Welcome to the World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King tank tier list! We will be ranking each tank spec available for the expansion, as well as explaining each spec’s position on the tier list.
- Protection Paladin (S-Tier)
- Blood Death Knight (A-Tier)
- Feral Druid (B-Tier)
- Protection Warrior (C-Tier)
The S-tier represents the most powerful tanking specs in the current meta – those with the best threat and survivability. You will see one of these specs in every single raid as people naturally gravitate towards them, and it won’t be completely uncommon to see 2 — which is very telling of how strong they are, as how many raid groups will have only 2 dedicated tank spots anyway!
Protection Paladins were a fan-favourite spec in TBC, and you’d see a whole lot of them. It’s no wonder — they excelled at AoE tanking, an area that no other tank could even begin to compete in, and were an excellent farming character. In WotLK, Protection Paladins get turbocharged — other tanks now get strong AoE tanking abilities, which would normally be very ugly for us, but some very significant buffs to our spec improve our single target threat and survivability (an area we were somewhat weak at) and push us to the top of the S-tier.
Blizzard really loves us, as we get 2 brand new Protection-centric abilities in WotLK: our capstone talent Hammer of the Righteous, and the spec-agnostic Shield of Righteousness. Both of these abilities scale excellently with the Strength stat that our new gear in WotLK is stacked with, elevating our single target threat to the higher tiers. Our AoE threat is still god-tier: Hammer of the Righteous deals AoE damage, which is already a very strong buff on its own, and as if that wasn’t enough, Consecration now scales with both attack power (that we get a lot of via our Strength stat) AND spell power, which we get through the new Touched by the Light talent. Other tanks may finally have some AoE threat, but we’re still the best at it.
But threat was never really our issue anyway; survivability was, as we lacked an active defensive cooldown for those “oh snap!” moments where things get ugly, when the boss is about to become enraged, etc. Blizzard decided that us Prot Paladins are too cool to have weaknesses, and instead turn us into immortal gods in WotLK. Our formerly “meh” Ardent Defender gets buffed to being completely overpowered, as it now reduces damage that would take us below 35% HP (rather than damage taken while under 35%, which sucked) and heals us to 30% HP when we would take a killing blow, once every 2 minutes. It’s impossible to understate just how bonkers this talent is, yet as if it wasn’t enough, Blizzard also reworked Divine Protection. It is now a separate entity from Divine Shield (though it still incurs the same Forbearance debuff), functioning as a Shield Wall type cooldown, with a slightly smaller damage reduction but a significantly lower cooldown. There’s more — Sacred Shield helps boost our survivability too, though in 25-man raids you’ll generally have a Holy Paladin using this on you when you’re main tanking and the shield unfortunately does not stack, so it’s mostly useful in dungeons and 10-man raids. But we largely don’t need it — our survivability is exceptional, both against melee enemies and spellcasters.
So we’re threat and survivability monsters, but what of our utility? Well, that’s also great in WotLK. We still have all of the Paladin-specific goodies, like blessings, auras, and the re-designed Hand spells (Hand of Freedom, Hand of Protection, etc), along with the ever-useful Judgement of Wisdom and Judgement of Light. Greater Blessing of Sanctuary gets a slight redesign in WotLK, which makes it slightly more useful — but mostly for ourselves, hah. We get a Prot-exclusive piece of utility in Judgements of the Just, which is great. However, all of these pale compared to our strongest utility talent, Divine Guardian, which bolsters newcomer Divine Sacrifice. For many raids this will be the single most important raid cooldown, reducing incoming damage by 20% — which will frequently make the difference between a kill and a wipe. We naturally pick these incredible talents, as they are in the Protection tree.
Having said all of that, Prot Paladins unfortunately do have a weakness: like it has been the case in Classic & TBC, our threat and particularly our damage is pretty weak when we aren’t main tanking. Spiritual Attunement restores our mana when we get healed, so if you aren’t taking damage it won’t restore anything. We do have a permanent Divine Plea thanks to Guarded by the Light, which helps a bit, but eventually you will run out of “juice” and be unable to spam your most expensive spells. Where Feral Druids can switch to Cat Form, Blood DKs can equip DPS gear and help your raid’s damage a bit, etc, you’re unfortunately stuck tickling a boss with very little mana to do anything else, besides help out with the occasional (buffed!) Lay on Hands. For this reason, most guilds will elect not to stack on Prot Paladins, instead using other tanks that can offer more when off-tanking or when a 2nd tank isn’t needed. Their 1 Prot Paladin will instead be taking the main tank spot as necessary.
