Blood Death Knight Tank Rotation For M+ (shadowlands)
  • Author: Kyrasis
  • Date: February 19, 2022
  • Updated: November 11, 2023
  • Expansion: World of Warcraft

Core Ability Priority Overview

Normal Priorities

  1. [Death Strike] if you are below 70%* health.
  2. [Abomination Limb]
  3. [Marrowrend] if [Bone Shield] is not active or has a duration less than 5 seconds or if you have less than 3 stacks of [Bone Shield].
  4. [Blood Boil] if a target does not have [Blood Plague] or it is about to expire.
  5. [Death Strike] when (RP is above 105 or above 85 when [Dancing Rune Weapon] is active).
  6. [Soul Reaper] with (1 or 2 priority targets or if priority damage is desired) when a limiting target is below 35% health.
  7. [Marrowrend] if below 6 stacks of [Bone Shield] or (below 8 stacks of [Bone Shield] and [Dancing Rune Weapon] (with [Insatiable Blade]) has more than 60 seconds on its cooldown and [Abomination Limb] has more than 20 seconds on its cooldown and [Abomination Limb] is not active and [Dancing Rune Weapon] is not active).
  8. [Tombstone] with more than 6 stacks of [Bone Shield] and when [Death and Decay] is active and when [Dancing Rune Weapon] has more than 15 seconds on its cooldown.
  9. [Death and Decay] if [Death and Decay] is not already active.
  10. [Heart Strike] with, or when 1.5 second away from, having more than 3 Runes.
  11. [Blood Boil] with 2 charges and less than 5 stacks of [Hemostasis].
  12. [Heart Strike] with 3 runes or (with 6+ stacks of [Bone Shield] and 4.5+ seconds left of [Bone Shield] duration).
  13. [Blood Boil] with less than 5 stacks of [Hemostasis] or with 2 charges of [Blood Boil].
  14. [Death’s Caress] with less than 9 stacks of [Bone Shield].

Non-Global Cooldown Abilities

  1. [Empower Rune Weapon]
  2. Use [Raise Dead].

Core Ability Priority Details

[1] [Death Strike] if you are below 70%* health.

Basis: [Death Strike] is our primary mitigation ability and using it effectively is the key to staying alive; this priority is meant to use [Death Strike] when it’s efficient. Using [Death Strike] under the right circumstances is our top priority, since you will either die or require an excessive amount of healing from your healer if you only passively use [Death Strike].

So, under what circumstances do we want to use [Death Strike]?

[Death Strike] healing is proportional to the damage we’ve taken in the last 5 seconds, though any overhealing will be lost (with the exception of the resulting [Blood Shield]). For a simple and effective method, it is recommended to use a fixed health %, alone, as a trigger for when to use [Death Strike] specifically for healing, since situations where you drop below any given health % are almost always going to be when you have been taking significant amounts of damage in the last 5 seconds.

What health exact % should be used as a setpoint?

There are a few things we need to take into consideration: 

  1. If the threshold is too low, it becomes more likely that we’ll overshoot our threshold and die before we can reactively use [Death Strike].
  2. If the threshold is too low, too many of our [Death Strike]‘s may be used inefficiently to avoid capping RP, for minimal healing, when they could have been used more efficiently during a damage spike that didn’t push us below our overly-low threshold.
  3. If the threshold is too high, [Death Strike] might be wasted during low damage periods that still manage to push us below our overly-high threshold, when they could have been used more efficiently on higher damage periods.
  4. If the threshold is too high, our RP levels will be chronically low, since we’re using [Death Strike] too aggressively. This means we won’t have as much RP (our second health bar) saved up for when situations become dangerous.

As such, we want to get as close to that theoretical sweet spot as possible to balance maximizing our overall [Death Strike] healing and keeping our health pool high enough that we’re unlikely to instantaneously die before we have the chance to use [Death Strike]. This gameplay decision also allows the player to leverage their mitigation output for more EHP and vice versa

In reality, the ideal threshold may change from situation to situation, but, for the purposes of this guide, a trigger point of 70% health is recommended and has been found to be effective in all content up to and including cutting edge BDK M+ key levels. Feel free to adjust this value as you see fit.

[2] [Abomination Limb]

Basis: [Bone Shield] provides a significant amount of armor and a respectable amount of haste. Generally, this buff reduces physical damage intake by over 20%, which is a large increase to our mitigation and EHP.

[Abomination Limb] provides up to 9 [Bone Shield] charges, though, because we generally don’t want to spend time below 5 charges and outside of [Ossuary] range, getting all of these charges is not always possible. Later priorities will adjust [Bone Shield] charges to maximize this gain within reason while [Abomination Limb] is coming off of cooldown, but it is currently not worth delaying [Abomination Limb] for the sole purpose of increasing its [Bone Shield] generation. In any case, even using a low estimate of 6 [Bone Shield] charges generated per cast, those charges will result in a minimum of 20 additional RP through 4 additional casts of [Heart Strike] over 2 casts of [Marrowrend].

The 10.2 tier set bonus allows [Abomination Limb] to reliably apply the [Ashen Decay] debuff to all targets for a baseline of 22.4 seconds, increasing both its offensive power and defensive benefits. While overall [Ashen Decay] uptime can be increased by delaying [Abomination Limb] use when targets already have [Ashen Decay] active, the tradeoff does not look worth it relative to unconditional casting.

