- Author: Kyrasis
- Date: February 13, 2021
- Expansion: World of Warcraft
Given that you’ve read about the tank performance measures in the first tab, we are looking to build our character with an optimal combination of mitigation, EHP, and damage for the content we are doing. This section is going to briefly review the contribution of various attributes, explain how they contribute to each performance measure relative to each other, and give general recommendations for gearing in item slots without unique effects.
These stats are almost always present on items by default and, for any item slot where they are found, they are generally provided in proportion to the item’s level. These stats can also be provided by unique effects.
Strength – This stat directly determines how much AP (attack power) we have and it’s one of the two main contributors to parry rating. With [Bone Shield] active, strength also contributes to armor.
In general, our attack power is equal to strength. Unique effects that provide AP, directly, are extremely rare. AP contributes to our ability damage using the following general formula:
Armor and parry contribution are explained under their respective sections.
Stamina – This stat directly determines how much base health we have with the following formula:
In some cases, our health is used to determine the damage and healing of some abilities.
Armor – This stat reduces the amount of incoming physical damage taken according to the following formula:
Physical Damage Reduction %=Armor / (Armor + K)
The “K Value” changes depending on what type of content you are engaged in and it is generally adjusted so that players maintain similar levels of physical damage reduction over the course of an expansion. The result is that physical vs. magic damage taken in M+ should be consistent across the whole expansion. The current “K value” for M+ is 2500.
Weapon DPS – As discussed under strength, weapon DPS is an input to all ability damage calculations.
Two of the four secondary stats are present on most item slots by default, with a few exceptions. The ratio of the two present secondary stats is different from item to item, but the combined total is generally based on the items level. Secondary stats are also provided by several miscellaneous effects.
Critical Strike – Every 35 critical strike rating provides an additional 1% raw critical strike chance and every 39 critical strike rating provides and additional 1% raw parry chance. The base critical strike chance is 5% and critical strikes double the damage and healing of abilities that can crit. Specifically for BDKs, healing from [Bloodworms], [Mark of Blood], [Bonestorm], and [Death Strike] cannot crit.
Haste – Every 33 haste rating provides 1% haste, which affects rune regeneration rate, auto attack speed, global cooldown recovery rate, [Blood Boil] cooldown recovery rate, and some proc effects. While most DoT effects are affected by haste, [Blood Plague] and [Death and Decay] are not.
Mastery – Through [Mastery: Blood Shield], every 17.5 mastery rating increases the effectiveness of [Blood Shield] by 1% and every 35 mastery rating provides 1% increased AP. The base effectiveness of [Blood Shield] is 16% and the base value for increased AP is 8%.
Versatility – Every 40 versatility rating increases all damage and healing done by 1% and every 80 versatility rating reduces all damage taken by 1%.
Diminishing Returns: New to Shadowlands, all secondary stats have multiple rating thresholds that reduce the effectiveness of additional rating for that specific secondary stat. This reduction begins to take effect once any rating provides an additional 30% of any stat (with the exception of mastery, since different specializations use different percentage-to-rating conversions) and generally ramps up for every additional 10% unadjusted contribution after that. This diminishing returns is unique to sources of rating, no matter where it comes from, but it does not affect stat multipliers or effects that add a fixed amount of % to the stat. Rating thresholds are as follows for each secondary stat:
Secondary Stat Diminishing Returns Ratings
Secondary Stat Penalty
Tertiary stats have a small chance of appearing on most items when they drop. Other than being a rare bonus stat, they can also be provided by a few miscellaneous effects.
Leech – Every 21 leech rating heals the player for 1% of all damage and healing done. This is only applied once to abilities that naturally have leech, it does not affect raw self-healing, and it does not affect [Death Strike], [Blood Shield], [Mark of Blood], or [Bonestorm] healing.
Avoidance – Every 14 avoidance rating reduces the AoE damage a player takes by 1%.
Speed – Every 10 speed rating increases movement speed by 1%.
