Arms DPS 101: How To Warrior

Occasionally, a person just wants to reach out, grab a really large axe, and kill something with it.

It is a primal thing. And it is good.

World of Warcraft has ten classes, each with its own idiosyncrasies, playstyles, and method for maximizing performance in various situations. Of those ten classes, I play only one of them truly well. Each class also has three specializations, or different ways of maximizing their unique tools based on each situation. Of the three specializations of my preferred class, I can claim expertise in only a single area.

That area, however, is one of the least popular in all of the player-versus-environment content, the Arms Warrior.

Arms is one of two damage-oriented specializations for the Warrior. By far and away, the Fury Warrior is the more popular: it lets the player wield two large, two-handed weapons! Its name is Fury!

Arms, on the other hand, is either seen as something of a gimmick specialization, or something fit only for player-versus-player styles of playing, due to its wide array of debuffs and focus on armor-ignoring physical damage. However, properly played, Arms is not only competitive with Fury for overall DPS, it provides unique raid buffs that bring up group utility significantly.

However, Fury is very easy to play, and scales ridiculously well with good gear (and gear that scales well is easily achievable without setting foot inside a raid). Arms does not scale, but as long as certain numerical arcana are observed, Arms does not suffer from the variability of Fury.

The purpose of this guide is not to make the reader an excellent Arms Warrior; the only thing capable of that is constant practice. Rather, it is to equip the reader with the basic tools for beginning as an Arms Warrior.

Arms is a great leveling specialization: it only requires a single two-handed weapon, the stance associated with it (Battle Stance) is the first available, and it contains both survivability and high-damage abilities.

A Call to Arms
The Arms Warrior has traditionally been a debuff-focused melee DPS class

Upon reaching level 80, the Arms Warrior is now confronted by the question of what to wear. Rather than having a “wish list” of gear, Arms is dependent upon maintaining two (and sometimes three) rather crucial “soft caps,” or minimally-acceptable skill/statistic ratings necessary to maximize damage.

The first, and most important, of these is the Hit Rating soft cap. Because Arms Warriors use a single two-handed weapon, they must maintain an 8% melee hit rating to ensure that their special attacks do not miss, and their basic melee swings have only a 1% chance to miss. In more practical terms, this means that an Arms Warrior’s gear must supply him with 263 hit rating, or 233 hit rating if that Warrior is an Alliance character with a melee-based Draenei class in the raid, or are themselves a Draenei.

This is not a terribly difficult cap to achieve; however, one must be careful to never be under the “hit cap,” although it is acceptable to go over. On the flip side, however, any hit rating over the cap is technically a wasted statistic. Since items are given bonus statistics based on a total item budget, those extra points theoretically could be somewhere else. Again, though, it is best to be a little over.

The second, and more difficult, cap to reach is that of Armor Penetration. Armor Penetration is a very math-y statistic, but in a nutshell, it calculates what percentage of the enemy’s Armor Rating (the number by which Armor mitigates your basic melee damage) by a percentage. Small amounts of Armor Penetration, therefore, are worth comparatively less than larger amounts. 5% Armor Penetration is next to worthless, and a 5% gain to 10% is not terribly noticeable. A 5% gain from 85% to 90%, however, is a very, very, very significant gain.

Armor Penetration comes from a variety of sources, but primarily, they are:

    1. 10% passive Armor Penetration from Battle Stance
    2. 15% extra passive Armor Penetration from Mace Specialization, if the weapon being used is a two-handed Mace.
    3. A static contribution from gear alone
    4. Any contribution from using Armor Penetration Gems
    5. Special, randomly occurring “procs” from Armor Penetration trinkets like Grim Toll or Needle-Encrusted Scorpion.

A newly-level 80 warrior can also expect to get at least two pieces of Tier 9-level gear, which give a bonus 6% Armor Penetration rating.

If the total amount of Armor Penetration needed to be “hard-capped” is 1399, then one should always strive to have that number. At pre-Icecrown levels of gear, however, this can be difficult to achieve. It is much more logical, therefore, to gear for the “soft-cap,” which varies depending on which Armor Penetration trinket is used. The basic idea is to get only enough Armor Penetration rating needed that, when the trinket “procs,” one will gain 100% Armor Penetration.

