The Light and How to Swing It: Raid gear for ret paladins in Dragon Soul

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Before we begin talking about upgrades in Dragon Soul, we need to discuss the three separate tiers of raid gear available in patch 4.3. Thanks to the introduction of the Raid Finder, a lower tier of the same gear that drops from normal and heroic Dragon Soul is readily available to those who queue for it. This lower tier is of ilevel 384, the same level gear that drops from Ragnaros on normal difficulty. If you had done any heroic Firelands raiding and got some gear, you will find that the Raid Finder tier is seven ilevels behind that gear.

For most pieces, you will want to upgrade as normal (from 378 to 384, for example). For tier gear, however, it appears that the new two-piece T13 set bonus overpowers the itemization difference between heroic T12 and Raid Finder gear, at least for now. If you're available to do additional testing, I'm sure the theorycrafters at the Elitist Jerks retribution thread would adore you for contributing. For the time being, I would pick up some lower-ilevel tier and test it out while still holding onto your heroic T12. Remember, four-piece T13 is our ultimate goal here, so don't skimp on those loot rolls.

Pick your poison, take your tier

Note: On the Raid Finder difficulty of Dragon Soul, tier tokens seem to be able to drop out of thin air ... or at least off of different bosses than what is listed. The listed drop locations are for normal and heroic difficulties only.

Head There are only two options here, Visage of Petrification (2,200 VP) and Helmet of Radiant Glory (token drops from Blackhorn). The main difference between the two is the presence of haste vs. expertise, respectively. With haste still being a fairly distant third in our stat priority, the tier helm appears to be the winner here.

Shoulders Again, two options: Backbreaker Spaulders (Spine of Deathwing) and Pauldrons of Radiant Glory (token drops from Hagara). This appears to be a no-brainer: the higher ilevel on the Backbreaker Spaulders affords it more itemization. Also, the non-tier shoulders have both crit and mastery, making these quite delectable. All of this makes the Spaulders our ideal choice for replacing one piece of tier, but more on this later.

Chest Surprise! We have two choices here, Bones of the Damned (2,200 VP) and Battleplate of Radiant Glory (token drops from Ultraxion). With a score of three gem sockets to two, a higher strength socket bonus, and a nice chunk of mastery, the tier chest wins this match.

Hands For plate mittens, we have both Gauntlets of Radiant Glory (token drops from Zon'ozz) and Grimfist Crushers (1,650 VP). Both have haste and both have a red socket with a +10 strength bonus, so the determining factor here is crit vs. mastery.

Or is it? Since gloves are one piece of our tier, we have to look at our other tier and decide where we will ideally want to switch a piece out for other raid drops, and right now that seems like the shoulder slot. Does that mean pass on the tier shoulders? In my humble opinion, no; only if you are regularly farming the Spine of Deathwing and expect to see the Backbreaker Spaulders soon would I recommend skipping them. Therefore, get the tier gloves and save your VP for other things.

Wrist Now here's the real surprise, three options: Heartcrusher Wristplates (1,250 VP), Bracers of Destructive Strength (blacksmithing), and Rockhide Bracers (drops from Morchok). Running the standard comparison by socketing appropriate gems (all bolds, in this case) shows that the Heartcrusher Wristplates are the worst option here. As for the other two, the extra strength from the Bracers of Destructive Strength seems to edge these out in front of the Rockhide.

Waist Another three-option item slot -- someone hold me! Demonbone Waistguard (1,650 VP), Runescriven Demon Collar (drops from Hagara), and Waistguard of Bleeding Bone (BoE zone drop) are the contenders. While the BoE will be purchasable on the AH or trade chat, it is the worst choice here; with only one socket, it falls behind on strength as compared to the other two. The remaining belts require some beard scratching. Socketing them appropriately, with bolds in the red and etched in the blue, you stand to gain 20 strength, 17 mastery, and 191 haste by taking the Runescriven Demon Collar, whereas you gain 221 crit and 20 hit by taking the Demonbone Waistguard. Using Simcraft and calculating stat weights for my current gear set, it appears that the Demonbone Waistguard wins out, provided I can make use of all 20 hit rating provided by the Etched Demoneye. Your results may vary.

