The Cataclysm is getting close, so we've only got a few weeks of this transitional stage, but it's important to pick out our PvP talents heading into the expansion. Today, we're going to take a look at mages, who have the usual set of tools and a couple of new ones. Nothing drastic has changed, despite the overhaul in 4.0.1, so mages are still casters who do best at range. Nothing has made them capable of wading into melee and standing toe-to-toe with rogues or anything silly like that. Instead, what we've got are three interesting trees with slightly different ways to crush their opponents -- all of them fun.
Arcane has been a terrific spec for PvP in its recent iterations, and it hasn't lost any of that toolbox utility in 4.0.1. In fact, it picked up a lot more tricks this time around and we'll be looking at a lot of the talents in the tree, skipping those that add purely to DPS. Arcane is a highly mobile, control-oriented spec that lends itself extremely well to PvP -- it may well be my favorite mage tree post-4.0.1 -- and there are great glyphs to choose from depending on your playstyle.
- Improved Counterspell This is pretty much a no-brainer talent that every mage looking to PvP should pick up. It's high enough on the tier for any spec to pick up, even before Cataclysm. Think of Improved Counterspell as the Counterspell for dummies -- it allows you to cast Counterspell without fear of getting juked. It's a blanket silence, which gives newer players a lot more room for error and wily players deadlier strategies.
- Torment the Weak This is a DPS-boosting spell but it plays off an important PvP mechanic -- the snare. It doesn't even have to be applied by you, so there will be plenty of viable targets in the battlegrounds where snares go out like candy on Halloween. In a pinch, mages don't have any trouble applying snares on their own. This talent basically makes Slow a DPS-boosting talent for PvE encounters and is included in all types of builds.
- Invocation Again, another DPS-boosting spell that procs off a frequent occurrence in PvP. In theory, you should be locking out your opponent every time he tries to cast something important. So think of this talent as icing on the cake for something you should already be doing on the field. It's important to note that you have to interrupt a spell for this to proc, so applying the blanket silence from Improved Counterspell doesn't count.
- Improved Blink More often than not, Blink is used by mages to escape something (usually a meanie rogue), so a 70 percent speed boost for 3 seconds is a no-brainer augmentation to such a key spell. As I've mentioned in the past, faster is always better, and that's certainly true about mobility. While you're at it, apply the Glyph of Blink (major) to improve the range of Blink by 5 yards. In PvP, even a seemingly minor range increase is noticeable -- this works well in capture-the-flag scenarios as well as general combat, when an extra yard or two can put you out of harm's way.
- Presence of Mind and Arcane Flows At a mere one point, it's pretty much guaranteed that every arcane mage will pick up Presence of Mind, one-half of the once-famous-but-now-impossible PoM-Pyro combo. Even without Pyroblast, however, Presence of Mind is still extremely useful for those long-cast spells other than Arcane Blast that arcane mages don't usually bother with. Arcane Flows is a natural extension that lowers the cooldowns of key spells, most notably Invisibility.
- Prismatic Cloak Speaking of Invisibility, Prismatic Cloak is a standard mitigation talent that makes the fade instant, making it sort of like a rogue's Vanish. To make things even better, consider the Glyph of Invisibility (major), which grants you a 40 percent speed boost while invisible. That's a massive speed bonus for a good period of time and helps you escape or reposition yourself for a better assault. Because of the shift to higher stamina and longer battles, a flat 6 percent damage reduction from all sources is pretty good in the new environment.
- Improved Polymorph This is one of the sweetest PvP talents in the arcane tree, designed specifically to put some hurt on PvP targets. Most Polymorph targets will wait out the spell duration instead of using a CC-breaker and eat the inevitable incoming damage. Melee classes will take the damage and often head straight for the caster -- but with Improved Polymorph, that's not going to happen. A 3-second stun is even enough to recast another Polymorph, albeit with diminishing returns, or another big nuke. You can improve your Polymorph with Glyph of Polymorph (major), which removes all DoTs on your target, ensuring that the spell won't break prematurely.
- Incanter's Absorption Here's another great PvP talent that takes some finesse to use properly. While arcane mages usually want their mana to be high for the bonus granted by the tree's mastery, this talent mitigates the DPS loss (don't ask me for the exact math) from using Mana Shield. That said, the PvP application of Incanter's Absorption kicks in when Mana Shield is destroyed, triggering an AoE knockback effect. As long as you have Mana Shield up, you'll have a passive means to create some distance from melee classes breathing down your scrawny caster neck.
- Slow and Nether Vortex Pretty much a PvP-centric talent that defines the arcane tree playstyle, it's automatically included in all builds, anyway, because it's a prerequisite for the 31-point talent and because of Torment the Weak. This is a nightmare spell for melee classes (or casters, for that matter) and greatly increases the mage's survivability. The two-point investment in Nether Vortex is debatable, mostly because Slow and Nether Vortex have different ranges. Currently, opening with Nether Vortex at 40 yards will fail to apply the Slow spell. You can avoid this problem by applying Glyph of Slow (major) to extend its range to 40 yards, although it's a poor choice for a major glyph for a spec that has so many options. If you have points to spare, picking up Nether Vortex will save you mana and the all-important global cooldown.
- Arcane Power Why am I wasting words on a talent mages will be ridiculed for not picking up? Mostly as a segue to Glyph of Arcane Power (major) which has a very interesting effect -- when Arcane Power is active, the global cooldowns of Blink, Mana Shield, and Mirror Image are reduced to zero. The benefits of the glyph aren't readily discernible, but this makes Arcane Power a powerful PvP spell that enables simultaneous casting of the aforementioned spells. That means you can actually create an powerful escape macro that allows you to Blink, put up some defense, and leave decoys. You can even bind it to Invisibility to escape and leave your doubles to cover your tracks. There are other DPS applications, but this glyph shines for its defensive possibilities.