So You Want to Be(ta) a Prot Warrior: Bump and Grind
This week, Blizzard gave us a firm date for the Cataclysm to tear Azeroth asunder…December 7. With all the new content coming at us in just two months–and with the mechanical changes to classes, talents, items, etc. possibly coming as early as next week–I’ve been putting a bit more time in on the beta servers lately.
As a result, Linedan on beta is now level 85. (I’ve also been working a bit on Latisha…she’s 82, and I’ll chronicle her story in another update on The Latisha Experiment a bit later.) Along the way there, I’ve picked up some information that will hopefully help anyone planning to level a Prot warrior from 80 to 85, as Prot, once Cataclysm drops for real. (PLEASE NOTE: I’m going to leave lore spoilers out of this post as much as I possibly can, but I will be talking about Cataclysm mechanics and zones in a general sense. If you want to be totally surprised, stop now.)
First of all, remember that all of the changes to talent trees, class mechanics, and gear itemization will be coming with patch 4.0.1, which could happen as soon as October 12 (that’s next Tuesday as I write this). I would highly recommend reading Naithin’s outstanding 4.0 Prot warrior guide over at Fun in Games to get a great summary of the changes that we’re going to face in the interregnum between Arthas falling and Deathwing rising. It’s a good starting point for looking at the new zones and the level 80-85 grind.
The leveling flow through the new zones is pretty straightforward, and each zone is more linear than ever as to how quests are handled. This is the basic flow you’ll see:
- Mount Hyjal (80-82) or Vashj’ir (80-82)
- Deepholm (82-83)
- Uldum (83-84)
- Twilight Highlands (84-85)
The reason that Mount Hyjal and Vashj’ir can cover two levels is not that they’re bigger than the other zones, although Vashj’ir is actually three separate maps and covers a lot of ground…uh, water. No, it’s because of the experience required to level. 80 to 81 and 81 to 82 both require about 1.75 million xp, not too much more than the high 70s did in Northrend. But when you hit level 82, that changes. Each of the next three levels required somewhere around 6.5 million xp. That’s not a typo. Six point five million xp per level. That’s an intimidatingly large number, but it shouldn’t be. There are a lot of quests in the 82-85 zones, and they give from 40,000 to 55,000 xp each on completion (except for simple stuff like breadcrumb or “go over here and talk to this person” quests, of course). Mob-killing xp has been adjusted upward as well, to the point where Linedan was getting over 10,000 per kill (rested) against level 84s in Twilight Highlands.
Within each zone, the quests are organized in a pretty logical manner. Breadcrumb quests into each of the new zones are easily available from “boards” all over Stormwind, or outside the new Grommash Hold (or, as I like to call it, “Garrosh’s Overcompensation For His Small Wee-wee”) in Orgrimmar. Once you establish yourself in one of the new zones, portals will open up at Earthen Ring sites in Stormwind and Orgrimmar. Also, all the zones except Deepholm can be flown into by your own flying mounts, and there are convenient flightmasters scattered around.
As a Prot warrior, your abilities and rotation haven’t changed that much from Wrath of the Lich King. The changes are subtle, like Heroic Strike being an instant attack for 30 rage instead of an on-next-swing for 15; or the crit-boosting being removed from a lot of our talents (like Gag Order). But the abilities, in general, do the same things and get used in the same order. There really are two big changes: the addition of Rend as a useful ability (paired with the Blood and Thunder talent), and Heroic Strike becoming less spammy and more situational.
This is the spec that Lin entered Hyjal with at level 80. I went with 2/2 Blood and Thunder more out of curiosity than anything else. 2/2 Hold the Line’s in there because, in T10-level tank gear, his crit dropped at 80 to less than 2.5%, and with almost all of our crit-increasing talents changed, I figured he needed all the help he could get while questing. His talent choices at each level were:
- 81: 2/2 Field Dressing
- 82: 2/3 Shield Specialization
- 83: 3/3 Shield Specialization
- 84: 1/3 Incite
- 85: 1/2 Thunderstruck
(I’m probably going to tweak the spec to ditch Incite completely and pick up 2/2 Thunderstruck.)
