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The Slow Strong Struggle
Arms suffers from an identity crises. Since Mists of Pandaria, the theme of the specialization has been that of a “slow but hard hitting juggernaut”, though in a game ruled by burst cooldowns, the ability to dish out large yet infrequent hits has been tightly controlled. Coupled with the generally unfulfilling feeling of a melee class which doesn’t fill GCDs, popularity has tended to the low side at the start of every expansion, until mid-expansion changes sped up the rotation – either purposefully through major patch tuning, or inadvertently due to general inflation (Corruptions) – Blizzard has never been able to find a way to make players feel good about slow rotations until they’re sped up to the point where they’re not really slow anymore.
Various incarnations of the spec have seen degrees of success –
- The original Taste for Blood in Mists of Pandaria which increased Heroic Strike damage to nuclear proportions was extremely powerful, but didn’t even last an entire tier before being redesigned due to the aforementioned burst issues.
- The spec started out downright anemic in Warlords of Draenor, with no procs or spell interactions of any kind until Item – Warrior T18 Arms 2P Bonus and Tactical Surge were introduced in Hellfire Citadel, but it again led to just speeding up the spec to the point where it no longer possessed that “slow” identity.
- Focused Rage in Legion was probably the best attempt at the concept, as the damage came out relatively slowly, but buttons were still being pressed in order to enable that damage. Still many players disliked the idea of spending so much time pushing buttons that lacked immediate impact.
- Battle for Azeroth intended to fix the design, smoothing out the damage profile by using Mastery: Deep Wounds to keep up pressure in between the bigger GCDs of Colossus Smash, Mortal Strike, and Execute, but players balked at how much damage came from a seemingly passive source. The spec also continued to be feel incredibly slow due to unfilled GCDs, especially next to the whirlwind of action that was Fury, Arms was like playing a level 10 character. Until preserved contaminant corruptions were added late in patch 8.3, Fury saw considerably higher engagement, even during tiers in which it was tuned lower than Arms – players still gravitated toward Fury simply because Arms was considered by many to be unsatisfying to play, which has only recently changed because the ability to stack Haste corruptions to the point at which Arms is just as fast (or faster!) than Fury, along with the profoundly overtuned Test of Might interaction that it brings.
Unfortunately Shadowlands doesn’t appear to change anything with regards to design intent. While there are certainly improvements, the core issue – that there simply isn’t any strong class fantasy represented within the toolkit – persists. Despite getting some very nice general changes, especially tools added in the “unpruning”, players on live can simply unequip their Corruptions and Heart of Azeroth, and they’re effectively playing Arms in Shadowlands… which isn’t a good thing.
The unpruning is very generous to Warriors. Utility has frequently been cited as the biggest weakness of Warriors, and virtually everything added looks to fill that gap.
- Spell Reflection is an incredibly powerful addition to the toolkit, offering spell immunity, extra damage output, or at worst just a very nice magical damage reduction on a very short cooldown with no cost or GCD. That’s before considering how outright broken the party-wide legendary effect can be.
- Shattering Throw has great PvP potential, but also a surprising amount of PvE viability where absorption shields are concerned.
- Ignore Pain is a bit controversial as nobody really enjoys trading their damage (rage) for survivability, but it’s high performing players will find ways to make it shine, especially in conjunction with other on-demand cooldowns such as Defensive Stance.
- Intervene of course adds even more mobility, which complements Charge very well. The defensive aspect is rather questionable, though it can be used in conjunction with Die by the Sword to make a big play.
Unfortunately Arms receives virtually nothing with regards to rotational unpruning. The re-addition of Shield Slam and Shield Block are trivial at best and misleading at worst – Shield Block isn’t a strong enough defensive to seriously tank anything that you wouldn’t be able to survive otherwise, and Shield Slam simply has no place in the rotation. Even with the ability to swap to a shield, all your other damage would suffer greatly from switching from a two-handed weapon to a one-handed one, so you would never seriously do it for damage, Best case, Shield Slam wouldn’t actually require equipping a shield, but all that would do is add a new and unnecessary filler into the rotation, since Arms has ample free GCDs anyway – at that point the button is just bloat. There’s a certain fantasy in DPS Warriors swapping to a shield and tanking their way to victory, but outside of niche PvP uses the practical application is slim to none – you’re better off simply killing the target faster.
