Choosing Which PvP Gear to Get First, Warlock Edition

I received an email today from a regular correspondent commenting on my recent CFN post on vanity and gear choice. He has been having a running argument with some DK friends about what slot was more important to upgrade first – shoulders or trinket.

The trinkets, my correspondent correctly points out, have a very high Resilience/Conquest Point ratio, and the on-use effect is very potent for burst kills. The shoulders have a lower R/CP ratio, and their secondary stat is Expertise – not something that Frost and Unholy DKs often go for. But invariably, the shoulders got chosen over the trinkets because they looked cooler. They’re the flashy upgrade, not necessarily the smart one.

But here’s the thing – how much do secondary stats matter? Is choosing the flashy upgrade a really bad move? Once you get past the primary stats and Resilience, how much are these secondary stats influencing decisions? I’ve maintained in my gearing guides that you should pick gear with your spec’s preferred secondary stat first, but is that always the case?


I turned to Ask Mr. Robot for help on DKs, but his stat weights confused me – sometimes Expertise was very good, other times it was very bad, and I couldn’t tell you why. There are nuances to each and every spec, and I realize I don’t know enough about DKs to really answer my correspondent’s question.

But I do know warlocks. And I know warlocks in PvP. So I built my model around warlocks, instead, with the hope that people who know more about other classes can adapt it to suit.

My approach is relatively simple:

  • Gear can be evaluated by assigning weights to each primary and secondary statistic and totaling their values. This number is a quantitative representation of the relative value of the piece of gear for each spec.
  • This gear value can then be compared to the cost of the gear, allowing you to determine how effective your purchase will be.
  • By comparing the value/conquest point ratios between gear, you can determine which piece will be the best value.

Obviously, this method evaluates the full value of the gear, not the incremental upgrade value. You could easily modify it to suit a specific upgrade query by using the difference of the Conquest gear and your current gear instead of the full value of the gear. But for a starting model I think it’s okay to evaluate the full gear.

I took the stat weightings from Ask Mr. Robot because they were 1) easy to find and 2) relatively neutral. (Just keepin’ it real, yo.) I normalized them down to 0-1, and then added Resilience at 1.00, to reflect that I think it is as important as Intellect for PvP. I think it’s fair for all classes to do this – Resilience should be as important as your primary stat, not more, not less.

Once I had the stat weights in place, I then filled in all of the gear with values from the Ruthless Gladiator’s Felweave set. I left Hit in there, because it’s important, but I did skip Spell Penetration because there are several ways you can reach the Spell Pen cap, many of which can depend on your profession. Spell Power also presents a little bit of a tricky stat to weigh, but since weapons and trinkets use SP not Int I kept it in there and used the stats from the robot.

Here’s the spreadsheet if you’d like to follow along.

Applying the weights to the values on the gear, I came up with a normalized value for each spec (rows 23-26). This number doesn’t represent anything in game, really – it’s a relative measure of gear that only makes sense in context of the rest of the gear available.

I tossed in the Conquest Point cost for each item (line 21), which then lets us look at each piece in terms of purchase value it has – how much bang for the buck we get for spending Conquest Points. This is the value we really want to use to compare gear, because it’s obvious to see that some items have more oomph to them than others – that’s why they cost more. No, we want to compare based on what we get for our hard-earned CP.

My first pass through, I thought that I could stop here – getting a number for each item should be sufficient, right?

Well, not quite.

You’ll note that the weapons (MH/OH), trinkets, and pieces with Hit are better values than the set pieces. I think this has to do as much with the set bonuses not being included in each item’s budget, as with the set pieces costing substantially more points. These items also tend to have more sockets, which further diminishes the item’s onboard statistics. They should probably be higher than they are.

I initially ignored enchants, gems, and set bonuses because when you upgrade from PvP set to PvP set, they are static, while the rest of the gear changes around them. That’s the correct way to capture the upgrade model – ignore stats that don’t change or are not important (like Stamina) and only evaluate based on differences.

But this model only evaluates the gear, without reference to what we’re upgrading from. Even a character new to PvP is upgrading from something; they’re not coming into PvP stark naked.

The solution, of course, is to apply the same analysis to the gear currently worn by a character, and then to compare the difference between the two. That difference represents the value of the upgrade, which can then be divided by the cost of the upgrade.

So the correct model is:

  • Assign a normalized value to each piece of gear based on stat weights for the spec and the amount of primary/secondary stats on the item. This includes both the current gear and the future gear.
  • Get the value of the upgrade by taking the difference between the future gear and the current gear.
  • Divide that upgrade value by the cost of the upgrade.
  • Compare that value between the different gear slots to determine the most efficient upgrade path.

