why other classes don’t use interrupts every chance they get. I try so hard to interrupt I feel like my tanking ability in raids is hindered by my use of mind freeze. Hindered?! Yeah! I’m so careful to hit every interrupt that I’ll be sure to save a frost rune. A fight that comes to mind is lady death whisper in ICC, or the last 3 mobs on H-FoS.

    Nice summary of possible uses of tank cool downs. I have a macro to Ghoul/Sacrafice for the almost 50% hp boost- saves lives! H-HoR is one of those places where I tend to use it alot along with death strike.

    In addition to my DK raid tank, I have my Tree which I heal our raids with. It suprises me how much healers fail when they get lazy. In HoR I put hot’s on everyone and unless someone goes LoS everyone usually lives. But, I have noticed other dk tanks and “squishy-ness” you speak of. I honestly don’t think DK’s should be expected to pop cd’s to live and I hope blizz does something to change it. It makes me want to re-roll prot pally…  

  • Psy
    Twitter: thelordpsy

    Don’t be afraid to AMS everything in the history of ever.  If you’re not sure a fight has an AMSable mechanic, hit it anyway.  You’d be surprised how many effects you can negate or postpone by cleverly hitting the AMS button.
    To be blunt though, in the average scenario you should not be in danger of dying.  You can rotate your CDs if you want, but I highly suggest learning to trust your healers.  Don’t just hit a CD because you’re taking damage;  Learn when you’re taking healable damage and when you need to slam a CD to make sure you stay alive.  Most boss fights are not about taking constant heavy damage (like the original Patchwerk, Brutallus) but rather about taking defined short massive bursts, for example Steelbreaker in Ulduar, Vezax with no kiting, Anub’araks Frozen Slash, Festergut’s 3-stack, etc.
    Also, in Heroics, feel free to cry as we DKs pretty much get the short end of the stick in every possible way.

  • Nightfreeze

    You can make Vampiric Blood work in 5mans too.  Macro a Runic Healing Pot after it, then Death Strike, and Rune Tap (if you spec it).  VB buffs all of that (as does Improved Blood Presence if you have it).  Throw Glyph of Death Strike into to the mix, and it’s the only DK cd sequence that can mitigate spike dmg after it’s happened.
    /use [mod:ctrl] whatever;[mod:alt] whatever;[mod:shift] whatever;[nomod] Vampiric Blood
    /use [nomod] Runic Healing Potion

    • Gravity
      Twitter: gravitydk

      Few counterpoints: Glyph of Death Strike no longer buffs healing, Imp Blood Presence is terrible for tanks in frost presence and Indestructible Potion is often a better choice when tanking (in a 5-man though, I favour runic heal pot). You’re right that VB buffs all heal effects though; it’s particularly good with death pact.

  • Nightfreeze

    Let me also recommend replacing the T9 chest and helm w/ the ilvl 245 Breastplate of the White Knight and Headplate of the Honorbound (along w/ Saronite Swordbreakers and any other 245 gear you can get).
    In my experience, the increased EH from that gear > T9 4pc set bonus.

  • Ténacity
    Twitter: xxiceman720xx

    @ Nightfreeze

    How sure are you about the crafted 245 gear being > than 4pc t9.5?

    I’d like to know… Also, I’m finding it hard to break 40k hp without use of stam trinkets. I’m also a JC using 3 +51′s and I’ve got most socket bonus’s (if +9 stam or more).

    AMS is great 1 min cd makes it usable on every pull! GO DK!

  • Darkknight

    Hi! I am very much a novice DK tank and I really enjoy reading all the posts – the information here is fantastic. I have been dabbling with dual-wield frost tanking in heroics for a couple months on my main DK, so I am getting a little feel for DK tanking. I also have been building a 2d DK (please don’t ask…), now level 70, and I want to start tanking some dungeons now and again. With 61pts to use, I am thinking 50pts in blood – with the same allocation you posted in your 5-man heroic spec – and 5pts in Toughness and 5pts in Anticipation, leaving me one floating pt (possibly IIT). I’m thinking to glyph VB and DnD or maybe DS. I know this is a bit below the horizon for folks talking about ICC 10/25, but can anyone offer additional thoughts on a good tank spec/setup at this level? Thanks!

    • Gravity
      Twitter: gravitydk

      Whilst levelling, almost any old blood spec is good. I like Pale Horse in sub-Unholy too, for mount speed, but that’s a different looking spec to what you’ve described.

  • Shraken

    Hey does IceBoundFortitude cap at 50%? and does it scale the same with the recent +10% changes and how does it scale over 600 defence? (sorry im a nab at working these things out)and can’t find it anywhere else. Thanx

  • DiscoChrist

    A good place to use Army for the damage reduction is Beasts in ToGC (And ToC to a lesser degree) when the other tank has picked up Gormok. Cutting out 50-60% of the impale damage as the other tank starts to spike isn’t a terrible thing at all.

  • Stop
    Twitter: stoppableforce

    Decent place to use AMS, even though the fight is pretty much a joke anyway, is when you’re on your own ship during the Gunship Battle. I wasn’t having any health problems last night (or any other time I’ve been in there, even when DPSing) by just popping AMS and standing in a rocket blast. Instant 100/100 RP.
    .-= Stop´s last blog ..We were all boneheads once =-.

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