Specialization & Talent Changes
Check out the new talents in the talent calculator
- Die by the Sword cooldown reduced from 3m -> 2m.
- Sweeping Strikes duration increased from 12 -> 15s.
- Mastery: Deep Wounds now increases the targets damage taken, rather than scaling bleed damage.
- Impending Victory now heals 30% up from 20%.
- Collateral Damage now enhances Whirlwind damage.
- Cleave now replaces Sweeping Strikes, and consumes Overpower to deal increased damage.
- Deadly Calm now reduces the rage cost of the next 4 abilities by 100% and passively increases maximum rage by 30.
- Dreadnaught still grants 2 Overpower charges, but not also incorporates Seismic Wave (Azerite Trait ) – causing Overpower to project a wave of damage in a line.
- Ravager now has a 45s cooldown and slowly follows the closest target.
These are a lot of minor changes, though these are the most impactful ones and all of them are rather welcome changes, if not exactly playstyle defining. The biggest improvement comes from the defensive buffs: it’s an area where Arms has suffered, and in conjunction with Spell Reflection and Ignore Pain, the spec actually has quite a bit more survivability in Shadowlands. All Arms is lacking is a built in heal, though Impending Victory is criminally underrated (thanks to how well liked Double Time is, even when it’s not actually used), and the buff makes it that much more competitive.
The Mastery: Deep Wounds change is cause for outright celebration by players who disliked the passive damage of the former effect. Deep Wounds now contributes substantially less damage, while making everything else deal more in turn, which also adds a nice bit of theme to the spec, though it would be better to see it expanded to include other bleed effects such as Rend. No longer being applied by Execute also has the interesting side effect of pushing Mortal Strike back into a more prominent role within the rotation, particularly sub-20%. There is a small issue of stacking Mastery allowing Deep Wounds damage enhancement to be more powerful than the one from Colossus Smash however, which feels strange as it’s supposed to be Arms’ major cooldown.
The only major sore spot is that Sweeping Strikes is still on the GCD and lacks any sort of immediate effect, though it’s actually more tricky to fix than many people realize. Without any sort of cost associated, just adding damage to the effect would make it into a single target filler, which is obviously unwanted, but just making the effect last longer isn’t impressive either. The real problem with the ability is that it doesn’t line up well with Colossus Smash despite virtually always wanting to use the two together, or even with Bladestorm when Anger Management is involved. The ability needs real change to align with Arm’s other abilities and either revert back to a passive talent such as in Legion, or having a rage cost and immediate effect such as Blade Flurry. As is, Cleave feels like the far more practical choice, as the majority of multitarget situations extend beyond 2 targets, to the point where it would feel much better as a baseline ability in place of Whirlwind, with Dreadnaught taking it’s place on the multitarget talent row.
As stated though, while these are all great changes they don’t really have a profound impact on the gameplay itself. If you’re not a fan of Arms now, or weren’t earlier in Battle for Azeroth, you’re probably not going to have a much different opinion in Shadowlands. The rotation still revolves around keeping Mortal Strike and Overpower on cooldown, using Colossus Smash, Bladestorm, and other cooldowns when you can, and waiting on auto attack swings so that you can you use Slam or Whirlwind on otherwise empty GCDs until you hit the Execute phase. While it’s not a terrible rotation, it feels slow in a bad as a limitation, rather than a point of design, and there aren’t really any mechanics to look forward to without something like Test of Might, and so the idea of this big damage dealer who breaks the enemies defenses in preparation for a big hit remains lost in translation.
Legendaries help a bit to fill this gap, as Arms actually received some very good gameplay effects.
