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What is theorycrafting?
If you’ve spent any time in any major city in World of Warcraft, you’ve probably seen the terms “theory crafting" and “min/maxing", but you may not know what they mean. That’s understandable; the people bandying these terms around in trade chat are usually trolls trying to lure an unsuspecting novice into a verbal ambush. Looking at the WoW armory doesn't do much good since the majority of WoW players really don't have much more of an idea than you do.The problem is that if you want to have any kind of success as a player, you need to not only know what those terms mean, you need to know how to apply them to your own characters. The good news is that we're here today to solve that problem. Welcome to Theory crafting 101!
First we'll start with min/maxing-this is the act of minimizing unimportant traits and maximizing the desirable ones to their fullest potential. For example, let’s say you play a holy priest in World of Warcraft. You want to be able to put out as much healing as possible, as fast as possible, while conserving mana so that you aren't "oom" within the first 60 seconds of a 10 minute fight. You aren't worried about how much damage your smite does, and you don’t really need to have the 40k un-buffed hit points of a tank. Those are the undesirable traits that you'll minimize. What you will maximize are traits that enhance your heals and mana efficiency. How do you do that? Well, my friend, that is where theory crafting comes in!
Theorycrafting is the science of min/maxing. It uses mathematical models that measure the differences in stats, talents, gear, enchantments, gems and even spell rotations and dot/hot uptimes. The goal is virtual perfection, to make their character the absolute best they can possibly be. These are the guys doing 8000 to 10,000 DPS while you're struggling to break 4k. Luckily for us, learning to apply their data to our characters doesn't require a math degree.
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Who should use theorycrafting in WoW?
For the WoW pros, theory crafting starts at character creation. They choose their race very carefully based on racial skills rather than appearance (shocking I know!). They even choose trade skills based on how they boost abilities, and may have multiple characters with the same trades. In theory crafting, every little edge counts. While it seems a bit snobby and very elitist, theory crafting is actually very selfless. These people sacrifice the freedom of doing what might be fun for the responsibility of creating a character that blends seamlessly into a carefully designed raid group and enhances group synergy.
You don't have to hold a PhD in math to make use of theory crafting. Anyone can learn to apply the number-crunching results to their characters. In fact, anyone who is seriously interested in end-game raiding or successful twinking should absolutely learn to use theory crafting to their advantage. The good guilds won't even consider accepting you if you can't explain exactly why you have chosen your spec, gear, gems, enchants and rotation.
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How does theorycrafting help you play World of Warcraft better?
- Resolves confusion about which spells/skills to use and why
- Teaches you what your class is capable of
- Helps you maximize your healing/damage/mitigation
- Helps you know which gear to choose and why you should choose it
- Teaches you how to work well with other classes
- Improves the chances that a raid will succeed
Every new WoW player wonders about their talent tree and gear. Theorycrafting helps players understand what each spell does and how it performs in comparison with other spells. Once you know what works and why, then you know what to use in your rotation and what to ignore. In the process you learn exactly what your class is capable of doing in each spec. Players who theorycraft are able to make intelligent arguments in their class forums and help the game's developers balance and perfect their class.
Theorycrafting also helps to prevent gear arguments in raids (although you can never be completely rid of them). WoW players who theorycraft not only walk into raids knowing exactly what they want, they plan their raiding/grinding/instancing around the gear they know they need. They understand that specs and gear level are interdependent, and know how to use it to their advantage.
Theorycrafting will teach you how to tweak your character to perform with other classes. For example, a balance druid has no need of improved faerie fire when running with a shadow priest or any kind of dranei. By learning how to tweak yourself to work well with others, you also learn about what other classes can do. This knowlege is essential to good raiding. Have you ever had a raid leader ask you to do something that another class could have done better? He's probably the same clueless raid leader who chose his tanks based on how many hitpoints they had rather than total mitigation, or their threat generation abilities. You don't want to be that guy, do you?
Good! There are a lot of online WoW theorycrafting resources to help you learn and feed you the information you need to avoid embarrassing yourself. In the next few parts of this article, we'll take a look at a list of websites, spreadsheets and addons that make applying theorycrafting to your World of Warcraft character much more manageable.