Holy crap, it's good to be back.
I'd toyed with the idea of quitting entirely, seeing no practical way to consistently scrape together enough time each week with the current demands on my time to provide you guys with quality mage columns. But as the weeks went by, I found I simply couldn't abide not writing about turning warlocks into sheep and then hurling volleys of Arcane Missiles at those sheep until they explode. There was a gaping hole in my life that could only be filled with a massive Pyroblast.
So this past week, after squeezing in some quality time with the Mists beta, I sat down at my keyboard and began typing. At first, I wasn't even writing with a clear goal in mind. I had no intention of posting any of my thoughts. But as I played, and wrote, and played, and wrote, I found I was becoming more and more stupidly excited about the prospect of talking to you guys about new stuff. So I had to come back, you see. And it's all your fault. I hope you're happy with yourselves.
Josh has already done a marvelous job of sharing his beta analysis with you over the course of several columns. If you haven't already, check them out here, here, and also here. Though some of the ground we cover today may overlap, what follows isn't anything resembling analysis. As I get myself back up to speed, I'll go more in-depth -- but this week, we're going the full stream of consciousness, random observational impression route. Strap in, and for God's sake, keep your arms, legs, and wands inside the vehicle.
The first thing I did upon starting up the beta was create a ridiculously adorable female pandaren mage and level her through the new starting area. I'm not even kidding, guys. Even when that fuzzy little spellslinger was in heavy combat with mutant rabbits, I mostly just wanted to give her a hug. Pandaren females are the cuddliest death-dealers you'll ever meet.
Frostfire Bolt as early-level nuke
Since its introduction in Wrath, Frostfire Bolt has worn a wildly varying variety of hats. At different times, it's been overpowered, it's been the basis for an entire hybrid spec, and it's been a situational spell. At other times, it's been largely irrelevant.
In Mists, it has a very clear role. If you're a disenfranchised Frostfire mage hoping for a return to former glory, you're not going to be happy with that role.
When you create your mage in Mists, you begin the game with a single spell: Frostfire Bolt. Until you select a specialization at level 10, that will be your main nuke. You will begin every fight with it and then spam it from there on out with very few exceptions. It serves as snare and nuke. Once you hit level 10 and more narrowly define your mage as arcane, fire, or frost, Frostfire Bolt fades to a secondary spell. If you go fire or arcane, you may still find yourself making use of it from time to time for snaring purposes. If you go frost, you'll replace it on your action bar with Frostbolt and never look back. I suppose it could serve some later purpose as a fallback spell for use when locked out of your main school's spells.
Frostfire Bolt is such a pretty spell. It's nice that it gets some dedicated use in the early going. But I'd still very much like to see it given some late game relevance, and I sincerely doubt I'm alone in that desire.
Wands as main-hand weapons
One of the first few things that I found particularly jarring about logging into the beta the first time on my main was that the wand slot is gone. I knew this had been changed, but I wasn't fully prepared for it. My wand was sitting there in my inventory, with stats competitive to the dagger I had equipped.
Now, as I see it, there is an upside to this change, but also a downside. Wands are relegated to stat sticks on the live servers. You never really use them. You just stick them in the ranged slot so that you get their stats. So getting rid of the need for that gear slot and repurposing wands as a ranged main-hand weapon makes sense. And it is kind of cool, especially at early levels, to have a ranged option that costs no mana. I guess.
The thing is, at max level, that ranged functionality serves no legitimate purpose. The only thing it does, as I learned to my chagrin, is give me a way to screw up a pull. I have a nasty habit of right-clicking on my intended target on a pull, instead of just tab-targeting or left-clicking. With a normal melee weapon, that's not an issue. You just ready your staff or whatever and sit there in combat stance, not hurting anybody.
With a wand, this is a bad idea. Nothing quite compares to the horror of realizing that my stupid wand's tiny bolt of impotence has gone off before the pull, bringing the mobs down on my poor mage's squishy head while the tank was hitting the fridge for another beer.
So I guess the bottom line is that I need to unlearn that habit.
Arcane Barrage: Pretty much the best thing ever
You might think I'm overstating things with that subheading. You would be wrong.
So here's how Arcane Barrage works now: You have this new arcane debuff called Arcane Charge. Most parts of the arcane rotation build up charges of that debuff, stacking to four. The debuff increases the power and mana cost of Arcane Blast. Arcane Barrage both benefits from the damage buff of those four charges and consumes them, resetting the stack. So you basically cast it when you need to stop burning through your mana pool with all that Arcane Blast spam you've been doing.
But here's the twist: Now, Arcane Barrage hits up to five targets, one for each Arcane Charge, for 50% damage. So you're fighting a five-mob pull. You're Arcane Blasting happily away at the main DPS target. You get four charges stacked up. You hit your Arcane Barrage button. You watch five awesomesauce sparklebolts of kickassery streak out of your mage's splayed fingertips toward the enemy group. You drop to the floor and spin around going "Woop woop woop" like Homer Simpson for like 10 minutes.
It does solid AoE damage, saves you mana (since Arcane Barrage costs very little on the beta right now), and looks just splendid. I know everybody hates arcane mages after being forced to roll one for the majority of this expansion, but man, it might be time to reconsider your stance.
And so much more ...
I mean, I could just keep rambling on about stuff, but I'm reaching the limits of a tasteful word count. You guys realize that when you loot stuff in the beta, you get all the loot from every nearby enemy you've killed, with one click? On principle, I now want to see if I can go into the Scarlet Monastery Armory, clear the dungeon in one pull, then fill my bags completely from empty in a single click.
I'll get into some more of the real meat of the expansion as we go, but for now, I'll leave you with this: It's good to be back. And from what I can see, mages are still pretty damn magical in Mists of Pandaria.
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.