- Enduring Blow and Battlelord call back to those Hellfire Citadel bonuses which saved Arms gameplay in Warlords of Draenor.
- Exploiter and Unhinged are similarly well liked previous effects, particularly the former, though they don’t quite offer the same moment to moment gameplay improvements.
These are all good bonuses, the real problem here though is that you only use one of them at a time. It’s hard to say they offer a major gameplay improvement if players end up feeling sidelined into another one due to tuning or whatever reason. A good example comes from the universal Warrior legendary effects, Signet of Tormented Kings and Misshapen Mirror, both of which look to have amazing potential (especially Mass Spell Reflect), though using them would preclude you from the gameplay improvement of Colossus Smash procs or Mortal Strike cooldown resets. Again, the problem here isn’t that Arms’ toolkit is really bad, it just lacks moments to look forward to, and legendary effects that you may or may not end up using aren’t really the best solution to that problem, even if they make good supplements.
Warrior Runeforged Legendary Powers in Shadowlands
Soulbinds, Conduits, and Covenant Abilities
These systems are incredibly controversial, but Warriors have made out fairly well with surprisingly well, as all are fairly attractive for different reasons without completely overshadowing one another. Overall, Condemn and Spear of Bastion appear to be the current frontrunners, but the fact that there’s good reason to want any of the four makes for very compelling choices.
Venthyr: Condemn is possibly the most looked forward to ability, replacing Execute with a more powerful version (not affected by armor) which is also useable more often. For Arms this is extremely attractive, since Execute has no cooldown and talents such as Deadly Calm or Ravager can be used to help cover the increased rage costs. The only real failing is that it lacks in multitarget potential outside of Sweeping Strikes, but Arms already brings a great deal of supplemental multitarget damage between Warbreaker, Cleave, Bladestorm, Ravager, and the new Dreadnaught. It can be easily argued that adding Spear of Bastion or Ancient Aftershock to the mix is simply overkill.
Another standout is the defensive aspect, which is a very nice supplement when considering the amount of raid encounters which incorporate rot damage (G’huun and Queen Azshara both come to mind as recent examples).
Door of Shadows has been hailed as a gamebreaking ability of astounding capability, but much of this is dependent on the practical application. While it’s true, being able to execute a group skip in Mythic+ could be very powerful, when Invisibilty Potions, Gateways, Shroud, and even death running already exists, which tempers that need quite a bit. If you are in a hardcore Mythic+ group, it’s very possibly you’ll want to go Venthyr solely for this ability, but in truth, the likelihood of finding practical ways to exploit it in general gameplay is rather low. Even in raid, there are few recent encounters which would benefit from it in more than a minor capacity, and even those haven’t been insurmountable without it.
Kyrian: Spear of Bastion would appear to be the polar opposite to Condemn, offering AoE rather than single target, but to say so would be misleading. It’s actually an extremely effective single target ability on par with Bladestorm, which also generates a good amount of rage, thereby translating to even more damage. The real value here is versatility – while Condemn offers great single target advantage, Spear of Bastion works well everywhere, and the tethering effect is a nice supplement for mobs which like to move around while you’re trying to kill them, as well as offering control in M+ or PvP.
Summon Steward would at first seem to be rather underwhelming, but don’t underestimate the value of an extra healthstone. Like the Spear itself, the value here is versatility – an extra on demand heal, separate from your health potion or healthstone is virtually always useful, whereas many of the other effects are only practical under specific situations. The ability to remove debuffs with Phial of Serenity could also prove invaluable in many situations, as that’s not normally a tool Warriors have access to and they’re common effects in many PvE encounters.