Why is this not ranked higher? Recovering from a low health % is going to do more for your immediate survivability than an armor buff or threat generation.

[3] [Marrowrend] if [Bone Shield] is not active or has a duration less than 5 seconds or if you have less than 3 stacks of [Bone Shield].

Basis: [Bone Shield] provides a significant amount of armor and a respectable amount of Haste. Generally, this buff reduces physical damage intake by over 20%, which is a large increase to our mitigation and EHP.

Ideally, if [Marrowrend] is going to be used specifically to refresh the duration of [Bone Shield], you want to try and prevent a situation where the 20 generated RP is wasted due to having too much RP (in priority damage situations). It is suggested to track when [Bone Shield] is within 5 seconds of expiring (or with 2 or less stacks) so you have some time to efficiently sequence abilities without the immediate need of having to use [Marrowrend] on your next global and potentially overcap RP.

Particularly for refreshing [Bone Shield] stacks that are about to expire, [Death’s Caress] can also be used for this priority, which, for all intents and purposes, results in equal outcomes. The main reason [Death’s Caress] isn’t specified at this priority is because there are situations in M+ where you can lose [Bone Shield], completely, between packs and, in these situations and without enough ranged globals available to fit a cast in of [Death’s Caress] ahead of time, [Marrowrend] will result in superior outcomes for initial bone shield generation. More discussion on [Death’s Caress] is provided at its specified priority at the end of the priority list.

Why is this not ranked higher? Recovering from a low health % is going to do more for your immediate survivability than an armor buff and [Abomination Limb] provides a more efficient way of generating initial [Bone Shield] stacks.

[4] [Blood Boil] if a target does not have [Blood Plague] or it is about to expire.

Basis: The main basis for this priority is that [Blood Boil] is how we establish threat on multiple targets. If we waited 2-4 globals before using some AoE threat generation, then your targets might decide to kill a dps/healer in the meantime. In fact, if initial AoE threat continues to be an issue, using two casts of [Blood Boil] near the start of a pull may be a consideration, but this situation isn’t common enough to account for it in the core priority list. In any case, even if this priority is suboptimal in one or two target situations, there is very little being lost using this same priority in all situations, since you will generally only be using this ability at this priority once per encounter and it only slows you down from putting Runes on cooldown by one global cooldown.

[Blood Plague] provides low enough damage and healing that it is NOT justifying why we are going out of our way to apply it; we’ll be casting [Blood Boil] often enough, anyway, that using [Blood Plague] at this priority is only giving us an extra few seconds of [Blood Plague] uptime, which is only healing us for a very small fraction of our overall health, per target, over that duration. However, the 5% damage increase from [Coagulopathy] due to [Blood Plague] is a nice perk, in any case.

The primary defensive benefit to using [Blood Boil] is actually to generate [Hemostasis] stacks, if that talent has been selected. Let’s assume that, at most, 15% of our [Death Strike] healing overheals (not including [Blood Shield]) and that our Mastery is, at max, 28% (remember, [Blood Shield] is not affected by [Hemostasis] stacks); real overhealing values rarely get lower than 15% and 28% Mastery is a relatively low value. With these assumptions, each stack of [Hemostasis] increases the effectiveness of our next [Death Strike] by ~6% per stack gained. If we further assume that it will take 35 RP to use [Death Strike], then we can say that a cast of [Blood Boil] is equivalent to 2.1 RP per stack of [Hemostasis] gained; a value that gets worse if our assumed values of over-healing and Mastery get higher. These numbers *also* aren’t being used to justify this priority, though they may be referenced in other priorities.

Why is this not ranked higher? We want to ensure that [Bone Shield] is active to reduce damage from incoming hits and to provide additional Haste before worrying about establishing AoE threat and applying [Blood Plague].

[5] [Death Strike] when (RP is above 105 or above 85 when [Dancing Rune Weapon] is active).

Basis: While we want to maintain reserve RP (so we can use [Death Strike] in situations where it is needed), if our RP levels get too high, then we won’t be getting full benefit out of our RP generating abilities. And so, this priority tries to responsibly gain the mitigation and damage benefits of otherwise lost [Death Strike] casts, while still maintaining a reasonably strong RP pool.

For discussion purposes, players *do* have the option to overcap and waste RP to increase [Blood Boil] throughput in non-challenging AoE encounters for more overall AoE damage in AoE situations where there is not a priority target. That being said, this is only a potential damage gain if you are not sabotaging your [Coagulopathy] ramp speed or uptime as a result. So, you want to make sure you are at max stacks and with sufficient duration before you consider skipping this priority for more overall AoE damage. While this strategy obviously reduces [Death Strike] throughput and could cause loss of damage specifically when using the [Bloodshot] talent due to a loss of [Blood Shield] uptime, this should usually be acceptable since you will have a full RP pool to fall back on and [Bloodshot] is not a general-use talent in M+. Still, the loss of [Blood Shield] throughput when using this alternate setup is very noticeable, the damage gains are minor, and situationally swapping to this type of rotation is relatively complicated compared to the standard rotation. For those reasons, it is not built into the standard rotation.

What RP threshold should we use to decide when we use [Death Strike] to avoid capping excessive amounts of RP?

In general, the higher the RP threshold on this priority, the more RP we will have pooled to use when we start taking significant amounts of incoming damage. However, once this threshold gets above 95, we begin making a tradeoff between a larger average RP pool (which can increase our overall survivability) and some level of lost RP.

