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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Mists of Pandaria Protection 101

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.

Last week, we covered fury; this week, we're moving to protection. Before I do, yes, I saw the most recent beta patches. This is what we have to expect and to some degree endure from the beta, continuous patch cycles that can follow hard upon each other. All we can do is wait for release, ultimately, and see where we stand then. The Vengeance changes will have an effect on several abilities including our scaling ones like Shield Barrier, but that doesn't really change their intended use, which is what this post will be covering.

Protection is the warrior tanking spec. Of the three warrior specs, it's the most "ready to go" spec in terms of how it feels to play on the beta right now, and I suspect it will launch with patch 5.0.4 feeling pretty good to most warrior tanks. It's not completely unchanged -- far from it, in fact, as rage for protection warriors has been fundamentally altered and new abilities have been introduced -- but warrior tanks in Mists of Pandaria will still be charging in combat, still using Heroic Leap to drop a huge burst of threat on certain pulls, still pinballing with Intervene and still slapping bleeds on multiple targets with their AoE. Some of it will even be easier now.

A lot of the stuff that's changed is under the hood change, stuff that will affect the game fundamentally but not in immediately obvious ways.

What has changed for protection in Mists of Pandaria

As was the case for fury, protection has seen its share of changes.

  • Stance penalties are gone. To ensure that warriors keep tanking in defensive stance, however, and don't therefore gain access to battle stance's increased rage generation, many abilities vital to tanking are linked to defensive stance and will only work fully in that stance. We can taunt in any stance, for instance, but Vengeance only works for us in defensive. The rage generation abilities Shield Slam and Revenge only generate rage in defensive stance as well.
  • You do not gain rage from damage taken in defensive stance. You also do not gain rage from auto-attack damage dealt in defensive stance. Defensive stance reduces damage taken by 15%, increases threat and generates 1 rage every 3 seconds when you're in combat. Your threat generation abilities like Shield Slam, Revenge and Devastate all contribute to rage generation now, instead of costing you rage. This also means you never have to worry about not starting a pull with enough rage for a Shield Slam.
  • The combat table has changed to a two-roll system. This means that you can no longer stack mastery to ridiculous levels in order to get your block so high that all attacks will be dodged, parried or blocked. An attack on you (or an attack by you) first checks to see if it was a miss, dodge or parry, and only if it was none of those things does it then check to see if it was a block. With this system, you are going to take unmodified hits. It's not possible to push them entirely off of the combat table.
  • Vengeance has changed to a rolling buff that has no cap and which only counts the last 20 seconds' worth of damage you take. This will lower how much DPS tanks do in 5-mans (as the lowest DPS tank, that didn't matter much for us anyway) and buff how much DPS tanks do in 25-man raids (we'll still be the lowest). It will also change how abilities like Shield Barrier, which absorb damage based in part on your attack power, will scale. This is a change to be aware of but not to sweat overmuch.
  • The second patch 5.0.4 drops, you are going to see a massive drop in your block and dodge. How massive? As seen above, in heroic DS gear, I went from 63% to 24% block, and I lost more than 5% dodge. I gained almost 3% parry, but that hardly compensates. This is in part due to the fact that ...
  • Active mitigation is in. That means that the effective value of hit and expertise have gone up because you want your attacks to hit in order to generate the rage you need to spend on abilities like Shield Block and Shield Barrier. Instead of your gear doing all the work of mitigating/avoiding damage for you, you're expected to do it yourself with these abilities.
  • Because of active mitigation and the way our rage generation works, hit and expertise are now significantly more valuable for tanks. Combined with the change to the combat table, you can't just reforge all hit and expertise away to mastery and call it a day. You probably won't need to worry about capping hit or expertise (certainly not parry capping expertise), but you can't just ignore them and hope they go away.
  • If you're one of those warrior tankss who, like me, enjoyed being able to charge and intercept in combat, intercept is gone.
Looking at that laundry list of changes, you may be feeling daunted right now. Please resist that sensation. Protection is an incredible leveling spec and tanks just fine in the 5-mans I've run on the beta. Proper use of Shield Barrier while soloing can allow you to destroy hard elite mobs while barely taking a scratch. Several talents work very well with protection, and overall the class still has a lot of that mobile destroyer feel it's always had.

I won't sit here and get into the debate over which tank is best -- it's far from settled yet -- but no matter what, warriors are viable tanks for Mists. Things might get hairy for all tanks who attempt to keep running Dragon Soul for the next month and a half, of course, but even that should be doable once we adjust to the new playstyle.

The Care and Feeding of Warriors Mists of Pandaria Protection 101 SatSun
Unwavering Sentinel, the warrior protection mastery, makes Thunder Clap free. TC, by the way, applies the Demoralizing Shout effect, as Demo is gone now. On the upside, with Blood and Thunder now a baseline warrior ability for protection (and arms), you can automatically apply bleeds with Thunder Clap and don't have to worry about rending a target first. So now, every 6 seconds you can debuff and affix a bleed to everything in range of TC for no rage cost. That's pretty freaking sweet.

Your rotation is not difficult to master. You'll use Shield Slam on cooldown, Revenge whenever it lights up, and fill gaps with Devastate hoping to proc Sword and Board and get another Shield Slam. Depending on the kind of damage coming in, you'll either use Shield Block or Shield Barrier as your mitigation and rage dump. You'll hit Thunder Clap to keep the Weakened Blows debuff up on single target, but you'll rely on it much more for AoE tanking to slap Deep Wounds (which has absorbed and replaced Rend) on everything.

