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Encrypted Text: Shadowcraft, a raiding rogue's best friend

Scott Helfand
February 5, 2014

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Every week or two, WoW Insider brings you Encrypted Text for assassination, combat and subtlety rogues. Scott Helfand (@sveltekumquat) will be your shadow on this treacherous journey; try not to keep your back turned for too long, and make sure your valuables are stashed somewhere safe.

"Should I reforge for mastery or haste?"

If you're a rogue player who raids, reading that question probably generated one of two emotional reactions:
  1. Curiosity, because you wonder that yourself.
  2. A seething, bubbling cauldron of hatred and violent fury, because questions like these are asked endlessly -- even though, for a long time now, the answer has consisted of two words.
Shadowcraft it.

What Shadowcraft Is

Shadowcraft is a modeling tool for rogues. It takes a snapshot of your armory -- your gear, enchants, gems, talents, glyphs and everything else that affects the damage you deal -- and then it allows you to modify that snapshot in a host of different ways. As you tweak the snapshot -- for instance, swapping out one piece of gear for another, changing your reforges, turning on or off certain buffs -- Shadowcraft keeps track of each change you make, and assesses whether those changes will theoretically increase or decrease your DPS. You do the experimenting, it does the math.

Two things in particular make Shadowcraft truly special as a resource.

First, it was designed by, and is currently maintained by, some of the brightest minds in rogue theorycrafting and programming. Back in the day, this was rogue legends Aldriana and Antiarc. More recently, it's been primarily Pathal and Indz handling the geniuswork, though a number of other extremely clever folks provide critical assistance behind (or slightly in front of) the scenes.

These people have a deep understanding of nearly every mechanic and nuance of our stats, abilities, talents, rotation, etc. -- and they design Shadowcraft to know all of these things as well. It's a tool created by rogue experts for rogue players. No other resource is as accurate.

stat weights detail from ShadowcraftSecond, I'm going to share with you a dirty, confusing secret about our character stats (agility, hit, haste, etc.): Their value is constantly changing. One point of agility doesn't grant you a specific amount of DPS all the time; it shifts up or down depending on how much of each stat you have and what pieces of gear you're wearing. For instance: sometimes, swapping out a single trinket can suddenly make critical strike rating more valuable for you than mastery.

Shadowcraft is designed to take this into account. (By contrast, Ask Mr. Robot -- a truly outstanding and versatile tool in its own right -- cannot do this.) Every time you make a change, Shadowcraft updates the value of your stats. This allows you to be confident that, each time you reforge, you're fine-tuning your rogue as much as is humanly possible.

So Shadowcraft is great. But before I run you through the basics of how to use it to optimize your gear, I want to be clear on what you should expect Shadowcraft to do for you -- and, just as importantly, what you should not expect it to do.

What Shadowcraft Can't Do

It can't make you a better raider. It will help you squeeze every last drop of DPS out of the gear you've got. But the extra DPS you get out of optimal reforging/gemming/enchanting won't grant you a free ticket to the top of the Recount charts.

The real difference-maker, when it comes to doing more damage, is playing your rogue well. That means keeping Slice and Dice active throughout a fight -- without clipping any ticks by refreshing it too soon. It means watching your major cooldowns and managing them well. It means sticking to your raid leader's strategy for a fight, even if it costs you damage, because it'll make you more likely to achieve what matters: victory. It means not dying.

It can't tell you what DPS you should be doing on any given fight. When you make adjustments to your character in Shadowcraft, you'll see a little chart on the right side of the screen update with a "DPS" number. I know it says DPS, but it's not truly showing you how much damage per second you should expect to see on your next raid fight. It can't, because that's all but impossible.

There are far too many differences between what Shadowcraft is able to model and what a raid fight is actually like for that number to be even remotely close to something you should rely on. In fact, just ignore the DPS acronym entirely. Pretend it says "Points of Doom." The more Points of Doom you have, the more damage you can do. Simple as that.

It can't be used to compare specs. Because the number Shadowcraft shows you isn't an accurate reflection of your damage potential on a given raid fight, it's also useless for comparing assassination to combat to subtlety. The rotation and stat weight formulas are also programmed into Shadowcraft separately for each spec, so the system literally isn't designed for reliable comparisons. Don't bother doing it.

It can't tell you why certain stats are more valuable than others. At times, Shadowcraft will do things that don't seem to make sense. Changing a single piece of gear may change around the priority order of your stats. Heck, sometimes, even the process of reforging your gear can change your stat weights -- the tool may tell you that mastery is best, but when you reforge to mastery, it suddenly tells you crit is best.

Don't sweat the small stuff. When you see this kind of behavior from Shadowcraft, what it's telling you is that some of your stats are so close together in importance that the subtlest change can tip the balance. It also means that reforging into one stat vs. the other is not going to make one whit of difference in terms of your damage-dealing potential, because they're virtually identical in weight.

What Shadowcraft Can Do

  • It can tell you the ideal way to reforge, gem and enchant.
  • It can help you figure out whether a new piece of gear is a theoretical upgrade.
  • It can help you decide which piece of gear you should next spend Valor on to upgrade.
  • It can give you a tangible sense that your DPS potential is improving.
detail of Shadowcraft's DPS chart

How to Make Shadowcraft Do That Voodoo That It Do So Well

Shadowcraft is so rich with options that I don't have remotely enough space left in this column to get into all of the nooks and crannies. Instead, I'm going to close with a very basic step-by-step on how to use it for two key purposes.

Optimize your current gear for raiding.
  1. Log out of WoW with your gear, glyphs, talents and so on exactly as you'd have them set up when you're raiding.
  2. Go to Shadowcraft, enter your character's name, realm and region, and click Begin.
  3. Click on the little gear icon at the top of the screen next to the Advanced tab, and select Refresh from Armory.
  4. Toward the bottom of the column on the left side of the screen, you'll see a Toolbox section. Click Auto-Reforge All, then when that's done, click Optimize Gems. (It's best to use the reforger first. You ideally want reforging to get you to your hit and expertise caps, because if you use gems to do that and then your stat weights change, it'll cost you a lot more gold to swap gems than to reforge.)
  5. Log into your character and make the changes Shadowcraft suggested. Note that there's an Export Reforging button you can use to copy/paste instructions into Reforgerade, a handy reforge add-on that takes away much of the tedium of clicking/dragging gear items one at a time.

Determine whether a new piece of gear is an upgrade.
  1. Go through all of the optimizing steps above. You want to be sure you're completely optimized when comparing possible gear upgrades.
  2. Make note of the DPS number in the upper-right part of the screen.
  3. Click on the name of the piece of gear you're thinking of swapping out. A searchable dropdown menu will appear. Find the new piece of gear and select it. Don't just eyeball the number you see in the dropdown menu; you need to select the item so you can be sure it's customized properly for you.
  4. Click "Auto-Reforge All" and, if necessary (read: if you're seriously willing to entertain the possibility of changing around all your gems for a single gear upgrade), "Optimize Gems" again.
  5. Make note of the new DPS number in the upper-right part of the screen. If it's higher, congratulations, it's a theoretical upgrade! Now you get to decide if it's enough of an upgrade to warrant spending all that gold to gem it, enchant it and reforge all your gear.
Do you think Shadowcraft is all that, or just a bag of chips? Join me down in the comments to chat about what you feel it does well and what you think it could do better.
Sneak in every Wednesday or two for an early glance at rogues in the upcoming expansion, a look at the eight key things you should keep in mind when leveling your rogue -- and of course, the answer to why we'll always be the bad guys.

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