This guide recommends using [Death Strike] whenever we are above 105 RP (or 85 RP with [Dancing Rune Weapon] active), where the only way RP is wasted in some capacity is when bonus RP generating effects occur with unfortunate timings. This small loss in RP efficiency is thought to be worth the tradeoff for the extra RP pooling it provides. But, feel free to adjust these numbers as you please.

Why is this not ranked higher? If anything, the global spent on [Blood Boil] buys you some time to potentially take more damage and make this non-essential [Death Strike] more valuable, which can improve your RP efficiency. Even if it doesn’t result in a stronger [Death Strike], [Blood Boil] generates no RP, so it isn’t causing you to overcap RP. In any case, establishing threat takes priority over a non-essential [Death Strike] (at least when it comes to [Blood Boil]).

[6] [Soul Reaper] with (1 or 2 priority targets or if priority damage is desired) when a limiting target is below 35% health.

Basis: If the player has chosen to talent [Soul Reaper], it is assumed they are interested in the priority damage increase despite the mitigation costs associated with using this ability (within reason). As such, this priority placement results in the highest [Soul Reaper] damage throughput without overly adverse consequences in other areas. This ability provides single target damage and is generally displacing casts of [Heart Strike] (which has some target scaling) and, to some extent, [Death Strike] (which helps with [Coagulopathy] consistency). As such, when more than 1 priority target is present, this ability is generally not worth using.

The 10.2 tier set bonus allows [Soul Reaper] to reliably apply the [Ashen Decay] debuff with 100% uptime to any one target below 35% health (or semi-reliably on two targets below 35%), though this comes at the cost of somewhat reduced extension potential of [Ashen Decay] on all other targets via less [Heart Strike]. As such, the tier set significantly increases the power of [Soul Reaper] in any situation you would normally consider using it.

While [Soul Reaper] use is seemingly at least a marginal damage gain at most reasonable target counts, the loss of RP generation potential and [Death Strike] cast frequency make regular [Soul Reaper] use in situations with more than two priority targets look like a bad tradeoff (even assuming it is already talented) given the loss of mitigation potential. As such, when more than 2 priority targets are present, the use of this ability is generally not advised.

Because of the low cooldown on [Soul Reaper], it is especially important that the player is using it whenever it is available and appropriate assuming a higher priority does not exist. As such, it is suggested to use heightened tracking of its cooldown to make sure you are maximizing its utilization.

The effect that is triggered if an enemy dies before the execute damage is dealt is not seen as particularly desirable at this time due to the current state of our resources.

Why is this not ranked higher? The immediate priorities above this point are either needed to support important proactive benefits or abilities that are more immediately impactful than [Soul Reaper].

[7] [Marrowrend] if below 6 stacks of [Bone Shield] or (below 8 stacks of [Bone Shield] and [Dancing Rune Weapon] (with [Insatiable Blade]) has more than 60 seconds on its cooldown and [Abomination Limb] has more than 20 seconds on its cooldown and [Abomination Limb] is not active and [Dancing Rune Weapon] is not active).

Basis: With a high [Bone Shield] stack count, you will never be in any immediate need to [Marrowrend] to maintain 5+ stacks for the 5 RP cost reduction on [Death Strike] with [Ossuary]. However, it’s important that [Bone Shield] stacks aren’t wasted when you [Marrowrend], which would occur when we have more than 7 stacks or at lower levels if [Dancing Rune Weapon] is active. High [Bone Shield] stacks also give you more flexibility to use your runes without losing [Ossuary] and it maximizes the benefits of [Foul Bulwark], so keeping stacks high is the default recommendation. Granted, if [Abomination Limb] is active, we may as well let it finish generating [Bone Shield] stacks before we worry about generating more.

With [Insatiable Blade], it is recommended to swap to a lower [Bone Shield] band when [Dancing Rune Weapon] is coming off of cooldown in the near future, so we can maximize the bone shield generation of these abilities while avoiding a significant loss of [Ossuary] uptime, which improves resource efficiency at the cost of marginally lower [Foul Bulwark] benefits. Ideally, we want our [Bone Shield] stacks as low as they can possibly be when the corresponding abilities are coming off of cooldown *without* losing any [Ossuary] uptime in the process. This same logic is applied to [Abomination Limb].

With current tuning, [Everlasting Bond] does not change the math enough to consider ignoring [Ossuary] during our [Dancing Rune Weapon] windows, which had previously been justified with the patch 9.2 tier set bonus.

Why is this not ranked higher? There is no immediate urgency to top off [Bone Shield] stacks, especially so if we are normally maintaining higher levels of bone shield. While this priority does enable the 5 RP cost reduction on [Death Strike] in some situations, that RP efficiency isn’t going to make up for the fact that we’re overcapping on RP generated by this [Marrowrend] if we’re above 105 RP in single target situations. An argument could be made to make a [Marrowrend] priority higher on this list for when 4 or less RP would be lost to overcapping and where the [Marrowrend] would enable the 5 RP reduction to become active, but there aren’t a lot of gains to be had for the added rotation complexity. We should almost never have such high levels of RP in combination with such low stacks of [Bone Shield].

If [Soul Reaper] is being used, [Bone Shield] management is not adversely impacted by giving [Soul Reaper] a higher priority, especially given the low rates of [Bone Shield] consumption on single targets.

