Blood Death Knight Tank Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities — Shadowlands 9.2.5
On this page, you will learn how to optimize the rotation of your Blood Death Knight, depending on the type of damage you will be tanking. We also have advanced sections about cooldowns, procs, etc. in order to maximize your survivability and DPS. All our content is updated for World of Warcraft — Shadowlands 9.2.5.
Rotation for Blood Death Knights
Generally speaking, your goal during each fight is to use your resources (Runes and Runic Power) to generate threat and to stay alive. Blood Death Knight is very much a builder-spender spec, with a limited number of procs and interactions, and a number of ways in which you can get punished for losing your cool and deciding to use the wrong ability.
If the rotations below seem overwhelming to you, you might benefit from visiting our Easy Mode page which outlines a close-to-optimal rotation in simpler terms.
The content on this page is meant for raiding content. While the basic rotation remains the same in Mythic+, some details such as cooldown usage, ability priorities and additional techniques such as effective kiting complicate matters a bit further.
We have highlighted such additional details on the dedicated Mythic+ page in order to keep this page as clear and concise as possible. You can find it here:
Opener for Blood Death Knight
The opener operates under the assumption you will be actively tanking on the pull. If your co-tank will be tanking the only target, save Dancing Rune Weapon for your first active tanking period and follow the standard rotation.
- Use Dark Command.
- Use Blooddrinker (if talented) while closing with the boss.
- Use Dancing Rune Weapon. It is worth noting that this does not cancel Blooddrinker.
- Shortly before getting into melee range, use Rune Tap. This is there to spend this Rune that would normally be lost to overcap otherwise!
- Use Marrowrend to quickly get to 6 stacks of Bone Shield. If using the Blood DK 4-Piece set bonus, you will instead get 9!
- Use Blood Boil to spend your first charge and get the charges rolling.
The rotations for single-target and AoE are extremely similar, so we have grouped them together. The recommended playstyle is based on the following priority of abilities.
- Use Marrowrend if your Bone Shield is close to expiring (3 seconds or less), or if you will not be in range of a target before your Bone Shield will expire.
- Use Tombstone (if talented), as long as the following conditions are true:
- Use Death Strike, if any of these conditions is true:
- Immediately after taking a threatening hit, or if you are in an optimal damage window to maximize its healing.
- Using your next rune spender will overcap your Runic Power.
- Use Blooddrinker (if talented) when Dancing Rune Weapon is not up. If Dancing Rune Weapon and Blooddrinker become available at the same time, use Blooddrinker first before activating Dancing Rune Weapon.
- Use Blood Boil if any nearby enemies do not have your Blood Plague disease, or purely for damage while making sure never to sit on charges of it.
- Use Marrowrend if you have 7 or fewer stacks of Bone Shield. You can let your stacks go as low as 5 without losing the buff from Ossuary, but the longer you wait, the higher the chances are that you will drop below 5 stacks as you need to use Death Strike.
- Dump runes to keep 3 runes on recharge at all times. Use the following
priority list any time you have 3 or more runes:
- Use Death and Decay if it will hit 4 or more targets, and you will not need to move out of it.
- Use Heart Strike. You can also use Heart Strike even at 1-2 runes to quickly generate Runic Power for Death Strike. Always make sure you do not leave yourself unable to use Marrowrend to keep Bone Shield from falling below 5 stacks.
- Use Blood Boil if Dancing Rune Weapon is up.
- Use Death and Decay if you have a Crimson Scourge proc.
- Use Blood Boil.
Blood Death Knight 2-Piece Bonus and Its Impact on Your Rotation
As you may have seen from the rotation flowchart above, Tombstone has gained significant value this patch. This is purely because our 2-piece set bonus, Blood DK 2-Piece, massively amplifies the value of Dancing Rune Weapon and strongly rewards proper play during it.
If you have Crimson Rune Weapon equipped (which you should have), using Tombstone allows you to have more Dancing Rune Weapon casts. The addition of the 4-piece, Blood DK 4-Piece, also makes Bone Shield charges more plentiful (due to generating 9 from a single Marrowrend), lessening the cost of this talent.
Using Tombstone is very straightforward. You use it on cooldown if the following are true:
- Dancing Rune Weapon is still on cooldown.
- You have strictly more than 6 Bone Shield charges (it is a bigger loss to be on 0 Bone Shield charges for two GCDs, than it is to waste 3+ bones through a Marrowrend during Dancing Rune Weapon with the Blood DK 4-Piece equipped)
The more Bone Shield charges you have left after Tombstone, the better — this means you will be able to Heart Strike immediately after to keep the Blood DK 2-Piece bonus going instead of immediately having to Marrowrend, but this comes down to proper play ahead of time.
