Protection Warrior Tank Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities — Shadowlands 9.1
On this page, you will learn how to optimize the rotation of your Protection Warrior, depending on the type of damage you will be tanking. We also have advanced sections about cooldowns, procs, etc. in order to maximize your survivability and DPS. All our content is updated for World of Warcraft — Shadowlands 9.1.
If you were looking for WoW Classic content, please refer to our TBC Classic Protection Warrior rotation.
If you have not already, please read the Spell Summary page. Knowing how each spell/ability works in detail will greatly increase your understanding of the topics discussed on this page.
While highly recommended to go over this whole page for a better understanding of how the class plays, you can also take a look at the Easy Mode guide linked below. Easy Mode will go over all the important information very briefly without going too in-depth. While this will provide you with a very basic understanding of Protection Warrior, you should aim to read through the other pages to get the most out of your character.
Single-Target Rotation for Protection Warriors
The single-target rotation as a Protection Warrior is based on the following priority. As said, this is a priority. It is not the exact sequence in which abilities should be cast, but rather for each time you are able to cast an ability, you should start at the top of the list and cast the first available ability for which you meet the criteria. This applies to all "rotations" hereafter.
This does not take into account usage of your active mitigation abilities (we cover this important topic in a subsequent section). Active mitigation usage is generally much more nuanced, and it would not be optimal to list them within an ability priority.
The overall goal is to generate as much Rage as possible by casting Rage-generating abilities, so that Rage can then be spent on active mitigation.
- Cast Avatar on cooldown.
- Cast Demoralizing Shout on cooldown (only with Booming Voice).
- Spear of Bastion / Ancient Aftershock / Conqueror's Banner
- Cast Ravager if you are specced into it.
- Cast Dragon Roar if you are specced into it.
- Cast Shield Slam on cooldown.
- Cast Thunder Clap on cooldown.
- Cast Execute ( Condemn)if you do not need Rage for survivability.
- Cast Revenge only if it is free, or as a Rage dump.
- Cast Devastate.
Note that since Revenge costs Rage (unless it has a proc), it is not worth using Rage to cast it, since Devastate also has a chance to reset Shield Slam and is free. The only thing Revenge provides over Devastate is extra damage. When playing Devastator, there can be a few empty globals when you have nothing to cast, but that is fine.
If you are in a situation where you do not need to put any Rage towards Ignore Pain for survivability purposes, you can of course spend Rage on Revenge instead to slightly increase your damage or if the enemy is below 20% HP then Execute.
Multi-Target Rotation for Protection Warriors
Against multiple targets, when playing defensively, the ability priority is exactly the same as the single-target priority. It maximizes Rage generation and therefore survivability.
In general, regardless of whether you are playing defensively, you should cast Revenge (even if it is not free) early on in a fight to spread Deep Wounds. Against 2-3 targets, you can instead switch targets and cast Devastate, which also applies Deep Wounds.
In dungeons in particular where there are often new enemies to gain aggro on, it is worth casting Thunder Clap (or Revenge if Thunder Clap is not available, even if it costs Rage) over Shield Slam in order to pick up those enemies. Saving your allies is far more important than a bit of Rage.
If, and only if, survivability is not an issue whatsoever and you want to do as much damage as possible, the following priority should be followed in multi-target situations:
- Cast Spear of Bastion / Ancient Aftershock on cooldown.
- Cast Ravager on cooldown, if specced into it.
- Cast Dragon Roar on cooldown, if specced into it.
- Cast Revenge if you have the Rage.
- Cast Thunder Clap on cooldown.
- Cast Shield Slam on cooldown.
- Cast Devastate.
- Revenge applies Deep Wounds, Whirlwind does not
- Revenge has a chance to reset the CD of Shield Slam, Whirlwind does not
- Revenge is not capped at 5 enemies, Whirlwind is.
Opener for Protection Warriors
- Cast Charge.
- Cast Avatar as you Charge.
- Cast Shield Block.
- Cast Shield Slam.
- Cast Demoralizing Shout only if Booming Voice is selected.
