Death Knight Tanking: Frost – Last week’s post getting you up to level 60.
As I write this article, my Frost DK is currently sitting at level 71. The image below will update itself as the Armory information is updated though, so you may see him at a higher level in this picture when you read this.
Last week’s post discussed getting up to level 60, your base spec as a Frost Tank, and the general tactics and rotations used for tanking. This time around we’re going up to level 70 and will get a bit more focused on the actual tanking practice, and discuss branching out into the other trees to finish off our primary tanking requirements.
I mentioned last time that I’ve been using a two-hander while I tank, and people on Twitter requested information about Dual Wielding instead, so that too will be included.
General Tanking Information: Weapons
When I mentioned on Twitter that I was posting about tanking with a Frost DK I had a lot of people ask about dual wielding. At the time I had only tried two-handed tanking and was doing well with it. As I know it’s a question that needs answering though, I went ahead and took a shot at it to see what kind of results I got.
Dual Wield Tanking
I did a lot of searching for decent weapons that I could dual wield that would prove more beneficial than the sword that you leave the DK starting area with (and for the record, I do urge you to take the Sword rather than the Axe if you plan on tanking). The best I could find were ones that were rather easy to obtain, Adamantite Rapier (+15 Stamina, +16 Dodge Rating). They are crafted weapons from a Blacksmith, and my Death Knight is a blacksmith himself so he crafted his own. They require 12 Adamantite Bars (which is 24 Adamantite Ore) if you want to get some crafted for yourself.
The Rapiers require level 66 to use, so you have a few levels to gain before you can switch to them, but your DK sword or a solid two-hand drop from an instance should work just fine until then. The Rapiers aren’t all that great from a damage perspective, but they provide a nice boost to avoidance/mitigation that will help with your survival.
After crafting the rapiers I opened a Death Gate to Ebon Hold so that I could make use of my Runeforging skill to apply the Rune of Swordbreaking to them:
Rune of Swordbreaking Affixes your one-handed rune weapon with a rune that increases Parry chance by 2% and reduces the duration of Disarm effects by 50%. The Parry chance stacks on the two weapons giving +4% overall, but the disarm reduction does not stack with itself.
Two Handed Tanking
I replaced the DK starting sword with the Shaarde the Greater which drops off of Tavarok in the Auchindoun: Mana Tombs instance. I did just fine using Shaarde, but I didn’t especially notice any great increase in my tanking ability while using it over the DK sword. If it happens to drop for you then grats on a new sword, and if it doesn’t then don’t sweat it.
At level 68 I left Outlands and hit up Borean Tundra in Northrend where I replaced Shaarde with the Axe of Frozen Death (+37 Strength, +54 Stamina, +28 Hit, +43 Crit), which is pictured above (at an odd angle). I now use this axe for when I’m tanking small groups or bosses that are not heavily melee focused, and for when I am questing. I am also trying out the Rune of the Fallen Crusader rather than Swordshattering (4% Parry, -50% disarm duration).
Rune of the Fallen Crusader Affixes your rune weapon with a rune that has a chance to heal you for 3% and increase total Strength by 15% for 15 sec.
Axe of Frozen Death is a reward for a three person group quest in Borean Tundra. The quest chain leading up to it isn’t very long, so you can get it pretty soon after arriving in Northrend, but the quest was beyond my capability to solo as Frost. I managed to get the guy down to 20% health twice, but after he killed me for the sixth time I enlisted the help of another DK in the area and we took him down after two tries.
(My thanks to @Tarinae, @Shawndra, @schwarzwald, @OreoNation, @TheAllianceGuy, @MvPruett, @mageic, @adlib421, @VariantAvatar, @krizhek, and @Nochecazador on Twitter for helping me get the link to Shaarde the Greater since I put this part in blog while I was at work where I cannot access Wowhead.com)
Dual Wielding vs. Two Handed
As far as holding threat goes, I didn’t notice a significant difference between the two styles. DW was a bit better on groups of trash while 2H was a bit better on bosses. I did have a little trouble tanking one boss as DW, but at that time I was still getting used to managing my procs and kept forgetting to add Obliterate to my rotation. In that fight I switched over to Shaarde after losing threat a second time and had no problems the rest of that encounter. I think this was probably a situation of Tank failure more so than a difference in the actual weapons though.
The more comfortable I get with tanking as a DK and the more I get used to my abilities, the more I begin to lean towards DW instead of 2H. With limited weapon choices in Outlands I believe that you’re best bet is to do what I did and stick to dual wielding during trash pulls and using a heavy 2H for bosses. Progressing into Northrend though, finding a pair for slow weapons to DW will give you the highest damage and most threat.
