Advanced DK Tanking (Advanced Guide)

1. Smoothness and stability
2. Cooldowns
3. Death Strike timing
4. Stats
5. Talents
6. Rune Regen Talents
7. User Interface
8. How to improve
9. Execution

 

1. Smoothness and stability

One of the most important abstract concepts in tanking is the idea of smoothness>everything else. Spread out mitigation is almost always preferred over big but infrequent mitigation (there are exceptions to this). For example say you had to take 5 boss hits. It is better to negate them all for 80% each than to take 4 for the full amount and completely nullify one, even though they are the same on paper (5*20% = 100% vs 1*100%=100%).

Even in situations where on paper the overall approach seems better, for example taking each hit for 85% as opposed to fully removing one (5*15% = 75% vs 1*100% = 100%), you would still want the spread out mitigation because it is predictable and much smoother. Obviously if it is something like taking 99% of all hits versus taking half for full and half for 0, then that’s different. The point being made here is that spreading out your mitigation has value that doesn’t show up on paper, but is incredibly important when it comes to tanking as it affects both active mitigation as well as how we use cooldowns.

The reason smoothness is preferred to overall mitigation is because tanking is a very “in the moment” thing. It doesn’t matter how much damage you took overall, what matters is that you never go below 0 at any one moment, and by extension what matters is that you never go below a certain threshold often enough to be considered spiky or unstable. So what kinds of things can we draw from this? Well never stacking cooldowns (outside of specific mechanics) is one. DS timing as a whole is about shape > size, but that has its own chapter. The AMS glyph is a good example of this concept. on paper it doesn’t have any net change in mitigation, simply increasing the per hit cap of ams from 75% to 100%, without changing the total amount absorbed. However, like we established earlier, taking two hits reduced by 75% of AMS and then 25% of AMS is far preferable to taking one reduced by 100% of AMS and another reduced by nothing. Putting it this way you can easily see why we don’t take this glyph, and it in fact would be worth less than no glyph at all even though its neutral on paper.

This concept is EXTREMELY important for blood, as we are the only tank that has to take the damage before we can recover from it. This means without this concept we would be very spiky and predictable, but applying this ideology in our active mitigation and cooldowns as well as stats lets us mitigate this problem (pun intended) and if done right we are as stable as any other tank for progression content. This is one of the reasons we like stamina so much as blood, as being able to smooth out all the damage passively, even if that means taking slightly more overall damage, is almost always worth it.

Try to keep this concept in mind as we discuss cooldowns and DS timing later on.

 

2. Cooldowns

The most important aspect of cooldowns is to make sure not to overlap them, because we want coverage. This goes right back into the discussion in section 1 about smoothness and spreading out mitigation. In some cases its better to even let a small gap between the cooldowns to take one hit without a CD up to get even more spread. That seems counter intuitive, but think about it this way: lets say you have 20 hits to take all of equal value, 1 hit every second, and you have 2 cooldowns that last 8 seconds each for a total of 16 seconds of coverage. You could use them both in succession, which results in you covering the first 16 hits with cooldowns followed by 4 unmitigated hits. or you could take 1 hit use an 8 second cooldown, 1 hit then your second cooldown, then the last 2 hits and then you’re done getting hit. By adding a tiny bit of gap you could make more out of the same total coverage time. Now, you need to make sure that taking a hit without a cooldown is ok. If the boss is hitting you hard enough with cooldowns that getting a hit without one will kill you or close to, go for the safe play and go for complete coverage, but the option of gapping is there.

In many cases cooldowns are pretty rigid in that you have a mechanic that dictates how you will use them. For example if its a rampup mechanic that makes you take more damage as you go higher in stacks (not always stacks but usually), you’ll find the point at which you take more damage than is stable and use cooldowns starting at that spot until the other tank taunts, never overlapping cooldowns to maximize coverage. (you generally don’t want to use cooldown gapping for ramp ups, since if you can afford to take non-mitigated hits you should probably delay using CDs until you can’t, depending on the ramp up mechanic in play.