Still, Prot Paladins are indisputably the strongest tank in Wrath of the Lich King, and they’re going to be everywhere. The real “weakness” of the spec if you could call it that is that there’ll likely be so many Prot Paladins that it might actually be hard for you to find a guild as most guilds already have their main tank spot sorted, but that’s not a serious weakness when compared to how strong the spec is overall.
The A-tier represents strong tank specializations that offer very solid threat and survivability. You will frequently see these specs perform the off-tank role, since they’re not as strong as the S-tier tanks (which will likely be main tanking), while having some unique strengths that make them worth bringing. These specs will be very common in raids, and many will have 1 of them, but no more as tank spots are pretty limited.
Blood Death Knight
Death Knights are the “new kid on the block” in WotLK, and they’ve had a pretty turbulent journey through the various patches. Blizzard initially envisioned them being able to tank and DPS as any of their 3 specs, a concept that very quickly broke down as the class ended up being wildly overpowered with that design. Frost was the most common tanking spec for a while, while Blood was the strongest DPS spec, but after a series of changes, Blood (with its many health-restoring talents) ended up being the tanking spec, while the other 2 are mostly used as DPS. And by any metric, Blood is a very strong tanking spec, hence its position in the A-tier!
Simply put, Blood is a monster of single-target threat, arguably having the best threat in single target situations, thanks to Icy Touch buffed by Frost Presence. Our snap threat is just incredible; Blood DKs will be the go-to tank in fights with adds, thanks to our ability to quickly pick them up from range and build a high threat lead immediately, so DPS players can quickly burn it down. In that sense, we’re the ideal off-tank. However, things aren’t as good when it comes to AoE threat; Death and Decay does some very solid threat, but its 10 second duration and 30 second cooldown means there will be long periods of time where it isn’t up, so our “AoE” threat means spamming Icy Touch on different targets, which isn’t all that good. Some Blood DKs might elect to pick up the unpopular Heart Strike talent to try and patch up this weakness, but it still won’t bring us up to par with other tanks, unfortunately.
Survivability is another area that Blood DKs shine at. Most of the time, we aren’t quite as beefy as Prot Paladins with their overpowered Ardent Defender, as our equivalent talent (Will of the Necropolis) is slightly weaker, but we’re definitely up there. We are particularly incredible in fights where healers get silenced or otherwise incapacitated for long periods of time and are thus incapable of healing us, since we can stay alive for a ridiculous amount of time on our own, thanks to our stellar self-healing abilities and cooldowns, such as Death Strike, Rune Tap, Vampiric Blood and Death Coil if we elected to pick up the Lichborne talent. Moreover, we’re arguably the beefiest tank in the game when it comes to tanking spellcaster-type enemies, thanks to Anti-Magic Shell and Spell Deflection — a strength that actually comes up very often in Wrath of the Lich King.
Arguably our biggest strength as Blood DKs is our utility. The most common Blood spec goes deep into the Frost tree, picking up the extremely important Improved Icy Talons that you’d otherwise absolutely need a Frost DK for, along with the nifty Improved Icy Touch talent, meaning we provide the 20% attack speed slow debuff effortlessly. But there’s more, as we have some Blood-exclusive goodies: namely, the ever-important 10% increased attack power buff in Abomination’s Might, and Hysteria (renamed to Unholy Frenzy in WotLK Classic) which is arguably the strongest buff in the game. Along with the spec-agnostic Death Grip, which allows us to reposition dangerous mobs and particularly spellcasters, your raid will absolutely love you for the utility you bring, and other tanks will drool in envy.
