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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Statistically speaking

I'm listening to a playlist full of old NES chiptunes as I write this, Zanac, Ninja Gaiden, Mega Man, Crystalis, Shatterhand, Tecmo Super Bowl, Legacy of the Wizard--just some awesome old stuff, some of which comes from composers who went on to become even more awesome. I love the game music from that era; I find it absolutely amazing what those guys could make that tiny sound chip do. And yes, I am a massive and unrepentant dork. Why do I bring this up? I have the playlist on shuffle, and the overworld theme from Dragon Warrior just played, and it got me thinking about this week's subject: stats.

Dragon Warrior was my first role-playing game. It was my first exposure to such concepts as experience points, and leveling up, and hit points. Stats in games of that era were pretty simple. You had strength, which affected how hard you hit things, and agility, which...made you more agile? Who knew? That was about it. Hit points measured how many whacks you could take before you died, and magic points ran out as you used spells. There wasn't a whole lot to it.

When I first started playing WoW, knowing which statistics were important to my Mage and which weren't was comparatively simple too. As you leveled, you looked for intellect and spirit. At max level, you learned the value of a few other stats, like spell crit, spell damage, and spell hit rating. Generally, if it said "spell" in front of it, your Mage wanted it. Now, though, we have so many different stats--one covering every aspect of every spell we cast, and so many different ways to customize the amounts of each that your Mage's gear has--that it can be quite daunting trying to decide which ones to prioritize. Follow me through the break where we'll discuss the various caster stats and the relative value of each to our class.

I'll be listing stats in ascending order of relative value from a pure DPS perspective. You may dispute the placement of certain stats in the list, and that's fine. Depending on your talent spec and play-style, different stats may be more important to you than they are to me.

One stat that I won't be putting in the list is stamina. You'll find it on most of your gear, but it's of universal importance, regardless of class. If you happen to be a PvP Mage, you'll want more of it than a raiding Mage would. Same goes for all non-caster-specific stats.

  • Spell Penetration

This is a stat that reduces your target's spell resistances. It is often confused with hit rating, but they operate on totally different mechanics. Hit rating increases a Mage's chance to hit with spells, whereas this penetration reduces your enemies chance to resist or partially resist your spells. They may sound similar, but really aren't. Hit is far, far more valuable to Mages than spell penetration is, and it isn't even close.

Since it only works on enemies that actually have resistances, spell penetration is generally only valuable at all in PvP, and then only marginally so. It certainly isn't a bad stat to have, and if you're going to do a lot of PvP, you may want to pick up a bit of it. each point of spell penetration negates one point of an opponent's resistance to the type of spell you have hit him with, so you don't generally need much. Quite simply, there are other, better stats out there. A lot of them.

  • Spirit

Spirit controls the rate at which your Mage regenerates health and mana while not casting. It is beholden to the 5-second rule, which dictates that you must not cast anything for five full seconds before spirit-based mana regen kicks in. The more you have of it, the faster you'll regenerate mana when not casting. The regen gained from spirit is due to be nerfed by 40% across the board in patch 3.1.

There are those of you out there who will undoubtedly argue with me over the value of spirit to Mages. You're wrong. It's cool, being wrong is pretty common. I could link back to several of my previous columns as prime examples, but won't.

Spirit sucks for Mages. The reason for this is simple: we're always casting. Unless we've been silenced or otherwise CCed, the encounter forces us to move around for an extended period of time, or we have run out of mana entirely, there should never be a five second period of time in which we aren't casting something. There are talents that allow for a portion of our spirit-based regen to continue even while casting. Mage Armor does this as well, but the amount regained doesn't make this stat worth stacking by any stretch of the imagination.

Having said all of that, this attribute isn't entirely worthless. It does help to reduce downtime while questing and leveling, and mana regen, in any fashion, is handy to have for any caster. The problem is that you simply can't justify taking it over any of the other caster stats. Due simply to Blizzard's itemization tendencies in this expansion, your gear is going to have some spirit on it as you progress through the end-game, but what you get from it is really all you need, and probably a good deal more.

Of course, as we talked aout two weeks ago, there has also been talk about "making spirit a more useful and interesting stat for all Mages" in that same patch. Who knows? Maybe Blizzard will firgure out a way to teach an old stat some new tricks, and render the above four paragraphs completely moot. It wouldn't be the first time I've written something that became outdated pretty much as I typed it, and it certainly won't be the last.

  • Critical Strike Rating

This goes pretty much hand in hand with Haste rating, which we'll talk about in a moment. The two are pretty much equal in value to Mages, so just consider them listed side-by-side here.

Crit rating increases your chance of getting a critical strike from all of your attacks. It takes approximately 46 points of crit rating to increase your crit chance by 1% at level 80. Critical strikes are important to every Mage, but most specs will gain crit percentage far more reliably from talents than they will from stacking crit rating. There's no denying that this stat is an important DPS stat, but it simply isn't as valuable per point as straight spellpower.

None of this is to say that you should avoid crit rating, of course. Every Mage loves it when those big fat numbers pop up above the heads of their enemies. It just isn't something you should gem or enchant for over more valuable stats like hit rating and spellpower.

  • Haste Rating

This stat does two things for Mages. First, it reduces the cast time of spells, meaning you can cast more spells in less time. Second, it reduces the global cooldown on spellcasts. This means there is no effective cap for haste rating. You can stack as much as you want, and your spellcasting will get a little faster with each point.

