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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Fourth Spec Blues

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.

So yeah, I just plain forgot they'd nerfed Sweeping Strikes down to 50% a while ago. I haven't played arms since I got my second 2h weapon in ToT, so it just plain slipped my mind. Sorry, everyone. This of course means that arms is just plain getting an AoE buff, and I still maintain that single target DPS is where both arms and fury fall behind other classes.

Right now the only class that can reliably beat me on AoE fights is warlocks. I don't know if warlocks have an incredible means to spread AoE damage or I'm just running into the best warlocks in existence. So I find this emphasis on AoE for arms a little baffling. I'm not necessarily complaining about it, just confused by it.

It's also fairly clear that as of right now the PTR has no significant changes for fury outside of TG polearms. So we're basically in a situation where prot is getting DPS buffs, arms is getting AoE buffs, and fury gets to look like a helicopter. Since there are no egregious nerfs on the horizon, Shield Wall and Spell Reflection are shaping up to work on live without shields (Horde players currently pull an old Horde PvP shield out, Alliance the Ally shield) we're clear to discuss something I've been thinking about for a while, namely whether warriors should have a fourth spec and if so what should it do?

The Care and Feeding of Warriors Fourth Spec Blues SatSun

I've always wanted a playable blademaster spec for warriors, but it's probably not going to happen. As a great many of you have pointed out, the arms warrior incorporates the basic idea of weapon mastery that the blademaster stands for, and our talents have abilities like Bladestorm and Bloodbath that have that blademaster feel to them. Furthermore, it doesn't really make sense to add a fourth spec to a hybrid class that's another dps spec. We already have two, a third would be what? A separate spec for Titan's Grip and Single-Minded Fury? I'll admit, that appealed to me for a while, until I really sat down and thought about it. You'd need to make the toolkits on SMF and TG significantly different for it to matter very much - if you're just going to C&P the fury abilities and call the two specs good, there's really no point for them being separate specs.

There is, I believe, room for a fourth warrior spec. It doesn't need to exist, mind you. I find myself on the fence about whether or not more complexity is good for the class at this point - I know ability creep is one of the things we saw addressed in Mists of Pandaria and it's still a common issue - I have a lot of abilities set up on my action bars, many of which I don't use as often, and when 5.4 comes out my DPS setup will now have Shield Wall and Spell Reflection added up next to Die by the Sword, Demoralizing Banner and Rallying Cry (as well as Enraged Regeneration when I spec into it) on the "OSHI" bar.

Therefore, the fourth spec, if it were to happen, would best serve us by being a tanking spec. It would almost have to be a tanking spec that doesn't use a shield, because if it did use a shield it would be too similar to protection. At present, we have two shield tanks and three tanks relying on other mechanics to tank, so the addition of a second warrior tanking spec (one that doesn't use shields) would be roughly akin in terms of balancing to how Discipline and Holy Priests currently work. The new mechanic would have to be one that works with the warrior toolkit and class flavor. We can speculate, of course. In fact, that's pretty much all we can do since no fourth spec for any other class than druids has been announced. It's possible that by speculating we'll come to demonstrate why it is a bad or difficult to implement idea.

At present, six specs can make use of strength 2h weapons - fury warriors, arms warriors, ret paladins, blood DKs, unholy DK's and frost DK's. By comparison, only fury warriors, protection warriors, protection paladins and frost DK's use strength 1h weapons. So a new tanking spec would be better off (both for that spec and everyone else) using 1h strength weapons. If they're not going to use a shield, that leaves either dual wielding or using a 1h strength weapon and either and open hand or something else, and the design challenge of working out how to dual wield tank are probably less counter-intuitive than trying to design a fencer-tank style that just uses one weapon. Plus, as interesting as the idea of a duelist spec is, it sounds more roguish than warrior.

The next question becomes what takes the place of block for a dual wield warrior tank? One of the design challenges for tank design ever since The Burning Crusade has been what to do about tanks who don't block - each new tank introduced (DK's in Wrath and monks in Mists) have complicated this issue with new mechanics. Therefore, the easiest approach would be to let DW warrior tanks simply block with two weapons, give them a block mechanic based on mastery (similar to how prot warrior mastery works) as you can see on this shield from Lei Shen. While you'd still want to use different abilities, block itself wouldn't need to be replaced since shields haven't had block as a stat in some time. The real issues, then, are as follows:
  1. Differentiating their tanking design enough to justify their existence as a fourth spec.
  2. Giving them tools to compensate for the lost armor from not using a shield.
  3. Making them feel fun and 'tanky' at the same time.
These aren't insurmountable, of course. The easiest way to deal with the lost armor would be to add some form of compensation baked into the spec. Either it could have a small strength to armor conversion, or possibly the spec's parry gained from strength could be higher or it could get a parry boost from its offhand weapon. However, these aren't as interesting or as colorful as other classes, which have abilities like Savage Defense or the Blood Strike effect that means they actually tank differently to some degree. The balancing act between tanks is as complicated as it is because each class not only has to be mechanically equal, but they have to be diverse in terms of their aesthetic and gameplay. \

What I would like to see is a dual wield warrior tank that tanked aggressively, used a lot of fast strikes to generate rage to spend on defense, and whose main attack was a frenzy of small, fast strikes that went for weak spots in enemy armor. Thunder Clap could still be used as the main AoE threat move (it's fairly iconic at this point) and we have our level 60 and 90 talents for more AoE threat and as damage multipliers. Storm Bolt in particular would be attractive. Considering that protection is based around Devastate being used to proc Shield Slam, Shield Slam used whenever it's up, and Revenge likewise, you could design a dual wield tank who uses one attack to fill the roles of both Shield Slam and Devastate with Revenge still being part of the rotation, and perhaps incorporating either an Overpower or Raging Blow move for additional threat/damage. It would also be nice to see a tanking spec actually generate some rage from its attacks again, as opposed to protection's slow trickle in defensive stance.

However, engaging in this exercise has really shown just how difficult it can be to balance all of these elements of class design. Making a new warrior tanking spec that still feels like a warrior, has compelling enough reasons to exist to justify the effort involved, and doesn't play either too much or too differently from established tanks is a tall order. As much as I personally love the idea of a fourth spec, it doesn't really seem like it provides anything that would benefit us.
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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