The stats to watch
Hit and expertise Technically, our biggest DPS contributors after strength, hit and expertise are actually quite bland. Since both of them have "caps," they both stop being useful immediately after you reach their respective limits. If you really wanted, you could walk around with 25% hit, but you truly only need 8% (961 rating); any hit after that is wasted itemization that isn't going to help you hit the boss more.
In a similar vein, expertise stops being mostly useful at 26 (781 rating). Thanks to our Glyph of Seal of Truth, a prime glyph that every raiding ret paladin should have, we only actually need 16 (481 rating). I use the term "mostly" because there are different caps for if you're standing in front of the boss or behind, but since we are going to be staring at boss butt for almost every encounter, that is what we gear around.
After you pick off the hit and expertise pineapple on the pizza that is your new gear, what's left? Why, crit, haste, and mastery, of course!
Mastery Let's go over the easiest stat first, shall we? Mastery for the retribution paladin is a mechanic called Hand of Light. Essentially, each point of mastery will increase the damage of HoL by 2.1%, which originates from a percentage of your Crusader Strikes, Templar's Verdicts, and Divine Storms, after all buff and debuff calculations have been factored in (that is, Landslide, trinket procs, fight mechanics like Concentration, and so on).
Right now, this is generally the stat to stack, as it provides the greatest DPS return per point. There do exist scenarios where stacking mastery at the expense of other stats results in an overall DPS loss, but we'll get to those in a moment.
Critical strike Easy to understand but difficult to grasp, crit is on the heels of mastery in terms of DPS contribution. It affects every single attack we make, from auto-attacking while you're getting a pizza out of the oven to that mindblowing Consecration your target just hopscotched over. However, crit isn't as solid of a stat as mastery in that additional crit rating only increases your chance to score a critical hit on a target. While a 12% chance to crit is definitely better than a 10% chance to crit, we humble ret paladins know that when we leave decisions to the random number generator, we don't always get a desirable outcome.
Haste Oh, how the mighty have fallen. What was once our holy grail in Wrath is now nothing but a plastic cup with a leak in it. Recently, however, haste has been making a comeback. Censure, recently buffed by 40%, ticks every 3 seconds and is further modified by haste. The biggest contribution to haste's value is the fact that it buffs attack speed, meaning with an increasing amount of haste we get an increasing number of auto-attacks. These white melee hits not only do damage but lead to more Art of War procs and more Seal of Truth and Seals of Command damage. Even counting all of this, haste is still placing third in terms of DPS per point.
Of course, there is also the talent Sanctity of Battle. This is what made haste awesome during Wrath and continues to tease us to this very day. With current gear levels and talk of toning down ilevels and therefore stat budgets in the next expansion, we can probably safely say farewell to the concept of a 3-second Crusader Strike. Well, until Blizzard changes everything in Pandaria.
The myth of absolute stat weights
I really can't stress enough that absolute stat weightings are a myth. Most of what you see on sites like Elitist Jerks are generalizations meant to be applicable to the widest audience. With increasing item levels, however, we accumulate so much crit, haste, and mastery on our gear that they actually begin competing with each other for relative value.
Let's assume that you throw caution to the wind and try to stack your crit rating as high as it can possibly go. Your crit chance grows and grows while your haste and mastery remain at pitifully low levels. Somehow you reach 50% crit (not sure if this is even possible right now, but suspend that disbelief for a minute!), and you're looking to get even more gear with even more stats. If from this shiny new gear you were to get an extra 1% crit chance, that would logically put you at 51% crit. While it is technically a DPS increase to make this jump, since it comes at the expense of your other stats (that is, the pieces you are choosing are high in crit and relatively low in other stats), it is actually worth less than a 1% gain in crit chance at a much lower gear level.
How can we visualize this stat battle? With a versatile and very useful tool called SimulationCraft.
Without going to great lengths to try to describe how to use it, this program takes your character data and simulates your rotation, random procs and all, against a boss-level creature over a defined period of time. Then it does this again, and again, and again, up to 50,000 times in order to provide the most accurate results. There are options to do all sorts of stuff, but in the context of this column, let's look at the DPS scaling options.
This is a bar graph showing the relative values of each of the three stats in relation to my current gear setup. As you can see, my calculated stat priorities are mastery > crit > haste, with a pretty clear distinction between the three. What this is saying is that, for each additional point of mastery, my DPS will increase by 1.3673.
Another useful part of SimCraft is to see this DPS scaling plotted. As you can see, there are moments when an increase in one stat leads to an overall DPS decrease. (Look at how far haste diverges from the other two!)
Also of note, Exemplar's spreadsheet at Elitist Jerks
is another great resource for determining stat weights and gear upgrades, but it isn't as flashy as something like SimCraft. There are a few minor quibbles between the models that each resource uses, quibbles that produce discrepancies such as haste being valued over crit for Exemplar's spreadsheet at a certain gear level, while SimCraft says crit is stronger than haste. If you're ever unsure about which stat would boost your DPS more and the community at large isn't sure either, stick with what has worked in the past until enough evidence comes forth that making the switch would be worth it.
Change: The bottom line
I'll be the first to admit I know what you're thinking: "Those are some fancy-schmancy graphs you got there, Dan, but what is the freakin' point?!" If you took nothing from any of that, remember that stat weights change,
and what is good with a certain set of gear could be totally different with some new gear you get off of Onyxia's thrice-resurrected carcass.
The Light and How to Swing It teaches you the ins and outs of retribution paladins, from Ret 101 and how to gem, enchant and reforge your retadin, to essential ret pally addons.