- Cast Thunder Clap.
- Proceed with the appropriate ability priority.
After executing the opener, you will generally be left with 65 Rage (plus a bit more, since you have meleed and been meleed at this point). Since you are in Avatar here, make sure you react to the amount of Rage you have accordingly and do not cap Rage.
AoE opener for Protection Warrior
This AoE opener prioritises gaining Threat on multiple enemies.
- Cast Ravager.
- Cast Charge.
- Cast Avatar as you Charge.
- Cast Shield Block.
- Cast Revenge.
- Cast Thunder Clap.
You can also take a look at the Mythic+ page if you wish to see if there are any changes in rotation when it comes to specific content.
Active Mitigation Usage for Protection Warriors
Your rotation is there to generate Rage for you, which you should then invest into your active mitigation abilities. As a Protection Warrior, you have two abilities that are essential to staying alive: Shield Block and Ignore Pain.
Using Shield Block is fairly straightforward. If you are taking blockable damage you should be using Shield Block to reduce it. There are a few things to look out for in regards to getting the maximum out of your Shield Block usage:
- Shield Block works against all melee attacks (as in, auto-attacks/white hits), but there are also many boss abilities/mechanics that are blockable as well. Sometimes, things that you would expect to be blockable are not, and things that you would not expect to be blockable are. You simply have to have knowledge of what these blockable mechanics are. The point here is that if you do know a higher damage ability is blockable, you are much better off delaying Shield Block so that the last bit of its duration blocks that ability.
- For further benefit, you can time Shield Block with the enemy's melee swings. Most enemies have a swing timer between 1.5 and 2 seconds. If you cast Shield Block right after a melee, you essentially just lost 2 seconds of effective uptime. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell when an enemy is actually melee attacking you, so this point is not super important, but can be beneficial if done properly.
- Also be aware of the enemy's spell casts/channels. If the boss is about to spend 5 seconds casting a spell, you should delay Shield Block accordingly.
- Similar to the first point, but if you know an enemy is about to deal increased damage, you should delay Shield Block for those periods as well. For example, in Mythic+, enemies deal significantly more damage once they hit 30% health if the Raging affix is active. While this is not a specific ability, its a mechanic you should be aware of and adjust Shield Block usage around.
If you are not currently tanking, and there is a good amount of time before you do tank again, use Shield Block to increase Shield Slam's damage. Just be sure to time it in such a way that as you are about to tank again, you have close to 2 charges of Shield Block, so you can maximize effective uptime.
When using Bolster, Last Stand should be used like Shield Block assuming you do not need Last Stand for a specific mechanic. Since Last Stand lasts 15 seconds, it gives you the time to gain very close to, or a full Shield Block charge (depending on your Haste). So if used when you have a charge of Shield Block available, you risk wasting a bit of Shield Block cooldown time. Essentially, once you have used both charges of Shield Block and the actual Shield Block buff has expired, further increase your effective block uptime by using Last Stand.
Shield Block is limited by its cooldown, where Ignore Pain is simply limited by the amount of Rage you have available. So, once you have Shield Block up and on cooldown, spend your remaining Rage on Ignore Pain, making sure you save enough Rage to use Shield Block once it comes off cooldown. More or less, Ignore Pain should be used to further smooth out your damage intake.
Just like Shield Block though, it can and should be used intelligently if doing so provides a benefit.
- It is very important to track your current absorb amount so you are not spending Rage on Ignore Pain if you are at, or close to, the cap. Since Ignore Pain's cap is 2 times Ignore Pain on cast, you generally should not cast Ignore Pain again until your absorb is close to depleting. This WeakAura tracks your current absorb and cap.
- If you are not tanking, and are taking very little or no damage, do not use your Rage on Ignore Pain. Depending on how long you are not tanking for, it will simply expire, wasting that Rage. Instead, try to cast an Ignore Pain right before you start tanking again. If you are taking damage while not tanking, cast Ignore Pain as needed to help out your healers.
