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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: The trouble with Execute

The Care and Feeding of Warriors The trouble with Execute
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.

This is not going to be a post where I tell you that warrior DPS is bad. That would be absurd. Arms is performing well and even fury can put out respectable numbers. There are problems with DPS warriors, but the problems aren't the kind that lead to low numbers. The problems are more esoteric. Fury's main problem is how staggering the dual wield miss penalty is now that there's absolutely nothing we can do save stack more hit to try and negate it, but all DPS warriors have the Execute dilemma.

Again, before players of other classes come along and say "What problem? Execute hits like a truck" that is, in fact, the problem. Execute hits like a truck, all right. In fact, Execute hits like a truck full of angry bees that have just seen you crossing the street in your Winnie the Pooh costume. The problem is just how much of a DPS warrior's damage comes from Execute. It can be up to 25% of a warrior's damage, which considering it's only applicable during the last 20% of a boss fight, means that DPS warriors underperform during the learning portion of a fight, and overperform in the part of the boss fight that's at 20% or below.

Now, this has been an issue since early in the Mists of Pandaria beta, with warriors in the beta test constantly bringing this up. The ability was even nerfed once we went live with Mists itself, and yet the problem persists. Why is that? What's the trouble with Execute, and what (if anything) should we see done about it?

Stabbing in the death throes

Part of the difficulty is that clearly, when warriors were redesigned for Mists of Pandaria someone in the design process noticed that Execute wasn't really that compelling a button to press and fixed it. That's right, I'm complaining that someone did their job properly. What happened, however, was that once Execute was made a compelling ability in the new scheme for warriors, the damage of other abilities had to be balanced around Execute's rather impressive output. Even after several balancing passes and hotfixes, this has remained the issue.

Warrior DPS before the Execute phase had to be reined in, or it would be absurdly high during said phase. That's a common sense decision. Otherwise we'd hear no end of caterwauling from the other DPSers, and man I can't stand that. I know, I know, we should pity them for not having chosen to play warriors. I know. I guess I'm not as charitable as I could be.

Shall we be the executioners?

Okay, seriously, the problem with Execute damage being so high that it forces the rest of our arsenal to be lower, meaning that warrior DPS is at best unremarkable before the Execute phase, is that it leads to peculiar artifacts. If you're learning a fight and not getting to 20% regularly, you'd be better off bringing someone else. Once you get into that 20% phase, warriors are ideal melee DPS. It also makes it hard for you as a warrior to know how well you're doing as a DPSer. Your trash DPS will be inconsistent (Do you get a chance to get a few Executes off? Does trash die so fast you can't?) and it rewards either sitting on your cooldowns or trying to time them so you're going to have them up for that Execute phase. It rewards selfish use of Skull Banner - I've watched the DPS warriors time their SB's so that they drop them in sequence during Execute phase, instead of using them during the fight. But I'll admit, the real reason this bothers me is in its perception on my part - it feels inelegant. It doesn't feel like I'm being rewarded for entering Execute phase, it feels like I did most of the fight with binders on and finally I get them to come off near the end. When an ability you only get to use for the end of the fight dominates your DPS on said fight, I get extremely leery.

The Care and Feeding of Warriors The trouble with Execute

That being said, since warrior DPS isn't low, does it matter? Most raid leaders aren't going to bench their warriors until they start moving into the 20% phase. It's easy enough to program a sim to take Execute range into account, trash DPS is hardly that important, and a good raid leader will call Skull Banner, probably during a Bloodlust/Heroism/Time Warp anyway. And as much as it may feel inelegant, an argument could be made that it's better that Execute be a button you want to hit. While I can see both sides of it, I'm still of the opinion that Execute is too good. I support the idea of making it a button you want to press, but not at the expense of shifting so much damage away from our other attacks like Mortal Strike, Bloodthirst, Colossus Smash, and so on. Once you hit Execute phase, you do your best to work up rage and then you dump it into Execute. It's so good it's even tempting for protection warriors to start dumping rage into execute sub-20%.

Reimagining execution

Okay, smart guy, then what should be done about it? Well, the easiest thing would be to drop Execute's damage some more and spread it around to other abilities. It's been tried, but it could be tried again. We could also return to the idea of a buff similar to the old Executioner ability from before Mists. By working such a buff directly into the warrior class, you could reduce Execute's damage while leaving it a button warriors are going to want to press.

Another possibility, however, would be to leave the damage on all warrior abilities unchanged, and simply extend Execute's use. Now, back in Wrath arms warriors could use Execute much as they do Colossus Smash now - I doubt that'll be brought back, as it made Execute simply another rotational ability and we have enough proc-based abilities for both arms and fury now. But a simpler idea could work wonders - just make Execute start at higher than 20% health in PvE. That's right, I'm suggesting that we make Execute work differently in PvE and PvP. A 30% Execute in PvE would justify Execute's current imbalance, and make warrior DPS more regular over the course of a fight.

As I stated before, it may be that nothing should be done. But I really think Execute needs to be adjusted before we can seriously look at balancing arms and fury damage.

Next week - why I'm starting to like Single-Minded Fury.


At the center of the fury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, from hot issues for today's warriors to Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors and our guide to reputation gear for warriors.

Filed under: Warrior, Analysis / Opinion, (Warrior) The Care and Feeding of Warriors, Mists of Pandaria

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