[8] [Tombstone] with more than 6 stacks of [Bone Shield] and when [Death and Decay] is active and when [Dancing Rune Weapon] has more than 15 seconds on its cooldown.

Basis: Our main three considerations with [Tombstone] usage is, first, making sure we do not lose [Bone Shield] while doing it, second, we would like to be standing in [Death and Decay] to triple the effectiveness of [Shattering Bone], and, third, we would like to gain a reasonable amount of effective [Dancing Rune Weapon] cooldown reduction.

The main things even making [Tombstone] a core rotational ability, at all, is its synergy with [Insatiable Blade] to reduce the cooldown of [Dancing Rune Weapon] and [Shattering Bone] to generate increased AoE damage, which is why both of these synergies add additional conditions for the usage for this ability. 

Still, the initial absorb can sometimes be useful as a situational defensive cooldown against certain mechanics and, in these situations, you can consider using this cooldown defensively instead of as a core rotational ability.

While some RP waste potential exists with current [Death Strike] conditions, it is not a gain to add further conditions to [Tombstone] to try and account for this.

Why is this not ranked higher? All of the perks associated with [Tombstone] usage are not more important than maintaining proactive mitigation, especially since bone shield charges are needed to use this ability in the first place without significant downsides.

[9] [Death and Decay] if [Death and Decay] is not already active.

Basis: With [Crimson Scourge] active, [Death and Decay] costs nothing and generates no RP on cast. This tradeoff is sometimes preferable since the saved rune can now be used on [Heart Strike] to generate even more RP, though using [Death and Decay] in this way results in less total [Death and Decay] casts. However, in the current patch, it is not worth waiting for [Crimson Scourge], since any bonus [Heart Strike] is often displacing a [Blood Boil] and [Death and Decay] has enhanced value from the [Unholy Ground], [Sanguine Ground], and [Shattering Bone] talents. This usage technically results in marginal losses to our mitigation and, indirectly, our EHP, but the damage gains are significant in comparison.

With the [Death’s Echo] talent, we want to avoid a situation where we use [Death and Decay] while one is already active, since their effects do not stack.

Why is this not ranked higher? [Tombstone] is currently only used under the condition that [Death and Decay] is already active, so these priorities do not compete with each other. Furthermore, [Bone Shield] maintenance takes priority before runes are potentially spent on other abilities in order to maintain the associated benefits.

[10] [Heart Strike] with, or when 1.5 second away from, having more than 3 runes.

Basis: We can regenerate up to 3 runes at any given time, so we are missing out on rune regeneration if we have more than 3 Runes. This priority is making sure we are using all of our rune regeneration and, with [Bone Shield] topped off, [Heart Strike] is going to generate the most RP per rune.

Why is this not ranked higher? [Death and Decay] is prioritized since its combined perks (with talents) are superior in all situations to what is gained with [Heart Strike], assuming the player is able to stay in their [Death and Decay]. Beyond that, it is generally better to efficiently top off [Bone Shield] stacks than to frontload RP generation, unless you are in immediate danger of dying and desperately need to build RP to [Death Strike]. It can be argued that a higher priority of [Heart Strike] should be added to capture this situation, but this is not included because “panic” [Heart Strike]‘s are a very short-term band-aid that will quickly cause more problems than they solve with the loss of RP efficiency from dropping below 5 stacks of [Bone Shield].

[11] [Blood Boil] with 2 [Blood Boil] charges and less than 5 stacks of [Hemostasis].

Basis: With 2 charges of [Blood Boil], we are missing out on potential [Blood Boil] casts (and potential [Hemostasis] stack generation) by not using this ability. As long as we are not already capped on [Hemostasis] stacks, we want to generate more to increase the effectiveness of our next [Death Strike]. And, even without [Hemostasis] talented, we are not flooded with other resources to the extent where it is worth further neglecting the long-term throughput of our [Blood Boil] casts, even if they are only providing increased damage.

[Hemostasis] is the primary defensive benefit of using [Blood Boil] and, beyond that, the only other benefit is the uncapped AoE damage of the [Blood Boil] cast itself, since [Blood Plague] application is already assumed due to the previous [Blood Boil] priority. [Hemostasis] discussion can be seen in the previous [Blood Boil] priority, as well.

Why is this not ranked higher? Rune usage through [Heart Strike] is generally preferable to [Blood Boil] in all situations where [Blood Plague] is already active due to mitigation benefits. Situations where loss of [Blood Boil] charges actually has an effect on overall [Blood Boil] throughput are also rare given current resource conditions.

[12] [Heart Strike] with 3 runes or (with 6+ stacks of [Bone Shield] and 4.5+ seconds left of [Bone Shield] duration).

Basis: We want to lower our active rune count as much as possible to create some margin for our rune regeneration as our runes come off of cooldown. But, we usually want to preserve 2 runes so we can [Marrowrend], when needed.

In general, we can only go below 2 runes (without missing a crucial [Marrowrend]) If our [Bone Shield] is at sufficient stacks and has sufficient remaining duration.

Why the [Bone Shield] thresholds?

For duration, the longest amount of time you would be unable to use [Marrowrend] if you just spent your runes on [Heart Strike] is ~4 seconds in a worst-case scenario, so the duration of [Bone Shield] needs to be sufficient to cover this window beyond the buff duration. This number is being increased to 4.5 to account for player reaction time and some amount of player haste.

