Remember when I argued that rage should work more like the Diablo 3 barbarian? Well, it totally will in Mists of Pandaria. Battle and Defensive Stance will mean that your rage is purely determined by your active use of rage generation abilities. Your shouts and active rage generation attacks like Mortal Strike, Bloodthirst, Shield Slam and Charge will be how you generate rage, along with normal melee attacks. You will only generate rage from damage you take by switching into Berserker Stance, which will reduce your rage generated by attacks since you'll lose the new bonus to rage gen Battle Stance provides (100% more rage from normal melee attacks), and you'll lose threat and your 6% critical strike removal from Defensive Stance.
This means that you won't switch to zerk anymore for AoE; you'll switch to zerk if you expect to take a lot of damage and want to generate rage for it. My greatest fears are that this will render zerk almost unused except for when we're running from point A to point B and expecting to take a lot of damage while we do, since Battle Stance doubles the rage generated by auto-attacks. I'm also concerned that warriors have absolutely no direct damage increases anymore. Stances don't give damage multipliers; enrage just increases rage generation. While these caveats concern me, I do think I enjoy the idea of rage being built up by your actions rather than just being a sponge for incoming damage. I do seriously worry about tanks, however.
Death, anger, and furious onslaughts our specialty
Right now, warrior tanks worry about threat and rage in trash pulls but not usually while tanking bosses or with lots of adds hitting them, because all that damage they soak up changes into rage. Granted, we'll be able to open with a Shield Slam to generate rage, but this means that warrior tanks (possibly druids as well, but I didn't see anything specifically saying they use the same system) will be the most penalized by missing an attack or having it blocked, dodged or parried. Considering the current warrior is already the least-used tank in heroic Dragon Soul, the last thing warrior tanks need is to be unduly penalized. It may not really be a problem, especially if there's enough rage coming in from our attacks.
Let's take a look at the complete list of changes. We talked about the stance changes already, but there's more. For starters, Berserker Rage and Enrage itself have been reworked. Effectively, both now put you into an enraged state that increases the rage generated by your white hits (normal melee attacks) by 50% rather than the 25% the beta was providing before. I'm mildly optimistic that we'll be able to control our rage with a fair degree of precision now.
I'm also wondering if haste is going to improve in popularity now, especially for arms, since the arms mastery Strikes of Opportunity will now only proc an extra attack for 55% damage. (Fury will have Unshackled Fury, which will increase damage dealt while enraged, so mastery may be even more popular there.) Time will tell, but I suspect we'll see some back and forth on rage tuning well before Mists goes live.
Spell Reflection drops to a 15-second cooldown but is otherwise unchanged. Enraged Regeneration (now a talent, remember) is improved by halving the Heal over Time portion of the ability from 10 seconds to 5 seconds and in addition now won't cost rage if used during an enrage. That's a nice change. Piercing Howl will now snare for a full 15 seconds (up from 6), and Shockwave gets a coefficient change that seems aimed at controlling its scaling. Bastion of Defense no longer adds 10% armor value from items and only increases block by 10%, but it still reduces the cooldown on Shield Wall. Blood and Thunder now applies Deep Wounds when you TC, rather than spreading it, so you can just hit TC and put Deep Wounds on all enemies in range, making it easier to open an AoE pull.
I hunger for your blood
Bloodthirst got its base damage nerfed from 100% of weapon damage to 75%, but there's an interesting wrinkle here to the nerf. Bloodthirst's chance to crit now goes up the longer it's been since you were enraged. Since enrages now happen when you crit with melee abilities, period, that means that the longer you go without an enrage, the higher your chances are that Bloodthirst will make you crit and thus enter an enraged state. That's kind of fascinating.
Die by the Sword (the arms/fury survival button) got its duration increased by 3 seconds, going from 5 to 8. It still increases parry chance by 100% and reduces damage taken by 20%. This makes it useful not just as a survival tool but as an emergency off tanking tool, especially now that Defensive Stance handles the crit immunity. Taunt, hit Die by the Sword, you have time to equip your shield and hit Shield Wall and stay up for longer, increasing the chances of a battle res and/or big healer cooldowns.
I take these changes to attacks to indicate that the damage balancing has begun. We'll see how it shakes out.
We do not falter
Unwavering Sentinel now has the armor value bonus that formerly belonged to Bastion of Defense. This replaces the ability's crit reduction, now baked into Defensive Stance. Shield Barrier gets a major revamp that makes it very compelling. For 60 rage, you get a full on damage absorption shield (and nowhere in the description does it say physical damage only) that will scale with attack power. This means the more your Vengeance stacks up, the bigger that damage shield is going to be, and the only limitation on it is rage and the 1.5-second cooldown. Granted, rage is going to be more of a priority for warrior tanks since incoming damage will be meaningless in Defensive Stance, but it's still a very solid ability.
Taken altogether, we have two primary changes, one being the rage system implementation and the other being the beginnings of a damage pass. It's early yet to say what the ultimate effect of all of this will be.
The Bloodthirst change is interesting. The mechanic that increases your crit chance on the attack the longer it's been since you were enraged basically serves as a means to avoid too much streakiness denying you an enrage for a prolonged period of time. In essence, it's like a governor that prohibits prolonged droughts. No matter what, that Bloodthirst crit chance is going to go up until you crit, and as such enter an enrage, increasing both damage and rage generation.
Shield Barrier's looking really nice right now (perhaps even better than Shield Block, as improved as that ability was recently), and the Blood and Thunder change will improve everyone's quality of life. We'll just have to wait and see how the damage pass ends up balancing out and if losing rage from damage taken hurts warrior tanks too badly.
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.