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Protection Warrior in the Shadowlands: Spec Highlights and Class Recommendations

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Update: the Protection pre-patch guide is ready and you can check it out here:
Protection Warrior Shadowlands Guide

We have another big one today, as we finally get to some tanks and, as the Prot HP pools themselves, this spec highlight overview is pretty huge! We've asked our expert guide writer Mwahi to tell us all about the gameplay changes to the spec, new abilities and talents, Covenants, legendaries and even some Conduits, and he dived in deep with plenty of explanations and thoughts on the buffs and nerfs to Prot Warrior.

Exciting Changes for Protection Warrior in Shadowlands

Protection Warrior has been the face of tanking ever since Classic WoW. We have come a long way since then and gone through a lot of variations over the expansions. Most of Battle for Azeroth we have been in a really solid state and with the inclusion of Corruptions and Azerite gear we are a real powerhouse and arguably the best tank in Mythic+. Nothing lasts forever though, and with Shadowlands we are receiving a punch of changes yet again, some of them positive and others negative.
 

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Abilities

Base skill changes

Revenge Revenge - Revenge has had its damage increased and is now rightfully hitting harder than Thunder Clap Thunder Clap. It also no longer has a cooldown and its Rage cost is reduced from 30 to 20. Sadly Revenge, as most AoE abilities in Shadowlands, did get hit by the AoE cap meaning that it will deal reduced damage beyond 5 targets. Another change is that while before Revenge would be free to cast after every Dodge/Parry, in Shadowlands this only has a “chance” to become free 3 procs per minute. 

Thunder Clap Thunder Clap - While Thunder Clap was our bread and butter ability in BfA, the damage of this has gone down in Shadowlands. This change makes sense as resource building abilities in general should hit less than resource spending abilities. Thunder Clap also got hit by the AoE cap meaning that it will also deal reduced damage beyond 5 targets. This is still something we want to press as close to on cooldown as possible, since it is one of our base Rage generating abilities!

Charge Charge - Instead of having our Charge/Intervene as one spell like we are used to in BfA, we will now have both of these separately. On top of this, Charge now only has 1 charge baseline which is a bummer. 

Battle Shout Battle Shout - The only change to this ability is that it is now increasing the attack power of our raid/party members by 5% instead of 10%. This is a change Blizzard made for all the raid buffs so nothing noticeable.

Ignore Pain Ignore Pain - Now caps at 2x the value instead of 1.3. This is a welcome change as we will have beefier Ignore Pains while also reducing the Rage we might potentially waste.

Devastate Devastate - Damage increased by 50%, pretty straight forward. Makes pressing Devastate a bit less depressing than it was before.
 

New skills

Execute Execute - Execute is a high damage single target ability that costs 20-40 Rage, has no cooldown, but requires the target to be below 20% HP. Pressing this ability feels very satisfying as it deals a lot of damage. The downside is that we only have a limited amount of Rage to work with and most of it goes to Shield Block Shield Block and Ignore Pain Ignore Pain to reduce incoming damage. If Execute was a Rage builder with a cooldown it would go a lot better with our kit. 

Challenging Shout Challenging Shout - 4 minute CD AoE taunt. It is a great ability, especially in big pulls due to the AoE cap. The 4 minute cooldown does mean that you will be forced to choose very carefully when to use this, but it is good to have non the less.

Intervene Intervene - As stated in the Charge Charge section, we now have Intervene as a stand alone ability. This also has only 1 charge. The good change to this ability is that it now intercepts all the ranged and melee attacks for 6 seconds instead of just one. This makes it a fairly powerful external cooldown which can be used every 30 seconds.

Shattering Throw Shattering Throw - 1.5 second cast to throw your weapon and deal damage to your enemy. If the enemy has an absorb it will deal up to 500% increased damage to it. While this ability sounds awesome, it does not really have a place in our rotation outside of some niche situations.
If there are any encounters with absorbs this will definitely find a place, but outside of that you can mostly have fun with it in PvP.

Hamstring Hamstring - 50% slow for 15 seconds on a single target is pretty lackluster in most situations. Not something you would write home about - still good to have the option.

