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[BETA] Dear Blizzard, Y U NO like staves?

May 28, 2012
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Now, I’m not one to repeatedly rewrite the same blog post over and over, but I have covered this issue no less than four times during the Cataclysm expansion:

  1. The stave is a lie.
  2. Revisiting the Stave vs. Off-hand Problem
  3. Which Weapon:  How Firelands Has Changed the Answer
  4. Resto Druid Weapon Choices in Dragon Soul

Here we are again to once again discuss the ongoing issues Blizzard has created with the balancing of caster weapons.  In case you haven’t read my previous volumes on the subject, I’ll provide a quick summary.

A brief history of staves in Cataclysm

With the release of 4.0, Blizzard introduced an Off-hand weapon enchant and standardized weapon enchants so that the caster enchant (Power Torrent) could be applied to both 2-hand and 1-hand weapons.  This was a significant change from the way that weapon enchants worked during Wrath and prior, when the majority of these enchants were specific to either 1-hands or staves.  Also, off-hands other than shields were not able to be enchanted before 4.0.  This change attempted to correct a problem that had been around since at least the Burning Crusade – namely, that staves were almost always a better weapon choice for casters who could equip them than their 1-hand counterparts because they were usually better itemized and had more sockets.  In theory, this appeared to be a good thing since equalizing the stat distribution on both types of weapons would give players more choice about which type of weapon they would use, and it also should have made the process of getting upgrades slightly more forgiving since casters wouldn’t all be waiting for the same staff to drop.

Problem is, that’s just not how things worked out.  In trying to compensate for the previous supremacy of staves, Blizzard overcompensated and managed to swing things to the opposite extreme.  At the beginning of Cataclysm, the off-hand enchant provided +100 Intellect, making the choice between a 1-hand weapon and a stave an absolute no-brainer.  By 4.0.6 Blizzard realized they’d made the enchant too good and nerfed it to +40 Int, though this still made staves inferior if by a lesser margin.  Thus, 1-hand weapons dominated throughout all of tier 11.

Firelands came very close to finally balancing the weapon types, with a negligible difference between 1-hand weapons and staves of the same iLevel.  For caster DPS specs, the legendary Dragonwrath made weapon choices even simpler – you wanted it if you could get it.  Then Dragon Soul came along and managed to completely undo all of this.  The off-hands available in Dragon Soul each have a red socket, without which they would be very close to equal to their stave counterparts.  The inclusion of the red socket was the final nail in the coffin for Cataclysm’s staves.  Though there are a few exceptions for DPS casters (Mages and Warlocks, for example, almost always need to take Lightning Rod if they want to hit cap), based upon Intellect and Spellpower alone, a 1-hand/off-hand combination is always going to have the more than a staff.  For healers, this “choice” is really even less optional.  Maw of the Dragonlord’s free healing from its proc is far too good for healers of any class to want any other weapon in the tier, except as a temporary upgrade.

Current Weapon Choices in the Mists Beta

When I began to look into the weapons currently available on the Mists beta, I expected to have to do at least a little bit of digging to figure out whether the imbalance is still present in the new content.  Unfortunately, a quick perusal of WoWhead’s beta section made the answer perfectly clear:

The staff, 1-hand, and off-hand are all iLv 463, which appears to be the gear we will get from Mists heroic dungeons.  As you can see, without an off-hand enchant, the staff is only beating the 1-hand by 13 Intellect, meaning that even our current Cataclysm enchant would make the 1-hand a better choice.  But, of course, a new expansion will come with a new off-hand enchant:

An additional 165 Intellect on an off-hand is huge.  It’s so huge, in fact, that there is no way any of the secondary stats on that staff could be more desirable to any class or spec than the Intellect increase on the 1-hand combination.  It’s the beginning of Cataclysm all over again.

Why does this matter?

There are two things that bug me about this lack of true choice in caster weapon options – one practical and one totally aesthetic.

It is significantly more difficult to count on RNG for two pieces of gear than it is one.  Each time you kill whatever boss drops the 1-hand or off-hand that you want, you need to hope that the loot drop is on your side and that you actually win the roll against the other people in your group.  With a staff, you only have to deal with that through one upgrade; with a 1-hand and off-hand, you deal with it twice.  Also, if 1-hands are better for every caster class, you will have to compete with every other caster in your group, raid, or guild to get the item that you need … twice.

