At this time last year, I wrote about the launch of The Burning Crusade and rage normalization as the big, defining change in the warrior class. Let there be no mistake. Even two years later I am still furious at rage normalization. I was so angry then that I picked normalization over expertise as the big change to the class, which in a way was fair, as it wasn't clear yet just how important expertise would be for both DPS and tanking warriors. At this point last year, I was a tanking warrior finishing up 10 man content and moving into 25 mans: I had just completed my first full ZA clear the week before, if I remember correctly.
Fast forward a year: I've gained 10 levels, I'm DPS, we've cleared all 10 and 25 man content and are waiting for Ulduar. The game has changed and I've changed substantially with it, my role, my play time, even my guild is different than it was a year ago. Rather than do what I did last year and focus on one change, let's take some time to look at 8 changes (yes, in honor of the year) that have really changed the warrior class. None of these changes is meant to be any more or less important. The first one I list isn't the ultimate change and neither is the last (well, technically yes, the last is the ultimate because that's what ultimate means, last, but you understand the colloquial meaning of the word) these are just eight very important (to my eyes, at least) changes to warriors that took place in the past year.
Now that we've stomped that explanation into the ground, let us discuss warriors in 2008.
AoE Tanking Viability for Protection Warriors
Sure, paladins loved to talk about the tools warriors have for main tanking and how unfair it was for any other class trying to MT in 25 man raids. But there wasn't much discussion of their superiority in 5 and 10 man raids, especially in any fight that required real multi-mob tanking. Could a warrior do it? With a lot of help and patience, yes, a warrior could multi-mob tank. A lot of help and patience. And on certain fights (any Hyjal trash wave, Jan'alai, Tidewalker offtank) there was simply no way a warrior tank could perform even remotely adequately without working him or herself into an absolute frenzy.
Patch 3.0.2 fixed this for warriors. (It did a lot more, but we'll be mentioning it again.) The addition of Shockwave and Damage Shield combined with the removal of the target limit on Thunderclap made warriors a truly viable multi-mob tanking class. It went from possible if everyone was on their best behavior and helped as much as they could to yes, I can do that. No more aching wrists, no more grunting, no more savagely pounding on your tab key while frantically devastate spamming.
Threat mechanics overhauled
This is another patch 3.0.2 change, and one that affected all tanks and not just prot warriors. In fact, it also affected fury and arms warriors: the basic threat from the old prot talent Defiance is now added to defensive stance while Shield Slam was made trainable. This means that a DPS warrior with good tanking gear can MT an instance and put out solid threat, especially single target. (While Thunderclap will also hit all targets for them, they won't have the prot warriors AoE tools for real multi-mob threat, but it's a lot easier for them than it was before.) Frankly, as someone who loves tanking, I've enjoyed tanking five mans as fury. A prot warrior, bear druid or prot pally can do it better, as can a dedicated DK tank, but I can tank a lot more effectively than a fury warrior would have been able to do a year ago.
Mace spec stun removed
This was a big change for PvP warriors. Pretty much everyone but PvP warriors was pretty happy about it, and since I wasn't a PvP warrior at the time (and still am not) it didn't affect me at all. I still maintain that the fault lay in Stormherald and not mace spec itself, which by itself was barely noticeable before the rise of the crafted weapons: Sword Spec still outperformed it once the weapon wasn't one with its own on-board stun proc.
Ah well. I was never that invested in this argument so I can't really bring myself to rehash it now, it's over and the current mace spec doesn't really grab me.
The Total Revitalization of Protection
Name the best all-around leveling spec for warriors right now. It's protection. Name the spec that combines the best surviability with solid single target and excellent area dps. Protection. Good for soloing, questing, grinding and tanking, the only place where protection is still middling at best is PvP and even there it's light years ahead of where it was. This goes beyond AoE tanking: prot warriors are fiendishly strong right now, and they only get better and better as their gear improves. They may not have the fastest or highest threat generation of the tanking classes, but they do have solid threat, generated with much less button mashing than before. They still have excellent panic buttons and can both hold aggro and contribute as DPS when they're not the ones tanking. I've never seen a talent revamp so totally succeed as protection did for warriors. Improved Revenge is worth taking!
The ability that single (well, not single) handedly got me to switch to fury. Seriously, I've written psalms about this ability. It is not possible for me to have loved this ability more, or more publicly, than I have. It would be a ridiculous travesty of a list if I were not to include TG on it, and it would be ludicrous for me to waste your time saying any more about it than I have.
