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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Heresies

Matthew Rossi

The Care and Feeding of Warriors is all tired after a long night stabbing things in Kara. Matthew Rossi finally actually got a drop out of that instance. which, after several months now he was beginning to think didn't actually have loot, just badges. And they just put the badges in, so for a while, he didn't think anything dropped in there.

There are aspects to every class that are hard to explain to someone else, things you just learn as you play and which you incorporate into your playstyle through intuition. One of the reasons I am so unmitigatedly awful at playing a rogue and leave it to the talented rogues I know like Voi and Vizz is that I simply don't understand how to make use of those intuitives. I'm awful at understanding how to make use of things like combo points, for example.

Last night I respecced to bring my warrior into Kara as an offtank/DPS. Part of the reason was that I wanted to try out a 5/41/15 build that I thought would work well for offtanking. It seemed to do fairly well, I died once on a bad pull, but I also managed to grab agg on another bad pull when Vish, our MT, went down and saved a wipe, so I give the build a cautious 8 out of 10 stars. (I may tweak it more to be a more dedicated DW build, as right now it lacks talents in that area.) One of the things I noticed was that I have at this point entirely unlearned the process of both DPSing and tanking as a warrior. Not that I don't know how, but that I don't consciously think about them at all. I've even memorized specific patterns based on what my spec is, and when I have certain spec specific abilities like Shield Slam or Revenge, I don't even have to consider where on my bars to put them or when to use them, it's entirely ingrained.

This can be a good thing, of course, as it becomes easier to improvise in bad situations when you know what you can do and don't have to think about it. But it can also be detrimental if you don't take the time to sit down and take apart your processes from time to time. Whatever your role in a group is, be it MT, OT, DPS or a mixture, you want to avoid the extremes of the centipede's dilemma or becoming an automaton. Since this column is, in effect, a safe place to discuss these aspects of the class I thought I'd do just that, and muse about things related to how one goes about doing these things. In a great part, this is really why I love playing warriors so much, musing about how they work and how I play them, trying out different approaches on each one I play.

A few days ago, while tanking a heroic Arc run into the wee hours of the morning, I had a small epiphany about a very bad habit I, as a warrior tank, have fallen into, namely the Overconfident Tank syndrome. It's actually not so much being overconfident myself as it is not showing proper confidence in your group. If you establish a CC order, you have to trust your CC players to do their jobs. If the CC breaks, and it is the kind of CC that can be reapplied like Polymorph or a hunter trap, then let them reapply it. As a warrior, it is often my instinct to try and save the healer when I see a mob running around loose. This is a good instinct to have. I know many a healer who has applauded my diligence in keeping mobs off of them. But I've let it become so automatic a process that I've had to stop and force myself to relearn it recently, as a couple of years of enduring bad PuG's has given me a twitchy, smack the mob reflex that is frankly counter-productive to the proper running of an instance or raid.

This leads me to the second somewhat heretical insight I've had in recent weeks. Sometimes, even if there is no CC to be reapplied to a mob, it is okay to let it run loose. You do not have to stop building aggro on a target that is taking most of the group's focus fire if an add peels off and goes for someone if that someone is not the healer, especially if that someone can actually take a hit or two. My 'save the squishies' impulse is a good one, but it needs to be tempered with a fast assessment of the situation. What is more important, making sure that the two mobs I still have aggro on stay where they are, or dropping everything to go grab the mob beating on the warlock with almost as much health as I have? It's best to take the time that mob is using to run to its target to throw a few more shield slams or devastates and then intervene when you have the rage rather than to just drop everything. A good DPS player will understand that you didn't let him take those hits out of malice but more out of the necessity of not being able to do everything at once.

This does not mean 'let him die', by the way. DPS is important to every run. You simply can't kill anything without it, so while it does come below the healer in terms of tanking resources and priority, you do in fact want to save the DPS when the inevitable aggro pull happens. Furthermore, as long as they aren't being arrogant jerks about it, you don't have to be one either. One of my biggest flaws as a warrior is that I'm very oversensitive about aggro loss, and take the slightest switch of a mob off of me too personally. This is something you want to avoid as a tank. The point isn't whether or not you hold aggro for the entire fight, the point is that you succeed in completing the encounter. If you get everything you wanted to accomplish done, finish your quests or get some nice loots for yourself or others in the group, then it really doesn't matter if you lost aggro once or twice. In fact, you'd be better off if you accept that yes, you will lose aggro. Don't flip out, don't get mad, just get it back.

