One of the things to keep in mind with the current design paradigm for talents, and the overstocked way that protection seems to have ended up for warriors, is that you will end up with a talent build you absolutely love and which seems to work just fine for you and your raids or instances, but other people will tell you you're insane for leaving out X talent. This has to some degree always been the case for any talent spec, but with the flexibility of the current talent system, there are several talents that I'd never leave out of a tanking build yet you might never, ever take, like Cruelty. Is 10% crit on Shield Slam worth having to sink two points in Cruelty at a time when we only have a precious 10 points for off-spec talents? In the end, I can't answer that for you. I personally think it is, with crit so low for prot right now, but you could make the case that it's talent points best spent elsewhere exactly because crit's so low that 10% more on Shield Slam won't matter. I don't agree, but I admit the argument could be made and have validity.
What I'm getting at is, every talent will have its detractors and partisans. All we can try and do is be as impartial as possible.
Okay, first off, let's look at the talents in the new protection tree. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the hardest part of being a protection warrior right now is the talents you'd like to take but don't have points for.
- Incite I just got done saying that some could argue against Cruelty's bonus to Shield Slam's critical hit chance, and here we are with Incite, a talent I've praised to the rafters. First off, Incite is in the first tier; you're going to be spending points here anyway. Secondly, it's a 15% critical hit bonus to Heroic Strike, and it guarantees that if your HS crits, the next HS will be a crit as well. For three points in the first tier of the tree. Frankly, it's inescapably good.
- Toughness Three ranks, 10% more armor. I honestly can't imagine doing without it. Especially in the new world of tanking, talented mitigation like this is very attractive.
- Blood and Thunder This is a talent I pick up when I know I'm going to be expected to hold threat on a lot of adds, like Magmaw's parasites, for an extended period of time. Think of it as a warrior's form of Pestilence. If you know you'll have the time to Rend and then Thunder Clap, it's a great talent. More attractive for raiding than 5-mans, in my opinion, but it has its uses anytime you expect to be grabbing and holding more than two mobs.
- Gag Order I love a ranged silence for pulling. Sure, I also love Shield Bash having a silence, but man, it's really the ranged silence that compels me to take this talent. You can do without it if your groups tend to not let you do pulls in this fashion, but I always take it. It's also lovely for PvP.
- Hold the Line This is one of those talents that gives me the oh man, I wish I had 5 more talent points blues. I feel compelled to take it, as it gives both offensive and defensive oomph to a successful parry. That 10% to both critical strike and critical block is just entirely Batman. But at the same time, I'm also buying Gag Order and both of the shield talents on this tier, so it gets to feeling like the whole thing is pointless and this should be one of those things they put passively into protection's mastery or something.
- Shield Mastery Don't even try. You're taking it.
- Shield Specialization As a friend of mine pointed out, what this talent does is turn your mastery bonus into not just one of the best tanking masteries, it also converts every single block that mastery gives you into rage. Combined with a massive 60 rage after a successful spell reflection, this is an excellent prot PvP talent for ruining caster's days, as well as a standout tanking talent.
- Bastion of Defense This is required to tank. There is really no point to my saying that the secondary effect that used to be part of Imp Defensive Stance (when that talent existed) is very nice, because you're going to take this talent if you want to tank. Sure, it's lovely to have 20% chance to enrage on a dodge, parry or block and increase all your outgoing damage by 12%, but that's just icing on a cake you're going to eat anyway.
- Warbringer Technically, this is not a must-have talent for tanking. I mean, you haven't a beating heart if you skip it; I don't even understand how anyone can play a prot warrior at this point in time and not take it. It's like saying, "I'm only going to tank with daggers" or something. Sure, it's doable, but why? Why would you do this? Did you witness a horrible tragedy that stole forever your love for life and joy? Because when you don't take Warbringer as a prot warrior, I start crying like Iron Eyes Cody in a PSA. (I happen to be of Sicilian descent as well.)
- Last Stand Some people don't take this. I can kind of understand why, with some tanks very leery of the mana sponge issue, but man I don't think skipping Last Stand is the answer.