Grinding it Out
As Prot warriors, we had an extremely easy time of leveling in Northrend. Yes, our single-target DPS was low. Who cared? We could charge into a camp and massacre it in seconds with a combination of Damage Shield, Cleave, Thunder Clap, and Shockwave, while shrugging off the feeble blows of our assailants.
Things aren’t quite as easy in Cataclysm. The foremost reason for that isn’t the changes that were made to Prot spec. It’s the mobs themselves.
A level 80 Northrend melee (non-casting) mob has precisely 12,600 health. A level 80 Cataclysm melee mob has just over 30,000 health. And it goes up radically from there. Level 81, about 37,000. Level 82, about 44,000. Level 83, around 52,000. Level 84, around 65,000. The only level 85 mobs I’ve seen yet had 96,000 health each, but I’m not sure if those were special and if that’s normal for level 85 non-elites.
They’re not just tougher, they hit harder too. By the time Linedan got to Uldum, the level 84 melee mobs there were hitting him for over 2000 base damage…and that’s with him having over 31,000 armor and a physical damage mitigation right at 60%. Stuff in Cataclysm doesn’t tickle when it hits.
So when you combine all that health, high damage, and our traditional low DPS, it doesn’t bode well, right? Well, it’s not so bad. You’re still a spellcaster’s nightmare, you’ve got your stuns, and you’ve got two other powerful counters to keep you in the fight: Blood Craze and Victory Rush. Blood Craze, in my experience, is probably ticking about a third to a half of the time during any given fight. That’s 1.5% of your max health at the time Blood Craze activated, every second, for five seconds. Victory Rush, now usable in Defensive Stance, gives you a big heal–20% of your current max health–whether or not the attack actually lands. And, both these abilities are boosted by Field Dressing from the Arms tree. Plus, you can take points into Impending Victory to give yourself a “mini” Victory Rush (for 5% of your health) whenever a mob is below 20% health. If you’re just out grinding, the talent’s usefulness is marginal, but keep an eye on it when you start raiding. In a long fight, it could provide a useful amount of healing.
So our pull strategy really doesn’t change that much. We need to pull (fairly) big and (fairly) fast. Two or more mobs at a time is optimum for us. By the time you beat down the first one, you’re probably wounded; hit Victory Rush, get 20% of your health back, and you’re good to go on the next one. If you have to pull one at a time, you have to rush and find the next mob within 20 seconds before Victory Rush wears off. And even if you can’t, don’t despair. Out-of-combat health regen on the beta (as of build 13117) is insane. Linedan is regaining well over 600 health per tick while standing up. The new bandages also heal for useful amounts (around 20,000 to start with) so make sure you get your First Aid skill trained up pronto.
One thing you will have to watch for is rage starvation. Our rage generation is generally good enough, due to the high incoming damage and the tuning they currently have in place. If you take a few points into Shield Specialization, it gets better (especially if you can Spell Reflect something!). But you must be careful about your Heroic Strike use. HS is no longer spammable, and it costs 30 rage. Chances are, you’re not going to be able to hit it every time it’s up, and keep up Devastate spam, Shield Slam/Revenge as available, and Rend/Thunder Clap if you’re using Blood and Thunder. Be judicious in your use of Heroic Strike. Cleave, you’ll probably have less trouble with; I never had much problem with rage when fighting 2+ mobs.
You’ll start replacing anything less than T10 gear almost immediately in Hyjal or Vashj’ir. This new gear is the only way, other than Reforging, to get Mastery rating. Our Mastery rating increases our block chance, and it is, in fact, the only way to increase our block chance, as there is no more separate block rating. If you have T10 gear, it will probably hold you into Deepholm or even Uldum. Currently at 85, Lin is still wearing his sanctified T10 helm and T10-level rings and trinkets, he’s replaced everything else in his Prot set.