Cataclysm made this problem somewhat simpler by allowing us to purchase a starting 346 off-hand from the gear vendors, and we don’t yet know whether that will be the case in Mists as well.  It certainly hasn’t been the case in the current tier, which only has two options for off-hands.  Perhaps it’s been my own bad luck, but I have yet to see the Dragonfire Orb drop ever and I have only seen the Ledger of Revolting Rituals once.  I’m still using a heroic Goblet of Anger that I was fortunate to get before my raid team stopped running Firelands.  Again, one upgrade is half as difficult to get as two.

The other, less pragmatic issue, is that of transmogrification.  I’m not sure how many of you have taken a look through the 1-hand mace models in the game but I find them a bit lacking in style.  Staves are a totally different story.  There are at least a dozen different staff models I would love to be using on my druid.  Given the choice – the real choice – between a staff and a 1-hand, I’d choose the staff every time.  I like the look of them better in general, and I love the variety of WoW’s weapon models for them.  I realize it’s kind of a silly complaint, especially since transmogrification is still pretty new for us, but I really appreciate the added character customization these feature has given us and I would like to be able to extend that customization to my weapon.

Obviously none of the information from Beta is final, and I would be shocked if that off-hand enchant doesn’t get nerfed either before Mists goes live or shortly thereafter.  An extra 165 Intellect makes the weapon system as imbalanced as it was at the start of Cataclysm, which would be a huge step backward.  But the imbalance in the current tier of raiding makes me nervous that this is an oversight Blizzard isn’t particularly worried about correcting, as they could have done so very easily in Dragon Soul had they just not put red sockets in the off-hands.  The developers have over-corrected for the previous superiority of staves in previous expansions to the point of making them significantly under-itemized in this one and, possibly, in the next.  Meanwhile, caster players are still left with only the illusion of choice as to which weapon we will use.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 28, 2012 8:52 am

    It’s definitely the transmogrification aspect which bugs me, primarily because I’m focusing more on pvp than pve so I don’t have to deal with drops (but I have experienced the frustration that brings).

    I remember back in Wrath running Naxx the day before I got my Val’anyr panicking because I didn’t have an off-hand and nothing would drop. Think in the end I had to use a jewelcrafting one off the AH for a day or two until I got lucky with the Gods of RNG.

    There are so many fabulous staff models that I’d love to use but I feel guilty about doing on a whole raft of characters. I want to use Benediction on Erinys but feel I can’t sacrifice stats for looking awesome. I’d love to use the candlestick staff on my Druid but feel I need those extra stats from the off-hand/main-hand combo.

    • May 28, 2012 4:22 pm

      PvP players are somewhat more fortunate in that they aren’t so dependent on drops (and fortunately the Conquest cost is the same for both a staff and a 1-hand + off-hand), but it *is* unfortunate you end up with the same transmog issues. I could justify a loss of 5-10 Intellect, maybe even a little more. But 40-50? There’s just no way, for PvE or PvP. :-/

  2. May 28, 2012 10:46 am

    Having relatively leveled a priest, a mage, and now a druid, I have been wondering about this for some time. Thank you so much for the information, and now it’ll take me time to digest it (just in time for new material, of course).

    • May 28, 2012 4:22 pm

      You’re welcome! It’s a goofy system, no question.

  3. May 29, 2012 12:02 am

    Gah, I hate using a MH/OH 😦 Blizz fails yet again at give us ‘choices’.

    • May 29, 2012 6:00 am

      I love the look of a mace and a shield on my shaman … and that’s about it. 😛

  4. Desade permalink
    May 29, 2012 4:38 am

    From what I understand casters are supposed to be moving to main hand wand.
    They have said that they will be fixing itemization on wands just for this intended purpose.
    Sounds to me like they are wanting only main hand off hand equips.

    • May 29, 2012 5:59 am

      Wands are becoming main-hand weapons in Pandaria but will still have an off-hand slot available. The wands listed at the same iLv on WoWhead have comparable Intellect to the weapons I listed in my comparison above. Thus, a wand and an off-hand will be the same as, say, a mace and an off-hand … both are always better than a staff.

      So yes, as you say, it does seem confusing as to what purpose they expect staves will serve since every other weapon casters can equip will have more of their most important stat.

      The one positive thing I can say about this change is that there are several interesting wand models in the game that no one ever gets to see. The shift of wands to main hand weapons will change that for the classes who are lucky enough to be able to equip them (not druids, QQ).

  5. 50 cent permalink
    May 29, 2012 7:00 am

    I completely agree. All I want it to use is a staff for transmog. I always feel weird when ever I have the option because I want to use a stave but I lost int.

  6. June 2, 2012 4:11 am

    Let’s hope this trend doesn’t continue into Mists after all – I’m still puzzled as to why Blizzard did this in the first place! Maybe I should see if I can find a blue post on it, or so.

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