Right now, I expect to take the ramp-up from 80 to 85 and raiding more slowly than I did in Wrath. For one thing, I've decided to try and level two warriors to 85 at the same time on the same server so that I have two 85 warriors ready to start raiding at the same time for purposes of having the same option available for separate meta-lockouts. (I've coined that term for the way the new lockout system works per boss, since once you do a heroic boss, things change significantly.) Another reason is that I'm starting over on a new server with a new guild, and that's always scary. My old guild was awesome, but they wanted to change servers and factions; while I'm OK with a server jump, I don't want to change my main warrior so drastically.
However, another reason I expect to take things a little slower is to give myself time to really play with the new mechanics of the class. One of those new mechanics, besides rage normalization, new talents and abilities, and a revamped leveling approach, is the introduction to the mastery stat on gear. So far, in order to get mastery on live, you have to reforge gear to it. But Cataclysm itself will bring mastery into a full implementation with the stat available via gems, enchants and gear.
So I'm going to take a look at the stats each spec will be looking for, how mastery fits into them, and how the stat changes the playing field (or does not).
Strikes of Opportunity
Like all three specs, arms uses the mastery stat in a specific way.(This is of course true for all classes, but I'm not writing The Care and Feeding of Warriors and Those Other, Lesser Classes Like Hunters, now, am I?) Strikes of Opportunity, the arms mastery, is a surprisingly strong one from my own experience playing with it on live. It's basically a revised version of the old Sword Specialization benefit that we've been playing with in one form or another for years now. I used to run around with an Arcanite Champion in BGs because of the double combination of Sword Specialization and the human sword racial. Keep in mind this was back in vanilla, when everyone and his brother was using an Arcanite Reaper instead.
Unlike Sword Specialization, Strikes of Opportunity works with any weapon and increases in chance to proc an extra attack with more mastery. This is going to make mastery an attractive stat for arms warriors even while they level, for the same reason that even BWL/AQ-40-geared warriors were running Blackrock Depths constantly for the Hand of Justice. Even with an internal cooldown in Strikes so it can't proc off of the extra swing it creates, it's a very strong mastery. At present, it appears that it will be an extra swing for 100 percent damage in Cataclysm itself, which will make it even more attractive.
This means that of the offensive stats for an arms warrior -- strength, critical strike rating, hit rating, expertise rating and mastery -- two have reasonably low and predictable caps that won't reward you past a certain point. This means arms warriors will be stacking strength, crit and mastery. So even if crit ultimately has more oomph than mastery does, you will only be able to find so much of it, and mastery will become one of your priority stats simply due to the fact that you can't cap out on it like you can on hit and expertise.
One of the things I find very attractive about mastery as a stat is how it tailors to each spec's feel. Granted, this is somewhat of a flavor/RP thing, but I didn't roll a warrior to play a diseaseless death knight or diet paladin, so anything that creates a feeling of distinctness is good. Unshackled Fury works by enhancing the enrages that are so pivotal to the new fury design, working both on abilities that require you to be in an enraged state to use them (such as Raging Blow) but also boosting effects that cause an enrage (like Death Wish or Enrage).
A fury warrior now needs about 27 percent hit (over 700 hit rating at level 80 and significantly more at 85) to hit a raid boss. This means that hit is going to be a pretty heavy priority for a fury warrior, so much so that it will have to be prioritized over things like crit, expertise and mastery. If you can't hit, you don't generate rage; if you don't generate rage, you can't do anything. All the boosted enrage effects in the world simply don't matter if you're constantly whiffing with your weapon swings. Once you've achieved 27 percent hit (which the lovely new character pane will tell you; no more having to sit down with a calculator to work out the ratings), you can then start worrying about things like crit and mastery.
So we have a situation where, while the expertise softcap (or expertise target, if you hate it when people call something a "cap" when it actually isn't, and I know some of you do) won't be that much more onerous for fury than for arms, the hit cap absolutely will be fairly punishing to reach. This means that despite the broad and interesting implications of the fury mastery, it will definitely not be the first stat you work to stack and probably not even the second.
So far we've talked about the two DPS specs, who look to the same stats in different configurations. But generally speaking, a protection warrior isn't looking for the crit/hit/expertise/mastery grouping of arms and fury. No, prot warriors actually need to balance offensive stats (hit and expertise) with defensive stats (armor, dodge and parry) in Cataclysm. We no longer have any sort of easily capped stat to tell us when we're uncrittable, as Gregg Reese wrote this week in the paladin column (it may be about paladins, but it holds true for warrior tanks, as well), which means that warrior tanks now need to balance those offensive and defensive stats with no real target in mind for defensive ones.
Mastery interacts interestingly here because unlike the paladin mastery, Critical Block means we're not as likely to block an attack, but when we do block, we're more likely to block for more. This means that warrior tanks will be less able to stack up block percentage but will have a chance to block for double the amount (60 percent rather than 30 percent).
The question becomes is this better than armor, dodge or parry? At present, warrior tanks have no stats to help against magical damage other than raw stamina or cooldowns. Most magical damage in raids is completely unaffected by Spell Reflection, to the point where it's actually better used on trash pulls for initial aggro rather than as a survivability button. This leaves us with four stats that avoid or mitigate physical damage.
Armor is, as it has always been, a straightforward mitigation tool, reducing a percentage of incoming physical damage. Dodge and parry are avoidance; when you get a dodge or a parry, you take no damage from the attack that was parried or dodged. Block and Critical Block still exist in a shadowy netherworld in which the stat acts like an avoidance stat (it has a percentage and does or does not happen) and also like a mitigation (shears 30 percent or 60 percent of the damage off of an attack). This means that in essence, block functions like armor that may or may not work for any particular attack.
When combined with the greatly reduced Shield Block in Cataclysm, you end up with stat that just has too much going on for me to really enjoy it. Mastery for tanks is basically saying, "Here's a stat that will allow you to gamble on whether or not you'll get to gamble on how much damage you don't take." While there's a certain element of such gambling already present in any stat, it's like rolling the dice, winning the roll, and rather than getting the rewards, being told now you get to roll on how much of the reward you'll actually get. With armor providing a clear, measurable and not at all streaky way to directly mitigate physical damage, and with dodge and parry both providing a gamble similar to block with a guaranteed payout, critical block just doesn't seem as much fun to me. I'd really like to see the mastery give some offense along with its defense, perhaps buffing Heavy Repercussions or giving a flat boost to Shield Slam damage.
In the end, it's not that Critical Block is a bad mastery. It's inventive and well engineered; it just seems to do the same work armor, dodge and parry already do. With threat generation and management becoming more important in Cataclysm, I'd like to see our tanking mastery do double duty.
In the end, I'd say that all three masteries are well engineered for what they are intended to do. Time will tell if mastery becomes the must-have stat for all specs or if it ends up always pulling up the rear.
Check out more strategies and tips for warriors of all specs in Matthew Rossi's weekly class column, The Care and Feeding of Warriors. Here's what's happening with warrior threat in the expansion, as we bid farewell to armor penetration and look toward new mechanics for our class.