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ESO Nightblade Tank Build

Welcome to Gilliam the Rouge’s latest Nightblade Tanking build, The Bloodletter: An Evolution to Sap Tanking.  Keep in mind this is HIS build, not mine but I’m sharing it here as he’s done some massive theory crafting and put a unique spine on the build.  If you’re looking to reach him or his post directly, check here on the forums.  And here we go a new powerhouse Nightblade Tank by Gill.

Table of Contents

The Bloodletter

[Last Updated 4/9/2016]


Greetings once again denizens of Tamriel! Gilliam here again with another in depth look at one of my personal builds, this time from a tanking perspective. I’ve posted a tank build in the past, but it was more of a simple glance at the mess of what I threw together for pledges. This time around I’ve fleshed out a much more rich purpose and vision for the build, and have made many changes I had been anticipating once I saw the new sets that launched with the Thieves Guild patch. Without further ado, here’s a brief look at some of the basics of my build. I will break down further below, for those who are interested in my reasoning/math behind some of the stuff.

Now for the more nitty gritty details. Here are some simple statements about the build itself- a mix of pros and cons.

-This build revolves around heavy self healing as well as AoE potential. Almost all of my healing abilities/procs grow exponentially in power based on the targets they hit, meaning this build actually gets stronger the more mobs there are. This is rather unique to the build, as many other setups begin struggling the more mobs there are, while this thrives in those situations.

-The identity of the build is a bit more selfish at self glance, compared to the more high end ‘meta’ builds that competitive guilds run. While it does sacrifice ultimate generation from things such as Tava’s Blessing and Bloodspawn for more uptime on Aggressive Warhorn, it allows the healers of the group to focus more on damage and buffing allies instead. It’s more of a redistribution of power, rather than a simple gain and loss.

-All of the sets from this build are relatively difficult to obtain unfortunately. A monster set with the lowest drop rate in the game (although the Cyrodiil vendor sells it in BiS for both the helmet AND shoulder, when it reaches that rotation), a 5 piece with low drop rates and even lower proper itemization (traits) from Veteran Imperial City Prison, and another 5 piece that isn’t really seen for its full potential, so the pieces are often hard to find for (although it is BoE luckily!) and the jewelry is currently stuck at blue quality. Once it finally comes together though, it really shows as to why it’s so hard to get.

-Resource management is truly a breeze with this setup, and gains in ease the more targets there are. While it has been nerfed since last patch due to a really brutal change to Siphoning Attacks, it still is relatively simple if you know what to do. Instead of feeling punished for participating in an ability rotation, your resources are actually awarded for it. This is how tanking should be, and I hope ZoS gains inspiration from this build and implements new and interesting ways for tanks to feel impactful and useful as this build is.

-Not only does this build have self healing and sustain, but it provides a decent amount of damage as well. I can easily pull upwards of 30k on trash pulls, I can sometimes get around 6-10k single target too, depending on the fight and RNG procs.

Here’s a short demonstration of tanking a large group of mobs and what resource management looks like;




While I did cover the abilities in the video, I will explain further why I run things as well as some interchangeable setups.