Rotational Priorities: Single Target
Once you have the Blood DK 2-Piece equipped, your single-target rotation priorities change slightly. You have a clear incentive to prioritize spending as many Runes on Heart Strike, and to spend the Runic Power acquired on Death Strike, in this order.
Conversely, using Blood Boil on single-target is relatively weak: it is less damage than Heart Strike, does not interact with the 2-piece set bonus (and, once you think about it, costs you a valuable amount of time) and generates no meaningful resources. Its only saving grace is Withering Plague, but this means that your only real requirement is having Blood Plague on your target.
Due to this, you will occasionally cap Blood Boil charges with proper play on single-target. It will not be very often, but it is often enough, and impactful enough, to mention it.
Rotational Priorities: AoE
AoE (specifically, 4 targets and above) spins the above on its head. in AoE, Blood Boil is a much higher value button than Death Strike: it does more damage, applies Blood Plague (for Withering Plague) on everything, and with Dancing Rune Weapon being this frequently up, the need to Death Strike defensively will be significantly lower.
As a result, in AoE, you de-prioritize spending Runic Power, and sometimes cap Runic Power altogether. This is the reason for the recommendation to always pick Bonestorm in Patch 9.2 — you would be wasting those resources otherwise (as keeping Dancing Rune Weapon up for longer is more important, unless you die, of course), and it turns out that spending 2.5 GCD's worth of RP in 1 GCD is an extremely efficient trade.
Blood DK 4-Piece Bonus and Its Impact on Your Rotation
The addition of Tier Sets in Patch 9.2 brings back one of the many effects we lost at the end of Legion — when using Dancing Rune Weapon with the 4-piece equipped, we gain access to a second Dancing Rune Weapon again!
This sounds very boring, but it has some interesting caveats:
- Casting Heart Strike (whether directly or thanks to the other part of the Blood DK 4-Piece bonus) grants 10 bonus RP during Dancing Rune Weapon
- Casting Marrowrend during Dancing Rune Weapon grants 9 Bone Shield charges
Both effects will subtly change your rotation, either by delaying the time between Marrowrend further, or by making you rethink how much the next Rune spender may bring in terms of Runic Power — a 5-target Heart Strike cast in Death and Decay with Heartbreaker selected is now 35 RP, or 5 short of a Death Strike!
Covenant Abilities and When to Use Them
The good news about Covenants and Covenant abilities is that all four choices are fully viable in Raids, and the difficulty comes from knowing when to use them to their maximum potential. Encounter mechanics and timings may cause their usage to vary slightly, and as a result, we recommend you to check logs of players having killed the encounter you are progressing on as your covenant to confirm when to use them (particularly Abomination Limb if you are a Necrolord, as this specific ability has play-making and play-breaking use in terms of the ability to grip nearby targets).
If you wish to know more about Covenants, take a look at our Covenant guide. We have gone in more detail there about the additional options Covenants offer, particularly in terms of Soulbinds and Conduits.
Venthyr: Swarming Mist
The Venthyr ability Swarming Mist is one of the easiest abilities that Death Knights can pick up: every minute, you should press it. It deals heavy damage to nearby targets (up to 5, reduced slightly thereafter) over 8 seconds, gives you a moderate chance to dodge melee attacks while it is up, and gives you 3 RP per target hit per second for each tick (27-135RP total).
If the encounter you are fighting has adds, and you do not have to delay Swarming Mist for more than 10 seconds to capitalize on them, you absolutely should. However, this is a niche case; for the most part, you can and should consider this one of your highest priority abilities, and press it on cooldown.
With Patch 9.2 and the acquisition of Memory of Unity, Venthyr players gain access to Insatiable Hunger everywhere, at least as long as your Covenant Legendary is equipped. Unfortunately, this Legendary is probably the most passive of the four Covenants, and will largely just function as an extra pulse of damage and healing when Swarming Mist ends. Gaming this effect for more damage can be done, but is in general pretty risky, as it requires you to spend much more Runic Power than you normally would want to.
Necrolord: Abomination Limb
Fitting a similar niche to the Venthyr ability, the Necrolord ability also deals a large amount of upfront damage and provides the Death Knight with resources: 3 stacks of Bone Shield on use, along with another 3 6 seconds and 12 seconds into the spell duration.
Due to its longer cooldown (2 minutes), you can expect to use this fewer times per fight. It makes for a great opening tool, as it allows you to gain Bone Shield stacks before you actually get to the target (the AoE range is about 10 yards).
