Back in Wrath, mages were driven by a small number of key stats. Spellpower and Haste Rating were key, with Crit Rating coming a distant third for all specs except Fire. Bringing up the rear were Spirit and Intellect, with the former being useful for Molten Armor and the latter supporting a larger mana pool.
Flip over to 4.0 and the landscape of useful stats has changed. Spellpower and Spirit are largely eliminated, while Mastery has crept in as an elusive new stat. Intellect and Stamina are still present, but they work in new ways and provide new benefits. All this presents a new challenge to players looking to maximise the potential of their gear.
The 80 Versus 85 Conundrum
Coping with all these stat changes can be tough on its own, but it becomes even more difficult when you start thinking that level 80 is no longer endgame. The gear your character has will be pretty useless by the time you reach 85, with only a few possible exceptions. It’s likely that you’ll be replacing gear as soon as you gain your first level in Cataclysm, so any gear rebalancing is likely to be short-term at most. With the release date now set, current gear has little over a month of life left.
Note: data sourced from Eminence Gaming
That said, there are some quick things that can be done to make existing gear more useful and take advantage of the stats revamp. Mages are now capable of terrific amounts of damage, and having gear correctly configured can only add to that.
The Core Stats
For all mages, Intellect (INT) has become the go-to stat A point of intellect converts to a point of spellpower, meaning that more you get the more effective your spells are for the same mana cost. It’s a simple and effective translation to manage.
There are also some fringe benefits that INT also delivers. Each point beyond the first 20 also provides 15 mana points. Not only will your spell damage increase as the amount of INT grows, but it’ll also give you a larger mana pool with which to power your spells. You also get a small amount of crit from INT, although this scales with your level. At level 80 you’ll get 1% crit for roughly 167 points. Going up to level 85 you’ll need roughly 649 INT to get that same 1% crit bonus.
There’s also some minor mana regeneration that comes from INT, but it’s also subject to the same scaling effects as gaining crit from Int. Your main mana regeneration abilities will come from Mana Gems, Evocation and Replenishment in its various forms.
You’ll also find Stamina (STA) lurking on most Mage gear. While this doesn’t have a direct impact on Mage performance it contributes to a larger health pool. This has a direct relationship with your ability to stand in the bad and not die, although this shouldn’t be encouraged. STA is a stat that although useful, shouldn’t be actively sought out by Mages.
A hangover from the previous stat system is that Spirit (SPI) can be found on some pieces of caster DPS gear. This stat is no longer of use to Mages – Molten Armor no longer takes any benefit from SPI. If you find this stat on your gear, it’s worth considering replacing or reforging it to make it more useful.
You’ll still find Spell Power on some weapons, enchantments and trinkets, even though it’s been removed from all armour pieces and gems. That said, weapons now have a large amount of intellect to make up for the drop in spellpower. As an example, the Emberstone Staff from Heroic Deadmines now has 1732 Spellpower and 302 Intellect, making it worth over 2000 spellpower to a Mage.
The Ratings Game
A clear signal came out of Blizzcon that the end goal for all classes is to have all useful ratings become equally useful. For mages that isn’t as clear-cut as it first sounds and requires a little explaining.
Hit Rating is one of those stats that will require you to hit a magic number. Currently at 80 you’ll need to reach 446 hit rating or 17% Spell Hit in order to successfully land an attack on “skull” level bosses. In Cataclysm that grows to an eye-watering 1742 hit rating at level 85. For now though, once you hit that number any surplus hit provides no further bonus. As a result it’s worth reforging or regemming to ensure that you have that optimal amount. The best way currently is to regem for veiled dreadstones then reforge the surplus hit to a more useful stat.
Crit Rating and Haste Rating fall out roughly equally following the re-jigged spell damage and cast times in 4.0. Although it’s worth ensuring that you don’t accumulate so much haste that you hit the soft cap (around 1640 hasterating at level 80), both haste and crit should benefit your spells in roughly equal measure. As spells from all trees now crit for 200% damage (previously just Fire spells worked this way) there’s a definite case for not favouring one over the other.
Mastery Rating is the new stat that improves how your spells in your chosen tree work. Mages at 80 start off with a base of 8% Mastery, which can be increased through reforging to gain Mastery Rating. It’s possible to hit around 16% mastery with the right gear and reforges. In Cataclysm it’ll be possible to enchant and gem for Mastery as required.
Because Mastery affects the different talent trees in different ways, the usefulness of the stat will depend on your talent spec.
Arcane Mages have an easy choice – Mana Adept will grant additional spell power to all spells depending on the amount of remaining mana. As a result it’s worth stacking as much mastery as possible in order to make those initial spell casts as potent as they can be.
Frost Mages also have a relatively straightforward choice – Frostburn increases the amount of damage dealt against frozen targets. As freezing is already an established part of the frostmage rotation, this can be quite effective. There’s no clear indication though if this will be as effective against bosses, purely because they’re less likely to be freezable.
Fire Mages tend to fall to the bottom for Mastery usefulness, as Flashburn only provides a boost to fire damage over time effects. As the Fire Mage primary nuke spell is Fireball, there’s no DoT that’s regularly applied. It is possible to have a regularly applied DoT by using glyphed Frostfire, but this is unlikely to provide more damage than fireball except at high mastery values that are unlikely to be reachable before 85.
While it’s possible to stack up on mastery now and see some interesting benefits, for Fire mages (and possibly Frost) you’d be better off going for either Haste or Crit depending on what you can reforge to.
The Short Version
In summary, Intellect is king at 80. Crit and Haste Rating are still good, even though they’re about even now. Mastery is probably a distraction for everyone except for Arcane Mages. Hit Rating is only good up to 446 rating (17%). Spirit is worthless and should be regemmed/reforged away.
In the grand scheme of things though, all this is just window dressing, or shuffling papers around. In a month we’ll all be levelling up again, recreating our spreadsheets and working out the new order of things. In two months the dust will have largely settled and we’ll have a new framework for all three talent specs.