- While generally speaking you will want to use Ignore Pain to smooth out your damage intake, it can also be very important to pool your Rage and cast Ignore Pain right before a large spike of damage, increasing the chance that you survive that spike.
The exception to the points above would be when you are close to Rage capping. In such situations you should use Ignore Pain to spend Rage even if it means going over the Ignore Pain cap. Additionally, if you are ever in the extremely rare situation where there is very, very little blockable damage, or none at all, you will of course want to prioritize Ignore Pain over Shield Block.
Rotation during Avatar
During Avatar, Thunder Clap is available every other global cooldown. This means that you will be rotating between Thunder Clap and another ability based on the ability priority. For example, if you get lucky and many of your Thunder Clap casts reset Shield Slam, you will find yourself alternating between Thunder Clap and Shield Slam.
Cooldown Usage for Protection Warriors
As a Protection Warrior, you have a number of defensive cooldowns. Using your defensive cooldowns properly is extremely important. You want to plan out your cooldowns before going into an encounter and maximize their usage as much as possible. Outlined below are your various defensive cooldowns and how they should be used. For more info on cooldown usage in general, see the how to improve page.
Last Stand can and should be used in two different ways depending on the situation. With Bolster, Last Stand should be used to extend effective block uptime as outlined above in the Shield Block section. If there are many high-damage mechanics or if you are able to have Shield Block up for the majority of your active tanking time, then Last Stand should instead be used as an emergency cooldown - if your health drops to a dangerously low level unexpectedly - or as a pre-emptive cooldown to prepare for a large damage spike.
If you are not running Bolster, then simply use it as an emergency or preemptive cooldown.
Shield Wall should be used to prepare for a large damage spike, or during periods of high damage. This is especially useful against non-blockable damage. It is not recommended to use it if your health suddenly drops low, as it does nothing to get your health back up, but in situations where you have nothing else, you want to use it if it increases your chance to survive.
Now, there are definitely situations where you will want to delay the usage of Demoralizing Shout if you know there is heavy damage upcoming and you do not have anything else available.
Without Booming Voice, simply use it as you would a normal defensive cooldown.
Spell Reflection can be used in two different ways. Either as a way to reflect a specific spell cast at you, or as a magic damage reduction cooldown. The vast majority of spells cast by bosses are not reflectable, but the damage reduction portion still works of course. Rarely, some boss abilities are reflectable, and in these cases reflecting them can be extremely powerful, both in terms of damage reduction and dealing damage to the boss.
Most of the time, you will be using it as a magic damage reduction tool. However, in dungeons and similar content, reflecting particularly powerful spells is a great use of Spell Reflection. Remember that when you reflect a spell, you lose the Spell Reflection buff, meaning you lose the damage reduction as well. Be mindful of this if you are in a situation where you need the magic damage reduction but there are also reflectable spells being cast at you.
Mastering Your Protection Warrior
In this section, we will dive a bit deeper into the core mechanics and various abilities of Protection Warriors. Understanding these topics is an important step to truly mastering the specializaztion.
Warrior's primary resource is Rage. It is important that you understand how Rage is generated, so you can effectively manage and use it.
Rage has a maximum capacity of 100, and is empty by default. Rage decays at a rate of 1 per second when out of combat. In combat, Rage does not decay.
You generate Rage in two main ways. Passively, and through abilities.
Passive Rage Generation
There are two sources of passive Rage generation.
- 2 Rage is gained every time you auto-attack. Note that this
scales with attack speed. Equipping daggers, for example, is not for better
- More specifically, you generate 1.75 * weaponSpeed * 0.44 Rage per auto-attack. 1-handed weapons are 2.6 speed, which equates to 2 Rage per auto-attack.
- 3 Rage is gained every time you are hit by an enemy
- There is a cooldown on this. It seems to be around 1 second, but the exact cooldown is unknown at the moment.
Rage is not gained from avoidance events (that is, if the enemy parries/dodges or if you parry/dodge).
Because Rage is gained when you are hit by an auto-attack, Rage generation tends to be much higher in dungeons or encounters with multiple enemies.
