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Arcane Brilliance: Optimizing your mage's gear through Rawr

Christian Belt

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. This week, we're talking about what is arguably the game's most trusted gear optimization program: Rawr. Also, we're planning to see how many times I need to type the word "rawr" before my spellchecker snaps and murders me through my computer screen.

Close your eyes.

Imagine, if you will, that you have a mage. Ha ha, of course you have a mage. Sometimes I crack myself up. Now imagine that your mage has gear, but that gear is not optimal. Now open your eyes.

Hello, every mage ever.

Yeah, chances are pretty close to 100% that no matter who you are and how religiously you play the game, your mage, beloved though he may be, does not have every slot filled with best-in-slot gear and does not have every item perfectly gemmed, enchanted and reforged so that your DPS is up to its fullest possible potential. WoW is a computer game -- an old one, sure, but still home to millions of algorithms and formulas and computations and other math terms that I don't fully understand. It would take, I firmly believe, a robot from the future to calculate all of those numbers and variables and turn them into something a human brain can parse accurately enough to actually benefit from.

Well, mages and magesses, I have recently contacted Kavan, one of the main authors of the ubiquitous gear optimization program Rawr, and I can tell you that he is that robot from the future. I only pray he can protect us from whatever other, more evil and technologically advanced robot from the future that might at some point follow him through the wormhole with a directive to kill our unborn children or something, because you know that's what's happening.

What Rawr is and where you can get it

I've mentioned Rawr before now in this column, but usually only in passing. I've never been a huge believer in depending on a computer program for optimizing. It has only been during this expansion that I've come to see the massive value of such programs in augmenting my own very fallible ability to optimize my mage. And Rawr is, in my opinion, far and away the best of such programs.

Though it works for all classes and specs, it is probably known best in mage circles, and for good reason. One of the major authors of the program was a mage, and one of the first completed modules for it was the mage module. It is simply the best gear optimization resource out there for us.

It pulls your mage's data directly from the Armory and instantly calculates a million things you need to know. The heart of the program is the gear optimizer. Once you plug your mage's info into the program and run the optimizer, it will immediately tell you some things that could be improved. Have a piece of gear that is suboptimally reforged for your spec? The optimizer will suggest a way for you to eke an extra tenth of a damage point per second out of that piece of gear. And though the program isn't always going to be perfect, it's almost certainly going to be right more often than my stupid human brain is going to be.

You can run Rawr in your browser through Elitist Jerks (though it may ask you to tweak your Silverlight settings first) at Elitist Jerks Rawr.

You can also download the stand-alone program at Rawr, as well as read more information about it there.

The orgins of Rawr

Kavan has been playing WoW since the closed beta, and like all good people, he played and still plays a mage -- an arcane one, to be precise, long before that was en vogue. He remembers a time when he considered Wand Specialization a DPS increase. This was apparently before he evolved into a math robot from the future. His guild, the Silvermoon Crusaders on Kilrogg, has never been on the bleeding edge of raid progression, but they've seen most of the bosses go down at some point or other, and most importantly, though the players involved have come and gone, the guild is still going strong.

It wasn't long before his inner math wizard began to emerge.

Initially I was just playing as any regular game, but with mathematics and computer science background the theorycrafting aspect was just impossible to ignore. At the time I hadn't found any tools that met my needs, so I started my own Excel spreadsheet. It started with just tracking what gear I had, tallying the stats, then working out the spell data, rotations and so on. I've always loved genetic programming so the opportunity was perfect for creating an optimizer for gear selection based on it. What I've always loved about arcane was the mana aspect. In classic WoW days you only really had Arcane Missiles so all flexibility was dependent on gear. Depending on how much spirit you mixed in you could aim for different fight lengths. I remember having around 15 or so gear sets for different combinations of fight lengths and other options.

At some point around then I also stumbled upon Elitist Jerks forums. I remember trying to get others in my guild to use the spreadsheet, but most were very afraid of numbers so there wasn't much success. EJ was the perfect place to find like minded players. I've never been min/max to the extreme; I always remained constrained by my role playing choices, but the community there was a lot more receptive to my ideas. I remember making the first post around August 2006. Then came The Burning Crusade, arcane became more mainstream, so there were more players interested in arcane theorycrafting. I kept working on my spreadsheet, but it remained more or less used just by myself. Toward the end of 2007 I came in contact with Astrylian, who was at the time just starting his work on Rawr. The main premise of Rawr at the time was the ability to pull gear data from armory and having a paper-doll to play with stats and model results. At the time it was just a program for bears. We exchanged ideas, I really liked the ability for automatically getting gear data and I saw how adding things such as gear optimization could make it even better. It was also written in C#, which I had a lot of experience in so it was a natural fit.

