Don’t underestimate the value of spell hit.

June 17, 2009 at 10:47 am 22 comments

446 is a magic number.

This is because, as casters — untalented, alone, completely naked and bereft of any helpful companions or raid buffs — our spells have a 17% chance to miss an enemy three levels above us.”… But I’m level 80!” you exclaim, brandishing your fiery-enchanted Titansteel Spell Blade.  “What could possibly be three levels above me, Elder Idotyou the Love Fool of Stormwind, Ironforge and Darnassus, Champion of the Frozen Wastes and SomethingelseIcan’tremember?”

Oh, nothing much.  Just every skull-level raid boss in the entire endgame, from the creepy, crawly Anub’rekahn to also creepy but considerably less crawly Yogg-Saron.

In order to minimize — and, ultimately, eliminate — this inherent chance to miss, we stack spell hit, via talents, gear, gems, enchants, food buffs and slavery.  (Oh, you hadn’t heard?  Warlocks can look forward to a new 3.2 ability called “Enslave Shadow Priest.”  I fully intend to name mine Abigore.)

At the current hit cap of 446, our chance to miss is exactly zero.

Sources of Spell Hit

Although our primary source of spell hit comes from gear — such the appropriately named (as in, I will curse you with my dying breath you thrice-damned trinket!) Dying Curse, which waited until the week after I rerolled Shaman to drop three times in the same Heroic Naxxramas raid — …

Wait, where was I going with this?

Oh, right.  Gear is a source of spell hit, but it is far the only source:

  • The Affliction talent, Suppression, grants a maximum of +3% hit.
  • A balance druid spec’d into Improved Faerie Fire will provide the entire raid with +3% hit.  Of course, this assumes that the druid not only (1) survives the encounter, but also (2) maintains 100% uptime.
  • Alternately, a shadow priest spec’d into Misery will provide the same +3% hit with the same caveats.  Note that Misery does not stack with Improved Faerie Fire.
  • The Draenei racial, Heroic Presence, provides an additional +1% hit to party members.  Heroic Presence does stack with either Improved Faerie Fire or Misery, but not both.

This means that a Horde warlock such as myself needs need to make up (a) 14% hit if spec’d 3/3 Suppression or raiding with a properly spec’d balance druid or shadow priest, or (b) 11% hit if spec’d 3/3 Suppression and raiding with a properly spec’d balance druid or shadow priest.

What if you’re not a Horde warlock?  What if you’re something confusing, like a Draenei shaman, a Night Elf druid or a human shadow priest in a xenophobic role-playing guild that is convinced that those loveable Spacegoats are actually Eredar (and wouldn’t be caught dead sharing a raid ID with one)?

First, if you’re not a Forsaken warlock, you totally should be.  Go down to Old Stratholme, eat a plagued muffin and call Sylvannas in the morning.

Second, and as an interim solution, try WoWWiki.  Or ask Amber — very, very nicely — to make a flowchart.

We made a flowchart.  Once.

Our felpuppy eated it.

The Mechanics of Spell Hit

In a recent blogpost, Hydra of Almost Evil advised her readers to avoid gemming for spell hit at the expense of spell powereven if they happened to be under hit cap at the time. With all due respect to our vertically challenged sistren, this is fantastically awful advice.  Don’t follow it … or, at least, don’t follow it blindly.

To understand why, it’s important to understand the mechanics underlying spell hit.

Remember those incredibly dorky table top roleplaying games that all the ner—  … I mean, all the perfectly nice, normal, well-adjusted kids (such as my boyfriend, who I love dearly <3) played in high school?  Those games used dice to determine pretty much everything.

Does my unnaturally handsome, inhumanly powerful, Orlando Bloom-lookalike of a half-elven, half-vampire rogue manage to stab the fire-breathing dragon in the heart with a butter knife?

Roll 2d20 to find out!

WoW works the same way.  The game rolls once to determine if a spell hits.  Then, assuming it does, it rolls again to determine if the spell crits.  If you’re spell hit capped, then your spells will always hit.  If not, they will miss at a rate approximately equal to the difference between the spell hit cap and your actual hit rating.  If you have +12% hit (an amount Hydra feels is sufficient), then you will miss approximately 5% of the time (17% – 12% = 5%) against a level 83 mob.

