I was recently talking to a friend who has not been able to log as many hours of WoW playtime since the Cataclysm caused by our beloved Deathwing; and his question was what to do about gearing up his toon to run Cataclysm heroics. He feels as if he’s a week behind other guild players because of the holiday so I gave him this little tidbit via Skype;

Greens < Quests < Dungeons < Heroics/Rep Rewards/Justice Points < Epic Rep < Raid Level

Now, for many this seems obvious due to the item levels of the gear at hand, but sometimes we forget a piece or two of this equation. Obviously if you were like me and immediately rushed to Blackrock Caverns at 3:02 AM when the expansion went live on the servers you picked up a few uncommon-level (green) items that put an ICC piece you’ve been wearing for months to shame. If you did a few quests on a neglected alt you also noticed those rewards were a bit amazing compared to the weak epic items (purple) you were wearing.

But as not everything in the game is mentioned – actually in the game – it may just be worth mentioning the general rundown if you are looking to build a heroic or early raid set. This isn’t class specific or trying to build a BiS (best in slot) set, just a guide to Cataclysm gearing, and doing it efficiently.

  • Starting out – If you are hoping into Cataclysm for the first time you really have two options. You can quest or you can instantly just hop into the Looking For Group’s random dungeon queue (though now note that you need to discover the dungeon entrance before you can queue for that dungeon – this includes random dungeons, have only one discovered, and you’ll only land in that same one). There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and depending on the type of player you are you might level faster with one over the other or prefer one over the other. I’d say that doing the starting quests for the new zones is essential for two reasons; you will then unlock the portal to said zone and upon reaching friendly you can pick up reputation tabards for later, as well as getting a head start on building rep with the Cataclysm factions. For gearing up however, unless you really have nothing good left over from Wrath, you can easily just hop in dungeons and get instant upgrades from drops. However, keep in mind that you still need to win a few rolls.
    • Greens – Green, uncommon, OMG items. They will destroy a few of your WoTLK items simply because one stat is two to three times as much as what you currently have. Don’t feel bad about swapping out an epic piece for a new shiny green, it happens to the best. You can keep your ICC gear for a while, even until level 81 or 82 depending on the stuff you are wearing, but a lot of regular greens are impressive or weighted in the right areas to not switch. As a Resto Shaman though I had to be very careful. I was suddenly stacking stats I didn’t need and dropping so much needed haste that I had to go back to my ICC stuff as the dungeons became more challenging.
    • Quests Greens – Sometimes a bit better quality than the greens you’ll get from random drops and dungeon trash, and if you really have poor WoTLK-type gear then maybe this is a good route to take simply to get you in the door to Cataclysm dungeons (recommended, not required). Not every quest will give you a decent reward, but if you have two specs you can possibly build both gear sets up in a series of quests. Again, you’ll want to be building up rep with each of the new factions, and it’s worth researching which to go for first for the provided head enchants and higher level gear that each new faction has for sale.
    • Quest Blues – Though it will take more time to get to, you can snag some major (iLvL 325 mostly) upgrades by completing the quest chains in the new Cataclysm zones for blue/rare armor and weapons. This time invested vs. gear gained however is beaten, in my opinion, by simply grinding a dungeon a few times for the upgrades you could be getting from bosses. Then again, I couldn’t replace my Resto Shaman’s ICC boots (Earthsoul Boots) until researching a quest chain in Uldum that is based off a random dropped item that starts the chain. I literally ran each new instance more than a few times, and saw not one set of healing boots drop, at all. Wowhead.com is your best source for this type of research, using their character profiler, right clicking an item and selecting Find Upgrades.
  • Next Steps;
    • Regular Dungeons – Yay, you feel confident enough to start running the new dungeons in Cataclysm! If you didn’t just blindly jump in you likely have a bunch of green/uncommon gear from leveling, running around exploring new stuff or grinding out materials for your newly upgraded professions. While in your first dungeon you’ll likely get at least a green drop that will make your old gear look stupid – if you are lucky you’ll grab a nice blue/rare item. The item levels will vary depending on the dungeon (level) and the boss – you’ll be able to pick up iLvL 308 to iLvL 333 gear, the latter level being able to get you into and destroying heroics if you can outfit your toon in 333 gear totally. Be aware, to step into the random heroic queue you’ll need an average item level of 329 (check the General section of your Character Sheet). I can attest, it isn’t easy getting to an average iLvL 329 by sporting 333-gear alone. You will almost need to get some gear from the below sources in order to get over having an iLvL 308 or 316 gear you just can’t find a replacement for.
  • Getting somewhere (how to love level 85…);
    • Justice Points – If you were stacking Justice Points since the end of Wrath, when it made no sense to spend them, you likely have a few to spend on some decent gear. I can’t profess to know (or care) about each class in the game, but I can say that generally what I’ve seen in level 85 Justice Points reward gear has been somewhat disappointing. I can only suggest knowing what your new play style is, what stats are most important to your class/spec and taking an overall look at your gear and stats to find what you might currently need the most. I was, for example, pretty well stacked in the haste I needed to heal, almost perfectly balanced, and couldn’t justify a few of the upgrades they offered as the stat switch would have killed groups. Eventually though I was able to decide on a piece that could be reforged away from Mastery and was made to make up for the haste loss from upgrading from an iLvL 308 piece I had to drop.
      I’ve heard that Resto Druids are having a hard time finding Justice Point gear too, though I can’t confirm this. Paladins seem to actually have a set for each spec, where Shamans have just two (combining the Elemental and Restoration gear sets). I just think that reforging these items to personally fit you is 101% intended by Blizzard, though I could be wrong (I tend to argue that reforging is central to the game now for top-end players  – a lot of gear seems imperfect as it normally drops).
    • Reputation Rewards – Ignoring, for now, the upgrades you can get when reaching Exalted with the new factions, this is a great source of upgrades at even the Honored and Revered levels. Honored with each faction will unlock iLvL 333 rewards, and Revered with each faction will unlock iLvL 346 rewards. Be sure to check the quartermasters or Wowhead to see which faction you’ll want to level first, or which to balance to get different upgrades for different slots (or for your secondary talent specialization).
    • Heroics – This will be the same iLvL (346) as the gear you can get from revered reputation rewards, but you are going to have more options at your disposal once you can queue for or run some heroic dungeons (no iLvL required if you walk in with your own group – get your guildies to get you in the door!). Simply, bosses drop a much larger variety of stuff and there are more of them to kill than there are reputation vendors (while some rep rewards seem to overlap too between vendors).
      It seems the best method, oddly broken down in the middle of this post, is to;

