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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Arms in PVE and PVP

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.

I promised you arms PVP. Instead, I'm going to give you arms in both PVP and PVE over the next two weeks. Frankly, in my opinion, arms is the warrior tree in the most need of adjustment. It does not perform up to par in PVE once you get into raid gear, and while it offers some great PVP control, it lacks the true punishing power it once held. Without the feared Mortal Strike debuff of previous expansions, arms needs to pop reasonably long cooldowns and use its full arsenal of stuns and interrupts and snares to even have a chance to do what other classes can in PVP.

What's worse, the arms playstyle, while extremely engaging and a lot of fun in terms of its pure mobility, nice tricks, and ability to throw out solid burst, can become extremely difficult to perform to its fullest.

While it's fairly easy to keep Rend up with Mortal Strike now once you've put it up -- and once that's accomplished, you can rely on Overpower procs to light up at predictable times -- having to monitor random Colossus Smash resets and the sheer amount of attacks you'll be using can keep arms fairly locked down. Quite frankly, neither Heroic Strike nor Slam (even Improved Slam) need to be used all that much or even really have room or rage to be used so. Arms is an extremely busy spec, but that doesn't necessarily make it a broken one.

Arms as a PVE spec

The main difficulty with arms in PVE is simply that its raw damage output hasn't kept up. Fury does disproportionately well in 10-man normal Firelands, while its numbers drop to almost middle of the pack in 10-man heroic, 25-man normal and 25-man heroic. But in all four, arms does less than the median -- significantly less, in fact. It's not as bad as it was in Wrath, when arms was absolutely bottom of the barrel, but arms is roughly 10% below average, and that's a lot of lost DPS. Even with fairly common Colossus Smash procs to keep armor reduced, arms just isn't managing to keep up; it's not scaling as well with gear. The reason for this is manifold, but here are a few culprits to keep in mind.

  • Arms has no flurry. Stacking crit is an easy strategy for the other DPS spec, but for arms, there's no significant and immediate benefit to a critical hit besides the extra damage it does.
  • Arms has nowhere to go. Arms can hit a complete hit cap much, much more easily than fury. As a result, as gear gets better and better, arms doesn't gain even more rage from spiraling stats -- and even if it did, arms can't really spend that rage as effectively.
  • Arms' mastery doesn't hit hard enough. While arms likes mastery a lot more than fury, the arms mastery is far more limited than the fury one. Fury's mastery increases everything that an enrage does. It increases Raging Blow damage, it increases the benefits of Enrage itself, and it even makes the self-heal of Enraged Regeneration tick for more. Meanwhile, Strikes of Opportunity just gives a chance for an extra attack at normal weapon damage. It's not terrible (and it's good in PVP, which we'll discuss later), but it doesn't really hit hard enough to make it good for PVE.
  • Arms lacks strong PvE burn-phase cooldowns. Recklessness isn't as good for arms because one of the spec's major attacks, Overpower, will most likely already have a 80% or higher crit chance. This means that Reck will waste close to half of its effect, since it can't push an attack over 100% chance to crit. Meanwhile, arms' other cooldowns, Sweeping Strikes and Bladestorm, are both AOE attacks, meaning that they don't contribute enough bite on pure boss burns. Deadly Calm serves as an Execute-phase substitute, but without a Death Wish-style flat damage increase, an early (say, 80%) Bloodlust/Heroism/Time Warp does much less for arms than it does for fury.
Arms went into Firelands a very strong DPS contender, just as it did in Ulduar and ICC -- and just like then, it fell behind as fury geared up. The four factors listed above (fury's superior scaling, arms' lack of room in its rotation to use increased rage, weaker gain from mastery, and no really equivalent cooldown) just hampered the spec. Arms gets less from crit, less from mastery and less from hit, and it has fewer options for bumping up output on demand.

To buff arms for the next tier without making them too strong in PVP, something as simple as a new cooldown or a redesigned one. Removing the significant nerf arms took in 4.2 with Two-Handed Weapon Specialization could also work. The arms rotation is actually pretty well designed right now, and I wouldn't want to see it overly monkeyed with, but arms simply needs more oomph to compete with other melee specs in dungeons and raids.

Arms as a PVP spec

To be completely honest, I'm currently fury and arms specced so that I can spend the time before raids PVPing around the Firelands portal and in the Molten Front area. For those purposes, arms is a bloody delight to play. The control available through Juggernaut, Blitz and Throwdown is lovely, second only to protection, and can be yoked to powerful burst DPS. While Strikes of Opportunity underperforms in PVE, it's ridiculously lovely in PVP.

I find arms superior to fury in rated BGs and Arenas as well. Simply put, I just plain do more damage with arms because I can charge in, hit an MS, then Throwdown and either Overpower or Bladestorm. As long as I don't get disarmed, it's simply the most fun you can have as a warrior in PVP. The biggest difficulty facing arms in PVP is that it's much more of a glass cannon than fury (since fury's Enraged Regen tends to tick for more and arms doesn't have anything comparable to Bloody Healing), and it can lack enough burst power to do much against a geared healer who knows what he or she is doing.

Let's be honest: As a real issue in PVP, Mortal Strike is dead. No one fears the debuff. A 10% healing debuff is completely unimpressive, and no healer in halfway decent PVP gear is even going to notice it. Now, if properly prepared and using Deadly Calm/Reck to increase critical hit chance while saving rage, a lovely chain of attacks can be unleashed for significant burst, but that's only once every 3 minutes or so. Arms simply doesn't have the tools to be really fearsome in PVP outside of lining up control and cooldowns, and that overly reliant nature is a limitation that has robbed arms of some of its legacy.

Next week, we'll talk more about PVP arms -- what spec works best for what kind of PVP, what buffs the spec should see, and where is it functioning as well as we could hope. We'll also talk about ideal fights for PVE arms.

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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