Elemental, Opinion, Shaman, WoW

Elemental 10-man itemisation

Did you know that there are no elemental belts in three tiers of 10-man raids?  No elemental bracers or boots?  Did you know that apart from tier pieces and the obligatory relic, there are absolutely no elemental items available for emblems?

Dramatic pause.

(this isn’t actually going to be a whine post, bear with me for a bit)

Admittedly I have no idea if other classes/specs are in similar situations, though I suspect they are.  It’s easy to understand why people can get angry with the developers when they eagerly examine the loot tables of the cool new raid and find… nothing… for them..?  Were we just forgotten or are we not important enough?, goes the line of thought.  The more canny may instead think, well, maybe we’re balanced around the lack of itemisation, so it’s OK that there’s no “perfect” gear for us!  But then we look at the loot tables for 25-mans and we see all the things that are missing from 10-mans provided in their 25-man counterparts and realise that it’s around those items that we’re probably being tuned.  Oh dear oh dear.

Boots and belts and bracers oh my!

Even if you expand the search to include leather and cloth, there aren’t any decent elemental options for bracers in tiers 7 or 8.  Everything has crit and spirit, or crit and MP5 – the best we can hope for is haste or hit and spirit.  Tier 9 has haste/hit/SP cloth bracers which is nice, but most casters are utterly sick of hit rating by tier 9 because we find too much of it on our gear anyway.

Belts are exactly the same – there’s a cloth hit/haste/SP option in tier 9 and nothing before that except a – for 10-man raiders at the time – horrifically expensive crafted cloth version that can only be obtained from repeated hard mode kills.

There’s a really nice set of leather boots from Malygos, but … that’s it.  The closest we come to decent elemental boots are the Hit/Crit/SP boots from tier 9.  Again, despite the fact that hit can be our most valuable stat, it can also be utterly worthless if we’re capped – so much so that the sandals are only better than Footsteps of Malygos by virtue of raw ilevel.  What that means is that because the stat budget on the item is so much higher, we get enough of a stat we don’t really want (crit) to offset the loss of a stat we do want (haste).

STOP.  Collaborate & Listen.

Let’s back up a bit for a moment.  What do I even mean by stats we want and don’t want?  What makes an “elemental” item anyway?

Item level and item budget

Every item has an item level, and the level of the item determines its item budget.  The item budget is how many points of stats and bonuses the item can have.  Most stats are assumed to be worth 1 “item budget point”, but players have determined that stamina seems to be worth 2/3rds of an IBP and spellpower worth 6/7ths.  Sockets are a little fuzzier, but we do know that socket bonuses are extra “free” stats not included in IBPs.

Item level determines the total IBP allowance for an item, but for each additional stat/bonus an item has, the total IBP allowance increases slightly.  That is, an item with only four stats will add up to less total stat points than an item with 5 stats, even though the 4 stat item may well have higher stat values.

Itemising what could have been

Because of the way item budget works, we know that if we see an item with 50 crit rating, we know that it could have had 50 haste rating or 50 hit rating instead.  Or we might see an item with 80 intellect when most items of that level have only 60 intellect, and realise that 20 IBPs have been spent in intellect that could’ve been spent on crit.

Stamina and intellect are always going to be on caster items.  They’re not great DPS stats but we do need them and don’t begrudge them (unless they have ridiculously high values which eat into the rest of the itembudget), so we’ll ignore them for now.

So let’s say we see an item with Spirit, Critical Strike Rating and Spellpower.  One stat is totally useless to us – Spirit.  The other two are very useful.  But, because of the way item budget works, we know that the Critical Strike Rating could be Haste Rating.  Haste rating is, point for point, worth more DPS than crit rating, so we know that the item would be better for us if it had haste instead of crit.  And what if the Spirit was Haste instead?  That’d be even better because now we’d have three stats that we can use on the item.

Because we know all this, often when we see “bad” items we torture ourselves thinking about how good they could have been, “if only…”.

Imperfection and choice

A perfect elemental item would have a roughly even balance of haste and crit, plus a lot of spellpower, because those are our three best stats assuming we’re hitcapped. We know, however, that Blizzard does not want to give everyone perfectly designed items in every raid, but rather wants to enforce “tough choices”.