Now, this sounds better in theory than it actually is. The major problem with haste rating is that you have to get a ridiculous amount of it in order for it to have a really significant impact. It's a good stat to have, for certain, but you don't want to depend on it as a DPS-increaser over more directly valuable attributes like spellpower and hit. To illustrate:

It takes about 33 points of haste rating to reduce your casting time by 1% at level 80. This means that in order to reduce your 3 second Frostfire Bolt spell by a half-second, increasing your DPS by approximately 16% (I'm rounding judiciously here), you'd need to stack 528 points of haste rating, give or take. If my math is wrong (and there's a pretty good chance it is), feel free to let me know. And that's assuming your mana pool could take the strain of casting all of those extra Frostfire Bolts over the course of a long fight. Your DPS isn't increasing if you can't cast.

Again, this is a valuable stat, but isn't as worthwhile to stack as other stats are.

  • Intellect

Intellect affects several things. It directly increases your mana pool, your crit percentage, and your mana regen due to spirit. Each point of intellect adds 15 mana points to your max. Every 167 (again, rounding) points of intellect you have increases your crit chance by 1%. I won't list the formula for how it affects spirit regen here, simply because too many decimal points in one place make my brain sieze up, but suffice it to say that the increase is minor, and we've already been over how lame I think spirit is.

The upshot of all of that is intellect is pretty nifty. It can be ranked right with crit and haste for most Mages, but is significantly better than those two stats for Arcane Mages, assuming they've put talent points into Arcane Mind and/or Mind Mastery. Every Mage needs intellect, simply because every Mage needs a mana pool, but again, you don't really need to stack this stat too much. Chances are you'll have plenty of it from gear and your own signature buff already.

Edit: After reading the comments below, I want to clarify this stat's placement in the list, just so that there is no confusion. The list is of the relative value of each stat to Mages, not necessarily the order in which you should be gemming/enchanting your gear, and I'm sorry if I have led anybody astray. Intellect is an incredibly valuable stat for Mages, but you should not be gemming/enchanting for it. Blizzard has ensured that you will have plenty of it just by wearing the cloth gear found at end-game. If you're reading this list with an eye toward choosing which gems or enchants to pick up for your gear, just know that you should be prioritizing crit/haste over intellect, simply because you already have enough intellect on your gear. Unless you're wearing something crazy.

  • Hit Rating

Now, before you come after me with torches and pitchforks, know that the only reason I list this below spellpower is that it has a cap. Once you've reached that cap, it ceases to be important. This is a stat that you need until you have enough, then you don't need it any more at all. That may sound obvious and redundant, but...well, okay, it totally is.

Hit Rating increases your chance to hit enemies. It is the most direct way to increase DPS until you cap it, since a miss results in zero damage. Wow, I'm really working the "duh" statements today, right? I'm like the Madden of Mage columnists. I'm about two sentences away from saying something like "whichever team can score the most points is gonna win this game," or "Brett Favre is good because he can throw the ball, he knows the game of football, and he can pass the football."

At level 80, it takes 26.232 points of hit rating to increase your chance to hit with spells by 1%. The magic number you want to reach is 17%, which requires 446 points of hit rating. You won't actually need that much, though. Talents can gain you 3%. If there's a Draenei in your group, you gain 1% from his aura. Various raid buffs can grant you an additional 3%.

For a Mage with a normal talent setup and a normal raid group, you'll likely need a maximum of about 288 hit rating total from gear, gems, enchants, and food buffs. Once you've gotten there, you're done with hit rating and can stack for what is the single most valuable DPS stat for Mages:

  • Spellpower

Spellpower directly increases the damage done by your spells. Each spell in your arsenal has a spell damage coefficient attached to it. Some spells have a 100% spell coefficient, others (usually the shorter their cast-time, the less they have) have more or less. What does that mean? Well, take Fireball, for example. It has a 100% coefficient, meaning that if you have 2,000 spellpower, your Fireball will benefit from 100% of that extra damage, meaning in turn that each time you cast Fireball, it will do an additional 2,000 points of damage as a direct result of your spellpower. I know, clear as mud, right? Fire Blast has a 42.86% coefficient, which means it will only benefit from about 857 of that 2,000 spellpower. Pyroblast has a 115% coefficient, so it will gain 2300 extra points of damage from that 2,000. Yes, I'm trying to set a record for "most times the word 'coefficient' can be used in one paragraph." The guys from Guiness are here with me right now, documenting my efforts.

Point-for-point, this is the single most beneficial stat for Mages. If you are interested in increasing your single-target DPS, you should be stacking it at every opportunity. Other stats are good too, but spellpower trumps them all once hit is capped. This is why the spellpower coefficient stealth-nerf to Arcane Barrage sucks so bad.

In closing, let me say that, though it pains me to do so, I will not be saying anything mean about Warlocks this week, or even advocating violence against them. I do this out of deference to our new Warlock columnist, Nick Whelan. He's an incredible writer, and I'm glad to have him aboard (our new Hunter writer, Jessics Klein, is certainly no slouch, herself). But next week, it's totally on. Shocking, unprovoked class-bigotry ahoy!

Now if you'll excuse, me, the first level music from The Adventures of Bayou Billy just started, and I need to go revel in its complete awesomeness.


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