It's awesome, we all know it's awesome, it's one of the best and best looking, most iconic abilities warriors currently have and it will be getting better soon. There. That's all I think needs to be said.
Aaaaaaahagh I can't do it Titan's Grip aaaaaagh I've been waiting for this for three years and now it's here oh my God guys I'm dual wielding two hand weapons here aaaaaahahhahahhaahahahaha paladins and DK's have to settle for one and I have two.
Okay, I'm calm now. I'm not even using italics anymore.
Arms gets weird
Okay, weird may not be the right word here. Arms is in fact a lot of fun now, once you understand it. Frankly, arms is very raid viable and a good, solid leveling spec now, and still seems (for the moment) to have strong power in PvP. If I ever get over my current PvP ennui I will be speccing arms to play around. The addition of talents like Taste for Blood, Trauma, Unrelenting Assault and the usefulness of Rend to help proc Overpower makes arms much less the one trick, spam MS as soon as its up pony it has been almost since its inception. The change to Poleax spec makes it actually worth taking (especially if you're PvE) and the spec in general is just unique, it manages to feel fundamentally different and yet avoids feeling alien. You know how this works: you go out hit things with a great honking mace, axe, sword or polearm. You just do more with that great honking weapon, like Bladestorming and getting Sudden Death executes.
Frankly, badge gear saved tanking for me. I could get geared up even when luck wasn't on my side and it made it so that my dozens of runs to get a Sun Eater were more than just a frustrating exercise in seeing something else drop. Except for that time one dropped a a rogue took it for an offhand. Thank god the healer in the party had a rogue main and totally lost his marbles right in party chat on the guy, so I could at least laugh bitterly.
While I think the Emblem of Heroism/Valor system is a good refinement of the basic Badge of Justice idea, badge gear really took off in patch 2.4 (well, okay, the Gods of Zul'Aman patch almost exactly a year before the release of Wrath of the Lich King also introduced a lot of good badge gear) really made gearing up as a tank much less dependent on drop luck. I know a lot of people hated seeing T5/T6 equivalent gear available to people who'd never gotten past running Karazhan, and I think the emblem system helps address that concern, but I can remember desperately trying to get a shield to drop from Nightbane or Gruul, hoping that a tanking chest would drop from Mags, cursing the very name Leotheras as he just plain refused to drop a pair of pants for me. Badges made it possible to fill some of the holes in itemization and kept us raiding when the loot gods thought that cloth was the only armor anyone worse and that tanking rings and trinkets were wasted. And you'll never convince me the Brooch of Deftness was a bad thing, or that the Mirror of Truth is now.
I hope Ulduar has some form of Emblem drop as well, as I really think the system was a godsend for warriors (especially ones who want to try and gear up a DPS and tanking spec).
The Big Three Cooldowns are unlinked and their cooldowns drastically reduced
While the specifics of some of the changes may or may not be all for the good (I miss old Recklessness on boss fights) it's fair to say that this change is possibly the most drastic change the class has seen in quite some time. Having Recklessness, Retaliation and Shield Wall sharing a linked 30 minute cooldown has been part of the class for so long that we had become like the donkey in the old tale who says 'What weight?' when asked about the enormous load he's carrying. I think, outside of some bad pulls while soloing, I may not have used retaliation in over a year before this change. Not only was it a 30 minute cooldown, it also locked out Shield Wall! I was a tank! I needed Shield Wall! (Even when I was no where near an instance somehow I felt that the fact that using one of these abilities would lock out the other two for half an hour meant that I must save that cooldown until all hope was lost, making them less like panic buttons and more like futile Hail Mary gestures.)
Now, with all three being on five minute cooldowns that are not shared (and yes, their power reduced to compensate) you can use one without fearing that you'll rob yourself of the other two or worrying that you won't have it when you need it. I actually use Retaliation while tanking now with impunity, knowing I'm not cheating myself out of panic buttons when I need them. I use Recklessness every single time it is up to get a crit Bloodthirst/Slam/Whirlwind rotation. I'm much freer with my Shield Walls. It's a nice, liberating feeling to be able to use your abilities, and I'm glad Blizzard finally made this change.
There's a lot else we could talk about... Shield Block no longer spammable, taunt at range, Pummel off of the global cooldown but does no damage, Heroic Throw... but these eight should serve. Have a safe and happy new year, everyone, and next week we'll talk about what the future might hold for warriors.
Titan's Grip I am seriously freaking out over here it's like a wonderful magical dream full of cookies and it's about to have no penalty at all I find myself smiling at the oddest times okay, I'll stop now.
Sorry about that. If I don't let that happen once or twice a day I start shaking.