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Arcane Brilliance: Azeroth's got talent

Christian Belt

Each week, Arcane Brilliance endeavors to bring you small peek into the strange and wonderful world of Mages. We're simple creatures, we Mages. We like to live fast, die fast, and turn things into other, funnier-looking things. We also enjoy giant, juicy crits. We don't need much, just absolute power.

When a Mage is born, he or she springs to life in Deathknell or some such place, tumbling out of the nether fully grown and wearing a dress. As they take their first tremulous steps into the World of Warcraft, they discover that they can summon balls of flame and hurl them at zombies. Soon they learn to freeze the very air itself and fling bolts of freezing death at boars. In time, as they venture into the great world beyond their starting area, they ding 10 and gain their first talent point.

Suddenly, these young magelings discover they can hone their craft, direct their studies along three distinct paths. Will they walk the devastating road of Fire? The subtle alleyways of the Arcane? The deadly tundra of Frost? Or dabble in all three? Reading this, you may be tuning out at this point, saying something to yourself like "duh...17/0/44." Some of you may be thinking, "Arcane? There are talents in that tree beyond Improved Counterspell? You sure?" You may also be thinking "ltp n00btard! you got pwned," but quite frankly, if you think in leetspeak I fear for your very soul. If you're thinking any of those things, read on. I stand before you to assert that there are absolutely must-have talents in every tree that you can fit into other more popular specs, and after the jump I'll explore some ways to do it.

Let me begin by saying that I'm not going to post any specific talent builds in this particular installment of Arcane Brilliance. For now, I'll leave that to our own wonderful Build Shop columns. I have always eschewed the so called "best" builds. I feel like the talent system is set up to give players a deep customizability with their character, a way to make your avatar your own. Use whatever build fits your play-style, whatever you personally find effective, and most of all, whatever allows you to have the most fun. If that means you insist on taking a PoM-Pyro build into Arena, and a deep Frost Mage to a raid, so be it. There are ways to make just about any spec choice somewhat viable in just about any situation, and don't let other players tell you otherwise. Maybe they can't win in Arena with a Fire Mage, but that doesn't mean you can't.

Here I'd like to focus on the talents I like most, give you a few tips on what you might have to give up to get them, and what other talents they complement. At the end of the day, do with them what you like and have a blast. Hopefully the blast you have is a Fire Blast or an Arcane Blast and involves a Warlock.

Fire Tree

Impact: Gives your Fire spells a 2/4/6/8/10% chance to stun the target for 2 seconds.

Not good for raiders, since a large number of bosses are immune to stuns, but absolutely killer in PvP. If you do a lot of Arena, you might consider even giving up Improved Fireball for this. There's absolutely no describing how frustrating Impact can be for opposing players if you get a few procs during the course of a match. Most of the time they won't even know how they're being stunned, because Mages aren't exactly known for their ability to stun. All they know is that they're burning and they can't move, or their spell just got interrupted. Using Blast Wave or Flamestrike in conjuction with this gives you a chance to stun multiple mobs, which is always a good time.

Ignite: Your critical strikes from Fire damage spells cause the target to burn for an additional 8/16/24/32/40% of your spells damage over 4 second.

So picture this: You crit someone with a Pyroblast. It does somewhere around 5k damage. This talent will pile an additional two thousand damage onto the spell's damage over 4 seconds. Combine that with the DoT Pyroblast already gives, and you've got an effective 1-shot for something with around 7-8k hp. Nothing feels as good as that. Nothing. Very nice for a second tier talent. Put only 10 points into the Fire tree and you can up your Fire spells' effectiveness by a very large amount.

Improved Scorch: Your Scorch spells have a 33/66/100% chance to cause your target to be vulnerable to Fire damage. This vulnerability increase the Fire damage dealt to your target by 3% and lasts 30 seconds. Stacks up to 5 times.

A lot of Fire Mages skip this, but I would encourage it. Scorch, if spammed, has the highest DPS of all of your fire spells because of its short cast time. One of the best DPS rotations for Arcane/Fire Mages in raids involves repeated Scorches bookended by Arcane Blasts and Fire Blasts, and using a Scorch-heavy rotation means this talent will always be up, and always stacked at 5. When it's up, this means every fire spell you or any Warlock or Mage in your raid casts will do 15% more damage. That's sizable. You don't even have to put all 3 talent points into it, if you don't want to. It can still be reasonably effective at the 33% mark if you're spamming enough Scorches.

Combustion: Instant/3 minute cooldown -When activated, this spell causes each Fire damage spell you cast to increase your critical strike chance with Fire damage spells by 10%. This effect lasts until you have caused 3 critical strikes with Fire spells.

Dragon's Breath is nice and all, but this is the reason to go deep into the Fire tree. This talent is the definition of burst damage. It gives Fire Mages almost guaranteed crits, and not just one of them, three of them. Guaranteed to steal aggro from the tank, or your money back. Of course, this is probably terrible for raiding, but very nice solo or in PvP. The three minute cooldown means it'll be up every other pull, and it's great for finishing off a tough mob.

Arcane Tree

Arcane Concentration: Gives you a 2/4/6/8/10% chance of entering a Clearcasting state after any damage spell hits a target. The Clearcasting state reduces the mana cost of your next damage spell by 100%.

This is complementary to every spec and all three Mage trees, because it can proc from any damage spell. It's one of the most reliable mana conservation talents out there, and can realistically trigger twice or even three times in a row. This is great to have in any spell rotation, because you can have it proc on your mana-efficient spells and then use it on one of your less efficient spells (like Arcane Missiles, or any AoE spell) to improve your overall damage-per-mana by a great deal. You only have to go ten points into Arcane to get it, although I have to say that if that's as far as you go, you're only cheating yourself, like when you cheated on those math tests in 11th grade and now you don't know how to apply Pythagoras' Theorem when it comes up in real life situations. Shame on you. I hope you learned your lesson.

