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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: The Warrior of 2009

The Care and Feeding of Warriors is WoW.com's column about aromatic essential oils for use in baths and to spruce up the house. Unfortunately I don't know anything about those so I'm going to have to talk about playing a warrior in World of Warcraft instead. My hands are tied, I'm afraid.

Wow, that was a year, huh? From the dizzying highs of fury spec in Naxxramas to the somewhat less dizzying highs of Ulduar, arms' constant evolution and protection spec's astonishing makeover as the expansion launched, 2009 was a year that saw warriors sway from top DPS and solid tanks as if in some kind of gale force wind. Armor Penetration went from a stat we'd take if we had to and is now one of our top DPS stats, Block got a makeover that led to changes in how abilities like Shield Block and Shield Slam calculate, and in general we saw the effects of stat inflation on gear really have an effect on us and how we stack up to other classes as tanks and DPS. If you were a tanking warrior in Naxx on January 1st. 2009, for example, you may have had upwards of 35k health. (To be honest, it's hard for me to remember, it may have gotten up to 38k if you stacked stamina.) Now, a geared TotGC tank walking into ICC can pretty easily hit 54 to 55k health fully raid buffed.

And it's only going up from here. Icecrown Citadel promises much improved itemization as well as crazy old school procs that should have warriors, be they DPS or tanks, salivating.

Warriors have definitely had their ups and downs this year, but I think we can say we're ending the year on a fairly high note. Fury DPS has managed to get back to a competitive place with the new weapons, arms still lags behind but has solid PvP and PvE uses, and protection is quite possibly the single strongest tanking class by virtue of sheer flexibility: other tanks may have more health, more armor, or more AoE threat, but protection's suite of abilities includes standouts like Shockwave, Vigilance, Spell Reflection and Warbringer, making it possibly #2 in every single tanking category when no class can claim to be #1 in them all. Let's look at some changes and how they shook out for warriors.

Titan's Grip

Yes, even a year and a month later, Titan's Grip has changed how warrior's DPS forever. It's not just fury that it changed, either: the rather radical design elements included in the arms tree are testament to the difficulty inherent in trying to balance a tree that DPS' with one 2h weapon against a tree that sees that one 2h and raises it another one.

Titan's Grip didn't just cause design problems for arms, however: the talent itself required a lot of adjustment until it reached its current state. It's no secret that I disliked the hit penalty when it was originally introduced, chortled in glee when it was removed, and then wept bitter black tears when the talent instead gained a flat 10% damage penalty to offset the benefit of having all the stats of two two-handers. I'm still not thrilled about that penalty, or the idea that in order to match any other hybrid DPS who uses a two hander I have to spend DKP on another one and then eat that penalty on top of it, but I can't deny the evidence of my senses: as gear improves even penalized Titan's Grip just gets better and better and better. (Hey, when a tanking warrior can go DPS for one fight, throw on his DPS gear and switch to his old DPS raiding spec and hit 9.5k DPS, even the most bitter curmudgeon in existence has to admit he was wrong.)

Titan's Grip is a problematic talent, to be sure. I expect it will require further adjustment as we go into Cataclysm and see five more levels, with the redesigned talent trees and even more powerful gear. But it does what it was intended to do and moves fury DPS away into a unique and iconic level.


Dual Talent Specialization

Was anything as directly and immediately class changing for every single class in the game as Dual Talent Specialization? Perhaps it wasn't as big a deal for the so called 'pure' classes, but for classes who can perform two or more roles, this was an absolute revelation. As long as you can keep your gear, glyphs and specs current, you now have the ability to (as just one example) tank and have a DPS spec, or PvP and PvE. The customization and flexibility this offers is simply astonishing, and it's a feature I'm so glad they decided to put into the game.


Armor Penetration


Until patch 3.1 dropped, no one was really thinking all that much about Armor Pen. It had its moment back in BC with enchants like Executioner and weapons like Cataclysm's Edge, but people were generally of the opinion that ArP was a confusing and really awkward stat. But 3.1 made ArP indispensable to the DPS warrior. So much so that there was wonkiness with the stat and has been ever since: we quickly saw it capped so it couldn't reduce armor to below zero, there was much discussion of how the stat was calculated at all (to the point where devs actually explained it, something they rarely do) and the amount of ArP rating you needed to actually reduce armor was increased in patch 3.2.2 to address it's runaway popularity among physical DPSers.

Since warriors are pretty close to being a purely physical DPS class (we have a few bleeds and bleed effects) ArP is one of those stats that, of all plate wearers, benefits us the most. While it's gone back and forth ever since it came roaring back with Ulduar, you simply cannot ignore ArP if you want to DPS as a warrior.


Block
It's been a roller coaster of a year for us block tanks. We talked about block back in May, and while the basic idea of block hasn't changed (you have two stats, block rating, which determines how often you block, and block value, which determines how much damage you block when you do) block itself has had its ups and downs this year. The changes to Block in 3.2 didn't magically fix all of its issues. Even Blizzard itself said in the Q&A series that block will eventually move to a pure percentage system where the amount you block will not be a static number but rather a certain percentage of a blocked hit. This will make the stat less godly on big trash pulls (in some instances a high block tank can simply ignore trash because their individual hits will never get over his block value, especially with talents like Critical Block) while making it more effective against a boss who hits for 30k or more. (Depending on the percentages blocked, of course... too low and it's just a nerf across the board, too high and block becomes the only stat anyone cares about.)

