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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: 2011's warrior in review

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.

In the past, I've done Year in Review columns and liked them well enough. The first one I wrote was in 2007 and discussed rage normalization, which to my eyes was the biggest and worst change the warrior class had undergone in The Burning Crusade. Flash forward four years. Here we are in 2011, and rage normalization has been with us for a year and the sky didn't fall. This has me in a contemplative mood. The future is Mists of Pandaria and a new talent system, but right now, it's time to look back at what were the biggest developments for the warrior class.

I don't necessarily mean good or bad, here. These are simply profound changes, things that may have also affected other classes but which definitely affected us. While 2011 was a year we made contact (because we're melee, we have to make contact) it was also a year of a great many changes.

Mastery

I've talked about it before, but mastery really has been a game-changer for warriors this past year. Fury warriors got so much out of the stat before patch 4.1 that the amount of mastery they have at base was nerfed from 8 points to 2 points. It worked, after a fashion, because until patch 4.3, it became impossible for fury warriors to assemble enough mastery to make them interested in the stat again. It may be possible with Dragon Soul gear for TG fury, but with arms the dominant DPS spec for warriors in Dragon Soul raids right now, it's not likely to be tested exhaustively.
Mastery replaced both defense and armor penetration, two abandoned stats that were in use by warriors during Wrath. The design of mastery (to work with a specific talent specialization ability for each talent spec) made it the first attempt at a truly universal statistic on gear. (The closest stat we saw to this is either critical strike rating, which is not very compelling for tanks, or hit rating, which healers and tanks both eschew.) This makes mastery, at least on paper, a stat that every warrior could want on their gear. Protection spec warriors ended up loving mastery for its contribution to blocking via critical block, while arms warriors found Strikes of Opportunity compelling since hit cap and expertise soft caps were so easily reached.

Indeed, the massive nerf to how much mastery fury starts with was because Unshackled Fury, the fury mastery ability, was too good. While I've always said that the nerf was too severe, I do think a nerf was warranted because with mastery, we enter into a situation where the exact power of a stat is based entirely around a talent-specialization-specific ability. Unlike crit, or hit, or static avoidance abilities, mastery fluctuates in power based entirely on an aspect of the class that is baseline for each individual spec. By itself, this would change the game.

Prediction for 2012 Mastery will get reevaluated for Mists of Pandaria. I don't expect it to go away, but how it functions with talent specialization specific masteries will be addressed. It's not intended to ever be a dump stat.

The Raid Finder

As warriors don't exist in a vacuum, the Raid Finder affects other classes as much as it does us. That's a given. But as a class that can tank or DPS, one of the things that the Raid Finder has done (in my experiences with it) is given a wonderful freedom as to which role we're going to perform.

When the Dungeon Finder tool debuted, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to its implementation was simply one of demographics. There is not one tank for every five people playing. At least, we can argue successfully that there is not one tank for every five people queuing for dungeons. This simple fact led to the Call to Arms feature, which we discussed in length at the time. As a warrior, I often felt pressured to tank (and often did for groups of friends) even when I wasn't really in the mood.

I've tanked a few Raid Finder groups because, frankly, there's absolutely no pressure to do so. With two tanks per 25 people, it breaks down to 4% of the people queueing up for the Raid Finder needing to be tanks. I'm far more willing to believe 4% of WoW's players are interested in tanking than I am to believe 20% are (1 in 5 = 20%). In situations like this, tanking still has a lot of what draws players to the role (a perception of indispensability and increased responsibility, a sense of enemy focus being upon you) without the tension that groups being bottlenecked around the availability of a tank creating bad feelings on both sides.

