Each week, The Care and Feeding of Warriors looks at the warrior class, the dizzying highs, the devastating lows, and the agony and ecstasy of plate wearing, rage using toons everywhere in Azeroth, Outland and Northrend. Matthew Rossi is our slightly demented, hirsute guide to all things warrior. We're not kidding, the guy's really hairy. Like a sasquatch, really.
Okay, first off, a confession: I'm cheating on my fury spec.
I have been since the option to have dual talent specialization came out, actually. See, I tanked all through original WoW and The Burning Crusade (to be fair, I tanked as an arms or fury warrior because I could in MC and BWL) and so I figured, what the heck, I'll go prot for my offspec and tank some heroics. After an initial hiccough where I actually specced arms for some fights and fury for others, I settled back into a standard prot build for tanking heroics for friends. Then summer hit, and we all know what happens in summer: people suddenly want to go outside and froilic in the sunshine and you're sitting there waiting to raid with 22 people and no tanks. So what do you do?
Well, you strap on all that offspec tanking gear you collected 'just in case' and you tank Ulduar, that's what you do. Over the past couple of weeks I've tanked more than I've been DPS That's not the problem, however. It's not that I've been tanking that has me bothered... it's that I liked it. A lot.
I switched to DPS last December when I moved guilds and started WotLK progression. I was tired, and maybe even burned out on tanking. For some reason, when I tank I'm much more of a perfectionist than when I DPS, I work like a fiend to get and hold aggro (I was trying to multi-mob tank in ZA on Dragonhawk way before the change to TC and addition of Shockwave, which is one reason why I have this very impressive cyst on my right wrist) and in general I find the greatest satisfaction as a tank in doing as good a job as is possible. However, by the time BC ended, I had started to hate tanking, hate the guild I was in for being the people I tanked for, and hate Blizzard for how they designed tanking. You've either taken a look at that cyst picture or you haven't, but either way the ridiculous amount of spamming Devastate, Heroic Strike, and Shield Block (also TC every time it was up, also Demo Shout every time it was about to fall off, also Shield Slam every time it was up... warrior tanking meant never allowing a cooldown to lie fallow, you were slamming on keys like a pianist on crank) had left my right hand in a state of pure agony.
I had to ice my wrist down after we killed Kael'Thas the first time. I'm not even kidding here.
So when I found myself tanking again this week and found myself enjoying it again, it came to me as a bit of a shock. Not that I didn't know that they'd overhauled prot immensely in patch 3.0, I leveled from 70 to 80 as prot intending to tank for my then-guild before the lure of Titan's Grip became too strong to resist. But the reduction in the spam factor was pretty substantial. Aside from metaphorically slamming my foot down on the Heroic Strike accelerator, and beating on my Devastate key like it owed me money, and yes, hitting TC every single time it was up... well, okay, I'm not exactly making my case here but trust me, it really is a lot better now. Honestly, while it's hard for me to determine which tanking class is outright superior to the others (DK's generally get chosen for hard modes due to their ridiculous level of tanking cooldowns, I am aware, but while that's an important part of the game it's hardly all there is to tanking) I would have no difficulty in saying that there's nothing a warrior can't tank. It's probably true that a paladin would have an eaiser time with large AoE packs and can generate more threat up front, it's certainly true that a druid has higher armor and health and most likely a great deal more dodge (which is true avoidance and not a mixed stat like block) and we've already mention death knights and their cooldowns that a warrior has to double glyph just to approach. But when I as a warrior tank can solo tank Yogg-Saron's Phase 1 and 3 and get a successful kill, I have a hard time believing that warrior tanks are broken as such.
That being said, the recent changes to the class on the last PTR build seem like very welcome ones to me. Are they massive, ground breaking redesigns of the class? No, they're not. Do warriors need more to remain viable tanks? I think this is a deceptive issue. Warriors are viable tanks now. Blizzard keeps saying that warriors are very well represented in Ulduar, and while for myself I have to say I haven't seen that (I'm the only warrior currently doing much tanking for my guild) I don't see much point in disbelieving them on it, not only do they have access to numbers I don't but if they were lying then the whole point of the discussion would be gone.
I think the biggest issue facing warriors as tanks is that they are, in many ways, the legacy tanks of old content. Warriors are the tanks who were designed to tank MC, BWL, AQ, and original Naxx. They're based around the idea of steady damage coming in, converted to rage, and going back out as threat. This worked fine when warrior tanks had 4 to 6k health and took hits for 3 to 4k at the absolute most (not counting things like crushing blows or big predictable Broodlord Lashlayer MS hits that could crit for 8k) but now that damage comes in huge spikes of up to 25k and tank health fully buffed is creeping towards 45k or more, you end up in a situation where warrior threat is ridiculously spiky. The initial period of aggro generation is hampered by having, at the most, the rage from Bloodrage and a charge to work with, making AoE tanking still an issue for warrior tanks despite our greatly increased toolbox we gained in patch 3.0. Meanwhile, on a boss, a warrior will often go from having effectively no rage to suddenly seeing the rage bar fill up from a huge spike or two of damage, leading to what I said before about threat generation being extremely spiky.
Combine this with one of our tanking stats being fairly lackluster at the moment, (the change to Shield Specialization will help with this to some small degree, at least in terms of rage generation, but it doesn't fix the 'meh' factor of blocking a 25k hit and in so doing reducing it by 2k damage, and that only if you're lucky enough for the 25k hit to be physical and not magic damage) and it's quite understandable that warrior tanks would feel that patch 3.2 is a disappointing one for them. It's fair to say that, despite the drastic and welcome redesign of the warrior protection tree in patch 3.0, warriors are still a tanking class designed and built originally around the idea of spamming certain ability to gain and hold threat.
Such a class, and one based so much around mechanics like block that are simply less impressive in the WotLK tanking world of big spike damage that requires cooldowns to mitigate, ends up feeling a lot more fussy to tank with. There's less of a feeling of a rotation and more of a feeling of battering your keyboard into submission in any given attempt to tank a boss, and AoE tanking still requires a warrior to hope no one is stupid in the first ten seconds of a pull because it takes about that long to get thunderclap, shockwave and tab devastating to the point where mobs will hold themselves on you via damage shield, and in that window it's fairly easy for anyone to pull mobs off of you while you wait for an AoE cooldown.
While I believe it is possible for a warrior to tank any content in the game, and for some fights our vast array of situational abilities (Vigilance, Intervene, Spell Reflection to name a few) can be quite handy, warriors are tanking with a design philosophy from the original release of the game at their core, and despite all the changes and abilities bolted on to that framework in BC and WotLK, the legacy of that oldest set of tanking mechanics persists and needs to be addressed. I don't think it will break the game if it's not addressed in patch 3.2, no.
But I also don't think the band-aid changes to block value on gear are going to do much, and as long as warrior damage output is the lowest of all the tanks, our rage generation is inexorably tied primarily to how much damage we take, and our threat output is linked to spamming abilities (you should have seen my wrist after I got done solo tanking Yogg) there are going to be issues with warriors as tanks. I've learned in the past couple of weeks that yes, I enjoy tanking still, but that going back to it full time might well destroy my hand. Is it as bad as it was in BC? No, but not as bad doesn't mean good enough. The small changes we're seeing in 3.2 are a step in the right direction, now lets see some more steps.