Bloodletter Skill Setup

Bar One – Sword and Shield

  • Pierce Armor: Our main taunt available to us, bound to melee range. This applies Major Breach and Fracture to ensure your group members regardless of spec benefit from 24/7 up time on these. It provides 10.56% damage against mobs and 8% damage against v16 players. Make sure you apply this to the major threats in a trash pull, as well as any others around if possible. Remember, the more targets hitting you, the stronger you’ll be.
  • Swallow Soul: The main single target damage and heal of this build. Easy to weave with an incredibly low cost, this easily is within top 3 for healing done. The bonus 8% healing received from Minor Vitality is why we take this, plus Funnel just got nerfed to only hit one target. On top of that, Funnel wouldn’t heal other players as much as it does us in this set, due to so many % healing received rather than done bonuses.
    • *Interchangeable With*Proximity Detonation: Honestly one of the most absurdly toxic AoE skills in the game, this makes Steel Tornado look like a limp noodle. True it can’t be spammed, but its raw damage easily out weighs other spammable AoEs, or gets very close to. Why ZoS ever buffed this skill beyond what it already was, I cannot comprehend. Even as a tank this easily crits upwards of 20k. Swap this out over Swallow Soul if you’re doing trash or the boss has 3 or more targets the majority of the fight.
  • Sap Essence: Our main form of spammable AoE DPS and heals, also granting us Major Sorcery for a little bit more damage. Keep in mind that Sap and Swallow both scale with Spell Damage, and Swallow scales multiplicatively since the heal is based on damage done. Sap also procs Siphoning Attacks at an absurdly high rate in AoE circumstances, as each of the enemies hit with it has a 10% chance to proc it, once per second. If you have Det on your bar instead of Swallow, spam this as your main heal instead, it’ll still pull great HPS.
  • Absorb Magic: Mainly this ability is used simply as a passive slot, for 8% block cost reduction and a bonus 8% block mitigation. However in some scenarios this spell alone can allow you to negate damage and heal instead, allowing a healer to focus purely on damage. Any time a single target SPELL is casted on you, this procs. Knowing fights ahead of time is key for when to use this, so make sure you study the mechanics of a fight and look for places you can utilize this spell for truly incredible results.
  • Siphoning Attacks: While just a former shadow of itself since the nerfs with Thieves Guild, this skill still allows Nightblades to bypass a lot of resource management issues. This now takes a bit more situational understanding to use, and forces us to drop block for a few fractions of a second here and there to light attack mobs for the base proc + the chance to proc on abilities. If your sense of timing is off this can easily spell death in sticky situations or when fighting beefier mobs such as the Mantikora from Sanctum.

Bar Two – Restoration Staff

  • Relentless Focus: A simple and small buff for keeping up, 8% bonus damage and 10% stamina regen (regen is kinda null since blocking, but it can still be utilized in some places). This isn’t really vital to keep up, I simply use it for the Assassination passives for myself and group members.
    • *Interchangeable with* Pretty much any assassination ability, or something else if you don’t mind the loss in passives. You could run an execute like Impale for extra damage, or any other skill. Regardless I vouch for Relentless.
  • Rapid Regeneration: A small HoT since we don’t have terribly high spell damage and max magicka, but that’s besides the point. The real reason to run this is when paired with the Maelstrom Restoration Staff, which gives you 481 magicka back whenever it crits, every 4 seconds. Since this can be casted on multiple people, it pretty much procs every 4 seconds, with a 16.5 second duration. With 4 procs per cast, that’s 1924 magicka return on a 1609 skill cost (for me), so a net gain. While this isn’t earth shattering or even really noticeable, it’s still something and the slot was open anyways.
    • *Interchangeable with* Combat Prayer: A small HoT and buff to mitigation, with a bonus of 8% damage when applied to you or your group. The only downside is that it has a very short up time, meaning you’d have to sit on this bar a bit and lose out on mitigation/set bonuses.
  • Inner Rage: The only ranged taunt in game, used for pulls where you can’t devout yourself to running straight to the adds or boss. This helps a lot in places like vICP where there are a lot of high priority targets spread out that you need to get before they reach your allies. Make sure you take this morph so you have 1 taunt that uses different resources so you have a back up in case you somehow run out of a resource. This morph also has an increased chance to proc the Radiate synergy, which recently got a flat 11% damage boost, as well as additional scaling with CP node changes (Thaumaturge, since it is considered a DoT).
  • Refreshing Path: Usually I really detest this skill for casters, as it severely under performs compared to Twisting Path damage wise, and its heal is not justified for the loss in damage in my opinion from a DPS perspective. Since this build isn’t a full on damage setup, this isn’t as much of an issue, and the need for a Shadow ability that would be casted ~ once every 10 seconds to ensure Major Ward/Resolve for mitigation leaves Refreshing as a much more reasonable fill. Add on all the bonus healing taken and this becomes a lot stronger than originally thought.
  • Shadowy Image: While this skill definitely see’s more uses in PvP, I still manage to find a way to use it in PvE for a few reasons. The Minor Main on mobs is pretty nice, and offers a little bit of added mitigation so I try to make sure to keep this up 100%. On top of that we get a little bit of bonus health, just like with Refreshing Path from our Shadow passive. This can also be used at clutch moments to avoid massive portions of AoE damage, as well as re-positioning mobs to clump better with Line of Sighting or something. This is by no means needed for the build, so if you’d rather runs something else here feel free.


