The Complete Arms Warrior Guide
The Complete Arms Warrior Guide
Update 6/6/2010: Despite my best efforts, I haven't been able to find the time to keep track of the latest and greatest in Arms warrior theorycrafting since this guide was posted. This believe this guide to still be relevant and correct, but if you're doing high-end raiding you might be able to squeeze more DPS out with a heroic-strike optimized build, which I only discuss in passing here. If you're interested in this, I would recommend reading through the comments in this thread for some insight.
My sincerest apologies, shiz98.
I’m absolutely certain that “complete” is going to come back to haunt me (edit: yes it did), but so be it!
This guide is intended to contain anything and everything you need to know about playing Arms in WotLK. I’ve done my best to keep it approachable, but there are going to be times where there are complicated explanations. Sorry. If you’re looking for an easier read, take a look at the Quick ‘n Dirty Arms guide. I’m no longer maintaining it, but it should be 90% accurate, and more than enough to get you started. If want to do the absolute best DPS you can, however, this is the guide to read.
Significant updates will be listed here in the future.
Table of Contents
- The Rotation
Arms vs Fury
How do they stack up? Which should you play? I can’t answer those questions for you, because a lot of the evaluation boils down to personal choice, raid composition, and even the content you’re working on. Instead, I’ll break down the important differences between the specs, which will hopefully provde some insight into the different playstyles.
Arms has Blood Frenzy and Trauma. Blood Frenzy can be replaced by Combat Rogues. Trauma can be supplied by a Feral druid, but a cat will do more DPS if you’re applying it.
Fury has Rampage. This can also be supplied by a Feral druid.
Warriors also bring Sunder to the table, which is an extremely important raid buff. Fury has an easier time applying this than Arms, plain and simple.
One thing that’s important to note is that Arms warriors are really, really bad at interrupting. The stance dance incurs both a rage penalty and a time penalty that Fury doesn’t have to contend with.
In my experience, Arms does better single target DPS by a significant margin. This is primarily due to Arms having a higher skill cap, I think. However, it’s also easier to do good DPS as Fury than it is to do good DPS as Arms. If you’re willing to put in the extra 10%, you should see Arms come out ahead. Otherwise, Fury is probably your best choice.
In any fight with “auxiliary” AoE – that is, fights where you need to DPS down a small number of adds without resorting to full-out AoEing (think Anub’arak, Jaraxxus, Noth the Plaguebringer), Fury is going to do more DPS by a significant margin. Arms is really only able to do auxiliary AoE via Sweeping Strikes and Bladestorm, both of which are on a long cooldown for the rather mediocre damage boost they provide. Fury, on the other hand, is built for this sort of damage: Whirlwind and Cleave are superb abilities in this area. Trial of the Crusader is a great example of an instance with fights favoring this sort of AoE, and it’s why Fury tends to put out significantly more DPS there.
DPS is a big YMMV. You might just find a certain playstyle easier to crank out the DPS with, and that’s fine – go with what works for you.
Both of these specs are pretty mobile, but Fury gets the edge here. Fury is able to attack at a bit of a distance through Whirlwind, while Arms has real issues in a fight with constant motion due to Slam’s stationary requirements.
Fury is plain better here. Arms really only has Bladestorm as a CD, and it’s very situational in use, and difficult to use on command – you can’t just fire it off at a moment’s notice. Fury, on the other hand, has access to Death Wish and Recklessness, which are considerably better than Bladestorm’s meager DPS increase.
It’s hard to quantify this in an objective way, but I’ll try.
Generally speaking, Arms is going to feel spammier. It hits a lot more buttons than Fury. I find it a little hectic, but in a good way (though not always :P).
Fury, on the other hand, is slower paced. You’re managing your CD’s and monitoring rage for Heroic Strike. You’re able to bring a bit more utility to bear, due to the free GCD’s.
When my 10 man was working hard on Yogg, I switched to Fury rather than Arms. The mobility, interrupts, and self healing made a noticeable difference.
