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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Rage in Cataclysm, part 2

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.

Last week, we talked about rage as a DPS and tanking mechanic. This week, we're going to talk more about it as a mechanic, period. What are its defining characteristics?
  • Rage is self-generated. There's no predictable rate of return, and even if you geared for rage generation, you're at the mercy of encounter design. (A fight that forces you to break off of your target for any reason is bad for rage generation.)
  • Rage never inflates. An ability that costs you 15 rage to use when you learn it will forever cost you 15 rage unless a talent or ability discounts you in some way. Rage also never inflates in terms of how much you have. You will always have a maximum of 100 rage; there is no talent or ability that increases the size of your rage bar. It's 100 forever.
  • You can generate rage via specific abilities when it is absolutely necessary. The most common are Battle or Commanding Shout, or perhaps Charge.
  • With the exception of white attacks and some special cooldowns (Berserker Rage, Recklessness, Shield Wall, Retaliation, Rallying Cry), almost anything that doesn't generate rage costs rage.
  • Damage taken also generates rage, but for most DPS warriors, it's not worth courting death by deliberately taking damage for rage. Tanks make heavy use of this aspect of rage generation, since they take damage anyway.
Rage is alone among all other resource systems in that it starts at zero. While Runic Power also technically starts at zero, unlike a DK, a warrior has no secondary resource system like runes to allow him to still use major abilities in the way DKs can.

DPS warriors and scaling in Cataclysm

Other melee players use a system that combines their main resource (energy, mana, runes) with a secondary system (combo points, holy power, runic power) in order to allow them to have something to start with and something to build up/stack up. Even enhancement shaman have Maelstrom Weapon for this purpose.

This is not to argue that rage is necessarily inferior to those systems. In fact, one of its major pitfalls may be that as a melee DPS resource, it starts out weak and gains strength as the warrior does, so that a warrior in superior gear gains more from his resource despite the rage normalization changes that were meant to control warrior scaling. Normalized or not, one might argue, rage and its uniqueness always shows the upper limits to the resource management system.

Last week, I discussed how tanking does not require any sort of management of rage once one gets a few seconds into a pull. Rage-based tanking is weakest in the first 10 to 20 seconds of a fight and ramps up from there.

What interests me about the recent changes to warriors on the PTR is that these changes seem to argue that despite rage normalization's specific and often-touted goal of addressing rage scaling, nothing has changed. Warriors are still seeing damage nerfs at the end of the first tier of raiding exactly as they did in every previous, non-normalized expansion before Cataclysm. This implies that something is off with warrior scaling. And while there are some other culprits -- the precision change in patch 4.1, general damage inflation and stats on gear in newer content -- since we're looking at flat, across-the-board nerfs to both DPS warrior specs that are being made to general plus damage-percentage abilities, we have to ask ourselves why now, and why these abilities? Why nerf Two-Handed Weapon Specialization and Dual-Wield Specialization and why by such large percentages? I believe the culprit is rage.

At the heart of the changes

Warriors no longer gain the flat increase in rage generation from increasing damage; a hit generates a fixed amount of rage, be it a hit or a crit. But a miss generates no rage, a dodge generates no rage, and the more often you swing, the more chance you have of landing a hit, meaning the more chance you have of generating rage.

In essence, rage still scales with gear. So what? you may ask. Well, here's the rub: No other melee resource scales with gear to the extent rage does. Just from playing an enhancement shaman/feral druid the past few weeks, I've seen that my shaman's mana is fairly stable. It goes down, and I can use Shamanistic Rage if it's too low. For the most part, I simply don't need to manage my mana.

Extend this to all non-rage melee DPS, and what you see is that they all feel more powerful and can use more of their abilities at lower levels of gear. As the warrior's gear improves, despite the changes to rage, he still scales better than other melee DPS. Classes that once easily out-DPSed the warrior now fall behind as he hits more, swings more, generates more rage, and uses that rage to deliver more damage. Add in mastery, which causes burst DPS to increase, and you get the same feedback loop as before, although it is admittedly less intense.

Arms therefore gets punished more for what its mastery brings to the table -- that second attack -- and not for scaling issues as much. If anything, arms is punished by a punitive global cooldown that keeps its rage issues in check compared to fury.

The outlook despite normalization

Don't mistake this as an argument against rage normalization. Also, don't mistake the focus on rage here to mean that I've ignored other factors. Warrior DPS in general is propped up by the specializations listed above -- by Precision in the case of fury warriors, and also by Whirlwind resetting to a 4-second cooldown if there are more than four targets for it to hit. All of these factors have led to making warrior DPS higher than necessary on trash pulls, but none of them really affect boss DPS very much, especially not the WW change. It's possible that the Precision change, made both to encourage fury to find hit more attractive and to compensate for lost DPS from the significant mastery nerf for Unshackled Fury, inadvertently also exposed the rage scaling issue of increasing hit.

Ultimately, as long as rage works in the ways listed at the start of this article, it's always going to scale differently than other resources. Rage normalization did a lot to make warriors actually pay attention to rage, but it didn't change rage into red mana or make us suddenly have a rune or holy power to keep in mind. Rage is still rage, and rage still scales better with gear.

At the center of the dury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, including Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors, a guide to new reputation gear for warriors, and a look back at six years of warrior trends.

Filed under: Warrior, (Warrior) The Care and Feeding of Warriors, Cataclysm

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