Protection didn't get off to the greatest start in BfA. Many were unhappy with the hit to Rage generation and the overall (slower) feel of the spec. Not to mention the addition of putting Ignore Pain on the GCD. But "feels" aside, Protection has been the subject of underutilization in raids/Mythic+, and worst of all, reddit memes. And for (mostly) good reason. Looking at the statistics for Uldir and Antorus, Protection went from making up ~8.5% of tank parses to making up only ~5% of tank parses, a ~40% reduction in the (logged) Protection Warrior playerbase. There are a number of reasons why this is the case. Protection has several pain points when it comes to its design/balance/gameplay in BfA, which causes people to not enjoy it, which causes people to not play it, and then the players that aren't enjoying/playing it voice their disappointment, which causes more people to not play it, and the cycle continues. Before I get into the more direct feedback, I feel it's necessary to explain what exactly the issue is with Protection is. While many people are correct in saying that Protection is "weak", many also incorrectly identify why Protection is weak in comparison to other tank specs.
So, what is the actual problem with Protection Warriors?
No, Protection is not undertuned. Protection is not a horribly squishy and awful tank spec. Protection is punishing. And it's "weak" because it's punishing. What do I mean by that? When played correctly and well, the spec is actually quite good and doesn't fall over like many say it does. I'd recommend reading Lala's Protection Warrior Analysis article as he goes over many of the community perception problems, or rather, the things that people think make Prot weak. Additionally, he provides evidence of the above in that the spec is not weak when played well.
Anyway, no one is wrong in calling Protection bad. For difficult content, there is no reason to pick a spec that requires so much effort for it to be good when you can pick a tank spec that's far more forgiving and consistent/safe. For the average player, Protection is weak. Even people who are good at the spec would be better off overall in picking another, safer tank. So I'm not saying that Prot is fine and people just need to get good. No one plays perfectly 100% of the time, and in those moments where you do make a mistake you are more likely to fail as a Prot Warrior. Give this article, The Fetid Log, a read. It goes over how the difference between a well played Brewmaster and a poorly played Brewmaster isn't that that large. Namely, how well the spec is played doesn't make too much of a difference. It's the opposite for Prot. The difference between playing the spec poorly and playing the spec very well is massive. And this leads into overall tank design which I'll get into in a bit. Point being, that's the main problem with Protection. You are heavily punished for making mistakes, and there are a lot of ways to make mistakes as this spec, and that's a problem.
Is Protection viable?
This is a question that gets asked a lot, and you'll get a different answer depending on who you ask, because "viable" means one thing to one person and another thing to someone else. To a lot of people, viable = strong. In my opinion, that's the wrong way to define viable. To me, viable means "is it possible and not overly difficulty to do Mythic content with this spec". And the answer to that question with regards to Protection is yes. You can absolutely clear Mythic with it. It's not the best, it's not easy, but it's viable. But of course, just being viable isn't necessarily fun, and it's certainly not fair when there are other tank specs that have a much easier time.
Tank Design in BfA
It was generally understood that one of Blizzard's intentions for tanks going into BfA was to reduce their overall active mitigation uptime, making proper usage of defensives more important. That happened for some tanks and not others. For example, Monks and DKs, the tanks considered to be the "best" right now, both have 100% uptime on their respective "main" active mitigation abilities (Ironskin Brew and Bone Shield). In contrast, Protection Warriors went from having 65-70% Shield Block uptime to 55-60% Shield Block uptime (accounting for Bolster). That's a ~15% reduction to our active mitigation uptime. That's definitely not insignificant. Now, obviously there is a lot more to tank survivability than just active mitigation, but the point still stands. Prot got hit pretty hard in this department. And considering Shield Block's overall importance to our survivability, it's no surprise that this has hindered us.