As such, a typical Necrolord opener would be as follows. It assumes that you have at least the 2-piece set bonus and your Covenant Legendary equipped.
- Use Abomination Limb just outside of melee range (it ticks instantly).
- Use Blood Boil.
- Use Dancing Rune Weapon.
- Use Tombstone.
- Use Heart Strike.
- Use Heart Strike.
- Use Bonestorm.
- Continue with your rotation.
For uses later on in the fight, make sure you use it when you are at 6 or fewer Bone Shield charges without delaying it too much. Ideally, you should aim to not Marrowrend for ~10 seconds before it becomes available, if at all possible.
With Patch 9.2, Necrolord players will be able to equip a second, Covenant-specific Legendary thanks to the Memory of Unity, and will gain access to Abomination's Frenzy. This drastically increases the duration of Abomination Limb and the number of Bone Shield stacks you gain from it (15 stacks in total). It, however, does not change the way you play at all: on pull, you will just gain more bones, leading to one less Marrowrend at the end of Dancing Rune Weapon. Every 2 minutes thereafter, you still will not want to drop your Bone Shield charges too low ( Ossuary takes precedence), and will instead just end up capping charges.
Kyrian: Shackle the Unworthy
The Kyrian ability strives in low target count environments, which makes it ideal for raiding. As a DPS tool, it is magnificent: tons of damage, no real gimmick, 5% DR on top, and it is hasted, which means you should absolutely make sure you have it ready when Time Warp is being cast.
Similar to the Venthyr ability Swarming Mist, you should aim to use this on cooldown, or at least not delay it by more than 5-10 seconds. It is a high priority action in your rotation and the highest effective damage skill you have in your spellbook.
The addition of Memory of Unity in Patch 9.2 grants you access to the effect of Final Sentence at all times and in all content while equipped, which works as a simple stacking damage done multiplier, along with a Rune each time Shackle the Unworthy is applied to an enemy. It requires very little change in playstyle; effectively, you only need to be aware that you will get Rune refunds on pull a lot!
The real beauty of Kyrian is its Soulbind strength (Pelagos), and its signature ability: Phial of Serenity. Once per fight, independent of your regular potion cooldown, you can top yourself up with a 20% heal (or 55% Heal-over-Time) and clear every clearable debuff on you.
A number abilities have been whitelisted to not be purgeable by this, but some do remain — check the raid encounter tips for a list!
Night Fae: Death's Due
The most difficult Covenant ability to use in Raids, Death's Due, replaces Death and Decay, and causes each Heart Strike while you and your target are both in Death's Due to afflict them with a stacking 12-second debuff reducing their damage done to you by 2%, and granting you a stacking 12-second buff increasing your strength by 2%.
Due to this pesky behavior, and the fact that it takes upwards of 15 seconds to recover the full 4 stacks should you have dropped them, your opener changes significantly.
- Use Blooddrinker (if talented).
- Use Marrowrend.
- Use Death's Due.
- Use Dancing Rune Weapon.
- Use Heart Strike.
- Use Blood Boil.
- Use Marrowrend if you are not playing Crimson Rune Weapon.
By the end of this opener, you should have three runes recharging and have set up the main priority: your Bone Shield is ready, and every rune thereafter for the next 6 seconds should be spent on Heart Strike to ramp up Death's Due.
From there, the regular Blood Death Knight rotation follows, with the following caveats.
- Never let the Death's Due stacks drop.
- Track the remaining time on Death's Due (on the floor) and make sure to use Heart Strike one last time before it disappears, to give you the full 12 seconds to get a Crimson Scourge proc.
Due to all these modifications, we recommend you to get in the habit of banking a rune — just in case you need it to hardcast Death's Due. As a rule of thumb, you should not be spending all of your runes anyway (this is a core misplay — you do not get any value for having more than 3 runes empty at any given time), so, if you were playing optimally, this should not be much of an impact.
The addition of Memory of Unity in Patch 9.2 allows Night Fae Death Knights to use Rampant Transference at all times, allowing them to have a significantly easier time with this Covenant thanks to the 2 extra seconds it adds to the Strength buff. It also turbocharges the Strength buff (up to 20%, from 8%) and allows you to generate 20% more Runic Power while in Death's Due. Overall, this is probably the most impactful Covenant Legendary, and simplifies the management of Death's Due.
Dark Command is your main taunting ability. It works on a single-target and has an 8-second cooldown.
Death Grip grabs your target and moves it to your location. It also has the effect of taunting the target and interrupting spellcasting. The movement effect does not work against most raid bosses.
Survival Cooldowns for Blood Death Knights
Below, we present the cooldowns at your disposal and quickly go over how they should be used. More information about each cooldown can be found in subsequent sections.
