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Spiritual Guidance: Gearing a shadow priest for Cataclysm heroics

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Your host for the Wednesday edition, Fox Van Allen, always brings you the latest in shadow priest news, the latest in shadow priest controversy, and the latest shadow priest tactics -- all with the level of maturity of an episode of Maury. After the break: a paternity test, a lie detector test, and you won't believe who we're sending to boot camp!

Eight months ago, I wrote one of my most viewed and read articles here at WoW Insider. It was about GearScore and item levels. Most of us know, of course, that each weapon or piece of armor we equip has a numerical value behind it that approximates how powerful it is. Back then, far too many people were using item levels and GearScore as the sole arbiter of who could and couldn't team up with them in pickup raid groups.
Sorry, you seem like a lovely person and all, but I've determined your entire worth as a raider boils down to a four-digit number. Unfortunately, the four-digit number assigned to your worth is slightly lower than the four-digit number I arbitrarily came up with as the requirement to participate in the outdated raid content I wish to be carried through.
In the piece, I explained that item levels and GearScore provide you with a general idea about whether or not a piece of gear is good, but in the end, having the right stats matters more than item levels. That still holds true in Cataclysm -- stats matter. An item level 333 blue can be better than an item level 346 blue.

Despite that, though, measures of your "gear score" matter more than they ever have before. Cataclysm instances and heroics are gated behind strict minimum average item level requirements. Blizzard has become that guy. We won't spend our time today discussing whether that's right or wrong; instead, we'll be productive gamers and figure out how and where to get gear to clear that item level requirement, get yourself into heroics, and eventually, get yourself ready to raid.

From leveling to instances to heroics -- the basics

One of the best ways to get your shadow priest ready for heroics (and ultimately, raiding) is to level through a healthy mix of instances and questing. Questing will help open up your access to factions, which will ultimately sell you your first epic-quality items. Instances will provide you with a chance to roll for several blue-quality drops per run. Both will offer quest rewards (the rewards for completing a dungeon the first time are quite good), and both will increase your reputation with factions. And, of course, both will provide you with Embersilk Cloth, which you can have crafted into ilevel 333, 346, and 359 gear.

Just remember, though, as you build your preheroic (and later, heroic) sets: The gear you're winning now may be replaced in incredibly short order. It's not like the end days of Wrath, when you'd win a piece of gear and hold it for months. Some of you will be winning gear and holding it for a couple weeks; some may replace even the nicest blue in a couple of hours. Keep that in mind when it comes to enchanting and gemming that there's no problem with enhancing what you've bought, but it's pointless and exorbitantly expensive to buy the top-of-the-line gems and enchants.

What to look for

We'll run down some specific pieces of gear in a moment, but there are some basic rules of thumb to keep in mind. To qualify to run heroics, you'll need an average item level (ilevel) of 329. That's quite a daunting bar to clear when most of the quest rewards and instance drops you'll see prior to heroics are ilevel 333 or lower, but you'll get there. Plenty have already.

If you spend any time comparing, say, bracers, you'll notice that all ilevel 333 bracers are virtually identical. They share identical levels of intellect and stamina -- the core, primary stats -- and share identical (or near-identical) totals of secondary stats, like haste, crit, spirit, mastery, and hit. They only differ in what secondary stats they contain. My shadow priest currently has a pair of ilevel 333 Crimsonborne Bracers equipped, which provide 224 stamina, 149 intellect, 100 spirit, and 100 points of critical strike. Compare that to the ilevel 333 Sand Silk Wristband, which has 224 stamina, 149 intellect, 100 points of hit, and 100 points of critical strike. As you can see, they're almost identical, especially when you consider that shadow priests convert spirit to hit via the Twisted Faith talent.

That's not unique to bracers, of course. When deciding whether or not something is an upgrade, you can generally assume that pieces of the same ilevel are approximately equivalent. And if you'll recall last week, we learned that spirit, hit, crit, and mastery are all approximately equal to each other in value -- one point of each is worth about 3/10 a point of intellect. Haste stands out as the most valuable secondary stat (worth about 4/10 a point of intellect), so you're generally going to want to prioritize gear with haste already on it. While maximizing haste, try to keep the other secondary stats balanced.

Remember what I said in the opener about some ilevel 333s being better than ilevel 346s? It's true -- a piece of item level 333 gear with haste will (generally) be slightly superior to a piece of item level 346 gear without it. This means two things to you:
  1. You should reforge to haste when possible.
  2. Our best-in-slot pieces of gear are going to be the ones with haste.
For now, it seems that hit and spirit are the best stats to change to haste -- the stat only matters against bosses, and only 10 percent of the fights you'll be in are boss fights.

Still, don't throw away a piece of 346 just because you found a piece of 333 with haste in it. Keep your most recent "outdated" gear in the bank. Blizzard fiddles with stats all the time. When that happens, it's nice to have backup.

Quest your way to ilevel 333s

The most common way to find item level 333 gear is probably to just get them off bosses in Halls of Origination, Lost City of Tol'vir, and Grim Batol, but you may have to run a certain dungeon five, 10, or even more times before that item you're looking for drops. Getting your ilevel 333 gear from quest rewards is much less frustrating because it's a sure thing. They may not be the best 333s out there, but they're easy to get.