For the number of stacks, the largest amount of stacks we can lose in 4.5 seconds is 4 stacks of [Bone Shield]. So, we have little to no risk of falling below 5 stacks of [Bone Shield] if we have 6 or more stacks before using our reserve runes.

Why is this not ranked higher? At this point, we are not in immediate danger of losing out on long-term Rune generation, since 3 runes are already on cooldown.

[13] [Blood Boil] with less than 5 stacks of [Hemostasis] or with 2 charges of [Blood Boil].

Basis: This will reduce the likelihood that we’ll miss out on [Blood Boil] casts (and long-term [Hemostasis] stack generation when talented). There is no particular reason to save 1 charge.

Against multiple targets, we risk underutilizing [Blood Boil] against multiple targets if we are attempting to maximize [Hemostasis] value too much when the situation is not sufficiently dangerous. So it is better to use [Blood Boil] at this priority with no additional restrictions if we are sitting on 2 charges.

Why is this not ranked higher? Runes are more valuable than [Blood Boil] charges based on previous discussion, so preventing lost rune regeneration time takes priority.

[14] [Death’s Caress] with less than 9 stacks of [Bone Shield].

Basis: [Death’s Caress] is a very resource efficient ability, but its weakness is that it does not accomplish enough during a single GCD to make it worth casting over another ability. So, even though it generates 2 [Bone Shield] stacks per rune compared to 1.5 [Bone Shield] stacks per rune with [Marrowrend], the fact that it only generates 2 [Bone Shield] stacks per GCD instead of 3 [Bone Shield] stacks per GCD (in addition to lower marginal damage) is ultimately what limits its usage. That being said, if conditions are such that we don’t wish to use any of our other abilities, and we are making productive use of the generated [Bone Shield] charges, it is a gain to use [Death’s Caress]. This will still occur at some frequency in melee range, but you should be especially conscious about the potential to use [Death’s Caress] when you are outside of melee range.

[Death’s Caress] can also be used as an alternative to [Marrowrend] when refreshing [Bone Shield] stacks that are just about to expire, this usage, in particular, pushes the scales towards [Death’s Caress] just enough to justify its use in this case, though this doesn’t have a significant effect on your overall throughput either way.

Why is this not ranked higher? More frequent usage of [Death’s Caress] will lower the amount of long-term casts we are able to perform for [Blood Boil]. There is no demonstrated upside to using [Death’s Caress] more often in melee range and potential downsides when we consider real-world conditions.

Non-Global Cooldown Abilities

[1] [Empower Rune Weapon] when you have less than 3 runes and less than 121 RP.

Basis: [Empower Rune Weapon] is a strong source of resource regeneration and a strong haste buff effect. This cooldown could theoretically be used as a pseudo-defensive cooldown, since it is significantly increasing death strike throughput over the duration, but it is generally advised to use it offensively at this time. In earlier patches small gains were noted when delaying [Empower Rune Weapon] usage until the player had less than 3 runes to better utilize the incoming rune regeneration, but in patch 10.2 any potential gains look small to the point where the added complexity is likely not worth the hassle. As such, the use is now unconditional.

At this time, it does not appear worthwhile to make a particular effort to sync [Empower Rune Weapon] with [Dancing Rune Weapon]. Alongside negligible throughput differences, it would also have the negative effect of increasing overlap of cooldowns with defensive benefits

[2] Use [Raise Dead].

Basis: [Raise Dead] is a minor 1 minute duration single target damage cooldown. Either use it on cooldown or attempt to strategically use it when single target damage is more valuable, but, like all damage cooldowns, sitting on the cooldown can quickly become a net loss in most situations.

Defensive Cooldown Priorities

While there is not a hard and fast priority list for defensive cooldowns, there are a few things we want to take into consideration:

  • We generally don’t want to stack defensive cooldowns unless we are trying to mitigate extremely large amounts of damage for very specific purposes, since most defensive cooldowns stack in a way that they mitigate less overall damage when used together. For example, if you use two 50% damage reduction cooldowns at the same time, the second cooldown is only effectively mitigating 25% of the original damage. Even for cooldowns that don’t stack in this way (such as [Anti-Magic Shell]), it is usually more beneficial to spread them out to even out the incoming damage profile.
  • If we have no other considerations, we generally want to prioritize the defensive cooldowns that mitigate the most damage, per second, while they are active; this maximizes overall mitigation. The effectiveness of all defensive cooldowns (while active) are as follows:
  1. [Anti-Magic Shell] – 100% of damage taken (if magic)
  2. [Vampiric Blood]* – ~50%+ of damage taken
  3. [Dancing Rune Weapon] – ~50% of damage taken (if it can be parried)
  4. [Icebound Fortitude] – 30% of damage taken
  5. [Rune Tap]** – 20% of damage taken
  6. [Anti-Magic Zone] – 20% of damage taken (if magic)
  7. [Lichborne] – 15% of damage taken (with [Unholy Endurance])

* – [Vampiric Blood] is a bit unique, while it functions as a ~23%-28.5% damage reduction cooldown when we are *just* looking at the increase in healing coming from our healer, it actually does a lot more than that since it increases our own healing by 30%-40%, which is a large portion of our mitigation. The exact strength of this defensive depends on both our character setup and the incoming damage profile, but it is generally much more powerful after accounting for the increase in personal healing.