The other type of place where cooldowns are dictated for you is infrequent plannable hits, where every so often you take an incredibly large amount of damage. Coverage isn’t the name of the game with these mechanics, and it becomes about how often you can use them. For example, this type of mechanic makes us want the Icebound Fortitude glyph to cut the duration by 75% but reduce the cd time by 50%, since as long as the CD is up for the very moment that you are hit with the mechanic it doesn’t matter how much coverage you got. Using Bone Shield for this type of mechanic is usually a good idea. To use bone shield in this way just don’t use it when you normally would and save it for right before the big hits, so you have a guaranteed 20% damage reduction without using one of your “normal” cooldowns. If you use Bone Shield normally, you can’t guarantee the 20% damage reduction will be there since you can’t always dictate how fast you lose charges.

The final aspect of using cooldowns well is making use of external cooldowns. A good tank tracks the cooldowns he has available to him in his user interface, and that includes external cooldowns. I use Hermes to track them, and can see how many of each external cooldown I have at my disposal, and how long till they are available again. You can almost double your CD coverage in many cases by taking advantage of using external cooldowns. It is the responsibility of the tank, not the healer (or dps warrior/pally), to call for external cooldowns to be used on them. You should have a better idea when to use CDs than your healers, so you shouldn’t rely on them to put externals on you at the right times.

 

3. Death Strike timing.

DS timing is about changing changing the shape in which we take damage. Like the first section covered, spread out mitigation is better because it’s smoother. Smoother is better because it is a predictable and “safe” shape. a wavy line of damage is easier to heal than a jagged spiky line of damage. DS timing involves changing the shape of damage by removing bursts retroactively. If you react to a burst and heal up

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Notice in the visualization, how the second EKG reading err, damage shape (*cough*) seems more like a pattern, where the first one seems more random. That is the power one burst removal can make. This is what is meant by using DS to alter the shape of your damage, and actually doing this in reality takes practice and refinement, so give yourself plenty of time.

good Death Strike timing is kind of like a series of yes/no/maybe questions to be gone through each time you take damage. The basic idea can be visualized as a flow chart found here:

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That shouldn’t be regarded as a hard rule by any means though. In reality rarely is a damage shape is going to be exactly the same as the shape of another section of damage, making Death Strike timing much more fluid and abstract. The questions in the flow chart also then have to become more abstract. For example, “are you about to get another FU pair back?” is a yes/no/maybe question in the flow chart, but in reality you can have anywhere from 100% to 0% remaining recharge on your next FU pair. Everyone would agree that if you have 100% remaining charge time left, the answer to the “are you…pair back?” question would be ‘no’. similarly, almost everyone would say that if you have 0% recharge time remaining (both FU pairs up), then the answer would not only be ‘yes’, but also ‘yes and you should have used them already.’ But what about 33% remaining time? Is that a ‘yes’ or a ‘maybe’? What about 30%? 20%? There are no strict rules. Almost everything ends up as a blurry line that has to be decided with good judgement, which means you have to foster the judgement to do it well. How do you do that? practice. You need to actively engage with getting better with DS timing, more-so than any other aspect of tanking that I know of. If you want to improve on DS timing beyond “use it when you take big damage” you need to really dig in and start internalizing it to the point where you can see the big picture at all times, and be flexible so you can adjust on the fly for every situation.

Defining what a “big hit” looks like depends entirely on the damage around it. If you take 20% hits for ages then a random 50% hit, that’s going to be a very likely candidate for a DS removal. But if you are taking 50% hits regularly, it is not nearly as likely to be removed with DS unless your runes are about to come back. A big part of knowing when to use DS is to know the burst potential you are in, based on the content and based on your gearing. If you are stacking avoidance, then you are going to have to account for more burst than normal due to to risk of spikier intake, meaning you might let one burst go that you would have removed in another setup like stam or mastery.

 

4. Stats

When looking at stats from a survival point of view, you have to look at how they will help you in changing your damage shape. For the most part, this means either how it affects DS timing and how much coverage it gives because those are the factors that go into how smooth your damage shape will be. It is important to note, overall damage reduction is rarely the deciding factor in which one is best. The shape of the damage is almost always more important than the overall amount. Let’s look at each stat and how they work as smoothing stats.

