Keeping your Healers Happy: a Death Knight Tank’s Perspective

Keeping your Healers Happy: a Death Knight Tank’s Perspective


This is a guest post by Scourge of his self titled Death Knight blog, The Scourge!

First of all, I’d like to thank Matticus, Wynthea, and Sydera for allowing me to guest post. I have been reading this blog for a long time and followed SYTYCB intently. I didn’t participate at the time for two reasons. One, I don’t heal and two, I didn’t have a niche to discuss. Wrath changed one of those drawbacks.

I originally planned on continuing to tank on my Feral Druid but I rolled a Death Knight for fun. Next thing I know I’m the 3rd level 80 in my guild as an Unholy Death Knight and I specced to tank.

Now let’s talk about keeping your healers happy. Some of this advice will apply to all tanks and some to Unholy Death Knights only.

I love healers.

I love the two healers in my small guild
I love all the healers that are on my friends lists from guilds past
I love all the healers that I pug with.

I pug a lot.

My first goal in every Heroic or raid is to complete the run. The second is to make my healers so happy that they want to heal me again. As I write this, patch 3.08 is still on the PTR and keeping healers happy as a DK isn’t always easy. It seems the damage we take can be inconsistent. For some reason healers like consistency, I figure Matticus and crew can tell you why.

Overall basics to keep your healer happy

  • First: Make sure you are geared for the content you are running. That means defense capped, plenty of health, armor and avoidance, proper gems, chants, and glyphs and a kitchen sink. You never know when you’ll need the kitchen sink.
  • Second: you better be specced properly for the job. When Ghostcrawler says all DK specs can tank he doesn’t mean spend 71 talent points willy-nilly however you want and you’re golden. There are clear mitigation talents in every tree and you need to have them if you want to tank.
  • Third: come prepared. Food, pots, flasks, repaired, all standard stuff. But if you want to get on a healers friends list, which makes pugging a heroic real easy, you need to be prepared.
  • Fourth: Healers get mad when other players take unnecessary damage because they have aggro. Now Ron White says you can’t fix stupid and any DPS who focus fires secondary targets get what’s coming to them, but you should provide enough AOE or set up enough CC so you are the only one taking non AOE damage.

Death Knights take inconsistent damage because we try to avoid it altogether. Let’s face it we stack parry and dodge to avoid incoming damage and reasonably geared have around 50% avoidance. That’s a coin flip. Every time the boss swings we either get hit or we don’t. Right from the start we are inconsistent in the damage we take.

Death Knights also have a number of talents, spells, and abilities that either increase our avoidance or pump up our mitigation for a short period of time. These also lend themselves to taking inconsistent damage.

To start us out, let’s look at the two abilities all DKs have.

Anti-Magic Shell and Icebound Fortitude

Both of these are on a one-minute cooldown and provide great mitigation. For 5 seconds, Anti-Magic Shell will mitigate 75% of the magic damage a DK is taking, while Icebound Fortitude will reduce all damage by 50% currently for 12 seconds. Fantastic mitigation while in use, if we use these whenever the cooldown is up that creates sudden drops in the damage we take which may lead to greater over healing. Whoops. Healers don’t like wasting their mana.

That leaves talented mitigation abilities. Any DK tank worth their salt will have at least 3 of these, some may have four. We’ll break these down into avoidance, mitigation, and healing efficiency.

Avoidance talents

The avoidance talents are Blade Barrier and Lichborne. Blade Barrier procs off of using both your blood runes and increases your parry by 10%. A good tank will have this up just about the entire fight, which contributes to the coin flip. Lichborne, on the other hand, adds a flat 25% chance to be missed and has a cooldown. Needless to say, when your healer is charging up a big one and the tank pops this and the boss misses a couple in a row the healer may have wasted their time and mana.

Mitigation talents

For mitigation DK tanks will have either Bone Shield, Unbreakable Armor, or even Anti-Magic Zone. Once again, all three have a cooldown and provide excellent mitigation when active. BS can by glyphed and kept up around half the time in most boss fights. UA increases the armor damage reduction even further, while AMZ drops a stationary bubble everyone can get into to avoid all the magic damage flying around.

Healing efficiency

Blood tanks (yeah I know lolbloodtank, for now) have a couple talents that help with the healing load. Mark of blood will give back 4% of damage dealt by the boss for 20 seconds out of every three minutes and Vampiric Blood will increase healing efficiency by 50% when its in use. Want to see a big fat heal, crit a blood tank when Vampiric Blood is up.

The trick to keeping your healers happy with all these talents at our disposal is to use them judiciously. Pop them when you know there is an incoming damage spike, whether an enrage, adds, or whatever. The other time to use them is when your healers are low on mana; just let them know you will be giving them a break. Nothing says healer love like telling them the next 16,000 in damage won’t need to be healed and they can score some non-casting MP5.