Similarly, I went Fury for Heroic ToCr-10. This was more of a tradeoff – Arms does better on Northrend Beasts and Faction Champions, but Fury has an easier time with Jaraxxus and, more importantly for my group, the Twin Valkyr. In fact, Twin Valkyr really emphasizes the difference between Arms and Fury: the mobility of Fury is much nicer for that fight, and the ability to burst on command is useful for when you get the Empowered buff.
That being said, I truly enjoy Arms more as a spec. In my experience, it’s nigh impossible to pull off a perfect rotation as Arms, which means playing as Arms is always a challenge. I enjoy that aspect :).
A good Arms build consists of many required talents, and a few optional talents. The picture below points each of these talents out, using a system similar to what Veneratio uses in this TankingTips.com post.
You have three choices when building out your spec. Your decisions here won’t make a huge impact on your DPS, nor can you really make a bad decision. I’ll lay out some possible scenarios where you might want to take one talent over another, but in the end only you can decide what will work best for you.
The first choice you have is where to place the three talents you need to finish out the first tier in the Arms tree. Your two choices are Improved Heroic Strike and Deflection. Taking Improved Heroic Strike will net you a very, very small DPS increase; you don’t use Heroic Strike all that often, and taking 3/3 Imp. HS will reduce the rage cost by roughly 6% or so. Taking Deflection, on the other hand, gives you a bit of a survivability boost in solo play and PvP. My recommendation: take Imp. HS. If you’re raiding, your gear is good enough that you scoff at soloing, and you’re not going to perform very well in PvP with this spec anyway.
Your second choice again involves three points, but this time you can put them in either Iron Will or Tactical Mastery. Tactical Mastery is great if you need to stance dance. Because of this, if you’re required to interrupt as Arms it’s almost a necessity that you take it. The extra rage will also allow you to use Intercept much more easily in a raid. Iron Will, on the other hand, is going to be a DPS increase on fights where you’re getting CC’d in some way. My recommendation: take Tactical Mastery. Intercept is nice to have access to, and the benefit from Iron Will is going to be minor and restricted to only a few fights.
Your third choice is a bit more fun: you have seven points to spend, and a relatively wide selection of talents to choose from. Personally, I go the route of buffing my shouts. Piercing Howl is also a useful talent, however, and Improved Cleave can also be nice on trash or AoE (though like HS, you’ll use it only rarely).
Weapon Mastery/Improved Execute
There’s a bit of debate about which is whether you should pick up Weapon Mastery or Improved Execute. If you pick both you’re going to lose DPS, so the decision has to be made. Traditionally, the recommendation has been to take as many points in WM as you needed to get expertise capped, and put the rest in Imp. Execute. As you can see, I’m recommending against this. Why? Execute range.
If you put both points in Imp. Execute your execute range becomes a guaranteed rotation (Note – anecdotal evidence suggests this isn’t the case, and I need to investigate why). There are auxiliary DPS benefits to both talents (more SD damage for Imp. Execute, and potentially better gearing/gemming for WM), but I feel that the benefits to execute range make Imp. Execute the better choice in every situation. If you need WM to get expertise capped, you can simply gear around it without issue, but you can’t compensate for missing Imp. Execute. Taking full Imp. Execute also has the advantage of being cheaper in the long run, since you don’t have to respec whenever your Expertise changes.
I do acknowledge that there are those who will still prefer WM, and that’s fine. I haven’t done an in-depth mathematical comparison, because it’s both hard to do (you have to make a lot of assumptions about gear) and probably a small difference in the end. This guide will be assuming that you took both points in Imp. Execute. Just keep that in mind if you decide to take WM.
Talent Calculator - World of Warcraft
The Incite Spec
There’s actually an alternative spec for Arms warriors that swaps around some talents to get a small DPS increase through Heroic Strike. The basic pattern is as such: Talent Calculator - World of Warcraft
You need to be at fairly high gear levels for this spec to be anything but a DPS loss. The actual math behind when you should switch depends on several factors (and I hope to have a calculator up for that eventually), but for now the rule of thumb is that you should use the Incite spec when your Heroic Strike damage is more than half of your Execute damage, based on the normal spec. You can probably see a DPS increase before this point, but following this rule guarantees that you'll see a DPS boost.
