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Lichborne: Gearing for new level 80 tank death knights


Welcome to Lichborne, your weekly source for tips, tricks, guides and discussion for the death knight class.

So you've just dinged level 80, and you're ready and willing to take on one of the toughest jobs at the end game, that of the tank. But how do you get prepared and geared so that you have a decent chance of grabbing a slot in a 10- or 25-man ICC raid so that you can see the Lich King die before Cataclysm? Let's give you a few tips and a list of gear to shoot for to get you in top pre-raid shape.

Speccing and other basic tips

To start, you want to make sure you have a solid tank spec and a grasp of the basic mechanics of tanking. Luckily, we have a whole bunch of back issues of Lichborne that offer some prime tips to getting your spec and playstyle nailed down. Start with our 101 guides for your favorite tree:
  • Blood Tanking 101 will get you squared away on the premiere (and come Cataclysm, the only) tanking tree.
  • Frost Tanking 101 offers guidance for the "classic" tanking tree.
  • Unholy Tanking 101 offers guidance for the unique and endangered playstyle that is unholy tanking.
Once you have that figured out, there are a few more articles you can read up on to get a hang of some of the more subtle nuances of death knight tanking. Check out the following:

Gearing guide overview

We've done quite a few tank gearing guides already on Lichborne, and while some of the specifics have changed, most of the information is still good. If you want to dig down deep into the loot tables of each dungeon, check out these guides:
  • This basic defense gearing guide covers normal dungeons, reputation gear and quest rewards to help you hit the 540 defense plateau. If you need some quick and dirty upgrades, or just something to jump-start a tanking suit from 0, check this guide.
  • This heroic defense gearing guide covers the best tanking gear from heroic dungeons before patch 3.2. You'll be running a lot of heroics to get triumph badges, most likely, so keep an eye for these drops to bolster you until can get the really good stuff.
  • The 5-man Trial of the Champion guide contains a bevy of ilevel 200 and 219 gear that, while getting old, still may be just what you need in a lot of cases.
  • The Icecrown 5-mans have a lot of excellent gear that'll get you in raiding shape.
  • This Emblem of Triumph gear guide should help give you an idea of what to spend your emblems on.
  • While the frost emblems won't really start rolling in until you're raiding, you'll still want to start planning on how to spend them now -- and who knows? If you can get in enough PUG weekly raid quest groups and do your daily heroic run every day, you may even have enough to buy a thing or two before you finally get that ICC raid group. Check out this frost emblem guide for some advice.

Gear to start raiding with

Now that we've looked at the raw data of what drops, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty of what really works. Essentially, you'll want to get as much of your gear up to item level 232 as possible in order to get a decent chance at surviving and thriving in Icecrown Citadel. That essentially means you'll want to grab four-piece tier 9, then top off your gear with various choices from the Icecrown 5-player dungeons and Trial of the Champion.

This list will give you a basic rundown of what to shoot for as you gear up, in order from most powerful to least powerful. This will focus primarily on triumph emblems and 5-player dungeon rewards, since we'll assume that's what you're focusing on, though you may be able to get into a Vault or Onyxia PUG from time to time. Once you start getting into raids, you will get better drops in many cases, but for now, focus on trying to get the top one or two choices in each of these categories. Remembers, as you gear and gem up, keep in mind your stat priorities from the 101 guides, especially in regard to getting 540 defense. Always, always, always make sure you're at 540 defense.

