Sunday, 29 March 2009

3.1 tanking part 2: talent analysis

First let me explain my assumptions

1) Content is challenging. As a tank your job is primarily not dying.
2) Threat is sufficient with just about any spec. To be fair you probably need 3/3 Morbidity for AOE threat for this to be true but since some of the survival options will be able to generate aoe threat in other ways (eg tab targetting with Heart Strike or using Unholy Blight) we'll disregard this for now

A general note about self-heals and life leech attacks. The important thing to remember with these abilities is that they are balanced around the game as a whole and generally don't scale well for raiding. Consider an ability that heals 60 health per second. This will give 60 whether you're being nibbled by a grey mob for 10 dps, if you're fighting an open world elite doing 200 dps, if you're taking 500 dps in a 5 man or if you're being hit by a raid boss for 20K. While these abilities are very strong in solo or small group content they don't generally scale up well. They're not negligable, they may be worth about half an extra healer in raid situations. They are better in 10 man raids than in 25 man raids because of this scaling factor. They are better when you are offtanking with one healer on you than when you are main tanking with 5 healers on you. Damage reduction however does scale with content.

Now let's consider the structure of the talent trees.

The defining talent

Each tree has a defining tanking-oriented talent and they are deliberately designed to be mutually exclusive. This is because with 71 talent points you can go 36/35 but you can't pick up two 36 point talents.

The defining talents are Vampiric Blood (Blood), Unbreakable Armour (Frost) and Bone Shield (Unholy).

Which defining talent you will get is a major consideration in choosing your main tree because all they are very strong.

Vampiric Blood is more of a panic button than the other two. If you are simply popping a cooldown to make yourself more survivable but are not low on health then Icebound Fortitude is a better option. If you are low on health Vampiric Blood is a superb skill for surviving the spike and allowing the healers to bring you back up to full quickly. It doesn't scale with gear, that is you may become better with gear but your Vampiric Blood talent won't.

Unbreakable Armour is solid damage reduction that works in any situation. It has a slight bias towards physical mitigation because it boosts parry as well as giving flat damage reduction. Parry of course may reduce damage from direct spells if you have Spell Deflection. It scales with armour but even an entry level tank will have a decent amount of armour in a raid situation, especially if Inspiration from certain types of healers is on you.

Bone Shield has certain advantages over the other two talents as well as a fundamental disadvantage. The advantages are 1) it can be pre-cast 2 minutes before the boss is pulled and thus be both active and available so you can have it twice right at the start of a fight and 2) it has a very good glyph. The disadvantage is that bosses hit pretty often and even glyphed with great gear it may well not last as long as the other two cooldowns. You lose a bone when an attack hits so the bosses base auto-attack, his special abilities and his parry-hasted attacks will all cause this shield to wear off. Unless you have very high avoidance and expertise you probably won't be keeping Bone Shield up for the 20 seconds you get with the rival talents. Unlike the talents its usefulness will vary a great deal from boss to boss with a boss like Patchwerk who hits fast stripping it off you quick, a boss with adds like Maexxna will see it wear off very quick if you aggro some of the adds.

Note however on very short fights Bone Armour may have more uptime than the other talents. In a three minute fight you can use Bone Armour three times but one of the other defining talents only twice. If a fight is both short and very forgiving with regard to bone attrition then it may win out. It's hard to see a progession fight meeting both of those criteria, however.

The basic talents

Death Knight tanks are designed around the idea that you will spend 5 points in maxxing a first Tier talent from each tree. These talents are Blade Barrier (Blood), Toughness (Frost) and Anticipation (Unholy). These talents are really good so it will be very unusual to design a tank without taking them. So 5/5/5 is the standard starting point for any DK tank.

In addition you may wish to reduce Death and Decay cooldown by taking 3/3 in Morbidity (Unholy). This is the only threat talent I will discuss here. The reason this is good is because unless you pick up some other AOE threat from your later talent choices your AOE tanking will really suffer if you're limited to 30 secs cooldown D&D, Pestilence and Blood Boil. In 3.1 Pestilence will be ineffective without pre-loaded diseases and Blood Boil will be reduced in effectiveness without pre-loaded diseases. So you kinda need Death and Decay to not be on a long cooldown if you don't have Howling Blast or Unholy Blight. Possibly Heart Strike with adept tab targetting will suffice for threat. So for many builds Morbidity will be part of your basic starting selection.

Double dipping

So if we now know we will be starting with 5/5/5 and heading into one tree as far as the 36 point talent which defines us as a tank of X spec the next thing to consider is how much mitigation we can get from outside our 36+5+5 by taking high tier talents from other trees. Let's now look at the 1-35 talent point options in each tree.


In addition to small strength buffs and self-heals (which are somewhat marginalised against raid bosses) the talent that really stands out is Veteran of the Third War. If we double-dip into our core build is now 23/36/5 or 23/5/36. I honestly can't see any point dipping into Blood and not getting this talent if you are trying for survival.


Frost offers Lichborne and Frigid Dreadplate. Lichborne is now situational but Frigid Dreadplate is an outstandingly good option. This means that dipping into Frost gives you a core build of 36/23/5 or 5/23/36.

There is also the option to dip deep for Improved Frost Presence. However you would have to give up everything deeper than 36 in your main tree and 2 points of the Tier 1 talent. So getting 2% damage reduction in exchange for 2% dodge. It's not practical to do this.


The notable talents here are Magic Suppression which requires you to dip to 28 and Anti-Magic Zone which requires you to dip to 31. If you're frost dipping Blood for Veteran of the Third War and Spell Deflection is just plain better and cheaper even if you are going into a magic-heavy fight. If you are Blood it may be worth dipping for a magic-heavy fight. You can get 3/3 Magic Suppression and 3/3 Will of the Necropolis in a 43/0/28 build. It's a gimmick build that gives up 15% armour from Toughness and gives up Heart Strike, the main Blood tree attack. But with dual spec available this may be useful against a boss that does entirely magic damage, particularly if Spell Deflection also works against him. So you could have this anti-magic spec just to tank one fight while you have your usual tanking spec as something more conventional


I recommend 23/36/5 or 36/23/5 as the basis for Death Knight survival-oriented tanking in 3.1. I don't recommend Unholy because it has much fewer survival talents than other builds. Possibly it has value in a gimmick magic heavy fight or if there is some situation where uptime on Bone Armour is going to be better than uptime on one of the other defining talents. If you want a high aoe tank for farming easy heroics then by all means go Unholy. But if you are tanking hard bosses that your guild will wipe on then Unholy probably won't cut it.

The unassigned points are for going deeper into your main tree. So a final spec something like 23/40/8 or 43/23/5 would be about as strong as you can get for sheer survival.

It may look odd to see Frost spec without Howling Blast or Blood spec without Heart Strike but bear in mind the new Dual Spec system. You can tank to the boss in your dps/high threat spec then switch to your mitigation spec to tank the boss.

1 comment:

  1. This is a nice rundown on how to make a survival-oriented tanking build. The idea of getting the tree's "defining" talent, and then dipping the rest in another tree for more survivability, is clever. The only downside is that the deep-tree talents tend to be the best talents for raising your threat, so you might have trouble holding aggro using one of these survival builds. In situations where that is not an issue, your idea is great. For Sarth 3D, I created an Unholy/Blood tanking spec that would be terrible in any other situation, but maximized my ability to survive the flame breath.

    I'll be using my dual spec for a dps spec, but a serious MT for a raiding guild could definitely have two tanking specs, one in your mold for maximum survival, and one for max threat.