While the damage from Howling Blast is not impacted by your weapon choices, your damage and threat are tied into your weapons. The Threat of Thassarian talent causes Obliterate (and other attacks) to attack with both weapons when you use it, and the Rime talent gives your Obliterate a 15% chance to reset the cooldown on Howling Blast and make it rune free for your next cast. The somewhat hidden benefit when those two are mixed together is that both of your weapons used during Obliterate have individual chances to proc Rime, so you get two rolls for that 15% chance each time you use Obliterate when dual wielding.
Since my choice of good one-handed weapons right now is fairly limited I will continue switching between the two styles, but as I find better options I’m almost positive at this point that I will end up dual wielding at level 80, and quite possibly sooner than that if I can find some weapons that don’t suck.
In the end Frost Tanks can do just fine whether they’re using 2H, DW-Fast, or DW-Slow. If you like to use dual diseases then you’ll be stronger if you decide on dual wielding slow weapons, while using the single disease method will work better with 2H or DW-fast.
If you are going to do a single disease style, then you’ll probably be a little bit better off either doing 2H or DW with fast weapons. If you want two diseases then you’ll want either DW with slow weapons, or 2H. DW with fast or slow weapons work in either case, but fast shines more in single disease where slow shines more in two diseases.
Frost Tanking Spec
I’m going to point out one change I made to the spec from last week’s post, and that is replacing Acclimation 1/3 with Lichborne 1/1. That may get changed as I get into Northrend dungeons, but for Outlands, especially in the upper 60’s you need all the fear removal you can get. Even with the Human racial and the PvP trinket you get from the DK starting area, you still don’t have enough fear removal to take care of every encounter.
Rather than paying for a respec I just added a point into Lichborne and was at only 4/5 Anticipation when I actually hit level 70. But if you haven’t started your DK yet then I would suggest you go with this build instead of what I had before. If you have already followed the previous article’s advice, then don’t worry about it too much as it worked out just fine for me.
For the best survival at end game you will end up having points in Acclimation anyway, so it’s not bad to leave it the way it is if you have already spent your points as I suggested in the previous post. Acclimation is not going to help in every encounter or even every dungeon/raid, but there are certain encounters (Twink Valks anyone?) where the resistance offered can be significant. Of course, at end game you probably will not be using Lichborne since it’s more geared towards PvP, so the choice is yours whether you want more survivability leveling up with a respect at end game, or if you just want to deal with trouble now to save that shiny gold coin later down the road.
Lichborne 1/1: Draw upon unholy energy to become undead for 10 sec. While undead, you are immune to Charm, Fear and Sleep effects.
Blade Barrier 5/5: Whenever your Blood Runes are on cooldown, you gain the Blade Barrier effect, which decreases damage taken by 5% for the next 10 sec.
Anticipation 5/5: Increases your Dodge chance by 5%.
Pay special attention to that conditional statement at the beginning of Blade Barrier’s effect. Both of your Blood Runes need to be on cooldown before its effect happens, so be sure to use those runes when they’re available so that you don’t short yourself on one of your primary defenses.
Glyph of Obliterate: [Major] Increased the damage of your Obliterate ability by 20%.
Glyph of Unbreakable Armor: [Major] Increases the total armor granted by Unbreakable Armor to 30%.
Glyph of Howling Blast: [Major] Your Howling Blast ability now infects your targets with Frost Fever.
Glyph of Frost Strike: [Major] Reduces the cost of your Frost Strike by 8 Runic Power.
Glyph of Disease: [Major] Your Pestilence ability now refreshes disease durations on your primary target back to their maximum duration.
Glyph of Pestilence: [Minor] Increases the radius of your Pestilence effect by 5 yards.
Glyph of Raise Dead: [Minor] Your Raise Dead spell no longer requires a reagent.
Glyph of Blood Tap: [Minor] Your Blood Tap no longer causes damage to you.
I switched my glyphs up a bit from last time so that I’m now using Howling Blast and Disease. I still like the use of Disease for leveling/questing purposes since I do so in an AoE grinding style, but Disease is not so much a need as it is a convenience. For pure tanking purposes, Disease is actually a fairly poor choice.
Since I prefer the Two Disease approach to tanking, Obliterate becomes more and more useful to me. Howling Blast is a big contribution to both damage and threat, and it shines really more in a single disease build than a dual disease, though it is still useful for either one.
My current plan is to replace Disease with Obliterate, and hang on to Howling Blast for the time being. I am trying to decide whether I will be better of with Frost Strike or Unbreakable Armor for level 80, and there’s a fair chance I might take both of them and drop Howling Blast when I get there. I’ll certainly keep you informed on that part as I go along.
