The ups and downs of mastery
Mastery as a stat was developed to provide a cross-class itemization that did different things for different talent specializations, meaning that each spec (shadow priest, fury warrior, arcane mage) would desire mastery for different reasons, based on their spec. For warriors, we have three talent specializations (same as every other class) to consider.
Strikes of Opportunity is the arms mastery, Critical Block the protection mastery, and Unshackled Fury is the fury mastery. Right now, I would say that Critical Block is probably the best of the three due to the rather savage mauling that Unshackled Fury's base took in patch 4.1, dropping from a starting point of 8 mastery for fury warriors to 2 mastery before gear. Strikes of Opportunity has been buffed enough that I'd say it takes the #2 position. In terms of how mastery has worked out as a "killer stat," it's clearly had its ups and downs for each spec. For tanking, right now it's an extremely desirable stat. For arms, I'd put it just behind crit and possibly even before capping expertise.
Before 4.1, I'd have said it was rivaling crit and hit for fury warriors, although now it's been relegated to a less exalted position. The nerf to Unshackled Fury's base was aimed at keeping mastery balanced for higher levels of itemization, so we'll see what effect patch 4.2 has on the stat. If you find this disturbingly familiar, then you played a fury warrior in Wrath during the big armor penetration explosion.
Essentially, before patch 3.1, it wasn't possible to collect enough ArP to get enough return on your investment, so to speak. Now, with Unshackled Fury being rebalanced, clearly there was concern that it was too easy to collect enough mastery to make that specialization ridiculously powerful, and it was only going to get worse as mastery on gear went up. In essence, the mastery change for fury is a "room to grow" change. This makes me wonder just how much mastery we're going to see on gear.
Reforging, of course, complicates this issue, since you can always put more mastery on your gear if it doesn't have any. In fact, let's discuss reforging now.
Reforging and the average warrior
Reforging, when it debuted, was described as a way to make gear that you might otherwise not use (tanking gear, perhaps) more desirable by letting you take some of the dodge off of a dodge/hit piece and change it to something like crit or mastery. I personally have used it that way when a tanking or DPS piece was just overwhelmingly better in other respects (higher stamina and armor for a tanking perspective, as an example).
However, what I've seen most warriors use reforging for is stat tweaking. Cataclysm has created with reforging a unique period in which all players can customize their stats to a degree that was absolutely impossible before, and nowhere is this more clear in seeing how each talent specialization reforges its gear. It's become required for anyone serious about getting as much out of their gear as possible to figure out which stats they want to prioritize and to reforge away as much of the undesired stats as they can. In my experience, for DPS players, haste is usually the victim of choice, followed by expertise over the 26-point cap (since 26 expertise is all you need to push dodges off the attack table, and DPS warriors aren't supposed to be in front of the boss, so they shouldn't be getting parried). Tanks tend to strip hit and expertise, since these stats are less potent with taunts not missing and bosses not gaining powerful, parry-hasted attacks.
In essence, reforging has become equal parts an optimization process (sure, these legs are good, but they'd be better with some critical strike) and a way for players to respond to changes in the game's design between patches. If mastery gets buffed for arms warriors and nerfed for fury, each spec can compensate to some degree by taking a trip to the reforger. This has never been possible before. In Wrath, if you got a set of DPS legs with a ton of haste on them, you simply had to live with it. Reforging allows players to sit down, decide which stats they want, and trim away the stats they don't. Even with the inherent limitations of the process (not being able to reforge a piece to have more of a stat it already has, not being able to completely remove a stat), it's an extraordinary level of flexibility, and its benefits are obvious to warriors as we've seen stats rebalanced. Reforging is one of the biggest quality of life changes ever made to the game.
Rage normalization in Cataclysm worked out significantly better than it did in The Burning Crusade. That doesn't mean it was good. In terms of warrior viability, it added a significant penalty (a far less easily increased rage generation mechanic) without any of the benefits seen in resource acquisition systems such as mana.
Part of the problem is that alternative systems like runic power often have a secondary system like runes built in to act as a governor to spikes of their resource or troughs of no resource. A DK who lacks runic power can spend some runes to use abilities to generate some. Similarly, the new paladin Holy Power mechanic works to counterbalance paladin mana issues. Whether these work perfectly or not isn't really the issue in this case, but rather that they are designed to provide a counterbalance that even now rage hasn't been designed for.
To some extent, fury is balanced around entering enraged states, but if one has played arms recently, one's felt the choked, cramped effect of feeling almost completely locked in terms of abilities and rage. It's not so much that arms never has any rage, but rather that rage isn't really arms' resource anymore. Arms dances with the global cooldown instead. Arms basically is going to have an ability ready to fire as soon as the global is up, and the real challenge in most cases is simply making sure you don't step on your own feet, miss an ability, and cripple your own DPS.
Meanwhile for a tank, the issue with rage is the same as it always has been: Either you're not taking enough damage to generate enough rage to hold your threat, or you didn't get a chance to start generating it before the mana classes opened up since they can do that and you can't. Assuming the warrior manages to get initial threat, rage is no longer an issue at that point, and no tank is really worried he or she won't have enough rage for a boss. I've yet to run out of rage tanking Cho'gall, for instance, because everything is on fire or shadow crashing or he's hitting me in the face hard enough to half kill me. With so much damage being hurled at me, I'm far more concerned with not dying than with my rage bar, which I simply can't spend fast enough even using Inner Rage. For tanks, rage is still either feast or famine.
It's possible that DPS specs will finally see enough benefit from haste in patch 4.2 to start actually wanting the stuff. Tanks, not so much.
Next week, hopefully we'll see some warrior changes in the patch 4.2 PTR. If not, we'll talk about raiding Bastion of Twilight as a tank and as DPSer.
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.