Haste:

Haste works by giving us more Death Strikes to work with. If you get a DS slightly faster, you can be a bit looser with your timing because you have more flexibility with high haste. Using an FU pair on a burst that wasn’t 100% optimal is not nearly as punished, and you can safely remove smaller bursts without being at risk of getting large ones.

Mastery:

Many people think mastery is about the DS it’s attached to, but in reality the benefit of mastery works in a very similar way to the benefit of haste – bridging the gap between death strikes. think about coverage as having something between you and the boss, not necessarily something super powerful between you and the boss. An attack mitigated by say 20% may not seem like a huge deal, but the difference between a burst for 60% of your health and for 48% of your health is definitely significant. If you assume the boss has a swing timer of 1.8 seconds, then one “covered” attack can be though of as buying 1.8 seconds towards your next rune pair. The less time between your rune pairs, the less chance of you being left without one when you need it. More mastery means a better coverage.

Multistrike:

Multistrike is our best secondary stat in regards to damage output, though it is very weak defensively. If you are going for any kind of damage oriented build, multistrike will be towards the top if not the top of your priority list.

Versatility:

Versatility works as just a minor overall increase to both damage and survival. It is not as strong as other stats, but it still better than others.

Critical Strike:

In 6.0, Crit is just converted into Parry. This is not strong defensively, nor is it extremely strong offensively. There are better stats to pursue unless you are going PURE damage.

Strength:

Strength has become a very potent option in 6.0. It increases our Death Strike size as well as gives us a small amount of avoidance, in addition to being our top damage dealing stat per point by a considerable amount.

Stamina:

stamina is our best defensive stat in terms of smoothness. Passively spreading out ALL attacks, magic or physical, by a small amount is generally incredibly strong for blood. We also have a sizable stam modifier, so we get plenty of health per point of stam. The tank healing meta in WoD however is much less burst oriented in general, so we won’t pusue stam quite as voraciously as we did in MoP. Stam trinkets will be less attractive in comparison to strength trinkets, for example.

5. Talents

Tier 1:

Plaguebringer – very poor option for blood DK. Do not take.

Plague Leech – By using the glyph of outbreak and eating diseases off cooldown, you get a significant DS gain, however it uses a GCD. Right now we have a large amount of downtime, and can easily take advantage of this. However, in the future this may not be the case and the GCD lost may end up being worth more than the resources (like it was in 5.4).

Unholy Blight – This spreads diseases without using a B rune, however since when multiple adds are involved you will be using Blood Boil anyway, there is really no reason to ever use this given other options.

Tier 2:

Lichborne – With decent AP the Lichborne/Death Coil does significant healing. In fact it only takes (.5*hp-3966)/1.7699 AP to make A single Death Coil cast on yourself do 50% of your health, matching that of Death Pact. However there are downsides, the primary one being that you have to spend 40 RP AND a GCD to use it every time you heal yourself. This makes it a pretty significant damage loss whenever you use it. That aside, it’s not the healing that makes or breaks Lichborne but rather how much you value Purgatory. The ability to “die” every 3 minutes is very powerful, especially considering how our AM works. This safety net can save a lot of would be wipes, and not just those caused by mistakes. Progression content can hurt, and anything you can do further remove any tank deaths is something worth doing. That said, if you are very certain you will never get use out of purgatory, such as lower damage content with less healers (or bad ones) you can make the switch to lichborne as a “I need healing and no ones giving it to me” button, though it still comes with the damage loss. There is no math to tell you which is better, since they are apples and oranges, however for mos progression content I would highly recommend Purgatory.

Anti-Magic-Zone – As already stated, Purgatory is highly recommended for progression content, however some mechanics will make AMZ almost a necessity, depending on your raid comp. If you feel comfortable with taking off purgatory for a fight and AMZ is needed don’t hesitate. You should be able to function without Purgatory and if your raid needs the AMZ for a strat, you shouldn’t hesitate to switch if a dps DK can’t do so instead.

