Why legendary items are too important
Every raid encounter in the game is exactingly balanced, or at least it is attempted to be balanced, particularly those that are designed to be DPS checks. Baleroc is a great example of this type of encounter design; it has a tight enrage timer and few mechanical hiccups to dampen damage, and it boils down mostly to whether you can beat the enrage timer. Skill, of course, is a factor in all of this, as it always is. In fact, performing a rotation perfectly accounts for far more damage than most of what your raw gear contributes to. Brian Wood in Scattered Shots and myself in Shifting Perspectives have both showed how missing casts or cooldowns even by only fractions of seconds here and there can accrue to more DPS lost than is gained from gemming, glyphing, or talents. Skill is always the largest contributor to DPS, yet legendary items can throw a wrench in that balance.
Legendary items account for an absurd amount of damage potential, as is evident by the DPS trends we see on sites such as World of Logs. Take Dragonwrath as the leading example. In current raiding gear, getting the staff can be a gain of 10k to 20k DPS, depending upon skill, luck, and spec of the character who has it. Even at the smallest range, 10,000 DPS is rather astronomical. What's the general DPS average at this point in time, 25,000 to 35,000 DPS? Maybe slightly higher or slightly lower, depending upon the type of raiding that you're into. With an average gain of 15,000 DPS just from having a player with Dragonwrath in your raid, the entire system of balance starts toppling down.
Encounters such as Baleroc are balanced around tight measurements. When raids are shooting to nail world firsts or even server firsts or their own personal firsts, then they will usually try anything in an effort to meet whatever requirements they're lacking. If DPS is too low, then raids will try to drop a tank if they can get away with it, or they'll swap out a healer. Attempting to gain additional DPS by adding in more DPSers is a very common trick, and it is done because nothing else can supplement the gains that you see. Gaining enough gear in order to increase the raid's DPS high enough to replicate this would require weeks, possibly months of farming -- valuable time that first-seekers don't have. When having a legendary item can account for half or even a third of any additional DPS, it creates a system where players with these items are far more valuable than any other DPS.
The relative value of gear
Legendary items usually have little impact on the raid in which they are introduced. Dragonwrath didn't change how any guild progressed through Firelands, just as Val'anyr didn't really change how players progressed in Ulduar, nor did any of the other legendary items impact the way that players progressed in those dungeons. Generally, you have to complete those dungeons in order to get these items. Yet that isn't of any real importance, because legendary items aren't important in the tier you get them; they matter in the tier that comes after.
Val'anyr was nerfed because it proved to still be the most important healing weapon, especially to holy paladins, all the way into ICC, two raiding tiers after it was introduced. Dragonwrath is being nerfed for somewhat similar reasons as well; it too is going to be the best caster weapon in Dragon Soul, but as it stands in live, it could still remain viable all the way into the first raid of the next expansion. A weapon this powerful, or any item this powerful, merely has no business being in an MMO such as WoW.
Causing havoc in the top precentile
When Dragon Soul is released onto live realms, every top raiding guild in the world is going to be pushing to be the first to down any measure of content. Even those that might not snag any world firsts will still be seeking to claim their own server firsts, yet this race has already been artificially tampered with. Any guild that has the advantage of a single additional Dragonwrath in their raid is miles ahead of anyone else that is seeking to garner these achievements. It's a pure matter of balance. A DPSer with a Dragonwrath is easily worth at least a third, if not an entire half, more the value of any other DPSer you could possibly fathom. Mechanics of the encounter be damned -- their influence holds no relevance unless it is so extreme that it completely eliminates the viability of the class/spec of a player you have with Dragonwrath ... and then that would have to correlate to all other guilds not losing the same amount.
First achievements are neither a matter of talent nor skill. It's long been held that while the players in all the top guilds are generally "better" than your average Joe (in the sense that with the same spec and same gear, the high-end raider would be expected to pull higher numbers), but it has also been accepted that this is not the primary reason many of them get their first kills months ahead of the curve. Gear is one factor, though the truth is that time investment is more the factor of their success. Yet even now, that isn't going to be enough.
The top guilds operate on a theoretical level. While they do throw themselves mercilessly at bosses over and over again, sometimes racking up as many as 100 wipes to any given encounter, they aren't stupid about it. Each attempt is a simulation run, a test, a probe, they take the data from their runs and extrapolate: Will we have enough DPS at this rate to beat the enrage? Will our healers have enough mana to last for such and such a time? What classes/specs do we absolutely have to have for mandatory buffs/debuffs/utility? Who can we drop and add for more DPS/utility/healing? There are times where these answers are that there's simply nothing that they could do.
If a top guild thought that they could 100% without a doubt down a boss with their current gear, then they would merely extend their lockout and keep plugging away. Rarely is this done. More gear always helps; it always pushes the notch up a little higher, and that small little gain may be all that they need in order to get over that last little hump that they need.
Dragonwrath, however, is not a little hump of DPS. It's worth as much of it more than all the rest of a player's gear combined.
How this impacts the average raider
You might say, how is this an issue? There's some RNG in getting Dragonwrath, but all the top-end guilds should have the same number for the most part. You aren't in a top raiding guild pushing the edge of content, so why should this matter to you at all? First, we'll look at how time is meaningless.
While it is true that every guild has had the same relative drops for Dragonwrath and all of them should have the same number, that isn't going to be the case. Players quit the game; players quit guilds. How many people have been in a guild where you've given a legendary or some other hyper-important item to a player, suddenly to find that they've dropped you for greener pastures? Players who change guilds after getting such an item deal a massive blow to that guild, more so in the high-end scheme of things.
Picture (off the top of my head) Vodka against Ensidia. One of Ensidia's casters with Dragonwrath thinks he has a better chance snagging world firsts with Vodka, so he ditches the old, hooks up with the new. Not only does Vodka gain that 10k- to 20k-DPS asset to their raiding team, but Ensidia just lost 10k to 20k DPS, and they can't replace it, giving Vodka a huge advantage for pushing heroic modes faster than Ensidia.
Now imagine that you're not in one of these types of guilds. I'm not in one; we've only got a single staff in house right now, and we'll probably be lucky if we reach two before the next raid hits. If our raider with Dragonwrath left, that'd be worse than if it were one of the top-tier guilds in the world. Ensidia, maybe they can scout out someone else from another guild to replace that -- but if you aren't top dog on the server, then what chances do you have of recruiting someone with a legendary? What are your chances of someone with a legendary running off to play with the big boys? Every raid group is going to get one eventually, and losing it screws over the little guy far more than the mega-guilds.
Normal modes may not be balanced with Dragonwrath in mind, but heroics damn well have to be. How can Blizzard possibly balance content around a 20k to 40k variance? My guild only has one, maybe two, Dragonwraths -- so Dragon Soul heroics are just out of our league because the encounters have to be balanced for the hyper-raiding teams out there with four or five in their roster? There's no chance; it's not practical. Having two -- or heaven forbid, three -- more legendary staves in your raid than the other raiding groups is like gaining a free raider and a half or more. That allows you to bring additional healers yet still make enrage timers or just keep stacking DPS.
For as much as we love them, for as much joy, pride, and ego that they feed us, legendary items have no business being in this game. They cause nothing but imbalances in both PVP and PVE, and their existence needs to stop. We might all dream of having our very own orange one day, but until Blizzard can find a way to make these items unique without being so gamebreakingly overpowered, it needs to stop adding them, period.
Ready Check shares all the strategies and inside information you need to take your raiding to the next level. Be sure to look up our strategy guides to Cataclysm's 5-man instances, and for more healer-centric advice, visit Raid Rx.