New Spells: 61-70
We get some new spells/abilities in the level range that are key to our tanking abilities (hello Taunt). We also get some that are just plain useful (Path of Frost).
At level 61 we get one of our big attacks, Obliterate. This spell does good damage and its damage is increased when its target is diseased. Normally using this spell consumes the diseases you have on the target, but thanks to our Annihilation talent that is no longer the case. In addition, our Rime talent gives Obliterate a 15% chance to reset the cooldown on Howling Blast and cause our next Howling Blast to consume no runes.
You also get Path of Frost at 61 which allows you and your group to walk on water. Any damage at all breaks the effect, but you can instantly cast it again as long as you have a Frost Rune available. A special note on this one, it essentially makes water into solid ground, so unless you want people to hate you it’s not a good idea to cast this when you know your group is jumping down into a body of water expecting to live and then they end up dead instead.
At level 62 we get one of our signature tanking skills, Icebound Fortitude which makes you immune to stuns and reduces damage taken for 12 seconds.
At 64 we receive Blood Tap which damages us for 6% of our health (so the more you have the more it hurts) in exchange for converting a Blood Rune into a Death Rune (which can be used as any type) and ending its cooldown. It’s great for when your runes are on cooldown and you need some emergency threat or damage. Most often I find myself using this ability either for a Blood Boil or Death Strike, though I have used it for a necessary Pestilence, Hungering Cold, Obliterate, and Howling Blast as well. Be sure to use it when at least one of your Blood Runes is used, preferably both, and then use it as needed.
When we reach 65 we finally get our actual taunt, Dark Command. It’s a single target taunt with an 8 second cooldown, but since our only other taunt has a ridiculous cooldown on it, we’ll take this one gladly.
Also at 65 we get our first real party buff in Horn of Winter. It increases Strength and Agility for your group for two minutes. It has no cost, so you might as well keep it active at all times as long as you’re somewhere that fighting can take place.
At 66 we get our first “oh crap” button in the form of Death Pact. This spell allows you to sacrifice your Ghoul which instantly heals you for 40% of your health. At this point I usually don’t bother bringing out the ghoul unless I intend to sac him in the first place and instead just have him reserved for boss fights or emergency heals. If you use it like I do then be sure to remember that the GCD is in effect after summoning the ghoul, so you have 1.5 seconds between the summon and the heal, so don’t wait until the last second to use it.
At 67 we get a nice threat booster from Rune Strike. It’s a bit of an odd attack as it can only be used after you dodge or parry an attack, but on your next attack after using it you hit the target with a high threat attack instead of a normal auto-attack. The best way I’ve found to use this one is to just macro it to my attack keys and spam them in between attacks to use them whenever they’re available. Of course if you use this method of macro then you want to either be spamming the next attack you plan on making or one that you know the required runes are on cooldown.
Moving on up to level 68 we find Anti-Magic Shell. It costs 20 RP to cast it, but you’ll receive 75% damage reduction from spells in return, and the damage absorbed will grant you RP as well. It has a short duration and a long cooldown, so make sure you use it wisely.
We finally finish up our Presences at level 70 with Unholy Presence. Your movement speed gets increased by 15%, as does your melee haste. I primarily use this one for the increased movement while I’m questing and such, but the melee haste is a big deal too and it’s definitely noticeable at this level. If you fight in Unholy Presence you’ll find your runes going on cooldown a lot faster than usual, which means you’ll wait longer in between special attacks each time you burn through your runes and have to wait for them to cool down.
Learning the Rune and Runic Power System
This section probably should have been brought up in the first post, but I didn’t think about it when I was writing it, so you’ll have to settle for this post instead.
Knowing how your Runes and Runic Power work is going to be the overall deciding factor on whether you can fill your role or have your name listed amongst the thousands of Death Knoobs that plague the servers today. Do you want to have a clue as to what you doing, how you’re doing it, and why? If so, then continue on. If not, then turn around and bend over, and I’ll show you what right where you can stick your rune blade.
All DKs have six runes, two of each type (Blood, Frost, Unholy), and they provide us with our primary resource for using our abilities. There is a fourth Rune type called the Death Rune which can be used as any type of rune you want it to be. The Frost and Unholy trees both have talents that allow you to convert your Blood Runes into Death Runes, and the Blood tree has a talent that converts your Frost and Unholy Runes into Death Runes.