Diminishing Returns: New to Shadowlands, all tertiary stats have multiple rating thresholds that reduce the effectiveness of additional rating for that specific tertiary stat, just like secondary stats. This reduction begins to take effect once any rating provides an additional 10% of any stat and ramps up at 15% and 20% unadjusted contribution after that. Rating thresholds are as follows for each secondary stat:
Tertiary Stat Diminishing Returns Ratings
Tertiary Stat Penalty
These miscellaneous stats can only be acquired through specific sources.
Parry – Parry is an attack avoidance stat. It is generally indirectly provided by strength and critical strike, though some other sources exist. Parry probability is determined by the following formulas:
(Final parry % is reduced by 1.5% for each level the target is above the player.)
Dodge – Similar to parry, dodge is an attack avoidance stat. Dodge is rarely obtainable by BDK.
(Final dodge % is reduced by 1.5% for each level the target is above the player)
Attack Avoidance – The combination of all stats that prevent an avoidable attack from hitting. Total attack avoidance is determined as follows:
Your current character setup and what kind of encounter you are in will determine the exact value of different attributes. That being said, you’ll generally find the following mitigation secondary stat priorities to be true in Mythic+ dungeon content:
Single Target: Mastery > Versatility > Haste > Critical Strike
Multiple Targets: Mastery > Haste >= Versatility >> Critical Strike
(Note: Talent, covenant, and item choices can noticeably change the relative value of secondary stats for mitigation.)
Similar to dps, it’s possible for lower item level pieces to be better for mitigation than higher item level pieces. In fact, this is much more likely to occur with mitigation compared to damage with current tuning, though it’s not as easy to identify.
Mitigation for BDKs comes in a few layers: avoiding attacks entirely (dodge and parry), proactively mitigating incoming damage as it hits you (armor, versatility, avoidance, and other damage reduction effects), and reactively mitigating damage that you have already taken (self-healing). Any damage that we can’t mitigate through these methods will need to be healed by another player.
Even at the start of Shadowlands, it can be found that [Death Strike] mitigation is a much more dominant source of mitigation compared to the start of BfA, where critical strike enjoyed a brief period of being a competitive mitigation secondary stat. The main reasons for this is the existence of [Voracious], [Rune of Hysteria], and resource generating legendary items, three new multipliers on [Death Strike] effectiveness (something that scales with all secondary stats EXCEPT critical strike).
Much like Legion and BfA, we can expect the influence of versatility, mastery, and haste is expected to grow compared to primary stats and critical strike as we progress through the expansion for the following reasons:
- Increasing the “K Value” lowers the value of armor with every major content patch, which has also, indirectly, lowers the mitigation value of strength.
- Stamina does not directly influence mitigation outside of a few minor sources of healing, which are not overly large and don’t scale with incoming damage.
- [Death Strike] effective mitigation is a significant source of BDK healing and it heals proportional to damage taken (like armor and parry mitigation). However, its effectiveness is multiplied by three separate secondary stats (mastery, versatility, and haste), which results in increasing returns for all three of these secondary stats where most traditional forms of mitigation have diminishing returns or no change in returns on their effectiveness.
For example, here are graphs comparing armor scaling to the scaling of a single [Death Strike] (adjusted to account for haste allowing for more [Death Strike] casts) in a single target encounter with increasing levels of secondary stats (these graphs were made using BfA numbers, but the general relationships still hold in Shadowlands). On one hand, the physical damage reduction curve for armor has a decreasing slope; it is sloped in a way that each point of armor is just as effective as the last at reducing incoming physical damage. On the other hand, the [Death Strike] healing curve from the combined effects of versatility, mastery, and haste has an increasing slope for a characteristic that effectively reduces all incoming damage; compared to the non-diminishing armor physical damage reduction, [Death Strike] returns noticeably increase as the amount of secondary stats on gear increases.
Because of this, item level, alone, will become less of a reliable metric of item mitigation as the expansion progresses.
With more targets, the main thing that changes for mitigation is the fact that we are able to generate more RP with [Heart Strike] for every additional target up to 5. While versatility, mastery, and haste *all* affect [Death Strike] healing, haste, and to a lesser extent mastery, benefit more from multiple targets than versatility. On the other hand, critical strike does not benefit from these extra targets, at all, other than being a more consistent form of mitigation when we are being hit with a larger number of attacks per second.
