Protection Warrior is the OG tank in World of Warcraft, and it has a deeply loyal fanbase. It also has a small
fanbase, because it has not been very good throughout Shadowlands.
Now don’t get me wrong – I like Protection Warrior, and I think it’s very fun in the current Patch 9.2.5 iteration of the class with 4-piece tier set and double Legendary as Necrolord. It’s very tanky, but the playstyle required is extremely hectic. It’s a mentally and physically-demanding spec that has very high positioning and planning requirements compared to every other tank. Protection Warrior has the best overall damage reduction against blockable damage, but that typically just covers autoattacks and an inconsistent, arbitrary collection of boss special attacks. A lazily-played Blood Death Knight or Brewmaster Monk is going to be more consistent defensively. Protection Warrior’s damage output in pure single target is carried by massive Execute damage, but it is otherwise pretty middle-of-the-road.
This is not all bad news. Protection Warrior was fantastic in Mythic+ for the majority of BFA, and there’s potential for returning some of that former glory, or even for making the class a high-quality choice in raids for the first time since Emerald Nightmare.
What we’ve seen in Legion, BFA, and Shadowlands is pretty simple: When Warrior has really high uptime on Shield Block
(as in close to 100%), and an abundance of Rage to spend, it is a good class. When it doesn’t, it really struggles, and it doesn’t feel fun to play. It’s slow, and it’s boring.
What Protection Warrior Needs
What Protection Warrior needs more than anything to be competitive is the following:
- High base Shield Block uptime
- Solid, consistent defenses against unblockable damage -- spell damage and unblockable special attacks
In the current Protection Warrior paradigm, that means more talents that add Shield Block uptime, more Rage generation to spend on Ignore Pain, and designing more spells to be Spell Reflectable. In BFA, arguably Warrior's strongest point in Mythic+ in WoW's history, Anger Management
also reduced the cooldowns of Demoralizing Shout and Last Stand. In conjunction with Bolster
, this gave Warriors incredible uptime on all of their primary defensive cooldowns and on Shield Block. This worked extremely well in Mythic+, although in raids it still struggled due to weaker Rage generation on single-target encounters and a general weakness to unblockable burst damage, which is very common in raiding.
Despite Protection Warrior's historic legacy as a tank spec that is defined by a robust, deep defensive cooldown toolkit, Protection Warriors in Shadowlands actually have a pretty thin collection of defensive cooldowns.
- Shield Wall -- 2 minute CD on average with Anger Management
- Last Stand -- 3 minute CD
- Rallying Cry -- 3 minute CD; often held for the good of the raid/party rather than used as a personal
- Demoralizing Shout -- 45 second CD
- Spell Reflection -- 20 second CD
The nerf to Anger Management
came in the same expansion that Blood Death Knights and Brewmaster Monks (among others) saw their defensive toolkits expand. Blood Death Knights gained Lichborne
, and Tombstone
was finally made useful via Legendary & tier interactions. Monks received Celestial Brew
and Invoke Niuzao, the Black Ox
. There should be no surprise that Warriors fell behind.
I would personally like to see Shield Block’s cooldown and charge mechanics removed entirely, and have it turned into a Rage spender more on par with Bear Druid’s Ironfur. Blood Death Knight, Brewmaster Monk, Protection Paladin, and Bear Druid all effortlessly maintain 100% active mitigation uptime, and 3 out of those 4 ain’t bad at all. Demon Hunter and Warrior do not, but Demon Hunter has an enormous health pool, good self-healing, and (with Conduits) 27% passive spell damage reduction. What does Warrior have? A shield. Cool!
There are other approaches that can work for Protection Warrior moving forward. Keeping the same old Shield Block design but lowering its cooldown or adding more base uptime via the talent tree can work fine. Adding more Rage generation options will work. Increasing cooldown uptime, whether by reducing the cooldowns of skills like Last Stand and Demoralizing Shout, or increasing their durations – or both – can work. Adding a large chunk of baseline defensive value onto Avatar, much like the current Tier Set 4-piece bonus (Outburst
) or the boring-but-good BFA Azerite trait Bastion of Might
, would also be a welcome change.
A Quick Look At Shadowlands Talents
Protection Warrior uses one main talent setup in Shadowlands, making a couple of small swaps between raid and Mythic+.