For describing the use of runes I’m going to use just the first letter of the tree to describe them, so we all have: BB FF UU
As a Frost Tank we’re going to use our Blood Runes (B) individually, and for the most part our Frost and Unholy Runes will be used in pairs (FU). The paired FU runes may be in a single ability such as Obliterate and Howling Blast, or individually by use of Icy Touch (F) and Plague Strike (U). Our Death Runes will be used for whatever spell happens to be the most important at the time, which we’ll get into details on a bit later.
Frost generates Death Runes from the Blood of the North talent, which makes your Blood Strike and Pestilence spells cause your next Blood Rune to proc as a Death Rune instead.
To borrow a term from the Comprehensive Guide to Death Knight Tanking (best DK Tank resource I found), a “Rune Blackout” occurs when all six of your runes have been used and are on cooldown. During these blackouts is when you want to use your Runic Power so that you can fill in the gap before your runes come back up and you can get back to business.
When you have a large pool of RP you want to spend it on Frost Strike to pump out additional damage and threat on a single target, but you want to reserve 20 RP at all times so that you can use Rune Strike, which is a big buff to your threat.
You might notice that I’ve made an adjustment to the rotation here, switching Blood Boil and Howling Blast. The reason for that is because now that we have the Blade Barrier talent from the Blood tree, we need to get rid of those Blood Runes early on to activate the talent.
I also removed the AoE rotation as I’ve decided I’ll have another post dedicated to DK AoE that will cover that. With this post we’re sticking strictly to tanking and since you never know what crazy things might happen in a dungeon you’ll need to get used to thinking on your feet in those situation anyway rather than trying to rely on remembering some random rotation you read on my blog.
I have also broken the rotation down into two “sets”. Each set is a cooldown of your runes, so each set rotates through the use of all of your runes.
First Rune Set: Icy Touch (F), Plague Strike (U), Pestilence (B), Blood Strike (B), Howling Blast (FU), Frost Strike (60+ RP only)
Second Rune Set: Obliterate (FU), [Howling Blast if Rime procs], Obliterate (Death Runes), [Howling Blast if Rime procs], (decision time)
The First Rune Set establishes your diseases, spreads them around, and then hits with an AoE to solidify threat on the group. It also uses both Pestilence and Blood Strike to convert our Blood Runes into Death Runes to allow for more Obliterates and Howling Blasts in the second set. Frost Strike will use up extra RP if you have 60 or more, otherwise it should be ignored in favor of using Rune Strike.
You have the option of using Obliterate instead of Howling Blast at the end of the first set in hope of a Rime proc, but with AoE being the staple that most of your DPS are likely to use you probably want to get some more AoE threat than just your diseases. If you’re in a guild run where you know people will work with you then go for Obliterate, but if you’re in a PUG then just play it safe and Howling Blast for now.
The Second Rune Set is where we dish out our serious damage and also where our Rotation becomes our “Rotation”. Obliterate will hit our primary target and has a chance (two chances if dual wielding) of a Rime proc if it hits. Those Rime procs are what we’re hoping for each time we use Obliterate. If you get a Rime proc, then fire off a Howling Blast. If you don’t, then use another Obliterate, and so on. If Obliterate hits, then both weapons hit and you get two rolls for a Rime proc. If Obliterate misses, then both weapons miss so no Rime procs for you.
We also have “(decision time)” in that second set, where you need to make the call on what to do next. You can either use your remaining FU runes for another Obliterate, or you can use Icy Touch/Plague Strike and then use your Blood Tap ability to refresh a Blood Rune as a Death Rune and use it for Pestilence. If you go for Obliterate then you risk having both of your diseases fall off. If you go for the IT/PS then you’re only using two Obliterates, and if neither of those gave you a Rime proc then you’re low on AoE damage/threat and are going to have to make up for that in the third set by using Blood Boil as either one or both of your Blood Runes which means they will not become Death Runes in your fourth set, which means you’re rotation just went out the window.
You also have the option of using a straight Howling Blast in place of one or the other of those Obliterates, relying on straight ability uses rather than procs. A proc is always a gamble, but if you’re dual wielding then you have a higher chance of getting those procs. If you take the chance on the Obliterates, then chances are you’re going to get at least one Rime proc out of the deal and you should easily maintain threat. If you don’t take the chance on the Obliterates, then you’ll probably still hold your threat, but you won’t be tapping your potential at all.
Now that we have our hard hitting abilities, it’s time to change up the boss rotation as well.
