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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Tier 13 and the visual set for warriors, part 1

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.

I was all set to talk about prot PVP when Blizzard went and released a preview of tier 13 for warriors. Frankly, I think it was a little cruel of them. For one thing, we now know that warriors win the gear look competition for tier 13. Sorry, everyone. If for some reason I'm right and Blizzard's going with Aspect-themed armor sets, I apologize to whatever classes get the Ysera and Alexstrasza sets.

But it's also cruel because they didn't release any specifics about the set at all. All we know is how it will look (pretty awesome) and not what it will do. What will the set bonuses be like? Are we again going to be in a position where there's no shoulder option outside of tier? These are questions that keep me up at night, people.

In the blog post that revealed our tier 13 look, there's also a visual overview of every currently existing warrior tier set. We did a big post on transmogrification a couple of weeks back, so it seems like now's a good time to start talking about that again. Rather than just throw tier at you over and over again, though, I'd like to try for something more thoughtful. With Blizzard giving us a chance to look at every set of tier gear for the class, let's talk about the cosmetic approach of the warrior over World of Warcraft's existence. This will probably take me a few weeks to get through, so I'm going to alternate it with the PVP series already in progress.

Design elements of classic World of Warcraft

Naxxramas itself was removed from World of Warcraft with the release of Wrath of the Lich King, so we can't acquire that gear any more. (The Darkmoon Faire may help with that, as far as transmogrification is concerned.) But as far as plate armor is concerned, it's worth talking about how Naxx culminated a design aesthetic for the original, level 1-to-60 release of WoW.

First off, there's a lot of armor you wore while leveling to 60. Greens and blues lasted you a lot longer (almost the whole of 1 to 60) and generally had a far more utilitarian look. To give you an idea, here is the Lionheart Helm, a crafted epic DPS plate helmet used by many preraid DPS warriors in those days. When you hear players today complaining that their gear shares models, consider that the Lionheart Helm was fundamentally the same model as 47 other helmets, not all of which were even plate. For an idea of a plate set crafted by many leveling warriors and how it looked, check out the Imperial Plate set.

The sameness of the gear made the first warrior set, the Battlegear of Valor, seem absolutely special and unique, and many players ran the dungeons necessary to gather it over and over and over again. This was back before the Dungeon Finder, when groups were entirely formed in guilds or over trade and general chat in cities. By the time its successor, the Battlegear of Heroism, appeared in the game, Molten Core was being run and some players already had their Might armor, and yet many went back for the Heroism just due to its iconic role in defining the warrior class. Heroism was also unique in that half of the set was good for tanking, while the other pieces in the set were aimed at a DPS role.

The Battlegear of Might, available through raiding in the Molten Core, was the first dedicated tanking set for warriors alone. The idea then was that warrior were most likely to tank in raids, and if for some reason the warrior wasn't tanking, he or she could pick up various off-set gear. Many warriors even wore mail pieces like the Crown of Destruction or pieces like the Lionheart Helm I showed you before. Also popular were the Flameguard Gauntlets, a rather brightly colored pair of DPS plate gloves that very heavily rejected Might's stark, brutal, gunmetal grey-and-blue color scheme.

The message was clear: Warrior tanks were the real deal, DPS plate was for both warriors and paladins, and neither was going to look particularly good in it. This paucity of gear left DPS warriors wearing blues, going back for the Heroism epics, or DPSing in tank pieces. Due to its unified and really striking look, Might was the set that told other players what a warrior was and did in raids.

To choose between clown and bug

Onyxia's Lair and Blackwing Lair, as well as Ragnaros, helped give us the Battlegear of Wrath. Also a dedicated tanking set, Wrath was the set that proved that there's nothing warriors like in a set of armor quite like ridiculously elaborate shoulders and helmets with huge, bear-trap-like maws on them. These are trends that reoccurred again and again. Also known as the Axe-Shoulders set and the Shark-Fin for the crest on the helmet (also somewhat axe-like), Wrath was the first set I completed as a tank and is still one of my absolute favorite sets.

BWL was also the raid where DPS warriors finally started completing their gear, even if it was mostly all older models reused again. The Helm of Endless Rage replaced many warrior's Crowns of Destruction, the Chromatic Boots replaced blue Strat or Scholo boots, and the Drake Talon Pauldrons were the first dedicated DPS plate shoulders. Many warriors upgraded to them from Valor before Heroism was introduced.

What this all shows us is that tanking sets were where it was at in terms of a unique and unified visual set of armor for a warrior. If you wanted to look like you did at level 40 but in all the colors of a crayon box, you could easily do so in DPS gear. Zul'Gurub didn't really improve this much, giving us plate gear in a red and blue color scheme that reminded one of Spider-Man. As we'll see when we discuss AQ's Conqueror's Battlegear, the Vindicator set was neither a tanking nor a DPS set, but a mish-mash with pieces slanted toward different uses.

The release of Ahn'Qiraj shook things up slightly. For one thing, with the exception of C'thun and Ouro, all the other gear from AQ was a sidegrade to BWL gear. For the first time, a new raid didn't provide much in the way of a power boost for raiders; it mostly filled itemization holes and gave you a chance to get gear of equivalent power if you just weren't getting lucky in BWL.

Secondly, AQ's aesthetic was entirely new, and the means to gain the gear sets came in the form of WoW's first token system. Anne Stickney already covered this in exhaustive detail in this week's World of Wardrobe, so I'll just say that for DPS warriors, the Day-Glo motif was now accentuated with the chance to look like a gigantic insect. A Day-Glo insect.

I've set an image of my warrior from the AQ days into this post so you can really experience exactly what it was like to be a warrior in those dark times. You can see that I'm actually using the Might legs to DPS in, because better simply had not dropped (indeed, did not actually exist outside of the Conqueror's set; most DPS warriors used the Scaled Sand Reaver Leggings if they could get them). You can also see that I'm using the shoulders from the Conqueror's Battlegear, a set with tanking and DPS itemization that tried to serve two masters and failed both. It looked distinctive, however -- there's no denying that.

All of the experimentation in the raids, building from the solid but unremarkable foundation of the level 57 dungeon blues (which themselves were an improvement on leveling gear like the Imperial Plate set), led to Naxxramas. Naxxramas continued the trend of itemizing the warrior class set as a pure tank set, as Might and Wrath had, and was even more distinctive and unified visually than either of those sets. The Dreadnaught's Battlegear was absolutely perfect, visually, for the instance it was found in. (Dreadnaught was actually more complicated to collect than any previous tier, requiring a variety of items including boss token drops and raw materials that could be quite expensive to create.)

All of Naxxramas' gear had a unifiying visual so distinctive and compelling that much of it was reused in the later Naxxramas-10's loot table, and the Dreadnaught set was retooled for tier 7. The visual set for warriors grew in complexity every raid tier from the MC era to Naxxramas, and it was the Naxxramas look that influenced what would come next in The Burning Crusade.

Next week, protection as a PVP spec. When we return to discussing unified warrior visuals, we'll cover how DPS went from the "I am wearing a neon bug" look to sharting tier gear with tanks, how item models and recolors proliferated, and how trends in set design shifted between tiers.

At the center of the fury 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, Analysis / Opinion, (Warrior) The Care and Feeding of Warriors

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