The added pickup radius and kiting value of Crackling Thunder
in Mythic+ gets dropped for extra mobility from Bounding Stride
in raids. Not a huge difference. Into the Fray
provides more consistent value in raids, whereas the burst damage and Rage generation value of Ravager
is more useful in Mythic+. That's about it for swaps. The setup is roughly the same for all content, which is convenient for not burning up a bunch of times, I guess, but not great for promoting a variety of diverse playstyles.
There are some decent options in this talent tree that simply never get picked due to being outclassed by other options in their tier: Never Surrender
, Unstoppable Force
, Heavy Repercussions
, and Bolster
are all good bonuses, at least in terms of design. With a new talent tree system that alters their availability, any of them could be part of a solid new talent setup. Unstoppable Force
and Heavy Repercussions
are two standout talents that could be the centerpiece of a talent tree that fills a lot of Protection Warrior’s needs – Shield Block uptime, Rage generation, and cooldown uptime. The Unstoppable Force
playstyle was a well-worn road by the end of BFA. A direct return to that playstyle probably isn’t happening, and it probably wouldn’t be as satisfying the second time around anyways. You can’t step into the same river twice.
That being said, in conjunction with powers such as Thundergod's Vigor
, a Thunder Clap-heavy playstyle could be pretty enjoyable, and more defensively consistent than the class has been throughout Shadowlands.
Let’s go over the Covenant skills and Legendary Bonuses that have been popular for Protection Warriors in Shadowlands, and consider what should move forward and what should remain in the realm of death.
- Spear of Bastion made Kyrian the most popular Covenant for Protection Warriors for the majority of Shadowlands. It’s a fun offensive cooldown that provides great burst damage, unique utility, and a solid chunk of Rage generation. It also has really good art. I think plenty of people would miss it, and the base skill without the Covenant Legendary, Conduits, or Soulbinds is still really strong and interesting. It hasn’t been nearly as playstyle-defining as the next item on the list here, but I think it has a stronger case for sticking around because it’s just so simple and good.
- Conqueror's Banner has combined with the Necrolord Covenant Legendary bonus (Glory) in Patch 9.2 to give Protection Warriors an absolutely amazing amount of Rage generation. The quality of life granted by the constant movement speed is also extremely nice. The core functionality of the ability, the Mastery buff granted to you and your 2 allies (3 with Glory), is good, but a little bit underwhelming. I like this skill, I like the playstyle it promotes, I really think it’s fun and engaging, but it requires a lot of interlocking bonuses for this to actually be valuable and interesting. On its own, this skill is very underwhelming, and it would need a meaningful rework (cooldown reduction, duration increase, baking the Legendary bonus into the core skill) to justify bringing it forward into Dragonflight.
- Reprisal has been the de facto Legendary power for Protection Warrior since it was reworked in Patch 9.0.5. It outclasses The Wall in every way, and it really is one of the strongest Legendaries in the game in terms of the amount of offensive and defensive power it provides. The Rage generation is exceptional, and it’s a really fun bonus to use in Mythic+. In Mythic+. In raids, this bonus is painful. It’s strong enough to feel mandatory, but it adds a substantial degree of complexity and planning onto an already-unforgiving class. On the one hand, this bonus is great because it adds tons of power, and you would hate to lose it. On the other hand, using this bonus is extremely annoying in raids, and I would love to never worry about waiting for the split-second a boss casts so that I can Intervene out of melee range and Charge back before the boss can move ever again.
- Verdict: Dump it, but buff Shield Block uptime & Rage generation elsewhere to compensate.
Protection Warrior’s Tier Bonuses from Sepulcher of the First Ones: Outburst
, are absolutely amazing. They grant a ton of Rage generation, free Ignore Pain casts, they have good synergy with compelling talents and with each other, they even add much-needed defensive value onto Avatar. This is just about as perfect a set of bonuses as Protection Warrior could have asked for in Patch 9.2, and they lived up to all my expectations. That being said, this effectively just grants more Rage and more defensive cooldown uptime. That’s terrific, we love to see it, but it’s also something that can be done in other ways. Bringing this forward would be great, but there are other mechanisms for accomplishing that same goal. This falls into the ‘nice to have, not mandatory’ category.
Let’s Get in a Time Machine
Warriors have a ton of old bonuses that can cover up the gaps in their defenses by providing Shield Block uptime, Rage generation, and better defensive consistency against unblockable damage, so let’s take a trip to the past and look at some of the highlights:
Item - Warrior T16 Protection 2P Bonus
- Reflective Plating and Gleaming Scales are two Protection Warrior Artifact Weapon traits that were left behind in Legion. They are two of the strongest bonuses the class ever received, and bringing them back would be a substantial improvement to Protection Warrior’s ability to mitigate burst spell damage.
