Almost a year ago when the esteemed Christian Belt had to stop writing Arcane Brilliance, first I was sad. Then I said to my husband, "Wow, I don't envy the person that has to fill THOSE shoes." The irony of writing that here is not lost on me! But it would be wrong not to acknowledge that my predecessor, Archmage Pants, was a great mage and I used to look forward to reading what he had to say.
I've been in the business of using magic to rearrange enemy faces since 2008. I started playing WoW by rolling a priest, and somewhere around level 30 our small leveling group realized that two holy priests, two protection warriors and a protection paladin wasn't really a good composition. I rerolled as a mage and never looked back. It was love at first fireball.
I've since played and raided as a mage primarily from Karazhan onward with a few brief stints as a healer for "the good of the group." (One less mage is never for the good of the group, if you're wondering). I've always been a 10-man raider. I'm involved in a few other places in the WoW community - I am the artist half of the comic From Draenor With Love and I've maintained the mage-focused blog Manalicious since 2010. As a mage, I am primarily a fire mage though I recently went frost. No matter what the spec, I've developed an Evocation problem over the course of this expansion. I don't even realize I'm doing it. I should start doing it in our guild's kill shots, it would be a more accurate representation of me.
Being a mage this expansion has been something of an exciting, magic roller coaster ride. Personally, at the level I'm raiding, I don't feel it's essential to always be playing the top spec no matter what. I've been accused of being an eternal optimist, but I'm thrilled that we have three completely viable specs for PvE content. No more the refrain of "Frost mages are only for PvP!" and "Frost mages are no good!" Now, we're all able to destroy bad guys while choosing our particular flavor of fire, frost or just plain, reliable magic. Things aren't completely perfect, but we're still in a great place.
Patch 5.4 brought a few major changes for mages of all specs. The first welcome change is an adjustment to Rune of Power. Instead of having to remain within three yards of the Rune, we've been unleashed to within 8 yards of any given Rune while still benefiting from the effect. This is a major quality of life adjustment in particular for arcane mages who are reliant on Rune of Power for the mana regeneration that is their lifeblood. Of course, it's beneficial for any mage choosing to use it as a talent. At least it'd help with that Evocation problem. With current encounters often requiring a great deal of movement, it's essential that every spec have some ability to cast while moving or not be tethered to one location.
Another change with the patch was an unfortunate nerf to Combustion. Combustion now only deals 20% of a given Ignite's damage, down from 50%. The primary issue with fire is that it just scales so, so well with gear. While we might like to do more damage than your average deity, at the end of the day it's just not reasonable to make the lesser mortals feel too bad (unless they're warlocks, of course). From what I have seen so far, this nerf hasn't hit too hard and fire is still seeing competitive DPS provided you have the stats to support it. Generally accepted wisdom is that fire becomes increasingly stronger at a crit rating of 40% and above. You can expect to reach this at approximately 535 item level, give or take a few item levels. Arcane and fire should both continue to perform strongly barring any major changes and these two specs are comparable.
I've saved the most involved changes for last because frost has undergone sweeping changes in this patch, with a complete overhaul of the mastery. The new frost mastery, Icicles, is a strange beast. I don't exactly love it or hate it. For anyone who hasn't read about or given it a try yet, here's how it works: Each time you cast Frostbolt or Frostfire Bolt, you receive an "icicle" that lasts for fifteen seconds. This hovers somewhere up near your head and looks like what you'd expect an icicle to look like. The damage of the Icicle is based on your Frostbolt or FFB cast. 16% plus 2% per point of Mastery from your main nuke's damage will be stored as an Icicle.
You can store up to five Icicles at a time. If you receive a sixth while carrying five, one will auto-fire at your current target so that the Icicles are never really "wasted" (unless they expire while you aren't casting anything). Otherwise, all of your Icicles are launched whenever you cast Ice Lance, and here's where things started to go a bit pear-shaped. Because Ice Lance isn't strictly necessary for launching Icicles, frost mages began to stack mastery to the sky and ignore Fingers of Frost procs in favour of just continuing to cast Frostbolt. Let me emphasize that for you: at around 50%+ Mastery, there was no point in casting Ice Lance at all. It was actually a DPS loss.
In a buff applied via hotfix on Tuesday, Ice Lance damage was increased by 20% and the water elemental's damage was increased by 10%. This change should push Ice Lance back into the "worth casting" category, which was no doubt the intent. Ignoring Fingers of Frost procs wasn't exactly fun and strips much of the reactivity from the frost mage rotation. The mastery changes also had the fringe benefit of improving frost mages' ability to switch targets readily. The icicle damage is carried with you like an icy Ignite and DPS isn't dependent on maintaining a debuff on targets anymore.
If you're still bogged down with old notions of how frost plays or its capabilities, I'd urge you to at least give it a shot. I don't know that the new mastery is an improvement for PvE, it was really intended to mitigate some of frost's burst in PvP, but the spec plays really well regardless. Frost is especially a fantastic choice for any of the content that scales your gear down - both Challenge Modes and Proving Grounds - because it performs much better at lower gear levels. This makes it ideal for new mages just hitting 90 as well.
Other notable changes in the patch include a tidy adjustment to the movement capabilities of Ice Floes. The new spell now has three charges that allow you to cast while moving and a reduced CD of 20 seconds (down from 45 seconds). This change alone is a great aid to mobility. The other changes for us in the patch were primarily small adjustments to spells in PvP or other minor and cosmetic changes. It's worth mentioning that you can now make your water elemental look like this:
You can use Glyph of Condensation to make it a giant water elemental and annoy everyone around you, or you can shrink it down to an infinitesimal size with Glyph of Evaporation and just pretend it isn't there. This has the side effect of making it look frantic when it's trying to keep up with you, which I found distracting, but your mileage may vary.
Finally, I know that none of this was incredibly in-depth but there's so much ground to cover. It's going to take time to get caught up and cover topics of interest to all mages. I am really excited to have the opportunity to write here and meet new mages. If you have specific ideas or concerns you'd like to talk to me about, please leave them in the comments! I can't guarantee anything but I'll definitely be reading what you have to say. You can also find me on Twitter at @_vidyala.