I’ll touch on this more later in the Rotation section, but note that you should not use Heroic Strike more when you’re specced Incite. Just keep doing your normal thing.
Update: With better and better gear, Incite is looking to be a better and better spec. Unfortunately, I haven't done the math on it and likely won't have the time. I recommend reading through the first couple pages of replies for some improvements to the version listed here.
These are a bit of a special case. You absolute must max out a weapon spec if you’re playing Arms; however, the actual process of choosing a weapon spec is a bit more complicated than just picking the best talent.
Spec around the weapon you’re using. I’ll talk about actually choosing a weapon in the gearing section.
Unfortunately there’s not much choice for major glyphs. You want the following:
Glyph of Rending
Glyph of Mortal Strike
Glyph of Execution
Minor glyphs won’t really impact your DPS, so the choice is yours!
Personally, I go with Glyph of Battle, Glyph of Bloodrage, and Glyph of Mocking Blow.
- Death Wish or Bladestorm? Bladestorm. Death Wish doesn’t stack with Wrecking Crew.
3. The Arms Rotation
The Arms rotation is fairly complex. While it only consists of a few abilities, the way in which you use them can dramatically affect your DPS. In some cases there’s no clear cut answer to what the best ability to use is, so experience is going to play a significant role in how effective your DPS is.
Your primary abilities are the following:Other damage abilities you should be using:Doing the DPS
I know the section title says “rotation,” but it lies. It’s just a clever ruse to get you to read this section (because “Priority System” sounds boring).
So if there’s no rotation, how do you DPS? Well, facerolling is out, unfortunately. The Arms rotation is quite complex and difficult to execute. You have a few goals (in no particular order here):
Ok, so let’s cover the basics. Your most important priority is to maintain Rend. Your target should always, at all times, every moment of the fight, have a Rend on it. However, you should never actually refresh Rend – instead, wait for it to fall off before reapplying it (1).
- Maintain Rend
- Maximize Mortal Strike
- Execute whenever possible
- Use every overpower
So with Rend ticking away on the target, your three priority abilities are Execute, Mortal Strike, and Overpower (via TfB procs). Your ideal priority on these is:
However, if your TfB procs have less than 4s remaining, you want to use Overpower over the other two abilities – letting a TfB proc go to waste is going to be a DPS loss no matter how you prioritize. Similarly, you never want to let a Sudden Death proc go to waste either.
- Mortal Strike
Now, you’ll find that following the above rotation still leaves you without an ability to use at times. This is when you Slam. It’s an excellent filler ability. If for some reason you’re having trouble maintaining your rotation in a fight due to lack of rage, feel free to not Slam as often, but other than that you should be using it every free GCD.
In fact, the GCD is something worth touching on for Arms. The spec relies heavy on making sure every GCD is used, as quickly as possible. As a raiding Arms warrior, you will have the rage in a raid to use every single GCD. Do so. In fact, if you want to maximize your DPS, you need to actually be spamming your keys like the warlocks of yore. Get in to the habit of mashing the ability you’ll need to use on the next GCD, and you’ll see a significant DPS increase. It will be tricky at first, since you’ll start messing up your rotation and causing yourself other issues, but when you get the hang of it, the benefits will definitely be noticeable. Simply put, hammering those keys ensures you’ll be using GCD’s faster, which translates directly into more DPS.
Heroic Strike is a highly situational ability with a small DPS increase. As an Arms warrior, you gain the following from converting a white swing to a Heroic Strike:
That’s it – not a huge amount. In fact if you were able to convert every single white hit to a Heroic Strike, you’d probably end up with no more than a 300DPS gain. That’s how weak it is as an ability for Arms.
- 495 Damage
- No glancing blow
- Higher crit modifier
Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be using it; a DPS increase is a DPS increase any way you cut it. You just need to keep in mind how weak it is before you attempt to use it. Why? Why should you think so carefully about Heroic Striking as Arms? Because there’s no easy formula for determining whether you should hit Heroic Strike or not.
