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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Proc weapons and the future of itemization

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.

For the first time since the brief period following the launch of the pre-Cataclysm patch, arms has achieved parity with fury as a PvE DPS spec. Granted, this required a painful mauling to fury's DPS output and relies heavily on arms' ludicrous AoE potential as well as getting your hands on a Gurthalak. The proc on the weapon can add as much as 15% of your current DPS; in raids and on heroics, I've seen the Tentacle of the Old Gods put out more DPS than Rend and Deep wounds combined. Even on a high-trash dungeon where you can use Blood and Thunder to spread Rend around, Tentacle can still put out a respectable 5% to 6% of your total damage.

The sword is just as good for fury (I did in fact try out a fury build with it off-hand to test if it procced, and it did, quite frequently). While it won't make up for the nerf fury took, it does put me in mind of weapons like Bryntroll and Shadowmourne, proc weapons that did excellent damage in a warrior's hands from the end of the ICC era. I'll admit it's unfair to use Shadowmourne as an exemplar here, as the weapon was a legendary, but that's OK -- this isn't meant to be a pure comparison.

Proc weapons have a long and storied tradition in World of Warcraft but they've also somewhat fallen from favor, since they're never as reliable and predictable as pure stats. People would argue the Blackhand Doomsaw vs. Arcanite Reaper into the small hours back then. But I think Dragon Soul's two proc weapons (Gurthalak and Souldrinker) have me thinking a lot about where weapon itemization has been and where it's going, and what that means for us warriors.

The origin of the proc

In the years that I've played WoW, I've actually changed my mind completely on procs on weapons. I used to hate them. In the old Doomsaw vs. Reaper argument, although I vastly preferred the look of the Doomsaw, I always went with the Reaper for its good ol' reliable attack power. Same for the later Ashkandi vs. Kalimdor's Revenge argument. (In that case, I generally preferred Kalimdor's because it has strength and a proc, but Ashkandi had 86 AP, which was the equivalent of 43 strength back then and significantly more than the 48 AP Kalimdor's would grant you. It was a squeaker, to be sure.) I hated the randomness of procs, I would argue. I liked being able to rely on stats.

This is a rubbish argument, and I'm embarrassed for past me that I ever made it. For starters, nothing is really random; proc weapons can be tested out and their proc rates and internal cooldowns (if any) determined. It's all math and code, ultimately, and how often a proc goes off and how much of an effect it has can be simmed out and calculated. Some procs will be underwhelming due to low uptime or the nature of the proc. A short-duration strength proc may sound good in theory, but if it procs and then you have to run away from death on the floor or a nuclear blast on Deathwing's Spine or what have you, you'll be wasting that strength when a proc that just applies damage directly would have done its job for you. What's good about this is that it's a decision you can make that is still a rational one, but not the same as "Ew, this weapon has haste and this weapon doesn't."

The argument for proc weapons

Itemization has to include classes that use the same gear even if they use different mechanics. It even has to include different specs of the same class that use different stat weights. An arms warrior doesn't need nearly as much hit as a fury warrior. To be frank, proc weapons aren't as boring as weapons with stats, and they don't gravitate to one class that likes X stat, whatever that stat may be.

Let's look at Souldrinker for an example. This is a weapon that haste-shunning SMF warriors and haste-hoarding DKs can agree on, as well as protection warriors. (I still have fond memories of tanking with Last Word.) Much of the weapon's desirability will come down straight to how often it procs and how effective that proc is, but the point is, it's not just another dodge and mastery -- it's for tanks weapon.

Proc weapons are compelling for a variety of reasons.
  1. The proc can be made more inherently unique than static statistical itemization. Souldrinker's proc, for instance: "Your melee attacks have a chance to drain your target's health, damaging the target for an amount equal to 1.3% of your maximum health and healing you for twice that amount." This is certainly a solid proc for any plate DPSer, but it takes on an added dimension when you realize that a tank using it will do more damage with every proc and be healed for more as well. Protection paladins and warriors have more health than SMF warriors and frost DKs.
  2. The proc is never going to be a dump stat. Like it or hate it, you can't reforge away a proc. This moves these weapons away from the current use of reforging, which is to take a pass over the character's entire gear set and tweak it as close as possible to perfection in that spec or class' chosen stats.
  3. Procs can be visually distinctive and more powerful by design. To use a non-warrior weapon that we'd never use but that has a proc we could imagine in a warrior version, consider Kiril. Imagine if that proc were strength instead of agility. Just as the Tentacle of the Old Gods' popping up and blasting your enemies is a visually distinct proc as well as a very potent DPS one, Kiril's proc is both potent and engaging. Static statistics on a weapon simply cannot do this. (Please don't take Kiril. You can't even equip the Raid Finder version, and the normal/heroic raid ones are clearly made for druids and hunters. Don't be a jerk here. I'm just mentioning it because it's such an awesome proc.)
  4. Procs don't have to play by specific class rules. Souldrinker and Gurthalak are both weapons that do something warriors normally can't do, or at least not well. (Souldrinker is like super-ultra-mega-Bloodthirst.) This was also the case last expansion, with Bryntroll stealing target life and Last Word boosting strength and increasing heals that landed. Also, and importantly, proc weapons don't have to worry about stat caps. Too much expertise? Not enough hit? Not a problem.
Keeping procs special

This doesn't mean that all weapons should be proc weapons. If anything, I'd argue that putting them in prestige locations (off of the final fight in the Dragon Soul raid, for instance) is a pretty good niche for them to inhabit. I wouldn't mind seeing more of them in dungeons once we enter Mists, but there are always caveats.

A proc weapon, in order to be worth forgoing the static stats on a weapon drop, must offer at least a competitive edge in terms of the proc itself. It has to be good. The very advantage from terms of design and itemization (that procs aren't as black and white as statistics on gear; that procs aren't as immediately easy to accept or reject; that procs can't be reforged off and make itemization involve more thought) also come with a cost. Asking players to judge how good a proc is before they get a chance to try it out means that they have to either do a lot of research or take it on faith, so if the proc turns out to be underwhelming, it's always going to leave a bad taste in their mouths.

Also, as a warrior, weapon procs often don't count as an attack by me, meaning that they don't cost rage, but neither do they generate rage. As we go into Mists and its new talent system and more active means of rage generation, we're always going to have to balance stats like hit, crit, expertise and mastery against the less definable potency of a weapon's proc. I'm not saying it's not worth it, but I'm just pointing out that it's a potential pitfall.

It goes both ways, in fact. The old Halberd of Smiting from original ZG had an interesting quirk in that it could proc and then the proc could trigger another proc, which could do likewise. I once had my Halberd proc five times. Consider that means I hit another player for about 2.5k damage instantly on top of the weapon's damage at level 60 (when most tanks had about 4k health), and you can see the dangers inherent in a poorly implemented or designed proc.

I really expect that moving forward, we're going to see more proc weapons, especially since they can be made to straddle the DPS/tanking line more effectively. We've even seen some procs built into our tier sets this time out (warrior T12 four-piece), and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see that continue. In the end, procs make things more interesting. I've grown to love the tentacle. I call it Yivo.

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.

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