Friday, December 19, 2008

Unholy Tanking Primer

Back in the day, I learned a lot about tanking by reading Big Bear Butt and Of Teeth and Claws when I was playing my druid. Those sights not only taught me about the importance of defense cap and what early gear would achieve that, they provided basic rotations that in absence of any other knowledge would help you through the run. From my earlier polls I know some of you who want to tank on your DK came from DPS specs or even healers. Now that I have a few weeks of tanking as an Unholy Death Knight, I thought I’d share some do’s and don’ts so you can survive the runs you are on as well.

First, you need to get uncritable and stay there. Pre heroics shoot for around 500 defense and you’ll be golden. Heroics need 535 defense and Raids 540.

Before you make the first pull, lets talk about what needs to be addressed before your first hostile action. Every fight requires some planning and positioning prior to starting. In time with some experience, especially in guild runs, these will become almost automatic.

Planning: Figure out how many mobs and what their capabilities are. Also verify the likelihood you can pick up adds in the fight. It is at this stage you will assign CC and kill orders. Though I have to say, with my UDK, I haven’t really run across any trash that requires these and I’ve gotten lazy and stopped marking mobs. On guild runs, my DPS knows to assist me to stay on my primary target, in PUGs I occasionally have to remind folks of that. Generally speaking you want to focus on casters first, deal with ranged attackers so they don’t aggro your healer, and understand how you will keep all the hatred on you.

Positioning: This is also very important. You want to set up so that your ranged DPS and your healer can stay behind you in areas you already cleared. Trust me, you do not want mobs sneaking up behind you and instagibbing your lifeline. You can also use positioning to help deal with ranged and caster mobs. This is where LOS matters. If you have a corner to hide behind it forces the mobs to come to you even when they prefer to stay at range. Worst case have everyone stand way back, run up and pull then run back yourself so that you are out of range and the mobs must move forward. I know we are AOE tanks, but whenever possible you only want to fight one group at a time, your healer will appreciate it.

Now that we’ve covered planning and positioning at a high level, lets look at the pull and fight in more detail from an unholy perspective. Frosties, I just don’t have the background to help you much beyond concepts.

Pulling is pretty easy as a DK. We have 5 ways of pulling on our own. We can death grip, cast a ranged death and decay, use death coil if we have left over runic power from the last fight, use icy touch at short range, or do a body pull. Generally speaking I prefer to stay away from body pulls unless I plan on fighting where the mob is already located. Therefore I am limited to my ranged options and I usually don’t have enough RP to throw a DC out to get things started. So that leaves a ranged DnD or Death Grip. I make the decision based on the mobs in the fight. If there are a lot of caster mobs or ranged attackers I’ll drop a DnD on them all so they will aggro me and not the healer. The melee mobs will run to me and I can get to work on them. If I have a LOS option with lots of ranged mobs I’ll go ahead and use Death Grip and take advantage of LOS to get everyone to move. I know Allison over at WoWInsider doesn’t like DKs pulling with Death Grip but I think she had a bad PUG. Now when I say I’ll use DG to pull, I lay down a nice pool of death and decay at my feet so all the mobs will have to run through it and aggro on me. Then I pick my first kill target and yank it to me.

A couple last thoughts on the pull. Cast bone shield as early as you can prior to pulling. At the start of the fight with all the mobs up is when you will take the most damage, and the extra early mitigation will give your healer a bit more time before they have to light up the threat meters.

The fight is straight forward once you’ve pulled. I’m assuming almost all your trash pulls will be aoe fights. Since you started with a death and decay on the pull you have used 1 blood, 1 frost, and 1 unholy rune and have one of each left. The target I yanked to me, gets an Icy Touch followed by a Plague Strike. These two attacks use up the remaining frost and unholy runes while putting your diseases on your target. Follow this with pestilence. It will burn your last blood rune, hit all the mobs for a bit more damage and aoe threat, but more importantly, spread all your diseases to all the mobs in combat. At this point you will have enough runic power to cast Unholy Blight.

Let’s review, you have the high threat AOE Death and Decay up on all the mobs, 3 diseases ticking away on everyone, and Unholy Blight doing some serious damage to all the baddies every second. You are now in command of the fight. So long as DPS doesn’t focus on a mob you are not targeting, you will have the attention of every mob until its dead.

Back to the rotations. As soon as you cast UB you will be out of runic power and still waiting on runes to come back up for a second or two. That’s ok, stand there, you may get a weapon swing in. As soon as your runes come up, you want to use scourge strike and blood boil when the first 3 runes you used on death and decay come back. Your next strike will be scourge then blood. Remember, keeping your blood runes on cooldown should net you 10% more parry and you’ll need it with multiple mobs hitting you. From here on out use rune strike every time it procs.

Other things to keep in mind while fighting. Keep horn of winter up, the extra strength increases your threat and the extra agility increases your dodge. Try to keep all the melee in front of you so you don’t get hit from behind. Save your Icebound Fort for when things look real ugly. For single target fights use your DPS rotation. For Boss fights, read the strategies.

Lastly, pay attention to your surroundings. Keep an eye out for your healer first, DPS second. All this will become second nature in no time, even if you’ve been pew pew for years.


  1. Can't really say more than that. Without studying theorycraft or strategy any more than caring enough to find what works best, I came up with just about the same Unholy tanking strats as you. I do add blood boil if I get another blood rune up after first rotation, but that's mostly to solidify the agro if we still have multiples by then.

  2. Gonna try out your advice. thanks for your posts! gonna book this!

  3. use corpse xplosion as well, similar to blood boil in that it does another lot of aoe, and good for building a bit more aggro if its a particularly large group.