Last month I was in the middle of discussing arms with you when I got sidetracked. Long-time readers of this column were not surprised that yet again something shiny caught my attention and I went crawling off to follow it like a cat with that stupid red bug that is in no way connected to that device the idiot human keeps waving around. At any rate, with patch 4.3 on its way, I thought it was time to start talking about why you should give arms a shot.
The first thing I did was dedicate myself to raiding and running instances and doing Battlegrounds as arms more or less exclusively, which I've done for the entire month of November to date. Having done this, I can report the following:
- Arms is still lagging behind other melee in terms of DPS. It's not terrible, mind -- I don't embarrass myself as arms -- but on fights where fury can pull 28k, arms is lucky to pull 24k or less. What we saw in the state of Firelands DPS post holds true. Arms doesn't perform as well as melee DPS specs that are getting buffed in 4.3, even though arms itself will see no such buffs.
- However, it's not all bad. Since arms has two bleeds (Rend and Deep Wounds) and a debuff that increased bleed damage taken (Blood Frenzy), if you have to move out of melee range to avoid splash damage or to switch targets, arms can actually fare better than fury.
- Blood and Thunder means that when properly played, arms can hit a surprising amount of adds with Rend. Rhyolith adds, Rageface and Riplimb's coming into range of Shannox, Majordomo Staghelm's cat phase, and of course the various trash pulls all provide opportunities for arms to spread around bleeds and thus extra damage from Blood Frenzy.
- Combining arms' mobility and Throwdown's 5-second stun means that if you need to get to something and keep it from moving (Sons on Ragnaros, for example), you're very suited to it.
Arms in 4.2
I won't lie: I originally went arms purely for Throwdown. It's simply much easier to help handle Sons on heroic Ragnaros with that 5-second stun. Since I don't have two complete sets of DPS gear to reforge differently for arms and fury, I made the decision to be arms over fury in the rest of the raid, based in part on my wanting to really give arms the most thorough shakedown with solid gear I could arrange.
What surprised me wasn't how well I did in PvP with it. I knew arms was still strong in PvP, especially once you have enough resilience to keep you upright. Arms can flatten people, keep flag caps down, help hold bases; it has tools for just about any situation you'll run into. But I was surprised at how well it can do in 5-man instances. Possibly because there tends to be so much trash in a heroic, arms is an absolute beast in 5-man content. Even a moderately geared arms warrior's ease in reaching the hit cap, ability to spread the Rend debuff around, 4% increased physical damage (and the increased likelihood of not having to share that debuff with a lot of other melee/physical DPS), and being able to hit Whirlwind on trash pulls makes arms ridiculously fun and scary in 5-man content.
The same things that make arms so good in 5-mans don't provide anything like the same oomph in raids, and the bigger the raid, the more likely arms will fall behind. In a 10- or 25-man, it's likely someone else will have a debuff similar to Blood Frenzy, and even if you are the one providing it, every physical DPSer is going to get that 4% increased damage, not just you. Similarly, every person with a bleed is going to get that extra 30% bleed damage, meaning that you're buffing the classes who already do more damage than you do at the same time that you're buffing yourself.
Combined with the other issues I mentioned for arms (a lack of scaling for stats like hit, an insufficient bite to Strikes of Opportunity for PvE content, a lack of burn-phase cooldowns aside from Recklessness, which underperforms for arms due to Overpower's high crit rate, and nothing like Flurry), and arms simply can't help but lag behind. However, as I pointed out in the bullet list opening this post, arms does have strengths for raiding. It's trivial for arms to spread the Blood Frenzy debuff in an area with Blood and Thunder, for instance. Combined with Sweeing Strikes and Bladestorm, B&T gives arms a lot of flexibility in terms of how it's going to spread damage around the battlefield. (A Blood and Thunder-spread Rend to a large trash pack followed up by a Bladestorm on mobs taking an extra 4% damage is a beautiful thing.) Arms also suffers a lot less from stat capping. Arms can completely hit cap and can even afford to drop some expertise for other offensive stats, thanks to Overpower. Arms can also do a good deal of burst damage wen Sudden Death lines up properly for you.
In short, right now arms is a fun, engaging, and versatile spec with a lot to offer, but in order to access all of that potential, you have to accept between 2k to 3k DPS lost at the highest levels and around 1k in heroics. It's up to you how acceptable that is.
Patch 4.3 will bring higher DPS for arms, of course, with all buffs that provide attack power now providing twice as much melee AP. But since every other melee player is going to get exactly the same benefit from this and arms isn't seeing any other buffs, it will remain low and may in fact become the lowest melee DPS spec in 4.3. From a balance point of view, of course, someone's got to be the lowest and with fury doing fairly well (even being slightly nerfed in 4.3), it's most likely acceptable to the developers that arms continues to lag behind. This is regrettable but familiar to those of us playing arms in ICC.
Still, with better gear coming out in 4.3 and the Mortal Strike debuff moving from 10% back up to 25%, arms will not only still be viable in 5-mans, it will most likely see a renaissance on any fight with a healing component as well as in PvP. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I really believe arms needs a short-term DPS cooldown, but with there being no sign of any such thing in 4.3 and MoP on the horizon, there's not much point in hoping for it.
Make no mistake: Arms is going to fall way behind in patch 4.3. It's going to need a buff to some core ability to prop it up, or it's simply going to become completely uncompetitive. This will be a shame, as arms has a very engaging playstyle right now. But while it's possible to argue that arms' utility is worth the 2k DPS (or more) lost right now, when it's magnified to a 4k or 5k DPS loss in Dragon Soul, I don't think anyone will be willing to make that sacrifice.
Arms in 5.0
My hope is that in Mists of Pandaria, arms finally manages to shake the spectre of PvP balance. Make no mistake: Arms' poor performance in PvE content is entirely due to worries about how it would perform in PvP, and much of it stems from a player presumption of arms' potency that dates back two expansions. Simply put, casters (despite their unmitigated rulership of PvP) still insist that arms warriors are their bane. This simply isn't so. Yes, a well-played arms warrior can give anyone trouble, but no one lacks counters of sufficient power to successfully engage and defeat a warrior. Despite the talent, warriors aren't PvP juggernauts and haven't been for two years.
With talents being shared across all three specs, arms will hopefully now be able to create a talent spec for pure PvE DPS and not have to worry about synergy with PvP abilities, since you'll have to choose between them. Having the option to take Shockwave, Bladestorm or the new Avatar (a short-duration DPS cooldown) really frees arms up, and I'm hopeful that Dragon Soul will be the last patch for a while where arms clearly falls behind fury.
To sum this all up, right now arms has enough going for it (in my opinion) to make the trade-off in terms of lower DPS worth it if you enjoy the playstyle or really feel like you need the utility. While you can argue that you shouldn't have to dump DPS for it (and I'd agree with you), right now, it's bearable. But without significant change to the spec in 4.3, it won't be anywhere near as viable, and you'll see a lot more of a struggle to justify arms as a PvE spec. In PvP, it should stay about the same or even get a little more popular with the buff to Mortal Strike.
Next week, my ideal arms revamp. It's been seven years, and it's long past the time that arms became the Blademaster.
At the center of the fury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, including Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors, a guide to new reputation gear for warriors, and a look back at six years of warrior trends.