Heirlooms are one of those things that I just really love about WoW. I love to collect them, I love to enchant them, and I love to blog about them. As I do my bi-weekly check on my blog stats, I see that I’m not alone in this either.
This week during my slow moments at work, I’ve been looking at other blogs and sites since the brace I’m wearing for my carpal tunnel makes writing my own blog posts (like this one) rather irritating and inconvenient to write (not to mention painful). So you’re getting a one-handed blog post today.
What is Best-in-Slot
Best-in-Slot (or BiS) refers to individual pieces of gear which are the “best” in their respective slots. The weapon that deals the most damage combined with the best stats for your class would be the BiS weapon for example. BiS is typically used to describe items used at the level cap, though it doesn’t have to be the game’s level cap, it can be an activity’s level cap. For instance, a level 19 twink will use BiS gear for the level cap of 19, a level 60 PvE raiding twink would use the best gear available to level 60 toons, a raider would use level 85 gear, and so on.
Most of your equipment slots are armor pieces, so BiS most often refers to the best grouping of stats, taking into account gem slots and available enchants as well. The BiS weapons are usually a bit harder to decide on, depending on your class, since you’ll have to balance both the damage that it deals and the stats, gems and enchants that it has to offer.
Best-in-Slot While Leveling (PvE)
Heirlooms tend to shine most in PvE because your level changes so much which constantly increases the stats on your heirlooms. Because heirloom stats are determined by your level, it’s possible to find an item that is an upgrade now, that in a level or two will once again be less powerful than the heirloom. This effect is what makes heirlooms especially strong while you’re leveling, even if you do happen to stumble onto an upgrade, you’ll be ready to re-replace it within a few levels.
For some item slots (especially trinkets, shoulders, helms and cloaks), the heirlooms tend to be BiS basically from the moment you equip them to the moment you reach their maximum level (which is level 80 for all but the helms and cloaks right now). Trinkets can be a little hard to blanket like that since sometimes you’ll find trinkets with a great on-use ability which can make them better for the duration of their buffs, but you’ll have to decide with those whether you want a big buff every now and then or a steady buff all the time. For leveling, I tend to skip the on-use trinkets because they’re so unnecessary that I rarely bother using their effects.
The strength of heirloom weapons are the ones that change the most while you’re leveling. For most casters that’s not too big of an issue because of what I mentioned before with heirlooms typically overpowering an upgrade within a few levels. For melee DPS though, your performance is tied directly to your weapon. In PvE you don’t always see that difference, and in fact you will often find that people wearing full heirlooms doing higher DPS than those without them when you queue for a random dungeon. The question here isn’t whether or not you can perform well with heirlooms, it’s whether or not you could perform better without them. When it comes to weapons in particular, heirlooms aren’t always the right answer.
Best-in-Slot While Leveling (PvP)
As I mentioned in the PvE section above, for the majority of your armor slots heirlooms do tend to be BiS.
With PvP though, weapons become much more chaotic in shifting back and forth between being BiS or not, and in some cases the heirloom isn’t just number 2 or 3 on the list – sometimes they’re not even in the top 10. Again, you’ll find this more commonly an issue for non-casters, mostly because of the shifting nature of heirlooms, but also because non-casters value items for more than just their stats. Non-casters have to look at a weapon’s minimum/maximum damage, average DPS, attack speed and stats in order to determine if one weapon is better than another.
In the 19 bracket heirloom weapons are truly exceptional and very powerful. The main reason for that is the weapon damage. Very few non-heirloom weapons can match the raw DPS output of heirlooms at low level. I’m not sure if that’s an oversight by Blizzard, or if that’s part of their enticement to get you to purchase heirlooms. Whatever the reason may be, you can generally count on heirlooms to be more powerful the lower your level actually is, where the higher you get the less appealing they become if you’re seriously looking for BiS gear.
You also have to consider, especially once you pass the 29 bracket, that secondary stats become more important, and turning down a weapon that has a lower +Strength value isn’t always a great idea when it offers more than enough secondary stats to make up for it.
If you do decide to twink then it’s a good idea to find out what the value of all of those attributes is so that you don’t miss out on an upgrade simply because it wasn’t obvious. By locking your experience at a single level it’s also easier to judge whether the heirloom is the BiS or not because it’s not going to change it’s power from that point until you turn your experience back on.
Where does Heirloom Armor Stand
For the most part, heirloom armor pieces remain BiS during the leveling process. There are a few exceptions to that though. Remember that BiS has to have some form of level cap in order to actually apply. For the most part I’m considering the levels ending with a 9 as the cap for each level range, looking at blocks of 10 (10-19, 20-29, etc).
Ring The heirloom ring, the only one that’s actually in the game at this point, is really pretty weak. The main benefit that it provides for leveling is the experience bonus. Otherwise it’s just too watered down with low values of various stats to really make it stand out. It’s not a bad ring to use, but there are plenty of other, better options.
