Before we move on to talk about talents and leveling specs, let me first say that if you remember protection as the worst leveling spec in all of WoW, those days are dead. I wrote a 101 guide to tanking three years ago, and if you even bother to look at it now, it's nostalgia: almost nothing remains of that time. Leveling as prot works very, very well, as it has pretty much since Wrath launched. For the leveling prot warrior, a few suggestions.
- Gear for as much strength as possible. It will give you AP for Devastate, Shockwave and Thunder Clap, Block Value for Shield Slam, and generally is pretty easy to get on plate. A lower level prot warrior leveling as prot, if not decked out in heirlooms, should look for 'of the bear' greens until Outland. Once you're there, you can mix it up ('of the Champion' plate should more than suffice to tank most leveling Outland dungeons while 'of the Beast' is a prett solid alternative for soloing and grinding.
- You can't use Devastate without a shield equipped. You can't Shield Slam or Shield Bash without one. Get a shield. You're not going to be a DW prot warrior, accept it. Part of leveling prot is hitting things in the face with a refridgerator door you found inside a boar's stomach or something. I don't know how it got there either. Sadly, there's no heirloom shield.
- You're at your best when you can take one two or three (more depending on level and gear, the better your gear the more you can take down) at once. You're still a warrior, though: health, and not a resource like mana, is your limiting factor while soloing. Make sure you have food, bandages, and pots available. As you gain abilities like Damage Shield and Shockwave, AoE grinding gets better and better.
Here is a level 80 spec suitable for raiding or running heroics. This level 70 spec with 10 points unspent is aimed at ease of use with talents like Puncture and Focused Rage that aren't really needed for tanking endgame.
A protection spec warrior who wants to generate decent threat for groups as well as single target will be almost forced to spec down the arms tree for Impale and Deep Wounds. Since you're going up there anyway, there's absolutely no reason to avoid picking up Improved Heroic Strike, Deflection (a must have for tanking, since 5 talent points buys you 5% avoidance that completely avoids diminishing returns) and Improved Charge. These 15 points are about as deep as you'll want to go in arms.
For fury talents you probably won't go any deeper than the first tier's Armored To The Teeth, which you'll take because it's free threat considering how you're likely to have as much armor as you can anyway. If you've decided not to spec as far down the arms tree as to pick up Impale/DW for group threat, talents like Cruelty (while 5% crit is nice, you'll have higher than usual crit on most of your threat abilities if you spec properly in protection), Booming Voice, Improved Demoralizing Shout and Commanding Presence are all attractive to protection. You most likely won't go much deeper than that: you want at least 51 points available for protection, so a spec with more than 15 points in fury will basically have Deflection from arms and not much else.
6. Talent overview
Obviously, if you're leveling as a protection warrior you'll spend the majority of your talents in the protection tree, and if you intend to tank anything beyond a 5 man as a warrior protection is the talent tree to focus on. There's a whole host of good talents here for those purposes.
- Shield Specialization: Useful not only for the 5% block chance when maxed, but the 100% chance to generate rage on a block, dodge or parry.
- Improved Thunder Clap: At lower levels and when gearing up the rage discount is very welcome, and even as you no longer have rage issues while tanking the hardest content the increased attack speed reduction and higher damage make it a worthwhile ability.
- Incite: 15% crit on Heroic Strike, Cleave and Thunder Clap is why you don't need Cruelty over in fury.
- Anticipation and Toughness: Remember when I told you that after Stamina, Armor and Dodge were too close to call? Well, here's more armor and more dodge. Toughness even removes movement slowing effects.
- Last Stand: 30% of your maximum health for 20 seconds, this is one of our two cooldown abilities, and it's a must have for any serious tanks.
- Improved Revenge: More damage for one of your best threat moves and a chance at another stun.
- Shield Mastery: Worth it for the reduction in your Shield Block cooldown alone.
- Gag Order: Increases Shield Slam damage and gives you a ranged silence. I'm not seeing the down side.
- Concussion Blow: A stun with solid damage. (So solid it's being nerfed in 3.3.2 but it's still a stun.)
- Improved Disciplines: You won't use Retaliation or Recklessness all that much, but shaving 60 seconds off of your Shield Wall is totally worth it. (Retaliation's not bad for AoE tanking if you can lock down your attackers.)
- Improved Defensive Stance: Reduces all spell damage you take in defensive stance and gives you a means to enter an enraged state pretty much at will, meaning that you can use Enraged Regeneration. It's also nice for threat.