Even if you’re at 100 rage, using Heroic Strike once could end up being a DPS decrease. Your rage is going to fluctuate a lot over the course of a fight, and it’s very easy to drop from saturated to starved in a matter of seconds.
So when can you use it? Like I said, it’s hard to give a rule for when it’s safe. Generally speaking, you want to use HS when you have high rage, and can be guaranteed that you either have more rage coming very soon, or that you won’t need rage in the short term. Some examples of a good time to use HS:
And just for good measure, I'm going to say "high rage" again: high rage.
- You just used Mortal Strike, there’s no SD proc active, you have a TfB proc coming soon, and you have high rage.
- You have high rage, and XT-002 is using Tantrum.
Now, the one time you might want to use HS when you don't have lots of rage is as a replacement for Slam in a movement-heavy fight. If you just don't have time to plant yourself down for the cast, you can use HS to make up for it. You still need to be careful with your rage, but just not as careful. While I'm mentioning this here, I'm not necessarily recommending it. Slam only has a 0.5s cast time, and with practice you can do a pretty good job of maintaining a solid rotation even while running around with the boss. There are some situations where you'll simply do more dps by dropping Slam from the rotation and HSing, but you need experience to determine when these times are.
The only rule when using Heroic Strike as an Arms warrior: When in doubt, don’t. You’ll learn when you can use it safely with practice and experience.
Execute range is (thankfully) easier than your normal rotation. It’s a simple priority queue:
- Maintain Rend (reapply, don’t refresh)
And that’s it. Pop trinkets in unison as they’re available and continue to use Bladestorm where appropriate.
If you need to AoE, Bladestorm is obviously a good choice :). You want to pop it with Sweeping Strikes up.
Of course, Bladestorm is on a 1.5 minute cooldown, so if everything didn’t die during the 6s duration, or if it’s on CD, you have to get a bit more creative. First, you want to keep Sweeping Strikes on cooldown whenever you’re AoEing – it’s a significant DPS increase. From there, maintain your normal rotation on a single mob, but use Thunderclap every cooldown (caveat: this won’t be a DPS gain if you’re still in Naxx10/Heroic level gear – only use it if you’re in Ulduar quality stuff, or if there are a huge number of mobs – Onyxia comes to mind). I should point out that you don’t want to apply Rend to as many mobs as possible; just leave it on one or you’ll lose DPS.
If you’re doing this, you’re almost at your potential for DPS, and there’s not much you can do past this point. Arms isn’t terribly great at AoE.
Now there's a little AoE DPS technique I enjoy employing that you probably shouldn't admit to doing, if you employ it at all. You see, Arms Warriors have a certain ability that makes it easy to peel off rage buddies for cleave-spamming goodness... Say hello to my little friend: Mocking Blow. If you have faith in your healers and the mobs won't clobber you, you can get away with using Mocking Blow to snap a target on to you for a temporary rage boost that should allow you to use Cleave much more frequently. Ideally you can do enough DPS to get higher on the mob's threat list than the tanks, but even if you can't it's still a DPS bonus. It works best if you use MB in a large group of mobs, because the tank won't be able to see that you have aggro and taunt back. Cough. (Note: Use this only in lighthearted situations or when you're absolutely certain that whatever DPS gain you get from the taunt is worth it relative to your chance of death. I will not be held responsible for wipes due to excess stupidity :P.)
While Arms does have relatively few cooldowns, it’s still important to use them. Like any class/spec, CDs work best when you use them together, so that’s what we’re going to aim to do.
You really have two cooldowns as Arms: Recklessness and Bladestorm. Personally, I don’t use Recklessness since it’s such a paltry DPS increase for the stance dance; in fact, when you factor the stance dance in Recklessness might not even be a DPS increase at all. This leaves us with Bladestorm, the only true CD we have. I’ll discuss this in the next section…
Bladestorm can be either a DPS increase or a DPS loss, depending on when you use it. The ideal situation for Bladestorming:
You’re going to want to make sure that at least two of these conditions are met before you use BS.
