It's hard for me to write about protection right now, because it still doesn't feel finalized to me. I've been tanking on the side lately, since raiding is on hiatus until Mists, and I have mixed feelings about it. The thing is, I don't think it's because the current state of protection is bad, so much as I'm spoiled a bit.
See, here's part of my problem in terms of being fair to patch 5.0.4 for protection. The protection warrior talent specialization was the best designed talent specialization in Wrath of the Lich King, and it was the best designed talent specialization in Cataclysm as well. And it was better in Cataclysm than it was in Wrath. In short, not only was protection the best spec in the game for four years (2008 to 2012) but it managed to be the best spec in the game without being overpowered, in fact being a better spec than specs that were overpowered. You can keep your paladins, your druids and your DK's, all of whom had their moments of being blatantly too good for this fight or that fight. Warriors were never that. The tanking warrior was the best designed spec because it managed to have tools for every single possible potential tanking situation you could imagine without ever once being considered the only possible option for the job.
Standing on the shoulders of a giant
No one rerolled warrior to tank on easy mode. No one rerolled warrior because they had a busted mechanic that made healing them super easy. The warriors extensive bag of tricks made them effective tanks but it also meant they demanded a higher threshold of focus than other classes, meaning that no one was going to reroll warrior out of anything other than love for the class and its frenetic, hyperkinetic style of play. If you wanted to careen about, colliding with enemies like a spiked battering ram, you played a warrior. If you wanted to jump into combat and explode, you played a warrior. If you wanted to make everything bleed, you played a warrior.
Now, it's fair to point out that warrior numbers declined throughout Cataclysm both in absolute terms and in percentages, and protection was not the most played warrior spec (that was arms) nor the most played tanking spec (we were dead last, in fact) in heroic DS. I don't think that's because of any flaw with the protection spec design, however. There were easier tanks to play, and easier roles to fill than tanking. Still, protection endured throughout DS and while we were the least played tank, it wasn't by much. (It's also fair to point out that in the future, we'll not have DPS melee druids and tank druids lumped into the same category, which will make it easier to tell which druids are tanking vs. DPSing - those numbers in the DS survey lump all ferals together.) In the end, I stand by my assessment of protection as the best spec in the game in terms of its design. It did exactly what it set out to do, it made a flexible tank that could fill any role and customize itself based on intelligent talent choice.
The view from atop the summit
I'll go so far as to say the following: the Cataclysm protection warrior was the pinnacle of the original talent system paradigm that it inherited from World of Warcraft's previous incarnations. It came as close to perfection as that system was capable of achieving. In the past expansion, you could design your talent spec to fill a specific niche or go for a generalist build. There were so many good protection talents that you could actually take more than 31 points in the tree and not be making foolish choices. Talents like Vigilance could be absolutely crucial for specific fights like Magmaw or Heroic Spine, and yet completely unnecessary for day to day tanking. Gag Order, a staple for my five man runs, came out of my spec when I started tanking heroic raids. This was a spec with meaningful choices, where you couldn't actually just cherry pick the best talents and be done with it. Sure, there were talents you were going to take as no-brainers, but there were less of them than in any other talent tree and when you were done with those, there were still lots of other choices to be made. You could make meaningful choices outside of the tree a well - did you want the self-healing of Blood Craze or the threat boost of Deep Wounds?
Now, so far this all sounds like a beautiful elegy for protection warriors, and that's not my intent. Nothing could be further from the truth, because while I accept that truth is relative and also subjective there are also facts. I went on a run yesterday as a tank in a raid, and the following things happened:
- I held aggro fine.
- I took very little damage.
- The healers in fact were complaining that I took so little damage that they had nothing to do. Suggestions of pantlessness were bandied about.
- We cleared the raid with no wipes.
The Looming Shadow
In the end, that's my real problem with discussing 5.0.4 protection as a spec - it's got the looming shadow of four years of potentially perfect design getting in the way. I wasn't always happy with prot in Wrath or Cata, but rarely because the design seemed off, usually because I didn't like numbers like how much threat it was putting out or how much damage it could take. And losing that beautiful, elegant edifice of talents (even if we've gained many of them as abilities) just feels like seeing a classic old building getting torn down. Sure, maybe we'll get something great in its place, but we're in terra incognita now, a whole new and unexplored country we're just starting to explore. Leaving behind a tried and true design is both frightening and melancholy, especially when I don't think we can say that the current design for warrior tanking can quite match up to the one we had yet. Of course it can't - that one was the result of years of trial and error. It certainly had its rough patches and growing pains. It ended up as a masterpiece, but it didn't start there.
I'm going to give protection time and see what I think about it as I level with it. I'm a big fan of parts of the new system - I love Shield Barrier and enjoy getting a full rage bar and dumping it with a combined Shield Block/Barrier combo. I enjoy not having to hit rend to use TC now, I love being able to use Execute while tanking. Let's see where we end up. If it feels like it's letting down the legacy of the spec, then we'll start our infamous griping.
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.