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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: 2013 the Warrior way

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 learn things writing this column. For instance, last week, I learned that 53 people will make comments on a post about ability bloat for warriors, and almost none of you will defend Cleave. To be honest, I was expecting a lot more nostalgia about it, but even the people who felt like warriors should retain the name (it's been with the class since beta, after all) were on board with the idea that it's not currently of much use at all.

I'm not surprised that Cleave is useless or nearly useless now - the removal of the glyph making it hit three targets was a clear sign that it wasn't going to be of much use for anyone except prot warriors, and even prot doesn't need Cleave when it has Revenge and Thunder Clap (and even Whirlwind, if it really wants to hit multiple targets). But I was surprised by the consensus. Reading the comments, you all taught me that if anything, I was understating how little use Cleave sees now. And that has me thinking about the class and what 2013 as a whole showed us.
So what did 2013 teach us about playing a warrior? In no particular order -
  1. Warrior mechanics are showing their age. Even with the rage revamp, the warrior is still operating with a system that hasn't seen any real iteration since 2004 - other classes have seen new resources, new means to generate their resources, or both. Two classes that tank and melee DPS now didn't even exist in 2004.
  2. There's a perception (true or not doesn't really matter) among a lot of players that other classes are better than warriors, and people are rerolling. This perception is especially true among the tanking ranks. Patch 5.4 threw some buffs at Protection, which is certainly better (but still chained to those old mechanics I mentioned before) - with Warlords of Draenor on the horizon we'll have to wait and see what the situation is for the class.
  3. In PvE at least, warriors die. Even with the change in 5.4 to let warriors use Shield Wall and Spell Reflection without a shield, warriors lack survivability compared to other melee DPS - and for once, I'm not sure it's warriors that aren't good enough. It feels more like we've baked too much survival into other classes, frankly.
  4. The buff/nerf/buff cycle is still alive and well. Arms warriors in particular have been a yo yo this expansion - frankly too good in PvP at the start, plummeting in numbers after a reworking of Taste for Blood in 5.1, then climbing back up to PvP dominance that is still hotly debated among arena folk. (Basically, right now arms is good in PvP, especially arena PvP where you won't get six people focusing you down as soon as you show up, provided you take Bladestorm and Storm Bolt.) In PvE, arms went from strong to weak to middling to strong to strong at AoE, and fury saw SMF dominate for two raids before Titan's Grip took off in Siege.
  5. We're critical strike rating dependent. Even our tanks want crit now.
Honestly, I have a hard time feeling like DPS warriors are hurting - we're not top of the heap by any means, but we're not doing bad either. Because of rage, we lack other melee's ability to completely open the throttle in certain situations and we're tied to the burst window - no other class is so strongly linked to six second bursts due to our utter reliance on the Colossus Smash debuff - but we're still out there. As for tanking, it feels to me like the damage from MSV on has been done. People who rerolled are happy in their new classes. Warriors who stuck with it are enjoying the class' higher damage output, certainly, and the 2 piece set bonus for tier 16 helped a lot, but when guilds spent two raid tiers forcing their warrior tanks to reroll, it's not like you can just switch back because the class got some minor buffs.

I raid as fury at the moment. Frankly, I prefer arms - I like the AoE, and I enjoy the more rhythmic feeling of the spec - but I can do higher single target DPS and put out respectable AoE as TG fury, and I've always been (and will always be) a fan of the visual flair of the TG fury warrior. One thing that's absolutely still true about DPS warriors some nine years down the pike is, we're absolutely reliant on the absolute best gear possible. This expansion saw critical strike rating dominate warrior DPS - no other stat even came close. Mastery is our red headed stepchild, and haste is the stat you hold your nose and reforge away from if at all possible. Hit and expertise are the 'get them to 7.5% and forget them' stats, and it makes me nostalgic for the end of Wrath of the Lich King when you could actually cap hit for dual wield. Rather than make haste good for us, either by letting it more meaningfully affect rage generation or boosting its ability to increase our white swings (or, for that matter, letting it reduce our GCD) we saw Riposte invented to make warrior tanks get crit from dodge and parry, and arms and fury just shrugged and went about their day.

By 5.4, haste was decent for arms (it can even be said to be better than mastery for a specific arms gearing strategy) and ranged from drek to absolute drek for every other spec. This expansion has gone the furthest towards showing what bizarre edge cases warriors can be, with rage generation making us (and guardian druids, but you'll note I don't write a guardian druid column) inhabit a strange space. Rage generation was overhauled in Mists of Pandaria but the overhaul amounted to bolting a new fuel injection system onto a 1968 Camaro - the engine's the same. Rage is still a feast or famine system, still heavily dependent on attacks landing, and with only one stance generating rage from damage taken we lost a safety valve that in the past corrected to a small degree against periods of unpredictability. And it was the rage system that made haste so lackluster for us, just as it was the rage system (and its uses) that helped make warriors the bottom of the tanking pile.

The attempt to design warriors around enrages, to turn Enrage into a warrior equivalent of Holy Power or Runes didn't really work, because there's no granularity to it. You want to be enraged. That's it. That's the whole deal. There's no gameplay to it - no accumulation of three enrages, or trying to line up the right combination of enrages. You get more rage when you get enraged, you get more baseline damage when you're enraged, you always want to be enraged. So you stack crit, and try and get enraged as often as possible. With Riposte, prot warriors don't stack crit, but they get crit from dodge and parry, so it amounts to the same thing. Why would you ever not want to be enraged? There's no gameplay because you don't spend enrages on anything, you just want to have one. This led to the perfect storm we see in warrior gearing today. It's literally all about crit because it's all about enrages, and crit is how you get them.

Heading into Warlords of Draenor I'd like to see the following looked at:
  1. A return to warrior mobility - perhaps not even through buffs to us. Warriors were the kings of mobility, and we should be. Classes that can tank, heal and DPS should not be more mobile than we are.
  2. A more granular system of rage generation/resource management. Enrage is nice, but it needs to do more for us, and its proper use should be gameplay in and of itself.
  3. Let us have rage from damage taken back. Make Berserker Stance more compelling, right now it's basically a soloing/high AoE raid stance.
  4. An extension of the Burst Window or a downplay of its importance. Tuning all warrior DPS around a six second window is weird and makes us sit on our hands waiting for Colossus Smash to come off cooldown. Rage management shouldn't be "Sit on your rage, dump when you get near full, and wait for CS".
  5. Hopefully with three new stats coming in, warriors won't be so locked to one good stat.
  6. The protection warrior is the oldest tank in the game. It shouldn't feel like it.
That's 2013 in a nutshell. Next week will be the first column of 2014.
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, Warlords of Draenor

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