One thing to think about…with Defense no longer being in the game, you can become uncrittable by placing 2 talent points in Bastion of Defense. This frees you up to try Prot grinding with DPS armor. I have yet to try this, but I should; in tank gear at level 85, Linedan’s crit rating is an appalling 0.75%, and he’s badly short on +hit and +expertise (both of which are still needed). DPS armor still has a lot of stamina on it, and Mastery rating is Mastery rating regardless of what gear it comes on. The upside of using DPS armor would be increased +hit/+crit/+expertise at the cost of a bit of health; the downside would be lower avoidance due to losing +dodge and +parry. Does the increase in offensive stats balance the decrease in health and defensive stats? It might be worth trying if your grinding feels too slow, but you don’t want to go to, or don’t have, a DPS offspec. (FWIW, Linedan started at about 2000 DPS in Vashj’ir; he’s now doing about 2800 DPS in Twilight Highlands, and that number increases substantially fighting multiple mobs.)
Finally, I’ll briefly talk about instancing…briefly, because I’ve only done it once, on a normal Stonecore run along with my wife and three guys from the LFD tool. After all, if you’re a dedicated tank, you’re going to want to instance a lot, right?
You may have heard a lot of doom and gloom about Prot warriors’ ability to tank in Cataclysm, and how it’s a fallback to the horrible days of The Burning Crusade, when paladins kicked our asses at tanking heroics. Don’t panic. It’s not quite that bad. Yes, these are not Wrath of the Lich King dungeons. They do require some amount of brains, strategy, and crowd control to succeed in. But they aren’t quite as brutal as, say, heroic Shattered Halls.
Crowd control is back, and it’s necessary, but for normal instances, you don’t need a huge amount of it. One competent trapping hunter or sheeping mage should be able to get the job done in most cases, provided the rest of your group doesn’t break it (this includes you). On our Stonecore run, we were fortunate to have both a hunter and a warlock with glyphed Fear, which leaves mobs cowering in place instead of causing them to run. Between that and his Banish, the ‘lock did a great job on CC.
Your tanking doesn’t change all that much. The difference is largely in the incoming damage, which is a LOT higher (but so is your health). Also, without Damage Shield to provide that little passive threat boost, this is where Blood and Thunder comes into its own. It’s not much use just out questing, but in an instance, being able to place and keep a Rend on every mob you’re tanking helps your threat. Just make sure you’re clear of any CC’d mob before doing this, otherwise the mages will hate you.
Your TAB key will get more of a workout on trash if your group can’t stick to a kill order. (Kill order is VERY IMPORTANT now. Seriously. VERY VERY important.) You will be shifting between mobs to drop Devastates and other damage. Take Vigilance and use it–but remember, Vigilance doesn’t transfer threat anymore, it just reduces the damage on your chosen target and refreshes your Taunt. Use your cooldowns like Shield Block or your emergency buttons (Last Stand/Shield Wall) to try and offload some work from your healer, because healers are really having to work much harder in 4.0. Because of threat decay entering the equation, you can’t coast at all during a fight–you’ve got to keep pushing your threat as much as you can and stay on top of things.
On bosses, again, it is key to avoid as much avoidable stuff as possible. Don’t stand in Bad(tm). Use your cooldowns when something big and ugly is about to land. Healers are stretched to their limits under these new mechanics, and anything that you can do to help keep yourself alive early in a fight may give them the mana to keep you alive at the end.
And it’s in instances, and presumably raids, where Vengeance really comes into its own. Vengeance gives you 5% of your taken damage as attack power for 10 seconds, and it “rolls”–any number of damage that you take just stays as AP for 10 seconds and then it’s gone, so it wobbles up and down. Once you see how much damage you’re taking in a Cataclysm instance, you’ll realize that you’re getting an absolutely insane amount of attack power from this mastery ability. Linedan normally runs around 4500 AP now. While tanking Stonecore, I opened his character sheet at one point and was shocked to see him–literally–OVER NINE THOOOOOUUUSAANNND attack power. This directly translates to a big damage boost, and, therefore, a big threat boost. I didn’t think Vengeance was very useful when I first started leveling, but after doing just one instance, boy am I a believer now.