Bloodletter Gear Picture

  • Optimal; 5 Leeching: This is a 5 piece set that has had me drooling over the notion of sap tanking since the day I saw it. Immediately brushed off by most players since the seemingly low proc chance and uninteresting Healing Taken set bonuses, I had grander plans for it. Once I saw a few other sets I figured I’d finally swallow the pain and get back to grinding vICP for this, and boy am I glad. While this set is affected by mob mitigation, which in turn lowers the damage and healing it does- the healing gained from the damage does gain from all % healing passives. Add the fact that it can dual crit (if the Leeching damage crits, that heals as a flat amount, but that flat amount can crit too) added with the fact it is an AoE proc means this set easily can keep you up through large density pulls. DPS and Healing both in one, that scales based on targets around you- this set is a keystone to the identity of this build. With an 8% chance to proc per damage tick taken, this easily begins to ramp up in fights with a lot of damage sources, and has no ICD, meaning it can proc while one is already up and stack. This actually scales in power with CP as well from the following trees; Mighty (poison damage), Thaumaturge, Elfborn, Blessed, Spell Erosion, and Quick Recovery.
  • 5 Bahraha’s Curse: A new 5 piece set introduced with the Thieves Guild update that isn’t quite rare, but drops in any armor type, jewelry, and weapons with plenty of traits. This means it’s kind of hard to obtain in the ideal, but far from Leeching difficulty. Again this set is kind of brushed off by most players, while some PvP’ers have realized its potential as well and taken it into Cyrodiil. With a staggering 25% chance to proc off of any offensive CAST (light attacks and a few other things do not proc it) means this set is up almost indefinitely. It does have an ICD of the duration of the proc itself, so you will not see more than one up at a time. This is alright though, as the AoE is rather sizable for a proc (About 3-4m) and everything in it triggers the damage and heal. Again like Leeching, mob mitigation lowers the effectiveness, but it can also dual crit as Leeching can. The minor set bonuses of this give us a bit of well rounded stats, with Max Health+Stamina+Magicka. This also scales in power with CP, similar to Leeching. The following trees boost the set; Elemental Expert (magic damage), Thaumaturge, Elfborn, Blessed, Spell Erosion, and Quick Recovery.
  • 2 Malubeth: A monster helm obtained from Veteran Wayrest Sewers and Undaunted Chests, with a chance to be put in the Cyordiil vendor every weekend. This set takes everything this build can do and multiplies the values by a ground breaking 30%, as well as a small heal itself. The only downside is the set has a lower proc chance than anything else in our kit, at 6% per damage source taken. Still, in large density pulls this set is going off quite a bit. I haven’t had the luck of getting this just yet, because I’m still missing a Leeching piece. I dream of the day when I can run this, and will pretty much never require a healer again.
    Again this scales with CP, however I have not fully tested which nodes it all scales with. I know Blessed and Quick Recovery have this scale, but I’m not sure if the offensive nodes do.

Honorable Mentions or alternatives (break away from identity of build, more ‘meta’ esque);

  • 5 Tava’s Blessed: While this strays far away from the identiy of this build, the Ultimate generation from this set while dodging will increase your effectiveness with Aggressive Warhorn by a mind boggling amount. This is great for trials where the tank’s job is to dish out as much utility as possible for the group. You won’t really be gaining any tanky stats though, or anything that helps you personally.
  • 2 Bloodspawn: An alternative to Malubeth, that also gives you spikes of Ultimate generation as well as some much desired Resistances for mitigation. The stamina regeneration bonus is a bit wasted for the most part, but the 2 piece is the main focus here. If you’re trying to dish out more Warhorns for the group, I’d pair this with Tava’s on a Nightblade tank since we have the highest Ulti gen in game for truly efficient results.
  • 2 Engine Guardian: A really solid default Undaunted set that many players use when they have a difficult time managing resources. This build already has a lot of innate management with passives and special abilities, so it’s kind of a waste in my opinion. Regardless if you find yourself using this set and can’t seem to move away from it, go ahead. Just keep in mind that there’s definitely better options.