At a glance, this doesn’t sound too terribly bad.  If you cast 100 Shadow Bolts over the course of a fight, only five of them will miss.  So, if you stack spellpower over spell hit, maybe the extra oomph you’ve packed into the 95 Shadow Bolts that do hit will make up for the 5 that don’t.  Maybe the math will even work out so that 95 Super Shadow Bolts deal more damage than 100 boring old Clark Kent flavored ones.

This is Hydra’s logic — and, to be fair, I’ve seen it repeated elsewhere on the internether, including my own /guild chat.

The thing is, it’s a rather shallow view that doesn’t take into account the synergies that exist between our various stats and spells.

Spell Hit vs. Spellpower and Spell Crit

First, if a spell doesn’t hit, then your spellpower and spell crit are worth exactly nothing.  I’m sure you’ve heard this before: if a spell doesn’t hit, it can’t crit.  This means that if you have +32% crit chance but are 5% under hit cap, then you actually have +30.40% crit chance.  If you have 2K spellpower but are 5% under hit cap, then you actually have 1.9K spellpower.

The Cost of a Miss

Second, and contrary to widely held belief, the cost of a missed spell is not equal to the opportunity cost of the lost cast time.  It’s actually much higher.

For a relatively straightforward example, hearken back to the bygone days of The Burning Crusade, when all raiding warlocks specced shadow-mage and had a wonderfully complex rotation that looked something like this:

Shadow Bolt
Shadow Bolt
Shadow Bolt

If your Shadow Bolts were hitting for 5K and critting for 10K approximately 30% of the time, then it would have been tempting to claim that the “cost” of a miss was 5K + .3(10K) = 8K.  Assuming a 3 second cast time with 5% chance to miss, you would lose approximately 48K damage (or six Shadow Bolts) over the course of a five minute fight.  If by foregoing spell hit you could stack enough spellpower to sufficiently boost each Shadow Bolt’s damage to make up for that … it would be a wash, right?

Not entirely.  The old Improved Shadow Bolt talent caused our Shadow Bolt crits to place a stacking debuff on the target that increased the next four shadow-based attacks (and all shadow-based DoT damage in between!) by 20%.  Therefore, the cost of a miss wasn’t just the lost DPS from the shadowbolt that fizzled and died in mid-air; it was also the lost DPS from reduced uptime on Improved Shadow Bolt.

And that was a straightforward example — one that doesn’t even exist in our current world!  Our rotations are much more complicated now, so the cost of a miss is significantly higher.

The actual math is beyond the scope of this blog (I crunch numbers for a living, so I can’t quite bring myself to do it in my downtime), but the theory behind it is fairly obvious.

Haunt is the mainstay of an Affliction rotation.  It has a cast time, a travel time, deals a small amount of damage, procs Shadow Embrace and increases all shadow-based periodic damage done to the target over the course of its 12 second duration.  It also refreshes Corruption via Everlasting Affliction and returns health to the warlock whenever it expires or is refreshed.

So.  What happens if Haunt misses?

It goes on cooldown and can’t be cast again for 8 seconds.  Even if you’ve attempted to precast it, the 12 second duration and 8 second cooldown mean that the Haunt debuff will fall off your target.  Depending upon timing, it’s entirely possible that Corruption or Shadow Embrace could expire as well.  If so, Corruption will need to recast at the cost of a Global Cooldown.  Your next Shadow Bolt will re-apply Shadow Embrace, but — again, depending upon timing — you may not be able to cast a Shadow Bolt immediately because your priority is refreshing Unstable Affliction (which fell off while you were reapplying Corruption) and then Curse of Agony (which fell off while you were casting Unstable Affliction).

In other words: one missed spell could wreak havoc on your entire rotation, not to mention cost you substantially more in lost DPS than you could have gained from the spell alone.

This isn’t unique to Affliction rotations, either.  A Destruction warlock who misses a Conflagrate in the last five seconds of Immolate’s duration forgoes not only Conflagrate’s base damage but also the 25% boost from Immolate.  Incinerate or Shadow Bolt misses lead to fewer Nightfall or Backlash procs, and — for Demonology warlocks or Demo/Destro hybrids — an Incinerate miss during a Decimation phase translates into lost DPS not only from Incinerate but from Soulfire as well.

The TL;DR is that the cost of a miss is seldom just the DPS from the spell that missed.  This is because for all three talent trees, misses tend to set off a chain reaction of events that could have been avoided had we simply stacked spell hit to cap and then worried about rounding out our other stats.