Whirlwind Whirlwind - This ability has no place on your bars as of right now. It is a Rage spending AoE ability that strikes up to 5 enemies. This means that this is competing with Revenge Revenge for the Rage. To make it clear why this ability is not worth using :

  1. Revenge applies Deep Wounds Deep Wounds , Whirlwind does not.
  2. Revenge has a chance to reset the cooldown of your Shield Slam Shield Slam , Whirlwind does not.
  3. Revenge is not capped at 5 targets, Whirlwind is.

So to put it bluntly - Whirlwind has 0 interaction with our existing toolkit.


Abilities summary

Some of the changes like Charge Charge Intervene Intervene separation just seem to be made to give us more action bar bloat. Other changes like Thunder Clap Thunder Clap damage being reduced and Revenge Revenge damage increased make more sense due to the builder/spender mentality. Whirlwind Whirlwind being added to Protection is just straight useless currently, and gives us nothing but an extra icon in our Spellbooks. Execute Execute on the other hand is a welcome addition and provides us with a meaningful choice of spending our Rage on either a high damaging ability or on our defensives.

Gameplay wise these changes/additions will not influence a lot, as our main goal is still to generate rage and spend it on either defensive or offensive abilities. As our rotational Rage builders are still the familiar Shield Slam Shield Slam and Thunder Clap Thunder Clap, we will still prioritize these abilities and then decide what to use the Rage on. It will just feel a little bit slower due to how our Talents got shuffled around.
 

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Talents

Level 15 Talents: War Machine War Machine / Punish Punish / Devastator Devastator
Level 25 Talents: Double Time Double Time / Rumbling Earth Rumbling Earth / Storm Bolt Storm Bolt
Level 30 Talents: Best Served Cold Best Served Cold / Booming Voice Booming Voice / Dragon Roar Dragon Roar
Level 35 Talents: Crackling Thunder Crackling Thunder / Bounding Stride Bounding Stride / Menace Menace
Level 40 Talents: Never Surrender Never Surrender / Indomitable Indomitable / Impending Victory Impending Victory
Level 45 Talents: Into the Fray Into the Fray / Unstoppable Force Unstoppable Force / Ravager Ravager
Level 50 Talents: Anger Management Anger Management / Heavy Repercussions Heavy Repercussions / Bolster Bolster
 

Removed talents

Safeguard Safeguard - Removed and partially worked into Intervene Intervene.
Vengeance Vengeance - Removed.
 

Talent changes

Punish Punish -  The damage reduction part of Punish can now overlap. This works like current Brace for Impact Brace for Impact so it will be separate applications that all have their own timers. It is a nice addition to the previously “dead” talent and will definitely make it competitive in the row.

Best Served Cold Best Served Cold - Revenge Revenge will now deal 20% more damage or 50% more when it is free. This talent makes the already buffed Revenge hit even harder and makes for a really great synergy together with Seismic Reverberation Seismic Reverberation. The downside is that it is on a really competitive row with Dragon Roar Dragon Roar and Booming Voice Booming Voice.

Dragon Roar Dragon Roar - No longer slows your enemies but now gives 20 Rage and critically strikes 3 times normal damage and also had its cooldown reduced by 5 seconds. While it was a dead talent in BfA, it is a really solid option right now for AoE.

Menace Menace - Instead of just disorienting your enemies it now also makes Intimidating Shout Intimidating Shout knock back all enemies except your primary target.

Indomitable Indomitable - Still increases your max HP by 10% but now also heals you for 1% of your max HP for every 10 Rage you spend. This is one of the best changes in our talents and amounts to quite a lot of healing over the course of an encounter.

Impending Victory Impending Victory - The heal is increased by 10% meaning that it will now heal you for 30% of your max HP. The damage is also increased a little but it is nothing game changing.

Never Surrender Never Surrender - Makes Ignore Pain Ignore Pain prevent 40% to 100% more damage based on your missing health. Still a dead talent.