There are three Armor Penetration proc trinkets: one from an Ulduar 10-man hard mode (probably unobtainable to most people), one from Naxxramas 25-man (also difficult to obtain at this late stage) and one from a new heroic ICC 5-man (probably the easiest to obtain, but also the least useful).

If one gets the Mjolnir Runestone from Thorim-10 hard mode, then one will need 735 Armor Penetration rating to be soft capped. If one gets Grim Toll from Naxxramas-25, then one needs 788 Armor Penetration rating. If, on the other hand, one gets Needle-Encrusted Scorpion from Heroic Forge of Souls, then one will need 721 Armor Penetration rating. All of these numbers do not take into account the contribution from Battle Stance, two pieces of Tier 9 gear, or Mace Specialization, as they do not appear in your character sheet.

My Warrior!
This is Amrytale of the Ashen Verdict, my Warrior

If a Warrior can reach one of these soft caps, then Strength becomes the best statistic, pound for pound, for the Warrior to use. If, on the other hand, a Warrior can reach 70% to 100% passive Armor Penetration from gear alone (not factoring in gems, potions, or enchants), then it behooves her more to gem and buff for Armor Penetration (through the use of Fractured Cardinal Rubies and Hearty Rhino) to reach as close to 100% passive Armor Penetration as possible (really 90% after Battle Stance, assuming that the Warrior is not using a Mace and has moved on past Tier 9 level gear).

The best way to check whether one is at or near all of these caps is to use a calculation spreadsheet, helpfully put together by Elitist Jerks forum guru Landsoul, DPS warrior for the top-ranked guild <vodka>.

The third (and only occasional) cap Arms Warriors care about is the Expertise cap, which is a hard cap, and any points above it are absolutely, without a doubt, wasted. This is further complicated by the fact that Arms contains two talents that increase Expertise, Strength of Arms and Weapon Mastery.

Expertise must be at a total of 26, which does appear on the character sheet. A fully-talented Strength of Arms (which is a mandatory talent) will provide 4 expertise, meaning that 22 more Expertise rating is necessary to push parries and dodges off the attack table. With a fully-talented Weapon Mastery, the amount of Expertise Rating necessary is 18.

However, at current gear levels, it is a net DPS loss to attempt to cap Expertise or take a full talent of Weapon Mastery. This is because the increased dodges from a lack of Expertise allow increased Overpowers, the signature DPS ability of modern-day Arms Warriors.

We will discuss talent builds for Arms (there are two basic ones) in next week’s post, which will discuss advanced Arms playstyles.

After the Hit, Armor Penetration, and Expertise caps are achieved, Arms Warriors will benefit the most from a mix of Strength, Critical Strike, Attack Power, Agility and Haste, in that order. Strength contributes to raw DPS, whereas the others modify the overall amount of damage Arms can do.

Gearing for Arms is simple: balance your two/three main statistics, and then use whatever is best out of your available options. Arms also has three “weapon specializations” that players will have to choose from. Ceteris paribus, Axes or Polearms will be the best weapon choice. However, a Mace that is of a slightly higher tier of gear may be better than an Axe or Polearm, especially if Mace Specialization will allow one to reach 100% passive Armor Penetration. Sword Specialization lags behind, but not by far. A Sword that is several tiers higher than an Axe, Polearm or Mace will be the best choice.

Again, using Landsoul’s Spreadsheet to plan out gear upgrades is essential for the Arms raider.

Make sure to tune in next week when we look at talent builds, enchantments, and the ability priority list when playing as Arms to get new Arms DPS players up to speed!


  1. So I found this looking for ways to slightly maximise my Arms DPS, I seem to have the rotation and everything down, decent gear, I am just looking for that extra oomph in my swing. After I read your column i went back to look at the pictures and thought…holy CRAP…I think that may be the guy that actually taught me how to play an Arms Warrior in the first place! You were amazingly helpful to me then and you are amazingly helpful to me now with this column! Thank you so much!

    Ramorous of Silver Hand

  2. It is you Ramorous! I’m sad to say I’ve gone to Fury now with ICC gear, but only out of necessity. Arms is still my favorite, and I’m excited for our Cat changes.

    Hit me up in game if you still have questions.