All of that utility causes Blood DKs to be the strongest dedicated off-tank spec in the game, particularly since you can swap to DPS gear and do some very reasonable damage as well on fights where you’re not tanking. Our only real weakness is that our utility (besides Hysteria) does not stack, meaning that there’s little reason to bring more than 1 Blood DK, but nearly every raid will want 1. We may not be the strongest tank in the game, as Prot Paladins have us beat in the survivability and AoE threat departments, but we’re plenty strong nonetheless.
The B-tier represents tank specializations that are very much viable, but have weaknesses that render them notably weaker than the specs listed in previous tiers. Your raid is unlikely to wipe just because you’re using a B-tier tank, as they can tank most things just fine, but if you’re aiming to optimize your raid you’d rather have a different class main tank, and you should probably avoid stacking specs found in the B-tier.
Feral Druids were the strongest tank in TBC, offering the strongest survivability and single-target threat output. Blizzard thought that being strong in both areas is a bit much, and as a result nerf us modestly in the threat department — but Feral is still a very solid tank, and one that you’ll see very often in raids for reasons we’ll explain below.
As mentioned above, our single-target threat has taken a pretty noticeable nerf. We still do more than enough threat to hold aggro on targets, but our ability to catapult so high on the threat meters that nobody else can even hope to reach us is largely gone. This will hurt us in situations where there are adds that need to be picked up and killed quickly, which will now commonly be the domain of Blood DKs, thanks to their overpowered long-range snap threat with Icy Touch. To compensate for this nerf however, our AoE threat has been greatly buffed; Swipe (Bear) no longer has a 3-target limit, and newcomer Berserk makes Mangle (Bear) hit up to 3 targets, meaning we’re very solid tanks in cleave & AoE fights, though Prot Paladins are still the strongest here.
Our survivability meanwhile has seen both a buff and a nerf. Our passive survivability is slightly weaker, as the Agility stat no longer gives us a completely unreasonable amount of dodge, allowing us to avoid ever getting hit by attacks. On the flipside, we finally have reliable damage reduction cooldowns: Barkskin is now usable in all forms, which makes it very handy with its 1 minute cooldown; Frenzied Regeneration now heals us for a percentage of our HP rather than a flat amount, and it has been further buffed with the Glyph of Frenzied Regeneration; finally, we get a brand-new defensive cooldown in Survival Instincts (+ Glyph of Survival Instincts), a Last Stand type ability which can save our lives during “oh snap” moments. All of these factors make us a very resilient tank, though we lack a unique gimmick like what Blood DKs have in their superior ability to tank spellcasters.
Though Feral Druid utility suffers a minor nerf due to Fury Warriors gaining access to our Leader of the Pack buff, utility is still a very strong suite of ours as Druid utility has always been stellar. We of course have the staples, like Gift of the Wild, Innervate and Rebirth, but that’s not all there is to us. Mangle (Bear) still offers the 30% bleed damage increase debuff, buffed to 1 minute duration and more useful than before as bleeds in general have been buffed. Demoralizing Roar is still useful in reducing boss damage, but we now have Infected Wounds, offering the 20% attack speed slow as well. All in all, we offer a very complete utility package, though this is slightly hampered by the fact that a DPS Feral Druid could offer these things all the same.
But therein lies our biggest strength; Feral Druids have always been a tank that can occasionally DPS if needed, but WotLK sees this swapped around completely. Most Feral Druids in WotLK will be DPS mains that tank in fights that call for a 3rd or 4th tank, a task we thrive at thanks to our incredible DPS in Cat Form and dual nature of our Feral talent tree. None of the other tanks will even remotely come close to our DPS output in fights where they don’t need to tank, even if we’re talking about a strictly Bear-specced Feral Druid, meaning that off-off-tanking (that’s a lot of offs) and off-DPSing is 100% our specialty.
All of these factors combine to make Ferals a very attractive specialization in WotLK. Yes, we’re not quite as strong as Prot Paladins or Blood DKs at the areas they excel at, but most WotLK fights only require 1-2 tanks, and neither of them are as good as being the 3rd tank as us. Most guilds will have 1-3 DPS Feral Druids that can flex into that role, which is both a very strong area for us, while also being an extremely fun task!
