Okay, there's no good way to say it - since patch 5.4, warriors got buffs to tanking DPS that have definitely improved their overall damage output while tanking. If in the right gear and taking enough damage from Vengeance, tanking prot warriors can deal solid damage and be competitive with other tanks. This is really true for warrior tanks running heroic content, provided that they're in the right gear set - one that allows Riposte to do as much work as possible for them - and taking those really big hits to get that Vengeance stacked. So, if this is the case, why did I say there was no good way to say this? Because that's not what I was wanting to say.
The buffs Warriors recently received didn't magically fix their population problem and cause everyone to reroll back.- Cynwise (@wowcynwise) January 9, 2014
@MatthewWRossi There's a lot of core mechanical issues which need to be fixed to change this trend. DPS boosts aren't it.- Cynwise (@wowcynwise) January 9, 2014
I think Cyn's response to my poorly worded tweet is dead on here - people didn't come back to playing warriors just because they got some buffs in 5.4, because people didn't stop playing warriors because of their low tanking DPS alone. I'm sure that DPS (both for tanks, and for actual DPS players) is an issue in the warrior decline, but it's not enough that DPS be high - rogues have consistently high DPS, yet they're still well below their Wrath and Cataclysm high points, and to some degree all classes will have seen some decline due to a new class being introduced. But while some classes have gone up consistently all expansion (rogues, monks) and other have held fairly steady, only warriors have declined more or less every single major patch. And I don't think it's because other classes do more tank DPS, or more DPS in general, and it can't be due to PvP performance (especially if you listen to the wailing chorus of people demanding nerfs to Arms in arenas) - so what is it?
Well, partly it's inertia. As I said last week, once people have rerolled, gotten their alt raid ready, geared it, they're not going to reroll without the same significant raid pressure that we saw people applying to get warriors to reroll. Warriors left the class for a few reasons, one of which was constant pressure from raids and guild members to make the switch - as people said back in August, their raid leaders and healers were pressuring them, or they felt pressured by their own perfectionism to switch to classes that seemed better, easier to heal, who made the content easier for the whole raid. Now, if warriors had come out of patch 5.4 runaway better than all other tanks, then maybe people would have switched back. But being better than they were doesn't change the fact that there's this perception of other tanks being better, and saying "Hey, this guild that's one of the best in the world has a prot warrior tank!" doesn't immediately change that perception, or make people want to go through all the effort of switching back to their warrior now after getting their DK/Druid/Monk/Pally geared and raid ready.
We can't really expect any major changes at this point. Anyone raiding at this point probably is locked into their choice, anyone playing more casually is probably satisfied with what they're doing.
More than that, though, there are other factors. People who rerolled are happier where they are - they like the resource mechanics and playstyles of their new classes. The rage mechanic, the Enrage mechanic, warrior stances, it all feels old. Rage was redesigned when active mitigation tanking was introduced and DPS warriors were moved to the new Battle Stance or Berserker Stance, but the redesign didn't really fix the perennial old problems of the warrior class - massive gear dependency and a lack of use for stats like haste. And while tanking DPS itself was low, there's really nothing else wrong with warrior tanking. It works. It works fine. It's not brokenly OP with ridiculous self healing or immunities, but it's an engaging style of play that can actually reward good judgement and solid decision making on what to prioritize. To achieve the crazy high DPS some tanking warriors have, it requires an almost unlimited rage income so you can spend rage on Heroic Strike or Cleave and still keep Shield Block and Shield Barrier rolling, but with the right gear keeping you enraged, it becomes possible. In general, in 5.4 tanking on a warrior is as good as it has been all expansion, but it doesn't feel that great anymore.
I compared it to tanking Heroic Dragon Soul, especially Heroic Spine of Deathwing. Back when Spine was current content, druids, DK's and paladins hated tanking it. Warriors? We loved it. We owned that fight. We shone on that fight. We could use Heroic Leap and Intervene and Charge to move around Deathwing's back and Shockwave and Thunder Clap to kite a ton of adds around. It was awesome. And there hasn't been one single fight this entire expansion that has felt like that for warriors. No Nefarian's adds, no Malkorok trash, nothing. There has been no fight where warrior mobility and AoE threat, or warrior single target and survivability, or warrior anything has let us shine as tanks. It's not that we can't tank - we can, and well. A warrior can tank any fight in the game and has a lot of tools - but those tools don't feel right anymore to a lot of people. A lot of healers and raid leaders would rather have someone else, and making a fix in patch 5.4 was too late.
Now, the class isn't dying - It's still 9.17% at max level right now, which isn't bad out of 11 classes. While shamans, rogues, monks and warlocks have all gone up every patch they're still all behind warriors. and while warriors are significantly behind paladins, druids and DK's as well as hunters and have remained behind mages all expansion, as well as priests. it's much closer in the case of mages and priests. Going into Warlords, we have a chance to see the class get healthier, especially if there's redesign work done. Do we need a revamp like the one warlocks got for Mists? No. We just need enough new to get people interested in the class again.
It's absolutely not the end of the world, but the levee put up in 5.4? It didn't hold in any water, either.
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.