Since there’s no way to be accurate to any given Warlock’s upgrade situation, I chose the Season 10 Honor gear with S9 weapons as my baseline in the spreadsheet (rows 39-62), and then compared the Conquest set to the Honor set.

See, it’s important to think about gear purchases this way – you’re not purchasing a new set of gloves with +300 Intellect for 1650 Conquest Points, you’re purchasing an upgrade of +37 Intellect from your current gloves for 1650 Conquest Points. The key is to evaluate on the cost of the relative upgrade, not just the cost of the new gear.

Here’s how it looks.

As a key:

  • Trinket 1 is the Ruthless Insignia of Dominance, which procs randomly.
  • Trinket 2 is the Ruthless Badge of Dominance, which is an on-use “pump” trinket.
  • The PvP Trinket is the faction Insignia.
  • Ring 1 is the Ruthless Band of Accuracy, which gives Hit.
  • Ring 2 is the Ruthless Band of Cruelty, which gives Crit.

When we change the model to evaluate based on upgrade value and not just purchase value, the set pieces – hands, legs, chest, helm, shoulders – are more attractive because we aren’t ignoring their sockets, socket bonuses, and set bonuses when comparing them to other items. We’re now comparing them to earlier versions of the same gear (which correctly nullifies the effects of those bonuses) and allows us to clearly prioritize upgrades.

I think it’s interesting to see how the upgrade lists differ between specs, all driven by the stat weights originally assigned. Items with Hit are preferable to those with Haste, and the relative value of Crit can play havoc with the lower areas of the ranking.

Since Intellect and Resilience are weighted the same, items with a high Resilience/CP ratio (like trinkets) place higher than you might expect. Take a look at the Intellect/CP and Resilience/CP of the Conquest items to see what I mean:

Since this is Warlock gear, Spellpower devalues the MH weapon’s Intellect budget, as well as the trinkets. And the Intellect / CP chart has a strong correlation to the number of sockets on a piece of gear.

But look at how much Resilience those trinkets give for their cost! If you’re trying to gear up for PvP and improve your survivability, trinkets are the way to go. The set pieces weigh in favorably too here, and that’s before the set bonus kicks in.


Now, all these numbers are well and good, but PvP is not just about numbers – it’s about performance. Is the random proc of one trinket better than the on-use effect of another? If we’re to just evaluate it by the numbers, absolutely yes. One gives more value for the CP (and more DPS, incidentally) than the other.

But this is PvP. Affliction warlocks, for example, are not known for their burst, and having an on-demand trinket that can be used to burn down an opponent at the right time is critical.

I think it’s interesting to see how dependent all this is on the stat weights you choose at the beginning. If you were to go on a straight primary stat / Resilience evaluation, you wouldn’t see a lot of the subtle differences in the gear pieces. Small changes to your stat weights will have a big impact on the gear’s purchase values, so these lists should not be set in stone. They are absolutely dynamic and need to be adjusted to your specific situation – which you should do.

Generally speaking, the pieces high on these lists either have a lot of the primary stats warlocks want – Intellect, Spellpower, or Resilience – or they have the secondary stats – Spell Hit, Haste. When all other things are equal, choose the gear with the best secondary stat – but it’s interesting to see that all other things are not always equal.

It’s nice to see that my general rule of thumb holds – get the stuff that has your secondary stat first – but you should also look at the rest of the item’s budget and cost when choosing what to upgrade next, and use your head.

All those disclaimers aside: the MH/OH weapons are always excellent buys.


Getting back to the original question: are players who upgrade their shoulders first doing so out of vanity, or out of logic? If the secondary stat on them isn’t the best one for your spec, how important is that?

I think there’s a strong argument to be made that the shoulders are not a good first buy for warlocks – you get a bigger boost of Resilience from the trinkets.

But there could be other reasons to get them which outweigh the numbers. Perhaps it is important for the player to show others that the character is progressing into the next season of gear. Perhaps the new shoulders are a bigger upgrade due to not having a complete set of last season’s gear. Perhaps the player just likes the look of them! That’s all okay.

It’s okay because eventually, with enough time and focus, you can get all the gear, and it won’t matter which order you got it in.

However, when you are sitting there at the vendor, wondering what to get next – don’t be so quick to upgrade only the visible pieces.

New shoulders are great and all that, but there are other pieces that probably have more bang for the buck.

Like, you know, gloves. 🙂

Happy shopping!



Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

23 responses to “Choosing Which PvP Gear to Get First, Warlock Edition

  1. CheersDaniel

    Thanks for your work on this Cyn, such a quick turnaround!  Nothing beats telling your friends they are wrong, and then backing it up with Science (yes, spreadsheets = science).  I’ve heard some interesting reasons that go beyond pure vanity to why people get the shoulders first, and one sticks out.  It follows that shoulders are the one piece of gear, besides weapon, that most players will see on opponents in Arena.  So early shoulders means the potential to intimidate or otherwise throw off an opponent’s game.  I don’t entirely agree with the logic, I’d much rather an opponent underestimate me than overestimate, but I can see some logical thought there.  Or perhaps it’s just an internal justification for the vanity purchase.  Either way, this clearly shows just how dominant the EMFH racial really is over the others, not that we needed more proof.  (I’d complain, but it benefits me so shhhh)

    • You’re very welcome. 🙂

      EMFH is an interesting case. I think you’d need to modify the model a little bit, because you have to factor in the secondary stat of the PvP trinket (which gets better every season) that everyone else will have, and then just evaluate it on the primary stat of the replacement trinket.

      That said, I adore EMFH and struggle when I don’t have it. 🙂

  2. Great Job Cyn, I’m definitely going to modify this spreadsheet for my priest! Just want to point out that there appears to be an error in the spreadsheet that you linked. The Value / Honor Point calculations are not using the HP Cost in your formulas, they are pointing to the CP Cost (i.e., you are providing the Value / Conquest Point of the Honor Gear stats).

    • I see that error now – it’s not going to modify the results any, since the costs are identical from tier to tier, but I’ll update my version so that if it changes I don’t get caught with a reference error.


  3. It all seems so obvious once it’s been put to [virtual] paper like that. Anybody who can handle basic math and excel could could do it. As someone who only does a bit of PvP, only on the weekends this is really interesting to me. I have a full PvP set on my Holy Pally and, thanks to the 4k honor reimbursement, I was able to upgrade a couple of honor-bought S9 pieces. I generally upgrade a single item every week – which is more than enough because I PvP so casually and only in unrated BGs.

    And yes, the shoulders do look very nice. In fact, I haven’t seen much gear so far in Cata that I’ve found as attractive as the S9 Paladin gear. But even in unrated BGs, survival is going to be very important – perhaps almost more so.

  4. I know in BG’s I almost always pick my first target by the look of their gear, and shoulders stand out more than anything for most classes. In some cases (casters) the robe can be a dead giveaway as well, as can the helm if the player hasn’t chosen to hide it. (And naturally, by “first target” I mean the person I kill after killing whoever has a giant, red + sign over their heads.)

    That’s one reason why when I was gearing up my Warlock last season I focused my first Conquest purchase on the robe, because either I wore the big blue dress saying “I have crappy honor gear, kill me first” or I wore the big green dress telling them I had my arena gear.

    Each class has something that’s pretty iconic that just stands out at first glance which tells you how good their gear is. For me I knew the casters by their robes, I knew the Paladins by that stupid eagle helmet (/shudder), and so on.

    My point being, looks aren’t always just for vanity, sometimes they’re also for deceiving your enemies.

    • See, I base mine on the helm more than the robe, but you’re right – getting rid of the crafted look is important.

      I tend to play waaaay zoomed out, with a crappy graphics card, so I really based my targets more on HP than gear. But I did look at portraits when they came up in the bgs.

      (I hide my helm.)

  5. Soondead

    There is another reason to take the shoulder instead of the trinket. If you do BH each week there is a slight chance the trinket might drop for you. Same with rings, neck, back, boots, belt, gloves and pants. (Might have missed some). If you are unlucky you buy the trinket and then it drops in BH. If you buy the shoulder instead you won the WoW lottery.
    I have done this on my priest. Have the ruthless 384 chest, head and shoulder. Also got the 384 boots for free. Same pair of boots dropped the following week. Hoping to get some other stuff for free at BH next week. If lucky I manage to buy a thing that wount drop.

    • Huh, I hadn’t considered BH. I never got any useful loot out of VoA – warlock gear only dropped once I was geared – so I tend to forget about the PvP bosses.

      I’m not sure that “I’m hoping to get lucky” is a good reason to skip certain kinds of gear, but I can certainly see how people can make it. Thanks!

  6. Soondead

    In arena I don’t look on gear at all. I look on hp. Its a good give away of whom to kill first. If the team has one on 135k and one on 119…. Well guess you figured who will be easiest to kill.

  7. I follow the cheap and lazy guide to gearing, inspired by the introduction of the phantom tier: buy those pieces first that are most expensive to gem and enchant for you, so you can go straight from s9 conquest (or whatever you had before really) to s10 conquest instead of having to buy, gem and enchant the s10 honour piece for a few weeks in-between. I went for the chest first, then head, and will buy the legs next.

    • I have been following this with my Honor purchases. I’m favoring those pieces I don’t have to enchant.


      Ain’t nothing wrong with being frugal on a toon I’m not playing very much right now! 🙂

  8. Zenamar

    I like your approach and the analysis is fine.

    However, some mere mortals are never going to be at risk of getting an Arena rating good enough to allow more than the 1650 CP cap per week. So it becomes an issue for us of what you can afford each week rather than what is best to save for.

