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Warlords of Draenor's gear system and spirit as a secondary stat

There has been some discussion recently, on Twitter, between Lead Systems Designer Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street and several players about some elements of the new gearing system, and how it applies to healers.

First up, I feel like, before we get into the specifics, I should quickly wrap up how the new system will work. You won't understand the rest of the article without this knowledge, so let's rattle through it. The new gearing system works as follows:
  • A piece drops.
  • It is plate, mail, cloth or leather.
  • It has crit and haste as secondary stats.
  • Its primary stat will change according to your spec, so if you're a caster it will be intellect, melee DPS could be strength or agility and so on.
  • As you change spec, the primary stat changes with you.
  • The secondary stats (in this example, crit and haste) will not change.
  • There may also be tertiary stats on gear, such as +run speed, or -durability damage.

Hopefully that's clear enough for you. It's a great system, in my opinion, although it will inevitably cause loot dramas among guilds, and will mean that everything's based off item levels and secondary stats. This means it's way harder to decide who the loot is best for, as we see in Mists how secondary stats are, in some cases at least, very personal choices.

Spirited Discussion

But that's not what we're here to talk about today. Instead, it all relates to the aforementioned Twitter chat.

So, just in case this isn't completely clear to you, spirit will become a secondary stat, i.e. one that doesn't shift. You could be a strength DPS with spirit as a secondary on your spiky new hat. Looking at our example above, you could replace crit with spirit and the exact same system would still stand.

Intellectual Healing

Now, it's worth paying a good deal of attention to Greg's first tweet above. He specifically says that intellect is a healer's primary stat. Looking at healing as it stands, right now, you could potentially argue the same. Intellect, in very basic terms, amplifies the power of your healing. It makes heals bigger, or absorbs bigger, and so on. Spirit is how you regenerate mana. Remember back in Cataclysm when intellect also increased the size of your mana pool? That is not the case right now, but maybe things will change.

Saying that intellect is a healer's primary stat makes me want to ask a few questions. Is intellect going to have an impact on your mana pool again? Is intellect going to affect regen? Is regen going to become something more proactive? Or is regen going to become something more trivial, something less important for healers? I certainly hope the last one is not the case, as mana conservation is, to me at least, an important part of healing gameplay.

At this late point in the expansion, indeed, it's too trivial. It doesn't matter enough when you use a big heavy expensive heal inefficiently. Mana regen is too high, and it makes healing less interesting. Healing isn't about raw throughput, it's about using the right spells at the right time. And if you don't have mana as a consideration, you can just use the same expensive, inefficient spells without any real consequences. And that's boring. So I really hope that isn't the direction the designers go in.

Active Regeneration

An earlier tweet exchange, though, raised something I do like the idea of.

Shaman, remember how strong Telluric Currents was back in Dragon Soul? Regenerating mana based on damage dealt? That was too strong, sure, but imagine if that was our main ability for regenerating mana. Imagine if spirit was really low, if we really didn't do much passive regen, and had to rely, instead, on active abilities like Telluric Currents, or Mana Tide Totem to keep our blue bars full?
It's rather like active mitigation in tanking. Instead of stacking up dodge and parry (which are also gone in the expansion), tanks have to use abilities to shield themselves, or to otherwise mitigate incoming damage. It's far more interesting, and maybe this is an indication that healing is going that way too -- active regeneration rather than passive. Alas, Greg's response doesn't make me think that's what's happening. I would really love it, though.

So, then what is becoming of spirit? How is mana regen going to work in Warlords of Draenor? We're really not sure. Spirit's still going to be on gear, but I wonder just how it's going to work. And I think there are definitely issues with it being a secondary stat.

Spirit as a secondary

And here's where the issues come in. The new gearing system is designed with flexibility in mind. Even though many a loot council is no doubt groaning and wringing their hands, this system does mean that way more people are eligible for any one piece of gear. Unless, that is, that gear has Spirit on it as a secondary stat.

"But wait," I hear you cry. "I play a boomkin, or a shadow priest, or an elemental shaman! Spirit converts to hit for me! I can use that gear!" Not in Warlords of Draenor. Hit is gone. So, if gear drops with spirit on it, be it cloth, plate, mail or leather, that's healer gear. It's a secondary stat, so as Greg and I both clarify above, that means it won't change. Either your DPS take gear with a largely useless stat on it, or it's healer gear.
Of course, it's remotely possible that caster DPS will suddenly need spirit. It's not likely, but it's certainly possible. But the old issue of intellect plate? It suddenly becomes the new issue of spirit plate.

And the flip side of this is that if gear doesn't have spirit on it, healers will have to fight to get it in their bags. There's no longer hit to clearly delineate what is DPS gear, so the new distinction between cloth DPS gear and cloth healer gear, for example, will be spirit. If cloth drops with spirit on it, that's healer gear. If it doesn't have spirit on it, therefore, that's likely to become DPS priority (not categorically DPS, just priority) for many raid leaders and loot councils.

Spirit as a primary

Certainly, spirit as a secondary stat is far from the end of the world. As we've explored above, it's highly possible that spirit might become something completely different to what we're accustomed to. But if we assume, for a moment, that it stays roughly the same, then are the problems of having it as a secondary are largely resolved by having it as a primary?

Spirit as a primary removes the question of whether a piece is healer gear or DPS gear, by making it so that it's both. Primary stats shift, remember? This removes the spirit plate problem. If you have a healing paladin in your raid, then great, they can wear that gear with secondary spirit, but if you don't, then you're not stuck with spirit on a DK. So what are the downsides?
Having it as a primary in the new system introduces a whole new wave of problems. What if you don't want spirit? Personally I tend to run light on spirit, compared to my fellow healers, and prefer instead to load up on stats that make my heals hit harder. I prefer to cast fewer powerful heals than more less powerful ones. I prefer the micromanagement of mana, to either perform brilliantly or terribly. It's a playstyle that appeals.

If spirit were a primary stat for healers, you would have basically no choice on whether to go heavy into spirit, or to keep it low. Reforging is gone, remember? What you see on gear is what you get. So with spirit as a primary, the interesting choice of where you want your spirit to sit is gone. That was a fun game to play for healers, and having spirit as a primary would make it irrelevant.

So healers are caught, somewhat, between the devil and the deep blue sea. Which of these two problems is the least problematic? Would we rather the frying pan or the fire?

EDIT: Please see the comments for later tweets on the same topic. Alas, writing things well in advance of their publication can have its downsides! I do think the above discussion still applies to off-set pieces, though, so there's still merit.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Raiding

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