Non-protection talents of note
- Concussion Blow On the one hand, with Shockwave, charge stuns, and Gag Order for interrupts, you could easily say, "Do I really need that extra stun?" and not take this. On the other hand, I guarantee you that you will wish you had it the second you spec away from it. But with Vigilance being terrible now, this is no longer a I gotta get it anyway so at least it's good talent.
- Devastate While it's not the threat monster it has been in the past (in Wrath at the end of the cycle, you could actually just hold aggro with Dev spam), it's still hard to argue against dropping a point here. That one talent point gets you a fairly cheap instant attack with only the GCD for a cooldown. Combined with Incite boosted HS, it's a nice one/two punch while waiting for Shield Slam or Revenge to light up.
- Improved Revenge Speaking of Revenge, this boosts its damage by 60% and makes it hit an additional target. I take it for the damage bonus to Revenge alone.
- Impending Victory Honestly, I'm not sure why we needed this talent. Why not just let us hit Execute in defensive stance? I mean, 5% healing from Victory Rush is better than no healing, but it still seems underwhelming. I haven't taken it yet, although for PvP where every little bit helps it might be better.
- Vigilance Ah, how the mighty have fallen. If you're going to be taunt trading with another tank, it's still very good. If you're going to need every last ounce of Vengeance to stack up as fast as possible and don't mind the pathetically small amount you'll get from putting this on even a main tank, it may be worth taking. Otherwise, it's just plain not. Seriously, as if 20% was done to you? So if they're hit for 17k health, I'll stack Vengeance like a 3k hit? Sad.
- Heavy Repercussions I'm a sucker for getting offensive bite out of defensive abilities like Shield Block. This talent basically recreates the way the old Shield Block worked with Block Rating and Shield Slam in BC and especially Wrath, where SBlock ended up a solid burst of threat for your SSlams. A lovely talent, but one you could skip if you felt like you'd rather spend the points defensively.
- Thunderstruck First off, you have to say it like you're auditioning for AC/DC. No, you really do. Secondly, it's an astonishingly good talent, get it. 6% more damage on rend, cleave and TC plus a stacking buff to your Shockwave damage? Seriously, do you need it to give you a backrub too? Also, it has amazing synergy with Blood and Thunder.
- Safeguard Good for PvP, not good enough otherwise. Sure, it's nice if you can intervene the other tank on a swap or whatever, but I still find it underwhelming for the points. On the other hand, thank the maker for a talent I don't want at this point.
- Sword and Board Listen, you're going to use Devastate and Revenge anyway. If you can come up with a compelling argument for why no rage cost Shield Slams with a refreshed cooldown are a bad thing, I'm willing to humor you. Because clearly you are a demented maniac, and I'm going to let you talk until the men with the tasers show up so that you don't try and eat my heart to gain my rich, tasty courage.
- Shockwave BOOM. The stun is nice, but the real beauty of this is that it's a frontal cone, so if you know you have CC you just can't afford to break you can angle yourself away and let this fly. It's a fitting capstone for the tree.
These will all be first-tier arms or fury talents, because it's bloody hard to get much past that as protection. You could go 11 points in a tree, I suppose, but I have the devil's own time getting in under 32 points in prot.
- War Academy Good for a prot warrior using Incite and/or Impending Victory, even better for a AoE-focused tank using Thunderstruck to boost his Cleaves. Once 4.0.6 hits, it won't be as compelling anymore.
- Field Dressing You're either going to take War Academy or Blitz anyway, if not both, so why not get some more healing? There's no reason why. Don't play games with me, MacGregor.
- Blitz Extra 10 rage, stuns up to three. Not only will this be strongest in a prot warrior's hands (because prot will be the only spec whose Charge doesn't share diminishing returns with other stuns come patch 4.0.6), but it's good for both PvP and PvE and will continue to be so.
- Cruelty I stand by my 10% critical strike chance for Shield Slam.
- Blood Craze It was so good in the beta and now is pretty weak in comparison. I'd take it if I had an extra five points, but not as things stand.
- Battle Trance Honestly, once I start taking damage, I find rage for tanking to be fairly easy to come by. This would be nice for 5-mans with impatient DPS.
As always, your mileage may vary. But at the very least, we can say that protection warriors are not exactly starved for choice when they spec. If anything, they're gorged.
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.