And so we come to this, the last in our report card series for warrior specs in Wrath of the Lich King. In some ways, arms warriors saw the greatest amount of changes this expansion. The addition of Taste for Blood and Sudden Death making arms a far more proc-reliant spec than it had been previously, while the improvement of Rend saw the bleed damage of the spec (already somewhat of a staple of the arms playstyle in The Burning Crusade) emphasized. Arms started off in Naxx as lower in damage but competitive with fury, while it remained a fairly dominant PvP spec (but saw a challenge to its popularity from protection by about the middle range of the expansion's life cycle) throughout. Arms' damage and raid viability saw its high point in Ulduar, and unfortunately (for me, as a PvE-specced arms warrior) then entered a slow decline that continues to this day.
I said last week, "I considered writing the arms report card instead, but considering the PvE state of arms, I just got depressed. 'Still OK for PvP' doesn't seem like enough for a column." While that's a fair statement, it is extremely oversimplified. Arms is a very solid leveling spec, as it outperforms fury until a certain gear threshold is met and requires less expertise (since Overpower, one of its bread-and-butter strikes, cannot be dodged, and arms has an expertise talent), and arms can generally be sure that Overpowers will critically hit due to the higher crit rate from Improved Overpower. Arms' main PvE limitation is based around the fact that as a bleed-heavy, proc-dependent spec that makes little use of Heroic Strike, it simply doesn't scale in the same berserk manner as fury once rage becomes less of an issue.
Let's look at what arms does well and what keeps it a potent PvP force while preventing it from matching up with fury in PvE.
One thing that has to be said for arms from the earliest days of the Wrath beta right up to the present day is that it has become an exceedingly well designed spec in terms of talent and ability interaction. Fury got Titan's Grip, it's true, but the baseline mechanics of the spec didn't really change all that much; it just hits slower and harder. Arms saw a very radical redesign, one that emphasized an ability (Overpower) that was to that point mostly used while leveling or against rogues who popped Evasion. While it can't be said that the arms redesign was all-encompassing or radical as the protection one, in many ways, the arms tree redesign was more thematic than protection's. Prot got changed because it needed tools, not to emphasize a feel or intent for the talent tree. Tanks are tanks; we all know what a tank is.
But the changes to arms were aimed at making the spec feel and play distinctly different than fury. I have to say that on a conceptual level, they were well conceived, and on an practical level, they were well implemented. From the old Q&A:
Arms did better at fury in really starting to feel this way in Wrath.
Perennial PvP power
Arms remains the poster child for what does and doesn't work in terms of warrior PvP. Arms, as an example, still starts off fairly weak in comparison to other classes. I once described the arms warrior PvP ramp-up as being less like that of other melee, who have to ramp up their damage during the fight by applying certain conditions or gaining certain buffs. Arms doesn't need to stack anything to five or apply diseases to gain the conditions necessary to put burst damage out.
No, the arms ramp-up period is in the days, weeks, sometimes months of getting ground into the dirt over and over and over again to earn the gear necessary to compete. Arms in PvP still remains the "doormat to demigod" spec, in which your fresh 80 arms warrior goes to Wintergrasp and runs BGs while queueing for arenas to get horribly, painfully dominated by anyone who cares to look at him funny over and over again. That period of humiliating defeat? That's the arms ramp-up cycle. Poorly geared arms warriors equate to free kills for other players looking to gain honor or what have you.
Once arms gets the gear necessary to be competitive, however, the strengths of the spec shine through. This process is often accelerated at this point in the expansion by gear purchased with frost or triumph emblems and dropped in heroics and raids. A warrior who runs ICC and decides he wants to give arms PvP a try at this stage of the game can walk into BGs, Wintergrasp and arenas with a full set of i251 PvP gear and several raid trinkets, rings and weapons at the 325/344 DPS level (a Shadowmourne or heroic Glorenzelg). In this gear, arms is potent. Juggernaut allows for good mobility, Sweeping Strikes and Bladestorm allow for high damage to be imparted to multiple targets, and the levels of strength and ArP available from raid gear give PvP arms a pretty savage bite.
