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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: A Cataclysm postmortem, part 1

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.

Here we are, at the end of the expansion. Deathwing is dead, Azeroth is saved, and we're all waiting for Pandaria in our own ways. One of the ways I wait for the next expansion is to look back over the expansion we just had. I'm funny that way.

It's been an expansion full of ups and downs for warriors. As tanks, we've suffered a bit in comparison to, well, everyone else. As DPSers, we've seen SMF fury, TG fury and arms all rule at one time or another. Both fury specs were nerfed in their turn, while arms saw some buffs that left it near the top of the DPS charts in Dragon Soul.

By the end of the expansion, prot remains what it often has been since the beginning of Wrath, a solid second place in just about every role in tanking. Threat changes, a mastery that works best on physical damage in raids where magical damage was the primary concern, and a few gimmick fights that rewarded specific warrior talents have made tanking on a warrior a roller coaster. For every heroic Magmaw that rewarded warrior mobility and talents like Impending Victory, there's a Chimaeron where blocks don't really balance out the vast amount of damage. For every heroic Nefarian with kiting galore, there's a Cho'gall or Sinestra.

Warrior numbers dropped, as well. While we're not as low as warlocks or rogues, our numbers in PvP declined, most likely due to the loss of any real bite to Mortal Strike. Reduced at one point to a 10% healing debuff, it was later returned to 25%, which still amounts to very little. Both SMF and TG fury saw some success in PvP, only for the fury mastery to be nerfed early. In general, warriors simply can't apply enough pressure to be a threat in PvP when fighting players in equivalent gear. Too much survivability and too little damage plus no significant way to cut healing means warriors are tepid in PvP.

If I sound depressed, well, I am. I started this expansion as a tank with a SMF fury off spec, went TG fury main spec and protection off spec around the time that Firelands dropped, switched to arms for Dragon Soul and am now protection main spec again. The biggest problem I have is that pretty much every time I got used to a spec or a role, it would either get nerfed or someone else would get buffed. Warriors, shackled to a rage normalization that still ultimately didn't work (although it was better than I'd feared it would be), were still in the feast or famine world, and it showed.

So far, the one experience rage management has never managed to give me is fun. Quite frankly, it's more fun to tank than DPS now because as a tank, I never have to worry about rage. I'm going to have it to use when I want to use it. Arms at least manages to have Deadly Calm, so most of the time, if I end up feeling starved, I can compensate. Fury has nothing, and no hit to really make up for it.

Ordinarily, I try and pick out the positives as well as the negatives. So I should be fair and admit that protection works. It's a well-designed tanking spec; warrior tanks are where other tanks should be. The problem is mostly things like set bonuses (DKs and druids have a far better four-piece set bonus than a warrior in tier 13; even paladins do), absorbs being ludicrously good for some tanks, and how the warrior mastery scales extremely well with physical damage -- things that we're just not taking a lot of in the latest tier of raiding. Warriors on heroic Spine of Deathwing show that the class isn't really broken as tanks at all. The fight design is just skewed toward elements we're second-best at, like mitigating magical damage or having damage that requires a lot of cooldowns to get through.

Likewise, when arms is one of the best DPS specs out there, it's hard to feel particularly bad for fury, especially since fury has led the pack for a long time now, being the preeminent warrior DPS spec since late Burning Crusade. Fury ruled the roost in Cataclysm for most of the expansion, and if its fall from grace was staggering, it was also to a degree long in coming. I got to raid as competitive DPS all the way through tiers 11 and 12 as fury, and even now, fury can be a good spec to use for specific fight conditions. If it's also true that fury simply doesn't match up to pretty much any melee DPS spec in the game, it can't be said that warriors have no option to raid now as DPSers. Arms is good to great, with options for superlative AoE or very effective single-target damage, depending on how you spend your talent points.

However, for once, I won't pretend I'm even remotely satisfied with warriors as they currently stand. I'm not. I'm fairly well dissatisfied with the way the class has developed this expansion. Rage normalization didn't ruin the class, but it didn't fix the problems that it was intended to. Rage still either starves you out of being able to do anything, or it doesn't matter at all. Arms warriors can easily juggle their rage. Protection warriors barely even have to care about it. Fury is constantly left starving for it. Mastery didn't provide the knob we were supposed to adjust to raise or lower DPS so much as it was given one sharp, savage nerf for fury and otherwise hasn't been tinkered with at all since. Right now, SMF fury completely loathes it, and TG has a strange bell curve effect where it gets better for a while before becoming just as useless.

And hit rating has really stood out as a stat that doesn't seem to know how to interact with warriors at all. Prot values hit and expertise so lightly that any piece of gear with either of those stats on it will either not be used or will be as heavily reforged away from them as possible. Arms easily caps hit (it was possible for arms to cap hit in early heroic dungeons), while fury cannot cap hit in current gear. Likewise, haste, a stat we were told would help with our rage generation in Cataclysm ended up being so thoroughly shunned it could be in a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne. There were actual debates over which stat was worse, haste or mastery. No one argued that either was good.

Mastery is of course an amazing stat for protection, limited only by how hard it is to get the combined block/dodge/parry to 102.4 and ensure that all incoming physical damage is a block, dodge or parry (what we call reaching unhittable). But by Dragon Soul, it's become reachable. It's to the point that you can consider gemming away from mastery and toward pure stamina. Prot also values dodge and parry, of course, but the shift making agility useless for plate tanks (it no longer grants any dodge) in order to keep us from using agility DPS swords and axes to tank with and the slight increase in how much parry we get from strength to compensate means we tend to have slightly more parry than dodge. The avoidance/mitigation stats have risen to total ascendance for tanks due to the increase in how much threat all tanks can generate, to a current five times damage dealt.

So this sets the stage. Next week, I'll go into depth on arms: how it went from the worst melee DPS spec to one of the best, and how it manages rage better and uses its proc priority system more effectively than its fury competition.

At the center of the fury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, from hot issues for today's warriors to Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors and our guide to reputation gear for warriors.

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