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Death Knight Rune Management May 15, 2010

Posted by Bezurk in Death Knight, General, Raiding.
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I’ve taken to tanking on my death knight a fair bit now – it’s quite interesting, and something of a departure from the way a Warrior works. In the endgame,  a warrior spams Heroic Strike while using Revenge, Shield Slam, Devastate, Shockwave and Rend (and the occasional Thunder Clap). But Death Knights have the limitation of Runes and Runic Power.

While Blizz intends to fix this in Cataclysm, currently managing your runes is key to playing a death knight halfway decently. Currently, mine is dual specced for Blood and Frost tanking.

Why, you ask? Blood has excellent single-target capability through high damage via Heart Strike and Death Strike. Death and Decay alongside an improved Blood Boil make it possible to AoE tank – but it’s difficult to get instant AoE threat while you set up diseases. Personally, I like it for tanking bosses within raids that follow a largely tank-and-spank strategy while not having lots of adds.

Incidentally, that’s another thing – a Warrior can let Rend drop without suffering much, and Sunder Armour just happens while you deal threat via Devastate – but you must watch for your diseases dropping off (possibly one of the best glyphs ever: Glyph of Disease, refreshing diseases on your current target – essential for a fight that’s lasting longer than 20 seconds), because it incurs a heavy TPS (threat per second) loss; first, through the DoTs Frost Fever and Blood Plague not being active on the target, and secondly because Blood Boil and Heart Strike damage increases when your diseases are active.

Now, Frost doesn’t have the active cooldowns of Blood, or the self-healing, or quite so much single target TPS. But it does have excellent AoE capability (including instant aggro-grabbing threat) and it has the passive mitigation that Blood lacks. This means you can hold aggro on those pesky Warriors/ Paladins / <insert high damage instant AoE class here> that Whirlwind or Divine Storm straight off the mark.

This is going on a bit of a tangent from my initial point, however – Death Knights are limited heavily by their runes. On a ~10 second cooldown individually, 2 of Blood, Frost and Unholy runes means that you have to watch and understand how your runes work. On the surface it seems simple – but it’s actually quite difficult to get the hang of. Abilities like DnD offer that good high-threat AoE, but at a cost of 1 of each rune it’s expensive. Then each spec has access to a 1 Unholy 1 Frost ability (Death Strike / Obliterate / Scourge Strike for Blood / Frost / Unholy death knights respectively), which, while expensive, does a lot of damage – and for Blood, Death Strike gets you those all-important Death Runes. Then you have single-rune abilities, which you need to understand what each applies, how they work in conjunction with each other… and a miss / dodge / parry for those under hit and expertise caps messes up this carefully researched and planned rotation…

To cut my incessant rambling short, it takes a lot of work to maximise your capability as a Death Knight, against common belief. Working out when 6 runes will come off cooldown while watching runic power to see if you need to pop Icebound Fortitude – it’s quite intense. And it’s damn good fun. But I look forward to the rune changes, so that instead of 6 individual runes, 3 sets of runes will be available – if it works right, it should make the death knight a lot more forgiving to play.

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