Arcane Brilliance: Why Frostfire Bolt could change everything

Each week Arcane Brilliance serves up a big slice of Mage-cake. Of course, Mages have a very different idea of what it means to "bake" and then "frost" something, so Mage-cake might not be quite what you're expecting. Unless of course you were expecting a blackened husk of indeterminate (vaguely Gnomish) origin frozen into a block of ice, in which case you'll get exactly what you thought you were getting.

So last week was fun, huh?

I have to say, I expected some controversy, but nothing like that. My earlier column about how much I love being a Mage got 32 almost universally positive comments, which seemed quite respectable to me at the time. This one, in which I bemoaned what I perceive to be a very fixable problem with the class (the fact that our DPS doesn't balance out our incredibly poor survivability) is at 200 and counting. Reading through them over the course of this week, terrified to post any sort of response lest I be torn limb from limb and devoured, it seemed like there was no middle ground. Responses ranged from "Please consider discontinuing this article from here on" to "I think this is the most well written piece on this site that I've ever read." Of the 200 responses, I'd wager 150 or so were negative.

So what have I learned? You guys prefer optimism. Apparently.

This week, I went in search of things to feel good about. I do still love to play my Mage--much moreso than any other character I have--and I truly want to be optimistic about the direction we're headed as a class. Once I went actively searching for happy thoughts, I found they were out there, in abundance. In fact, many of them were suggested within those same 200 comments.

You see, as it turns out, Frostfire Bolt has the potential to be very, very nice. In fact, Frostfire Bolt could actually change everything. Come back after the jump to find out why.

The one concrete piece of information that came out of the WWI for Mages was that we were indeed getting Frostfire Bolt, a spell that at first appears fairly mundane. At first glance, this spell delivers a new nuke that delivers both fire and frost damage, as well as a Frostbolt-ish slowing effect. Its base damage isn't quite as powerful as a Frost Mage's Frostbolt or a Fire Mage's Fireball, but the spell would allow these two specs to do respectable damage to creatures immune to the Mage's chosen method of dealing damage. This would be very handy for Frost Mages in Northrend, it is assumed, and give Fire Mages a reliable kiting method. Yay.

I could see how such a spell would fill a need. It would give Mages a way to avoid respeccing for specific fights (cough...Ahune...cough) and add to our versatility, damage-wise. Was it the big nuke I had been pining for? Not that I could see...but it certainly looked useful. Frostfire would be nice if I ever decided to go solo Molten Core at 80 or something, but it wasn't going to replace my Fireball anytime soon.

Or was it?

No, it probably wasn't.

But maybe...

Here's the thing: apparently--as things stand now in the Alpha testing--Frostfire Bolt benefits from all of the talents that affect Fire spells and those that affect Frost spells. Think about that for just a moment. To get my head around this concept, I had to go through and list the talents that could potentially apply to Frostfire Bolt. Here they are:

Fire Talents:

Flame Throwing
Burning Soul
Improved Scorch
Master of Elements
Playing with Fire
Critical Mass
Fire Power
Molten Fury

Frost Talents:

Elemental Precision
Ice Shards
Piercing Ice
Frost Channeling
Winter's Chill
Arctic Winds

Mmmmkay. That's a whole lot of extra pain to heap upon one spell. Also, That list only includes the talents as they currently exist. Looking at the talent calculators on Wowhead for Wrath, there are more coming that could affect Frostfire Bolt.

Now, to be fair, there's no way to spec, even at level 80, so that you'll have access to all of those talents, but there will be some very intriguing builds out there anyway. I fiddled around with the calculator a bit and came up with an example of how much you could potentially buff this one particular spell:

Frostfire Specialist build: 0/34/37

Now, I'm sure there are better builds out there, and it's still incredibly early in the process, so better and better builds are still forthcoming, but this looked good to me while I was monkeying around with the calculator. Your Frostfire Bolt spell would potentially have the following benefits from this build, and keep in mind that this is every time you cast it, and doesn't include extra cooldown-limited effects like Icy Veins or Combustion:

  • 10% chance to stun the target

  • 6 yards of extra range

  • Another 40% of the spell's damage added to the target over the next 4 seconds on every crit

  • 70% chance not to lose casting time when damage is taken

  • 17% reduced threat

  • 20% of the spell's mana cost returned on every crit

  • 22% increased damage done

  • 9% increased chance to crit, 59% against frozen targets

  • 13% mana cost reduction

  • 3% increased chance to hit

  • 100% crit damage bonus

  • 15% chance to freeze the target for 5 seconds

  • 100% chance to apply the Winter's Chill effect, which can stack up to 5 times, providing 2-10% extra crit chance.

