Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome last week. I appreciated all of the comments, and everyone was positive and friendly. Except, of course, Ms. Felface over there. She called us muffinmakers, something only a warlock would say. We don't make muffins, we conjure delicious confections with toothsome frosting. A muffin is just a sad cupcake, yearning to be something better - pretty much like warlocks, really.
I told you I would be checking out your questions, and reading through the comments highlighted for me that there is still some confusion about frost and its mysterious new mastery. I'm hoping we can unfog that for you this week.
Why You Should Care About Frost Mastery
Frost is worth paying attention to, even if for your primary spec you favor arcane or fire. If at any point in time you intend to do Proving Grounds, or Challenge Modes, or even PvP where frost has long reigned as the dominant spec, it's very likely that you will go frost to do so.
Frost is notably suited to these activities because it is not as reliant on gear scaling as fire and arcane. I did Challenge Modes for awhile as fire and I just couldn't get enough crit in 463 gear to really excel. It's not to say that you can't do any of these activities in a different spec. But you're likely to see better results from frost. If you DO go frost, you'll soon find yourself dealing with its shiny new mastery!
This is Icicles
As I touched on briefly in my previous column, 5.4 gave frost a complete overhaul to its mastery. The new frost mastery is Icicles. Any time you cast either Frostbolt or Frostfire Bolt, 16% plus 2% per point of mastery is stored as an Icicle. The mastery grants the same percentage of increased damage to your water elemental's damage. Here's where some of the confusion seems to set in.
You gain Icicles based on damage you have done using either Frostbolt or a Brain Freeze proc. This means that some Icicles ARE better than others. If you cast a Frostbolt while you have have procs up that increase your intellect or damage, you will obtain a better Icicle and ultimately more damage. The benefit of this is that since you're going to be casting a lot of frostbolts, you'll also be storing many Icicles. This means that the new mastery greatly rewards mages who are able to maximize their globals. It's already, obviously beneficial to cast as often as you are able to. Now when you do so you will also gain extra Icicles for every extra time you're able to cast a primary nuke.
Each time you cast Frostbolt or Frostfire bolt, if it grants you an Icicle that would push your total Icicles over five, one Icicle will automatically fire at the boss. Icicles are not a "resource" in the same way other resources like Holy Power for paladins are. You do not need to track them. I made this mistake myself at first, because it's a natural impulse. "I need to keep track of these so I can maximize their use" - no, you really don't. (And my misguided attempts found that actually, you can't. The icicles don't give you a buff that's trackable in-game). That's okay. I know it may feel like you aren't maximizing your damage, but honestly, don't zoom in and try to see how many Icicles your character has. Don't fret. Icicles are very self-managing.
Icicles will fire in one of two circumstances.
1) Either you gain an extra Icicle and another will automatically fire, or
2) all your Icicles will fire when you cast Ice Lance. I mentioned last week that prior to a buff to Ice Lance, many mastery-stacking frost mages were ignoring it altogether. The important thing to keep in mind here is that you'll cast Ice Lance when you get Fingers of Frost procs, this will fire all of your Icicles and that's completely fine. But you aren't going to seek it out. At no point will you be worrying that you have a complete collection of Icicles that you need to cast.
Now, there is a caveat. Icicles only last for 30 seconds each. This is unique to each Icicle. So if you cast five Frostbolts, five seconds apart and then stopped and stood there - after thirty seconds each Icicle would disappear one by one at five second intervals starting with the first one you gained. They'd melt through your fingers like so much lost damage. So there may be times when you'd want to use them before you lose them.
Some other interesting behaviours of Icicles I've noticed are that unlike a directed spell, they are not limited by the direction your character is facing. So if you have to move and you hit Ice Lance just before you do, those Icicles will shoot out the back of your head at your assailant. I'm sure you can see the possibilities here.
Another effect unique to Icicles is that Glyph of Splitting Ice now applies to both Ice Lance and Icicles. This is spectacular in heavy cleave situations, where formerly you'd be hurting monsters with Ice Lance cleave, you now also pelt them with Icicles flying in all directions like an icy pinball machine of death.
The thing about frost's old mastery, Frostburn, is that it was just a flat increase in damage versus frozen targets. So you'd see a benefit from it with Fingers of Frost procs treating your targets as frozen, but for targets immune to freezing (most bosses) it wasn't helping very much in PvE content. In PvP, when you are facing player targets and could Deep Freeze and then Shatter combo them into oblivion, things were quite different, and that was part of why the mastery change was implemented in the first place. Overpowered in PvP, it allowed frost mages to burst someone down with incredible speed. Underpowered in PvE, it didn't offer much benefit against the average boss for the majority of your casts.
I've really warmed to Icicles over the past few weeks. You gain them any time you cast your primary nuke, which is often. They fire automatically in a sustained combat situation, or can be optionally launched all at once when the situation calls for it. Ultimately, the introduction of Icicles did cause some changes to the way frost mages view mastery, including gemming and stat priorities.
An in-depth exploration of the relative values of haste and mastery for frost is beyond the scope of this article. The least you need to know is a pretty safe approach for the average frost mage: hit to 15% cap, then focus on haste until you hit one of the breakpoints - the lowest ones are 9522 if you're using Living Bomb and 9498 if you're using Nether Tempest. Then start increasing your mastery. Crit is a distant, undesirable third for frost mages compared to haste and mastery. Akraen wrote a great guide for advanced frost mages just this week. If you're ready for more theorycraft-heavy information and want to delve deeply into the factors at play, it's a good place to start. Until then, have fun flinging frozen things at your enemies!