Secondary stats: A grand mess

My fervent hope is that the class changes in Legion include a complete overhaul of the secondary stat mechanism. It just stinks as it is now. In my opinion, this horrible state derives from the intertwining of their importance for combat mechanics, the independent spec reliance on different secondary stats (for pure damage dealers), and use of a pseudorandom algorithm as the sole determiner of their composition.

(Apologies to my core readers, I know I have written about this before, but honestly the situation is so terrible, and it has such an adverse impact on nearly every facet of game play, that I think I need to keep harping on it.)

Importance for combat mechanics. Secondary stats are crucial to class and spec balance, they are the foundation of all the damage/healing/protection calculations that make complex combat possible. So they are not going away. Even tweaking them a little bit can have serious repercussions. Blizz proved this when they changed the mechanism in 6.0 — they pretty much destroyed both meta-class and individual class balance across the board, and despite a huge number of tweaks since then, they have still not completely recovered from it. Nearly every class still has at least one unplayable spec due to gross imbalance of secondary stats, a fact that Blizz has admitted multiple times over the last year. Disc priests, SV hunters, MW monks, I am sure you can come up with other examples. Either the spec is at a notable disadvantage when compared to other classes in the same role, or the mechanics are so bad that it no longer reflects the vision for the class. In some instances — MM hunter comes to mind — Blizz has “fixed” clumsy mechanics only by requiring a full 4-pc tier set (and then making the tier gear a crap shoot, nice going devs).

The point is, secondary stats and their interplay with nearly every aspect of WoW combat is vastly complex. It is also something Blizz cannot back away from, secondary stats are here for the foreseeable future.

Different secondary stats for different specs. As I alluded to above, here I am talking about just pure damage dealers. By making every spec achieve acceptable efficiency only by use of different secondary stats, Blizz has effectively made every class a hybrid class, with the attendant disadvantages but not with the advantages. A conscientious hunter, for example, must carry two sets of gear to play both MM and Beast, the same as a druid with both a damage and tanking spec. Yet the hunter still only brings one role to a raid team, less utility than the druid. And without two sets of gear, the hunter’s former utility of being able to tailor spec nuances according to the fight is now gone. Net loss for both the hunter and the raid team.

Worse, the hunter gains no advantage from selecting one spec as the gear spec, since Blizz stubbornly refuses to admit that each hunter spec requires a different set of secondary stats on gear. Selection of gear spec remains based only on primary stats, except for healers who for some reason now are more or less guaranteed to get spirit (a secondary spec) on those pieces of gear that can carry it.

If Blizz can do this for healers, why can’t they do it for other classes? Surely mastery is just as important for Beast hunters as spirit is for healers, whether or not it is unique to the role.

RNG for secondary stats. Of all the things wrong about Blizz’s lazy reliance on a pseudorandom algorithm for rewarding nearly everything in the game, the worst in my opinion is using it to determine secondary stats on gear. As should be clear from the above, secondary stats are hugely important to being able to properly maximize your spec. Imagine the outcry if Blizz decided to apply this mechanism to primary stats. In my opinion, this is almost as bad. Secondary stats have become so integral to combat calculations that even though they do not carry the same weight as primaries, they still have a significant impact, thanks to the way Blizz has structured them.

Yet these extremely important stats are awarded not on the basis of spec requirements, but by a crap shoot. To add insult to injury, Blizz removed reforging as an option because — I am not making this up — they wanted to spare us the trauma of math.


And it’s not just a 50-50 chance or something similar. Oh no. Take Baleful gear as an example. As I recall, there are something like 15 possible secondary stat combinations for a given piece of this gear. Usually, one of the flavors is optimal for a particular spec, and maybe a second flavor is a close runner-up. As I am the masochistic type, I have kept track of all the Baleful gear I have gotten for my 4 characters that have made it to Tanaan. Of the almost 300 pieces I have collected, care to hazard a guess as to how many have had the optimal set of secondary stats for that character’s spec?


I have had three runners-up, though, and those work to some extent. But I have never seen a drop of Decimator, Impatient, Relentless, Pious, or Deft gear on any character, much less on one with an appropriate class/spec. Honestly, I am beginning to doubt that these exist.

I would love to see the official drop rates for the various flavors of Baleful gear.

And the ultimate insult? Even when you buy Baleful gear you do not get a choice of the secondary stat combos. Nor is it possible — as for crafted gear — to reroll them. It’s like going in to the Toyota dealer, handing over your money, and they reach into a grab bag and tell you what kind of car with what options you are going to get. Like it or lump it.

I won’t even get into the double whammy of crap shoots not only for getting gear from a raid boss, but for getting any kind of useful secondary stats from it.

Final point. Legion will be a great opportunity for Blizz to right many of their wrongs with secondary stats. They have already said that they plan to make major changes in class balances. Blizz, I beg of you, start with secondary stats. Almost no one who plays the current game (I would like to think that includes the devs, but I really doubt it unfortunately) is happy with what you have done with them.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

4 Responses to Secondary stats: A grand mess

  1. Grumsta says:

    Ye gods, you have been insanely unlucky with baleful gear! Awwwww *hug*

    Lots of nails hit squarely on heads again here. At least with Raid gear the “only” RNG is whether it’s socketed, warforged, speed, indestructible, etc. The secondary stats are fixed. Which means the Tier set Legs are perfect for my MM: crit & ms, but the Helm has ms & mastery iirc, which isn’t great for either BM or MM. Crazy.

