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Spiritual Guidance: Balanced gear along the road to the shadow priest endgame

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Today is Wednesday, and for the 58th consecutive week, Wednesday is all about Fox Van Allen and his army of overpowered shadow priests.

Last week was an interesting one for me here at WoW Insider. I wrote a shadow priest's guide to 4.0.6 on Monday, shortly before the patch went live. Because I knew the 4.0.6 stat weightings would be a much desired piece of information, I used SimulationCraft to try and generate some usable numbers.

That led to a problem: I used the PTR 4.0.6 version of SimulationCraft to get the stat weightings. Hours before my article was published (and hours after it had been written, edited, and slotted for publishing), the folks at SimulationCraft came out with a new live 4.0.6 build of their software. The new live numbers were vastly different from the PTR numbers, and worse yet, the live numbers involved an error that incorrectly modeled hit.

Long story short: I had to rewrite major sections of last week's article. And yes, that included the stat weighting. We have new, updated numbers that say for a best-in-slot shadow priest, haste is king. And that, as they say, was that. End of story. Column over. Right?

Well, yes, that's the end of story ... if you're a best-in-slot, item-level 372 shadow priest with four-piece tier 11. If you're not a best-in-slot shadow priest, though, those stat weighting numbers are going to be different. Not "maybe" different -- significantly different. But just how different? Should a new 85 gem differently than an endgame raider? And how can you find out your own specific stat weightings without a degree in multi-variable calculus?

An introduction to SimulationCraft

Before we get into the meat of stat weightings, let's first talk real quick about where they come from: SimulationCraft. In short, it's a computer program that can simulate thousands of boss fights a minute. You can create a new character or import your own character from the armory, choose your buffs, and choose what type of fight you want to simulate. You can even choose your strategy if you want, though I'm not sure you'd need to modify things much -- the designers have an intimate knowledge of shadow priesting "best practices."

From there, the program gives you a full report of the hypothetical fight, from mana usage to damage done. More importantly, it also tells you how much DPS each single point of each individual stat offers your character. That part of the report is where the experts at shadowpriest.com and Elitist Jerks and even yours truly figure out the stat weightings that most raiding shadow priests hold as gospel.

Traditionally, we report on the best-in-slot stat weightings. The problem with this is that there's a long road to being a best-in-slot shadow priest -- it's a journey that 99.9% of us will never finish. And if we're never going to be best-in-slot shadow priests, how useful is that information really going to be?

Designing an experiment

Last week, I put out a call on Twitter: Send me your armory profiles. The idea was to collect a number of vastly different shadow priest profiles (from raid experts to the just-hit-85s) to run through SimulationCraft. I got 15 shadow priest profiles ranging from item level 327 all the way on up to item level 360. Some stacked haste, some stacked mastery, and some weren't stacking anything. Would there be any notable patterns? How far would these real shadow priests deviate from the best-in-slot ratings? Will haste always be on top?

To answer these questions, I designed a theoretical raid fight and then ran each and every one of my 15 test subjects through the simulation 10,000 times.

The theoretical fight For this simulation, we're going to model shadow priests in a full raid with the full complement of optimal raid buffs and boss debuffs. The fight will be a standard Patchwerk-style tank and spank lasting approximately 400 seconds (plus or minus 20%). Granted, there are very few raid fights where you can just stand and DPS. But that's a problem with simulation -- there's no way to model a typical raid fight. They're all different by design. If they weren't, World of Warcraft would be a very boring game.

Stat weightings for the rest of us

Okay, so enough with the suspense. Let's start giving you the results of the experiment.

I got the following average stat weightings:
Intellect = 1
Spellpower = 0.75
Haste = 0.39
Spirit/Hit = 0.37
Mastery = 0.35
Crit = 0.35
The numbers from my experiment are somewhat lower than those you'd get SimCrafting a best-in-slot ilevel 372 shadow priest. Still, we reach very similar conclusions: The secondary stats tend to bunch up together, and haste tends to come out on top. I won't reprint the full logs here (though you can always email me for the data if you're curious), but I will give you some of my key observations:
  • Haste may not always come out on top, but it's still a damn valuable stat. A full eight of the 15 shadow priests got the most value out of their haste (as opposed to any other secondary stat). Beyond that, the average haste weighting and the median haste weighting were higher than the other three secondary stats. If you're going to gem and enchant blindly, haste is a fairly safe way to go.
  • Hit is fairly valuable. Six of the shadow priests I tested got the most value out of their hit (as opposed to haste). Five of these people were well under the hit cap. Overall, hit tends to get less valuable as you stack it, but not to the point where you should avoid capping your hit. The only people with poor values of hit were the ones who went over the hit cap.
  • Secondary stats are almost always competitive with each other. For most of the shadow priests tested, there was only a small level of difference between the value of the best secondary stat and the worst. That means it's okay to make mistakes or get "weird" gear -- they won't cost you much over the long term.
  • The higher your item level, the more your secondary stats are worth. Our lowest item-level test subject experienced low values of haste, crit, mastery, and spirit pretty much across the board. Our highest item-level test subject experienced high values of haste, crit, mastery, and spirit. For those just entering heroics, this means you should always lean toward gear with more intellect, even if they don't seem as well itemized as your current, lower-intellect item. For progression raiders, this means that one "small" gear upgrade has a lot of impact. Shadow priests are scaling well.

If you take away only one thing ...

The reason why we often resort to stat weightings is that we're just plain lazy. We want to believe that there's a definite answer to the question of what stat is best, and we want it to stay the same as we advance in the game. That simply isn't the case. Shadow priests are complex to model, and each single one of us is unique. You might get the most out of stacking haste. Or, almost as likely, you might get more out of adding more spirit to your gear.

There's only one way to know for sure, and that's to do the work yourself. Download SimulationCraft. Play with it a little bit. It's very user-friendly, and it only takes a few minutes to use.

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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