I’d like to close this guest post with a shameless plug. My blog titled The Scourge has several posts dealing with achieving and maintaining the defense cap, talent discussions, and tanking strategies.

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About Matticus

Matticus is the founder of World of Matticus and Plus Heal. Read more of his columns at WoW Insider. League of Legends player. Caffeine enthusiast.


  1. Thanks for the guest post Scourge! I’ve never healed a DK tank before, so this was all news to me.

    (It’s not that I don’t like DK tanks, just that my fiancé is a prot warrior. . .)

  2. Omenscourge says:

    Thanks Syd, and for pre-marital harmony I’d suggest sticking with healing your Fiance too.

    Now for the personal embarresment. There is a factual error on Mark of Blood. The healing it generates is actually, 4% of the players maximum health when hit by a mob with Mark of Blood on it.

    The point still stands though, it’s an on use ability that reduces the healing needed and should be used judicously to make healing us a little easier.

  3. I confess I still don’t know everything there is to know about DK’s so this post was informative. I also love the fact that I can shield you guys as much as I want to without having to worry about rage issues.

    Darias last blog post..People are Strange

  4. Nice post, thanks for the insight into healing DK tanks. I wasnt quite sure why the buggers were so tricky to heal at times (ya i know im lazy and should know every talent/skill of every class … blah) and its nice to know the specific skills / playstyle that are the cause.

    I actuallly don’t hate healing DK’s so much anymore after meeting a few good ones that really knew the class inside and out. My early experiences with undergeared mid 70 DK’s tanking made this girl want to cry…

  5. Omenscourge says:

    Priest Sheilds are great for DK’s. What Daria is referring to, is DK’s do not rely on taking damage in order to generate threat.

    Pally tanks need to be healed to regen mana so they can use their abilities while Warriors and Druids get the majority of their rage by being hit really hard by the boss.

    Death Knight damage and threat abilities are entirely independent of taking damage. So sheild away.

  6. Omenscourge says:

    @ Tiglish

    I feel your pain on healing DK’s that don’t know what they are doing yet. I healed a group on my Shammy Alt and it inspired a rant.

  7. Imo, DK’s don’t work so weel with HOT healing. Just about the time u think you know about how much healing the DK’s gonna need he takes a big spike, and requires u to dump a big heal on him… I hate casting big heals…

  8. Great post and very helpful since we’ve got an up-and-coming DK tank in our guild. 🙂

  9. Omenscourge says:

    @ Ellas

    That’s the point exactly. As a DK we need to, and are able to, manage how much damage we take and when. My suspicion is the DK you healed used their cooldowns constantly which creates gaps in coverage. That’s a major contributing factor to damage spikes.

    Annecodotally, I did a couple heroics with a resto druid a few weeks ago and they started the first run by questioning whether I should actually be tanking for the reasons you state. By the end of the two dungeons the healer made a comment that I was actually much easier to heal than his guildy prot warrior he usually ran with.

    By properly managing our mitigation we can minimize the need for big heals over HoT’s, let you know when the big heals will be needed in advance, as well as help prevent you from using big heals when they are not required.

  10. I went to Nexus with 4 DKs, and I healed with my Holy Pally.
    Wow, what hard work that was! Despite any healing help I was getting, I was pushed to keep them all on their feet.

    I don’t think the tank was doing a bad job, it was the rest of the DKs.
    Most plate dpsers seem to think their armour makes them invulnerable : the bad news is it doesn’t. When mobs have a Cleave or a Whirlwind, please move out of the way!
    Rogues and Shaman learn the lesson quick; DKs, Warriors and Rets don’t, somehow.

  11. Omenscourge says:

    @ Vlad,

    Sounds like the DPS DK’s in your run were Deathtards. I try to educate as many as I can find. But it’s an uphil battle right now.

  12. @Omenscourge: Heh, I know the exact feeling. But trying to help make healers even better than they already are is a monumental effort.

  13. That was a great article. Our main tank is a DK (frost) and I can tell you, it’s an absolute pleasure healing a good DK tank. DK is a very active class and when played right, can definitely keep the healers very happy =)

    Lodurs last blog post.."A plague o’ both your houses!”

  14. Thanks for the post. It’s certainly good for tanks to know their own abilities and when they should use them, but it’s also good for us healers to have a better idea of what to expect, when. I don’t believe I’ve healed a DK tank yet; our tanks for guild runs so far have been warriors or bears, and I haven’t come across a DK tank in a PUG.