Into the Fray Into the Fray - Now gives 2% haste per stack instead of 3% so it is a straight out nerf. Unfortunately it is also on the same row as Unstoppable Force Unstoppable Force and Ravager Ravager which are both really strong.

Ravager Ravager - Instead of increasing your parry chance it now generates 10 Rage every time it deals damage and chases your enemies. Also had its cooldown reduced by 15 seconds. Overall these changes are very welcome and make this a solid choice for AoE encounters. Pair this together with other abilities like Dragon Roar Dragon Roar or Booming Voice Booming Voice and you will be doing a lot of burst damage on a fairly short CD.

Anger Management Anger Management - No longer reduces the cooldown of Demoralizing Shout Demoralizing Shout and Last Stand Last Stand. This is a very hefty nerf and will definitely take some time getting used to. You can still use this talent and pair it together with Booming Voice Booming Voice and Unstoppable Force Unstoppable Force for the familiar BfA play style if you prefer, but you will be giving up precious Block up-time that Bolster Bolster and Heavy Repercussions Heavy Repercussions would provide. This is by no means a useless talent, but the changes do make the other options on the row a lot more appealing and suitable for more situations.

Bolster Bolster - While no real changes were made to this talent it is now working a bit differently. Currently when you cast Last Stand Last Stand with Bolster talented it will just make you block all the attacks while giving you the Last Stand buff. In Shadowlands, if you have Bolster talented you will actually get a separate Shield Block Shield Block buff for the duration of Last Stand. This means that talents/abilities that interact with Shield Block will now also interact with Bolster. These include increased Shield Slam Shield Slam damage while Shield Block is up and Heavy Repercussions Heavy Repercussions making Shield Slam increase the duration of your active Shield Block.

Heavy Repercussions Heavy Repercussions - Now makes Shield Slam Shield Slam generate 3 extra Rage instead of increasing its  damage by an additional 30%. It still makes Shield Slam extend the duration of your Shield Block Shield Block by 1 second.
 

New talents

Double Time Double Time - Charge Charge now has 2 charges and has its cooldown reduced by 3 seconds. This is something we currently have baseline in BfA so seeing it as a talent is very disappointing.

War Machine War Machine - Auto attacks generate 1 more Rage, killing enemies grants 10 Rage and some movement speed. A very-very-very lackluster talent that is generally not worth picking unless you are farming old content and want the movement speed.
 

Talent summary

The new talent tree provides us with a lot more variety and it is good that they have buffed and moved around previously dead talents like Ravager Ravager and Dragon Roar Dragon Roar. The only issue with Dragon Roar Dragon Roar, Ravager Ravager and Booming Voice Booming Voice is that they do not all line up with with each other, especially if we take Covenant abilities (Spear of Bastion Spear of Bastion / Ancient Aftershock Ancient Aftershock ) and Thunderlord Thunderlord into account. Booming Voice Booming Voice will most likely still be the default choice since paired together with Thunderlord Thunderlord it will provide us with a lot of extra Rage. The BfA playstyle of Unstoppable Force Unstoppable Force / Anger Management Anger Management is still playable but only up until the point where you start needing Block more.
 

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Covenants

Kyrian

Spear of Bastion Spear of Bastion - 1 min CD, instant cast

Throw a Kyrian spear at the target location, dealing (110% of Attack power) Arcane damage instantly and an additional (120% of Attack power) damage over 4 sec. Deals reduced damage beyond 5 targets.
Enemies hit are tethered to Spear of Bastion's location for the duration.
Generates 25 Rage.

One of the strongest covenant abilities. It deals decent damage while also tethering enemies to the spear's location. It also generates 25 rage instantly which is a solid amount. Protection Warriors lack any real enemy displacement abilities, so being able to tether them to a certain location is a welcome addition. It also interacts well with some of our talent choices like Ravager Ravager Dragon Roar Dragon Roar Booming Voice Booming Voice but lining them up can be tricky since it has a 1 minute CD, so you would have to postpone casting some of your abilities which is not ideal. While its main strength is shown in AoE, it can still be used in ST situations like raiding for the burst damage and Rage. 