Hit is one way of providing a tough choice.  If you’re not hitcapped, hit is the most valuable stat.  What if you had to choose between an item with Hit and Crit and an item with Haste and Crit?  That’s an interesting and difficult choice.  The same goes for a choice between Hit or Crit.  So we’d consider an item with Haste and Hit a really good elemental item if it meant we could take an item in another slot that didn’t have hit.  Even an item with Hit and Crit (and no haste) would be OK if it allowed us to take a really juicy option elsewhere in our gear.

But for the hit item to be a useful choice, there has to be another option without hit at least somewhere in the item tables – because if everything has hit, then you end up so far over the hit cap that hit becomes utterly useless, a stat you never want and keep finding and begin to loathe.  It becomes just as bad as Spirit or MP5.

Useless stats

Even useless stats force us to make choices, though – do we take a high ilevel item that has a useless stat – or maybe even two useless stats – because it has sufficient useful stats to be an upgrade over an old, lower item level piece?  Most players, as they gear up, will happily take items with useless stats just because the stuff they were using previously was even worse.  But useless stats take such a big chunk out of the item budget that an item with a useless (or even suboptimal) stat has to have really high amounts of useful (or optimal) stats to be worth considering.

The expectation is that once you start hitting raids, you’ll get rid of the useless stats and find items which are more optimal. For 10-man elemental raiders, that expectation is not met.

The sky has fallen but it’s not so bad

The problem for elemental shamans in 10-man raids is that we don’t have those choices we were just talking about.  There’s always one item which is clearly superior to the others, and in many cases that item is better for a player of another class or spec: mail belts with haste and MP5 (resto shamans), leather bracers with crit and spirit (moonkins and trees), and so on and so forth.  Yet we end up coveting these items because they’re all there is.  For example, the best-in-slot boots for a 10-man elemental shaman who is already hitcapped are cloth with (useless) hit and crit.  In three tiers of normal and hardmode raiding, there’s only one other option, thirty-two ilevels (two and a half “tiers”) lower.  They are, in fact, only superior by sheer brute force of item level.  Similarly, the best-in-slot offhand for a hitcapped 10-man elemental is a hit/haste offhand (not a shield), because it’s so much higher ilevel than the beautiful shield from the previous tier and the only shield in tier 9 has crit and mp5.

For other slots, there are well-itemised items but no choice – such as for cloaks (do you want haste, crit and spellpower or more haste, crit and spellpower from the next tier?).  Some slots have great choice in one tier then no choice in the next (like necklaces and trinkets – two in tier 8 and none in tier 9, what?).

(Oh, and that reminds me.  10-man tier 9 trinkets.  What on Azeroth?  25-man has Reign of the Unliving, an incredible 650-DEP monster which every caster and his or her dog dreams of one day owning for themselves.  10-man has Talisman of Volatile Power, which is even worse than a Mercurial Alchemist Stone and that anyone who rolls on gets ruthlessly mocked.  What in Kil’jaeden’s left armpit were the item team thinking?  But I digress.)

Then there’s the really unfortunate examples of the tier 9 helm from Anub’arak and shoulderpads from Northrend Beasts:

  1. They are perfectly itemised for elemental!
  2. They fill slots which tier also fills, so choice, right?
  3. …they have exactly the same stats as elemental tier with a slightly different distribution.

OK well at least we can choose which one we use to break the tier 9 four-piece with, right?  Wrong :(  By far the best item to break the tier 9 four-piece bonus at the 10-man level with is Merlin’s Robe, an incredibly expensive crafted cloth item only available from repeated hard mode kills.  So those perfectly beautiful elemental helm and shoulders go to waste when if they were boots or belts or necklaces we’d be dancing happy little jigs of joy.

So we’re forced to go for items that are obviously not very good for us and are often better for other classes just because that’s all we can do.  This puts us in the unfortunate situation of effectively competing with other classes/specs for items that should, by rights, be theirs.  The more gentlemanly among us will wait our turns, but this delays the rate at which we gear up and harms our personal raid performance.

The bigger picture

The reason I say it’s not so bad is because, at the end of the day, we can still be useful and perhaps even competitive in this “suboptimal” gear environment.  And if we’re “forced” to take high ilevel items that are poorly itemised for us, then at least that makes it more likely that even slightly better-itemised pieces in the next tier will be upgrades – and upgrading gear is part of the fun of the game.