Diminishing Returns

That said, spell hit does suffer from diminishing returns.  As you approach the spell hit cap and your percent chance to miss decreases, the value of each additional point of hit becomes progressively smaller.  In other words, the less hit you have, the more important it is to stack — whereas the more hit you have, the less each individual point of hit is worth relative to stats like spellpower or critical strike.

This is why it’s so hard to rank gear, and why I personally have never bothered with a “BiS loot list” or a definitive gear plan.  Even for a warlock below cap, an item with spell hit isn’t necessarily an upgrade over an item without it; each individual piece has to be viewed within the context of your entire gear set, and assessed for what it adds versus what it takes away.

Gemming and Talenting for Hit

So, what does this mean for a raiding warlock, struggling to balance spell hit with spellpower, spirit, spell haste and critical strike?

In general, I recommend gemming and talenting for hit until you are spell hit capped from gear alone.  I love socket bonuses — in part because I’m OCD, and in part because free stats are free stats! — so I tend to use Rigid Autumn’s Glow (+16 hit) in yellow sockets, Veiled Monarch Topaz (+8 hit, +9 spellpower) in red sockets and Purified Twilight Opal (+9 spellpower, +9 spirit) in blue sockets … provided, of course, that the socket bonuses are worth picking up in the first place.

It’s also worth noting that one Runed Scarlet Ruby and one Rigid Autumn’s Glow provide the same amount of hit and one more point of spellpower than two Veiled Monarch Topazes — so if you ever find yourself in a position of needing exactly 16 more hit, I’d suggest socketing those in a red and yellow socket, respectively, over stacking two Veiled Monarch Topazes.

Once you are spell hit capped from gear, you can start swapping out hit gems for spellpower gems.

A Hit Set vs. an Output Set?

You don’t need a hit set, per se.  If for some reason you find yourself with two versions of the same chest (like I did, thanks to an overabundance of Conqueror tokens and far too many Undying attempts), and you find yourself tempted to gem one for raw spellpower and the other for spell hit for more situational use … hey, that works!

Personally, I’d recommend looking for one or two hit-heavy pieces (preferably totaling about +3% hit) that you can use in raids when you don’t have a shadow priest or balance druid around to provide hit via Misery or Imp’d FF.  I still use the Ward of the Violet Citadel (combined with the Leggings of Atrophy) for this purpose.  As an offhand, the Ward is especially nice because can be equipped in combat if the critchicken or shadow priest happens to eat a landmine in Mimiron, Phase 1.5.

… not that that’s ever happened to our raid, of course. >.>

In Conclusion …

  • Misses are bad, and the true cost of a miss is often much higher than the DPS of the missed spell.
  • Spell hit has diminishing returns; the closer you are to spell hit cap, the less valuable each additional point of spell hit is relative to other stats (like spellpower and critical strike).
  • Gem and talent for spell hit until you achieve cap from gear alone.  Then revisit your talent trees or start switching out hit gems for output gems.
  • It may be worth spending DKP on a couple of pieces with spell hit that can be used situationally.
  • Critchickens and shadow priests are wonderful things.  Love them.  Cherish them.  (Or use them and abuse them —  but don’t let them catch on!)
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We named our 3v3 team … My Penpal … Yogg-Saron.

22 Comments Add your own

  • 1. repgrind  |  June 17, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Tags: This is why I don’t write guides

    hmmmm? o.O

    This post should be required reading for any dps spellcaster who is or will be or might raid.

    Reply
    • 2. Elleiras  |  June 17, 2009 at 1:34 pm

      You’re too kind. 🙂

      Still, there are better guides out there — ones with real maths! We don’t deal in numbers here. (Except for the yellow ones that explode across our screen when a Seed of Corruption detonates. Those numbers are fun.)

      Reply
      • 3. repgrind  |  June 18, 2009 at 6:45 am

        For those who don’t understand or care about the hard numbers, you’ve laid out a clear explanation of the effect a miss can have on the spell rotation. That’s something that every caster should realize. Plus you’ve made it humorous and entertaining to read. 😉

        Reply
  • 4. Dorgol  |  June 17, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Amusingly enough, I posted a comment on that post by Hydra that I (mostly) agreed with her. And I used an example of my Feral Druid who swapped some +hit blues out for some epics and gained a ton of DPS (something like 400DPS IIRC).

