So, it seems our first large client-side patch is inbound relatively shortly as it's just hit the PTR. Though there are a raft of changes in it, there isn't an awful lot that is going to affect Protection warriors in either playstyle or output; it's been a pretty strong expansion for us so far and this patch isn't going to change that. So, what exactly is about to happen?
Well, Heroic Strike and Cleave are both seeing a reduction in damage by 20% while Charge is going to see its stun suffer from diminishing returns. For us tanks, this means we're losing DPS from the former and losing precisely nothing from the latter; it's an alteration aimed at PvP. The problem with this, of course, is that (despite promises to the contrary prior to launch) Protection warrior damage is still wholly dependent upon Heroic Strike - the difference between a warrior using it well and not using it at all is between 35% and 50% which is a staggering number. Ghostcrawler himself recently commented that warriors in any talent spec were seeing too much damage from Heroic Strike and it needed reined back a bit, so the nerfs to it are not unexpected. I happen to agree with his view, by the way. The question on most lips, however, is where do we get the damage back from? After all, it's not as if warriors are over-performing - a basic nerf to damage isn't warranted.
War Academy no longer buffs Heroic Strike or Cleave. It now buffs Mortal Strike, Raging Blow, Devastate, Victory Rush and Slam.
In short, damage is being moved away from Heroic Strike and put onto Devastate. This is a totally unsurprising and relatively uninspiring change, but it's easy to implement and rebalances in arguably the best way. One is too strong, the other is too weak, so tipping the scales is the most logical way of doing things. Plus, War Academy is almost universally picked up by warriors in all three specializations which means it's a safe place to sit the buff.
But there's always a wee, back-of-the-mind, nagging concern.
This change implies that both the 20% flat nerf to Heroic Strike, added to the 15% loss from War Academy, is balanced out by buffing BOTH Mortal Strike/Raging Blow AND Slam for DPS warriors. For tanks, it's doubtful a mere buff to Devastate will make up the difference on its own, so I wonder where else tank damage will be accounted for. Shield Slam already contributes too much of our damage, while it's highly unlikely we'll see two talents that buff Revenge; especially considering it's fine as it is. Personally, I'd expect a flat buff to Devastate if our numbers start to come out undertuned. Oh, and before anyone asks, I've deliberately ignored Victory Rush because it's situational for everyone, other than those who choose to spec into Impending Victory. Even then, the only "contribution" it makes is to stop warrior damage plummeting if you opt for Devastate and Victory Rush spam for that last 20%. Amusingly, the alteration to War Academy looks even more enticing if you have gone for Impending Victory, though I'm not sure that's by design.
Too Long, Didn't Read?
The Protection warrior playstyle is not going to change with this patch, with some damage being moved from Heroic Strike to Devastate.
"But Zell, that's obvious; what do you want me to actually THINK about?"
The thing to consider regarding all of this is how the changes alter the value of Incite.
At the moment, Incite is the greatest talent a Protection warrior has for single-target damage. In fact, it's so good, warriors of any spec (Fury more so) are picking it up. The problem is that it changes the design intent for Heroic Strike due to the proc pushing it onto our priority queue, where it isn't actually supposed to be at all. If you've got a guaranteed critical strike in three seconds, particularly at higher levels of Vengeance, Heroic Strike starts to compete with Shield Slam, Shockwave and Revenge for your rage, while utterly blowing Devastate out of the water. In fact, I'd go as far to argue that it lands at the top of your list short of Sword and Board lighting up. For an attack that's only supposed to be used "during periods of high rage", that's frankly ludicrous and desperately needs to change. It sounds great, but it means warrior damage has to be tuned while taking the contribution of Incite into account - and as you can probably tell, that isn't much fun for those periods of low rage when you're barely getting the chance to use Heroic Strike at all.
In short, Incite (practically mandatory) and Heroic Strike (far too high a DPS/TPS contribution) are not fitting the design intent as they are currently, and these changes should address both.
Naturally, we're going to have to see how the numbers play out when the veritable mathematicians start messing about with the numbers thrown up by the PTR. But I would suggest that these changes are actually going to benefit warriors in the vast majority of instances, particularly at times of low rage where we traditionally struggle.