Part of the issue for warriors and block and the reason we saw so much tuning when block value from items was increased (and also the reason the amount of block value we get from strength wasn't) is that we use block as a threat stat as well as a damage reduction stat. Right now you can go play arenas and see, possibly for the first time, prot warriors in high strength or strength/BV sets running around Shield Slamming as an offensive strategy. This is subject to diminishing returns (this was put in place in patch 3.2) -

Shield Slam: The benefit from additional block value this ability gains is now subject to diminishing returns. Diminishing returns occur once block value exceeds 30 times the player's level and caps the maximum damage benefit from shield block value at 34.5 times the player's level.

What this means is that when you hit Shield Block, the amount of block value you get from the talent doesn't just scale directly to Shield Slam damage, which while a clunky solution is certainly more elegant than the 'Shield Block just adds threat to your Shield Slam, no damage' solution that was the original goal. While the doubling of block value on gear and the diminishing returns on block value for Shield Slam damage is not ideal, it's definitely better than rolling back to pre-WOTLK days.


Gear Scaling, Rage Generation and Rumblings of the Future

Warriors have forever been the class that scales the most... interestingly... with gear. We've seen rage normalization attempt to fix this back when BC came out (and fail spectacularly, too, I might have added at the time oh look I did) and it's been an issue ever since. The mantra is as it has always been: a warrior leveling has the most downtime, has to stop and eat while out grinding and soloing, and is weaker in relatively equal gear than almost any other class. Then, as the warrior gets better and better gear, his or her relative strength increases out of kilter with how other classes scale because as the gear improves, rage starvation goes from a real liability to a complete nonissue, giving the warrior effectively a red mana bar that starts low and then shoots up, never going empty.

Meanwhile, the tanking warrior finds herself or himself walking an entirely different tightrope. The gear he or she uses to tank absolute cutting edge fights, the best of the best for survival against massive spike damage from huge, powerful bosses, is a liability tanking anywhere else. Your best gear? Don't wear it to heroics. Oh, I know the DPS will be wearing all of their best gear, the same level and quality of gear as your best stuff, earned in the same dungeons and raids. But you can't do that. Strap on that older gear with worse stats, or gear to stack a threat stat or two over health even if it means wearing stuff you abandoned two tiers of content ago. It's not crippling, but it is irritating: I know I dislike losing 3k health to tank a heroic.

These aspects of the class... the wonky nature of rage generation and how the class scales... have had profound impact on how the class has been designed, and how it will be designed. The Warrior Q&A we saw this year showed us that an awareness of this issue is still foremost in Blizzard's look to future design. And the Cataclysm preview we saw at BlizzCon 2009 showed us that the changes will most likely be baked right into our talents and the Mastery ability, meaning that we are coming to the end of the time where a warrior uses stats like defense to determine the tanking viability of an item.

Make no mistake: warriors are still absolutely the class that scales best with gear. Bad gear is almost crippling to a warrior, and the better suited gear is to a role the more powerful the warrior is. Tanking is still heavily dependent on rage from damage taken, not dealt, and that is most likely going to change, and we first heard about it at BlizzCon.

Also, that class Q&A said Arms Warriors maybe will get to tank with 2h weapons, which is pretty sweet and I wanted to mention it again.


Arms goes round and round and round

It's hard, looking back now, to remember that there was a time where fury warriors wore tons of leather and mail and used 2 1h weapons like discount rogues, and arms warriors were the undisputed kings of two handed weapon fighting among the clanky rage class. All through Burning Crusade, Arms was feared for its Mace Specialization Stuns (especially when combined with a Stormherald) and of course Mortal Strike. Arms was regarded as a PvE DPS debuff spec, able to put out respectable numbers while also granting Blood Frenzy to the raid.

Frankly, when Wrath was in beta, I wasn't terribly impressed with arms. The new ability Bladestorm felt weak, arms felt kitable, and MS just didn't seem all that impressive anymore. Fury was over there dual wielding 2h and I was trying out arms and feeling like a tool. Frankly, I really missed paying attention to arms' new abilities like Taste for Blood, Wrecking Crew and Sudden Death. Obscured by my own obsession with Titan's Grip I missed as the developers moved arms as a spec into the ;disciplined and solider-like' spec they had in mind for it.

This past year has seen a lot of up and down for arms. There was the creation of Juggernaut, followed hard upon by the nerf to Juggernaut (but not to macros yelling catchphrases from last year's internet memes) which did help give arms much needed comabt mobility in both PvP and in movement heavy fights like Ulduar. In the hands of a skilled player, arms is capable of solid DPS and is a threat again on the PvP battlefield (the sheer volume of people complaining about Bladestorm proves that arms is no longer seen as the free kill it was at the beginning of the year). Part of this is also the change to Battle Stance adding ArP and the buffing of Sword Spec to where it's actually a useful ability and you won't reject a sword out of hand for the spec. Arms is solid now. Although even at this late date we can find issues to fix, apparently.


There's a lot more to discuss, of course (holy crap the Dungeon Finder alone), there always is. But here's to 2009, and looking forward to 2010.
Patch 3.3 is the last major patch of Wrath of the Lich King. With the new Icecrown Citadel 5-man dungeons and 10/25-man raid arriving soon, patch 3.3 will deal the final blow to Arthas. WoW.com's Guide to Patch 3.3 will keep you updated with all the latest patch news.

Filed under: Warrior, Patches, Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, News items, Expansions, The Burning Crusade, BlizzCon, (Warrior) The Care and Feeding of Warriors, Wrath of the Lich King

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