Night Fae: Ancient Aftershock is very similar to Spear of Bastion, with a few shortcomings. While the combined damage is ~14% higher, the cooldown is 50% longer, so if you’re using it on cooldown, Spear of Bastion is actually better in terms of total damage. Its rage generation is also more finicky, generating between 6 and 30 rage each tick depending on how many targets are hit, while Spear always generates 25. This results in more rage generation, particularly in multitarget, but it’s also not really needed either as the majority of AoE damage is done through Cleave, which has a very manageable rage cost, or Bladestorm and Ravager which function as generators. Whether this ability is strictly better or worse than spear depends on how you use it. If you’d delay Spear past it’s cooldown, or greatly value the pseudo-stun, then Ancient Aftershock has marked advantages, though at the cost of some of the versatility which makes Spear so great.
Soulshape is rather lackluster for a class which already has as much mobility as Warrior. Between Charge, Intervene, and Heroic Leap, it’s already fairly easy to navigate the battlefield, and an extra sprint which precludes you from dealing damage doesn’t bring much to the game. There will likely be times where enterprising players find ways to use it to their advantage, such as periods of downtime during encounters where you’re not dealing damage anyway, but it’s hardly a compelling pick on its own.
Necrolord: Conqueror’s Banner is the black sheep of the bunch. Group cooldowns are incredibly difficult to get right, as they’re typically tuned to either be competitive for the individual are overpowered when considering the group benefit, or underpowered for the user and a competitive buff for the group. Buffing attack speed rather rather than a more universal stat such as Haste makes that even more difficult, as few classes really value increased attack speed the way an Arms Warrior does.
While there’s some potential in a group specifically tailored around benefiting from the banner, the gimmicky nature makes it difficult to recommend for general gameplay – though many players would prefer that, as they don’t want to feel regulated to being buff bots.
Fleshcraft is surprisingly strong, if a bit tricky to use correctly. Slightly better than the Kyrian heal, the real advantage is the ability to recast it during an encounter, provided you can afford the downtime. Smart players will quickly find ways to use it just before a high damage period, but when Arms already has Die by the Sword, Spell Reflection, Ignore Pain, and Defensive Stance, it’s pretty hard to think it’ll be anything close to “mandatory” in order to survive.
Soulbinds and Conduits are still indeterminable. While they offer some very appealing bonuses, they just aren’t fleshed out enough yet to make any good determination with regards to balance or weighting covenant choice. If anything, this would appear to be Blizzards design intent – perfect balance is impossible, but enough co-dependent systems working together like this obfuscates the balance enough that it’s hard to definitively say “yes, this Covenant is better than that one”. These will ultimately be simulation questions, but even the amount of supplemental defensive and utility effects found in Soulbinds and Conduits could very well weight that decision beyond the raw numbers themselves.
Warrior Soulbind ConduitsShadowlands Soulbind Calculator
Arms looks very strong moving into Shadowlands, while the toolkit isn’t as broad as a Rogues personal utility or a Paladins group benefits, it has a very strong and focused toolkit, with a surprising amount of defensive and utility tricks up its sleeve. The only real downside is that the core rotation suffers from being a little bland, and lacking an exciting moment outside of the Execute phase – while the changes coming in Shadowlands are undoubtedly great additions, the rotation feels like it’s losing more than it gains, and would be served well by any small baseline mechanic to add a little extra variety rather than hoping the right legendary effect or covenant ability to fix the underlying issues.
While we can expect more iteration, it’s hard to say what exactly Arms needs. The “slow and strong” playstyle has always been difficult to pull off effectively, and players will certainly feel the loss of Test of Might and Lucid Dreams while going through the leveling process and waiting for legendaries to help give the playstyle some more momentum. Simply adjusting the rage economy by increasing rage generation or lowing ability cost would certainly make the spec play faster, but that works against the theme, and with Fury being slowed down, you just end up with two specs feeling too similar to one another. The goal to any slow playstyle is to make players feel good about gaps in their rotation, and that is the place Arms has long struggled.
Pros: Numerous AoE and defensive tools, very strong focused toolkit. Multiple compelling covenant choices and legendary powers.
Cons: Slightly bland/slow rotation, lack of self healing (compensated for by talents), some awkward cooldown alignment (Sweeping Strikes), various imbalanced talents (L25, 40, & 50 rows).