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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Protection Warrior 101

Matthew Rossi

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.

Tanking. The role wherein you go and let very bad things do other very bad things to you so that they don't do very bad things to the rest of your party or raid, giving said party or raid time to do very bad things to them. I wrote a protection 101 guide almost exactly a year ago. We're revisiting the subject now for several reasons. Much as when we wrote the DPS warrior 101 guide, things have definitely changed for prot warriors over the past year. The addition of the mastery stat, the removal of defense on gear, the talent revamp and Vengeance have all had a cumulative effect on tanking warriors. So we're going to cover the basics and give as broad an overview as we can.

What is a protection warrior?

Protection warriors have been viable tanks for 5-man and raid content for six years now. Many elements of the class have changed since those days. Protection warrior tanks boast unparalleled mobility, ranged silences, and several ways to build and maintain threat on single targets and multiple groups of mobs. Protection in Cataclysm maintains much of the flavor of the Wrath-era warrior tank while adding in fun new toys like Heroic Leap. As a prot warrior, you are expected to hold aggro, or threat, while using high health, heavy armor, a shield and various abilities to make it easier for your group's healers to keep you alive.

What are the benefits of protection?

Well, it's a lot of fun. Granted, tanking is a very specific kind of fun, and warrior tanks are a very specific breed of tank. Druid tanks use nature magic to transform into a large bear to tank, paladin tanks call upon the Holy Light, and death knight tanks use necromantic energies. These are all fine and good, if you're into that kind of cheating. Warrior tanks don't do that kind of thing.

Protection as it stands in Cataclysm might well be the single most mobile and varied tanking spec there is. Between Warbringer allowing charging in combat, Intervene allowing a warrior to move to the side of another character in an instant, and Heroic Leap providing the ability to move from point A to B at will, the tanking warrior can be anywhere he or she needs to be in short order. Meanwhile, the warrior tanking spec can be tuned to provide more self-healing, more single-target threat, and tools to silence, shorten one's defensive cooldowns, or even spreading bleeds about. No two tanking warriors need to have exactly the same spec, and what's more, a tanking warrior could easily dual spec into two different prot specs for different roles and not feel at all odd doing so.

What are the drawnbacks of protection?

Well, for starters, although all four tanking specs are capable of doing quests and other solo content, their damage output is lower than a dedicated DPS spec. Protection is, if anything, even more gear-dependent with the loss of defense on gear and must gear for both threat and survivability. Since tanking is often the highest-profile role in a dungeon or raid, tanks often find a lot of the onus of a successful run is on them. It's a high-pressure role at times; you need to be ready for that.

What stats am I looking for as protection?

With the exception of a new stat (mastery) and the loss of an old one (defense), you want the same stats as a protection warrior in Cataclysm as you did in Wrath. The main difference is that, with mana more of a concern for healers, it's much less rewarding as a tank to simply stack all the stamina you can and let the healers drop the biggest heals they possibly can on you. Stamina, mastery, armor, dodge and parry are your defensive stats, each in their way contributing to keeping you alive. Hit and expertise are still your threat generation stats, allowing your hits to generate threat.

Frankly, right now as a prot warrior, I'm absolutely gaga for mastery. Even without stacking a lot of stamina, I'm well into 150,000 health raid buffed, so stacking stamina to strain my already constantly working healers doesn't seem nearly as attractive as doing all that I can to keep them from having to work as hard, and the protection mastery (Critical Block) is a lot better than I had originally anticipated. I basically put mastery just above dodge, parry and armor at this point, with stamina being something I take on gear but don't really gem for or otherwise worry about. Avoidance and mitigation are just more useful for tanks right now.

While I value gearing for threat and often gem for hit or expertise in order to make a socket bonus, I don't find threat really a problem in most situations right now. I would put hit and expertise below the avoidance and mitigation stats but ahead of stamina stacking, for a beginning tank. One thing I would mention is that I'm often torn between the Wildhammer/Dragonmaw Strength/Mastery head enchant and the Earthen Ring's Stamina/Dodge tanking head enchant. I really like that combination of strength for threat and mastery for Critical Block.

When we talked about protection in patch 4.0.1 (the pre-Cataclsym patch, the Shattering), we covered glyphs pretty extensively, and that hasn't changed much.

What talent spec should I use as protection?

Well, frankly, that's up to you. What are you going to be doing as a tank?

Will you be off-tanking a lot? Will you be expected to pick up a lot of adds? Are you intended to run 5-mans and heroics exclusively, or do you need a spec for both heroics and raid tanking? This spec, for instance, embodies what I would call the middle-of-the-road tanking spec. You could easily move points from Hold The Line to Blood and Thunder if you wanted to emphasize AoE tanking, or dump Incite entirely to put emphasis elsewhere. (Frankly, I wouldn't dump Incite. I love Incite; I'd adopt Incite and send it to good schools if I could.) The really fascinating thing about Cataclysm's talent redesign is how it gives you options, and if anything, the big issue with the warrior protection spec is how much good stuff is in it. I've played with a Blood Craze tanking spec, but I don't want to give up Blitz and Incite to get it.

It's similar to the old line where people tell prospective employers in job interviews that their biggest flaw is that they're a workaholic. If you find yourself saying, "Man, it sucks that I have so many awesome talents," then it doesn't suck at all and you should just be happy.

Protection is still a priority system rather than a rotation. With talents like Thunderstruck, you're probably going to want to hit TC at least once before Shockwave, which isn't all that hard in today's CC-rich environments. (Like, as an example, the trashtastic hallway before Halfus, am I right? Sheesh.) Basically, if at all possible, I almost always recommend opening with a Shield Slam or Revenge, using Devastate to stack up sunder to three stacks or if nothing else is available, while applying Thunder Clap for the debuff and to get Thunderstruck up to three stacks before unloading a Shockwave. Usually, at least at the opening of a pull, you'll only be able to get one TC off before a Shockwave, so don't fret about it.

Use Cleave/Heroic Strike as necessary and as rage permits. Don't break CC if you can avoid it, especially if your gear isn't up to the task. With tools like Heroic Throw, Charge, and Heroic Leap, you are the master of positioning; make use of them.

One of my favorite tricks as a tank is to charge a pack and TC, have the various CC be applied just after, then Heroic Leap away to get the mobs to move away from the sheeped/hexed/shackled mobs. You can even use this with Sap, as long as you don't TC; just charge in and leap out.

As for cooldown use, this is basically unchanged from Wrath. Unless you have to save them for a specific reason (an attack you know is coming at a certain moment), then use them proactively. Most cooldowns are between 1 minute and 3 minutes now. You can use one or two per pull, especially if those pulls have CC to coordinate. They make healing you easier and keep you alive; don't forget to use them. Shield Block in particular is on a short enough cooldown that you should probably use it as soon as it is up. It's great in coordination with a trinket.

To summarize, protection hasn't really changed so drastically that you can't apply what you have read before. There are specifics to keep in mind -- tanks are uncrittable via talents now, for example -- and our talent trees are much less bloated and more focused in general. But even with the return of CC, the changes to healing, and the redesign of how heroics play out, warriors tank more or less the way they always have, with a ridiculously huge shield strapped on and a blood-smeared smirk on their faces. The rest is just details.

Next week, we'll hopefully continue the discussion of protection in Cataclysm with a complete overview of the talents and abilities.

At the center of the dury 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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