    There is gear available that switches between primary stats depending on who wears it. So an armour piece could provide either Agility or Strength. If Blizz did the same with secondary stats, it would help a ton. When I’m in MM spec the Secondary stats would always be Crit & MS. If I change spec to BM they switch to Mastery and Haste. Can’t imagine that would be too hard to implement.

    You would then use enchants and gems to balance the secondary stats to avoid caps. I do this on my Arcane mage to keep his Haste at around 1300 as he has 2 pieces of tier set armour, everything else goes into Mastery.

    I was fine with getting rid of reforging, because all it ended up as was going to AMR and spending a bucket load on gems and enchants (either in gold or resources) everytime a new piece of armour dropped. But the current system just stinks, it *has* to change. There are simply no good points to it, aside from the flexibility of primary stats on some pieces.

    Gearing up your character correctly for optimal performance is one of the key drivers in this game, and is especially important for Raiders. (You remember them Blizz: seemingly your only focus for the end game in WoD?) Hopefully Blizz can understand that and do something smarter for Legion.

    • Fiannor says:

      Well, I will take your word on tier gear, as of course I have not had a 4-pc set for the last 2 expansions. And now in WoD I am certain not to get any, as I rarely raid, certainly not to the extent of tier farming runs.

      I like your idea of secondary stat auto-changing like the primary stats do. In fact, that is how I thought it was going to work way back when Blizz announced features for 6.0. The way I understood them was that for example if you were a druid, in WoD you would only have to have one set of gear, no matter if you were tanking, killing, or healing. I thought that was fantastic, and of course I never imagined it would be a problem for my hunters who only really ever had to carry one set of gear anyway. The only real discussion I recall on the subject had to do with how to implement spirit for healers.

      I think Blizz once again sold us a load of goods, because they led us to believe secondary stats would provide very minor spec tuning, no big deal. (Remember how much of a minor thing garrisons were supposed to be?) Then the Good Idea Fairy went on a rampage among the devs, and suddenly secondary stats made a very significant difference in spec performance. They were just too easy and handy to use to fix all the huge class imbalances manifested during this expansion, so their impact grew and grew.

      As usual, no one at Blizz troubled themselves to see the big picture consequences of ramping up the importance of secondary stats. So one piece of a package system became badly skewed, causing the other pieces to be seriously problematic for players. If secondary stats had remained of minor importance, then it’s no big deal if your chances of getting the one ideal piece of gear you need are 1/195 (15 secondary stat combos times 13 types of equippable gear, this is once gear has dropped; 1/15 if you buy it). But when those secondary stats became very significant, and the odds of getting what you need were not changed, then the system fell apart.

      Failure to anticipate the meta consequences of design actions.

  2. Bodhi Rana says:

    I’ve always thought that the way the primary stat is handled on gear could be the same way secondary stats are handled.

    For example:
    Mail gear has [Agil/Intel] depending on your class/spec. For simplicity’s sake we’ll just call it Primary.

    There is a table in the WoW data that says:
    Shaman Resto Primary = Intel
    Shaman Enhance Primary = agil
    …and that data exists for all class/spec combinations

    So add another column in that table for Secondary stats.
    Shaman Resto Secondary = critical strike
    Shaman Enhance Secondary = haste

    So gear would have a primary place holder, a secondary stat place holder, and a chance for other secondaries/tertiaries/sockets/warforged.

    There are still folks that will want the optimum secondaries/tertiaries/sockets/warforged and will farm the content relentlessly. For the folks that run content once, regardless of gear optimization, they’re still a viable alt for the guild runs. This would also allow LFR Tier gear to be useful again.

    Plus, I wish they’d do what they did in SoO. The tier gear for LFR, Normal (Flex at the time), Heroic (Normal), Mythic (Heroic) all shared the same bonuses. I was a shining example of a person that did mostly LFR and an occasional Flex or Normal with friends. So I actually had a mismatch of tier gear. I don’t believe a person should be penalized for doing content across multiple difficulty levels. A player shouldn’t have to give up a 2- or 4-piece bonus simply because a better piece of gear from a different difficulty level dropped. The iLevel and increased stats are the bonus for the higher difficulty. Plus, if you’ve suffered through the toxicity of LFR, you *DESERVE recognition for raiding through the most difficult boss the game has to offer. Elitist egos, Firesoakers, and AFK-ers.

    *note that “DESERVE” is implied to be 72 point font, extra bold, italicized, quintuple underlined, and in flashing multi-color LEDs.

    • Fiannor says:

      Hear, hear! Two excellent ideas. I have never understood the WoD change to tier gear stats, my assumption was that it was yet another kowtow to “real” raiders, so they could feel as special as they felt was their due. But as you point out, the old system was friendly to all, allowing mix-and-match pieces. If you were raiding consistently at a high level, you would get better tier stats, but those like you and me could also benefit from tier pieces, no matter what level we were raiding at. (Well, not me, because the closest I got in Mists was 3 mismatched pieces, but you get the idea.)

      The WoD tier mechanism becomes particularly heinous for MM hunters, whose rotation is actually incomplete without the 4-piece tier set, and LFR tier gear does not count. So Blizz destroyed Survival as a viable hunter spec, nerfed Beast, and pretty much forced hunters into MM as the raiding spec, and then they added the hurdle of getting a 4-pc tier set in order to properly play that spec. Is it any wonder I think someone at Blizz just has it in for hunters?

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