Recently I posted a three part series about tanking Cataclysm heroics. I decided that only natural follow-up was to share a little of what I learned from my experience and how that applies to my previous experience tanking in back in WotLK. Tanking regular dungeons is pretty much the equivalent of tank Wrath heroics. If your healer is even somewhat coherent you’ll probably be fine. So regular dungeons don’t really need much strategy. If you do, however, have aspirations of taking your tanking to the next level then they are both a good place to gear up in preparation for heroics and also the perfect testing ground. This however isn’t a guide on how to get ready for heroics, it is instead a primer on what to do when you get there.
Step 1: Observation
This is an important step for any tank (it’s also not a bad idea for dps or heals either). Take note of your group. What is their gear like? Does the healer seem to barely have heroic blues at all or is he/she rocking raiding epics and 100k mana? To take it a step further you could do an inspect and verify the gems/enchants on the healers gear. If they have gems and enchants, and they seem to be correct, then there’s a better chance your healer doesn’t suck. Next make a mental list of the crowd control abilities in your group. If you arrive at VP with another DK, a warrior, and a Paladin, you might have some trouble. With a good healer that is properly geared many dungeons can be done without CC at all, on the other hand, if your healer looks new you better make good use of any available CC.
Step 2: Communication
This is really another important step for any tank. It’s a good time to state your intention to use (or in some cases omit the use of) CC. If everyone looks pretty well geared you might offer, “hey heals, your gear looks pretty sweet, think we could just power through this stuff”? If you are feeling more cautious or the healer prefers not to chain pull the instance, this is the point where you declare the CC ability/player with the symbol you’ll be using. Include the kill order symbols (skull>x>whatever). Try to be consistent throughout. If moon is sheep and square is trap, don’t switch it up later on. It can result in confusion and wipes. No matter what you declare skull is, people will always shoot at it. Try putting a skull on the healer and watch your dps go insane from confusion.
Step 3: The Pulls
So you’ve figured out what you have to work with and how you’re going to proceed. Now it’s time to actually pull some mobs. I’ll go over a single target or at least non-AOE-fest plan first. When using CC, it’s often a good idea to have one of your ranged CC options pull via their CC and pick the mobs up as they run towards the group. This way the free mobs are a little ways away from the controlled ones and you have a lesser chance of accidentally pulling them as you
smash things on your keyboard carefully target and tank the mobs. Death and Decay is always a great opening move if there is more than 1 mob that you’re tanking AND you won’t pull controlled mobs. If you have marked a “skull” target make sure to grab that one first. I’ll typically start laying down my diseases on this one first, usually saving my Outbreak for an emergency disease refresh. If you have a caster mob that isn’t controlled, use Death Grip to grab threat and bring the mob away from the others.
Assuming you’re out of range of CC’d mobs use your pestilence to spread diseases (if there is more than 1 mob) to help threat on those targets. The main rotation you’ll be using as a DK tank is diseases > Death Strike (for mitigation/heath) OR heart strike for threat > rune strike (to use your runic power). Trash mobs won’t live long enough to need refreshing diseases most of the time. If you aren’t dealing with a large group or have controlled the excess mobs you shouldn’t find yourself needing to use any cooldowns.
For AOE pulls it is a little more complicated (sort of) and chaotic. Without any CC targets, DnD is ALWAYS the best opening move in a large group of mobs. It hits everything and does great threat. Keep in mind, this will NOT stop a DPS from pulling aggro on a single target but should make sure they’re all hitting you at the start. When pulling a tough AOE I’ll usually use my outbreak to save time getting diseases spread. My rotation ends up something like DnD>Outbreak>Pestilence>Some cooldown for survivability>Possibly a DPS cooldown for threat>Death Strikes for life>Blood Boil for AOE Threat. It is usually still a good idea to mark the initial kill target even on an AOE pull. If you can DnD then focus on one mob, you won’t have as much worry about DPS pulling off random targets and requiring you to taunt. Be prepared to use more cooldowns as needed depending on the skill and gear of your healer. AoE chain pulling is often the fastest and funnest method for a tank, but it can be very stressful on the healer. Make sure he/she is okay with that method or expect wipes or healers quitting.
Lions, tigers, Bosses – Oh My!
Death Knights seem to have it pretty easy on heroic bosses for holding threat and staying alive. For a boss you have a rotation something like Diseases>RS (if excess runic power)>DS or HS. I won’t open with outbreak on a boss since Icy Tough is pretty decent threat. The only real though in our basic rotation is threat vs survivability in heart strike or death strike. If you have a good threat lead use death strike as much as possible for the healing and the bubble and then death strike as a filler. Make sure to keep diseases up and use cooldowns in high damage phases or any time you seem to be at high risk of death. Use rune strike enough to not waste runic power and you’re golden. I’ll often use Dancing Rune Weapon with Runic Empowerment and a DPS cooldown if I ever need extra threat or just for a nice burst damage. We DK’s have a great selection of cooldowns for pretty much every situation. Following these general ideas outlined in this primer and you shouldn’t have any problems tanking heroics…..except for bad healers, douche dps, and random acts of god. Good luck and happy tanking!