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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Class and specialization abilities in Mists of Pandaria

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.

Continuing the discussion from a month ago, we look again at the three specializations for warriors in Mists of Pandaria. We can do this because Blizzard itself has released the talent calculator for the expansion, and it has loads of information for us to go over. The calculator lists class abilities and specialization only abilities in addition to talents, which means we now have more details to examine in terms of what's coming.

One thing I noted immediately was that yes, arms is going to be the only tree with Colossus Smash. It will be an ability gained at level 81, and the redesigned CS also applies the current Blood Frenzy debuff rather than its being applied via bleeds. Since this is what we expected would happen with arms in Mists back when we talked about it in October, I think it's OK if we pat ourselves on the back here, fellow warriors. We saw this coming.

Since we have three specs to talk about, let's get started. There's a lot of ground to cover in Pandaria's new talent scheme.

Warrior class skills

Before we talk about spec specific abilities, there are several abilities that are now just class abilities that all warriors gain. Class skill progression is fairly easy to understand, with warriors gaining class wide abilities every two to three levels. Several abilities (like Intimidating Shout) have their current glyphs built into the Mists of Pandaria version, indicating that glyphs may also be getting a redesign. All three warrior stances are now class abilities, and all three have been redesigned, with Battle Stance simply granting 10% extra damage, Defensive Stance reducing damage taken by 10% and increasing threat generation, and Berserker Stance increasing Cleave and Whirlwind damage by 20%. This is in line with what we were told during the class balance Q&A, that there was some interest in redesigning stances so that Battle was the normal DPS stance and Berserker was the AoE damage stance.

I'm not sure I'd want to be stance switching to AoE unless there was going to be a long enough AoE period to justify losing the damage to all my other abilities in exchange for more damage for my Whirlwind and Cleave. I'm also hoping Bladestorm and Shockwave, as the top tier warrior abilities of the new talent tree, will be included in Berserker's AoE boost. If not, Battle may be the superior AoE DPS stance for anyone taking those talents.

It's no surprise to see Rend, Heroic Strike, Enrage, Victory Rush, Thunder Clap, Berserker Rage, Heroic Throw, Pummel, Whirlwind, Disarm, Shattering Throw, Execute, Hamstring, Cleave, Shield Wall, Commanding Shout, and Heroic Leap all included as baseline class abilities. I was a little surprised to see Sunder Armor there, since it's been said that Sunder is being removed, but it's there for the moment. I was also surprised to see Meat Cleaver on there as a class ability, making Whirlwind and Cleave a lot more attractive for arms warriors than they currently are. With there being no apparent stance restriction that I can find on any ability, one could even imagine WW-and-Cleave being used to gather group threat by tanking warriors if they happened to have the rage handy, especially since Meat Cleaver is now baseline.

Enrage no longer increased damage dealt but rather increases rage generation from melee attacks by 25%. (This is also the case for Death Wish in the level 75 talent tier.) This makes Enrages much less about increasing your damage directly and more about giving you rage to spend on attacks. I expect this to mean that Unshacked Fury will be potentially returning to the same mastery level as other masteries, since it won't flat-out buff all damage you do while enraged, the way it does now.

The real big implication of all this is that nothing is stance-defined or -limited anymore. Basically, you'll be hitting Battle Stance for DPS and Defensive Stance to tank, and at present with so little getting benefit from Berserker Stance, I don't know if you'll want to use it much outside of huge trash pulls. Buffing Zerk to affect Thunder Clap, maybe even Rend from Blood and Thunder, and abilities like Bladestorm/Shockwave seems almost necessary to make it a worthwhile stance. Another possibility would be simply having Zerk increase all damage by 20% when striking four or more targets with a damaging ability. This would mean you'd always want to be in zerk for AoE situations and always out of it otherwise.

Finally, while Shield Wall and Recklessness made the cut, Retaliation is gone. As a cooldown, it really only ever had PvP/soloing and some limited tanking uses, and with so many abilities now usable while tanking, it's probably time to crop it out ... but I'll miss it. In general, we're seeing a solid consolidation here. The one place I'm worried is that we'll end up with warriors macroing Berserker Stance into their WW and Cleave buttons and Battle Stance into everything else, which isn't very interesting. If it ends up like that, why have the stances at all?

Arms spec skills

The first spec ability arms gets is Mortal Strike, which you'd expect and which is exactly what it's always been. The one change here is that Mortal Strike is now a means to generate rage (as are Bloodthirst and Shield Slam for the other specs), and so now each MS generates 10 rage instead of costing any. Seasoned Soldier, the next ability (also at level 10) combines Two Hand Weapon Spec's 12% increased damage with 20% increased bleed damage. Overall, the list of arms abilities is exactly what you'd expect, with Slam (.5 second cast time), Overpower, Lambs to the Slaughter, Blood and Thunder (shared with prot), Sweeping Strikes, Taste for Blood, Strikes of Opportunity, Sudden Death and Colossus Smash.