** – [Rune Tap] details are below

  • It can be worth prioritizing situational defensive cooldowns if you aren’t always going to be able to make use of them. (This mostly just applies to [Anti-Magic Shell] and [Dancing Rune Weapon].)
  • One alternative perspective to take with your defensive cooldowns is to use them to refill your RP pool when it’s getting low, since defensive cooldowns should reduce the frequency that you need to [Death Strike]. This reactive style can be useful in very difficult content and when defensive uptime is limited, but can potentially result in unnecessarily low defensive uptime if you aren’t being mindful of when you should proactively use your cooldowns.
  • Because of how [Vampiric Blood] works (it affects our healing received and it increases our health pool by a flat 30%), it’s our only defensive cooldown that can be used *reactively* to high damage taken at no penalty. As long as a situation won’t instantly kill us, it can be useful to save this cooldown for moments where you aren’t sure whether or not you’re *actually* going to take a lot of damage (for example, a tank buster that can be parried).
  • Also because of how [Vampiric Blood] works, your current health % will go down by up to 23% when the buff expires (So, if you have 23% health or lower when the buff goes away your health will be reduced to 1). It can be useful to be mindful of this.
  • [Dancing Rune Weapon] has extra value when our RP is low, since it increases the generation of resources. It also increases our threat generation, making it more useful at the start of pulls. Since it is such a powerful cooldown when talented both offensively and defensively, [Dancing Rune Weapon] should generally be used aggressively when it is getting full value unless you have a specific reason to hold onto it.
  • [Icebound Fortitude] is a stun break and gives stun immunity, which can be an *extremely* useful trait when it can be utilized.
  • [Anti-Magic Shell] can prevent the application of many debuffs, which can greatly increase its value.
  • [Rune Tap] is not used like our other defensive cooldowns, since some RP generation potential is lost when using it. More details are at the end of this section.
  • [Anti-Magic Zone] can be used as a personal defensive cooldown, its obvious usage is as a group magic damage reduction cooldown.
  • [Lichborne] is a sleep/fear/charm break and immunity, which is extremely useful in some circumstances.
  • [Tombstone] often gets used aggressively, but it provides a sizable shield that can also be used strategically for a single-hit defensive cooldown, particularly in response to predictable hard-hitting mechanics that can potentially kill you instantly. Since most traditional defensive abilities do not have rotational costs like [Tombstone], you should generally try to solve any problems with those first before excessively delaying a [Tombstone] cast. That being said, sometimes [Tombstone] is capable of solving an immediate problem.
  • [Blood Shield] provides a physical-only shield effect that is applied on top of our health, sometimes the [Blood Shield] from a pre-emptive [Death Strike] can be used strategically for a single-hit defensive cooldown, particularly in response to predictable hard-hitting mechanics that can potentially kill you instantly. That being said, you should never be using [Death Strike] solely for the [Blood Shield] unless it is necessary for the situation, since a lot of the healing potential for [Death Strike] is wasted when you specifically use it in this way.

When is [Rune Tap] worth using when talented?

The 5-25 RP lost from using [Rune Tap] over [Heart Strike] generally results in less overall mitigation due to a loss of [Death Strike] healing that outweighs the damage reduction effect of [Rune Tap]. With light [Rune Tap] usage, the extra cast time available from using some runes on an instant cast ability means that we are often able to use extra casts of [Blood Boil] as a result, which provides further benefits with [Hemostasis]. However, if you use [Rune Tap] too much (particularly in multiple target situations and with the loss of the 10.0 tier set) you can theoretically get you to the point where you have no more [Blood Boil] casts available to fill the extra cast time, making the tradeoff less worthwhile. And so, while the mitigation and damage losses associated with light [Rune Tap] usage are initially insignificant relative to the EHP benefits, the tradeoff becomes noticeably worse in extended encounters if you bottom-out on resources with high [Rune Tap] usage. As such, [Rune Tap] should generally be considered the defensive cooldown of last resort similar to how it was treated back in Shadowlands, which wasn’t the case in patch 10.0 with that tier set bonuses rune regeneration. That being said, here is a list of exceptional situations where [Rune Tap] provides more value than normal:

  1. When you have excess runes, you don’t have an attackable melee target, and you are taking damage.
  2. When you are starting an encounter with full runes and an early usage of [Rune Tap] will allow you to maximize your full rune regeneration at least two global cooldowns faster than you would be able to without using [Rune Tap].
  3. While [Empower Rune Weapon] is active (because of the excess rune regeneration).
  4. When you have an extended period of time out of combat, the RP you generate with [Rune Tap] will carry over into the next encounter, and the rune regeneration has no other productive use ([Death and Decay] can also be used in this manner).

Pull Setup

As pointed out in the “Class Design Implications” section at the start of this guide, BDKs are often particularly vulnerable at the start of pulls, especially when they are at lower resource levels; immediate AoE threat generation can also be an issue for related reasons. This is due to the following contributors:

  • If you are below desired levels of RP, you may not have the immediate ability to [Death Strike] in response to getting damaged to low health levels. In some situations, the period of time up until your initial [Death Strike] of the pull can be the most dangerous period of time.
  • If you are below desired levels of [Bone Shield], further [Bone Shield] generation comes at the cost of immediate RP generation or AoE threat generation that could otherwise be generated with other abilities.
  • While initial [Blood Boil] and [Death and Decay] casts help to establish immediate AoE threat generation, they are competing with globals that are more effective at stabilizing your personal survivability.
  • When combining multiple packs together, multiple uses of [Blood Boil], [Death and Decay], or [Death’s Caress] may be needed for establishing initial threat on all targets, which further crowds out personal survivability abilities when addressing immediate threat issues.
  • While [Dancing Rune Weapon] certainly improves our survivability and AoE threat generation over its full duration, the cast of this ability, itself, can put us behind on our immediate AoE threat generation or resource generation since the initial cast has no immediate effect, itself.