Summon Steward Summon Steward - Variable CD, instant cast

Call your steward to bring you a Phial of Serenity that can be consumed to restore 20% health and remove all Curse, Disease, Poison, and Bleed effects. Your Steward additionally offers access to a selection of useful amenities for 4 min.

This little guy will provide you with various services, but the strongest of these will be the Phial of Serenity Phial of Serenity. Needless to say that as Warriors we are relying on our healers/party members when it comes to dispelling negative effects. Having the ability to do this ourselves is very beneficial as it lets us ignore certain mechanics completely. This has the potential to be really strong in some Raid fights.


Night Fae

Ancient Aftershock Ancient Aftershock - 1.5 min CD, Instant cast

Unleash a wave of anima, dealing (220% of Attack power) Nature damage to up to 5 enemies and knocking them down for 1.5 sec. The ground will continue to expel anima, dealing [4 * (35% of Attack power)] Nature damage to up to 5 enemies and generating 16 Rage per enemy over 12 sec. Every 3 sec, targets are briefly knocked down.

Another strong Covenant ability that is really good for us. It generates 16 Rage per enemy over 12 seconds, so 80 rage in total. The Rage generation of this ability is far better than that of Spear of Bastion Spear of Bastion the only downside to this is that the Rage gain will be spread over the 12 seconds instead of being instant like Spear's. The CD of Ancient Aftershock is also a bit longer, but this does not have to be a bad thing as it aligns well with some of our other CDs like Avatar Avatar and Ravager RavagerIf you decide to use Destructive Reverberations Destructive Reverberations the CDs will not sink up anymore, so it is something to keep in mind. Another important thing to keep in mind is that in order to get the maximum out of this ability you need to keep the enemies inside the ground effect after you cast it. The knockdown effect is especially strong in Mythic+ where it can constantly keep on interrupting casters.

Soulshape Soulshape - 1.5 min CD, instant cast

Turn into a Vulpin, teleporting 15 yds forward and increasing your movement speed by 50%. You may reactivate Soulshape every few sec to teleport again. Lasts 12 sec, or indefinitely while in a rest area.

While Ancient Aftershock Ancient Aftershock  was pretty good we can not say the same about Soulshape. This is a simple movement ability that does not provide us with anything spectacular. We already have Intervene Intervene /Heroic Leap Heroic Leap and these 2 will cover most of our movement needs. It could potentially be used to cheese some certain Raid/Mythic+ mechanics that require movement or help you kite your enemies when needed.
 

Venthyr

Condemn Condemn - Replaces Execute Execute

Condemn a foe to suffer for their sins, causing X Shadow damage. Only usable on enemies who are above 80% health or below 20% health. The primary target is weakened, preventing up to X damage they would deal to you.

Probably the best pure Single Target Covenant ability. While being strong in ST, this does not find a lot of use in AoE, compared to Spear of Bastion Spear of Bastion and Ancient Aftershock Ancient Aftershock . Another negative part is that it still costs Rage to cast which we will have to use on Shield Block Shield Block in order to survive in the first place, limiting the use of this ability even further. 

Door of Shadows Door of Shadows  - 1 min CD, 1.5 sec cast

Wend through the shadows, appearing at the targeted location.

Another movement ability, but this time it also has a 1.5s cast time and a 1 minute CD. The positive side to this is that you can choose where you teleport to and the range is fairly long. Could possibly be used to skip some mechanics or some packs in Mythic+.
 

Necrolord

Conqueror's Frenzy Conqueror's Frenzy - 3 min CD, instant cast

Plant the Conqueror's Banner in the ground, granting 20% maximum health and 10% critical strike chance to you and 2 allies within 15 yds of the banner for 20 sec. While active, spending 20 Rage and killing enemies grants you Glory. Glory increases your critical strike damage by 1% per stack, up to 30%, for 30 sec.

This requires some setup to get the most out of. You need to use this when you know you can generate a lot of rage or when a lot of enemies are going to die in a 20s window to get the maximum out of both buffs. This ability will undoubtedly get stronger the more critical strike chance we get, but in general it seems lacking compared to the other choices out there, especially when also considering Fleshcraft Fleshcraft. It also only affects you and your 2 closest allies, which means you will have to keep a close eye on when you will drop it so the right people get the buff.