    Fast forward to last night. I took that same Feral Druid into VoA on a guild run. Healed on Emo-man, but switched to DPS for Archy. Still toting my impressive PvP epics with little-to-no hit, I went after the boss. And realized that comparing my hit statics from heroic trash to a raid boss was a really bad idea. I was missing so much it was embarrasing. At one point I was attacking with 4 combo points on the boss and my finishing moves kept missing. Over and over again.

    I ended the fight at 1800 DPS – still over both tanks (and one random DK… no idea what HIS problem was).

    While I still agree with Hydra in general, I recognize that going after a raid boss with less than 100 hit rating is really not a good idea. 🙂

    Reply
    • 5. Elleiras  |  June 17, 2009 at 1:43 pm

      The epics may well be an upgrade even if they do sacrifice hit, simply because they have a larger item budget to work with. Take it on a case-by-case basis. 🙂

      Good points about the heroic hit cap vs. the raid hit cap. I still /giggle every time I see some level 80 in full raid gear testing their rotation on a level 80 target dummy! (Unless they’re using the level 80 dummy to simulate being hit-capped from a critchicken or shadow priest, I suppose.)

      Reply
  • 6. Jacob  |  June 17, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    @Dorgol: The truly OCD people have a low-hit-rating set for trash, and a high-hit-rating set for bosses.

    I try that sometimes, but I have problems when I forget to switch gear before we pull the boss.

    For melee, hit/expertise caps for trash are listed at:
    http://www.tankingtips.com/2009/02/24/the-trash-caps/

    Reply
    • 7. Elleiras  |  June 17, 2009 at 1:30 pm

      I’ve been tempted to do that (as an enhancement shaman, that is; as a warlock, I have to respec for burst if I want to show up on the trash meters at all!) but … eh, too much work. It’s comforting to know there are people in this world more OCD than I am. 😀

      Reply
  • 8. Fulguralis  |  June 17, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Well, you’ve obviously read the comments over there, and it’s good to see that my doubts weren’t unfounded. It’s hard to refute the raw math, but your points about how badly it mucks up an affliction rotation are spot on and what hit home for me. While I will run with lower hit, it’s almost always no more than 1%. I don’t have the hit on some of my other toons due to laziness, and I definitely feel it when my rotations get mucked up.

    However, on classes that aren’t so rotation dependent (aka my Frost DPS DK), it may be a different argument. In that case, I rely a lot more on “burst” DPS, and if I’m missing where I “would have” crit, now I’m out a whole helluva lot more than a dot tick. I can work with a mucked up rotation, but I’m risking a lot more.

    So I guess the bottom line is, despite some progressive style thinking, you really do need to get to hit cap to maximize your DPS on a raid boss. Sure there may be unique situations, but misses can mean a lot more than just a lost GCD and a tick, and that needs to be taken into account.

    I suppose that means it could be playstyle dependent. Perhaps the way in which one person plays minimizes the downsides of missing enough to make a difference (like they’re ultra-super flexible or something crazy). I feel I’m going way too far and over-complicating the issue though…

    Reply
    • 9. Elleiras  |  June 17, 2009 at 1:28 pm

      I think you’re probably onto something there, Fulguralis.

      I also rather suspect that those players who claim to see no significant difference between their hit capped DPS and their DPS at 12% hit or less are probably playing too “loosely” with his rotations to begin with. In other words: You won’t notice the DPS loss from wasted GCD’s and missed DoTs ticks if you frequently miss ticks due to clipped or expired DoTs anyway.

      Reply
  • 10. Light  |  June 17, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Question on enhancement shaman… Does hit matter in PVP? I don’t intend to raid enhancement, but I don’t have a PVP set yet so if they don’t need a healer for a fight, I have some enhancement stuff.

    Reply
    • 11. Elleiras  |  June 17, 2009 at 1:46 pm

      I have no idea about enhancement PvP.

      I know I need 4% in PvP as an elemental shaman — but the fact that I have Bezerking on both of my enhancement weapons leads me to shy away from melee in PvP.

      My -guess- is that it’s 4% for enhancement as well; since we strive for spell hit cap in PvE as enhancement (which is damned hard in hunter gear, and without the benefit of Elemental Precision), it makes sense to me that we’d do the same in PvP. Hopefully, someone more knowledgeable can chime in on this one.