As pointed out in the “Class Design Implications” section at the start of this guide, BDKs are often particularly vulnerable at the start of pulls, especially when they are at lower resource levels; immediate AoE threat generation can also be an issue for related reasons. This is due to the following contributors:

  • Stay healthy with healing abilities as needed
  • Establish initial threat on all enemies
  • Maintain a sufficient RP pool

Short-term issues arise due to the fact that we can usually only make progress towards one or two of these concerns with any single ability use, while many of these can be issues at the same time. That being said, there are a number of things we can do to make our lives easier:

(1) Use Abilities at Range on the Setup

Cast time is our biggest constraint at the start of a pull, so one easy way to stay on top of things is to make sure you are making good use of your cast time while you are walking into a pull; even if you are still at range. If you reference the normal rotation, you will notice there are a number of abilities that are still productive to use even if you are not in melee range of an enemy yet:

  • [Abomination Limb] is your friend if it is available; not only will it stabilize your [Bone Shield] stacks over its duration, but it will also go a long way towards establishing initial threat on anything within range of you. The extra grips to improve grouping is also a nice perk. Given its long duration, you will still get most of its damage value even when precast.
  • While technically a part of the defensive cooldown rotation, [Dancing Rune Weapon] requires cast time to use. Given its long duration, you will still get most of its value even when precast and, other than the initial cast which does nothing immediately, [Dancing Rune Weapon] will help to address all of our initial concerns when starting a pull.
  • While [Death and Decay] can also be used for light initial AoE threat on a ranged pack you have no intention on running to, precasting a [Death and Decay] at your final pull setup location can improve your immediate AoE threat generation as well as give you a small boost to your RP with cast time you otherwise may not be using.
  • While not as potent as the previous abilities, a [Death’s Caress] cast can still establish initial threat on a single target at range, generate some [Bone Shield] charges, and help to stabilize our RP levels if we still have leftover ranged cast time to use.

(2) Instant-Cast Remedies

Another way to make pull setup easier is by making use of specific instant-cast (or near instant-cast) abilities to provide immediate value.

  • [Rune Tap] is an instant cast defensive ability that uses runes and generates RP. Furthermore, since we are generally starting pulls with high runes, its usage at the start of pulls is more often than not a net positive. It will not only buy you time until you need to [Death Strike], but it will also get you 10 RP closer to being able to cast your first [Death Strike] if you are otherwise short on RP.
  • While it is not the most efficient way of using your defensive cooldowns, some amount of defensive stacking at the start of pulls can give you more time and a greater ability to catch up on resources or establish threat more efficiently.
  • While not a long-term solution when used from range, [Dark Command] can force an enemy to fixate us for 3 seconds without using cast time, which is sometimes enough time for us to hit it with a follow-up AoE threat generation ability to establish initial threat on a mobile target.
  • While not completely instant, [Death Grip] also forces an enemy to fixate us for 3 seconds without using a full GCD, but with the added benefit of immediately putting the target in range of any potential follow-up ability.
  • One unconventional way to gain threat on all targets you are in combat with is to use a [Dreamwalker’s Healing Potion] or a [Healthstone], which, for some reason, generate healing threat (which is multiplied by the tank threat generation modifier). This also can also buy you time until you need to [Death Strike] if it is providing useful healing.

(3) Minimize Damage Taken and Movement on Pull Setup

While somewhat obvious, the less damage you take while setting up a pull, the more time you will have until you need to [Death Strike]. As such, you should look to do the following things:

  • Make use of Snares, Crowd Control, or Movement Speed buffs to prevent nearby enemies from using melee attacks on you during pull setup. This is generally why [Nitro Boosts] are recommended.
  • Plant in a more central location on multi-group pulls to minimize the amount of movement required; pulling the last pack (or the last few) to you instead of running to (or through) them. Just make sure you can establish initial threat on these enemies before they can reach your teammates. This allows you to transition to a more efficient melee rotation sooner in the pull.

(4) Prepare for the Next Pull Ahead of Time

In order to prevent problems on the following pull, it can sometimes benefit us to alter our play patterns when the current pull is almost over:

  • Try to refresh [Bone Shield] at the end of the current pull so it does not expire between pulls; this will improve our resource generation situation in the next pull.
  • Try to end the current pull with a reasonable amount of RP, so we have the ability to [Death Strike] early into the following pull.

Kiting Considerations

When is kiting appropriate?

Kiting should ideally only be done when needed for immediate survivability or if a specific pull has an excessively high potential to kill the tank when they are not kiting, otherwise it is a large negative impact to your personal capability (since most of your personal mitigation and damage throughput relies on melee abilities) and can lower the effectiveness of your group’s damage through excess enemy movement.

