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Totem Talk: Enhancement and spellpower weapons, a problematic pair

Josh Myers

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Totem Talk for elemental, enhancement, and restoration shaman. Do your likes include bladed weapons, the elements, and fights with little to no movement/target switching? So does Josh Myers, new kid on the block and now host of Totem Talk: Enhancement!

To some enhancement shaman, wielding a spellpower weapon in their main hand is an abomination. More unholy than a death knight, more wicked than a warlock, using a spellpower main-hand just feels wrong. I've never agreed with the majority on this point. Having hit level 80 and started raiding at the time enhancement shaman started realizing spellpower main-hand/dagger off-hand was the optimal build, spellpower weapons were my ace in the hole. I felt a small thrill of victory every time I topped DPS after being threatened to be kicked from a PUG Naxxramas for my peculiar weapon arrangement. At that time, a spellpower main-hand felt more like a handy trick, a DPS sleight of hand that helped you top meters while annoying every caster in your raid.

When patch 3.1 hit, the neat trick that made spellpower weapons optimal for enhancement was patched out. At Wrath of the Lich King release, Flametongue Weapon always did the same amount of damage, regardless of weapon speed. This meant that Webbed Death, a 1.4 speed dagger and the best-in-slot enhancement off-hand, would do the same amount of Flametongue damage as Angry Dread, the 2.5 speed mace we were supposed to be using. When you coupled that with the massive spellpower and the fast speed of Torch of Holy Fire, our Flametongue Weapon gave us very reliable, sustained DPS.

I was slightly melancholy when patch 3.1 hit and the Flametongue Weapon formula was tweaked to make it scale with weapon speed, and the spellpower weapon fell from grace. However, my personal opinion is that anything that allows me to perform well is welcome, so I got over losing my fiery fists of doom right quick. My regret at the time was more because enhancement started to lose its footing as the highest DPS hybrid spec, a decline that hit rock bottom in the soul-sucking past year of raiding Icecrown Citadel. Regardless of how the end of Wrath of the Lich King happened, though, Cataclysm has brought to us a resurgence of my old favorite trick, the spellpower weapon. With that resurgence comes questions, questions this post hopes to address.

Why are you so convinced spellpower weapons are better?

Excellent question! First off, we have the scientific data. Rawr4 has finished alpha testing and is fully released, providing me with an incredibly useful platform to play around with weapon combinations before exporting them to the newest version of the Enhancement Simulator, alpha version 2.2.7. This alpha is also really close to release status, and it is now giving very reliable DPS values. Rawr4 has a few very specific issues; the main one is that caster weapons that have been hotfixed to be lower DPS in game are not using these lower damage numbers in Rawr, meaning that I needed to be careful to check against the actual in-game values and transfer the weapon DPS values myself. Many thanks to Vixsin of Life in Group 5 for some help in validating weapon damage values in game!

With every test, I used our standard priority rotation. I simmed using Elam's current gear, reforging stats on each new weapon to remain at the hit cap in every test. The only stats that changed were those on the weapons themselves. My off-hand was always the Vicious Gladiator's Left Ripper. Full raid buffs/debuffs were used, Potion of the Tol'vir was enabled, Flasks were used, and I even ate some tasty Skewered Eel. Here were the results, from lowest DPS to highest:

What can we get from this information? First, the glaring issue is that a heroic agility weapon off the last boss of hard mode Blackwing Descent sims at just shy of 400 DPS lower than a blue spellpower main-hand from the first boss of regular Grim Batol. Ouch. Second, we see that weapon DPS matters more than speed -- heroic Biting Wind sims as the highest DPS of all the blue spellpower weapons because of its 204.7 DPS, and the Vicious Gladiator's Gavel outshines most epic spellpower main-hands despite its 1.6 speed because it has 231.2 weapon DPS. Third, we get our best-in-slot spellpower main-hand without ever needing to take an item from a friendly caster. Tier 1 Gladiator weapons take little more than two to three weeks of grinding 10 games a week, provided you win around 50% of them. If you PvP resto, it's a win/win!

If you're a little leery of the scientific evidence in support of spellpower main-hands, here's some anecdotal evidence. First is a log from last Tuesday's Magmaw kill, when I clocked in at a whopping 13,700 effective damage per second using an agility main-hand. Next up is this Tuesday's Magmaw kill, where I magically jumped a full 3,099 damage per second to a grand total of 16,799. Did I improve my gear between attempts? A piece or two. Did I manage cooldowns better? You bet I did. Did I play better because it was our third kill of the fight? Almost certainly. Did I use a spellpower weapon this week? Yes, yes I did. This is why this data is anecdotal -- the use of the spellpower main-hand was not the only variable in the equation of my DPS this week and can't be entirely trusted. However, my sudden boost in DPS coupled with the mathematical proof offered by the Enhance Simulator makes a strong case. Spellpower weapons are mathematically superior to agility weapons at this point in time.

Slightly convinced -- but why?

There are two main reasons for spellpower superiority. First off, main-hand spellpower items are the most heavily statted items in the game. An agility axe, mace, or fist weapon that you get for your main hand is designed to complement the rest of your gear, providing small bonuses to your secondary stats in a ratio to the stats on the rest of your gear. Conversely, spellpower weapons are the main source of spellpower for casters, requiring them to have huge amounts of spellpower on them. EnhSim puts Elam's (with the Vicious Gladiator's Gavel in his main hand) spellpower as equivalent to 1.05 points of attack power, while his mastery rating EP is equivalent to 1.53 attack power.

To put it in perspective, if your weapons had equivalent DPS and other primary/secondary stats, you'd need a weapon with around 1,200 mastery to be equivalent to the spellpower itemization on a single epic caster weapon. Even adding in main-hand weapon DPS and agility into the mix, the total stat weight of an agility weapon is just less than a caster weapon.

The second culprit of the caster weapon conundrum is Flametongue Weapon itself. Beyond just the phenomenal base spellpower we get from imbuing Flametongue, current theorycrafting suggests that Flametongue Weapon is bugged to do higher damage than it should be right now. The issue seems to be that it's applying two versions of Mental Quickness, the current version where we get 50% of our attack power as spellpower, and the pre-4.0.1 version where we got 30% of our attack power as spellpower. Unfortunately, fixing this bug is the least fun option in nerfing enhancement's use of caster weapons, as it means that beyond DPS loss from losing caster weapons, we'd lose out on damage from our off-hand Flametongue procs. I personally like having a Flametongue Weapon that hits harder than a wet noodle, so I'd like to see this bug stay.

So now what?

Spellpower main-hand weapons will be nerfed, as Blizzard has said multiple times in the past. (For the most recent, check out WoW Insider's coverage of Ghostcrawler's most recent class balance blog.) A change might be hotfixed in next maintenance, or it might not come until 4.1. Your job is to weigh the information and make an informed decision -- will you buy a Vicious Gladiator's Gavel, knowing the next week it might be useless for your main spec? Will you ask your guild to run with you through Vortex Pinnacle for a Biting Wind, knowing that you won't be seeing an epic caster weapon any time soon? Will you farm the mats for an Elementium Spellblade?

What you do with this information is all up to you. My only hope is that no one who reads this column thinks that I endorse ever taking caster weapons from legitimate caster main specs. Personally, I'm planning on having my PvP gavel by this time next week.

Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk: Enhancement every week. Manage the trip through Cataclysm content with WoW Insider's tips for the best enhancement macros.

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