The C-tier is comprised of tank specializations that are, frankly, on the weaker side. It could be argued that they’re still viable, as they can generally get the job done. However, it will be a struggle compared to S-tier or A-tier specs, as C-tier specs lack the threat and survivability that the “big boys” have, and as a result your DPS players will have to be careful with threat, and healers will need to pay a lot of attention to your health pool. Some raids may even choose not to invite you, as they’d prefer to have a smoother, easier raid.
Poor Protection Warriors. 🙁 We were the laughingstock of tanks in TBC, having significantly weaker threat than the 2 other tank specs. At the very least however we had some very good survivability thanks to our strong defensive cooldowns… and now everyone else has those as well, meaning we offer pretty much nothing that someone else doesn’t do better. The bullying will just never end, will it?
I will not sugarcoat things: our single-target threat is atrocious. Of course, that was the case in TBC as well, so people who didn’t mind that issue then won’t mind it now either. You generally will be able to hold threat on a boss just fine, but an unlucky parry from you or a “lucky” chain of random crits from a DPS player could spell trouble, which is an issue that other tanks simply don’t have. However, there is a bit of a silver lining here: while our single-target threat is still bad, our AoE threat has thankfully been massively buffed, with our low-cooldown Thunder Clap no longer having a target limit, and our capstone talent Shockwave dealing a decent amount of AoE threat as well. We actually give Prot Paladins a run for their money in this department… and this department alone.
Passive survivability is another area where we aren’t exactly the best at, as we lose our 100% uptime Shield Block since it gets redesigned to medium-cooldown ability. The only thing we get in exchange is Critical Block, which really doesn’t even begin to compensate for that nerf. Our active survivability is still reasonably strong, with Shield Wall and Last Stand doing a lot of heavy lifting. We have an interesting gimmick in tanking caster-type mobs thanks to our Spell Reflection, but overall we have the worst survivability of any tank, with Prot Paladins fully having passed the “paper tank” baton to us, unfortunately. Your healers will frequently get annoyed at how much more damage you seem be taking than other tanks.
Our utility is wholly unimpressive as well. Our Battle Shout buff is no longer unique, and our much more competitive Fury spec can bring Commanding Shout instead. We still have defensive staples like Demoralizing Shout and Thunder Clap, though DKs are far better at applying the latter’s debuff. Blizzard is trying to give us some more “interesting” utility in Improved Spell Reflection, Improved Disarm and Safeguard, but they’re slightly too gimmicky to elevate our utility to a point that it’d be considered “strong”. The only pieces of utility that we offer that others would care about are Sunder Armor, as we apply it automatically while Fury Warriors have to go out of their way to keep it up, and Shattering Throw, which any Warrior spec can use anyway.
Our one strong point that’s actually worth talking about is our off-tanking capability. For fights where we’re only off-tanking, we can switch to dual-wielding weapons and do a reasonable amount of damage, similar to Feral Druids in Cat Form. Moreover, Vigilance allows us to “leech” threat from one of the superior tanks (what a sad thing to say 🙁 ) in order to remain on the 2nd threat position for fights where it’s crucial that your tanks occupy the top threat positions. Safeguard can also occasionally be useful, albeit still very gimmicky.
The unfortunate reality is that neither this strength, or our good AoE threat, are a good enough reason to bring a Prot Warrior in specific to a raid, as either your main tank or off-tank. The other tanks do everything we do, better than we do it. The little gimmicks we can offer are just frequently useful enough for a raid to consider wasting a raid spot on a sub-par tank, so at most you’d have a Fury Warrior with a Protection 2nd spec switch specs if it’s absolutely necessary. If you really enjoy the spec, you could still play it, it’s not garbage to the point where you can’t even clear the raids — but you’ll definitely suffer, and you may struggle to even get invited to begin with, as our spec sadly carries a pretty ugly stigma.
Simply put, specs in the D-tier are considered to be not viable. They can be fun to play, but you will struggle to get invited to raids when playing one of these, and you may even find yourself getting kicked from groups, as your tanking will be really bad, with very sub-par threat and survivability.
Fortunately, no tank is so weak that we’d say they’re not at all viable — but if we’re being honest, Prot Warriors tread dangerously close to that line, and some would even argue that the gap in strength between them and the other tanks could possibly put them in the D-tier.