Of course, the glue cementing all of this is the Mortal Strike debuff. Effectively, a skilled arms warrior makes all the damage his team applies to a target twice as hard to heal through.
In some ways, the ability for PvE players to get weapons and items that are directly and powerfully useful in PvP (which is hardly unique to arms warriors) is a direct inversion of the BC experience, when players often would engage in PvP content for weapons and armor to use in PvE (since it was often far superior to gear from heroic dungeons and even matched up or exceeded the first tier of raiding). It definitely reduces arms' ramp-up time significantly.
While protection has seen an up-tick in popularity for PvP due to its extremely high survivability combined with significantly increased damage over the course of the expansion, arms remains king of the warrior burst damage specs. A well geared arms warrior with the right weapon can charge in, unload a tremendous amount of damage and debuff his target's healing by 50 percent, a combination that makes arms warriors excellent for applying pressure.
Arms and the raid
PvE has not been as kind to the arms warrior, although it has at times been much more competitive. A well geared, skilled arms warrior can deal good damage but is limited by certain mechanical aspects of the class when compared to his fury brothers and sisters (as well as other melee DPS hybrids), due to the very elements of the class that allow arms to be a good leveling spec.
For starters, while fury is harder to gear up, that very gear dependency and use of Heroic Strike makes fury get more out of better gear. That second two-handed weapon makes white damage even more important, and both white damage and HS damage is purely physical, meaning that ArP benefits fury both by increasing its base damage and by increasing its rage generation, which it can instantly convert into more damage via HS spam. Arms just can't match up to the ability to nearly instantly turn incoming rage into outgoing damage. And it's hard to buff arms' damage without buffing fury as well, which is probably a huge part of why rage normalization and less talent tree overlap became so important a design factor for Cataclysm. Fury without Two-Handed Weapon Specialization and limitless rage will be less over the top, and it gives arms a slider to tune their damage upward that doesn't affect fury.
The arms spec was given some attention during the 3.1 patch that dropped Ulduar, right around the time the Titan's Grip penalty was implemented in its current form. For a while, that helped arms reach parity with fury. But as TotC/GC and then ICC dropped, fury again accelerated away from arms. Meanwhile, the Blood Frenzy debuff which often got arms warriors brought along on raids in BC was shared out to other classes. While I'm actually OK with this and other attempts to make buffs and debuffs available from many sources, part of the whole "bring the player" mantra, it means that arms' low damage output is even less acceptable in a modern raid. As much as you may like the well engineered ability spread and priority system of the arms playstyle, for maximum damage output, fury simply wins.
The final analysis
In general, arms gets a B-. In PvP, it averages out to an A, but for PvE it's a lackluster C-, with a peak of B in Ulduar but a sad D in current raid content. (For heroic dungeons, it's probably a B again. You can abuse Bladestorm pretty effectively in a 5-man.) My opinion of the work put into its design and my having seen that design continue apace in the beta would nudge the grade up to a solid B if I allowed those factors to influence the final grade -- but this is the Wrath report card, not the Wrath and Friends report card.
No matter what I or anyone else says, however, one salient fact remains. There is literally no other experience in the entirety of World of Warcraft as much fun as charging into a pack and popping Bladestorm. It's like Christmas, if Christmas encouraged brutally murdering people by spinning. It makes tanks cry in PvE, it makes flag cappers cry in PvP, and it will never stop making me laugh myself sick. It's possible I gemmed up all that non-set DPS gear and went around hurling myself into unsuspecting groups in Wintergrasp and AV last night. If so, I apologize to that one undead guy.
Check out more strategies, tips and leveling guides for warriors in Matthew Rossi's weekly class column, The Care and Feeding of Warriors.