Purgatory – One of the most powerful anti-death tools in the game. It basically allows you to “die” once every 3 minutes. While you shouldn’t be “dying” at all if possible, progression content can hit hard and sometimes the safety net is just a no brainer. Plus, having Purgatory up for big hit mechanics that are timable means you can go light on the CDs, since if your judgement is low on how much you need for the hit you don’t die, which means you can potentially get more out of your CDs and play your CDs ‘riskier’ without much risk. This doesn’t mean play like an idiot when Purgatory is available, it means if you think you can survive the next plannable hit without a CD but aren’t sure then you can safely take the risk.

Tier 3:

There is very little choice here. If you need the slow, take chilblains. If you need the extra stun, take asphyxiate. Otherwise pick Death’s Advance every time. Mobility is an important factor for tanking as well as damage output, and this is our only place to get it. There isn’t a breakdown for each one here, because the choice doesn’t warrant a discussion.

Tier 4:

Death Pact – This cooldown plays right into our reactive style. It’s basically a big DS heal without the shield, and should be used in the same way in that you use it to smooth out the damage shape by removing a burst, similar to DS timing.

Death Siphon – Better used as a damage dealing ability than a heal. The issue with this talent is that it takes 2 GCDs to spend the same runes you would use a DS on, which is a problem when we are as GCD capped as we are now in 5.4. It’s simply not worth taking Death Siphon from a survival point of view or a damage point of view.

Conversion – There are a couple reasons why Conversion is rarely taken if ever. For one, while it is active you do not gain RP from Scent of Blood. This is a problem. The seconds issue with it is that we simply don’t have much value for small constant heals, because they don’t help us shape the damage nearly as much as we can with larger timable heals like Death Pact.

Tier 5:

I have given this tier its own section. See the next section (6) for details on our rune regen talents.

Tier 6:

This tier is chosen primarily by mechanics. Each talent option has a specific and obvious effect, gripping adds with Gorefiend’s, slowing/stunning with Remorseless Winter, and removing stuns (when you can) with Desecrated Ground. There is no ‘optimal’ choice by default as each one is completely depending on mechanics for its usefulness. It is worth noting that Remorseless Winter can be used fantastically as a CD if you are being hit by stunnable adds. Just be aware that their swing timer resets when they unfreeze, so move slightly to have them reach you at different time to prevent one big whollap when they come unstunned.

 

6. Rune regen talents

I made a blog post regarding t60 talents. It covers the topics here in a bit more detail. You can find it here.

why NOT to use Runic Empowerment:
The one thing that makes me groan more than any other thing when it comes to DKs, is when I see them tanking with Runic Empowerment. This is the only “bad” choice when it comes to out rune regen talents, as it directly works against DS timing. Unlike the other two options, you have to put both runes of one type at the moment you use death coil to have a chance at getting that rune back. This means when you use DS is less dictated by when you can use it for best DS timing and more dictated by when you need to dump runic power. As blood we want to have a FU pair ready to go if we take damage requiring a reaction. With RE, we have to put all FU pairs down and get 2 pocs before we can DS again. This is at LEAST 2 seconds (one for each GCD for the death coil), and realistically ~4 seconds to get them back IF you spend EVERY SINGLE GCD on death coil until you have it back. Any GCD used on BB, DnD/Defile, etc. will delay it by another second. Now, 4 seconds between death strikes isn’t bad, but this is time that you CAN NOT recover from burst with death strike, making you vulnerable EVERY TIME you want to dump RP.

 

Instead, use Blood Tap. The fact that it returns a D rune every time as well as that it is completely controlled makes it a very strong option. Runic Corruption has places where it is optimal, but those instances are incredibly rare.  Runic Corruption is not terrible though, and newer players may get more out of Runic Corruption simply because they may not be able to use Blood Tap correctly.

 

7. User interface

Not everyone agrees with this, but many raiders, including myself, will swear on a good user interface as being important to your success as a raider. In the Execution chapter I mention internalizing things
to help with execution in a stressful situation. Essentially the more things you have committed to muscle memory, the more focus you have to pay attention to other things like raid awareness. A good user interface is GREAT for helping the internalization process. For example, Bone Shield should generally be used off cooldown as long as you have no remaining charges, but if you have remaining charges you should delay using it until theyare gone. You could just keep track of all this mentally, OR you could just have an addon in your user interface tell you when to use by telling it to only go off if Bone Shield is up and you have no charges. Simply hit Bone Shield when that icon comes up and you have perfect optimal use of Bone Shield just. You transferred something that would normally take a lot of focus and made it into just reacting to your interface. UI elements like this go a long way in helping your performance.