Chest Chest pieces start to flounder back and forth when you get to your mid-to-high 30’s for most classes. That’s when you start finding upgrades here and there, most of which come from quest rewards in the newly redone zones and when you start pushing into Outlands content. This is one of those slots that can change frequently, though, so looking at any given level could show it as BiS or not, it all comes down to your character level with this one.
Helm If you’re an engineer then you’ll have upgrades for your helm from the time you get to your upper-50’s and beyond. Engineering helms get a big boost in power once you get to Outland levels and the heirloom helms just can’t keep up. Granted, you will miss out on the experience bonus from them, so if you’re using them for that then you’ll probably want to skip the goggles, but if you’re looking for BiS then Engineering is the answer you’re looking for.
The big kicker on heirloom armor comes at levels 60 and 70 in the form of PvP gear. The same applies to level 80, but at that point you’re better off saving the honor that you would use to purchase the level 80 upgrades and spending it instead on the level 85 PvP gear. The PvP gear takes a jump in power versus a lot of other gear because during it’s golden age it was the best you could get. That jump in power also exists when you reach levels 58, 68, and 77 when items from sequential expansions become available for use because a similar power boost exists with each expansion as they make you stronger to face the harder content.
Where do Heirloom Weapons Stand
As I said above, non-casters are the most impacted by the stats that are one a weapon, because the attribute bonuses aren’t the only thing they have to look at. Hunters and spell casters might treat their melee weapons as “stat sticks”, but the melee classes/specs have to look at the entire package from stats to damage values and attack speed.
Of all the melee classes, Rogues and Shamans are the most impacted by this because they value stats that the other specs do not because their attack stat is based on Agility. However, they still benefit from Strength for it’s Attack Power as well, where Strength-based melee classes put very little, if any, value on Agility.
For example, if we look at the Rogue: the Venerable Dal’Rend’s Sacred Charge (Combat spec) and Balanced Heartseeker (Assassin/Sub specs) are the best heirloom main hand weapons. The Sacred Charge is only the BiS weapon for a Rogue until level 19, though, and it doesn’t catch up to other weapons available to the Rogue until you get to Northrend at 68 where it’s still not #1 but at least it’s back in the top 3. The Heartseeker on the other hand, is not the actual BiS main hand dagger for a Rogue from level 11 on, and it never really gets close to being BiS again.
Switching over to their off-hand, the Sharpened Scarlet Kris stays pretty close to BiS until the mid-30’s and then falls quite a bit behind until you get to Outland at 58, and stays pretty close to the top until level 70 where PvP gear takes charge and it falls further and further behind.
Rogues are better off sticking to PvP weapons which can be purchases at levels 28, 38, 48, and 58 from the Warsong Gulch vendor. While they aren’t always BiS, they are better than the heirlooms from that point on, at least for their level.
Shamans are similar to Rogues in which weapon stats they value, but unfortunately Blizzard wasn’t thinking about low level Shamans being able to dual wield when they stocked the Warsong vendors, so the good weapons are swords which they can’t use and daggers which are too fast to be of real value. For that reason, the Shaman gets much more use out of the heirlooms than the Rogue does until Outlands quest rewards and level 60 PvP gear become available.
Warriors, Paladins and Death Knights who use two-handed weapons actually do get to use their heirlooms for quite a while. They do fall out of the top slot once Outlands and level 60 PvP gear becomes available, but the two-handed Strength heirlooms remain near the top better than most other classes.
Warriors, Paladins and Death Knights who use one-handed weapons will similarly find the Warsong PvP weapons better than the Bloodsoaked Skullforge Reaver from 28+ save for the five or so levels before each new version of the PvP weapons become available to put it back in its place. Once Outlands gear and level 60 PvP gear becomes available, the contest is over and this heirloom is put to rest as far as the title of BiS is concerned.
Hunters are a bit better off than Rogues and Shamans, even though they’re an Agility-based class as well, because Hunters get no real benefit from Strength where the other two do. For ranged weapons the Charmed Ancient Bone Bow heirloom manages to maintain its power until level 60 PvP gear shows up. While you can find other ranged weapons from quest rewards or dungeon drops that deal higher base damage, low level ranged weapons are notorious for having almost no stat modifiers on them at all, so the heirloom bow keeps pulling ahead.
Spell casters will find the heirloom staff blows the competition away at almost any level. The Dignified Headmaster’s Charge is just that good. Its combination of both Intellect and Spellpower put it head and shoulders above almost all other weapons throughout the leveling process. It’s only real competition in most cases is the heirloom caster mace paired with Inscription-crafted off-hand items or shields. As with every rule, there’s always an exception – there will be some items that are BiS at some levels, knocking even this bad boy aside for a short while, but none of those lasts long until you reach Cataclysm-level items.
Are Heirlooms Worth It?
This is a bit of a vague question with a lot of wiggle room since there are so many different classes, specs and stat priorities. There are a lot of reasons why you might purchase and use heirlooms, and those reasons play a part in the answer to this question as well.