    Therefore, is it better to get some cheaper (1250 CP) items early on while saving an ongoing balance toward more expensive ones so that you don’t miss out on an upgrade per week? Or are you better to pass up buying an item in a given week to get the more expensive one the next week?

    By my calculations, you can basically get everything at an item per week, provided you leave the legs to last and pray BH is kind to you (else you would have to save for an extra week at the end for the legs).

    • Hah, well, this mere mortal never got more than the Arena minimum last season, so I’m used to dealing with the lowest amounts. The method should work for both Conquest and Honor gear, though it’s probably not worth optimizing Honor purchases *too* much.

      I passed up Conquest upgrades some weeks to get important upgrades – weapons, for instance, should absolutely be gotten as soon as they’re available, even if that means passing up 2-3 other pieces. It also depends if you’re coming off of crafted gear or Gladiator’s gear – if you’ve got the previous season’s Gladiator set, then there’s less of an upgrade due to set bonuses than if you’ve got crafted. Crafted to Conquest is a huge upgrade, so I waited to upgrade my set pieces with Conquest while filling in offset with Honor.

      In retrospect, it wasn’t optimal, but eventually you get everything and it all works out. 🙂

  9. Gameldar

    Certainly where you start from is interesting for in terms of the purchase order too. Having started from this season’s crafted gear + the 4k honor cap I planned out my purchases basically looking at:
    1) Getting the 2 piece set bonus first (not realising they didn’t stack with the crafted pieces)
    2) Then picking up trinkets

    Basically that is ~1100 of my now almost 4k resilience which is a significant chunk that I didn’t have. Also along those lines I chose the helm and the gloves first because the boost you get from the meta gem on the helm to your primary stat (strength in my case), and the gloves for the extra benefit it provides.

    Now it would have been interesting to actually do a comparison to see, and your conclusions mean that my seat of the pants method of upgrading should be more or less on the mark too (i.e. upgrading those items firstly that I had no resilience option – trinkets, ranged, and weapon – and then those with the worst secondary stats first, or probably more accurately upgrading to the items with the better second stats first – the secondary stat changes from crafted to seasonal, but is consistent between seasons).

    But if I managed to get myself organised and into some regular conquest awarding options I’ll now do some calculations to see what to upgrade first!

    On a side note I finally picked up my first loot from BH this week… PvP gloves… on my druid which I don’t PvP with… thankfully for bears 25ilvls difference in agility and crit (and a switch from haste to resilience being almost neutral) is a pretty significant upgrade (particularly because it was my second piece so I was getting the agility bonus too)!

    • I think it’s interesting to see how the number validate, or challenge, our gut instincts on gear upgrades. My mental checklist has always been: Spell Pen? ok, Resilience on empty slots? ok, Hit? ok, Haste? ok, stuff that looks cool? – hardly scientific, but it’s honestly worked out pretty close to optimal. Secondary stats haven’t changed that much for Warlocks, but even then it just varies the order – it’s not like there’s a “Haste set” and a “Crit set” available for us.

      Your side note is interesting, because it mirrors my experience with BH and how that experience has totally led me to discount BH as a viable gear option, even though it totally is. It’s a lottery, and a lottery I always lose. I’ve never gotten an upgrade from VoA or BH – the only time lock gear drops, it’s always worse than what I have. So I have this blind spot to the place.

      (Congrats for your Druid, though – upgrades are upgrades!)

  10. This is Great! I am very analytical and the spread sheet is right up my alley! Though I might have to read through it all again as my head started to spin (its before my coffee has kicked in you see).

    I did almost spit out my drink when I read, “Even a character new to PvP is upgrading from something; they’re not coming into PvP stark naked.” Oh the crazy images I see in my head! I found it way funny.

    • While it’s possible to PvP naked, I don’t really recommend it. There are some funny stories on the forums about druids who have done it and gotten away with it (blasted Cat form!) after an account restoration or undelete, but … yeah. 🙂

      Glad you liked the post!

  11. Nalakess

    I’m just curious what your thoughts are on a Human Warlock simply using two Insignia of dominance vs. using one Badge and one Insignia?

    • The procs don’t stack (or their Bloodthirsty variants didn’t, which I had experience with) so using two of them is a bad idea. Get the Badge/Insignia combo and macro the Badge into your casts (if you’re forgetful, like me) or leave it separately hotkeyed. (It packs a punch.)

      I ran with the Insignia/Darkmoon Card: Volcano pair for a while, which worked pretty well.

  12. Pingback: Snippets Week 32: Catching Up « Green Bar Spec

  13. Pingback: First Piece of Ruthless Gear (Conquest Points) - The Warlocks Den - WoW Warlock Discussions