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Scattered Shots: Gear for Cataclysm leveling

Brian Wood

Welcome to Scattered Shots, written by Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union and the Hunting Party Podcast. Each week, Frostheim uses logic and science (mixed with a few mugs of dwarven stout) to look deep into the hunter class. Got hunter questions? Feel free to email Frostheim.

I'm getting an increasing number of requests to know what kind of gear we should be hoarding for leveling up to 85 in Cataclysm. A lot of hunters are still grinding through ICC and want to know if they should bother with four-piece tier 10, or if making that final push to armor penetration gemming is going to be worthwhile since those ArP gems will change to something else. And what will those gems change to, anyway? What stat are we going to want to stack in Cataclysm?

Well first of all, let me say this: We don't even have a release date for Cataclysm yet. We don't know when it's coming out, but we do know it's not going to be any time real soon. I had originally planned on waiting until Cataclysm was a bit closer before hitting this, but if the amount of emails I'm getting is any indication, people want to know now.

So join me after the cut to learn what you should be paying attention to now and how best to plan for your Cataclysm hunter leveling experience.

What we know: Gear conversions

Among the many changes Cataclysm will bring, we will be losing a bunch of stats on our gear. No longer will our hunter gear have intellect, armor penetration rating or attack power (though some things will still have AP procs). Every piece of hunter gear in existence is going to be retroactively changed and rebalanced. So your gear with ArP will have other stats increased to compensate for the ones you lost. Here's how:
  • Attack power is mostly just vanishing into the ether. Our agility will now be giving us two attack power per agility instead of just one.
  • The stamina on our gear will go up substantially.
  • Our ArP rating will mostly turn into haste rating and in some cases will turn into crit rating.
  • ArP gems become crit gems.
  • Deathbringer's Will passive ArP is changing to crit rating
  • Your tier 9 two-piece bonus is unchanged. Since Serpent Sting ticks can crit automatically in Cataclysm, the T9 two-piece set bonus is useless to you, so you might as well get your T10 four-piece, if you haven't yet.
What we don't know: Stat weights (and why we don't care)

It is not yet possible to calculate stat weights -- to say how 1 crit rating compares to 1 haste rating to 1 mastery rating. The coefficients and base damage of our shots are changing with every single beta build, sometimes drastically. Until those get locked down, we can't figure out the balance of stats.

Even if we could calculate stat weights, it wouldn't help you while leveling. Stat weights are all calculated around raid boss fights -- very long-duration, single-target, stand-still fights. When you're leveling, you'll usually be using only a handful of shots on any given mob. No matter how much haste you have, you will probably not get a single extra shot because of it in such a short time frame.

In general, you're probably safest going for agility over anything else. SV will also like crit, since it boosts their focus regen. Currently, some specs get a huge advantage from mastery, while others don't care much at all about it. We'll have to wait a bit and see how the mastery stat balances out when we're closer to release.

Oh, and you want hit rating. At level 85, it takes about 121 hit rating to get 1 percent hit. Sure, you only need 5 percent while leveling (so about 601 hit rating at 85), but within a few levels, you'll be desperate for hit rating just to stay at 5 percent. And remember that being at the hit cap is huge for pet aggro while leveling.

Gear upgrades while leveling

You will probably start replacing your ICC gear starting around level 83. You will probably replace all of your gear and certainly most of it.

Going through Mount Hyjal and Vashj'ir and 5-manning in Blackrock Caverns and Throne of Tides, I got a bunch of blue gear that was almost as good as my ICC gear, but not quite. Usually it had more stamina, darned near identical stats, but no socket. It may be worth switching for those pieces, however, if mastery ends up being a sweet stat for your leveling spec of choice.

A big thing to keep in mind here is enchants. Right now, your ICC gear has enchants on it (I certainly hope it does, anyway). If you find a new piece of gear that is even a little bit better, remember that it probably needs that same enchant; otherwise, it'll be a bit worse. And then you'll be replacing it again in a few levels.

Currently, the quest rewards are not yet implemented in the higher level zones; however, blue posts assure us that we'll be getting lots of awesome upgrades from them. Certainly the higher level 5-mans have some really, really sweet loot in them that you'll absolutely want in a heartbeat.

The point here is that you will be replacing your ICC gear as you level. Not only that, but we're being told that we're not going to be able to start raiding until we replace all our questing/5-man gear with heroic gear as well.

When leveling, optimize like you're leveling

Do you remember when you were level 53? Leveling your way up to the level cap, burning through quests, doing dungeons. Try to think back a moment and remember how much attention you paid to optimizing your gear back then.

That's exactly how much attention you should spend to optimizing your gear for level 83.

Leveling is easy. As hunters, we have it even easier on the leveling front -- we do it without taking damage. We can plow through content. As we level, we're going to collect a bunch of gear. Take a look at it -- if it looks like a clear upgrade, take it. If it's on the fence, then flip a coin. Who cares? That gear will be gone again in a few levels, and the difference it makes to your leveling performance is much smaller than the impact of the randomness on your leveling experience. In other words: You won't notice the difference.

I leveled to 85 in the beta almost entirely in my level 80 gear only because the loot wasn't implemented yet. I did it through periods of hunter DPS being horribly broken, pets with only 6k health (and mobs hitting for 4k per hit). I had no problems. I wasn't at risk of dying; I wasn't at risk of failing to kill something. So don't worry so much about optimizing for leveling. Pay as much attention to it as you did while leveling in the first place: very little.

What to do right now

If you're working your way through ICC or ICC hardmodes right now and you're wondering whether to take the plunge to ArP gemming, or whether to get one piece of gear over another, my advice is simple: Do what you want to do right now. Enjoy the game right now. If it's worth it for you to go for it now, do it!

Don't worry about Cataclysm yet. It'll be a while before it comes out, and when it does, it'll be around for years. But you only have Wrath for a few more months. Make the most of it.

Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. See the Scattered Shots Resource Guide for a full listing of vital and entertaining hunter guides, including how to improve your heroic DPS, understand the impact of skill vs. gear, and getting started with Beast Mastery 101 and Marksman 101.

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