      • Queue dungeons for 308-316 gear
      • Queue for level 85 dungeons for 333 gear (while wearing a reputation tabard!)
      • Grind/gain rep for revered level 346 gear (quest or instance grind – questing after revered seems to be the fastest)
      • Random heroics for remaining 346 gear (boss drops)
      • Finishing rep grind to then gain Exalted reputations for purple/epic gear
  • Epic Reputation Rewards – Again, you’ll want to research which faction gives you the best Epic (iLvL 359) reputation rewards at exalted – but some of this gear is simply the best you’ll equip until you can step into raids and pick up loot from raid bosses.
  • Raid Level Items – Go raid, stop reading this 😉

Now, that surely was a rambling worth a tl;dr tag! And we’ll skip over the fact that this isn’t really a complete guide to anything. The major missing portion is crafted items, and there are certainly some best in slot pieces out there coming from trade professions. It just seemed outside the scope of this write-up for “noobs”, and depending on your server you may find it almost impossible to get decent upgrades from crafted gear – no one may have the recipes needed or be willing to part with the materials needed for a reasonable price. You could go ahead and farm the mats for a crafted upgrade yourself, but take a close look at the time needed versus what you’ll be getting. You can pick up iLvL 339 crafted-epics (blues), but will it be worth the time spent away from dungeons (while most seem to be PVP based anyways)? Maybe using the Wowhead character profiler and the upgrade lists it gives you shows this is the best route – you’ll have to do your own research to be sure (if there isn’t an Elitist Jerks thread already pointing you to the crafted pieces you’d want…). I’ve also kind of skipped over what I call auction house drops, or the rare BoE items, because it’s going to vary and not easily counted on. One item, from Blackrock Caverns I’ve seen at least 10 times, while others just once or in-game not at all. I just hope the guild above helps your priorities if you feel like you are falling behind since the release of Cataclysm, maybe this will help a few players focus on gearing up for some end-game fun.

Here is a summary of links that might be useful that were mixed in above – for quick reference;

And one additional link, not included in the article anywhere else; Item Level entry at Wowpedia – Cataclysm. That will take you to the table showing the various item levels of items that come after Wrath of the Lich King – it’s a great way to get the above information without actually reading much 🙂

Feel free to point out changes that need to be made to the above (rambling) post, or flame me for ignorance in the comment section below.