On the note of overall tank design, many in the tanking community are currently unhappy with tank gameplay in BfA. Tank mechanics seem to always be some form of "taunt at 2 stacks", as seen with Brewmasters how well you play your spec doesn't matter all that much, and overall there are just not many ways for a good tank player to differentiate themselves from mediocre tank players. Now, assuming Blizzard sees this as an issue, in my opinion they need to be very careful in the way they go about improving this. I absolutely do not think tanking needs to be made more difficult for the average player. Making something more difficult does not necessarily mean it's more fun or rewarding. In other words, not much needs to be done to the skill floor of tanking, but I think there would be great benefit in increasing the skill ceiling of tanking. There needs to be ways for tanks to "show off". There need to be moments where a tank can do something really cool. That doesn't really happen all that much now. There are many ways to go about this. You can make tank mechanics more complex/interactive, you can reward better play more, etc. Again, I think there are ways to go about doing those things without hurting the average player. I doubt we'll see sweeping tank changes anytime soon, but I do hope it's something Blizzard is looking at.
With all of that said, I think there are two overarching ways Blizzard can improve the Prot Warrior situation. As a reminder, the actual issue with the spec is that it's very punishing of mistakes, and that is in part due to our reliance on our active mitigation, Shield Block. So they can either a) increase Shield Block uptime, or b) increase our survivability outside of Shield Block. Again, I'm speaking generally here. There are many more things I'd like to see improved. Personally, I'd prefer to see them go down the second route. Sure, you can increase Shield Block uptime, and that would help in a lot of situations, but I don't think it's the best or fun way to go about it.
By improving survivability outside of Shield Block, you accomplish a number of things:
- Good usage of Shield Block usage is still rewarded.
- You help out the average player that may not be as good at using Shield Block.
- Assuming it's done "correctly", you increase survivability against non-blockable damage, which is currently a major pain point for Prot.
- Overall, Protection would be a far less punishing spec to play.
I'll get into specifics on what I'd like to see done below, but for now I'll focus on the positives/negatives, rather than suggest specific solutions.
Regardless of tuning and the strength of the spec, how much you enjoy Protection is personal preference. Obviously enjoyment for many has to do with how well the spec is doing, but strictly speaking about the rotation itself and how the spec feels, personally I find Protection to be very enjoyable (for the most part). I've enjoyed the "Shield Slam centric" rotation since it was introduced in 7.1.5. Popping Avatar and being able to constantly cast Thunder Clap and deal a lot of damage is really fun. We have high mobility, decent crowd control via Shockwave and Intimidating Shout, raid utility with Rallying Cry, and in terms of class fantasy, I think our kit fits the Protection Warrior style quite well.
Anger Management is a core part of the spec in my opinion. I like how often and how many cooldowns are available to us over the course of a fight. Properly managing that feels really good.
Now on the topic of actual survivability and content viability, Protection does an insane amount of AoE damage (perhaps a bit too much). When we have Shield Block up, and when against heavy blockable damage, we fare very, very well.
Overall, I'm happy with our kit, I'm happy with how the spec plays, and I'm happy with where our strengths lie (assuming the spec is made less punishing).
Protection has its fair share of fun and impactful talents. Namely, Into the Fray, Unstoppable Force, Bolster, and Anger Management. Unstoppable Force in particular is one of my favorite things the spec has ever received. Our "utility rows", 30 and 75, offer great choice and each talent is strong in its niche.
I don't have a whole lot positive to say about our Azerite traits, and I also don't have a lot of negative things to say either. Deafening Crash is not only very strong, but it's a fun feeling trait as well. Being able to constantly extend Demoralizing Shout feels great. Our other "good" traits (BfI and IF) don't have much, if any, impact on gameplay, but they're powerful nonetheless.
My biggest gripe with how Protection plays and something I feel very strongly about is having Ignore Pain on the global cooldown. It's not fun. It doesn't make the decision making around Ignore Pain any more interesting. It's difficult to explain exactly why it's not fun and it's something you have to experience for yourself, but it just feels bad. We have no ability to spend Rage off the global cooldown. I want the ability to make snap decisions when it comes to pressing Ignore Pain. The rotation is simply too "full". It's not fun to press IP when I could be pressing Shield Slam or Thunder Clap. Now, to be clear, taking IP off the GCD makes essentially no difference to our survivability/balance. It would strictly be a gameplay change, and a change that, in my opinion, has zero downsides and only makes the spec more fun to play.
Pace of the Spec
Personally, I don't have an issue with how fast the spec plays or how low the APM is compared to Legion, but I know this is a major gripe for some that play Prot. In BfA, Prot feels slow when it has traditionally and historically been a more fast paced spec. I think taking Ignore Pain off the GCD as mentioned above would go a long way in fixing this feeling.
