When patch 3.1 hit, the neat trick that made spellpower weapons optimal for enhancement was patched out. At Wrath of the Lich King release, Flametongue Weapon always did the same amount of damage, regardless of weapon speed. This meant that Webbed Death, a 1.4 speed dagger and the best-in-slot enhancement off-hand, would do the same amount of Flametongue damage as Angry Dread, the 2.5 speed mace we were supposed to be using. When you coupled that with the massive spellpower and the fast speed of Torch of Holy Fire, our Flametongue Weapon gave us very reliable, sustained DPS.
I was slightly melancholy when patch 3.1 hit and the Flametongue Weapon formula was tweaked to make it scale with weapon speed, and the spellpower weapon fell from grace. However, my personal opinion is that anything that allows me to perform well is welcome, so I got over losing my fiery fists of doom right quick. My regret at the time was more because enhancement started to lose its footing as the highest DPS hybrid spec, a decline that hit rock bottom in the soul-sucking past year of raiding Icecrown Citadel. Regardless of how the end of Wrath of the Lich King happened, though, Cataclysm has brought to us a resurgence of my old favorite trick, the spellpower weapon. With that resurgence comes questions, questions this post hopes to address.
Why are you so convinced spellpower weapons are better?
Excellent question! First off, we have the scientific data. Rawr4 has finished alpha testing and is fully released, providing me with an incredibly useful platform to play around with weapon combinations before exporting them to the newest version of the Enhancement Simulator, alpha version 2.2.7. This alpha is also really close to release status, and it is now giving very reliable DPS values. Rawr4 has a few very specific issues; the main one is that caster weapons that have been hotfixed to be lower DPS in game are not using these lower damage numbers in Rawr, meaning that I needed to be careful to check against the actual in-game values and transfer the weapon DPS values myself. Many thanks to Vixsin of Life in Group 5 for some help in validating weapon damage values in game!
With every test, I used our standard priority rotation. I simmed using Elam's current gear, reforging stats on each new weapon to remain at the hit cap in every test. The only stats that changed were those on the weapons themselves. My off-hand was always the Vicious Gladiator's Left Ripper. Full raid buffs/debuffs were used, Potion of the Tol'vir was enabled, Flasks were used, and I even ate some tasty Skewered Eel. Here were the results, from lowest DPS to highest:
- Vicious Gladiator's Right Ripper, ilevel 359, 2.6 speed agility weapon with Windfury Weapon: 15,834 DPS
- Heroic Crul'korak, the Lightning's Arc, ilevel 372, 521.8 weapon DPS 2.6 speed agility weapon with Windfury Weapon: 16,131 DPS
- Modgud's Blade, ilevel 333, 1.8 speed/41.9 weapon DPS with Flametongue: 16,512 DPS
- Heroic Modgud's Blade, ilevel 346, 1.8 speed/56.9 weapon DPS with Flametongue: 16,761 DPS
- Heroic Biting Wind, ilevel 346, 1.8 speed/204.7 weapon DPS with Flametongue: 16,972 DPS
- Blade of the Witching Hour, ilevel 359, 1.8 speed/53.1 weapon DPS with Flametongue: 17,063 DPS
- Vicious Gladiator's Gavel, ilevel 359, 1.6 speed/231.2 weapon DPS with Flametongue: 17,397 DPS
If you're a little leery of the scientific evidence in support of spellpower main-hands, here's some anecdotal evidence. First is a log from last Tuesday's Magmaw kill, when I clocked in at a whopping 13,700 effective damage per second using an agility main-hand. Next up is this Tuesday's Magmaw kill, where I magically jumped a full 3,099 damage per second to a grand total of 16,799. Did I improve my gear between attempts? A piece or two. Did I manage cooldowns better? You bet I did. Did I play better because it was our third kill of the fight? Almost certainly. Did I use a spellpower weapon this week? Yes, yes I did. This is why this data is anecdotal -- the use of the spellpower main-hand was not the only variable in the equation of my DPS this week and can't be entirely trusted. However, my sudden boost in DPS coupled with the mathematical proof offered by the Enhance Simulator makes a strong case. Spellpower weapons are mathematically superior to agility weapons at this point in time.
There are two main reasons for spellpower superiority. First off, main-hand spellpower items are the most heavily statted items in the game. An agility axe, mace, or fist weapon that you get for your main hand is designed to complement the rest of your gear, providing small bonuses to your secondary stats in a ratio to the stats on the rest of your gear. Conversely, spellpower weapons are the main source of spellpower for casters, requiring them to have huge amounts of spellpower on them. EnhSim puts Elam's (with the Vicious Gladiator's Gavel in his main hand) spellpower as equivalent to 1.05 points of attack power, while his mastery rating EP is equivalent to 1.53 attack power.
The second culprit of the caster weapon conundrum is Flametongue Weapon itself. Beyond just the phenomenal base spellpower we get from imbuing Flametongue, current theorycrafting suggests that Flametongue Weapon is bugged to do higher damage than it should be right now. The issue seems to be that it's applying two versions of Mental Quickness, the current version where we get 50% of our attack power as spellpower, and the pre-4.0.1 version where we got 30% of our attack power as spellpower. Unfortunately, fixing this bug is the least fun option in nerfing enhancement's use of caster weapons, as it means that beyond DPS loss from losing caster weapons, we'd lose out on damage from our off-hand Flametongue procs. I personally like having a Flametongue Weapon that hits harder than a wet noodle, so I'd like to see this bug stay.
So now what?
Spellpower main-hand weapons will be nerfed, as Blizzard has said multiple times in the past. (For the most recent, check out WoW Insider's coverage of Ghostcrawler's most recent class balance blog.) A change might be hotfixed in next maintenance, or it might not come until 4.1. Your job is to weigh the information and make an informed decision -- will you buy a Vicious Gladiator's Gavel, knowing the next week it might be useless for your main spec? Will you ask your guild to run with you through Vortex Pinnacle for a Biting Wind, knowing that you won't be seeing an epic caster weapon any time soon? Will you farm the mats for an Elementium Spellblade?
What you do with this information is all up to you. My only hope is that no one who reads this column thinks that I endorse ever taking caster weapons from legitimate caster main specs. Personally, I'm planning on having my PvP gavel by this time next week.
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