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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: DPS in the Firelands

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.

Now that we've covered gearing up in detail, it's time to talk about what to do with that gear. Now that the Firelands have been out for a while, we've all had a chance to get in there and kill some mobs. That includes me; I have also had a chance to do that. So what have I experienced in my excursions to the hell of upside-down fire elementals? (Okay, they're not upside-down.)
  • For starters, all three DPS warrior specs are really close together right now. In my experience, arms and fury DPS is neck-and-neck, with arms performing better on some fights and fury better on others. Also, SMF and TG fury are both pretty viable, with TG seeming to move ahead once you're using a pair of Firelands 2H weapons.
  • Once again, gearing up takes you past the nerfs in a few weeks. I basically raid with a fury spec and an arms spec, and some nights I respec from TG to SMF and/or the other way around. (Now that my axes have dropped, I usually stay TG.) My DPS was much poorer going into Firelands than it is now. The difference was pretty dramatic, and while I'm hardly blowing ahead to the top of the charts, DPS is solid again. Basically, what's controlling my DPS (again) is encounter design (again).
  • Be prepared to use your utility abilities. Rallying Cry. Remember it? You'd better, because it's a raid-wide cooldown that you're definitely going to be using on Majordomo Staghelm. Speaking of Majordomo, if you have Seeds on you and you blow up the raid, it's because you forgot you have one of the best abilities in the game to get out to range in time and then some of the best abilities in the game to get back in.
  • Blizzard needs to very quickly create and implement a set of non-tier DPS plate shoulders. Look at me -- I'm still wearing ZA shoulders. I am knee-deep in Firelands every week. I've killed Domo several times now. Why won't you give me shoulders? There is absolutely no option for plate DPS save tier, although there are several pairs of tanking shoulders. This is bloody insane, and it needs to be addressed. Firelands or the valor point vendors need more loot, guys.
So let's discuss the Firelands from a DPS warrior perspective.

Use everything

I'm loath to write boss strategies for a specific class because they end up being somewhat limited in scope. Rather than telling you how to do X boss, I'm instead inclined to tell you that each boss, while different, will require the same basic things from you.

First off, each fight has a burn phase that is usually pretty clear. Rhyolith, Shannox, Alysrazor and Beth'tilac all have fairly coherent ones, and even Majordomo Staghelm, Baleroc and Ragnaros have them -- sometimes more than one. (Alysrazor has a repeating cycle of survival and burn phases.) As a DPS warrior in the Firelands, it's not your job to constantly do the most DPS you can, but rather to do the most DPS you can when it counts most. It is very important that you don't waste cooldowns or have them unavailable to you when your raid leader calls for a DPS push. I'm not telling you to sit on them -- far from it. I'm telling you to know exactly when to use them, and then do so.

Fights like Alysrazor reward you blowing pretty much every DPS cooldown you can find or think of during the burn phase (because it's a fairly short duration and you need as much DPS as possible during it), while other burn phases might last longer and reward more sequential use of cooldown abilities to keep your output at a sustained high. A lot depends on how your raid chooses to do these fights, but it's still the case that cooldown management is a priority.

Secondly, many of these fights have survival phases, where the DPS you do is less important than keeping the entire raid up. It's not just that you should avoid all possibly avoidable damage, as that's a given. You will also have to manage fight conditions (like the crystal spawns and torment debuff in Baleroc), use your Enraged Regeneration and Shield Wall macros (easier than ever now that you don't have to switch stances), and interrupt spellcasts (which any DPS warrior can do in any stance now). Firelands is a lot of things, including a well designed raid and a lot of fun, but it does not reward tunnel vision, refusing to use your entire toolkit, or passive-minded DPSers who stand in fire and refuse to Pummel or self-heal.

