Everybody wants to know what the best equipment for their spec is. There are huge numbers of best in slot lists on the internet, usually fairly similar in the ultimate gear choices that they espouse. In previous expansions, it’s fair to say that nobody could claim one piece of gear was definitively better than another. This is because stats were not normalised by item level and therefore one piece of gear could have a wide range of effectiveness depending on the rest of your gear setup. With Cataclysm and the normalisation of stats, it seems significantly easier to create a very accurate list, especially for feral druids. With this in mind, I set out to create a BiS list for my character and write a post about how I did it, very much in the mind of teaching how to do something rather than simply providing a list to be used without understanding. The results were quite interesting.
In this post I planned to run through how to obtain stat weightings, what to do with those weightings once you have them, and then talk a little bit about how to modify your list to include tier gear. I went through the process while writing the article, so I have quickly detailed it here as well.
The first step in putting together a best in slot list is to get some stat weights. Essentially, best in slot gear will provide you with the best stats from your gear, so knowing which stats are the best for your chosen role is the logical starting place. There are a couple of places where you can obtain stat weightings, out of which I would recommend the Elitist Jerks forums. With a reputation for highly accurate theorycrafting, this is the place to go for numbers. The weightings I found were:
Relative Stat Values at 85 (25M raid):
Attack Power: 0.96
Critical Strike Rating: 0.75
The second step was to plug these numbers in to another website called Loot Rank which analyses gear based on its stats and allows stat weighting.
I went through and removed all gear from heroic raid bosses, which I will talk about more later, tailored the filters for my professions and copied the data to a spreadsheet. With a little adjustment and tidying, mainly to remove any heroic raid items that had been incorrectly categorised, I had a coherent data set.
I started by examining the options for head, shoulder, chest, hands and legs, the five possible options for the tier gear. 10% extra damage from rake and mangle giving 1% extra attack power for 30 seconds, stacking up to 3 times (the feral cat 2 and 4 piece bonuses respectively) are well worth obtaining, so from those 5 slots there will be 4 that are already pre-determined to obtain the 4 piece bonus from tier 11. Overall, we have two slots where the tier gear is preferable to anything else, in the helmet and legs. After comparing items in the other 3 slots, the chest and shoulders were my preferred choices for tier gear with gloves as off-tier.
With five items already chosen, the rest are fairly easy to slot into place, primarily by choosing the highest scoring item on the list from Loot Rank. I had a small amount of hit and expertise from the items chosen for the tier slots, and with the very low weighting on hit and expertise I did not need to worry about reaching any caps.
One key thing that became apparent was the way in which equipment was graded by item level. For every slot except trinkets, the 359 epics were at the top of the pile, followed by 346 and then 333 items. Admittedly, there were occasional PVP pieces that scored well, normally coming in around the 346 PVE gear for a 352 PVP epic, but the item budget used on resilience explains this deviation from the rule of thumb. It is this normalisation that made me believe an accurate BiS list could be compiled, and at the same time renders it fairly obsolete. If an item has a higher ilvl than what you are currently wearing, and does not waste any stats, it is an upgrade. This is why it was entirely possible to remove the heroic raid gear from the original data set, because it will automatically be an upgrade due to the higher item level. Sure, you could go through and compare all secondary stats against each other to find out which item was better than the others, but the gap between the best 359 epic and the worst 359 epic was much smaller than the gap between 359 and 346.
For those that are interested, my breakdown based on item level is as follows:
Deviation between ilvl 359 epics: maximum of 9.85%, minimum of 1.06%, average of 3.28%.
Deviation between ilvl 359 and ilvl 346: maximum of 13.19%, minimum of 1.54%, average of 8.30%.
Deviation between ilvl 346: maximum of 10.88%, minimum of 0.49%, average of 3.36%.
Deviation between ilvl 346 and ilvl 333: maximum of 16.99%, minimum of 7.78%, average of 11.62%.
This clearly shows that upgrading the item level in any slot is more useful than getting more desirable stats of the same item level in that slot. There is no situation where the best 333 item is better than the worst 346 item, and likewise the best 346 item is not as good as the worst 359 item. On average, upgrading between item levels will net between 8% and 11% increased dps, which is much better than upgrading within an item level for an average increase of 3%.
With that in mind, the most important consideration when choosing your gear is the item level (again with the assumption that it is appropriate for a feral druid). When faced with a choice between 2 items of the same ilvl, the stat weightings suggest you choose mastery over crit, crit over haste and haste over hit and expertise, but the primary goal for character advancement is to increase the average item level of your gear. Therefore, is this the end of the line for best in slot lists?