As for leech, leech doesn’t affect [Death Strike] or [Blood Shield] healing, so it is not a significant source of mitigation. It does have *some* value, but it’s very very rare that it will change any specific gearing decision.
As for avoidance, most of the damage we take in Mythic+ dungeons is not AoE, so avoidance does not provide a significant amount of mitigation.
What if we are taking high amounts of magic damage?
Critical strike’s mitigation is directly proportional to the amount of avoidable attack damage being taken by the player, so it gets less valuable with more magic damage intake. Mastery provides full mitigation as long as a certain percentage of incoming damage is physical, once you drop below this threshold it starts losing value. If all damage being taken is magical, both critical strike and mastery provide an insignificant amount of mitigation.
EHP is mostly affected by attributes that are tied to item level (strength, stamina, armor), with the big exception of versatility (and, in some cases, avoidance).
- The amount of versatility an item has can have a large impact on how much EHP it gives, often allowing items with Versatility to provide the same amount of or more EHP than items 13 ilvls higher without versatility.
- Assuming two items both have versatility, ilvl will generally determine which item provides the most EHP.
- Most of the damage the tank currently takes in M+ dungeons is not AoE, so avoidance is not significantly useful for increasing EHP.
While EHP in this guide is generally referring to “reliable” EHP, which is always available when you are taking damage from an attack. However, there are a few indirect sources of EHP that also have some value. Sources of attack avoidance (dodge and parry), especially when taking damage from multiple targets, can serve as a form of pseudo-EHP, since it lowers the chance that you will be lowered from a high amount of health to dead in a short amount of time. Furthermore, since our main form of mitigation is [Death Strike], which is on the global cooldown, higher amounts of haste can potentially allow us to [Death Strike] faster in response to damage (which gives enemy targets less time to kill us before we can react).
Also, since we are generally pooling RP for reserve [Death Strike]‘s, it’s worth noting that mastery and versatility are the only attributes increasing the effectiveness of each point of pooled RP, which is effectively our “reserve” health pool.
Finally, since [Blood Shield] provides a shield effect that is applied on top of our health, any attribute that increases [Blood Shield] throughput (mainly mastery, but also haste and versatility to a lesser extent) effectively increases our *average* health % and, as such, our average EHP during encounters. In extreme scenarios, where predictable hard-hitting mechanics are about to hit you that can potentially kill you instantly, it may be useful [Death Strike] ahead of the attack to top-off your health pool to generate a [Blood Shield] that will temporarily put your combined health + absorb % above 100%. Granted, this should not be done when it’s not needed, since a lot of healing potential for [Death Strike] is wasted when you use it in this way.
Optimizing gear for damage nowadays is fairly easy, and, other than understanding the trade-offs involved, optimizing damage for tanks is not really any different than optimizing damage for dps specializations. In general, secondary stat priorities for damage, like everything, are going to change based on your character setup and circumstances. A general priority can easily be generated with sims, but it may looks something like this:
Haste > Critical Strike > Mastery > Versatility
(Note: unlike mitigation, secondary stats are relatively close in value when it comes to increasing damage, so the hierarchy of stat weights will very easily change depending on your current stats. Because of this, it is also more likely for higher ilvl items to result in more damage as opposed to other measures.)
While all secondary stats are generally multipliers on the amount of damage being done, there are few sources of damage that are not affected by haste. Opting into more of these sources of damage, such as through [Bonestorm] and/or [Superstrain], will devalue haste’s relative damage contribution.
Again, the general recommendation for high Mythic+ dungeons is to try and maximize mitigation as long as especially inefficient EHP/damage tradeoffs aren’t being made in the process. If a situation comes that can only be dealt with by optimizing tank EHP or damage, deal with it when you come to it. While it is recommended to try and determine the value of different stats yourself, a simplified list of item priorities would look like this:
- Target your highest ilvl item that does NOT have Critical Strike
It is extremely likely for an item without Critical Strike, often even if the item is 26 ilvls lower, will provide more mitigation than an item with Critical Strike. This item priority is, by far, the most important.