Head
  • You can also buy the Faceplate or Headplate of the Honorbound with Emblems of Triumph. At item level 245, it beats out all of the below helms pretty handily. The only real downside is that it doesn't count toward the four-piece tier 9 bonus.
  • The Frostforged Ringhelm from Onyxia is definitely worth a look. The 10-man version has more stamina than the tier 9 triumph emblem helms, especially when you factor in the +12 stamina gem bonus hidden behind a blue gem slot. The one real downside is that it swaps out the more preferable dodge rating for parry rating. It also has some hit rating to help with threat.
  • Koltira's or Thassarian's Faceguard of Conquest, purchased with Emblems of Triumph, is a good goal. There's better from badges, sure, and the yellow gem slot sort of messes up the +12 stamina gem bonus and helps put the total stamina available from this piece below other similar tanking helms, but this helm does allow you to get that four-piece bonus.
  • The Second Helm of the Executioner is actually less useful for us than it might first appear, since the shield block rating on it is a waste for us. Still, if you need a stopgap until you get a helm from emblems, you might as well take it.
  • The Helm of the Crestfallen Challenger is your first step up, from the second battle of heroic Trial of the Champion. It has less stamina than the Tempered Titansteel Helm, but more of just about everything else, and a hefty +12 stamina for an easily obtainable gemming bonus.
  • If you're looking for a quick and dirty entry into the tanking field, you might want to see if you can find a cheap Tempered Titansteel Helm for sale. It'll do nicely until you get or buy better.
Shoulders
  • You can also grab the higher item level Shoulderguards or Shoulderplates of Enduring Order using Emblems of Triumph. They don't have the hit rating from the tier 9 shoulders and they have a little less defense, but they're otherwise superior to tier 9 in every way. Remember, though, they don't apply to the tier 9 four-piece bonus, so choose wisely before you buy.
  • Thassarian's or Koltira's Pauldrons of Conquest are the tier 9 Emblem of Triumph shoulders. They're pretty solid and include some hit rating for extra threat.
  • The Shoulderplates of Frozen Blood from heroic Pit of Saron's Forgemaster Garfrost are hobbled by the lack of a gem slot, but they're still a decent stopgap until you can grab emblem shoulders.
  • You can start out by trying for the Regal Aurous Shoulderplates from The Confessor's Cache in heroic Trial of the Champion.
Chest
  • Koltira's or Thassarian's Chestguard of Conquest, from triumph emblems, should be your ultimate pre-raid goal. While it does have fewer raw stats than the Icebound Bronze Cuirass, again, the gem slots and the set bonuses make up for it.
  • From the heroic version of Scourgelord Tyrannus, you can pick up the Icebound Bronze Cuirass. Though it does have more stamina, defense and dodge rating than the base tier 9 chest, it's hobbled by the lack of gem slots, which arguably push tier 9 back to the forefront, especially after you factor in the tier 9 set bonuses. Still, it's a good one to grab until you have the emblems to spend.
  • Your dungeon drop upgrade is the Scourgelord's Frigid Chestplate, which drops from normal Pit of Saron's Scourgelord Tyrannus. Unfortunately, it has no defense, but it has an excellent spread of other stats, including a blue socket backed up by a +6 stamina slot bonus. If you can take it and still keep over 540 defense, it'll serve you well until you get the emblems for the tier 9 chest.
  • Unfortunately, things are a bit sparse in the pre-raid epic tank chest category, so you may end up relying on the Breastplate of the Solemn Council from revered Wrymrest Accord faction until you can grab better. Luckily, it's pretty solid, solid enough to last you through basic heroic runs until you get some emblems.
Back
  • If you're stockpiling Emblems of Frost on your way to ICC raiding, consider picking up a Sentinel's Winter Cloak. The extra armor makes it arguably the best tanking cloak in game currently, and certainly the best outside of Heroic ICC modes.
  • While PvP cloaks certainly aren't specifically itemized for tanking, they do have tons of stamina, so it may be worth picking one up just because there's so few other options. The Titan-Forged Cloak of Victory, from Wintergrasp Marks of Honor, has a gem slot for even more stamina, while the Wrathful Gladiator's Cloak of Victory provides some hit rating for extra threat.