Also, I have no idea how Blizzard’s item and balance team works the difference between 10-mans and 25-mans.  Maybe elemental is tuned down to the 10-man environment (where a multi-buffing class like us is very strong) by the suboptimal itemisation, and then tuned up to the buff-rich 25-man enviroment by its better options and the potential use of fire DPS totems.  Maybe the need for items to be useful to several classes/specs means that our lack of proper itemisation works for the good of 10-man raiders as a whole (but then what’s with all that spellpower plate?).

Closing thoughts

My abiding memory of beginning Lich King raiding as an elemental is the unhappy realisation that my level 70 blue Totem of the Void was the best available to me as a 10-man raider.  This issue has since been somewhat rectified by putting relics on the emblem vendors.  But still it’s hard to accept the paucity of 10-man elemental itemisation, especially when your guild is banging against hard modes trying to eak out that last bit of DPS and you’re 3% over the hit cap with a big slab of delicious MP5, a modicum of spirit and more crit than haste.

But there’s a lot more to be said on the topic of 10-man raiding, and admittedly most of it positive.  But the better the developers manage to get things, the more pressure they are under to bring them even closer to perfection; I feel this is one area in which there’s still a lot of ground to make up.  Precisely because gear is part of the game’s appeal and fun, when we don’t feel there’s any gear “for us”, that diminishes the fun even if Blizzard has a grand plan behind it.

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10 thoughts on “Elemental 10-man itemisation

  1. The interview with Cory Stockton and Greg Street that was just linked from MMO-Champion talks quite a lot about itemisation intentions for Icecrown and is fairly interesting. They talk about “learning lessons” about what the difference between 10- and 25-man items should be, and wanting items to be “sufficiently powerful” to be upgrades for every player. This and “favourable optimization”. So yeah, worth a read!

    It also specifically talks about using tier 10 to change players’ rotations, which explains why Elemental’s bonuses are so kooky – it’s famously hard to change Elemental’s rotation!

    Posted by Charles | November 21, 2009, 1:38 pm
    • I just read that and thought of what you wrote here as I was reading it. Don’t you think it’s a bit frightening that in the current loot lists there isn’t one mail spell piece without mp5 in 10-man ICC? Of course a lot of the loot hasn’t actually been discovered yet, I just thought it was striking that the three mail spell pieces that HAVE been discovered all have mp5 on them. It makes me wonder if their (very good) intentions are going to be realised in the end.

      There do seem to at least be a couple pieces in the new Emblems tables, including (pleasingly) a belt. Rejoice!

      Posted by Razz | November 21, 2009, 4:26 pm
      • I really want to know what their itemisation strategy is for 10-mans, because it’s quite possible that the MP5 thing (for example) is deliberate (which would also explain why there’s no non-MP5 mail on emblem vendors). For the first time, however, we have craftable “elemental” mail and “elemental” emblem gear. So it will be interesting to see precisely how itemisation shapes up this coming patch.

        One big problem with the MP5 thing is that most of the MP5 mail gear doesn’t just have MP5, but it has crit as its secondary stat instead of haste – which not only makes it even less appealing to elementals (who’d take MP5 gear with haste with reasonable gladness), but actually causes resto shamans to grunt in annoyance because since 3.2 we want HASTE HASTE HASTE NOM NOM HASTE.

        I’d also love to know how other class/specs feel about their itemisation situations and the 10/25 divide. I suspect, for example, that many 25-man raiders feel obliged to do 10-mans to get items that only drop in 10s – but that’s a topic for another post.

        Posted by Charles | November 21, 2009, 4:49 pm
  2. Man, so true. I’m in a 10-man guild, and it’s made a huge impact on how I gear. When Naxx came out, we were able to PuG out 25-mans because it was a relatively easy instance, and I was able to get a bunch of good gear. With Ulduar, outside of tier, I replaced almost nothing since loot was sparse in 10 man, and 25-mans were tough to PuG. My bracers, belt, boots, and rings went almost unchanged, and for the longest time so did my trinkets. I remember starting ToC 10 with Naxx gear, and then looking at the loot tables and realizing that there still wasn’t a good replacement to my belt, bracers, or boots. After PuG’ing out ToC 25, I got the better boots, and managed to get the cloth belt and bracers crafted, but I feel that getting gear has always been a struggle at best and a nightmare at worst. Hopefully that changes in ICC.

    Posted by sayis | November 22, 2009, 11:26 pm
  3. Elemental itemization has been an exercise in frustration throughout this entire expansion…and I speak from the standpoint of a guild that runs both 10 and 25 man content. A RL friend of mine that plays WoW also has a shaman, and he entertained playing it again, but once he saw the total lack of well-itemized gear, combined with the fact he wouldn’t compete at the top of the dps charts, he shied away and is now leveling a rogue. Shame, really.