- Bastion of Might was the strongest Protection Warrior Azerite Power in BFA, and like the current Tier Set 4-piece bonus (Outburst), it adds much-needed defensive value onto Avatar. This could be tweaked to provide Haste or Versatility, either of which would probably be a more compelling bonus than Mastery. It’s very comparable to the flat 10% damage and damage reduction bonuses granted by Outburst – except Outburst is just better.
- Rumbling Voice was another Legion Artifact trait that added a significant boost to Demoralizing Shout’s uptime.
- Deafening Crash was an Azerite trait in BFA that acted very similarly, but required active use of Thunder Clap to generate the extra Demoralizing Shout duration instead of simply slapping the extra uptime on from the start.
, the Siege of Orgrimmar 2-piece bonus, added a steady stream of self-healing to using both Shield Block and Shield Barrier (later renamed to Ignore Pain). This is just a really solid older bonus.Worldbreaker's Resolve
was a Warrior-only trinket that dropped from Archimonde in Hellfire Citadel, back in Warlords of Draenor. There’s a ton of text here, but the important section is this: “Shield Block now also reduces magic damage taken by 1%. Ignore Pain now also increases your Armor by 1%.” Those numbers were nerfed into dust with Legion, but the design is not bad. Giving Warrior more ways to mitigate spell damage is a good thing, and it has never made sense to me that Paladins can talent into blocking spell damage, but Warriors can’t.
- Tacking a layer of spell damage reduction onto Shield Block could be every bit as effective for shoring up some of Warrior’s defensive weaknesses as boosting Demoralizing Shout or Spell Reflection. Gaining armor during Ignore Pain is pretty underwhelming, by comparison.
was a Legion Legendary that substantially boosted Demoralizing Shout uptime, especially in AoE. It was extremely powerful, and it felt great to use.
Item - Warrior T13 Protection 2P Bonus (Revenge)
- It also synergized really beautifully with yet another Legion Artifact Weapon power: Might of the Vrykul. Yeah, the Legion Protection Warrior Artifact Weapon had a lot of great stuff in it!
was the 2-piece bonus in Dragon Soul, a raid from over 10 years ago. This is a design that stands the test of time.
- If Blizzard wanted to go crazy with Protection Warriors in Dragonflight (they probably don’t), here is a way to do it: Remove Ignore Pain entirely – or make it a medium-length cooldown like Demoralizing Shout – and shift Warrior’s primary non-block mitigation into a shield generated by casting Revenge and Execute. This definitely sounds cooler than the current version of Protection Warrior, but it has other issues, such as being able to mitigate damage while out of melee range, or fighting enemies that go immune to damage. It’s fun to think about, at least.
Legion Rage values: Back in Legion, Shield Slam generated 20 Rage per cast, and Ignore Pain cost a minimum of 20 Rage, but would consume up to 60 to triple its base absorption value, if you had that much Rage available. This created a couple of positive interactions. First off, it meant that you could guarantee that hitting Shield Slam would allow you to immediately use Ignore Pain. This helped make defenses a bit more stable. Second, it meant that you could burn through Rage more quickly if you were overflowing with it. Being able to dump 60+ Rage per Ignore Pain cast would seriously help reduce Protection Warrior's intensity level. The class has a lot of Rage, and the actions per minute (APM) required to spend it all and maintain Conqueror's Banner is upwards of 80. That may not be much for a Starcraft pro, but it is an extremely stressful spec when it comes to World of Warcraft.
I know it’s not coming back. I’m not stupid.
As Protection Warrior currently stands, it has three spammable Rage dumps: Ignore Pain, Revenge, and Execute.
Heroic Strike would need to replace one of those, all of which work just fine.
But what if it did? That would be cool.
Alright, we’re here at the end. Protection Warrior is not bad, and it’s fun, but it is the least popular tank in the game by a significant margin. There are several reasons for this: It’s complicated, it’s not as versatile or reliable as tanks that are easier to play, and it can be extremely high-maintenance.
This may seem like doom and gloom, but there is plenty of reason to keep hope alive. Protection Warrior has a huge collection of powers from its past that could make a welcome return and provide it with a much more solid foundation than it has had throughout Shadowlands.
A better tomorrow is always possible.