So far I've been talking about tanking issues and habits I've accumulated there. But the DPS role is also one that can become too familiar, and needs to be examined. First off, it can become easy to use the same abilities over and over again, sit in one stance the entire time and just plunk at your big damage instants, queueing up a rage dump or on next swing ability to go off between instants as they go on cooldown. Don't do this. Last night I caught myself doing this on two boss fights and wondered what I thought I was accomplishing, and didn't have a really good answer. As a warrior, there are several abilities that you can be using that don't apply much, if any, direct damage to a target but which debuff it or buff your allies. If you're in a group with another warrior (as I was) then look at what shout he's putting up and throw up the complimentary one. Last night, for instance, I often threw up Commanding Shout for the MT because mine is talented and his is not, even though it lowered my DPS somewhat - better to give the tank some extra health in situations like Curator. Heck, I was eating the Hatefuls, I wanted more health too. (As a side note, a DPS warrior in full PvP gear can easily ride out those hatefuls while generating a lot of threat by going into defensive stance and going nuts with bloodthirst. I'm sure many of you already know this, but I usually heal this fight.) Another thing to consider as a warrior doing DPS is, where are my strengths?

As an example, there are several AoE pulls in Kara, where you drag mobs over and have the casters drop heavy AoE damage. Now, as a DPSing warrior, you can use a combination of abilities to help them. Sweeping Strikes + Piercing Howl + Whirlwind won't match their damage, but it does contribute to it, and can even pull aggro onto you for a few key seconds. It's better to have them beating on the dude with 11k+ armor and 13k health than it is to have them whaling on the people in pretty skirts for as long as you can manage it, and doing this kind of area damage is one of the things a fury warrior is absolutely suited to now. Unless you're very, very well geared for it, you probably won't be able to match a rogue's single target DPS, but in a multi-mob situation, a warrior can really excel. Also keep your various interrupts, debuffs, and movement impairing abilities in mind. If you know a caster mob is going to run after your mage if you pummel it, use hamstring or piercing howl as soon as you can. Again, and this is something I have to keep on top of myself, it's less important that you win some DPS competition than it is that the group kills Shade of Aran.

This being said, don't hamper your DPS either. While it's good to pay attention to CC and to control when and where you use specific abilities, by all means do use them. I've had to unlearn my tendency not to whirlwind or use cleave or sweeping strikes. Trust your tank, and pay attention to the fight. If you're in a place where all you'll hit are tanked mobs, use those abilities that hit more than one target. It's especially worthwhile to do this when you see a mob come out of a banish and know it will take a few seconds to be re-banished - keeping a mob close to the melee instead of letting it run after a warlock is always worthwhile. Also, and this is very important, don't hoard rage. If you, like me, have gotten into that habit while soloing, get out of it. You have rage so that you can use your abilities, and it is a renewable resource. You're not playing a mana class here (I think I may have picked this bad habit up from playing my healer too much) so definitely make sure you're using your rage when you're in a DPS role to, well, inflict damage. It is after all why you're there.

Nothing here is new or earthshaking, of course, it's all fairly common sense. The problem lies in when you've become, for better and for worse, experienced enough so that you no longer think about how you're playing, or when you've not become experienced enough yet to understand what you're doing. I think for a warrior it's very important to try and combine the open and flexible mindset you had when you were first learning the class with the experience you acquire as you keep playing. You are not always going to have a clearly defined role. You will often have to trust other people to do things you're used to doing yourself (yes, the mage will be tanking that mob in Gruul's, he's got spellsteal, you don't, suck it up), you need to let your party do what they're there for, and you shouldn't let comfort and confidence in your own abilities become overconfidence or complacency. One of the complaints I see most often when reading PoV pieces from other classes is that warriors think they're the most important part of any party.

We do think that. I know in the past I've thought it, while tanking. It's a huge rush, it's an ego boost, it's one of the things that makes tanks come back in the face of large repair bills, difficult wipes while learning encounters, and the stress of having to be the de facto leader. But what I am about to say strikes at the heart of that mindset.

Stop thinking it.

If you're the most important person there, then demonstrate it by your actions, not your attitude. Do your job. Trust others to do theirs. That's all that you can do, and it's all you have to do.

Well, this has been the least crunchy column we've done here in quite some time. But in the end, this is why I love warriors, which I said I would discuss last week. This is why I want to have a 70 warrior of every race allowable. Because after two years and 3 70's, I'm always learning more about the class, and always learning more about myself by playing it. I did forget to talk about fun gear, though. My apologies. Maybe next time, although I may discuss DPS gear in more detail instead.

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