Boss Set One: Icy Touch (F), Plague Strike (U), Blood Strike (B), Blood Strike (B), Obliterate (FU), Frost Strike (60+ RP only)
Boss Set Two: Obliterate (FU), [Howling Blast if Rime procs], Obliterate (FU), [Howling Blast if Rime procs], Obliterate (FU), [Howling Blast if Rime procs], Frost Strike, Frost Strike
I like to establish a nice burst of crit when I open on a boss, and the best way to do that is to us your Deathchill buff which gives you a guaranteed crit with your next Icy Touch or Howling Blast. Deathchill requires a Frost Rune to cast it, but the buff lasts for 30 seconds. So use it and then wait for your Frost Rune to cooldown before moving in to attack. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, but I wouldn’t want to blow a Frost Rune in the middle of combat, so I use it here instead.
If you are using the Glyph of Howling Blast, and the boss has adds, then open up with it and replace the first Blood Strike with Pestilence. Otherwise open with Icy Touch instead and follow the rotation above.
Blood Strike hits pretty hard, gaining an extra 25% damage from both diseases being applied, but the big reason why we’re using it is to convert those Blood Runes into Death Runes for round two where we can lay down some serious Obliteratious Hate. (Yes, I just made up the word “Obliteratious”.)
If you have over 60 RP, then go ahead and hit the boss with a Frost Strike as well. If you don’t, then ignore it for now and save your RP for Rune Strikes to generate extra threat on the boss each time you Dodge or Parry his attacks.
When your diseases are getting ready to fall off, go ahead and reapply them, make use of Blood Strike whenever your Blood Runes are available to convert them into Death Runes for the next set, keep your RP down around 20-40 by making use of Frost Strike, take advantage of Rune Strike every chance you get, and don’t forget your other buffs (Unbreakable Armor, Icebound Fortitude) as well.
After level 65 we finally get our Taunt, Dark Command, which should be able to handle any threat situations that arise, and Death Grip is a good backup if by some poor roll of the dice it actually misses.
I already mentioned it in the New Spells section above, but I’ll list it here just to bring it back to mind. At level 66 you get access to the most potent heal in the DK arsenal – Death Pact. It requires you to sacrifice your ghoul to cast it, but it restores 40% of your total hit points when you use it. It’s one of the best heals in the game overall, surpassed only by the Paladin’s Lay on Hands spell.
Addons and Macros
You may want to get an addon to keep track of your procs, especially Rime (or Freezing Fog, as the proc’s buff is called).
The addon that I use for my scrolling combat text, Parrot, is able to set sound notifications to specific triggers, one of which is Freezing Fog (Rime). If that’s something you’re interested in then you may want to give it a shot.
For those that need a visible queue you’ll want to use something more like Power Auras Classic, which I have installed and uninstalled a few times now. I love the concept, but don’t care so much for the follow through on the addon, but I’m finding that the audio isn’t quite good enough for me since I like to have other sounds on at the same time as well as audio warnings from Deadly Boss Mods, so I’ve installed PAC once again and will see how I like it with the DK.
There are also a number of addons that you can use to monitor your Rune cooldowns as well as your Runic Power. I can think of five of them right off the top of my head, but which one you use is a matter of preference so you’ll have to decide which one for yourself. There are similar addons that monitor the DoT timers of your diseases if you’d care to use one of those. I’m not so big on that myself, so I don’t use one, but they are available if you wish to make use of them.
The only Macro that I’d like to bring to your attention right now is the one that you’ll use for your Rune Strike ability, which you can tie into as many macros as you want.
/cast Blood Strike
/cast Rune Strike
It’s that simple. Just replace Blood Strike with whatever other spell(s) you have on your action bar and you can spam all you want in between attacks.
Some of the addons I’ve already mentioned are also capable of notifying you of when you have dodged or parried an attack, and they can help save your fingers some effort if you would rather use Rune Strike with an addon than simply spamming buttons.
Alternate (Recommended) Spec for Level 60
I have updated last week’s post to include this as well, but just in case you aren’t in the habit of checking my old posts, here it is anyway. This is a revised spec for level 60. After spending five days doing almost nothing but running random dungeons and leveling my professions I needed to make a change.
The change isn’t huge but it is significant, especially for the mid-to-upper sixties. I removed the single point in Acclimation and replaced it with Lichborne, which makes you immune to Charm, Fear, and Sleep effects for 10 seconds. When you run randoms in your 60s you are going to run into a LOT of Fear effects. Enough so that my human racial and my PvP trinket were not enough to take off all of the fear at times.
The magic-based damage reduction from Acclimation isn’t bad, it just didn’t provide enough benefit (especially with only one of the three possible points spent in it) for me to take it over Lichborne given how often I had to deal with fear and how seldom I had to deal with spell casters.
That being said, when you get to level 80 you’ll find Lichborne to be almost worthless as its main purpose for end game is PvP rather than heroics or raiding. If you don’t mind dealing with the fear while you’re leveling then you can save yourself a respec and just go with Acclimation.