- Target items that have Versatility
The EHP provided by Versatility should be given some consideration when comparing its value against items with Mastery and Haste, since they provide no extra EHP. It is thought that the EHP benefit outweighs the disadvantage in raw Mitigation compared to Mastery, but this is subjective. It is difficult to say whether or not this is justifiable over any ilvl gaps.
- Target Versatility/Mastery items over Versatility/Haste items
We’re splitting hairs at this point and it’s unlikely that this priority will overtake any item level difference.
There are generally four trinkets that should generally be considered given their superior ability to mitigate damage or to provide unique utility compared to all other options:
[Stone Legion Heraldry] – Even if you assume that this trinket is not being amplified by other party members using it, it provides a solid amount of versatility. Exciting? No. Effective and consistent? Yes.
[Sinful Gladiator’s Insignia] – Again we have another passive secondary stat option, except with haste this time attached to an uncontrollable strength proc. It’s not versatility, but this trinket is still one of the better ones.
[Blood-Spattered Scale] – This trinket provides a 2 minute cooldown absorb shield and AoE damage that both increase in strength (multiplicatively) for each additional target hit after one and up to five. This can either be used as a substitute [Death Strike] or as an up-front shield to mitigate incoming damage while setting up a pull. The fact that this is a on-use cooldown-based effect gives it a lot of flexibility and it allows you to specifically target situations where damage intake is high and/or when your RP levels are low (while letting you recharge the effect during pulls that are no longer dangerous or when you are traveling between pulls). Additionally, the front-loaded AoE damage can be nice for threat generation.
[Splintered Heart of Al’ar] – While this trinket does not provide a reliable source of mitigation, EHP, or damage, it *does* provide a unique 8 minute cheat death effect that, if used in place of [Purgatory], could allow you to have a (not as strong) cheat death effect *and* [Red Thirst] at the same time. On that note, [Red Thirst] provides a substantial amount of mitigation and EHP that is generally superior to what can be found on a trinket. However, if you are in situations where a cheat death, isn’t particularly valuable or if the downgraded cheat death is too much of a step down from the superior [Purgatory], then this probably won’t be a good option. That being said, you also have the option of using this trinket *with* [Purgatory] for two cheat deaths.
General Recommendation: [Stone Legion Heraldry] and [Blood-Spattered Scale] and ([Splintered Heart of Al’ar] or [Stone Legion Heraldry])
Smart use of [Blood-Spattered Scale] should allow you to get more value out of it compared with other options, while [Splintered Heart of Al’ar] is thought to be more valuable than the alternatives (regardless of whether or not you are already running a cheat death). [Stone Legion Heraldry] just provides consistent value that will most likely be superior to [Sinful Gladiator’s Insignia], if a cheat death from trinkets is not desired.
What if I want more EHP?
While not generally recommended for M+, if you have an explicit reason to pursue an EHP trinket, there is one option available:
[Slimy Consumptive Organ] – This trinket’s on-use effect provides a decent amount of HPS, though it’s not an overwhelming amount. The only unique thing this trinket offers is a large amount of passive Stamina, which technically gives it more EHP than any alternative at the cost of lackluster mitigation and damage.
What if I want more damage?
If you have an explicit reason to pursue damage trinkets, there aren’t a lot of compelling options available to you. While [Decanter of Anima-Charged Winds] provides decent AoE damage output on paper, the fact that it is a random proc frontal 90 degree cone means that it will often do less effective damage than the four originally outlined trinkets, since the effect can’t always be used effectively. All other damage trinket options are oriented towards single target or are numerically weak, with one exception:
[Blood-Spattered Scale] – Yes, one of the best mitigation trinkets is also one of the best damage trinkets. The on-use effect provides a hefty amount of front-loaded damage in addition to its absorb.
Death Knights have access to unique enchants for their weapons called runeforges that are stronger than traditional weapon enchants. While a total of eight are available, only endgame BDK options listed below:
[Rune of Hysteria] – This runeforge provides a large amount of mitigation, a small amount of damage, and increases the size of our RP pool. This is the best mitigation option.