The real changes for arms will be suddenly having Whirlwind as a viable AoE attack in addition to Sweeping Strikes and Blood and Thunder's Rend-spread. Slam's .5 second default cast time and the general setup for the sepc as of this calculator makes it seem a very likely candidate for rage dumping when Enrage is up, especially depending on your level 75 talent choice. Deadly Calm will only work with HS/Cleave, but Death Wish will make Slam seem more attractive.

Fury spec skills

Fury loses both Slam and Colossus Smash in Mists. While a new attack (Wild Strike) will be taking its place, that ability works entirely differently than Slam and in addition Bloodsurge is being reworked to make use of the ability. Crazed Berserker, the new fury passive, will work similarly to Dual-Wield spec (40% more damage on autoattacks and 25% more offhand attacks, which means it will directly buff Wild Strike). Wild Strike will also apply the current Furious Attacks debuff (the MS effect) which means you'll want to use it in PvP.

Bloodthirst is now a rage generating attack with a 6-second cooldown. You'll basically hit it every time it's up, because it's how you're going to do everything else. This means that if you can line up an enrage with your Bloodthirst (especially as fury, since your mastery will buff rage generation now), you can fill up your rage bar faster.

The new Bloodsurge needs some discussion. Basically, rather than making Slam an attack you might actually use, it takes an attack you will be using (Wild Strike) and makes it cheaper, while also lowering the GCD by .5 of a second. We all know how I feel about the GCD and how it can actually impede fun, and seeing this ability and how it will interact with the various enrages (all of which boost rage generation) means that a Bloodsurge Proc will effectively have you spamming Wild Strike with its lower rage cost and the shorter 1-second GCD. It will also potentially mean you'll be able to use Bloodthirst to keep your GCD lowered. You'll hit Bloodthirst hoping for Bloodsurge, throw out those three Wild Strikes in 3 seconds or so if it goes off (there is no cooldown at all on Wild Strike at present, meaning it is capped entirely by the GCD) and filling the rest of the 6-second Bloodthirst cooldown with Raging Blow procs and non-discounted Wild Strikes. Wild Strike being somewhat rage-expensive (same amount of rage as Raging Blow, 30 rage per WS), you're not going to want to spam it, even though you basically could, unless Bloodsurge is up.

Combined with Flurry, fury has a chance of becoming an extremely fast spec. With attack speed increased by Flurry, more white hits will mean more rage, and any enrages you enter will generate more rage thanks to Unshackled Fury. With Bloodsurge lowering the GCD, and discounting Wild Strike, you could easily get into a situation where you're taking in and dishing out rage as a much faster rate than either arms or protection, making fury finally feel like the lunatic berserker it's always wanted.

Protection spec skills

Protection feels the least finished. Shield Slam is the new rage generator for the spec, granting the usual 10 rage, and being buffed by Sword and Board to reset its cooldown and increase its rage generation. What's interesting here is that the two spec-specific cooldowns, Shield Block and Last Stand (Shield Wall being class-wide) are both now expensive, 80-rage abilities. This seems to presage the implementation of the active mitigation model, with abilities like Devastate and Revenge neither generating or costing rage. Essentially, it's up to you if you want to blow rage as soon as it comes in on abilities like Cleave, Rend, Thunder Clap and Heroic Strike or start banking rage for those big, 80-rage cooldowns.

With Shield Wall now back to 5 minutes on cooldown (with no idea if there will be a glyph for it), you can basically start off blowing your rage for threat and rely on Shield Wall for your first cooldown, then start conserving once you've established a rotation for the 80-rage cost Shield Block/Last Stand. Frankly, I'd hope that Shield Block will see its rage cost lowered to match that; it's simply not as good a cooldown as Last Stand right now. Either reduce the cost to like 40 to 50 rage, or increase the amount of block value. This is something we will likely see thrashed out as development gets more earnest.

Prot also ends up the most passive once you hit level 46. Everything you get that's prot-specific at that point is a passive ability. That's strange, and I'd like to see the tree rebalanced so that a few active abilities were added past 50 or so. Perhaps the return of the Wrath standby Damage Shield, tweaked to be an active mitigation ability? 10% of incoming damage instead reflected to the attacker sounds nice.

Next week, I'm definitely going to go over every talent and look at some potential builds.

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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