The next three weeks will find Arcane Brilliance looking in depth at each of the mage talent trees, with all of the associated bits and bobs. Because it's very likely the most popular of the three specs right now, we'll begin with the fire tree. Or will we? Yes ... yes, we will. I'm sorry, I just got done watching Inception for the first time (I know, I'm slow), and I'm pretty sure none of this is real and all of it is a dream. A dream where I get to write a weekly column about mages and set fire to warlocks over and over without repercussion. And you guys are all in my dream with me! Frankly, I never want to wake up.
The fire tree, in my opinion, is a model of good design. From top to bottom, the talents play off of each other, working together in creative ways that just make the tree fun both in theory and in practice. It's not without its problems, but the issues are comparatively minor. We'll mention some of them, but only in the interest of full disclosure. For the most part, the fire tree seems to be an example of Blizzard's getting it right.
Master of Elements
This talent is the reason fire mages don't currently have much of a mana problem. Every crit refunds you with 30 percent of the base mana cost of the spell, and there will be a lot of crits. The fire tree is built around crits. This is a must-have right now and becomes even more of one at level 85, when our fights last longer and mana conservation becomes a larger concern.
The only pushback protection available to mages, chances are you have this talent no matter what kind of mage you are. Essential in any fight where you'll be taking damage with any sort of frequency, the 70 percent pushback resistance this offers translates into DPS any time you get hit by something that would ordinarily have slowed your casting.
The problem, of course is when you come upon a fight in which you aren't going to be getting hit, or aren't going to be getting hit much. These three talent points are required in pushback-heavy fights, but absolutely wasted if you're not getting hit. And as a mage ... you don't want to be getting hit. I know, shocking. That's what you come here for: mind-blowing insight.
There will be mages who feel they can skip these three talent points entirely, but most of us simply aren't that
And finally, may I submit once more -- to whoever will listen -- that the very fact this talent needs to exist is a travesty. Mages are unique among ranged casters in two ways (we have no spirit-to-hit talents, and we have no innate pushback protection), and neither is acceptable. Slap in the face/QQ/ragequit and all that. Fix this, Blizzard.
Improved Fire Blast
The final first-tier fire talent is also the most easily passed over. For two points, it provides you with 8 percent extra crit chance on Fire Blast, and more importantly, brings Fire Blast up to a 40-yard range, bringing it in line with the rest of your rotation. This makes taking advantage of Impact procs a bit easier, and the extra 8 percent crit can keep Hot Streaks going when you use this spell.
The reason this talent fails to make my fire build is because with Firestarter making Scorch the go-to mobility spell for fire mages, Fire Blast is only used when Impact procs, and only then if there are multiple targets nearby. For two points, this simply isn't worth it to me. The talent is better served for a PvP mage, who is going to get a great deal more mileage out of the instant stun and will use the spell more often.
The important thing to consider before putting one or two points into this talent as a PvE mage is how valuable the ability to stand at max range without moving closer is to you in most fights. When I created my first 4.0.1 build, I placed one point in this, bringing the range of Fire Blast up to 35 yards, thinking that extra 5 yards would help me take better advantage of Impact procs more often. My next build eschewed both points, and I really didn't notice a problem. I've simply found that fights in which you need to cast at absolute max range and also need to spread DoTs around with Impact are surprisingly few and far between. In most cases, I could adjust my casting range when Impact was needed. You may very well find that your own experience differs, and if it does, you'll want to consider placing one or both points into this talent.
This is one of the truly defining fire talents and has remained largely unchanged through two expansions and counting. It works simply and beautifully: When you crit with a fire spell, the spell's target gains a DoT effect that burns for 40 percent of the spell's initial damage over the next 4 seconds. Ignite DoTs are a significant part of fire mage DPS and provide one of the three DoTs Combustion depends upon.
Ideally, you want a big Ignite on your target before you hit your Combustion button, and waiting for one when Combustion is up can be a frustration. Once one hits (from a juicy Pyroblast crit), you then have to notice that it has hit, make sure you also have Living Bomb up, and then you have a 4-second window to throw out your Combustion.
This is pretty straightforward: It gives you 3 percent extra damage for all of your fire spells. And in Cataclysm, once we hit level 81 and get access to Flame Orb, this is the talent that will give it its very nice explosion effect once it reaches the end of its fiery journey. This one's pretty much mandatory.
This is still a PvP talent, really. When you get hit by a melee or ranged attack, it gives you a 10 percent chance to get an 8-second, 50 percent speed burst and releases you from any movement impairing effects, allowing you to escape from the bad man who is trying to stab you. The effect can also be very beneficial in PvE but can be achieved without spending the two points here. More on this when we discuss Molten Shields here in a bit.
Bottom line: Take this for PvP builds, but give it a pass otherwise.
This is, in my opinion, where the tree starts to really come together. Here's how it works.
Every time you cast a damaging spell, no matter the school of magic it comes from, you get a 10 percent chance to proc Impact. This does one thing right away: resets the cooldown on Fire Blast. This ensures that no matter when you last cast Fire Blast (fast past mast broadcast!), when Impact procs, Fire Blast will always be available immediately.
When you cast Fire Blast, Impact does a couple other things. First, it stuns the enemy (if it is susceptible to stuns) for 2 seconds, and second, it spreads any DoT effects already on your target to any nearby enemies within 12 yards. The stun is nice but is mostly valuable on trash and in PvP. Where this talent really shines is in the DoT-spreading effect.
This talent is entirely mandatory for any fight where you have more than one target and where those targets are in range of each other. The fire tree is built around AoE damage and is capable of some truly staggering numbers in multiple-target fights. Impact is just one of the reasons for this.
Imagine: You're walking by a Hot Topic. You realize upon glancing inside that there are like 20 warlocks inside, complaining about the latest AFI album, cutting themselves and hating their dads. You throw out a Living Bomb out of habit at the nearest one, then begin hurling Fireballs. You get a Hot Streak going, and land a particularly beefy Pyroblast crit. Noticing that you've got all three of your major DoT effects on the warlock, you immediately pump out a massive Combustion DoT. At this point, you realize that the other 19 warlocks have gathered around their burning compatriot to steal his eyeliner and write bad poetry about his pain. You want to set them on fire too! But how? You notice that at some point during the warlock barbeque, you must have procced Impact. Problem solved! You simply cast a quick Fire Blast, and watch as everybody within 12 yards gets every single DoT effect applied at once: Ignite, Pyroblast, Living Bomb and Combustion.
Now you can just sit back and watch the carnage.