Fleshcraft Fleshcraft - 2 min CD, up to 4 sec channel time

Form a shield of flesh and bone over 4 sec that absorbs damage equal to 20% of your maximum health for 2 min. Channeling near a corpse claims their essence to grow the shield, up to 50% of your maximum health. This is most effective against powerful enemies.

While this might sound amazing it is actually really, really lackluster. It does scale with our maximum HP so the shield will increases in time as our gear gets better, but it will not be anything significant. The worst part of this is unfortunately the 4 second channel time which makes you stay behind while the rest of your group moves ahead. Not to mention that using this mid combat when tanking something is not optimal.
 

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Covenant summary

Kyrian and Night Fae are the 2 best all-rounders for us that will perform exceptionally in AoE and solid in ST. Spear of Bastion Spear of Bastion and Ancient Aftershock Ancient Aftershock both provide us with a AoE damaging ability which has utility and Rage gain tied to it. This makes them the best options for us in most content. The only issue is that they do not line up well with any of our other CDs. Out of the secondary abilities I would rate Summon Steward Summon Steward higher than Soulshape Soulshape, as we already have Heroic Leap Heroic Leap / Intervene Intervene when needed to get out of sticky situations, and having a on-demand debuff dispel can be life saving. This is not to say that Soulshape Soulshape is useless, it will definitely have its uses in some high mobility scenarios.

Venthyr's Condemn Condemn is great in ST situations but is hindered by our Rage generation, making it compete with Shield Block Shield Block and Ignore Pain Ignore Pain. It is also pretty awful in any AoE situations, when compared to Kyrian/Night Fae. Door of Shadows Door of Shadows can have its uses but it is not worth taking Venthyr just for this ability.

Necrolords' Conqueror's Frenzy Conqueror's Frenzy takes some setup and is more of a support option -  you will be better off with either Kyrian or Night Fae for now. Fleshcraft Fleshcraft is also really weak. On the upside..they do have a cool looking Plate Transmog set.

While deciding on a Covenant is a big thing in Shadowlands, and each provides you with their own pluses and minuses, remember that whichever one you pick you will still be able to do most of the content including your weekly +15’s and Mythic Raiding. 
 

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Legendaries

General Legendary powers

Leaper Leaper - Heroic Leap Heroic Leap gains 2 additional charges. This is a fun mobility Legendary that lets you leap 3 times in a row. Unfortunately, this is also very lackluster compared to the other choices when it comes to actual combat benefits.

Misshapen Mirror Misshapen Mirror - This Legendary has the potential to be really good in fights where there are many Reflectable casts that target the tank and allies alike. You can also use this to reduce the magic damage taken by you and your nearest ally so the healer has a easier time dealing with the incoming damage. In general it is a solid choice in the right situations but you have to do your homework regarding Reflectable spells to get the most out of it.

Seismic Reverberation Seismic Reverberation - If Revenge Revenge or Whirlwind Whirlwind hits 3 or more enemies, it hits them 1 additional time. Sounds pretty lackluster but when you combine the talent Best Served Cold Best Served Cold with this, it makes Revenge hit like a truck in any AoE situation as long as you have the Rage and at least 3 targets. Your potential damage is very high when running this but it comes with the downside of having to use a lot of your Rage on Revenge instead of Ignore Pain Ignore Pain on top of maintaining Shield Block Shield Block.

Signet of Tormented Kings Signet of Tormented Kings - Casting Avatar Avatar makes you either use Bladestorm Bladestorm or Recklessness Recklessness. As cool as this sounds it is actually a pretty bad legendary. You do not want to Charge Charge into a pack, press Avatar Avatar and start spinning. The reduced effectiveness on both of these abilities makes it even less appealing.
 

Protection specific Legendary powers

Reprisal Reprisal - Makes Intervene Intervene's first intercepted attack grant you Ignore Pain Ignore Pain and your next Revenge Revenge cost no Rage. Just a bit more defensive value when you are taking the Intervened hits.