Rage from Abilities
In order of most Rage to least:
- Ravager generates up to 60 Rage (if it hits every time).
- Demoralizing Shout generates 40 Rage (only with Booming Voice).
- Avatar generates 30 Rage.
- Dragon Roar generates 20 Rage.
- Charge generates 20 Rage.
- Shield Slam generates 15 Rage.
- Thunder Clap generates 5 Rage.
It is important to understand that you do not have to spend Rage as soon as you get it. Pooling your Rage in order to maximize Rage generation, survivability, or damage is an important aspect of playing Protection Warrior. For example, if you are in a fight and trying to maximize damage, and are casting Revenge to do so, and you reach a part of the fight where additional enemies join, then you will want to save your Rage/Revenge cast and cast it on those additional enemies. As another example, during Avatar, you may get a long streak of Shield Slam resets. Capitalizing on those resets immediately, rather than delaying them by a global cooldown by casting Revenge, will result in more Rage and more casts of Rage-spending abilities. You do not lose casts of Revenge by waiting, since it is limited by the total amount of Rage you have available.
You can lose casts however if you cap out on Rage. Meaning you hit the max of 100 Rage and any further Rage generation is lost.
On single-target, you will generate a decent amount of Rage, but you will rarely ever get close to capping out on Rage unless playing incorrectly.
On multi-target however, specifically when you have multiple enemies auto-attacking you, is where proper Rage management is necessary to avoid capping.
You should follow your ability priority as usual unless you hit a point where following it would result in wasting Rage. In those situations, Revenge and Ignore Pain become your highest priority abilities. If you are about to cap out on Rage, and have very little or no Ignore Pain absorb left, then make sure to cast Ignore Pain to stop yourself from capping. If going for damage or you already have Ignore Pain up, use Revenge. Generally, you should still prioritize Thunder Clap above Revenge as wasting 5 Rage is minimal and the extra damage gained from doing so is worth it. As an example, say you are at 96 Rage. Casting Shield Slam at that point would provide you with 4 Rage, not 15. On average, you will gain more overall Rage by delaying Rage-generating abilities by a global cooldown to avoid capping.
Sometimes, there are situations where you are unable to burn Rage quickly enough with Revenge. In these cases, simply spam Ignore Pain, even if your Ignore Pain is capped and you are wasting absorb. Doing so still allows you to benefit from Anger Management, which is far better than capping Rage.
Additionally, as you repeat content and gain more experience with different encounters/situations, you should switch to a DPS ability priority (that is, prioritize higher damage abilites over Shield Slam) if you know that normally in that situation you will have to "dump" Rage as outlined above. That way, you deal more damage and generate slightly less Rage, reducing your risk of capping and increasing your overall throughput.
You may notice that there is a "Block" stat on shields. The character sheet has Block rating, and all of that rating comes from the Block on shields. So if a shield has 2000 Block, the character sheet will show 2000 Block. Currently, the amount of Block on your shield is always 2.5 times the amount of Armor on your shield.
The damage reduction from blocking is calculated based on your total Block. It is calculated in the same way damage reduction for Armor is: blockRating / (blockRating + k). The k value changes depending on the difficulty or type of content you are doing. Generally speaking, more difficult or newer content has a higher k value, and a higher k value results in lower damage reduction. Block damage reduction is entirely separate from Armor and having more Armor does not affect it.
Critical blocks are simply double the damage reduction. For example, if a regular block provided 40% damage reduction, a critical block would provide 80% damage reduction. It is worth noting that just like Armor, there is a cap of 85% on the damage reduction from Block. If a shield were to provide 50% damage reduction on normal blocks, critical blocks with that shield would only be 85%.
This system incentivizes Shield upgrades heavily. Getting a good shield is a significant increase to survivability, way more than a similar upgrade to another piece of gear would be.
Taunt is your single-target taunt ability. Casting Taunt significantly increases your threat generation for its duration. If you are having trouble building threat, deal as much damage as possible in this window.