If you’re looking to get rid of the hassle of worrying about upgrades, then heirlooms are fantastic because of their scaling design. They might not be the best items you can get, but they’re always good and perfectly acceptable.
If you want to get as much bonus experience as you can because you don’t like leveling or because you love to level and the faster the better, then the heirloom armor is a great investment.
If you want to twink your character, then it’s time to take a very close look at the items available to you. In general, you can count on the armor pieces being strong options if not necessarily the best. As for weapons, that’s really going to depend on your class, but melee DPS can usually assume that the heirloom weapons aren’t the best choice.
The short and sweet of it is, heirlooms are a wonderful addition to the game that provide a number of benefits. They do have some drawbacks as well, both direct (allowing only low level enchants) and indirect (enabling people who feel like being dicks). How valuable they are or aren’t depends entirely on how you personally assign value to them.
If you don’t already have a collection of heirlooms laying around, then here’s some of the best advice I can give you concerning heirloom purchases –
- Start with armor pieces (Back, Helm, Shoulder, Trinket, Chest)
- Move on to weapons after armor (Caster > Ranged > Melee)
- PvP = cheap upgrades
- Expansion = Explosion
Armor pieces hold their value better and longer than most of the weapons, so if you don’t already have your collection, that’s the place to start. I listed them off in order of their longevity according to the bit of research I did.
If you’re only looking to get heirlooms for a single character, then you can of course grab a weapon at any point in the purchasing of them. If you want to buy full sets though, start with the armor sets first and then move on to the weapons. The one exception to that “rule” is if you don’t like PvP and you’re doing a melee class. While there are a lot of melee upgrades better than heirlooms, weapons are so crucial to your performance that you might want to get the weapons first regardless. Casters can make great use of the heirloom staff, but casters are also by design quite powerful even without them.
Low level PvP weapons from the Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin vendors can make for some really good upgrades if you don’t have heirloom weapons. So if you find yourself using a weapon that’s 15 levels lower than your character level, and you don’t mind doing a few battlegrounds, then you might want to take a trip over there to see if you can get yourself a new weapon. Armor upgrades exist at these vendors as well, though they don’t have items for every slot early on. Once you get to levels 60 and 70 then you can get full suits of PvP armor as well as weapons that will often be some of the best gear you can get your hands on for the next several levels.
Each time you reach a level that opens up a new expansion’s content or gear (58 for Burning Crusade, 68 for Wrath, 77 for Cataclysm), there are going to be upgrades available that far surpass the other gear you’ve had access to up to that point. Since expansions offer content that’s more powerful than the high level stuff from the previous expansion, the gear upgrades spike so that you can handle that new, more powerful content. These upgrades might only surpass your heirlooms for a few levels, but often times they are actually better than the heirlooms themselves and you might want to decide whether you’d like a small experience boost from your heirloom armor or if you would rather go with the more powerful gear. Decisions like this are more likely to happen near Wrath-level content, but in some cases (like the daggers I mentioned for the Rogue) it can be permanent pretty early on.
What Can We Take Away From This, Psyn?
The reason I wanted to write this was because I started to notice a trend in certain items as I was looking for upgrades for the healers I’m leveling. Something caught my interest there so I looked at some other classes which then prompted me to look at others, so I decided to share my results here.
This blog isn’t aimed at just new players or veteran players. I’m here to help people level their toons no matter what stage of experience the players themselves might be at. Since heirlooms are very closely associated with leveling, I like to focus on them a bit from time to time as well, and part of helping as far as heirlooms are concerned is purchasing them.
A lot of people have been debating lately (again?) the value of heirlooms and whether or not in today’s world they’re too good. Some of those arguments are from a power standpoint, that having them makes you too powerful. Other arguments say they make you level too fast in an expansion that’s already been slimmed down and really designed to help you level quickly on its own, making the combination of the two force you to level so ridiculously fast that you can’t even enjoy the content.
The question of them being too powerful is one of perspective. A lot of people enchant their heirlooms which makes them even more powerful than normal, so they really do seem like they’re almost “too powerful”. The reality of it is, most of them aren’t all that much more powerful than other items the game has to offer at that very same level, especially if you were to enchant those items as well.
The question of leveling speed is certainly a valid one, but it’s a matter of personal preference as well. If you don’t want to level quickly, then skipping the armor is the best thing you can do for yourself. You don’t need to feel like you’re missing out on more powerful gear though. The truth of it is, yeah you would be missing out on some powerful gear, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get by just fine without them. If you feel obligated to use heirlooms because you spent the badges/points/whatever to buy them, then just consider all the different tiers of gear that you’ve purchased over the years as well. Do you still feel obligated to quest in your ICC gear just because you spent points on it? Do you still run Cataclysm dungeons in your old Naxx 60 gear? Upgrades happen, they’re part of the game. Pieces get replaced and become obsolete, all you can do is grab the new shinies and move on.