- Vigilance: Not only an excellent means to lower someone else's threat while increasing yours, but a means to ensure that you have taunt available when someone is threat happy. Simply a must have for tanking.
- Vitality: 6% more strength for threat. 6% more stamina for survivability. And 6 expertise for threat and survivability.
- Warbringer: Charge! While in combat! It's why you wanted Improved Charge from the arms tree.
- Devastate: The bread and butter of the protection warrior. Does good damage, applies sunder armor (you'll never even need to have sunder on your bar once you have this ability).
- Critical Block: This ability guarantees that you won't need to stack ridiculous amounts of block value. Combined with Incite and Sword and Board, it means pretty much all your threat generation has an additional 15% crit to boot.
- Damage Shield: You hit me, I hurt you for it.
- Sword and Board: One of many abilities with multiple synergies, this not only increases your Devastate crit chance by 15%, it also has a chance to refresh the cooldown on Shield Slam and lower its rage cost to zero. Really an excellent ability for burst threat.
- Shockwave: Not only is this ability named after one heck of a cool Decepticon, but it's also possibly the best snap-aggro ability in the game. Helpful in grinding groups of mobs, it really shines when it can be combined with an immediate Thunder Clap afterwards to maximize immediate burst threat. The stun makes it a nice semi-panic button to have when a healer gets aggro.
Prot warriors lack a 'rotation' as such. Unlike other tanks who have certain abilities that have cooldowns that suggest their use, protection warriors have two fairly long cooldown abilities, two spammable abilities (or three in certain situations), and one ability with a cooldown that can be reset by a talent proc. At 80, this non rotation can become quite intense.
When making a trash or AoE pull, a prot warrior will ascertain which (if any) of the mobs in question require a silence to pull them into a useful position. Often this will lead to a Heroic Throw pull using Gag Order's silence to good effect. If, however, there seems to be no need to pull anyone out and a pack looks as if it can be tanked where it stands, a protection warrior will simply charge a mob and begin attempting to build Area Threat. Thunder Clap and Cleave (especially with the Glyph of Cleaving) will be the primary means, although it's certainly helpful to put Vigilance on a high aggro target (either a healer or a ranged DPS with little to no threat reduction) as well. Using the older technique of tab targeting (this is when the warrior uses the tab key to cycle between mobs in a pull and applies Sunder Armor to each, most likely using Devastate) can sometimes be useful depending on how many mobs are in a trash pull.
Devastate can be spammed, or hit repeatedly, as long as the warrior has rage. It's an instant ability. Heroic Strike, the other single target threat ability, is a 'on next use' ability that does not fire immediately but instead takes the place of the warrior's next melee swing. As a result it not only costs rage to use, but costs the warrior the rage he or she would have generated with that melee swing. This isn't a tremendous concern after a few seconds but it means that warrior threat is highly dependent on the rage generated by being hit, and as such, is most vulnerable to aggro loss in those first few seconds. For AoE pulls Cleave often takes the place of Heroic Strike.
Revenge, an ability that becomes usable after you dodge, parry or block an attack, is one of the higher threat moves in the tanking warrior arsenal and should be used when it lights up. Shield Slam is the 'big instant' of the tanking warrior and with Sword and Board can refresh more rapidly and cost no rage to use. (Sword and Board rewards a tank using Devastate and Revenge as it has a 30% chance to activate off of those abilities) Combined with Thunder Clap to slow mob attack speed, Demoralizing Shout to lower their attack power, and Shield Block to increase block chance warriors have quite a few means to not only hold aggro but also reduce incoming damage.
Almost all tanking warriors will use the Glyph of Shield Wall and Glyph of Last Stand. This sadly takes up two major glyph slots, which means that excellent glyph options like the Glyph of Cleaving, Glyph of Vigilance, Glyph of Taunt (if you're low on hit rating), and Glyph of Devastate end up being situational. A lot of prot warriors actually carry stacks of these glyphs and use specific ones for specific fights now that you can switch a glyph anywhere.
As for gems, stamina is king: you're going to gem the Solid Sky Sapphire or Solid Majestic Zircon wherever you can. (If you're JC you'll use the better ones you can make whenever possible). You'll probably gem for dodge/stam, hit/stam, or exp/stam if it helps you get a set bonus that happens to be stamina or if you're ridiculously low on one or all of those stats. But stamina will be your first thought as a tanking warrior. (Some tanks like agi/stam for the little extra armor.)
In the future we'll have similar overviews for fury and arms specs, and then an enchanting/gearing guide. We also need to cover the Crimson Halls of ICC.