- Rend won’t fall off until after BS is done
- Mortal Strike is on CD
- There are no SD procs up
- A TfB proc has just been used
When you do decide to use it (a decision that should involve some planning ahead), it’s a good idea to pop some trinkets with it. Bladestorm has a 1.5m CD, which makes it pretty good for pairing with trinkets. In fact, if you’re using a stacking buff trinket (Victor’s Call, for example) it’s a good idea to macro it to Blade Storm so that you can take advantage of the rapid hits from BS to stack the buffs quickly. Any other trinket should be popped before using Bladestorm.
Shattering Throw Usage
ST usage is a bit of a complicated thing, and relies on what other cooldowns your raid has. You're going to want to work out with your raid group what the best time is to use it; this will likely be during a heroism or similar "buff storm" for the multiplicative benefits. However, while doing this make sure you consider ST's cooldown: at five minutes, you'll basically get to use it once or twice per fight. If it's a longer fight and you use heroism towards the end, you might be able to use it right off the pull and have it come off CD in time for the heroism. Again, you really want to spend a bit of time to work this out with your raid to get optimal usage.
Now then, when you do finally get to use the ability, you're probably going to want to pop a BS in sync with it. The same rules for bladestorming still apply, of course, so you'll want to plan ahead a bit. Given that you're trying to weave SH in between TfB procs, MS cooldowns, Rend timing, as well as SD procs, I'm not going to even bother listing the "ideal" moment to use it, because it's never going to come. Play it by ear, and prioritize based on your regular rotation. Personally, I've gotten into the habit of using it after a relatively fresh Rend, like so:
- (MS used recently)
- TfB proc/usage
ST lasts 10 second, while BS lasts 6, so you have a bit of wiggle room to try to optimize your abilities.
When doing instance trash or 5-man instances, there are a couple ways to improve your DPS as Arms. First, keep Sweeping Strike on cooldown if there’s more than one mob. It’s great for throwing around some extra damage.
Second, if you’re attacking a decent (more than 2) number of mobs, use Thunderclap whenever possible, replacing Slam in your rotation. Just be careful not to break CC.
- What do I do when Sudden Death procs and MS is off CD? Mortal Strike first. (2)
- When should I use Heroic Throw? The safe bet is to use it when you’re out of melee range. Heroic Throw actually resets your swing, so using it in melee range necessitates a swing timer.
Hit and Expertise are valuable stats for an Arms warrior, and ones you definitely want to have. The cap for hit is 8% (TODO – rating) and 6.5% for expertise (TODO – rating). You don’t want to go far over these numbers if you can help it.
There are some models that indicate capping hit and expertise isn’t needed, because other stats are more valuable. I don’t buy this. There’s a real and tangible benefit to being expertise and hit capped as an Arms warrior: absolute certainty with regards to you rotation. If you’re spamming away at your abilities, looking ahead to plan out your rotation so that you can squeeze out every last ounce of DPS, a single miss is going to throw you off. Maybe you can compensate for this without losing DPS, but I doubt it.
At the end of the day though, I simply don't know which is better, because I haven't had the chance to test it. Educated guesses are one thing, but cold hard science is another. Right now, I’m not going to recommend not capping hit and expertise. This isn't necessarily because it's the best option, but rather that it's the "safe" bet, and I can't recommend an alternative that I haven't tested myself. YMMV, so if you think you might see a DPS increase by not capping then by all means do some experimenting.
Regardless, capping is fairly easy to do as Arms, and there’s plenty of gear out there that will let you do it. Avoid going over the cap as much as possible. Remember, it’s better to gem for expertise/hit than to waste several item points by going over the cap with another piece of gear.
Haste is worth mentioning because it’s really really bad. Haste buffs only your melee damage, which as Arms is going to be something like 25% of your overall DPS. As such, it’s a horribly inefficient stat for an Arms warrior. The slight rage gain from Haste does almost nothing for you, and it doesn’t even scale well with that 25% melee damage due to Slam.
Avoid it as much as possible.
The jury is still out on how exactly weapon specs line up (and I imagine it will be for quite some time), but there’s enough information to make some rough decisions.