[Rune of the Fallen Crusader] – This runeforge generally provides a moderate amount of damage and mitigation as well as a small amount of EHP. This is the best damage option in M+.
[Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle] – This runeforge provides a moderate amount of EHP, a small amount of mitigation, and a small amount of damage. This is the best EHP option
[Rune of Saguination] – This runeforge can provide a large amount of single target damage, and a small amount of mitigation. The damage scales poorly with the number of targets.
[Rune of Spellwarding] – This runeforge provides a large amount of *magic-specific* mitigation and a small amount of *magic-specific* EHP.
[Rune of Undying Thirst] – While the on-kill effects aren’t particularly helpful in M+, the one unique benefit provided by this runeforge is its movement speed bonuses.
General Recommendation: [Rune of Hysteria]
In M+ dungeons, [Rune of Hysteria] will best address your needs in the vast majority of situations. If you confront a problem where additional damage is the only solution, you may consider [Rune of the Fallen Crusader] (it’s one of the better ways to increase damage if you are in a situation where you need to move in that direction). While [Rune of the Stoneskin Gargoyle] could be used to address EHP shortfalls.
Is there a way to take advantage of different Runeforges with weapon swapping?
Weapon swaps made while in combat will incur a 30 second [Off Balance] debuff, which temporarily disables runeforge bonuses. With most character setups, BDK’s have some cast time that isn’t being used, so the GCD cost isn’t too serious, but incurring [Off Balance] will easily remove most of the potential benefits related to swapping. Additionally, buff and debuff effects related to runeforges instantly vanish when the related runeforge is unequipped.
Still, there are a few ways to take advantage of weapon swapping:
- Out of combat? Use [Rune of Undying Thirst] to run *slightly* faster.
- Do you really need more damage specifically for next pull? Swap to [Rune of the Fallen Crusader].
- Min/Maxing single target damage? Swap to [Rune of Sanguination].
Granted, the gains of doing this are limited, most of them will require that you have multiple competitive weapons, and you open yourself up to accidentally entering combat before swapping your weapon back, which can be a costly mistake.
With the arrival of Shadowlands, we now have the ability to craft legendary items. Some generic legendaries are excluded if they obviously have no application to dungeon content.
[Bryndaor’s Might] – This legendary is a multiplier on our RP generation, providing a very large amount of mitigation at all target counts and a small amount of damage. Because the RP generation is on [Death Strike] cast, it effectively increases the size of our RP pool. It’s averaged benefits are overshadowed by other mitigation options, though its benefits are arguably more consistent than them.
[Crimson Rune Weapon] – This legendary amplifiers the power of our [Dancing Rune Weapon] and effectively lowers its cooldown, providing a very large amount of mitigation, a large amount of damage that partially scales into AoE, and effectively increasing our EHP with higher defensive uptime. Since the benefits of this legendary are all tied to [Dancing Rune Weapon], a cooldown-based ability, it benefits from downtime between pulls relative to other options. On the other hand, there are no benefits outside of [Dancing Rune Weapon] windows, extra rotational considerations are needed to maximize bone shield generation, and a majority of the benefits (the extra [Dancing Rune Weapon] casts, the bone shield generation, and the extra rune generation) require us to use significantly more of our cast time than other legendary options. In M+ conditions are usually favorable enough that this option will provide the most mitigation, it potentially provides the most damage, and it even provides an indirect increase to EHP through a noticeably bump in defensive uptime.
[Gorefiend’s Domination] – This legendary shortens the cooldown of [Vampiric Blood] to a much smaller extent than [Red Thirst], but the important benefit is the extra RP generation on [Vampiric Blood] cast. It provides a very large amount of mitigation, a small amount of damage, and effectively increases our EHP by a small amount with higher defensive uptime. Since the main benefit of this legendary is tied to [Vampiric Blood], a cooldown-based ability, it benefits from downtime between pulls relative to other options. However, it loses significant value if you aren’t running [Red Thirst]. It’s overshadowed by [Crimson Rune Weapon] for what it does, though it is capable of providing a bit more mitigation on single targets. However, it is not even close to competing on other metrics.