When Astrylian released the first version of Rawr in 2008, Kavan volunteered to write the mage module for it, basically porting his spreadsheet to Rawr.
In Excel I used to use 3rd party linear programming solvers for figuring out which cycles have to be used for optimal dps. Part of transition to Rawr meant I had to write an LP solver from scratch since we didn't want to depend on external libraries at the time, so that was an interesting experience in of itself. I started with very naive textbook version and it was serving the purpose at the time. But then with time I started exploring more complex ideas. Being released from the spreadsheet constraints I started looking at things such as cooldown stacking. Adding more and more things resulted in bigger and more complex models and the initial solver kind of started crumbling under its weight so I started researching more advanced papers on those topics and improving it along the way.

Theorycrafting evolves

And then came Wrath of the Lich King. The way the classes in the game worked was rewritten. Rotations changed completely. Well-used spells vanished, and new ones took their place.
With the release of WotLK arcane theorycrafting kind of matured. Before that, everything dealt with static rotations. The introduction of Missile Barrage added a random element to the mix which started the theorycrafting of dynamic cycles. Initially this was all done on paper, but then later I automated the whole process in Rawr so now everyone can answer these questions using the Cycle Analyzer tool. While Rawr was continually fleshed out to be more friendly for novice users it always had a large bag of advanced options available for theorycrafting purposes. Most of those were added because I wanted to do something and there was no other way to get to that data. Optimal cooldown stacking was one of those questions that I always found interesting. Not just in general, but also in specific cases such as when bosses have vulnerabilities in specific phases.

And that's the thing I love most about Rawr. Though it can be used to great benefit by even the most advanced mages playing the game, it can also be utilized by knuckle-draggers without opposable thumbs like myself. With just a few clicks of the mouse, the basic optimizer will provide newbies with information they can use, but the advanced options are also there for hardcore theorycrafters. In fact, I believe the only class it doesn't work for is warlocks (due to the fact that they can't see the computer screen clearly enough through their eyeliner and tears, and not through any fault of the program).

The game's current iteration ups the ante more than ever before.
Cataclysm was the ultimate theorycrafting heaven. The way Mana Adept operates put the mana management dynamic to the extreme. I can just imagine someone at Blizzard thinking, "here try to optimize this," with an evil grin. Finding the optimal way to take advantage of Mana Adept was one of the most complex theorycrafting questions I've ever tried to solve. Starting with theory of optimal control to get to the basic principles of using cycles in order of increasing mps and then converting the abstract theory to quadratic solvers that can solve for optimal dps in Rawr. The question of optimal cooldown stacking became even harder than it was before and until very recently it was basically impossible to get results in feasible amount of time. The newest versions of Rawr now sport a genetic solver in advanced options that is able to answer that question in a few minutes.
Now, before you ask, I have no idea what or who a "genetic solver" is. I'm 90% sure Kavan made that up to confuse me. But the fact of the matter is that Rawr has now matured to the point that it can assist, mathematically, with one of the single most confusing and dynamic mechanics ever instituted in this game: Mana Adept. The mana management meta-game has been the bane of many a mage since its inception. And while Rawr isn't going to hold your hand and make you a great arcane mage, it is an invaluable resource in helping you make sense of Mana Adept's complexities.

Rawr is a living project. Kavan and a few other dedicated and brilliant souls continue to support it and improve it, and Kavan specifically does so out of a love for the game and a deep affection for mages. Seek it out, learn to use it, and watch your mage's potential grow. If it helps you kill that warlock even a hundredth of a second faster, I think we can all agree that Kavan's hard work has paid off.

Thanks to Oldchap, author of CombustionHelper and MageManaBar, for putting me in touch with Kavan, and thanks to Kavan for providing most of the text for this column -- and to both of them for their ongoing contributions to the mage community and for just generally being awesome.
Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Start out with our recent beginner's guide to being a mage, then check out our three-part State of the Mage columns on arcane, fire and frost. Don't forget to look at some of the addons your mage should probably be using.

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