  15. Nice post. It revealed some characteristics of the DK I had trouble identifying hehe. I do use my shields more often on a DK but other than that I love watching them in action. I admitt that jumpy healthbars aren’t fun if they drop faster than you can heal them. But then again, I love having more work/healing to do.

    What I care most about a tank is their threat buildup. I’ve healder a newly 80-dinged Druid tank through VH HC in his greenies: I loved that healing challenge! His threat buildup on the other hand wasn’t fun and gave a stressy run for the DPS.
    Yesterday, I healed a newly 80-dinged DK tank through Nexus HC yesteday. The healing was a bit tricky but we managed. His threat generation was sufficient and that’s what made it a fun run: everyone got to do their part properly.

    What I classify as the best tanks are guys that can pull an entire room at once, or chainpull the entire instance, and generate enough threat to make the mobs stick. If that requires more effort from my part, I’ll accept the challenge with a big smile. Just keep the mobs away from me!

  16. I wish more Death Knights would try to keep me happy instead of crying when I can’t keep their non-defense capped, horribly specced, clueless asses alive.

  17. Nice post!

    I’m kind of new to healing (mainly soloed all the way to 70 and only started pugging with wrath), and the first time I pugged with a DK tanking, I thought *I* was doing something wrong. Everything would go smoothly then BAM, tank is almost dead (he dropped to 75hp once when fighting the dragon at the end of Nexus)!

    After a few more runs, I figured that it wasn’t (only) me (always room for improvment), but was in fact part of the mecanics of DK tanking. This confirmed what I suspected.


  18. As an aspiring Death Knight tank, this article in particular was very informative for me. I read this just before my first legitimate tanking experience and tried to keep my healer in mind, making good use of Icebound Fortitude and Unbreakable Armor when they were up.

    Thanks much for this. 😀

  19. i first started wow with a hunter..loved it..still do and its my main. im part of a small guild so getting a tank was next to impossible and we had 2 healers who were decent. when wrath came out i rolled my frost DK to tank. recently i also lvl’ed a resto druid. some of the HP spikes ive noticed while healing are due to (and im sure not intentional) are from the tank letting 1 or 2 of the mob behind them. i once healed this grp in FoS. tried to tell the tank…(dk by the way)..about this. she simply said..”i know, i hate that, but watcha gonna do lol”… concept of naked from behind. Ron was right…u just cant fix stupid.

  20. As a player with 3 level 80 healers (Pally, Druid, Priest), I want tosay that when it comes to healing a DK tank, I get squeemish. It seems these days I don’t know what to expect. I’ve seen a 5.4K GS DK in DPS gear try to tank the heroic ICC instances and calling me an idiot because I refuse to continue healing him after the first couple pulls. Sometimes, I get well geared DK tanks, that just don’t know how or when to use cooldowns and it’s frustrating for the both of us. I’ve also came across a poorly geared, yet very eager DK tank that apparently had a resource to follow and did VERY VERY well… much better than I expected considering he was barely geared for the encounter.

    With all that being said… I want to thank you.

    Thank you for helping infom other DKs out there that may be looking to pick up tanking or for current tanks that may be checking to see what others are saying or doing.

    You have a hard job, and are playing a class that is rarely respected because numerous play, many fail, and very few shine.


    I love tanks. 🙂

  21. That’s one wonderfully informative article with lots of good information I’ll have to keep in mind. I aspire to turn my DK into a tank after having run an instance where our tank blew a fuse and left (because they ran out of range of our healer) and I was able to pop on frost pres, Icebound Fort, and pull aggro decently enough…I don’t pretend to know anything about tanking, but that time turned out to be pretty fun!
    But there’s so much to keep in mind, I’ll have to practice alot before I dare to tank in an actual heroic! XD Thank you so much for the article, I’m glad there’s people who want to help new tanks learn rather than tell them how terrible they are….we’re all nubcakes sometime!!

  22. I have always been a healer…I have an 80 Priest and Druid. I enjoy healing and have healed every possible tank out there. I find when it comes to healing, Warriors require the least, followed by Paladins. Druids and Dks can either be really easy to heal, or a bear(no pun intended). So when I pug and get a DK or Druid, I think, oh boy, I sure hope this one knows how to play his class. I think a lot of this is due to DPS speced DKs and Druids, who que as tanks to get in faster. Just my observations.
    I am currently playing my DK(which rolled back when WOLK cam out). I, like most every player that had a lvl 60 char already, rolled one the day the game was installed. But after reaching lvl 58 or so, not really knowing much about the DK, gave it up. But I recently resurrected my DK and decided to take him down the tank road, knowing that they are a bit tougher to heal. Hopefully, I won’t be as difficult on healers as most DKs are. I actually stumbled on this forum reading up on DK tanking. 🙂

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