Armor: The truly optimal setup for this build has you running Infused on every armor slot with Prismatic Enchants. This allows our stat pools to be enormous for a tanking role, giving us plenty of room for a rotation and healthy block/bash/dodge pool. If you don’t feel like dropping the money on Prismatic Enchants (rumored to be sold from Tel’var merchants “soon”) then you’re free to run the Reinforced trait on all armor slots, for some much welcomed defensive stats.

Weapons & Shield: I run Defending on my 1h weapon, and Precise on my Restoration staff. Precise means more chances to crit with our heals, which means more healing. Defending offers a nice bolster to our defenses as well. Sharpened would deal more damage with our offensive spells, which means more healing done by them as well- but I prefer the simple mitigation instead. Make sure to have your Shield be Reinforced, as the bonus mitigation stacks with the CP passive Shield Expert, giving us an additional 2.3% damage mitigation across the board.

Jewelry: I run all 3 slots as Arcane, as my offensive spells scale dually in nature with damage and heals. This allows me to become even more self sufficient, so my group can focus on them instead of me. You can run pretty much whatever trait here, based on your preference. Arcane is definitely the most efficient in my opinion though.

If you’re looking for mathematical data here are the values for possible traits;

Infused legendary: 20% bonus enchant
Reinforced legendary: 16% bonus to Armor’s rating (gives armor and spell res)
Divines legendary: 7.5% bonus to Mundus Stone

Running Prismatic enchants + Infused is a 20% bonus to 434 Max Magicka and Stamina, and 477 Max Health. This ups the enchant to 520 Max Magixa and Stamina, and 572 Max health; a gain of 86 Magicka and Stamina, and 95 Max Health. This doesn’t seem like much, as it’s only ~8.9% of the value of a single resource pool set bonus (967 stamina/magicka and 1064 Health), but multiplied by 3 it’s 26.7% of a set bonus gained (a little over 1/5th). This means after 5 infused prismatic enchants, you’re gaining a whole additional set bonus worth of stats.

Reinforced changes based on the armor piece it is applied to. The order of highest to lowest Armor Rating is as follows; Chest > Helmet, Shoulders, Boots, Legs > Gloves > Belt. Let’s look at the first two orders of power to get a more ideal picture.
Trait-less Legendary Chest: 2772 Armor Rating
Trait-less Legendary Helm/Shoulder/Boots/Legs: 2425 Armor Rating
Reinforced Legendary Chest: 3215 Armor Rating (+443, or .67% damage mitigation)
Reinforced Legendary Helm/Shoulder/Boots/Legs: 2813 Armor Rating (+388, or .58% damage mitigation)