Improved Counterspell: Gives Counterspell a 50/100% chance to silence the target for 4 seconds.

Super-delicious for PvP. Not worth much outside it. I like PvP, so I love this little gem. It's the only talent on this tier that I like, and it's cheap, at only 2 talent points. Counterspell is wonderful enough as it is, locking out the school of the spell you interrupt, which can absolutely gimp the holy crap out of Pallies. But it has the limitation of only being usable if you can catch your opponent casting. With this beauty, not only does it completely silence every school of magic your opponent may have available, it can be cast at any time. You can whittle a healer down and deliver this evil little package in anticipation of his life-saving heal (or bubble) and then burst him down in the next 4 seconds, which can be an eternity in Arena.

Presence of Mind: Instant/3 minute cooldown - When activated, your next Mage spell with a casting time less than 10 seconds becomes an instant cast spell.

PoM-Pyro builds are defined by this talent. It requires you go at least 21 points into Arcane, which precludes you from being able to take a 41 point talent in either of the other trees. What it gives you is the ability to cast any non-channeled spell in your arsenal (works best with the big daddy, Pyroblast, of course) instantly. So every three minutes you can roast someone good and proper, or maybe fire off an instant Polymorph to interrupt another caster or get a melee off you. I respecced to take it a few months back and now can't imagine life without it. Just don't let another Mage Spellsteal it. God help you if you do. God help you, you poor pathetic dead Mage.

Arcane Mind: Increases your total intellect by 3/6/9/12/15%.

Taking this beauty means going farther into the Arcane tree than most Mages are comfortable with, but...I mean, holy moley. This scales with your gear, so that means if you max out this talent you could end up with around 100 extra intellect with top-end gear. That gives you a large chunk of mana and a nice bit of spell crit chance. Imagine what it'll give you at level 80. Expensive to get, but very nice.

Arcane Power: Instant/3 minute cooldown - When activated, your spells deal 30% more damage while costing 30% more mana to cast. This effect lasts 15 seconds.

It's deep in the tree, but it only costs one point, so it can feasibly work while still allowing you to drop a significant amount of points into another tree. The real loss here, if you want to cast Fire spells, is that taking this won't allow you to have enough points left to take Combustion. This is an either/or choice. Both spells are really nice, but we'll have to wait for the expansion to have both. The really nice thing about this spell is that it works with any spell. The mana cost isn't as bad as it sounds, and the damage benefit is incredibly spiffy. Plus, the animation looks neat. I have this spell, my on-use spell damage trinket, Presence of Mind, and Pyroblast on the same macro. It makes for just about the best instant cannon available to any class. Combine this kind of macro with Ignite and Impact, and essentially, you have an opening or closing salvo that can do something like 6,000 points of damage instantly if it crits, then burn the enemy for another 2,400 over the next 4 seconds, follow it up with a 2-3k fire blast crit, add that Ignite proc on, all the while the Pyroblast DoT is stacking another few hundred damage onto that, and each cast has a 10% chance to stun your target while they burn to death. If you have improved scorch stacked to 5 on your target, that raises all of that damage by another 15%. I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty sure I soiled myself while I was typing that. Consider yourself warned: gigantic burst damage might make you lose control of your bowels. The nice part? It might make your target do the same thing, only for completely different reasons.

Can you tell I like the Arcane tree? I recently moved a lot of my fire points into this tree, and my raw spell damage capability has become just silly. The beautiful thing about the talents in Arcane is that almost all of them work with the other two schools of magic. It's the pure spell damage tree, as opposed to the Fire tree, which is built around crits, and the Frost tree, which is built around versatility and survivability. As a standalone tree, it doesn't quite pack the punch you need, but finessed a little bit with the other two trees, it's well worth your talent points. Frost almost requires you to go a few points into it, and Fire benefits from it in so many ways it isn't even funny. And if you're going to go deep into it (which you should consider, even if you wouldn't actually do it) you might as well take the next talent:

Mind Mastery: Increases your spell damage by up to 5/10/15/20/25% of your total intellect.

This scales with your gear, making a talent you'll never grow out of. You have to go 40 points into the tree to max it out, but that allows you to take a 21 point talent in one of the other trees, which means you can still take Blast Wave or Cold Snap. With a good assortment of current high end gear, this talent has the potential to increase your spell damage by something like 150. I would say that no single attribute is more important to end-game Mages than this stat, and this talent hands it to you, with room to grow by upgrading your intellect. Combine this with Arcane Mind, and you have a lot of extra damage to pile on top of whatever your spell of choice happens to be.

Frost Tree

I know far less about this tree than I do about the other trees, simply because I have never specced it, despite being tempted to do so several times. I'd love your suggestions, though, all you Frost Mages out there. What talents are the ones you can't live without? Which ones might convince me to reevaluate my current talent placement and take a detour into the icy domain of the Frost tree? I'd love some input.

At a glance, I can tell you I like the looks of Improved Frost Nova, Icy Veins, the aforementioned Cold Snap, and of course the thing I covet most from you masters of chilly weather, Summon Water Elemental. I've worked Elemental Precision into several Fire builds I've tried in the past, and never regretted it. Ice Barrier looks glorious, and I hate when I have to face a Mage that has it. If my new build fails to produce the desired results for me in Arena, I may have to make the switch. My current heavy-Arcane/Fire spec is working for me so far, but you just never know.

From end-game stuff, Arcane Brilliance switches next week to low-end stuff. If any of you are new to the game, or just new to being a Mage, tune in for some good clean wizarding. I intend to take a look at some of the best low-end instances for Mages to get a group for, as they make their gradual march toward infinite power.

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