First, always upgrade to the next iLevel jump. Weapon DPS is a very important number for Arms, so even if you’re losing some DPS by swapping specs from, say, Axe to Mace, the extra weapon damage will make up for that, and give you a net bonus in the end.
Within the same iLevel zone, you want a (pole)axe. If you can’t get one, Mace and Sword are similar enough as to not matter.
Other stats, and gemming
The stats that are left to discuss are Strength/Ap, Crit/Agility, and ArP. Most people are probably going to prefer using a simulation tool like Rawr or Landsoul’s spreadsheet to figure out which one to use, and that’s fine. I am not a huge fan of these tools, as I don’t think they do a perfect job, but the fact is that they’re by far the easiest way to figure out what gear to use, and still pretty good in most cases.
However, even if you are using one (or both) of those tools, it’s still good to have a knowledge of how you should be gearing. So here we go!
Generally speaking, Strength > ArP > Crit. There are some subtleties in this ranking, however.
First, it’s good to maintain a fair amount of crit. If you have less than 25% you really should make an effort to get that number up. You don’t ever really want to stack crit once you have around 30% or so, but it’s important to keep a healthy amount.
Second, ArP is going to become better than Strength once you have enough ArP. I can’t tell you what this number is exactly, nor do I think it matters, really.
Interestingly enough, actually gearing yourself up as an Arms warrior is not a difficult process. The vast majority of your items will include Strength by default, which really just means you have a decision between crit and ArP, which isn’t a decision at all since you can get both of those stats on gear. If you stay hit/expertise capped and avoid haste, you really don’t have too many decisions to make in your gearing.
The main question you have to answer is how to gem. This is where you really do have to make a decision, and that decision is between Strength or ArP gems. You’ll want to start using ArP once you hit the pointer where ArP is more valuable (which is kind of a no-brainer, but I had to say it).
The bottom line is that you’ll either use a tool to pick your stats, or you’ll have enough theorycrafting knowledge and experience to make decisions on your own. In most cases, the best route is going to be a tool.
5. Mods and UI
There’s not really any right or wrong way to build out your UI, but I’m going to suggest a few things in this section.
First, as an Arms warrior you absolutely (huh, I guess this is something you can do wrong or right) must have a Rend timer up. It’s crucial that you know exactly how much time is remaining on your Rend, and that you’re able to find this out as quickly as possible. Two good options are Quartz or Classtimer. While you’re at it, you should also use a mod to show the stacks and time remaining on Sunder Armor as well. It’s not as crucial, but it’s still beneficial to have.
The second thing you really should have as an Arms warrior is an addon to alert you about Taste for Blood and Sudden Death procs. There are a myriad of ways in which you can do this, so you can definitely tailor those alerts to be exactly how you like them. Personally, I use a special SBF frame above my character’s head for SD and TfB procs.
The final tool you might find useful as an Arms warrior is a Swing Timer. This really isn’t necessary (or even very useful) in WotLK, but it can be nice to have and doesn’t take up much screen real estate. To my knowledge, the only addon being actively maintained that provides this feature is Quartz.
Below is a picture of my UI, which might give you some inspiration or help in that area. Notably, I use Satrina Buff Frames and Quartz.
The following is a list of macros that you may find useful in your Arms raiding career.
Weapon and Stance Swap
This macro will put you in Defensive Stance with a sword and shield, or Battle Stance with a 2H weapon. Use it multiple times to swap back and forth. It's fairly flexible, so if you accidentally switch stances before swapping weapons, it will still fix your gear.
This macro comes in handy when you need to emergency tank something, or if you pull aggro. Pop and and then blow Shield Wall + Shield Block and you'll often buy yourself enough time to survive.
/cast [noequipped:shields] Defensive Stance; Battle Stance
/equip [noequipped:shields] Your 1H Weapon; Your 2H Weapon
/equip [noequipped:shields] Your Shield
Interrupt plus Stance Dance
If you're unlucky and have to do some interrupting as Arms, this macro can come in handy. You can spam it until the interrupt lands, but you'll have to manually change stances afterwards.
/cast [nostance:3] Berserker Stance