The Problem with Theorycrafting, Redux
I have a love/hate relationship with ElitistJerks, the kings of theorycrafting. If you are looking for numbers on something, they provide some of the best resources. If, however, you are looking for tips on how to handle various situations better, or how to become a better healer, they are useless. They will throw numbers at you and ridicule you if your numbers are not what they consider ideal.

The thing is, it is very rare to find yourself in a raid mix and situation that is ideal - that's why it's CALLED ideal. The numbers they provide always have basic assumptions attached to them - such as who else is in the raid with you, what buffs you have, that sort of thing.

But what if I *don't* have a resto shammy with me? What if there are no druids available for an innervate? What if we don't have a shadow priest? Surely all these things would be ideal, but it is not practical to always assume this will be the case.

The way you should gem and enchant your gear, the talents you choose, the stats you prioritize should all take your fellow raid members into account of course. As I've said before, raiding is about synergy, not about individual perfection. At the same time, the numbers and theorycrafting provided by folks like the ElitistJerks will very rarely actually properly apply - because it is very rare that the average raider will ever meet all the conditions assumed by the EJ calculations.

The problem is, people get so hung up on tiny little numbers that will potentially boost their stats by such infintesimal amounts, that they completely forget to balance themselves.

Theorycrafting and the math that goes with it gives people the impression that there is really only one "best" way to do something - the way that maximizes the numbers used in the calculation. But the average raid is a lot more dynamic than I think people like to admit. Changing things up is how people learn new fights, conquer new material. If I couldn't keep people alive with loads of crit rating, maybe I'll try it with tons of haste and see if that works better. And people heal differently. So if you don't gear yourself for how YOU heal, and instead try to gear according to how EJ insists you should heal, you are not doing yourself or your raid a favor.

Does that mean theorycrafting is stupid? Not at all - much like meters, it is a useful tool to help you improve. Use that theorycrafting to make decisions between choices you have in front of you, between items you might pick up. But don't let the theorycrafting of others dictate everything about your character, because especially for holy priests, there are a lot of flexible variables.

If you are new to a class or role, reading up on theorycrafting and scanning through the EJ priest forums is a fantastic idea. Had I not done this, I would still be stacking spirit and ignoring intellect. Until you find your niche, until you train your reflexes and trigger fingers properly, it is not a bad idea to default to the suggestions of the more experienced among your class, and those with the math skillz to explain it all.

But, once you get a handle on the basics of your class, and once you start to develop your own rotations and habits and strategies, stop depending on the way others choose to gear, and start figuring out what works best for you. There is an awesome discussion along this line of thinking from the Penance Priest for those Disc Priests who are at the stage of the game - you've got the basics down, now you are ready to personalize your style and priorities a bit.
There are still wrong answers, a la agility for Priests and all sorts of degrees of less obvious fail. Every healing priest (probably all priests period) need to pick up Meditation, for instance. It's really not optional. But just like how there are multiple wrong answers, I assure you friends, there are also multiple right ones.

From Poptisse, whom I absolutely adore, and for whom I have tauren-loads of respect:

"What people have to understand is the basics of raiding. When you gem and enchant your gear there is more then 1 aspect to look from. [...]Gems and enchants should always be decided upon a wide perspective of your raidsetup. My guide isn't a bible, neither is EJ guides."
8 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    I absolutely agree. Sure you can sit with a spreadsheet and theorise about it all, but in the end you take what upgrades you can find - gem & enchant them as best you can.

    I've given up on the whole thing really. As a holy priest I need spirit and I need int, I benefit from crit and fractionally more from haste.

    So I gem for colour with spellpower gems, spellpower+spi or spellpower+int and take whatever gear has generally better stats ignoring crit or haste - both are good, I'll take either if it gives me more int/spi or spellpower, thank you very much.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Me too. Great post.

    Although there are some good theory crafters on EJ I find that many posters want to argue they they are right in some small specific scenario, which applies 0.5% of the time. This is pointless when attempting to model stuff like stat weighting as you have to generalise and make assumptions.

    Having said that there are some excellent summary threads on priest healing on EJs.

    I've spent a lot of time theory crafting and I came to the conclusion that its kinda pointless as you can acheive almost the same result (as Tfva is alluding to) by just going for the gear with higher item level.

    Gobble gobble.