The Wall The Wall - Shield Slam Shield Slam generates 2 more Rage and reduces the remaining CD of Shield Wall Shield Wall by 4 sec. Has the potential to be really strong when used together with Devastator Devastator and Stalwart Guardian Stalwart Guardian. Definitely a situational legendary but a strong choice none the less.

Thunderlord Thunderlord - Reduces the cooldown of your Demoralizing Shout Demoralizing Shout by 3 seconds for each enemy you hit with Thunder Clap Thunder Clap. Amazing effect and probably the strongest overall Legenedary we have. This especially shines in Mythic+ when paired together with Booming Voice Booming Voice /Indomitable Indomitable /Unstoppable Force Unstoppable Force /Anger Management Anger Management - which creates the Rage loop that a lot of the people loved about the BfA playstyle. You can also use this together with any other talent setup and it will still be a solid choice. The main thing is that while running this Legendary you want to also run Booming Voice Booming Voice for the extra Rage - the other talents are all situational.

Unbreakable Will Unbreakable Will - Your Shield Wall Shield Wall now grants 50% of its effect to all party members. Generally a lackluster choice as the Shield Wall cooldown by itself is very long.
 

Legendary summary

There are only 2 Legendary powers that you should worry about getting as fast as possible and those are Misshapen Mirror Misshapen Mirror and Thunderlord Thunderlord. Thunderlord should be the first one as it provides a lot of benefit in all scenarios, meanwhile Misshapen Mirror is a lot more situational but can still be strong. All the other Legendaries are either very lackluster or too situational and you can just obtain them somewhere down the road.
 

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Conclusion

Protection Warrior received a lot of changes in Shadowlands to their baseline toolkit and talents. Even with all the changes mentioned above we are in a really solid state as of right now. If you enjoyed playing Protection Warrior in BfA then definitely try it out in Shadowlands! The gameplay might feel slower and clunkier in the beginning, but will start feeling better as you get access to Covenant abilities and Legendaries. Thunderlord Thunderlord will probably be the biggest difference you notice in terms of how the class plays, since it provides us with a lot of extra Rage together with Booming Voice Booming Voice in any encounter. 

Nothing has really changed with our rotation as our main Rage generating abilities are still the same. Talent wise we have a lot more choices now than we had in BfA, which is a great thing as they influence how you play the class. Adding the Covenant abilities and various Legendary effects on top of all these changes I can say that the class has a lot more viable options overall which is a great thing.

Problem wise, we do have some gaps in our mitigation currently, but these can be covered via proper CD management. It should also get easier as we get more gear and Haste to help reduce the CD of Shield Block Shield Block. Another issue is that while we have a lot of strong cooldowns like Ravager Ravager, Booming Voice Booming Voice, Dragon Roar Dragon Roar, Spear of Bastion Spear of Bastion / Ancient Aftershock Ancient Aftershock, Avatar Avatar etc. they do not actually line up with each other making using them a real hassle. 
 

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Other Spec Highlights:

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    • By Starym
      We've already mentioned former Game Director Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street was coming back to play WoW after a 6-year absence, and now he's talking about the game as he plays it! He talks about his experiences as a Retribution Paladin and as a player coming back to the game in general, the new leveling system and more.
      The biggest thing mentioned is from his developer days on WoW, as he takes some of the blame for the current AoE meta of dungeons:

      Then there's talk of his interaction with the playerbase when he was still developing the game, which has been a hot topic for quite a while in modern WoW:
      Then it's on to the actual leveling experience, with a very nice tidbit about his dev days, as he worked on the transmog system and is shocked to see how it's become such a big deal. Then there's the leveling speed and story implications, getting used to a classes abilities, and coming upon the "why is there leveling at all" discussion.
       
      If you were wondering about some of his favorite expansions:
      And finally, the specifics of his chosen class and spec, Ret Paladin:
       
      It's interesting to hear the former Game Director's thoughts and we certainly hope he keeps this mini-journal up, as we might get even more in-depth looks at previous design, as we actually even almost got some info on one of the unrelease features from back in the day, but not quite:
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