Arcane Brilliance: The best and worst of 2008

Christian Belt
C. Belt|12.27.08

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Arcane Brilliance: The best and worst of 2008

Each year, Arcane Brilliance cooks up 52 columns about Mages, each one roasted at precisely the right temperature for precisely the right amount of time (usually a couple hours on Saturday morning over a soggy bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, to be honest). As we arrive at the 52nd week of 2008, Arcane Brilliance would like to thank each and every one of the Mages who come here every weekend to celebrate our wonderful class by reading a giant, well-cooked wall of text. Arcane Brilliance would also like to say to the Warlocks who come here to mock us and drink our delicious tears, "We hope your felhound eats you."

Wow, so 2008, huh?

A lot of things happened this year, right? Crazy.

We here at Arcane Brilliance thought that since next week's column will be posted in 2009, we should take a moment this week to remember the year that was, and what it meant to all of us who walk the path of magic. There were some pretty high highs, and some exceptionally low lows, so we figured it would be fun to throw the highs into a ring with the lows and let them fight to the death. Join us after the break to see who wins!
When this spell was announced in June at the Worldwide Invitational, I'll admit I wasn't very excited about it. It sounded like a lame way to allow Mages to deal decent damage to mobs who were immune to their spec of choice. Then we all realized something: FFB would benefit from both Frost and Fire talents. Suddenly the spell became a whole lot more intriguing. Lo and behold, when Wrath rolled around in November, we all found that with the right talent build, this spell was the single most powerful nuke in a Mage's arsenal. Plus it looks all sparkly and cool.

I almost filed this under (Boo!), if I'm being entirely truthful, simply because I hate that this is now the flavor-of-the-month "best" DPS spec for Mages, and I think it's unequivocally stupid that some guilds are even requiring their Mages to spec this way. Really? Is the end-game content so unforgiving that your guild can't figure out how to beat Kel'Thuzad with a Fire Mage or a Frost Mage in the party? This isn't the freaking Sunwell, guys. These WotLK raids are forgiving enough that a good raid can burn through them, regardless of composition. As long as you have enough tanks, healers and DPS, and you haven't brought along any total jackwads, you're going to be fine. Personally, I'd rather have the Arcane Mage who knows how to play than the Frostfire Mage who can't find his sheep button with a compass and a map.
Now, I've been on the wrong end of a well-placed Deep Freeze several times in PvP, and boy does it suck. This is still a highly effective spell in PvP, don't get me wrong. The problem is that it's entirely useless for a raiding Mage. This would be acceptable if it was a trainable spell, or perhaps a 41 point talent or something. But as the cap talent for an entire tree? No. For a good chunk of the Wrath beta, this spell did a very good amount of damage in addition to stunning its targets, and it was actually worth spending a charge of Fingers of Frost on in PvE. Blizzard saw fit to take that damage away, and in doing so made Frost Mages everywhere very sad, and also made me write a very bitter diatribe on the subject.
  • (Yay!) The Arcane Tree doesn't suck!
For most of 2008, the Arcane tree was the red-headed stepchild of the three schools of magic. There were some good talents in there, and they provided some very nice support to a Fire or Frost spec, but the tree simply wasn't cohesive enough to stand on its own as a viable spec. Patch 3.0.2 changed all of that.

Suddenly Arcane Mages had high DPS, decent survivability, and a sense of mobility and slipperiness that Mages had never known before. Arcane Barrage, instant Invisibility, Missile Barrage...the list of significant, game-changing newness was long and varied. The Arcane tree suddenly provided a unique sense of fun that Mages had been missing for a very long time. Arcane Mages could run around, Slowing their targets and then playing a game of long-distance tag with them until they dropped dead. Perhaps no other change this year was as significant or as successful--at least as far as Mages were concerned--as the revamp of the Arcane tree.