- Anti-Magic Shell absorbs up to 30% of your maximum health in magic damage over 5 seconds, and should be used to mitigate magic damage and generate Runic Power.
- Dancing Rune Weapon increases your chance to parry attacks by 40%. It also significantly increases your damage and resource generation and should be used in situations where you can benefit from both the offensive and defensive components of the ability.
- Vampiric Blood increases your maximum health and the amount of healing you receive by 30% for 10 seconds. It should be used either proactively in anticipation for high amounts of damage, or reactively when low on health and in danger of dying.
- Icebound Fortitude reduces all damage taken by 30% for 8 seconds. It should mostly be used proactively when you anticipate taking high damage, such as from specific boss abilities.
Optional Read: Mastering Your Blood Death Knight
While the information we gave in the previous sections will yield very good results, there are many things you should be aware of, in order to play your Blood Death Knight to its full potential. In particular, we explain in great detail how to properly use your various survival cooldowns.
Runes and Runic Power
Death Knights use a dual resource system of runes and Runic Power. While it is quite straightforward in how it works, we will explain it here for the sake of completion.
You have a total of 6 Runes, which are available by default. Some of your abilities have Rune costs, and whenever you use an ability that consumes one or more Runes, those Runes will immediately begin recharging. The exact amount of time it takes a Rune to recharge depends on how much Haste you have.
Whenever a Rune is consumed, you gain 10 Runic Power (more on that below).
At most, 3 of your runes can be charging up at the same time. It is therefore optimal to keep at least 3 runes on cooldown in order to maximise the recharge rate over the course of the fight.
Runic Power is a resource that resembles Rage, in the sense that it decays when out of combat, but does not decay during combat. As mentioned above, consuming Runes generates 10 Runic Power per Rune spent, and this is the primary means of generating Runic Power, although some abilities also help with this. You can have a maximum of 125 Runic Power, increased to 145 if using the Rune of Hysteria Runeforge.
Detailed Cooldown Usage
Anti-Magic Shell's most powerful effect is its ability to prevent the application of debuffs. If a magical ability would apply a debuff, and any damage the ability causes is fully absorbed by Anti-Magic Shell, the debuff is not applied.
Timing the use of Anti-Magic Shell is critical, particularly when you are taking magical damage from sources other than the ability you intend to protect against. Heavy magic damage can easily eat through the shield before the intended attack, leaving you vulnerable to the debuff.
Effects that increase you maximum health, to include Vampiric Blood, will increase the value of your Anti-Magic Shell even after those abilities fade. Planning around this can make the difference in Anti-Magic Shell being able to completely absorb an attack, and therefore immune a debuff.
Dancing Rune Weapon
Dancing Rune Weapon grants you 40% chance to parry for 8 seconds. Moreover, for the duration, there are several other benefits that you gain:
- Uses of Heart Strike will cause your rune weapon to strike and grant 5 additional Runic Power.
- Uses of Marrowrend will cause your rune weapon to stack Bone Shield exactly like using your own Marrowrend, making Marrowrend during Dancing Rune Weapon yield 6 of Bone Shield. Avoid using Marrowrend during Dancing Rune Weapon until you drop to 4 stacks of Bone Shield.
- Using Blood Boil will leave an additional Blood Plague debuff on your target. Your rune weapon's Blood Plague debuff is not attributed directly to you and does not heal you.
Your rune weapon's attacks deal approximately 33% of the damage you deal, making Dancing Rune Weapon a potent DPS cooldown. On encounters with burn phases where the boss takes additional damage, you should make sure you have Dancing Rune Weapon to line up with those phases, along with a potion of some sort. Do not, however, sit on this cooldown for too long.
Avoid using Dancing Rune Weapon while not actively tanking, unless you will have to hold its cooldown for more than 20 seconds — it is generally not a DPS loss to hold it for your next period of active tanking, and the 40% parry is a powerful overall reduction to damage taken.
Vampiric Blood is your most versatile cooldown. It grants you 30% extra health for 10 seconds and increases your healing received (from all sources, including self-heals) by 30%. It can be used reactively; however, you will gain more benefit from using this proactively, and you should have a specific plan for what abilities you will mitigate with it.
It is worth noting that this increased healing can be used to game certain abilities or mechanics. For instance, certain effects will be 30% larger even after Vampiric Blood fades.
Icebound Fortitude is a straightforward damage-reduction cooldown that lasts for 8 seconds, reducing all damage taken by 30%. Generally, you should use this when you are about to take high damage from pre-determined boss abilities, or when you are otherwise vulnerable (because the healers cannot reach you or because your other cooldowns are unavailable).