The Raid Finder has many other effects, but none so specific to those of us who can tank as this: It releases us from the necessity of being able to tank, which allows for the free choice of the role. Being able to tank is completely separate from either being skilled at it or having the desire to do so. But a lot of people who would perhaps learn that they can tank and do enjoy it are often turned off by feeling forced to do so when not prepared with proper gear or experience by group demographics or the Call to Arms bribe. With the Raid Finder requiring less tanks, it paradoxically opens up the role to more people to try out without the pressure of feeling that the group won't roll if they don't.

Prediction for 2012 The Raid Finder is going to be baked into every raid, as we know already, and by its existence coupled with the Dungeon Finder, these two aids will become the standard for making the individual player with less free time feel more free in how he or she experiences content. I actually think the Raid Finder will bring more players into tanking.

Rage normalization

This time, rage normalization worked. It wasn't perfect, mind you -- I think the changes to rage generation coming in Mists of Pandaria sound like the developers are paying attention to rage gen's pitfalls -- but compared to the horrid mess it was in The Burning Crusade, this time Blizzard got a whole heck of a lot closer to the bullseye.

The past year, we've seen rage taken from a resource with exponential return once you pushed past a certain gear threshold (forcing an eternal reestablishing of where that threshold is) to a more predictable one. Undergeared warriors no longer starve entirely; overgeared warriors no longer swim in an ocean of endless rage. Granted, rage didn't suddenly morph into red mana; there are still fights that provide a lot more rage and time to use it than others, and so on.

If there's one place where rage doesn't really play its role as a limiting factor, it's still warrior tanking. In essence, warrior tanking is currently tuned around the idea that you'll always have sufficient rage to do what you need to do. Aside from the eternal rough patch at the very start of a fight (much less rough than it used to be), warrior tanks don't really have to conserve rage for much of anything. Both DPS specs actually play the rage game to some degree, although arms tends to play it with abilities that save it like Deadly Calm, while fury plays it by getting and spending it as fast as it can. The change to Heroic Strike means that an incautious DPS warrior can easily lay waste her or his own powers.

Prediction for 2012 If you've played Diablo III in its beta, you've seen where I expect rage to go for warriors. More abilities that create rage, taking the randomness out of it, and don't be surprised if the amount of rage generated by damage taken is tweaked downward to compensate.

Reforging

Finally, we come to reforging. I've hinted at it before, but from the moment reforging was announced I've believed it was the biggest change to how we gear our characters since scaling combat ratings were announced, and more important. After a year of the process, I can only say that I underestimated it, and I am probably still underestimating it. When reforging was announced, the general example used was that it would be used by players to take a piece of otherwise disenchanted tanking or healing or DPS gear and make it nominally more useful for an alternative role. If this has happened, it hasn't happened much if at all.

Reforging has instead worked as a min-max tool and a stress valve for statistics that are less desirable to a particular spec or class. DPS warriors and DKs and paladins all wear the same DPS plate but often value different stats. Reforging means we can each tweak toward or away from stats like haste or mastery depending on if they're good for us. It also means we can move statistics around once we hit a hard or soft cap into stats we haven't or even can't cap, like an arms warrior moving hit into mastery once he's at 8%.

It is in its application as a tool to more directly customize our gear that reforging has come to stand like a juggernaut alongside gemming and enchanting. Reforging is necessary, and it's become something that requires players to pay attention to their stats in a way they never really could before. If you got a pair of tanking pants with gobs of hit before, you just sucked it up and wore them until better dropped. Now, you forge off as much of that hit as you can. In Blizzard's constant war to make players want X stat, reforging becomes both our way of protesting (as we turn X stat into Y) and a means for them to see what stats we actually are gravitating toward. We're only beginning to see what reforging has in store for us.

Prediction for 2012 We'll keep doing this.

Transmogrification

Transmogrification is awesome. I am the colorful plate armor version of a pretty, pretty princess. Well, a male cow princess, but whatever. Yay for transmog. I literally cannot stop doing this. I change outfits like once a raid.

Prediction for 2012 I will never stop using Ashkandi.

Have a Happy New Year, everyone.

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, Cataclysm

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