As an example of a fight that really rewards your attention, we'll use Majordomo Staghelm. When grouping up in front of his scorpion phase, you can use some or all of your cooldowns to start because the damage isn't very intense at first, and you can push some solid DPS out with the rage you'll get from his Flame Scythe. While he's in cat form, you can damage both Staghelm himself and the firecat adds he generates with Cleave and Whirlwind or Bladestorm/Rend via Blood and Thunder and Sweeping Strikes. When you have Searing Seeds on you, watch your cooldown and simply heroic leap out of the raid when it's about to blow up, then charge or intercept back in. Using ER and Shield Wall at the right time can keep you alive if things get hinky, and you can also help the entire raid survive as the Flame Scythe damage ramps up with Rallying Cry, especially if you can chain it with another warrior. (Two DPS warriors and a warrior tank this week meant a full 30 seconds of increased raid health.) Since there are extended phases when Staghelm or a firecat add is standing right in front of you, you can build face time and DPS while using all of this utility. It's simply one of the most fun fights I've yet to experience, really asking a lot from me as a DPSer.

Yes, even your spec gets a chance to shine

DPS parity is actually surprisingly good right now. For all the trade chat doomsayers telling me that I should spec SMF or arms because TG fury is dead, I'm pushing competitive DPS (sometimes crazy-awesome when I can really build up to it) in raids right now. Of course, as I expected, I had to upgrade from my tier 11 drops to tier 12 level before I could say that. If you'd asked me two or three weeks ago, I would have been one of those doomsayers telling you to switch for max DPS. Frankly, with the nerfs and with the back-and-forth arguments about how to itemize/reforge for each spec, arms was simply easier to DPS with, and SMF far less streaky.

Right now, I prefer arms for fights like Beth'tilac where I have to switch targets a lot. I can Rend, Thunder Clap, spread Rend around thanks to Blood and Thunder, and then reap the benefits while switching to drones. I've heard arguments for dropping Improved Slam and the Slam glyph in favor of using HS for your rage dump (when you actually have time in your rotation to dump rage) and arguments that call that strategy the creation of a diseased maniac. So far, I'm on the fence about it. When I spec for Imp Slam, I rarely get to use it; there's almost always a MS or Colossus Smash waiting to go, and Overpower always seems to be lit up. I like arms for Shannox because it makes chasing Rageface down a lot easier, and we tend to kill him first. Plus, arms is actually a lot of fun right now.

However, for pretty much every other fight (including Ragnaros), I like fury better, and I'm a die-hard TG believer. Still, switching back and forth from SMF to TG, I feel like either spec would work, and the reason I do better with TG is that I have better TG gear with more mastery to push those Raging Blows up. Also, I think the two-piece set bonus favors TG over SMF because I can usually pack more burst into that small window. For Baleroc (where I barely ever move except when tanking a shard), Rhyolith (duh), Alysrazor and Majordomo, I'm always fury and usually TG. This is purely preference, and I'm absolutely certain I could do within 5% as well in any DPS warrior spec as well as it were properly geared, gemmed, enchanted and reforged to maximize its performance.
Climbing to the top

DPS warriors in the Firelands will be topping meters in a few weeks, if they're not already. As gear improves and the fights become more familiar, and as we get into heroic modes and learn the new mechanics, warriors will have a chance to hit caps and maximize stats. We're going to be rewarded for it with more white damage, more rage, and thus more specials.

The nerfs to warrior DPS going into Firelands did exactly what the nerfs to fury before Ulduar did: reset the clock for warriors unfairly. We will surpass them. It's far more important that you focus on DPSing at the right time and use your utility to maximize survival and mobility. Do this, manage your cooldowns properly, and in a few weeks, the jealous masses will be throngs on the forums begging for warrior nerfs again.

As always, we will destroy them.

Next week, either tanking or PVP. And before we go, I'm not kidding about the DPS shoulders. Do I have to cry? Is that what you want, me to cry? You think you can break me? You can't break me. I'm not going to cry. No matter how much this heart of mine is breaking. Give me shoulders.

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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