Don't be fooled by deceptively attractive stats that try to flirt their way into your inventory on gear that turns out to be embarrassingly, utterly useless. The naked truth is that not all stats are useful to every character and every class. Agility, for instance, is supposed to increase your chance to dodge attacks – so it stands to reason that it would be a fantastic addition for a cloth-wearing mage who crumples like a paper doll in melee combat, right? Unfortunately, things don't actually work that way. The poor mageling in question would be better served by more intelligence, giving him more mana and power to expend raining down spell fury upon his foes. (Well, that and learning how to stay out of reach of the big, mean mobs.)
Every class starts out with a slightly different mix of stats. For example, mages have more base intellect than rogues, who have more agility. That balance is your first clue in figuring out what stats your new character should focus on enhancing with gear.
What do base stats do?
For the sake of our new players, we're going to home in on the most basic, primary way a stat affects different classes. There are many other ways these stats affect your performance, but things get pretty complicated and aren't integral to a rookie who's zipping through the first 60 levels of the game. If you're interested in reading more about how each stat affects all the mechanics of your class, follow the link on the name of each stat listed below.
Your basic formula for success is to pick two primary stats, stamina (because everybody needs a live body!) plus another stat that's key for your class.
Agility increases ranged weapon attack power for all classes and melee weapon attack power for some. Warriors, hunters and rogues gain 1 ranged attack power for each point of agility. Hunters, rogues, shamans and feral cat druids gain 1 melee attack power per point of agility.
Who wants agility: druids (feral cat), hunters, rogues, shaman (enhancement)
Intellect increases the size of your mana pool. You get 15 mana for every point of intellect (except for the first 20 points of intellect, which provide 1 mana per point). Warlock pets gain mana from your intellect, too, but at a lower rate than you do.
Who wants intellect: druids (druid, moonkin), mages, paladins (holy), priests, shaman (elemental), warlocks
Spirit increases your health and mana regeneration, both in and out of combat. However, few classes and specs find it to make a significant impact on leveling.
Who wants spirit: druids (restoration), priests (holy)
Stamina gives you more health. You get 10 hit points per point of stamina (except for the first 20 points of stamina, which provide 1 hit point per stamina point). Stamina also increases your pet's hit point pool, although he gains less per point of stamina.
Who wants stamina: everyone
Strength increases melee weapon attack power. Warriors, death knights, druids in all feral forms and paladins gain 2 melee attack power per point of strength. Rogues, hunters, shamans, mages, priests, warlocks and druids in druid form gain 1 melee attack power per point of strength.
Who wants strength: death knights, druids (feral), paladins (retribution, protection), warriors
Gear up with "of the" gear
As you level, the best gear is always available from instances. You can fill in gaps and maximize your impact with gear that's known as "of the (Something)" armor -- "of the Monkey, "of the Eagle" and so on. Two-attribute combos are best before level 60. Once you're into Burning Crusade content, these items branch out and start adding other useful attributes. (Pro tip: You'll level more quickly than you'll be able to loot much armor of this type from mobs. If you have the cash to spare, watch for good deals on the Auction House.)
Consult the links in the paragraph above for charts to find out which pieces are best for your class and spec.
After level 60
Beyond the basics of primary stats lurks the convoluted territory of other attributes. You may acquire a dab of these attributes here or there prior to level 60, but we wouldn't recommend a first-time player go out of the way to find any. Just level – levels are the ultimate performance enhancement.
Once you reach The Burning Crusade content, you'll start racking up advanced attributes such as spellpower, hit, attack power, etc. – factors that will become a major focus when you reach the end game. (You'll also gain a lot more stamina on every piece of gear -- and you'll need it, because BC mobs hit a lot harder.) At this point, you'll want to start studying class-specific guides that focus on the roles available to you (tanking, healing, DPS) and your specific talent spec. (Our class columns are a great place to start!) Click on the attribute links in the list above, and get to know the other attributes that are linked to your primary stats. It's probably not necessary to devote major research time yet, because you're still sliding through levels that Blizzard has re-optimized for speed and ease. You'll get a good smattering of advanced attributes on quest rewards that are obvious choices for your class.
Once you hit Northrend and Wrath of the Lich King content, the tone changes. You've hit the home stretch. Make sure you're familiar with the various role and talent spec options available to your class, and familiarize yourself with the attributes you'll need to excel. (Read class-specific columns, blogs and forums, and learn which attributes are useful for you.) You may not be able to reach significant amounts of these stats until you reach 80, but you can make a darn good start. Keep in mind that Cataclysm, the upcoming expansion, will sweep the table clean with a vastly simplified stats landscape. Don't let that dissuade you from picking up gear that's effective in the here and now -- play today's game, not tomorrow's -- but be open and prepared for a philosophical shift back to primary stats down the road.
Obviously, digging into other attributes is an option at any level. However, as long as you're wearing the right primary stats, you'll have a solid foundation for exploring your character's possibilities. Yes, you can streamline leveling using more advanced strategies and by stacking certain specialized attributes from the start. That's a game for later levels and experienced players, though – and our WoW Rookies will be there in no time, armed with the right primary stats.
WoW Rookie walks you through all sort of new-player concerns, from game lingo for the beginner to joining your first guild as a mid-level player and on to what to do when you finally hit level 80. Visit WoW.com's WoW Rookie Guide for links to all our tips, tricks and how-to's.