Icebound Fortitude also clears stuns and makes you immune to stun effects for the duration of the buff. In encounters where stun effects are applied to the tank, you should consider whether you can incorporate Icebound Fortitude into your cooldown plan in a way that both mitigates threatening damage while leveraging the stun immunity.
Blood Death Knights deal very poorly with abilities that take into account raw damage amounts before absorbs and self-heals (given their low number of damage reduction abilities). Abilities that mirror damage dealt to you onto other players, or otherwise determine their effect based on how much damage you take, can be particularly difficult for Blood Death Knights to manage; Icebound Fortitude should be saved for those abilities in those situations.
Lichborne is another tool in our arsenal of situational defensives, granting 10% leech and total immunity to Charm, Fear and Sleep effects for 10 seconds. An additional benefit of it is the ability to use Death Coil on yourself to give yourself a poor man's AP-based heal, should nothing else be in range and should you be in immediate, lethal danger.
This, overall, is worth using every now and then. There are some juicy situations in Mythic+ where those immunities would come in handy. Dazar, in King's Rest, will be the ideal testing ground for this ability ahead of the Shadowlands.
Tier 4 Talents
This change, however, is net zero. You will still be using Will of the Necropolis, unless you happen to be in one of the niche situations where Anti-Magic Barrier has real value. If such situations arise, they will be covered on the raid and M+ pages; we have also described how to identify such a situation on the talents page.
Death Strike and Blood Shield
Death Strike is your most important self-healing ability. It is also part of your regular ability rotation during combat. In order to make the most out of Death Strike and of your Mastery ( Mastery: Blood Shield), you cannot simply use Death Strike whenever it is available.
The most immediately apparent effect of Death Strike is that it heals you, so it is always well used after you have taken damage to heal yourself back up a bit and help the healers. Be smart about when you are using Death Strike. As it depends on your damage taken in the previous 5 seconds, it should be used after taking high damage. Of course, capping your Runic Power while not using Death Strike should also be avoided.
Generally, you should avoid trying to stack Blood Shield proactively while actively tanking — using Death Strike at full health sacrifices as much as 85% of its value. While not actively tanking, you will work to rebuild resources — to include Blood Shield — for your next period of active tanking. Blood Shield has a 10-second duration; it can fall off between uses of Death Strike if you are not actively using your rotation during off-tanking periods.
Note that Mastery: Blood Shield only absorbs physical damage; do not rely on it to mitigate a large magical attack.
Your Marrowrend ability applies 3 stacks of Bone Shield each time you use it, up to a maximum of 10 stacks. As long as you have at least 1 Bone Shield stack active, your Armor is increased by 40% of your Strength and your Haste is increased by 10%. Each successful melee attack made against you consumes a Bone Shield charge. Bone Shield has a duration of 30 seconds, after which the stacks simply drop off you. This is unlikely to occur while actively tanking in a normal boss encounter, but you should take care to watch the duration of your Bone Shield buff on encounters with no melee attacks, or with long periods of downtime.
There is an internal cooldown of 2.5 seconds for Bone Shield charges being consumed.
Keeping Bone Shield up is pivotal to playing Blood properly. The Haste increase is essential for Rune regeneration and the damage reduction is essential for survivability. Moreover, if you are above level 58 and have Ossuary, then with 5 or more stacks of Bone Shield, the cost of Death Strike is reduced by 5 Runic Power, which allows you to use it more frequently.
Effectively, you will always want to prioritize maintaining high amounts of Bone Shield stacks; you should use Marrowrend when you have 7 or fewer stacks of Bone Shield, unless you need the additional Runic Power from using Heart Strike). Even then, you should immediately try to re-stack Bone Shield.
- 31 May 2022: Page reviewed for Patch 9.2.5.
- 10 Apr. 2022: Added all information about Tombstone, its usage, the 2pc implications of the March hotfixes, and the considerations about when to use what. The Necrolord opener is reworked as a result.
- 20 Feb. 2022: Added information regarding Unity; streamlined rotation; described the impact of the 4p (2p unimpactful in terms of rotation beyond "more DRW").
- 01 Nov. 2021: Reviewed and approved for Patch 9.1.5.
- 29 Jun. 2021: Reviewed and approved for Patch 9.1.
- 09 Mar. 2021: Reviewed for Patch 9.0.5.
- 24 Jan. 2021: Removed a Standard Rotation step.
- 14 Jan. 2021: Added covenant rotational tips.
- 23 Nov. 2020: Updated for Shadowlands.
- 12 Oct. 2020: Page updated for the Shadowlands pre-patch.
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