Other factors of a good UI involve tracking all your CDs (including externals!!!) and runes in a place where you can quickly asses your current resource situation. DS timing requires a constant awareness of your health and runes, so both of those should be very visible in your UI.

Finally things such as threat plates help you keep track of threat without having to tab through mobs, as well as selecting a non-aggroed add out of a clumped up group of aggrod ones.

 

8. How to improve

If you’re reading the advanced guide, there’s a good chance you are trying to grow as raider and move up into the next tier of raiding from where you are. If that’s the case you’ve taking the right first step, but improving in any performance based field isn’t just about knowledge. you have to be able to apply it to your performance before it will do you any good. The first step to this is never making excuses, only observations. Did you die because you had an add on you that the other tank was supposed to have? Sure it may have been his “fault”, but if you didn’t use a cooldown then you still made a mistake.

That ideology will make a better player in the end run, because whose fault it actually is has nothing to do with getting stuff done. Regardless of who did what, look at what YOU could do with the situation to make it better. If you missed something that might have saved the situation, then make a note of it and admit you could have done that better. The same ideology goes with criticism. If you aim to push your way into high end guilds, you’re going to get criticism at some point. Being able to take whats being said without getting defensive is an important attribute, because again not having something be your fault doesn’t change the situation or teach you anything.

Another great technique for improving your performance is recording yourself. If you have access to a screen capture software (I myself prefer Bandicam) then record the entire raid and take some time
to watch it. You don’t have to watch it all the way through, but just watching some key moments as well as some overall play is great. You see a LOT more looking over your own shoulder than you
will just be keeping track of any mistakes live.

Finally, realize that you can’t improve everything at once. Focus on specifics and until you’re all rounded out. Know what your weaknesses are and focus on those until you have new weaknesses in comparison, and rinse repeat until every attribute is where you want it to be. Whatever your weakest skill, invest all your energy into improving that skill until its on par with everything else.

 

9. Execution

One of the most important elements of any performance field (competitive games, music, sports, etc.) is execution. If you can’t take what you know and apply it, it’s not doing anyone any good. If you have problems with execution or performance anxiety, you’re definitely not alone though. Performance Psychology is a field growing at a huge rate, and for good reason (I am not a Performance Psychologist, but one of my good friends is) . There is a lot of science behind why people get nervous when its time to put up or shut up, and there are a lot of techniques around how to deal with it. What may work for someone else may not work for you, but at the very least take heart that you’re far from alone.

Part of being able to execute is to internalize as MUCH as possible. Make as much as you can passive and automatic so that you can focus on the things that DO need your attention. If you try
to focus on absolutely everything going on at once you’re going to drop something important, so take the time to commit things to muscle memory so that you can simple execute when the time comes.

One thing that prevents many players from perfect execution is performance anxiety, also known as “stage fright”. Maybe it’s when they first join a new guild, or maybe its when they get to a new boss,
but at some point many players have suffered from nervousness that kept them from playing at their peak. Nerves are a vicious cycle. If you make a mistake your are likely going to get more nervous, which
makes you more likely to make more mistakes, so on so forth. Many people deal with nerves differently. Some people take steps beforehand to prevent nerves in the first place using rituals like always eating before raid or running over raid strats for at least 30 minutes before raid etc., while some are able to simply recognize when they are in that vicious cycle and take a deep breath and stop it. In the moment of panic after a mistake is made, the best thing (in my opinion) is to just completely ignore it for the remainder of the pull. Don’t ignore the mistake in that you don’t adjust your play around it (picking up an add that may have spawned or something), but don’t dwell on it. As far as your concerned, until the fight is over and its time to look at what happened, you just need to keep going and what’s in the past is in the past, even if that’s

There are many other techniques than what I’ve listed here, and performance psychology is a widely applicable field so you can find non-video game related resources on nervousness and apply it to raiding very easily.

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