[Vampiric Aura] – This legendary provides only a small amount of mitigation for a personal benefit and makes your primary defensive ability party-wide. Unless this somehow solves a very specific problem, it is not worth consideration.
[Death’s Certainty] – This legendary provides moderate damage that does not scale well into multiple targets. While it also has [Death and Decay] cooldown reduction, we do not benefit from [Death and Decay] cooldown reduction. Some of the stronger damage-oriented legendary items are strictly better than this option.
Death Knight Specific:
[Death’s Embrace] – Gaining a heal on our [Anti-Magic Shell] provides a large amount of damage under ideal circumstances and a small amount of damage. However, convenient uses of [Anti-Magic Shell] are not guaranteed and, even when they are, other legendary items options are strictly better. The only use-case for this legendary is if the extended [Anti-Magic Shell] duration provides significant value with debuff immunity.
[Grip of the Everlasting] – Double-cast [Death Grip] on a shorter cooldown provides additional grouping and taunt utility, but, unless a situation demands it, a lot is being sacrificed for this utility.
[Phearomones] – This legendary provides moderate mitigation and a small amount of damage through its haste effect. The CC effect breaks on damage, so, outside of unreliably interrupting enemy abilities, it won’t do that much. Unless an excessive amount of value is being gained from the CC effect, other legendary options are strictly better.
[Superstrain] – This legendary provides extra DoTs which provide a large amount of mitigation and a moderate amount of damage. The damage scales fully into multiple targets, though the RP generation from Frost Fever is sporadic and has some risk of causing RP overcapping compared to other sources of RP generation. On higher target count, this legendary can provide the most damage, but the small potential damage advantage over [Crimson Rune Weapon] isn’t enough to justify the large loss of mitigation and defensive uptime.
[Echo of Eonar] – The extra damage reduction buff provides a small amount of mitigation and EHP to yourself and three allies. The effect is tied to a random proc and the effect is low-powered enough that there is little reason to consider this legendary over other options.
[Judgment of the Arbiter] – This legendary can potentially provide a moderate amount of damage that partially scales into multiple targets. The bulk of the performance of this legendary relies on having a second person using it who is positioned properly between 5-20 yards away from you. In theory, this legendary can do more low-target-count damage than any other option, but it provides no other benefits and it is a logistical nightmare.
[Sephuz’s Proclamation] – With full uptime on the triggered buff, this legendary provides a moderate amount of mitigation, a low-moderate amount of damage, an insignificant amount of EHP, and some CC duration reduction. It is not too realistic to achieve full uptime and, even with full uptime, other legendary options are strictly better.
[Vitality Sacrifice] – This legendary generates a damage and healing buff whenever you take more than 10% of your maximum health in damage; depending on how much % health you lost on that triggering attack, the buff will provide anywhere from a 3% buff (for at least 10% health loss) to a 9% buff (for a 50% health loss). At maximum strength (which is far from realistic), this legendary provides a moderate amount of mitigation and a low-moderate amount of damage. Other legendary options are strictly better.
General Recommendation: [Crimson Rune Weapon]
In M+, [Crimson Rune Weapon] is a juggernaut that can provide the best mitigation, situationally the best damage, and the best EHP benefits all at the same time. It requires some mindful management of bone shield charges to benefit from fully, but perfect play is not required for it to be the best option. When other options situationally pull ahead of [Crimson Rune Weapon] on a specific metric, they generally are losing to it on other metrics by a large margin.
Alternatively, [Bryndaor’s Might] or [Superstrain] can be used as mitigation- or damage- oriented alternatives that are easier to use, but they are noticeably worse than a properly utilized [Crimson Rune Weapon].
You have a limited choice of item slots to choose from when crafting legendary items with specific legendary effects. Since legendary items can be crafted at a higher item level than what you can normally acquire, you want to craft the effect on the largest budget items, since that will give you the most additional primary/secondary stats from the higher item level legendary item. Not considering specific character gear options, the general hierarchy is usually as follows:
Chest >= Legs >= Head > Ring = Amulet > Shoulders >= Boots >= Belt = Gloves > Wrist > Cloak