All about item level
Item levels weren't always visible in game. They were this odd, Force-like presence that bound itemization together. You could only view the item level of gear using a mod or third-party web site. This is because item levels were essentially a back-end function, a way of letting the designers know how many stats an item could have.
Rarity played a role also, of course. Blue, green, purple, or that weird legendary color could assign additional itemization points to a piece of gear. Because this itemization system was obfuscated, players spent ages deciphering and breaking down how pieces of gear compared to one another.
The last thing you should know is that primary stats like strength and stamina weren't always the same for gear of the same item level. Stats were all over the board, and the whole mess could be pretty confusing.
Now in Cataclysm, things are more straightforward. Gear of the same type -- meaning plate, leather, and so on -- have the same primary stat allocation. The means if you see a piece of plate with intelligence and stamina, it will have the same amount of intelligence and stamina as any other plate drop with the same stats.
In general, most classes and most specs care about their primary stats more than any other stat. These stats are strength, intelligence, agility, stamina, and spirit. There are exceptions here and there, but what it boils down to is if this is the right stat and the right type of gear, then you want the highest item level.
PVP gear doesn't count
This is where things get super-ugly, unfortunately. In the same way that you have your gear has primary stats, your gear has secondary stats. These includes stats like mastery, haste, dodge, and so on. These secondary stats are where your gear choices come from. Do you want more haste or more hit rating? That's what makes gear interesting, trying to decide between these secondary stats.
PVP gear has a secondary stat called resilience. It is very important in PVP because it mitigates the damage you take from other players. However, resilience is very expensive in terms of itemization, and it does absolutely nothing whatsoever in PVE.
Therefore, PVP gear is almost never as good as PVE gear, outside of huge ilevel differences. Maybe you'll get more bang out of your ilevel 378 PVP piece than an ilevel 328 piece, but it's still not likely.
So if you're questioning whether to wear a PVP piece for PVE purposes, chance are you should just avoid it.
Stick with the stuff your class likes
The next point in working with item level is that you need to stick with the gear and primary stats your class and spec like. It should go without saying that strength won't do a priest any good, but let's just say it to be sure.
Secondary stats make a huge difference in your performance, obviously. But for the purpose of this column, let's stick with the primaries. Hit up your local class columnist for more refined secondary stat explanations as appropriate.
Here are the basics of who uses which gear:
- Paladin, death knight, and warrior tanks and DPS Strength plate
- Paladin healers Intelligence plate
- Cloth casters Cloth gear
- Enhancement shaman and hunters Agility mail
- Restoration and elemental shaman Intelligence mail
- Feral druids and rogues Agility leather
- Restoration and balance druid Intelligence leather
In general, stick with the highest item level gear with that primary stat. But to take your game to the next level, start looking up those secondary stats.
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