    Fortunately, the new badge loot will work well for both elemental and resto. Only took them an entire year to get the idea (which is strange because they had badge loot for both specs in BC, but that was due to spell power being +damage and +healing).

    Posted by Kazgrel | November 24, 2009, 8:14 pm
  4. The itemisation makes me sad, I think. It has taken me a long time (and a lot of cloth wearing) to be able to compete with other classes in our raids. I’m still using Deathchill cloak which is extremely frustrating. As a 25 raider who rarely does heroic toc or any hardmodes, I feel a bit stuck at present, waiting on toc to drop cloaks, main hands and shields often enough so that all of us can pick those up.

    Thank god they changed Quel’D mace to a better itemisation!

    Posted by pewter | November 25, 2009, 12:24 pm
  5. Thank you for that post, I’ve been feeling the exact same things recently as I started regularly raiding again. I mainly do 10 man raids and the lack of gear has really started me thinking I might just shelve my shammy until Cataclysm comes out.

    I’ve raided all the 10 man content and I still have a ring from CoS, a trinket from the heroism vendor, and 4 items out of H Naxx. Looking at the Icecrown loot table doesn’t exactly excite me, though there seems to be a few upgrades available in the new heroic 5 mans (not sure if that makes me happy or just makes me more frustrated that here I am, a geared raider, having to do 5-mans to get upgrades I should already have).

    A few weeks ago I got a priest I’d been working on to 80 and I marveled at how easily and effortlessly it was to get geared up. Instead of 1 item (or no items) being available for a particular slot there are choices!

    Posted by Gregorovich | November 25, 2009, 10:07 pm
    • This is the problem with elemental shamans filling a very particular niche: they want mail spellcasting gear, which is basically only useful for them (and maybe resto shamans). That’s 2 talent trees out of 30. While even something like physical mail dps gear is already useful for 4 talent trees (3 hunter ones and enhancement shamans), not to mention something like cloth spellcasting gear. There’s statistically just a low chance an elemental shaman is going to be present in the raid, which means dropping loads of loot tailored to them will only end up upsetting groups who don’t have any elemental shamans (this is of course especially the case in 10-mans). I’m guessing moonkin have similar problems, although I can’t confirm that.

      The solution? I’m not sure. Sure, Blizzard could just put in more items for elemental shamans, but that’s a problem because of *see above*. In their current system the best thing to do is put more items on emblem vendors or make more craftables available. That way you don’t end up filling loot tables with stuff only 2 talent trees can use, and elemental shamans still have their upgrades. The BETTER solution would be to change the system itself. Do something radical like removing armor types (or at least adjusting how they work). Maybe in Cataclysm?

      Posted by Razz | November 25, 2009, 11:42 pm
      • Part of the problem is that a hitcapped elemental only has 3 useful stats (crit, haste, SP), whereas all other casters gain some small benefit from intellect, spirit or MP5 (and more benefit from crit than elemental does). Then of course physical DPS have a smorgasbord of primary and secondary stats to choose from.

        Holy paladins, incidentally, lust after elemental-itemised gear too, and they can wear mail. Yet there is an abundance of spellpower plate in every single raid, which can only be used by one single class-spec.

        The really weird thing is that haste/crit/SP leather or cloth is acceptable to elementals/restos/holydins and every single caster class/spec there is, yet there’s almost none of it around.

        Posted by Charles | November 26, 2009, 12:11 am
      • From what I’ve been reading about Cataclysm most of the caster dps classes will be following the elemental mold so gear will be easier. MP5 is going away, replaced with spirit for all healing classes, and spirit will pretty much be a healer stat. So it seems like there will be 3 kinds of caster items, those with hit for dps casters, those with spirit for healing casters, and those with neither for all casters, which should make gearing an elemental shaman less of an exercise in frustration.

        Of course that doesn’t help us now. And as Charles said plenty of other casters would happily take a crit/haste/sp item, Blizzard simply refuses to provide them. I realize that Elemental is kind of in a niche all by itself. I’d even be happy if a particular slot had an upgrade every other tier of raid content but we don’t even have that. Its simply not acceptable to have slots with 0 items available after 4 tiers of raid content.

        Posted by Gregorovich | November 29, 2009, 1:51 am

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