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Today we'll be discussing the benefits of disenchanting items, and weigh them against your other options, such as vendoring and auctioning.
For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to assume that you aren't using the materials to level, but rather, are interested in making the most gold possible.
Perhaps you have met the Enchanters who proclaim on every forum and in each comments section that Enchanting is the only way to go for making money from greens and quest rewards.
While Enchanting, or rather, Disenchanting, is an incredibly useful tool for making money, it is a myth that you will make more money by always disenchanting everything.
Magic Number 73
The lowest level greens from Northrend are level 67 to 72. The magic number is 73. For some reason, level 73 greens suddenly begin to grant more materials when disenchanted.
As a general rule, you will make more money disenchanting an item 73 and above and selling the materials.
Items on the lower end are trickier. The "good" items, such as weapons, and "heavy" items, should be vendored, while the "light" armor pieces like cloaks, bracers, belts and gloves, are better off disenchanted. Check out Time is Money: Selling your quest rewards for more information.
What you get
Items level 73-80 will grant you 3-5 Infinite Dust, or 1-2 Greater Cosmic Essences.
Items level 67-72 from Northrend will give you 1-2 Infinite Dust, or rarely, 1-2 Lesser Cosmic Essence.
For today's purposes, I'll be ignoring blues and Dream Shards, as the shards are also used as currency.
Quest rewards do not have level requirements. Instead, look at the item levels (this is different from the level required to equip the item). Anything level 154 and above is generally equivalent to level 73 and above, but going with quests that require you to be level 73 are is a safe bet.
This means that any quests from the starting areas reward you with items that are below level 73, Dragonblight is also low, and Grizzly Hills and other areas are mostly in the clear.
Armor and weapons are very different when it comes to disenchanting. Armor has a 75% chance of granting dust instead of essences, while weaponry has a 75% chance to grant the more expensive essences, rather than dust.
Knowing your prices
It is important that you start monitoring the Auction House, if you don't already. If you don't have fun doing it manually, then consider installing an addon such as Auctioneer to help you do it at a glance.
You will want to determine the usual price for Infinite Dust and Greater Cosmic Essences on your server. As an example, each dust might sell for 5g while each essence might sell for 18g.
It is also important to know how much every item would sell for to a vendor. There are lightweight addons to help you do this, if you don't like addons that use up a lot of memory, although if you run Auctioneer, you can configure it to do this for you as well.
Yes, there is math involved, if you would like to be specific, although I will also hand you a couple of rules to avoid the math if you choose. The quick and easy way is to assume that you'll get dust for armor and essences for weapons, and take it from there:
V = the price the item will sell for to a vendor.
M = the average price of the materials that you are likely to get.
M is more complicated than V. For the lower end items described above, M is the price of 1.5 Infinite Dust on your server, because that is the average that you can expect to get.
For the higher level items, you will want to set M to the price of 3 dust on your server or 1 Greater Cosmic Essence. You might even make an average of the two. If three dust sell for 15g and one essence sells for 18g, then set M to 16.5g (15 + 18 = 33. Then divide 33 by 2, because two is the number of things that you added up).
Where V > M, vendor the item, or try to sell it at auction for more than the value of M. Where M > V, disenchant it.
When you're looking at weapons, set M to the cost of one Greater Cosmic Essence for higher level weapons, and and one Lesser Cosmic Essence for weapons level 67-72.
For the more advanced version:
High level armor: 4 dusts (avg) x 3 + 1 cosmic, divide this all by 4.
High level weaponry: 3 cosmics + 1 dust, divided by 4.
Rules for the Mathematically Challenged
Disenchant anything level 73 and up.
Vendoring weapons will give you a reliable income. They will also grant reliable profit when disenchanted.
Items below level 73 grant very few materials. Sell them at auction for the price of one Infinite Dust or more, or learn the rule about "heavy" items and how they relate to an item's value. Disenchant lightweight items, and sell the heavier ones.
Bob, the rules, and buying greens to disenchant
Good old Bob heads to the Auction House every morning to purchase greens to disenchant. Bob usually buys anything 10g and under that comes from Northrend, hoping that after all is said and done, the amount that he paid that day (C) will be less than the total value (T) of the materials he got from disenchanting the items.
T - C = P and P stands for Profit. Bob hopes this is a positive number, and the higher, the better.
Bob's success is based on chance, or dumb luck. Bob could increase his profits in the following ways:
Do a search for armor, level 67-72, and buy everything 5g and under. Here, I am assuming that one Infinite Dust sells for 5g. If it sells differently on your server, use that number instead.
Do a search for armor, level 73-80. Purchase everything under the cost of three Infinite Dust.
Do a search for weapons, level 67-80, and buy everything under the cost of three Infinite Dust.
Always use your addon to double check that anything in the 67-70 range actually comes from Northrend and not Outland. People lose a lot of money by finding out that half of what they bought gave them Arcane Dust! Tip: If you don't want to use an addon, read the Disenchanting requirements at the bottom on the tooltip by clicking on your disenchant button and mousing over the item. If it says "requires Enchanting 275" then it is an Outland green. Northrend items will require a higher level of Enchanting.
This will sound obvious but I do know people who mess this up on a regular basis. Set the Rarity to Uncommon so that you don't accidentally buy whites and grays.
Outsmart other Bobs by selling your greens that vendor for less than the cost of one Infinite Dust on your server, for more 1.5 times the cost of one dust or more. You can disenchant them yourself, but you will sometimes get one dust, and sometimes two. By selling them to other Enchanters sweeping through the AH for more than the cost of 1.5 times the price of one dust, you are ensuring that you always beat the average profit that you'd make if you disenchanted them yourself.