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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Gear

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.

Well, I got my second heroic weapon last night (off of Nazgrim, so not the ideal choice, but still heroic is heroic) and so i went TG fury. Once the damage on that second offhand goes up, your ability to put out reasonable cleave AoE with Whirlwind and Raging Blow makes the loss of Blood and Thunder (and thus, all that sweet, sweet bleed spreading) somewhat tolerable. I'm still getting used to it (Nazgrim has a positive gift for doing his leap move just after I hit Colossus Smash, the son of a motherless ogre) but I decided to commit fully to fury and thus, gemmed and reforged my gear for it.

Considering that warriors are a hybrid class with two DPS trees, it's interesting how the current state of the game makes going from one DPS spec to another so tricky. For starters, in order to get my gear properly optimized for fury, I had to finally bite the bullet and change my gems around - right now, if I were to take off my offhand weapon and go arms, I'd lose enough expertise that I'd have to reforge for it, and probably regem too. I'd also lose a lot of mastery, since I get a lot of both mastery and expertise from my offhand. And since fury basically just slops on the crit indefinitely, while arms said "Okay, I'm good on crit" around the 32% mark, I end up short on mastery and yes, even haste, going from fury to arms.

One of the reasons I'm so looking forward to Warlords of Draenor is never having to do this again. As much as I have in the past defending reforging and gear optimization, it does get tiresome to get a weapon upgrade and immediately have to head off to a few websites and compare their recommendations on how to properly reforge and regem everything. But it got me thinking about warriors and how we interact with gear.

One of the truisms of the warrior class is our natural gear dependency. To a certain degree, this is overstated, or at least warriors like to pretend we're somehow special in this, when in fact everyone in World of Warcraft is gear dependent. Everyone gets a good portion of their power from gear. Gear is the primary means by which we improve, ultimately - going up a level is far, far less significant than going up in ilevels on gear. This is complicated by ratings decay, of course - we get strange edge cases like the level 80 who has acquired various pieces of gear designed to last for multiple levels like Bjam's Door-Breaker and the true strangeness of the system becomes apparent.

To put it into perspective, compare the Door-Breaker to a drop off of a heroic Dragon Soul boss. Now understand, you could equip the Door-Breaker at level 80, meaning that its much higher ratings are magnified by the fact that at level 80, each rating point converts to more actual crit, hit, haste and so on. The reason the rating system was invented was a trinket named Blackhand's Breadth. As the Wowhead comment points out, the trinket originally came with a flat 2% chance to crit. If that hadn't been changed, honestly, a lot of warriors would be wearing it right now. Thus was rating decay introduced as a means to get you to need to upgrade your gear as you leveled without ridiculous things like a system where you'd actually have 1000% chance to crit but bosses reduced incoming crit chance by, say, 990% so you'd need to get your crit chance up to 1040%.

I'm not mentioning this purely out of nostalgia. The point being, it leads to the paradox of leveling - not only does gear affect our power more than our level does, but leveling actually weakens you if you don't have replacement gear waiting to go. A level 80 warrior with the Door-Breaker and other pieces of gear like it will seem crazy powerful relative to other characters of his level, but each level she gains will cause her crit, hit, haste and other stats to decline. By level 85, what was once sublime will now be only adequate, and each additional level will reduce those ratings more and more, eventually forcing the player to upgrade. And this is where the warrior myth of 'gear dependency' actually starts to be less of a myth and more of a reality.

The way the class works, rage is generated either purely passively (defensive stance), by damage dealt (battle stance) or by a combination of damage dealt and damage taken (berserker stance) - in the case of tanking warriors, rage is still affected by active attacks that have to connect in order to generate rage, like Shield Slam and Revenge. If the tank is undergeared, not only does she risk death before ever getting to generate rage for those active mitigation abilities like Shield Block and Barrier, she risks not connecting with her Shield Slam or Revenge and thus, not having any rage to use for them. Similarly, DPS warriors without sufficient hit and expertise will not land their attacks, which will reduce their rage generation for special attacks. It will also mean that their main rage generation attacks (Mortal Strike and Bloodthirst) may miss entirely, which means no rage, and they are far less likely to crit for an undergeared warrior.

Those attacks not landing a critical hit means that the warrior does not get an Enrage, which is hugely important for all three warrior specs. The reason protection warriors get Riposte is to help increase the chance their Shield Slam and Devastate will critically hit and proc an enrage in much the same way that arms and fury warriors want to get critical hits with their Mortal Strikes, Bloodthirsts and Colossus Smashes. The lower your crit, the less chance any of these attacks will critically hit, keeping your rage generation low and hampering your offensive output. In the case of tanking warriors it actually hampers survivability.

If the removal of hit and expertise has no other benefit (and it does, indeed, have other benefits) one that I can immediately forsee for warriors is a reduction in the severity of this gear cycle. We'll still need to upgrade our gear as we level. But we won't be forced as firmly into the famine cycle as we level, and that's a huge benefit. Yes, we'll still see our critical strike go down, and it means that our chance to enter an enrage will be lessened. Abilities like Berserker Rage will still be leaned upon as we go from 90 to 100 and see our crit drop, because we need to hit those enrages not just for the increased damage we get from being enraged, but the extra 10 rage we get. So leveling will still force us to look for new gear, but it won't doubly penalize by costing us not only the rage from those critical hits but also the rage from hitting at all.

It also means, however, that switching specs on a fight per fight basis may not be as difficult as it is now. While I expect we'll still see cases where certain stats are better for arms than fury or the reverse, without reforging and without stats that cap the way hit and expertise do, there won't be as much of the problem we currently have, where you either can't switch at all or do so knowing that your gear isn't optimized for the role, since you really won't be able to optimize your gear to the level you do now anyway. I resisted going fury on some fights not because I didn't know it could put out better DPS, but because I knew I'd want to be arms for the add heavy fights later and I therefore couldn't reforge and regem without really hurting my arms DPS for those fights. I've accepted that I'm simply going to do less DPS as arms now that I think I have a competitive fury setup - in Warlords, I don't think it will affect my decision making in the same way.

I'm still concerned that having three new secondary stats on gear in addition to crit, haste and mastery is going a trifle overboard and will lead to problems down the road, and I'd probably remove Multistrike if I had my choice (it's thematically less interesting than the other two) but we'll see how that shakes out.
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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