  • Your best dungeon drop option comes from Normal Halls of Reflection in the form the Eerie Runeblade Polisher.
  • Good tanking cloaks are hard to find outside of raids, so you may just want to break 25 Emblems of Triumph down into 25 Emblems of Valor and grab a Platinum Mesh Cloak for a good solid option.
Wrists
  • Due to the dearth of decent tanking bracers outside of raids, you may want to consider trying to get someone to craft you some Saronite Swordbreakers, which should do you just fine to step into ICC-10.
  • You can spend 60 Emblems of Valor (convert Emblems of Triumph down to Emblems of Valor) to get Bracers of Dalaran's Parapets, a good solid set of tanking bracers.
Hands
  • At only 30 emblems, Koltira's or Thassarian's Handguards of Conquest are a very smart buy. They'll serve you well headed into ICC.
  • Your best dungeon bet, Crystalline Citadel Gauntlets, come from normal Halls of Reflection. Unfortunately, they have shield block value, so they aren't itemized very well for death knights, but they'll hold you over until you get better.
Waist
  • If you can find a blacksmith who knows how to make it, you might consider buying an Indestructible Plate Girdle. The two gem slots make it comparable to the Shieldwarder Girdle when properly gemmed, although you'll lose the hit rating, and trade a bit of dodge and defense rating for some parry rating instead.
  • If you have no drop luck or can't be bothered to run normal dungeons, you can buy a Shieldwarder Girdle with 28 emblems. While it has no gem slot and thus lags behind a properly gemmed Girdle of the Pallid Knight in total stamina, it makes up for it with extra base stamina as well as more armor, defensive stats and hit rating.
  • The Titanium Links of Lore will drop from trash in the Icecrown 5-man dungeons. Unfortunately, with no gem slot and useless block value, they're strictly lackluster for death knight tanks as anything more than a temporary solution.
  • The Girdle of the Pallid Knight from the Black Knight in Normal Trial of the Champion is a great starter belt, especially with a blue gem slot unlocking more stamina.
Legs
  • Ultimately, you'll want to grab either the Koltira's or Thassarian's Legguards of Conquest when you can afford to drop the emblems. Thanks to a superior item level and, again, the set bonuses, they come out ahead for pre-raid stuff.
  • In normal Forge of Souls, you can grab Legplates of Frozen Granite from the final boss. They're pretty much a slightly better version of the Legguards of Abandoned Fealty, except they switch dodge rating for parry rating and expertise for hit rating.
  • The Legguards of Abandoned Fealty from normal Trial of the Champion are a good starter pair of tank legs. They've got everything a growing tank needs, including expertise and a blue gem slot.
Feet
  • If you want to go the extra mile, buy or gather the materials for some Spiked Deathdealers. While they technically have slightly lower raw stats than the Black Spire Sabatons, their two gem slots boost them to the top, especially if you load up a couple of Solid Majestic Zircons or a Zircon and a Vivid Eye of Zuul in there.
  • Black Spire Sabatons from the heroic version of the Devourer of Souls are an incredibly solid pair of tanking boots that should carry you into ICC-10 with little issue
  • You can get Sollerets of Suffering from normal Forge of Souls' Devourer of Souls, but the lack of a gem slot and the wasted block value itemization makes them strictly lackluster for death knight tanks. Consider them a last ditch stopgap measure until you get better.
  • The Boots of Heartfelt Repentance from normal Trial of the Champion's Eadric are a very solid pair of starter tank boots, especially with a solid gem of some sort in the gem slot.
Rings
  • The Clutch of Fortification has it all: armor, stamina, defense and dodge. It's a pretty wise use of 35 Emblems of Triumph, for sure. It'll serve you well as you start tanking raids.
  • If you manage to get into an Onyxia 10-man PUG, keep an eye out for the Runed Ring of Binding. While it lags behind slightly in stamina, it makes up for it with some solid armor and resistances.
  • The Mark of the Relentless drops from the Champion's Cache in heroic Trial of the Champion. While it lacks defense, it more than makes up for it in other stats, including a blue gem slot that gives it the highest potential stamina of any of the pre-raid rings if you slot it with a Solid Majestic Zircon.