And the best part? Patch 3.0.8 promises to make it even better.
  • (Boo!) Homogenization of Itemization, or "why is that Priest rolling on my staff?"
I think almost every class will probably agree that this is the single worst trend introduced by Wrath of the Lich King. We don't have it as bad as, say, Elemental Shaman (seriously? No PvP sets for an entire spec?), but it's pretty bad. I'm not saying we need to go back to the days of having 72 different stats to worry about. In fact, I think consolidating spellpower, crit, hit, and haste was a good thing. But forcing Mages to wear things with names like "Purely Sanctified Robes of the Healerific Medicant Arch-Priest" is just wrong. We don't want to have to wear the same dress as the Warlock. We don't want to slip our feet into a new pair of slippers only to discover somebody left a steaming pile of spirit in there.

I'm not sure how the problem can be fixed, but I am sure that when an item drops, I want to be able to say "ah, now that's a Mage item," instead of having to outroll the Priest, the Warlock, the Holy Pally, the Boomkin, and the freaking Resto Shammy for everything that drops. I can understand Blizzard's desire to avoid a glut of items in the game. It must be a giant pain to design and program all of that gear. But surely you could just tweak some stats, do a palette swap on some existing gear and call it good? Jeez, leveling through Northrend, it looked to me like you guys only designed like 5 different gear models anyway, and then gave them varying shades of brown and gray and called it a day.
Looking back, patch 2.4 was pretty great. We got what may end up being the last truly challenging raid in the game (Sunwell Plateau), we got some really sweet looking gear, and we got a lot of fun things to do while we waited for the expansion to come out. Perhaps the most important part of the Sunwell patch, in hindsight, was that it gave us a glimpse into the future of faction-grinding. Instead of farming mobs, or having to turn in endless reputation items, we saw how much fun it could be to do short, fun daily quests and run instances instead. We've seen the further evolution of this in Wrath, with the new championing mechanic, allowing us to choose which faction we'd like to gain rep with, regardless of the instance we're running.

Like everyone else, Mages flocked here in droves, worked our way to exalted with the Shattered Sun Offensive, and then lamented our low spots on the damage meters in the Brutallus fight. Good times were had by all, until everyone got their raid-spots taken by a Shaman.
As an Arcane Mage, I loved most of the new toys I woke up to on October 14th. I took my new Arcane Barrage out for a little spin, rocked some faces with it, gave it a hug and told it how much I loved it. But when I saw what had happened to my beloved Arcane Blast, all the joy fled from the day. This spell used to be so good. You could cast it on things, and do decent damage, and then cast it again and do more damage while using more mana, and then cast it was splendid. Now the only thing it's good for is passing the time between Arcane Barrages.

The good news is that all signs point to this changing, and soon. Patch 3.0.8 promises to make this spell worthwhile again, and in a way that pleases both Blizzard and Mages, two parties that seldom see eye to eye. Everyone cross your collective fingers that this particular buff makes it live.
I know, I isn't the I-Win button that it was in the beta. It doesn't scale with gear, and has problems fitting into a PvE spell-rotation. Still, I love it. I love it so much. The first time I used it after hitting 80 on the live was in Grizzly Hills, and it was on a Death Knight, and it was so much fun I never wanted it to stop. Unfortunately it did stop, about 30 seconds later, right about the time when the Death Knight's guildies were swooping in to kill me and then camp my corpse for about 15 minutes. Curse my server and its 5-1 Alliance to Horde ratio!

Still, it's like I always say: the only thing better than one of me is four of me. I enjoy being able to conjure my own posse at the push of a button. This is a very cool spell, and very nice prize for hitting level 80. It definitely has room to improve, and I look forward to seeing if and how Blizzard lets it evolve.

So there's my short list of the good and bad 2008 had to offer Mages. Now that the dust has settled, it looks like the Yays have won out over the Boos. Based on that unscientific and completely arbitrary result, I hereby declare 2008 a success. Bring on 2009!

Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of Mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent two-part look at reputation rewards in WotLK, or our guide to leveling builds to get you through Northrend. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

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