There are several talents that give you additional attacks, which we'll discuss under the talents section. You may open with a charge or Heroic Leap, depending on the situation. I personally prefer Heroic Leap when I can get away with it, but Charge is free rage after all. I can't imagine using Heroic Strike at all, and you'll only use Cleave if you're desperate to lock an AoE pull down and can't get threat with Thunder Clap, Revenge, and whatever your level 60 talent is. The rage cost on both is prohibitive when Shield Block costs 60 rage and Shield Barrier scales from 20 rage up, absorbing more damage the more rage you have to spend to a maximum of 60.

Statistics for protection in Mists of Pandaria

You'll gear for survival, of course, but you can't ignore what we used to call threat statistics, because now they're useful for generating the rage you need for active mitigation and have therefore become survival stats themselves. And even with Vengeance and 500% threat, you can't ignore threat as a tank.
  • Stamina I admit, kind of a no-brainer, and it's on all the gear anyway. With the need to juggle hit and expertise in addition to dodge, parry and mastery, I don't think you'll be able to stack stamina through gemming as a protection warrior, at least not until well after tier 14.
  • Strength Again, not likely to gem for it. But it provides significant parry now as well as threat, and it's on all the gear.
  • Hit and expertise It takes 7.5% hit to cap special attacks and 7.5% expertise to push dodges off. You'd need 15% expertise to completely cap parries. I doubt any warrior tank is going to cap either of these stats, but with missing a Shield Slam not only costing you rage but also delaying your next Shield Block or Barrier, you're going to want to minimize those misses and dodges.
  • Dodge It'll be harder to get, since we only get it from dodge on gear, and parry is being emphasized for us strength tanks. You're still going to want it, but it's going to be below parry. The relative value of dodge is intended to be about the same as parry. You don't have to go reforging it off -- just don't expect to have as much.
  • Parry Strength grants significant parry, so you'll have more, and the DR curve means that parry will be higher even though the two stats are intended to be relatively equal.
  • Mastery It's still a good stat, but you won't be stacking it like the old days, because it can't push unmodified hits off.
The name of the game for protection warriors in Mists of Pandaria is, unsurprisingly, stat balancing. You're not going to want any one stat at a huge priority, and while parry will probably be your highest avoidance stat, ignoring hit and expertise will cause you to take more damage in the long run. You need rage to use those Shield abilities.

The Care and Feeding of Warriors Mists of Pandaria Protection 101 SatSun
Protection and talent choices in Mists of Pandaria

We covered the talents for fury last week, but protection has different needs.

At level 15, we get the talents Juggernaut, Double Time, and Warbringer. For protection, I'm really torn between Double Time and Warbringer. I like having a second charge available for whenever I need to use it for tanking situations, where nothing may require it or you may suddenly desperately need to do it. But Warbringer has that nice stun, which is fun for tanking as well. This is one I expect to change based on fight needs.

When you get up to level 30, you have three heals to consider. Enraged Regeneration is your "I want another small cooldown" option. It's very nice used alongside a Shield Block or Barrier, or with Shield Wall when facing a big damage spike, and at 1 minute, it can be used very often. Impending Victory doesn't impress me as much as a tank because it's dependent on needing to hit something to use it, but it would be nice for trash or adds during a boss fight like Magmaw. Second Wind is kind of the warrior version of Ardent Defender, and I'm told it's crazy-good for duels, so it may serve well for tanking as well. I'm still leaning toward ER as a tank.

Last week I called level 45 the loud noises tier. I stand by that assessment. Piercing Howl, as an AoE that slows everything, is nice for add tanking; Disrupting Shout, the AoE interrupt/silence, gives us another tool for keeping bad spells from casting; and Staggering Shout, which I see no real application for tanking. OK, I guess I could Hamstring spam everyone and then hit it, but I'd really rather just hit Piercing and slow everyone or have the AoE interrupt of Disrupting.

Bladestorm, Shockwave and Dragon Roar are our level 60 talents. Now, as a prot warrior, I love Shockwave, and it's got that 20-second cooldown that makes it the best option for AoE tanking in my opinion, along with that cone stun. But if you feel like you don't need a 20-second cooldown and want a big snap attack, Dragon Roar hits like a truck and completely ignores armor on a 1-minute cooldown, making it a very strong "I need aggro now" button. And Bladestorm is Bladestorm. You spin around like a crazy ballerina. Now, I love Bladestorm, but I'd choose Dragon Roar over it for tanking. It comes down to what kind of cooldown you want, 20 seconds or a minute.

Level 75 gives us some tanking utility to choose from with Mass Spell Reflection, Safeguard and Vigilance. Quite frankly, this is a really hard tier to make a pick from. But since most boss abilities seem to not be reflectable and Spell Reflection doesn't stop damage if it doesn't reflect it, I'll probably waffle between Safeguard and Vigilance. Now, Safeguard is easily wonderful for tank swap fights, while Vigilance is basically a Hand of Sacrifice ability now. But Vigilance also will give you the ability to spam taunt when you use it. Since I'll be able to spell reflect for myself anyway, I really think the go-to talents here are Safeguard and Vigilance, and you'll pick whichever one you like better. Safeguard is more appealing if you want to pick up something where it currently is being tanked, Vigilance if you want to taunt it over to where you are now.

Finally, the big level 90 talents. Out of Avatar, Bloodbath and Storm Bolt, I really like Storm Bolt as a tank. It's a crazy-nice pulling ability and can even be worked into your rotation every 30 seconds, and because almost all bosses are immune to stun, it'll do an additional 300% weapon damage to them. That's a 400% weapon damage strike every 30 seconds. Bloodbath is nice for AoE threat, and Avatar looks cool and helps with rage generation -- but in this case, the very short cooldown and massive burst threat of Storm Bolt for boss tanking makes me think I'm going to take it most of the time.

Next week, arms, and then the big wrap-up covering gemming and enchanting for all three specs.

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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