Mastery: Critical Block
Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of critically blocking. It's thematically cool and feels powerful. My issue with it is that it's not reliable. It's like Crit/Parry, it may provide a lot of damage reduction on average, but there's nothing consistent or guaranteed about it.
Every other tank spec's Mastery provides a consistent, guaranteed survivability bonus (except Monk technically, but it has "bad luck protection" built in). DKs get an absorb shield from Death Strike, DHs get increased Armor from Demon Spikes, Paladin's get increased damage reduction while inside Consecration, and Bears get increased health and healing received. Protection Warriors get a chance to critically block.
I'd like to see our Mastery reworked or honestly completely changed. This would go a long way in fixing how punishing the spec is.
Another gripe I have with the spec is the disparity between Rage generation on single-target vs. multi-target. We go from feeling a bit Rage starved in single-target to having too much Rage in heavy AoE situations where we can't even spend it without wasting it (because IP is capped or we just lose Rage to being capped). I'd like to see Rage generation normalized. That is, increase baseline Rage gen and decrease multi-target Rage gen, but still keep some of the extra Rage we receive in multi-target.
Prot Warriors aren't the best at dealing with magic damage, and that's mostly fine. Thematically it makes sense that that is our weakness. In raids, Spell Reflection and our other cooldowns are generally enough to deal with magic damage, unless for some reason there's ever another Star Auger situation. So our weakness in dealing with magic damage is really only detrimental in Mythic+. There are a lot of mechanics/trash that are tough to deal with simply because we have no way to deal with constant magic damage.
Overall, our utility is fine. I don't think we need any changes in terms of utility when it comes to raids, it's in Mythic+ where we're outclassed. Sure we have stuns/CC, but there's no reason to bring a Prot Warrior when DKs have Mass Grip, Monks have RoP, Paladins have immunities, and DHs have sigils. We need something that gives people a reason to bring us to competitive Mythic+.
Currently, with the exception of the utility rows, Protection is locked in to a single talent build. We have far too many "dead" talents. Just to list off the talents that you won't pick in 99% of situations: Impending Victory, Best Served Cold, Never Surrender, Vengeance, Heavy Repercussions, and Ravager.
I'd like to see these talents replaced/reworked/moved around in order to increase talent diversity.
Now, I didn't list a few talents that many probably think are "dead" as well. Just to address those quickly:
- Punish has use on magic damage heavy fights where blocking isn't as important.
- Dragon Roar is actually competitive with UF in terms of Rage gen, and is potentially better at low Haste.
- Indomitable is a decent passive choice for new/inexperienced players.
- Devastator has its niche use for single-target DPS.
As sorta mentioned above, I'm pretty indifferent when it comes to Azerite traits. We don't really have any traits that have a significant impact on gameplay, but in my opinion that's not necessarily a bad thing. It still feels good in my opinion to know you have a strong, passive bonus equipped. But I can definitely understand the desire for more traits that have gameplay/rotational effects.
Now for the fun part. The following are some ideas for fixing the aforementioned problems with Protection. I haven't gone into too much depth with some of these suggestions, so there may be some underlying problems with them that I haven't seen yet, but I wanted to suggest them nonetheless.
Take Ignore Pain off the GCD
I think I said enough about this above. I can live with Avatar and Demoralizing Shout on the GCD. But Ignore Pain is one step too far. It would purely increase the enjoyment of the spec if it was off the GCD.
Take Demoralizing Shout off the GCD if Booming Voice isn't Talented
This is pretty minor, but it would be neat if by default Demoralizing Shout wasn't on the GCD, but with Booming Voice it would be. That would keep it consistent with our other spells. As only a damage reduction, it being off the GCD would be consistent with Shield Wall and Last Stand. With Booming Voice, and therefore Rage generation, it being on the GCD would be consistent with Avatar is it is then a DPS and Rage generation cooldown.
Reduce How Punishing Protection Is
There are a lot of ways to go about this, and it's important to find a way to greatly increase survivability outside of Shield Block for the average player, but not increase it too much for those who are very good at the spec, as you risk the spec becoming too strong for those players.