As such, kiting is mainly used as a last resort method to mitigate damage or to drop stacks of a stacking debuff. Knockbacks, snares, personal speed buffs, and other forms of CC are usually used to support kiting. Additionally, [Death Strike] healing is based on the damage we have taken in the last 5 seconds, so any attempt to *stop* kiting will mean we initially have a weaker [Death Strike] for the initial 5 seconds of re-engagement. If enemies have melee abilities that can only target the tank, these abilities will likely be off cooldown should you attempt to re-engage these enemies. Also, enemies with ranged methods of dealing damage may still be able to damage you while you may have no nearby [Death Strike] target and your normal RP generation may be impaired.

What tools do we have to support kiting?

BDKs have a few kiting tools available:

  • [Death and Decay] with [Grip of the Dead] provides a powerful AoE snare on cast that quickly gets weaker. It has a short cooldown and can make it easy to get out of melee range of enemies. [Death and Decay] should be placed that enemies need to move through the entire area when it’s used for this purpose.
  • [Chains of Ice] provides a powerful single target snare on cast that has no cooldown. Its main drawbacks are that Runes are limited and that it won’t work too well against large groups of enemies.
  • [Gorefiend’s Grasp]  can be used defensively by grouping mobs onto a target that is outside of melee range from you; grouping targets also makes group damage more efficient while kiting.
  • [Death’s Advance] can help counter any snare effects we have and/or help to create a gap between us and what we are kiting. It’s not a strong effect on its own, but it has its uses.
  • [Potion of Gusts], [Wraith Walk], or [Nitro Boosts] can get us out of range quickly by giving us a strong movement speed buff. This tool is more limited, but it can be useful at times.
  • [Death Grip] can separate an enemy so we can still efficiently use our abilities while kiting the bulk of an enemy trash pack (as explained in the next topic).

The Value of a Melee Target?

If you are in a situation where you are forced to kite, it is still often preferable to stay in melee range with at least one or more enemy units if at all possible, since our resource generation is heavily penalized without the use of melee attacks. As far as immediate incoming damage is concerned, you are still drastically lowering incoming damage by staying out of melee range of the majority of the enemies. [Death Grip] is particularly useful in moving an enemy slightly in front of a cluster of enemies so they can be targeted by melee abilities while you remain out of range of other enemies. [Blood Boil] is still capable of hitting enemies just outside of melee range if you wish to toe that line, but I would not reasonably expect people to consistently be able to do that successfully without eating enemy melees.

Kiting Patterns

Kiting in a tight circle maximizes the time enemies remain in AoE effects and helps to keep them grouped, though this has the side effect of making it more difficult to keep only a few enemies within melee range. For the purposes of keeping only some enemies in melee range while the remaining enemies stay outside of melee range, a straight line can be better (though you will lose group damage potential).

What if I’m outside of melee range for an extended period of time?

At range, our only offensive ability options are [Death and Decay], [Death’s Caress], [Chains of Ice], and, when talented, [Blooddrinker] (also [Death Coil], but [Death Coil] is almost always not worth using). [Death’s Caress] already has usage conditions in the core ability priority which still apply when outside of melee range. Without a [Crimson Scourge] proc, all of these abilities cost 1 rune and generate 10 RP compared to the 15-35 RP that we could get from a [Heart Strike]. So, if you think you’ll be out of melee range for more than ~4 seconds with more than 3 runes, it can be beneficial to use any of these ranged abilities (regardless of other conditions) to generate RP without negatively impacting your long-term rune regeneration.

Still, if you are in a situation where you are forced to kite, it is often preferable to stay in melee range with at least one enemy unit if at all possible. [Death Grip] can help make this possible.

Emergency Situations

What if I’m at low health and I don’t have enough RP for a [Death Strike]?

We have a few options as follows:

  1. Kite (more details on this below)
  2. Use one of the following consumables as a substitute for [Death Strike]:
  3. Use remaining runes to [Heart Strike] for enough RP to [Death Strike]

The best options are going to depend on the exact situation you are in. Using [Heart Strike] desperately for [Death Strike] should only be used as a last resort; it’s going to quickly put you into an unrecoverable situation and there’s a time delay before it can help save you. 

Are there any tweaks we can make to improve our survivability in especially dangerous situations?

There are two methods that can be used to improve your survivability under the right conditions:

  1. If the high damage you are taking is consistent and predictable, you can wait until your health drops much lower than 70% before using [Death Strike] as long as you are confident the next attack will not outright kill you, which can increase the overall efficiency of your [Death Strike].
  2. If you are worried that you could potentially run out of resources in a drawn-out encounter, you could potentially stop using [Death Strike] to avoid overcapping RP and, in an extreme case, stop using runes when your RP is full. This is a VERY conservative strategy that loses long-term resource generation and damage, but it is something that can situationally improve survivability. Realistically, you generally only need to use this tactic for short periods of time to respond to multi-hit tank-buster mechanics that may require multiple [Death Strike]‘s in succession to survive. Even then, such actions should only be necessary in high-end content and situations for rune throttling haven’t really occurred since the Shadow of Zul from BfA at high key levels.

What if generating threat is the immediate priority?

The following options should be considered:

  • [Dark Command] or [Death Grip] can be used to instantly have the top threat on single targets and to increase threat generation to these targets by 400% over the 3 seconds after cast.
  • If we have no immediate solution to the threat problem, crowd control to buy time and try to regain threat with raw damage output. Continue normal rotation on single targets you have lost threat on, but if you have lost threat on multiple targets it may be justifiable to prioritize [Blood Boil] casts higher than normal.


About the Author


Blood Death Knight Theorycrafter and High Mythic+ Player
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