In my first draft, I started this article off with a detailed explanation of what my main problems with Single-Minded Fury are. I still want to talk about those. But first, I want to say this about the talent.
It's crazy-fun. I've been raiding, Raid Findering and 5-manning with it all week, and frankly I love how smooth the rage generation is. If you ever played fury back in The Burning Crusade or even vanilla, before TG was a gleam in a designer's eye, SMF will be familiar and yet different to you. What's changed? Well, you don't use Whirlwind as your second attack anymore; it's purely a trash ability now. Raging Blow and Bloodsurge instant-cast Slams give you more to do but take the concept of rotation and shake it up, meaning that you're watching for procs more than ever. Colossus Smash gives you a very-long-cooldown ability that you're always going to prioritize. But for all those changes, the talent is still you dual-wielding smaller, faster weapons.
If you were the fury warrior with the Vanir's Fists in late BC, you'll recognize what this talent does for fury. If you leveled a fury warrior in Cata, it's exactly how levels 1 through 68 went. It's a fairly simple concept to grasp. You're not the warrior crushing everything in his path with raw power, and you're not the one using discipline and weapon control to make precise strikes, either. No, you're the one with speed and relentless assault over finesse.
Days of fury lost
The positives of playing with the talent aren't limited to smooth rage generation, although that's one of the biggest. You're much less likely to ever find yourself in a situation where you'd love to hit Cleave or WW but you can't due to rage issues with SMF. Also, I very much like feeling like hitting an instant Slam isn't something I resent doing. Attacks shouldn't feel like they're consolation prizes or punishments because the real attack didn't proc.
However, yes, the talent does have issues. For starters, it's currently the lowest DPS spec a warrior can use, significantly underperforming TG fury, which is itself well below arms.
After a week with Single-Minded Fury, I have come to the conclusion that this is a talent hampered by itemization and, quite frankly, the current implementation of mastery for fury. SMF gets even less from mastery than Titan's Grip does, because while Titan's Grip warriors see mastery buffing the direct damage of their Raging Blow (which hits with both weapons, remember), SMF warriors get less out of the attack, because they're hitting with both one-handed weapons, while TG warriors are hitting with both two-handed weapons. Meanwhile, SMF warriors have much emphasis on Bloodsurge and Slam, because their instant Slams hit with both weapons, while TG warriors' do not. Slam isn't buffed by mastery directly the way Raging Blow is, because Raging Blow requires an enrage to even use it and, as such, is directly buffed by mastery.
The way things stand, this means that TG likes crit, then hit, but mastery is still attractive as a third option. As a TG warrior, since the hit cap for white attacks is so high, you can simply stack hit till you have 8% chance to hit and be done with it, since that's enough to ensure your specials will contact, then stack crit and mastery. I don't personally like this approach, but it does work. This works for TG because not only will mastery buff the damage of every attack you make while enraged, it will also buff Raging Blow directly, an attack that hits very hard for TG due to swinging two big two-handed weapons with more base damage. For SMF, however, the buffed enrages are the beginning and end of what mastery does for them because Raging Blow damage is less. Instant Slams are more attractive, prioritized over RB. But they don't get to double dip on the buff from mastery the way Raging Blow does.
You're still not going to be able to hit the hit cap, but with mastery so underwhelming, you pretty much might as well dump every spare bit of itemization that's not crit into hit.
The death of mastery
This all comes from the staggering nerf fury's mastery that took in patch 4.1, a nerf that was unwarranted and from which it never recovered, only compounded when patch 4.3 removed the 5% damage bonus from Dual Wield Specialization for both TG and SMF warriors (while at the same time also fixing a bugged Deep Wounds that buffed fury DPS). This is the nerf that pushed TG well below arms, which we could debate the necessity of until cows started knocking on our doors demanding to be allowed to return home. However, it's clear that even in patch 4.2, SMF was not lighting the DPS meters up. With mastery for fury so low, SMF getting less from master in the first place and repeated nerfs aimed at TG that also hit SMF, we're at a place now where going from TG to SMF with equivalent weapons costs you almost 4k DPS.
Part of that loss isn't even mastery's fault, or the ludicrously high hit cap, or SMF's lack of a compelling third stat after crit and hit. No, part of this problem falls straight on itemization's shoulders. The best one-handed weapon for SMF fury in normal Dragon Soul isn't Souldrinker, the one-handed weapon designed for strength classes. No, it's No'Kaled, the agility axe also dropped by Deathwing and clearly aimed at rogues and shaman (especially shaman, as rogues will most likely be using daggers, although some rogue specs like axes).
Why would we strength-users want an agility weapon when just last week, I went on and on about how agility gives us almost nothing? Well, for starters, work out what 1.5% of 150,000 health is. My math says it's 2,250. Compare that to No'Kaled's range between 7,654 and 11,481 damage on a proc. Yes, Souldrinker heals you, but that's not damage, now, is it? However, what's really disappointing about Souldrinker is all the stuff that proc can't or won't do.
Yes, that's correct: The weapon designed for warriors (and DKs, yes -- all strength-based DPSers who use one-handed weapons) cannot benefit from Enrage, Death Wish or even crit. The No'Kaled proc? It can crit, it does benefit from Death Wish and other Enrages, and that's on top of its doing more damage anyway. Souldrinker, while a solid proc for a tank, is terrible for DPS. SMF's best-in-slot weapon is an agility axe.
Wow, we really are just like in The Burning Crusade, fighting with rogues and shaman for drops.
Secondary stats and their lack
Of course, this is just two weapons off of one boss. Most players aren't even killing that boss. But at pretty much every level of gear, all things being equivalent, SMF underperforms TG or arms and by a reasonably significant margin. I have fights I can actually win as fury if I go TG over arms. Not many of them, but a few. There is no situation on any of my alts -- from my tauren raiding heroic DS to my worgen in Raid Finder gear to my draenei just getting geared in Hour of Twilight heroics to my level 70 alt -- where SMF can stand up to TG. Worse, with fury falling so far behind, no one's playing the spec to give it a thorough shakedown. And I really think a big part of the problem is that SMF just plain lacks that dial we were promised with mastery. There needs to be a more elegant way to balance the effect of mastery on fury in general and TG in particular than to just chop six points off of the start like 4.1 did.
It's indicative of the problems with balancing not just two DPS specs, but two subspecs based entirely on whether or not you take one of two competing 31 point talents. Yesterday's class role Dev Watercooler touched upon this difficulty. While the Souldrinker/No'Kaled situation isn't that important in of itself, it's an example of the strange artifacts that come from trying to design all these variant tanking and DPS specs and subspecs, keeping them all somewhat fresh and unique and yet having them all work within the same game (sometimes within the same class) and provide utility as well as their chosen role. SMF vs. TG has made the fury tree extremely complicated to design itemization that works for both, and in this tug of war, SMF has lost out more often than not.
It's a crying shame, because SMF is so much fun to play and can even put out solid, middle-of-the-road DPS. It's not the case that it's a minor DPS loss to use it, though. It's 2k to 4k, which is fairly substantial and needs to be fixed. Perhaps just letting SMF have the 5% Dual Wield buff back? We're unlikely to see any changes now, of course. And in Mists of Pandaria, both TG and SMF will be baseline to fury; no more spending talent points to get them. So we'll see if that improves the situation. For now, SMF is left sadly holding up the rear, the lowest melee DPS spec in the game.
At the center of the fury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, from hot issues for today's warriors to Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors and our guide to reputation gear for warriors.