MUST READ: Our first look at the OnePlus 2

Arcane Brilliance: First impressions of arcane in Mists of Pandaria

Nether Tempest after kiting for a while.
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. Christian Belt is the normal archmage, but rumor has it that he's currently trapped in one of many hell dimensions. The Simbul has gone to investigate, leaving Senior Understudy and Last Surviving Student Josh Myers to cover this week's article.

I've had a love/hate relationship with arcane. As I mentioned last week, when I first started my mage I had every intention of playing arcane ... but that was back in The Burning Crusade, when phrases like class balance and raid-viable didn't make sense to me. When my mage started growing in levels and I found out the best raiding spec for mages was destruction warlock, I jumped ship.

My mage hit level cap during the height of arcane's PvE dominance in Wrath of the Lich King, and I decided it wasn't the spec for me. When my mage capped again in Cataclysm and started preparing to raid, frost was enjoying its brief period as a semi-viable spec, and I had a secondary fire spec for Alysrazor. I haven't had much cause to go arcane lately, beyond Spine of Deathwing when we were progressing, and up until now I was pretty glad for that fact.

That is, until I hit beta. After writing my first impressions of both frost and fire and totally dropping the ball on my original arcane speculations for MoP (pro tip: Arcane Missiles is still a proc), I thought it was my duty to try out arcane. I told myself that for the sake of science and fairness, I'd give arcane a shot. After a night of streaming dungeon runs, dummy testing, and some Jade Forest leveling, I almost feel like I owe arcane a huge apology -- because in MoP, it's a legitimately fun spec.

Casting Arcane Missiles into the darkness

As I talked about last month, arcane's mechanics have received a fairly huge overhaul. Arcane Blast's debuff has evolved into Arcane Charges, which increases the damage of all your arcane spells by 25% per stack, while increasing ArB's mana cost by 125% per charge. Arcane Blast has had its base damage reduced significantly (live version, beta version) and no longer has its cast time reduced by Arcane Charges; in return, Arcane Charges now increase its damage by 25% per charge, not 10%. Arcane Missiles (live version, beta version) has seen a significant bump in base damage, and Arcane Barrage (live version, beta version) has stayed near its original damage value but is now affected by Arcane Charges.

Arcane missiles in a pretty pink tree place
I talked a lot about the actual changes in my previous arcane post, so I'm going to stop after that brief refresher. The important thing to remember is this: With a fixed-by-level mana pool and a 500% mana cost at four charges, Arcane Blast spam will almost definitely not be sustainable. There's debate about this involving the level 90 talent Invocation, but since level 90 isn't attainable on beta yet, we can't test that.

What this means is that damage has been shifted away from Arcane Blast; it won't make up as much of your damage as before. Arcane Missiles and Arcane Barrage now benefit from your Arcane Charge stacks, and AM will actually benefit from the damage increase and add a stack to your charge count (or refresh it if already at four). Arcane Barrage is your only way to release stacks now, and that's a cool thing because it now does a fair chunk of damage. I was reliably critting with Barrage for around 70k on a premade mage with nothing but self-buffs.

Basically, what's cool about arcane in beta is that it's evolved from heavy Arcane Blast reliance into a spec where your Arcane Missiles and Barrage actually matter. Unlike live, where those spells were used only to clear stacks to assist in mana management, these spells become something you actually want to use. You actually want to see Arcane Missiles proc. Indeed, a post on the Elitist Jerks mage forums suggests that the ideal arcane priority will involve trying to maximize your Arcane Missiles damage. Being excited to see procs is how procs should work, and I'm happy to be at that point.

"More explosions! I need more explosions!"

Arcane has also seen some quality of life changes to AoE. Arcane Explosion now builds Arcane Charges, and Arcane Barrage hits an additional target per charge. With groups of five or more adds, you'll be able to AoE four times and hit them all with a potent Arcane Barrage for some fairly nice numbers. I am concerned with the removal of Arcane Explosion's 1-second GCD, but I think that was done with the Arcane Barrage change in mind.

Arcane also has Frost Bomb at its disposal for AoE, though most mages are leaning toward Nether Tempest, as its 1-second ticks help with proccing Arcane Missiles. Living Bomb is also an option, as are Flamestrike and Blizzard, though we'll need a numbers pass and working addons before we know if those spells will actually be worth using as arcane.

While I am impressed and glad for the changes arcane has already seen, I think there's still work that can be done before Mists of Pandaria launches. My primary concern is Arcane Charges. When it was first introduced as Arcane Blast's debuff, it made a lot of sense in that context, since it worked with only that one spell. Even when it was tied into both Arcane Blast and Arcane Explosion, its presence as a debuff wasn't awful.

However, Arcane Charges aren't really a debuff anymore. They're more beneficial than harmful. They work with multiple spells, and they now have an actual name beyond "Arcane Blast's debuff." To that end, the debuff-based UI element needs to be the next thing to go.

A shot of the awkward placement of Arcane charges
This has become incredibly noticeable to me on the beta, where we have to play without addons. On live, I play with my debuffs centered right below my character, directly above and to the right of my unit frame. On beta, where I was already trying to get used to playing a freshly changed spec, trying to actively track my debuffs was an exercise in frustration, and I know I occasionally cast errant Arcane Blasts at four stacks and Arcane Barrages at one.

So, I'd like to propose a change to the mage UI to represent Arcane Charges. Monks have chi below their energy bar. Paladins have holy power below theirs. I'd like to see Arcane Charges receive the same treatment. It might not be possible because arcane is only a single spec of the mage class, but it never hurts to ask!

Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Start out with our recent beginner's guide to being a mage, then check out our three-part State of the Mage columns on arcane, fire and frost. Don't forget to look at some of the addons your mage should probably be using.

This article was originally published on WoW Insider.