I purposefully avoided taking any of the new Wrath talents in this build, because I wanted to work with what I know, but you can see the potential here, right? Is it okay for me to be excited about this? When you factor in things like Combustion and Icy Veins, or the Improved Scorch debuff, the damage output for this single spell could be just staggering, maybe even "jaw-dropping." I feel dirty for even saying that, but in this case, if things shake out right, the phrase might actually be warranted.

But therein lies the rub. If things shake out right. That's an elephant-sized "if," my friends. There are several ways this could go. One is that things stay the way they currently appear to be: when we all hit level 80, Frostfire Bolt will still be affected by every talent that applies to either fire or frost spells. I pray for this scenario, but fear it's unlikely.

The reason for my doubt lies in Blizzard's design philosophy so far for Mages. Since our inception, Blizzard has always focused us on Fireball or Frostbolt as our primary nukes. Even in the WotLK talent trees, there exist multiple talents that apply to those specific spells alone, talents that reduce their casting time and increase their spell damage, excluding all other spells. If Frostfire Bolt makes it live in its current form, it will absolutely and without exception replace both spells for just about any elementalist build. It will become the single best spammable nuke we have. Can you think of a reason to use Fireball or Frostbolt instead? The only caveat I can come up with is the inability to reduce casting time for Frostfire Bolt. If you invest in the right talents, you can still cast those other two spells more often than you can cast Frostfire Bolt. I'll leave it to the real theorycrafters out there to determine if being able to cast about 7 Frostbolts in the time it'd take to cast 6 Frostfire Bolts is worth losing about half of the stuff in that bulleted list of effects up there. Certainly the extra cast-time would be a concern in Arena combat. Still, from a purely PvE, DPS perspective, I believe Frostfire Bolt would become the nuke of choice in almost every situation. And I have a sneaking suspicion that Blizzard doesn't really want that.

The more likely possibility, in my opinion, is that the spell will operate on a mechanic that forces the spell to define itself as either a fire or frost spell when cast, depending upon the target's immunities. The way the spell description reads now, according to the Alpha wiki, the damage is considered fire damage unless the mob is immune to fire, in which case the spell causes frost damage. That would mean only fire or frost talents would apply to any individual cast. I really hope this doesn't happen, but it seems like a distinct possibility to me.

For now, though, I'm going to dare to dream. The world (of Warcraft) is alive with promise and I'm going to allow myself to become excited about it. I can't wait for the Beta, when we'll be able to actually get some hands-on data on the spell.

Frostfire Bolt could potentially perform all of the tasks of both of our current primary spells at the same time, and twice as well. You could kite with it. You could trigger all of the giant crits you're used to with it, plus more. You could use it in Shatter combos. You could proc Impact with it. You could pump out crit after crit with it after activating Combustion. It will be comparably mana-efficient.

If this holds up, Frostfire Bolt will not just become a viable part of your spell rotation; for elementalist specs, with an occasional Scorch thrown in to keep the debuff up, Frostfire Bolt will be your spell rotation. Who knows? Maybe there'll even be an Inscription to reduce it's casting time.

See? Maybe we'll be able to top the DPS charts again after all. I'm going to take my pessimism and blow it up.

With a Frostfire Bolt.

Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of Mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our two-part analysis of Mage talent builds, or our recent look at 10 things Mages should know before entering the Arena. If you're sick and tired of all this Mage-talk, there's a veritable treasure trove of guides and tips related to all of the other aspects of WoW over in the WoW Insider Directory. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.