JayBonci's writeup is slightly inaccurate on a couple points: not only can you no longer gamble for uniques, the unique drop order has been completley abolished. It is no longer necessary, or even beneficial, to have Manald Heal and/or Nagelring in your attempt to obtain a Stone.

In fact, the restriction on dropping uniques already in the game has also been removed, so you can get a Stone even if you're already wearing one. Also, the higher monster levels introduced in the 1.08 patch have been revoked serverside. Regardless, everything in Hell is at least L50, which is above a Stone's iLevel.

The best way to get one now is "quest and beat many hard monsters to progress your way there" -- oops, no. By that, I mean "kill Mephisto over and over again until he coughs one up." Rares and uniques are, if anything, EASIER to attain now because bosses drop them frequently, regardless of difficulty or number of players.

A few days of casual playing under the 1.08 patch has already gained me an Eye, two Venomwards, three Steelclashes, two Skewers, an Azurewrath, and another half dozen worthless uniques, as well as maybe a hundred other set/rare items (including several very nice rings). All this has been gained with a sorceress with maxed Teleport, teleporting around the Durance of Hate and using Static Field to take out Meph game after game, in combination with teleporting around the Sewers/Arcane Sanctuary/Tal Rasha's Tomb/Maggot Lair and popping chests/killing Duriel.


(written as of patch 1.09, although the problem has been around for a while now.)
Diablo games have a currency, gold. It was too volatile, disappearing when you die, so people started using perfect skulls for trade. They were easy to find, but rare enough to mean something.

Then The Stone Of Jordan became the basic currency. At first, you could trade 5-8 perfect skulls for one. Eventually that went away. The SOJ is very rare, near impossible to gamble, and the basis for the economy... In real life, it'd be something like this:
Imagine the things you need to survive, and even some you don't. Now imagine that the $100 bill is the base currency, yet is still as hard to earn as it is in real life America. Imagine a world with little competition, so even people selling worthless bread or rocks demand $200. Imagine that no matter how many $10 or $20 bills you have, you can never trade them for a $100 bill. Lastly, imagine that counterfeiting runs rampant, and every so often the government destroys all insufficiently laundered counterfeit.
This situation happens because Stones of Jordan are by far the most duplicated item on battle.net, and new patches delete dupes. If the duplicate has switched 4-5 hands, you're OK... but sometimes after a new patch you'll find your 'currency' gone because it was illegal.
In conclusion, Blizzards intended barter system didn't work. Its very hard for a newbie to break into the economy, because although people are fond of charging outrageous prices for simple things, people won't pay much for stuff and will try to rip you off with fake-SOJ-cracks that turn into regular rings after the trade. I have my own supply, but nowhere near the 24-40 asked on USWest for only fairly decent items I want (trang-0ul's set, f'instance.)

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