Heroic instances in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm are not the joke that heroics became by the end of the WotLK cycle. They are much more difficult and require coordination, skill, and some serious DPS. But how do you get ready to enter them and, more importantly, to be useful in them?
For starters, you should not enter heroics as soon as you reach the minimum average item level to enter them. Doing so is doing yourself no favours and will earn you a lot of disapproval from other players, as you will just be wasting their time. The requirement that Blizzard puts on players for having an item level of 329 to enter the random group queue for heroics can be viewed as either too lenient or too strict, but it is there to help protect you. Sure, you can defeat heroics with less gear than ilevel 329, but that assumes a lot of things. The first being that the group knows how to individually play their classes, and that they can actually work together. Unfortunately neither are very common right now in WoW.
This means that ilevel 329 is actually, in most cases, far too low a level for people to get into a heroic. Since you can be sure that if you random for a group at least 2 players will not know what they are doing, by either not being a good tank, healer, or DPS, you really need to be above the curve to establish a chance of completing the instance. You really should aim for at least mid 330s before entering a heroic, and potentially very close to 340.
How you establish yourself as ahead of the average player starts with your ability to play the game. Do lots of reading, research, testing, tuning, and just generally fooling around with your character. The second part is with gear though and making sure you are geared to validly contribute to a heroic. Thats what the rest of this guide talk about, the various ways to gear up for a heroic.
Gearing Up for Heroics
Create a List Before you actually start gearing up, you should try to determine what gear you really need and where it comes from. This list will help you immensely as you will not waste time just running around. You can create the list by referring to gearing guides for your class, the WoW armory and searching for upgrades, or any number of other ways.
The important thing is actually knowing what you are looking for and from where. Make sure you list a few options for each slot so that you dont limit yourself. Ideally you want to aim for at least all item level 333 gear, but really by the time you step into your first heroic there is no reason you shouldnt have several pieces that are item level 346 or 359. This also allows you to see where you have multiple options and where you are limited to only specific items.
Reputation Gear This is probably some of the easiest gear to get to start gearing up for heroics. Since you will have completed many quests for the factions that have reputation while leveling you are likely able to get many pieces of gear quite easily by the time you are level 85. Also remember that for any factions that you need more reputation with to get a piece that you need, you can simply run instances while wearing their tabard.
Reputation gear starts at item level 333 for honored gear, moves up to item level 346 for revered gear, and finally item level 359 for exalted gear. This means that any of those pieces will help you get above the item level 329 minimum to get into heroics, and the revered and exalted pieces really help you be where you should.
Regular instances Ideally before you enter a heroic you should have completed every instance on normal first, however, sometimes that just doesnt happen, especially with secondary characters. Just keep in mind that regular instances still provide a great way to gear up before entering the heroic versions. Level 85 instances will drop item level 333 items and really help you get ready. Since there are several instances with many bosses though, you should make a list of which items you need from which bosses so that you are ready and know where to expect items.
Crafted items Crafted items are a great way to gear up as well. There are many that are item levels 333, 346, and 359. Even the most expensive are really not that expensive given the fact that you can easily earn 5,000 20,000 gold a day in WoW. These items are easy to make up to the level 346 ones before you even enter a heroic. So, if you have a profession that allows you to craft items, get to it and make sure you have them all before going any further.
BoE drops There are many items that you can buy on the auction house that are BoEs from instances, heroics and even raids. Many of these are even best in slot before getting into raids. Also most are not that expensive, with the most expensive usually going for 20k or less. Seeing as you can easily make that much in a day of farming, its well worth it, since a day of running non-stop instances will not get that quality of gear.
Justice Points While these are really good items, being item level 346, and some best in slot pre-raiding, they probably wont help you a whole lot. The reason is that you are likely to get only one or two pieces before really being ready for heroics, but hey, any little bit helps. When spending your Justice points it is very important to know which pieces are the best for you based on their own merits, and how rare that slot is to find elsewhere. For example if there is no other item level 346 helm for your class form another source, then that may be the best piece to buy, if there are 3 other places to get an item level 346 helm, then you might want to consider a different item.
Enchants and gems Even though these are not really pieces of gear, I have two words of advice. Do them! Dont skimp just because you will replace the gear, you will always replace gear. Enchants and gems make a huge difference to your gear, and especially when you are just gearing up skimping on these can cripple your effectiveness. Many times the difference between an item level 333 piece and a item level 346 piece is less than the benefit you would gain by enchanting or gemming them. This means that you essentially upgrade your 333s to 346s, and your 346s to 359s. Well worth the price of the enchants and gems.
Gearing Mistakes to Avoid
Knowing where not to get gear is almost as important as where to get it. For example, PvP is not the place to get gear to help out in PvE content. In general the items, even though of high item level, are itemized for survivability and burst damage. The are not geared for PvE content, especially when you consider that resilience commonly replaces other important stats that you'll need in PvE situations.
This is especially true for tanks, but seen far too often. A tank will grab a few pieces with high stamina numbers just to look better. However they essentially become mana sponges for the healers and are horrible at mitigating damage. The only real exceptions to this rule for PvP gear are the arena weapons for DPS classes. The arena weapons are some of the best weapons in the game short of raid content and are well worth the effort to earn them, which really isnt even that much effort. The two-handed weapons only require 3 weeks of 5 wins while competing in the arenas. Thats probably only 3-4 hours of total effort.
Goals Before Going into a Heroic
I have talked a lot about item level and gear now, but really what should you be able to do before going into a heroic? Gear never tells the whole story. As mentioned above, a lot of it is based on your ability to play the game and fulfill a role. So before I end the guide, here is a little bit of a description of what you should be able to do in your gear before entering a heroic. As always these are subjective, and dependent on other things. If you are running in a random group, these should be considered minimums. If you are running with friends then you can go in a little lower.
DPS You should be able to do at least 10k sustained DPS against a level 85 target dummy. Technically you should do it against the raid boss target dummy, but that requires more Hit than you actually need, so you can cheat a little and use the level 85 one. Your real DPS will be a little lower, but any AoE or cleave type damage will make up for that.
Healer These vary from class to class due to healing differences. However, you should have enough mana and spirit to throw your big heals for at least a minute straight to allow DPS enough time to down bosses. While technically you will probably never need to spam your large heals this fast, there are times when DPS will get trigger happy and draw agro forcing you to burn through mana healing them in addition to the tank. This test simulates that type of scenario.
Tanks You should have at least 140k health and at least 30% avoidance. This means at least 15% dodge and 15% parry which is fairly easy to get. For tanks without shields, avoidance should be much higher. For tanks with shields you also want at least 15% block for additional mitigation. The point here is to NOT be a mana sponge. Ask any healer and they would far rather heal a 135k health tank with good mitigation and avoidance than a tank that has 160k health but skimped on those stats.
Now that you know how and where to get gear to run heroics, get out there and do it. The heroics in Cataclysm are far more difficult than they were in WotLK, and while many people complain about that, I am not one of them. The added difficulty also means added rewards.
While the rewards may not be in significantly better gear or items, there are definite rewards in the sense of accomplishment that you have when you finish them. The heroic versions of instances are no joke in the gear we have in game currently. This makes the game far more challenging and therefore far more fun. So get out there and defeat them while they are hard, because once a few more tiers of gear are added through raids and points, they will become too simple to be rewarding.
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