      Reply
  • 12. leah  |  June 17, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    I have to say – I’m a little obsessed about being hit capped. I also raid with ever changing raid composition, so I cannot always depend on misery/improved faerie fire being present. between the latency and general play style limitations – I don’t seem to be casting as quickly as some other ele shammies I’ve played with. So my elemental shammy wages a never ending battle of staying at or around 368 hit rating. So does my hunter.

    my secret alliance hunter alt is currently not hit capped without food. it works out all right in heroics, but i did vault on her last week and my dps seemed to be lower then it should have been, so I looked at the details on my recount. I’ve missed. I’ve missed a lot more then I realized. only 1% under hit capped and a lost about 200 dps, or probably something closer to 300.

    so that simply has proven it to me that while some other people that I know are casting their spells/attacks quickly enough to compensate for the misses – I have no such luxury. so I’ll take my hit first and everything else later, thank you very much 🙂

    P.S. I started obsessing about getting my shammy hit capped after I missed on both flameshocks and lava bursts. nothing like missing on on your 100% crit spell, or the spell that makes that 100% crit possible to get one to stand up and take notice.

    Reply
    • 13. Elleiras  |  June 18, 2009 at 8:16 am

      I’m the same way with the hit cap — and now that I’m experimenting with enhancement in raids, the expertise cap as well. At least the hit-obsessed have math on their side. 🙂

      Reply
  • 14. *vlad*  |  June 18, 2009 at 5:30 am

    I have so much Hit gear in my bank, it’s ridiculous. I usually end up with either way too much hit, or not enough, though.
    Alliance means Draenei, and there always are some, so 16% hit cap is standard, I think.

    I noticed you mentioned you are still using an offhand, even at Yog. What mainhand are you using, then?
    Almost all the ranged dps in our guild are using the big Hit staff from the Forge. I can’t check right now, but I think it has +120 hit?

    Reply
    • 15. Light  |  June 18, 2009 at 5:53 am

      You’d be surprised how few of us there actually are. Sometimes I am the only draenei, let alone shaman.

      Reply
    • 16. Light  |  June 18, 2009 at 5:56 am

      Er, forgot to mention that heroic presence is only group wide, not raid wide.

      Reply
      • 17. Elleiras  |  June 18, 2009 at 8:22 am

        Fixed that, thanks!

        Reply
    • 18. Elleiras  |  June 18, 2009 at 8:22 am

      I retired my warlock halfway through T7. She fills in for the other group’s Uld10 on occasion, but I always pass gear to mains so she’s looking a little outdated. 😦 (Which is a shame, because warlock T8 looks awesome!)

      Her MH is the Turning Tide, with either the Ward of the Violet Citadel or the Accursed Spine as an OH, depending upon whether there’s a critchicken or shadow priest in the raid.

      Reply
  • 19. Ambrosyne  |  June 18, 2009 at 6:53 am

    You no can has my shadow priest!

    Reply
    • 20. Ambrosyne  |  June 18, 2009 at 6:56 am

      Also, any such flowchart would eventually all lead to “reroll draenei”. 😉

      Reply
      • 21. Elleiras  |  June 18, 2009 at 8:25 am

        I tried that! I have a little Draenei death knight who I love to pieces — but she’s currently parked in Honor Hold. I tried to tank her out questing and got ganked by a Tauren, which was just too surreal for me. ;.; Plus, I was lonely without guild chat.

        Poor Ven is doomed to be 58 forever.

        Reply
  • 22. Abi  |  June 18, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    “(Oh, you hadn’t heard? Warlocks can look forward to a new 3.2 ability called “Enslave Shadow Priest.” I fully intend to name mine Abigore.)”

    I mean I know I’m sexy but all you had to do was ask!

    If you’re a caster and you’re under hit cap you’re doing it wrong. I love Hydra and her blog but saying it’s OK to be under hit cap by just a little bit is still wrong IMO. Whatever miniscule extra stats you’ll gain by not capping hit will mean nothing when your attack missing. Wasting time casting a Shadow Bolt that misses is 3 seconds (or less) of wasted damage. Instant cast DoTs that miss waste a global cooldown. It doesn’t make sense. Do what you can to reach hit cap, then work on everything else.

    Reply

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