The New Era of 80-84
During Cataclysm, the 80-84 bracket remained one of the best-kept secrets of XP-off. Depending on your playstyle, class, and spec, you could make strong arguments for a variety of levels and gear combinations. Mastery brought tremendous bonuses to some class/spec combinations. Icecrown Citadel raid gear set bonuses offered interesting alternatives, Cata questing gear and Cata BoE gear allowed more stat flexibility, and most professions made worthwhile contributions. Reforging created significant fine-tuning possibilities. Finally, going to 84 rarely offered the advantage that novice players assumed.
Thanks in part to Blizzard’s decision to compress a full expansion’s worth of stats into half of the normal leveling space, stats and abilities scaled in extreme ways. Most secondary stats radically degraded toward the higher end of the bracket (losing 56% at 83 and 66% at 84), invalidating the stats gain on item level 333 gear available at those levels, compared to the item level 275 PvP gear players could obtain at 80. This is why experienced and knowledgeable 80s snickered at 84s in the bracket. Unless an 84 knew which class/spec/gear combinations could capitalize on primary stats, 84s actually came out weaker than their level 80 counterparts. Taitaih once pointed out that players who went to 81 or 83 caused a greater threat, because they often had a much better knowledge of class/spec combinations that could truly take advantage of playing at those levels.
By far, 80-84 offered the most complex play choices of any XP-off bracket in Cataclysm.
Actual games varied in quality. 80-84 quickly gained a reputation for the strange combination of stratospheric burst and unkillable players. In reality, many players who didn’t purchase Cataclysm unknowingly ended up in the 80-84 XP-off bracket, diluting the average level of knowledge, skill, and gear in a given battleground. Amidst the difficult and inconsistent PuG 80-84 battlegrounds, the good games reached a tremendous level of intensity that attracted players throughout the lifespan of the expansion.
A quick glimpse through the WoWhead MoP database shows a decidedly different future for the 80-84 bracket.
When Mists of Pandaria goes live, MoP BoE blue gear will appear in the bracket. It’s too early to know how much will remain included in MoP’s release, but for now, MoP blue gear item levels range from 409 at level 80 to 442 at level 84. At all levels, stats surpass current 308-333 gear by over 260%. Not all slots have 433 or 442 options, but even the MoP green options outclass current Cata and Wrath gear by a significant margin.
When MoP arrives, the most optimized choice for any player in 80-84 will involve getting the one best option available for each slot regardless of whether or not the armor type matches. A plate caster in cloth? At 260% above Cata plate stats, you bet. 80-84 may become the single most homogenized XP-off bracket in WoW. That said, reforging could nullify the importance of gear diversity. Add in the 5th tier of talents, the 3rd set of glyphs, and the desperately needed baseline resilience, and the 80-84 bracket could retain its stellar complexity.
Even in the face of drastic disparities between players, 80-84 in Cata surpassed a lot of expectations. While it’s too soon to tell what will happen to 80-84, we do know the bracket will look nothing like it did before 5.0.4. For now, the bracket anticipates major changes as MoP BoE gear appears on the horizon.