A potentially important mechanic with taunting that not many people know about is the fact that there are diminishing returns on the duration of taunts. If an enemy is taunted enough within a certain timeframe, they become immune to taunts.
There is a 20-second reset window on the diminishing returns on taunting. That is, if 20 seconds go by without a taunt being cast on a particular enemy, the diminishing returns resets.
For each taunt after the first, the duration of the taunt is two-thirds of the previous duration. The enemy is immune to a sixth taunt.
The first taunt lasts 3 seconds, the second 2 seconds, the third 1.4 seconds, the fourth 0.9 seconds, and the fifth 0.6 seconds.
Being aware of this mechanic and knowing when you may be affected by it is important when planning how to approach a particular encounter.
Heroic Throw deals little damage, but generates a decent amount of threat. It has no cost and no cooldown. Use it to gain aggro on distant enemies. Also, if you are ever out of range of an enemy and cannot get back into melee range for whatever reason, you can spam Heroic Throw for a tiny bit of extra damage.
Shattering Throw deals damage to enemies with a 1.5s cast time and 3-minute CD. Deals a lot more damage to absorbs and removes any magical immunity. Mostly useful in PvP, but can also find uses in PvE, if the enemy has an absorb on them.
Intervene is a strong defensive CD that can have a variety of uses. In Raiding, it can be used on our co-tank to reduce their incoming damage, while in Mythic+, it can be used on party members that have fixate effects on them. Knockback mechanics can be almost entirely negated by Intervene, if reacted to quickly. Using it to move quickly to another area by casting it on an ally , perhaps to get out of environmental damage, can be extremely useful.
Heroic Leap can be used to jump over ground effects or other various mechanics that you would normally have to run around. It is not 100% consistent in that sometimes when you jump over something you might still take the damage, but more often than not you can use Heroic Leap to your advantage in this way. More simply, Heroic Leap is great for getting into position or out of dangerous mechanics.
Heroic Leap also resets the remaining cooldown on Taunt. This means that you can easily Leap towards a new add that spawned and immediately use Taunt to grab aggro even if you had used Taunt a second ago.
Proper use of Shockwave can be extremely important, both from a crowd control perspective and a survivability perspective. It can be used to stun enemies that are casting to interrupt those or to keep enemies in place, but, arguably more importantly, it can be used to completely stop damage for its duration. Say Shield Block runs out and you have no major defensive cooldowns left to use. Using Shockwave on enemies (assuming they are not immune) completely stops their damage. Timing its usage around your active mitigation can prevent deaths.
Intimidating Shout should be used in the same way Shockwave is used; for crowd control purposes or survivability purposes. You do have to be more careful with this ability though. The enemies that flee can run into another pack of enemies and pull them, possibly resulting in a wipe.
Timing Rallying Cry well can be the difference between a kill and a wipe. It is a fairly significant survivability increase for your group, so plan its usage well.
While not actually used in combat (unless to give the buff to a recently resurrected ally), make sure you cast Battle Shout on your group or yourself before entering combat.
Berserker Rage is a fantastic ability in the right situations. There are a fair share of enemy abilities that fear, and being able to completely stop those is a huge advantage. Identify where Berserker Rage can be used, and take advantage of those situations.
While generally useless on boss fights, it can save your life you get it to proc. For pure survivability, it is your highest priority ability (assuming you are low on health). In dungeons, in particular, make sure you are maximizing usage of Victory Rush.
Many players simply do not use their kick unless specifically instructed to. Interrupting enemies can stop potentially deadly mechanics from going out. Identify those dangerous mechanics and use your kick!
- 17 Jul. 2021: Added AoE opener.
- 28 Jun. 2021: Reviewed and approved for Patch 9.1.
- 14 Apr. 2021: Added a note about using Revenge also as a Rage dump.
- 09 Mar. 2021: Reviewed for Patch 9.0.5.
- 24 Nov. 2020: Added Covenant abilities to Rotation order.
- 23 Nov. 2020: Removed mentions of Azerite.
- 12 Oct. 2020: Page updated for the Shadowlands pre-patch.
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