To fully understand the impact of the 4.3 Gearing System, you need to understand how gearing progression has developed over the years.  If you have been playing like me, since Vanilla, you remember the days when loot dropped and it was specific loot only– this included tier gear! There were no Valor Points. There were no Tier Tokens. You simply had to hope the boss dropped the item or Tier piece you needed. To make a parallel, it wasn’t dissimilar to the way the Baradin Hold bosses work today. Pure random loot drops. In fact, I remember the times when my guild (Alliance) would get Shaman Tier drops. (Remember, in Vanilla the Alliance didn’t have shaman!)

The Burning Crusade came and so did our introduction to the Tier Token System. It was simple.  A token type would drop, of either Vanquisher, Conqueror, or Protector and each token type had 3 classes that were a associated with it–easy! Nice and even distribution. This method simply made loot systems easier to manage. Can you imagine doing a loot council with 25 people all interested in a single Chest Token?  BC also introduced us to the Badge/Point system. This system allowed raiders to purchase raid quality gear for a number of item slots–Tier Gear was not available in this manner.

Then we had Wrath of the Lich King, where we moved from Badges/Points not buying Tier Gear to becoming a huge part of gear progression.  Additionally, WOTLK included the introduction of Death Knights. DK added an interesting complication to Tier distribution as we no longer had 3 classes per Tier Token, since we had one Token with 4 classes associated with it. This caused a change in the RNG aspect of loot drops because one of the tokens was meant for 4 classes and affected the weighted average of the drop rate.

Fast Forward to 4.3. The Tier System is getting turned on its head… again. The ONLY way to get Tier 13 gear will be through raid boss drops – no Valor Point Tier purchases. Further, in a statement that Bashiok posted, we learned that the VP drop rate was being throttled to 100 per raid boss kill. This means, for purposes of Tier Gear progression, the only way to upgrade Tier 12 to Tier 13 is to hope for good RNG from the Token Gods. Additionally, off-set VP gear would be more difficult to save up for as the VP accumulation rate is being slowed. Bashiok stated that the purpose of this  VP change was to put greater emphasis on killing a boss to get the gear, not just saving your points.

This “new” method of acquiring Tier Gear is anything but new…we’ve seen it before, as discussed, in The Burning Crusade. This method will likely slow down progression and artificially gate content by throttling how fast raids can gear up.

A number of people in the WOW community had a knee jerk reaction regarding the VP change: “Big Deal! I’m a raider! I’ll be getting my token drops and VP gear isn’t even good!” You even saw some people go so far as suggesting the VP gear was “welfare” and “scrub loot”.

I believe that these statements are exceptionally short sighted and really off-base. Arguably, VP gear is important to everybody; especially to the hardcores. “Hardcore raiders”  use every strategy possible to min/max their character. Compounding this is the fact that there are a lot more options available from the Valor Point vendors this go around… not just rings and the occasional trinket.

Why is the VP gear important? I make these suggestions because these VP items, coupled with Tier Token RNG, really affect how gear progression will work in 4.3.  Depending on the importance of set bonuses, the increased stats from these VP items, boss strategy and mechanics, they could be superior– especially if you have all 5 Tier items from T12, and have the flexibility to pivot and  maintain your set bonus while still upgrading offset items via the VP upgrades. (Protip: if you can get all 5, do it… just for this reason alone)

Lets pretend your raid has been having a Conqueror Token drought… this means Priests, Paladins, and Warlocks likely have not been able to upgrade much of their T12 Gear to T13 Gear yet. Keeping that in mind, and progressing through content, you’ll eventually reach a boss that has a critical healing or DPS check (ie. Ultraxion). Doing this in lower Item Level gear, while possible, could be easier with the pure stat increases from the new Valor Items. These items are iLvl 397, which is on par with Heroic Ragnaros loot — nothing to scoff at.

Personally, I dislike the current Token System based solely on the method of distribution.  In theory, they should be equally distributed via RNG, but that is drastically dependent on your raid composition.  Throughout T12, my raid was typically represented by over half of our raiding core residing on the Conqueror token. This can provide a artificial gear gate when high demand tokens don’t drop. Is the simple answer to this problem to have one universal token? Perhaps… but that isn’t the point of this article.

Play smartly. Plan your upgrades. Make a loot list. Evaluate your loot options through the Valor Point vendors. You’ll need to figure out which items will be your biggest upgrades, while trying to not not affect your set bonuses… THEN move to items that require either a Tier Upgrade or a Pivot from 5/5 T12. Obviously, if you are raiding, you might be upgrading non-tier items through boss drops as well— but this is nothing new, its the gear progression we’ve always known.

Welcome back to the Burning Crusade; where your best and biggest gear upgrades live with the RNG Gods… bring weighted dice, a four leaf clover, and a rabbit’s foot. We’re gonna need it!