A legendary set bonus of Armor or Spell resist is 1935, but since Armor Rating gives both of these we need to multiply the efficiency value by 2, since it’s getting two different set bonuses in one. 443/1935 = 22.89% x 2 = 45.79% the value of a set bonus, meaning after 2 (technically 3 but let’s round up) you’re getting an additional set bonus of mitigation. This seems to be more than double the value of Infused paired with Prismatic enchants, but mitigation is valued in a different way than resources. Let’s convert mitigation to something called Effective Health, which pretty much means how much health you gain by lowering the amount of damage you take. For example if I take a hit of 5000 but mitigate 10% of it, or 500, I have effectively gained 500 health in the process, since I ignored that much damage. Since Effective Health changes in value based on the amount of damage received, let’s look at the epitome of values, Mantikora. Mantikora is currently the heaviest hitting mob in the game, hitting upwards of 50k true damage (no mitigation, block, etc). With this build we have ~ 26500 mitigation in the final setup, which is ~40% damage mitigation (50% is cap), so that 50k now becomes 30k. Now apply our CP passive Hardy of 16% Physical reduction, which makes 30k into 25,200. Then apply block which is a base of 50% mitigation, then add 20% of that from Sword and Board passive which makes it 60% damage mitigation, and then apply the 8% from Absorb Magic which gives us a final mitigation of 64.8% mitigation while blocking and it becomes 8870 incoming damage. This means against Mantikora our Effective Health is increased by 41,130, since we mitigate that much damage when he attacks with his Power Attack. To find out where Reinforced fits into Effective Health we simply go back and add in the value of one Reinforced trait to our mitigation values and then finish the calculation and look at how much incoming damage we take. 26500 becomes 26943 so we take 50k x (100-(26943/660)) = 29590 x (1-.16) = 24855 x (1-.648) = 8749 incoming damage. That’s 121 effective health for one Legendary Reinforced Trait. Recall Infused’s Prismatic value of 95 Health and 86 Magicka AND Stamina, which both get increased by % passives such as racials/etc. We can clearly see that Infused is now more efficient in every way possible to Reinforced in this build.

On Shields this changes a little bit. A base Legendary Shield has an Armor Rating of 3010, while Reinforced has a Rating of 3491. a 481 increase compared to a 443 increase is rather marginal, so if you have a lot of % amps for stats, go with Infused instead of Reinforced on your Shield, and pop another Prismatic on there. Since my tank is a Khajiit, I don’t have as many useful passives as other races, so I opt for Reinforced.

I haven’t done a proper break down on Defending vs Sharpened vs Precise, but Defending offers ~1200 mitigation (just barely under 2% damage reduction) while Sharpened would offer a slight boost to offensive spells, which in turn increases the healing of things like Funnel, Bahraha’s, and Leeching. Precise gives a slight boost to gain crits with heals, which stacks dually with Swallow Soul, Leeching, and Bahraha’s healing/damage components. Still though, I take Defending since I have already low Resistances and I like the reliability of always having it active.

Mundus Stone, Consumables, and Enchants

With this build there are two pretty clear cut choices to run; Atronach or Ritual. They each offer unique utilities, and the choice kind of depends based on what race you are. Since I’m a Khajiit instead of the optimal Altmer, I don’t have enough Magicka Regen to opt into Ritual. Here’s a slight break down of what each offers

Atronach Stone base: 210 Magicka Regen
Ritual Stone base: 10% bonus healing

Since we run no divines these are rather static, although Magica Regen gets some minor amps thanks to CP (20.4% for my allocation) and a few other passives. Refreshing Shadows grants a 15% bonus and Recovery grants 4%. If you drink a tri pot you also gain another 20% bonus. Each of these adds separately as follows
210 + (210 x .204)42.84 + (210 x .15)31.5 + (210 x .04)8.4 + (210 x .20)42 for a total of 334 Magicka Regen. You can add in another 10% if you’re a High Elf, but that’s pushing the sustain past where it’s pretty much impossible to run out.

The 10% bonus healing from Ritual stone is a static % that gets added separately to healing, similar to how the regen sources added. This means you’ll simply get a bonus 10% healing done (not received!) which is nothing to laugh at. I average about 6k single target to 10k aoe HPS with my current setup (non optimal remember) so the ritual would add a bonus 600-1k+ HPS in efficiency. Pretty nice, but I prefer regeneration so I can ensure I never run out of Magicka.

Make sure to run the Orzorga’s Red Frothgar, which is Maximum Health and Magicka Regeneration food. This ensures maximum sustain management as well as some bonus Health for taking more damage. You can opt to take Tri food or even Bi food if you feel your sustain is fine without this.

I also run Tri Pots for clutch moments where I need that little added health or magicka back, although this is rare. This also gives us a flat 20% bonus to all regeneration sources, which is pretty nice. Sap Essence gives us Major Sorcery for damage/healing potential, so running Spell Power Pots would be silly.