  • If you have spare emblems and you're really desperate for a good tank ring, you can buy the Signet of the Impregnable Fortress. It's especially good if you need some extra threat, since it has hit and expertise. That said, though, there's better you can get for actual defensive stats, so you probably want to spend your emblems on other stuff.
  • For a quick and dirty ring upgrade, you can commission a jewelcrafter to make you a Titanium Earthguard Ring. That said, it's not amazing anymore and there is better available, so you may not want to do this unless you have a lot of money you can throw away.
Amulets
  • The Fossilized Ammonite Choker from the end of the Halls of Reflection has a little bit of just about every defense stat and is definitely the best tank neck you'll find outside a raid.
  • The Shard of the Crystal Forest will only set you back 19 emblems and has a nice outlay of basic defensive stats, plus a bit of hit rating for threat.
  • The Warlord's Depravity comes from the Black Knight in heroic Trial of the Champion. While it's a decent starter tank necklace, it wastes some itemization on block value. You can use this as a starter neck, but you'll want to shed it for better before you start raiding.
Trinkets
  • If you manage to save up enough Emblems of Frost, the Corroded Skeleton Key is about the best tank trinket you're going to find outside of heroic ICC. It's worth considering as your first frost emblem purchase, thanks to that amazing stamina.
  • The Glyph of Indomitability from emblems provides a nice chunk of effective health with 1,792 armor, although the dodge on use is considered less useful in many circles.
  • The Black Heart drops from the Black Knight in normal Trial of the Champion, but it is well worth specifically targeting the normal version for this trinket. Not only does it have a hefty chunk of stamina, but the equippable proc provides even more effective health through armor. You'll find this holds its own against higher level trinkets surprisingly well.
  • You can grab Ick's Rotting Thumb from Ick in Heroic Pit of Saron. The dodge is makes this a decent choice for an unholy tank especially, although most tanks will prefer other trinkets that provide effective health.
2H Weapons
  • If you're lucky enough to win or buy a Battered Hilt, Quel'delar, Might of the Faithful will easily beat out anything pre-ICC.
  • The Orca Hunter's Harpoon from heroic Halls of Reflection is a pretty decent tank weapon thanks to the extra agility. There are two warnings to give here, though. Hunters and druids may hate you if you take it, and in Cataclysm, that attack power will be converted to extra agility, slightly decreasing the threat potential of the weapon.
  • The Tyrannical Beheader from Scourgelord Tyrannus in heroic Pit of Saron is one of your best bets outside a raid or the Battered Hilt. It even beats 10-player Onyxia drops.
  • Garfrost's Two-Ton Hammer from the eponymous boss in normal Pit of Saron is a relatively solid death knight tank weapon, at least until you can get better.
  • Marrowstrike from the Confessor's Cache is heroic Trial of the Crusader is a decent stopgap tanking weapon, if only because the agility offers a slight bit more dodge.
  • The Edge of Ruin comes from the Champion's Cache in heroic Trial of the Crusader.
  • At the end of normal Halls of Reflection, you can grab Mourning Malice for a quick weapon fix.
  • If you have money to burn, the Titansteel Destroyer will still work nicely for you until you can get a better drop.
1H Weapons

For one-handed weapons, note that I'm focusing primarily on DPS weapons. While it's possible (and indeed tempting) to pick up tanking weapons, the fast speed and low high-end damage on tank weapons will severely reduce your ability to pick up single-target threat. I would strongly recommend sticking to DPS weapons until you've mastered threat.

Welcome to Lichborne, the weekly class column on the newest WoW class, the death knight, where we discuss PUG etiquette and Emblem of Triumph gear for the death knight, 5-man Icecrown dungeon gear and basic death knight statistics and mechanics. You might also want to check all the other articles in our death knight category.

Filed under: Death Knight, (Death Knight) Lichborne

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