Monday, October 26, 2009

Reading, Raiding and 'rithmatic: Why ignoring the math will get you into trouble

You know them, the people you always refer to as "that guy," the people who say things like "i wunt work for a game lol," the people who get called things like "Fail-Druid" as though it were their name. Well, I'm here to say that even decent raiders can be gimping themselves (I.E. reducing their effectiveness by doing something easily avoidable) just like that guy. Sure, it's not as obvious as the when someone needs this, but the things even 'good' raiders do can be losing literally thousands of DPS for your raid. I am talking about ignoring the math.

Let me tell you a story. On my previous ToC10 raid, two sets of caster boots dropped, which were upgrades for many players present. I won the first pair and stuffed them away for my shadow set since they were a sizeable upgrade to my old shadow boots. Then a boss later, a second pair of boots dropped with int/spirit/crit/SP on them. The warlock and I rolled on them, and the warlock won. In my case, they were a strict upgrade (same stats but more of them) over my old boots, in the warlock's case they were a different stat array trading haste for spirit, she rolled simply because the boots were higher item level. Another boss later, I got a whisper asking if I still wanted the boots; the warrior in our group that knew the warlock in real life had run the math for the boots; they were actually worse than her current boots. Luckily the mistake was corrected, but ignoring the math behind your class can lead to problems such as gimping your own DPS and screwing a guildie out of an upgrade.

So, how much do you need to know to know 'enough' about how your class works? Simply reading a set of stat weights should be sufficient for most purposes. However, I have two caveats: One, the stat weights you're likely to see listed on sites like Elitists Jerks or Lootrank are based on a set of assumptions about your gear, spec and playstyle that, if inaccurate (and they probably are,) will mean that the stat weights are similarly incorrect for you. And two, all stat weightings are relative, both between items and within them; never take the total value of an item to mean anything other than the item is 'better' than items with a lower value.

For those not interested in actually doing the math to find the perfect stat weightings for you, here's how to apply the knowledge once you pester a guildie to tell you yours. When you get your stat weightings, it will be a list of stats that you can find on gear and numbers. To find an item's value by typing the number of each stat on the item times the weight value of that stat into a calculator and adding all the products. For example:

I'm currently using the following stat weights for my shadow spec (assuming about a 5 minute boss fight, I'm hit capped, I don't run out of mana, etc, etc.):
Spell Power - 1.00, Hit - 0.00, Crit - .501, Haste - .506, Spirit - .220, Int - .216, MP5 - 0.00, anyting not listed here - 0.00

Note that Spell Power is exactly 1.00. This is not a coincidence; I defined these stat weights relative to Spell Power, the numbers are how much SP one point of the given stat is "worth". I could as easily chosen a different stat to be the 1.00, or I could use an entirely arbitrary scale, the point isn't the numbers themselves, but rather how they relate to eachother.

So to compare two items, I just calculate (Spell Power * 1.00) + (Crit * .501) + (Haste * .506) + (Sprit * .220) + (Int * .216) for both items. Whichever one is the higher number is the better item. However, sine I know that the stat weights I calculated are not perfectly accurate (Stamina is not quite worthless, nor is MP5, for example) I tend not to trust the numbers unless they're at least 5% different from eachother, and even then I tend to have a look at the items myself just to make sure there's not something dumb going on, such as me going under hit cap if I swap the items.

And that's all there is to it once you have your stat weightings. If you're just raiding pre-hardmodes, you probably don't need a great set of stat weights custom-made for you, and it will be sufficient to just ask a guildie or Google. If you're like me, however, read on, and I'll explain how to come up with your stat weightings.

First, identify what you want the stat weights for. Is it for DPSing a Sarth+3 zerg? If so, that would lead to a very different set of stat requirements from, say, healing Crazy Cat Lady, or even from just DPSing a "normal" boss fight. Things like fight length, spec, your current stats, which spells you usually use, etc. all affect the final stat weights, so make sure you know what you want from your stat weightings.

Then, you'll want to figure out how much each stat is worth, relative to some standard measure. For DPS weightings, I like to use 1 DPS as my standard, meaning the weight is how much DPS I would gain for one point of that stat. For healing, it's more complicated; recently I've been using "how much healing I can do before I go OOM on an 8 minute fight" as my measure. Clearly this is a bit more difficult to measure than the DPS standard since, on most fights, while I do go OOM, how early and whether I can keep running on mana fumes is mostly determined by how much fire my guildies stand in. Nonetheless, difficult or not, it's possible to find equations for these values.

To find such an equation, take what you know, and be ready to do some research to fill in what you don't. For DPS, you can use your spells' spell power coefficient divided by the spell's casting time (modified by your current Haste, of course!) to find the DPS per spell power. Similarly, if you know how much bonus damage you get on a Crit (which is based on the crit% modifier and how much damage you do normally, which is in turn based on Spell Power...), you can find a DPS equivalent for Crit rating, and so on for the other stats. If a stat doesn't have a connection to the standard you're using to measure the worth of stats, then it should probably be given a weight very close to zero. Also, be sure to take into account Use, Chance on hit, Set effects and similar abnormal abilities, while the math may be more difficult, the reward is often in the hundreds of DPS.

As you'll notice, the stat weightings for your stats are very likely to depend on which spells you cast, and how often, and what buffs your raid has (taking account of Kings is particularly easy to do; just multiply your base stats' weights by 1.1), and what gear you already have, and so on. Because of this, your stat weights will change, a lot. I would recommend re-calculating your stat weights every 5 or so new pieces of gear you get, or when you respec, or if a new patch comes out that changes your class. Do it more or less often to fit your taste. If you find your guild hitting a brick-wall to progress, it might be a good idea to find specific stat weights for the fight that's giving you trouble and prepare a set of gear custom-made for the fight (like I did for my OS+3 zerg; since the fight is so short I dumped literally all of my mana regen).

As always, use common sense; if a set of stat weights looks like it's giving you bad advice, it probably is. Sanity checking your results is the best way to know if you've made a mistake in your calculations.

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