Armor/Shield Enchants: As stated in the trait section, I run all Prismatic Enchants on my Armor+Shield. This is because you get half of the value of a normal enchant, but three. This means you have 150% bonus overall enchantments, per Prismatic. At a total of 8 possible enchants, that’s 4 (8 x 1.5 = 12 enchant values) additional enchantments you couldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Weapon Enchants: I opt to run the Crushing Enchant to ensure my team does maximum damage. However in a situation where all team members are Caster spec, you are free to run whatever you like. From a tanking perspective none of the enchants are all too great mitigation or resource wise, due to the 6 second ICD to enchants, so I still run Crushing even if no one is around to benefit from it. The Maelstrom Restoration staff also has a unique enchant, and applying a new enchant removes it, so don’t do that!

Jewelry Enchants: Most tank builds run the same exact setup for jewelry; 3 Block/Bash Cost reduction enchants to ensure the least amount of stamina drain possible. However, thanks to Siphoning Attacks we don’t need these enchants! Since this is the case, I’m able to run 2 Magicka Regen enchants and 1 Spell Damage enchant. This is to help my Magicka sustain to stay at a high enough rate where I can spam all my healing skills and never run out, which also means I can keep proccing Siphoning Attacks for Stamina. This means my Magicka Regen operates as a pseudo Stamina Regen, that I actually benefit from while blocking. The Spell Damage enchant is for bonus damage and healing done with my spells as well. If mitigation enchants (armor/resist) got buffed, I could potentially see running one, but at 927 Armor OR Spell Resistance (1.4% mitigation) there just isn’t enough efficiency gained.

Race Choices

Honestly from a tank perspective, racials are more fluff due to the nature of the game. You’re pretty free to choose what you want based on play style or even appearance. However, there still is optimal choices based on what you’re looking for. Here’s a brief breakdown of the top of the line races.

  • Argonian: Yes, you read that right. Argonian’s have one thing that no other race has, and it’s unparalleled resource management for EACH resource pool; 12% resources returned on potion consumption (45 second cooldown if you keep it up 100%). To put that in perspective, the ideal setup of this build is looking to have around 30k health, 20k magicka, and 18k stamina. That translates to 3600 health, 2400 Magicka, and 2160 Stamina back every time you drink a potion, or 80 Health regen, 53 Magicka regen, and 48 Stamina regen. While weaker than a flat boost to a single resource, this covers them all. Not only do Argonians have great sustain, but they also have a hefty 9% Health bonus, which is nothing to laugh at. This easily equates to ~ 2 set bonuses of Max health when applied to this build. Finally, we have another really nice passive of 9% bonus healing received. This is a slightly weaker Ritual Mundus stone (1% less), which is a pretty nice bonus to our healing potential. Finally, a use for Argonians!
  • Altmer: Any caster oriented build can find itself scaling exceptionally well with this race. With a great bonus to Max Magicka (10%) as well as Magicka Regeneration (another 10%) they are definitely the option to go for a more offensive look to this build. The Max Magicka will let your offensive and healing spells do more, so you’ll be more efficient. Not only that but the bonus regen will let you spec other sources into different stats. You could opt to only run 1 Magicka Regen enchant and 2 Spell Damage, or use the Ritual over The Atronach.
  • Imperial: The sturdy Imperial always serves a nice purpose for tank builds. An unparalleled bonus to Health (12%) and a nice boon to Stamina (10%) leaves them with sizable resource pools. However this build is primarily Magicka and it has no benifit to that. To make up for this though, there is the West Star passive, which gives a nice little bit of Health back on Melee attacks.
  • Nord: A truly under appreciated race overall, this is by far the best race for a full on tank. The 6% raw damage mitigation offers so much effective health and allows you to reach a damage mitigation no other race can hit. Pair that with a 9% Max Health bonus and you’re going to be one beefy tank. The Health Regen passive is a bit shoddy, but it serves better on a tank than any other role.

If I’ve forgotten anything or you simply have question, let me know and I’ll see what I can do! Thanks for your time in reading my guide, and I hope it serves you well!