Increase Ignore Pain's Effectiveness
What do we have when Shield Block is down? Ignore Pain, mainly. Increasing the absorb amount gained on cast would help quite a bit when our Shield Block goes down. It would also help against magic damage. Additionally, I'd like to see Ignore Pain's cap increased. I think 2x the on-cast absorb amount would be a good amount compared to the 1.3x cap we have now.
I want to quickly touch on something I see people complain about that I believe is a complaint guided by a misunderstanding of how Ignore Pain works. I often see people mention the decrease to 50% of damage removed compared the 90% we had in Legion. A reduction to the damage dealt to the absorb has almost no effect on survivability. Really the only thing that matters is the actual absorb size. If IP removes less of a particular damage event, all that means is that the absorb depletes more slowly. This can actually be better because it provides a bit more damage smoothing. 10,000 absorb at 50% damage removed isn't any worse than 10,000 absorb at 90% damage removed. It's still 10,000 total damage removed. There are a couple disadvantages to lowering the percent of damage that is removed, but they're really minor. 1) For tank buster mechanics, you're Ignore Pain will mitigate less of that particular hit (but again you'll have more absorb left after this hit). 2) In situations where you're generating a lot of Rage you have a higher chance of capping Ignore Pain, since comparatively Ignore Pain is depleting more slowly.
We recently received a small buff to Vanguard, but I would like to see it buffed a bit more (just the Stamina part would likely be best) to again increase our survivability while Shield Block is down. This is something that's potentially dangerous in terms of gameplay, because if our passive survivability is too close to our survivability with our active mitigation up, you risk making how well you play the spec not matter as much, as mentioned in the tank design section.
Replace our Mastery
We need a Mastery that provides a consistent or guaranteed survivability bonus. One thing that is integral to Protection gameplay in my opinion is Anger Management. So, imagine Mastery: Anger Management (the talent would of course need to be replaced). "Every 10 Rage you spend reduces the remaining cooldown on a, b, c by x seconds." With x increasing with Mastery.
Normalize Rage Generation
Currently, we gain 2 Rage every time we auto-attack, and 3 Rage is gained when we get hit by an enemy auto-attack. There's about a 1 second ICD on the "Rage from Melees taken" part. In order to normalize Rage gen, one solution would be to increase the Rage gained from our auto-attacks to, say, 5, and increase the ICD on Rage from Melees to 2 seconds or so, which would roughly line up with boss auto-attacks. That way in dungeons our Rage generation would still be a bit higher since we're constantly getting meleed, whereas bosses cast and such, but overall the difference in Rage gen between singe-target and multi-target wouldn't be as extreme.
Slightly Increase our Magic Damage Mitigation
The best way to do this without making us too powerful would be to bring back Reflective Plating. Make Spell Reflection not expire when a spell is reflected. Give us 5 seconds of magic damage reduction and spell reflections.
Let us Block Physical Ranged Attacks
One thing that could be unique to Protection would be the ability to actually block physical ranged attacks. Same rules would apply that apply to melees. You have to be facing the direction of the attack, you can only block targeted abilities, etc. After all, the Shield Block icon literally shows a shield blocking arrows.
Make Devastate do Something
Currently, Devastate is anything but devastating. It's the definition of a filler spell. I'd like to see something added to this ability to make it bit more interesting.
Give us Mythic+ Utility
Something that could potentially fit this role well is Mass Spell Reflection, either as a talent or a baseline ability. This would include the ability to reflect spells and the magic damage reduction, just like Spell Reflection.
Replace/rework our dead talents. One talent that I actually think would do really well if it was moved is Ravager. Replace Best Served Cold with Ravager. On that tier, Ravager would be best for survivability, since 35% parry for 12 seconds would be far better than the ~20 Rage per minute provided by UF. UF would still be great for AoE DPS, and then Dragon Roar is potential utility and essentially competitive in terms of Rage with UF.
Currently, the only change/addition currently on PTR is the new Azerite power Intimidating Presence. It's an interesting trait with some potential, but it seems like it'll end up being extremely niche. The slow could be useful in specific situations, and on huge pulls you'd gain a very large amount of absorb.
Hopefully we see some Prot-specific changes in the near future.