Legs An interesting slot, as there is one raid drop and one craftable, Legplates of Radiant Glory (token drops from Yor'sahj) and Unstoppable Destroyer's Legplates (blacksmithing), respectively. With the haste and two yellow slots on the craftable, the tier legs are the pretty obvious choice here.

Feet Another either/or decision here, as you decide between Kneebreaker Boots (1,650 VP) and Treads of Crushed Flesh (drops from Zon'ozz). Like the choice for the leg slot, this is another easy decision, as the Treads have two red sockets for the same socket bonus and mastery in place of haste.

Necklace, cloak, and relic These are extremely easy options, as there is only one piece for each slot this tier ... which means they're not really options, I suppose. Pick up the Necklace of Black Dragon's Teeth (1,250 VP), Dreamcrusher Drape (1,250 VP), and Gutripper Shard (700 VP) from your neighborhood Valor Quartermaster.

Rings Back to making actual decisions, we are presented with Breathstealer Band (shared boss drop), Curled Twilight Claw (drops from Ultraxion), and Ring of Torn Flesh (1,250 VP). Socketed with Bolds and a Skillful, the Curled Twilight Claw becomes the apparent first choice, with the Breathstealer Band and Ring of Torn Flesh being very close competitors for the second slot. This verdict will change depending on your gear level and relative stat weights; for example, the Breathstealer Band would be the second choice for my gear, but for a better-geared friend of mine, the Ring of Torn Flesh wins out.

Trinkets Bone-Link Fetish (shared boss drop), Creche of the Final Dragon (drops off Ultraxion), Rotting Skull (1,650 VP), and Eye of Unmaking (drops off Spine of Deathwing) are this tier's strength DPS trinkets.

Which are best, you ask? Before we get to that, let's look at how that question is answered. Ramping trinkets, like Eye of Unmaking, and random proc type trinkets, like Bone-Link and Creche, are good for overall DPS on encounters like Baleroc or Ultraxion where you just have one solid DPS phase and you hammer your rotation out over and over again. In theory, you could time your cooldown usage around the proc of, say, Heart of Rage (mmm ... strength proc ...) and gain maximum benefit of your cooldowns, but because it is a random occurrence, you cannot plan around it and the encounter-specific burn phases at the same time. On the other hand, on-use type trinkets like Rotting Skull allow you to line up this cooldown with Avenging Wrath, Zealotry, and Guardian of Ancient Kings and gain maximum benefit whenever you need it.

All of that being said, there are actually two trinkets that are looking to be the best for this tier: Bone-Link Fetish and Eye of Unmaking. The crit proc from Creche has a reported internal cooldown (ICD) of 100 seconds, and Rotting Skull has a cooldown of 90 seconds, meaning both of these trinkets will severely clash with ideal AW/Zeal usage (both with 120-second cooldowns) throughout a given fight.

Weapon Saving the best for last, we are left with a bit of a question mark for one of the weapons available to us. Between Experimental Specimen Slicer (drops from Yor'sahj) and Ataraxis, Cudgel of the Warmaster (drops from Blackhorn), the clear winner is the axe. I mean, that is about as clear as you can get, aside from the non-options for necklace, cloak, and relic discussed above.

The real kicker, however, is Gurthalak, Voice of the Deeps. The additional 48 strength on Gurthalak as compared to the previous weapons is a nice bonus, but the removal of secondary stats in favor of the tentacle proc still needs a bit of testing to determine whether this turns out to be a comparable choice. Common sense dictates that because it is a Deathwing drop, it is six ilevels above the other two weapons, and it has a higher top-end, it should be the obvious choice. Therefore, I'm willing to bet that it is either superior right now or will be soon after a hotfix.

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.