  3. Jessabelle Says:


    Sometimes it's just FUN to sit with a spreadsheet and theorize it all. I do my gems similar to how you do it - i cant stand to lose a socket bonus, no matter what EJ tells me, so I gem for color as well. I don't bother trying to min-max anything anymore, because with such high level of stats these days, those tiny little numbers contributed by enchants and gems will make very little difference in practice.


    Absolutely - a lot of my knowledge about how the stats for priests function is directly related to the priest threads on the EJ forums. They are extremely helpful in understanding how all the math behind our class works.

    I do the same thing you do regarding gear - for a long time I was constantly trying to figure out exactly which item would be better for me based on the stats, and it was really frustrating trying to make a decision during loot rolls. Then finally one day I got fed up and simply decided that I would just pick the highest ilvl that is priest relevant and everything would end up evening out. And it does!

    One thing I will say though, EJ is especially fantastic for figuring out how good trinkets are.

  4. Kromus Says:

    Exactly - a guide should be just that. A Guide.

    Its annoying when people are like "that spec is best do it now ok?" but they don't always regard resources and boss fights.

    I tend not to use theory crafting sites as I'm a big fan of experimenting and hoping for the best, lmao.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    My only issue is the assumption that theorycrafting doesn't take things like raid comp or fight specifics into account, because it really does. A good theorycrafter isn't going to say "you need 396 haste" and leave it at that. A good one will say "you need 396 if you have an Elemental shaman, Ret pally/Boomkin and 5/5 GotEM."

    It almost feels as if reading EJ and working up spreadsheets is looked down on by people now. Yes, I might only squeeze out .4% more healing, but you know what? I want to be at my BEST. Add to the fact that I want to know how things work and why (what makes INT such a great mana regen stat, why do Trees want SP so much, etc.).

    As for gearing/gemming, that's why I have spreadsheets and gear lists. Once it's all worked up, it's right there and I never have to wonder if something is an upgrade or not. It makes looting quick and painless.

  6. Jessabelle Says:


    Theorycrafting in and of itself isn't bad... the problem is using theory that applies to an ideal world or situation instead of that which applies to reality - and even with THAT there's nothing wrong with it unless you don't recognize the difference. I use spreadsheets all the time (mmm spreadsheets...), but I always use the math that others come up with and apply it to my own scenario and healing style.

    This is why I love AND hate places like EJ. I wouldn't underrstand half of the priest mechanics that I do if not for the information provided by EJ. At the same time, I hate the attitude that someone else is "doing it wrong" because they aren't min-maxing the way someone else might be. I gem, enchant, and gear to reflect the way that I personally heal.

    The mistake too many people make is to run the numbers and adjust their gear to what someone else says is the best, instead of actually taking the knowledge that can be gained from theorycrafting, and apply it to the reality of their own scenario.

  7. Anonymous Says:


    I see what you're saying, but rather than just discussing the limits of theorycrafting in general, you seem to be talking about good theorycrafting vs. bad theorycrafting.

    When I'm working on my crafting, I open my spreadsheets and input my numbers according to what happened in my raid's WoLs. Did I use an average of 50/50 Holy Lights to Flash of Lights for Beasts? How much mana regen am I seeing from my metagem/Replenishment/Revitalize? What was my average overheal? Theorycrafting is taking all that in-game information and using my formula to distinguish any changes to gearing or game-play that will improve my healing.

    I'll admit, it irks me when people just use a blanket "theorycrafting is limited." It looks that way, sure, on, but it's supposed to be tool in your own work, not the end-all-be-all. :) If people don't want to crunch the numbers and would rather just feel things out, that's fine. I enjoy pouring over my parses and figuring out the teeny little things I can do to improve.

  8. Jessabelle Says:


    You're absolutely right, which is entirely the point of my post. Theorycrafting in and of itself isn't bad, it's all in how you use it. It can be used poorly, it can be used to judge others on how they choose to play -something that, I'm afraid to say, is quite common on EJ.

    You don't NEED to min/max a toon to be a better player - but it CAN make you a better player, if that's what does it for you. If you enjoy spreadsheeting it up, more power to you. I enjoy doing it myself.

    Theorycrafting IS limited specifically because of exactly what you just said - it is not the end-all-be-all. It is a tool that can help improve one's play, but it is not the ONLY tool, and relying solely on theorycrafting will leave a player only looking at one part of the picture.

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