The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Patch 4.3 and its implications

Matthew Rossi
M. Rossi|10.15.11

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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Patch 4.3 and its implications
Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Care and Feeding of Warriors, the column dedicated to arms, fury and protection warriors. Despite repeated blows to the head from dragons, demons, Old Gods and whatever that thing over there was, Matthew Rossi will be your host.

I admit I was hoping there would be more changes to warriors to talk about by now. At least so far, the patch 4.3 PTR has been fairly quiet on the warrior front. Sure, fury got a nerf, and a fairly large one. Fury's been the melee spec that's actually done good damage this raid tier, so I knew the writing was on the wall for it. What I didn't expect was the particular blend of buff and nerf that the spec has seen. Meanwhile, arms and protection have not changed at all, and this far into the PTR, I find that kind of baffling.

Nerfing Dual-Wield Specialization to remove the 5% physical damage bonus -- that, I understand. It's an easy Band-Aid to rip off of the spec to flat-out reduce all damage done, and with all physical attack power buffs adding 20% instead of 10% melee AP in 4.3, it's likely we won't really even feel it. What that change does is lower fury's base so that it doesn't scale better than every other melee once the AP changes are in. No, I'm not surprised at all by that, and I wouldn't be surprised if Precision gets a nerf as well to reduce our white damage slightly. While I absolutely do not agree with these changes, believe them justified in any way, or support them, I at least understand them.

Fury and the middling mastery

What absolutely baffles me is the change to Unshackled Fury and what it means for the spec. If you remember, back in patch 4.1, mastery was mauled for fury warriors. While very other spec of warrior starts at a base of 8 mastery points (so that, naked, you have 8 mastery), fury starts at 2. This means that, at the baseline, Unshacked Fury gives you 11% more benefit from Enrage effects ever since Patch 4.1. This has made mastery an undesirable stat for fury, neck-and-neck with haste for least wanted. Crit and hit both give warriors more, and since 4.1, mastery has been wholeheartedly eschewed. Patch 4.3 changes Unshackled Fury back to its pre-4.1 state.

This change is baffling to me because the entire reason for the original change to Unshackled Fury was that Blizzard was worried that mastery was simply too good for fury warriors, that stacking it could lead to ridiculous Raging Blow burst damage in PVP and would allow for over 100% benefit to enrage effects in PVE. Now, in a patch where we're nerfing all warrior damage by 5%, we're also going to buff baseline mastery back up an additional 6 points? 33% baseline effect from mastery before we even have a single piece of gear on?

This leads me to wonder several things. It leads me to believe that we absolutely will see more nerfs to fury if this change to mastery goes live. I don't see how you could possibly buff mastery (a stat that was nerfed entirely due to its large burst damage potential) without at the very least reducing the Precision auto-attack buff, especially since that buff was first introduced to compensate for the fury mastery nerf. (It did that, so well that hit became the secondary DPS stat for fury and mastery fell.) More interesting than that, however, is the implication that the change to mastery in 4.1 was not fully anticipated, or at least the full effect of it was not.

How mastery stopped mattering

Mastery is supposed to be a stat you want to see on gear. For a protection warrior, it clearly is; I love mastery on my tanking gear, and I'll even reforge stats like hit and/or expertise to it. For arms, it's still a relatively strong stat even though the ability it modifies (Strikes of Opportunity) isn't as potent as Unshackled Fury. But the massive, massive drop of six full mastery points for fury as opposed to arms or protection made the stat simply unwanted. No one seriously accumulates it.
This is to give you an idea of the average fury warrior in T12 hard mode content. My mastery is as low as I can contrive it to be. I have reforged every bit of it I could possibly move away into crit, hit or even expertise. I even have more haste than mastery. With these changes, as soon as Patch 4.3 drops, I'll lose 5% physical damage from Dual Wield Spec and gain six mastery, increasing my enrage effects from their current 23% increased damage to 56%.

Frankly, 56% more damage from every Raging Blow, from every Death Wish, and from entering Enrage has the potential to more than make up for the lost damage from DW Spec, and that's not even considering what will happen if I reforge back toward mastery. At least part of this swing back to pre-4.1 numbers, if it's not an accident, has to be to account for the fact that mastery is right now simply terrible for SMF fury and has a strange bell curve effect for TG fury where it's terrible, then decent, and then terrible again. Mastery should be a stat you want on your DPS gear. You shouldn't always reject it because it's simply too difficult to get any real benefit out of it compared to other stats, and that's what the 4.1 changes did (as I complained incessantly at the time). I believed then and believe now that the changes were made to reduce fury's burst damage in PVP, which leads me to wonder if fury became simply too uncompetitive in high-end Rated BG and Arena play. I've done both as fury, but I will admit to preferring protection, which in of itself might be all the indictment fury PVP needs at the highest levels.

In the absence of changes to arms and prot as of this writing (remember, it's the PTR -- things can and do change at any moment), what we're left with is a series of changes that say that Blizzard is fairly serious about fury DPS being too high, but also that mastery is simply not an attractive stat for fury warriors at present, which is absolutely true. I expect further nerfs (most probably to Precision) if this change to mastery goes live, rolling back the 4.1 change to mastery and potentially returning the statistic to its 4.0 luster as a stat for fury warriors.

Next week, BlizzCon will be in full swing, and while everyone else will be out and about having fun, I'll be stuck here. Sob. Expect more talk about arms, unless something PTRish happens or BlizzCon itself reveals something massive for our class.

At the center of the fury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, including Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors, a guide to new reputation gear for warriors, and a look back at six years of warrior trends.
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