Here are seven blue-quality quest rewards that will put you on the fast track toward participating in heroics:
  • Shoulders -- Lost City of Tol'vir Complete the quest The Source of Their Power by defeating Siamat at the end of the Lost City instance and you've earned yourself the Blight-Lifter's Mantle, a new pair of ilevel 333 shoulders. They've got haste on them, so they're keepers.
  • Wrist -- Halls of Origination Complete Doing it the Hard Way by beating the four bosses on the top floor of the Halls of Origination. Unfortunately, unlike all the other Cataclysm dungeon quests, this one is part of a chain that starts outside the instance. Go help Harrison Jones in his fight against off-brand Nazis in Uldum, and the chain will finish in HoO and pay off with a pair of item level 333 True Archaeologist's Bracers.
  • Feet -- Grim Batol While you're free to roll on all the item level 333 gear that drops in Grim Batol, your first successful clear of the instance through to Dragha Shadowburner will earn you a pair of ilevel 333 blue boots, Sandals of the Courier. Just pick up and complete the Kill the Courier quest when you first zone in.
  • Waist -- Twilight Highlands (Orgrimmar/Stormwind) It may not technically be in the Twilight Highlands, but both the Alliance and Horde quest chains that take you there pay off -- Alliance players can get the ilevel 333 waist Truth-Seeker Belt for completing the chain through A Villain Unmasked; Horde players get the identical Belt of Mystical Betrayal for finishing Traitor's Bait.
  • Legs -- Twilight Highlands The Narkrall, The Drake-Tamer quest (Alliance only) and Fury Unbound (Horde only) quests offer a pair of blue item level 333 pants upon completion: Narkall's Leggings for Alliance or Bastion Clearing Leggings for Horde. (Blame Blizzard for the Narkrall/Narkall typo, not me.)
  • Finger -- Twilight Highlands The quest Battle of Life and Death, which starts at Vermillion Redoubt, pays off with the Red Dragonheart Ring.
  • Chest -- Twilight Highlands Complete the quest Skullcrusher the Mountain -- part of a chain, of course -- and you'll be able to choose the well-itemized Overly Intelligent Robes as your reward.

Develop a good reputation for yourself

Six major factions were added to World of Warcraft for Cataclysm, and each one offers its own unique rewards if only you can ingratiate yourself to them enough. At the friendly level, you can gain access to the faction's tabard, which will earn you reputation with that group every time you run an instance or heroic. At honored, you'll be able to pick up a blue-quality 333; at revered, you'll be able to pick up blue-quality 346s; and at exalted, the highest level, you'll be able to buy epic purple-quality 359s. There are a few exceptions, of course -- Therazane offers shoulder enchants instead of 333s and 359s -- but for the most part, building rep is a great way to gear up.

Not sure what rep to build up first? Here's what each faction has to offer specifically to shadow priests.

Guardians of Hyjal The Earthen Ring Ramkahen Therazane Dragonmaw / Wildhammer Baradin's Wardens / Hellscream's Reach Baradin's Wardens / Hellscream's Reach rep must be earned by running PvP-themed dailies in Tol Barad. Neither faction offers a tabard.

For great justice

Sure, those item level 333 blues may be all right for some people, but you've got a taste for the high life. You want to live in that ilevel 346 fast lane. You want to be able to look down on people and know that your gear is marginally better than theirs. It's OK, you can admit it. I won't judge.

The good news is that a number of you are already set up to get a couple of "free" pieces of item level 346s the moment you hit level 85. How? Well, do you have any justice points stored up from running random instances while leveling, or maybe even left over from the conversion of your old Wrath emblems? Take a look -- you're allowed to hold up to 4,000 justice points maximum, and that's exactly how much I started Cataclysm with. And even if you're not at the max (or even close), don't worry. Justice points build fast when you run random dungeons.

If you have a couple of thousand justice points in hand, head to the Justice Quartermaster in Stormwind or Orgrimmar and go shopping. Some of the items you can buy include:
Obviously, it's not optimal to buy every piece of gear you wear from the JP vendor, but this works very well for filling in the gaps, especially if you're still trying to break into Cataclysm heroics.

Once you're in Cataclysm heroics, you'll start replacing all those ilevel 333 blues with heroic ilevel 346 blues. And, of course, as your rep with various factions builds, you'll start buying your first epics. Those who are exceptionally wealthy can think about heading to the auction house and buying the latest and greatest epic craftables for Cataclysm, but it's hard for me to justify recommending you spend 50,000 gold this week on a piece of equipment we all know will be worth less than half that come January.

If you head is spinning from all this talk of gear, don't worry. It's hard to get things wrong -- a lot of stats have similar values, so if you pick the "wrong" piece of gear in a slot or two, it won't send your DPS through the floor. Besides, in Cataclysm, just as in Wrath, The Burning Crusade, and vanilla WoW before, the most important factor in any shadow priest's performance is skill.

Keep practicing!

Are you more interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? Think it's neat to dissolve into a ball of pure shadow every few minutes? Hunger for the tangy flesh of gnomes? The darker, shadowy side of Spiritual Guidance has you covered (occasionally through the use of puppets).

Filed under: Priest, (Priest) Spiritual Guidance

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