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Mages in WotLK: I'm re-speccing frostfire

Christian Belt

As you are likely already aware, the internets exploded yesterday with what is apparently leaked details from the friends and family alpha of Wrath of the Lich King. Arguably the biggest part of this news was that we apparently have access to very early versions of the new talent trees for several of the existing classes. Being the responsible, conscientious Mage columnist that I am, I immediately pored over the Mage talent trees, devouring this very premature, more than likely never-to-see-the-light-of-day info like a starving man would tear into a steak.

Of course, as we all know by now, information coming out this early is almost guaranteed to differ radically from what actually makes it live. Still, it serves a purpose. Even if none of these spells and talents reach the live servers unmolested, at least we're getting a glimpse into Blizzard's development process, and possibly seeing the direction they intend to take our beautiful class in.

We like Blizzard around here, and since they made it clear that they do not want us posting the new info directly, I won't be specifically listing the new Mage talents here. You can find those on the WotLK information Wiki, so click away. When you're done, come on back and join me after the jump, where I'll give my take on what the expansion appears to have in store for Mages.

Ok first things first:

Frostfire? You did see that, right? Here we have a spell that apparently will do what Fireball and Frostbolt do now, only all at once, in the same spell. It doesn't show up in the talent trees, so it looks like a trainable spell for all Mages. Just what is the purpose of this? The damage looks to be a little low if it's intended as a replacement spell for both spells, but you can't argue with the versatility of it. We've long wondered if there would be a dearth of frost-resistant or immune mobs in Northrend, and this could be the answer to that. If you're a Frost Mage, and Frostbolt is your bread and butter, and you find yourself having to do quests that require you to destroy a nest of Icy-Winged Snow-Worms of the Tundra that are all immune to frost spells, you might become frustrated. If you have this spell, though, you're golden. At this early stage, it seems like it might be designed to allow frost or fire Mages to remove the signature spell of the other school (Fireball or Frostbolt) from their action bars and replace it with this one. Maybe. Intriguing, without question.

As far as talents go, the new 51 point talents look phenomenal. I'm going to have to say there is no way on god's green earth that the 51 point Fire talent, Living Bomb, makes it live without some changes. The guy who datamined it had to have gotten those numbers wrong. He just had to have. Even after we learn what the damage output actually is, though, that looks like one seriously cool spell. And the name is pretty much perfect. Isn't that what a Fire Mage is anyway? A living bomb? I have dizzying visions in my head of charging into a crowd of folks on the bridge in Alterac Valley, opening with a rank bazillion Blast Wave, following it with a Dragon's Breath, and then popping Living Bomb as a chaser, and of course, dying right afterward. I will dream tonight of cooking Gnomes and Night Elves en mass. What happy dreams they will be. Feel free to flame me for Horde-bias. I like setting fire to Gnomes and Night Elves in large numbers, and if that's wrong, then I don't want to be right.

The Fire tree in general looks to be geared even more toward insane burst damage, low survivability, and big, frequent crits. In turn, Blizzard seems to be solidifying the Frost tree as the survivability/control tree even further. This is borne out by the 51 point talent in that tree, Deep Freeze, which is apparently an instant cast stun on a fairly short cooldown. Here's the thing, though, it seems to only work on frozen targets, so it's a good thing they appear to have added new ways to apply frozen-status. There appears to be a new talent in the 35 point tier that looks like a must-have for Frost Mages. Fully talented, it gives a 20% chance for every frost spell to cause frozen status to your target. That seems to mean that you'll be able to freeze things far more often than you can now, pummel your target with a couple of Ice Lances, and then stun them for another 5 seconds right before they break out of being frozen. Couple that with an improved, longer-duration and more powerful Water Elemental, and Frost Mages should be in for a nice expansion.

The Arcane tree looks to see a lot of changes, most notably the reintroduction of spirit as an important Mage stat. Ok, so it's important now, but you have to admit that it isn't as important as it probably should be. There are two new talents in the arcane tree that involve spirit directly, one that increases your total spirit the way Arcane Mind increases your total intellect, and one that increases your spell crit by a flat percentage of your spirit, a la Mind Mastery for your spell damage by way of intellect. It'll be nice to have a good reason to gear for spirit again. The 51 point talent in the Arcane tree, Arcane Barrage, looks to be a pretty straight-up damage dealing option. It's instant-cast, it's mana intensive, and I have no idea how it would fit into any sort of spell rotation, but that's probably looking way, way too far ahead at this point.

There are a couple of other notable changes to existing talents in this tree. Arcane Focus has improved immeasurably, making the entire Arcane tree more mana-efficient and apparently doling out free spell hit to boot, and then only requiring 3 talent points instead of 5, just in case you were still on the fence about taking it. I have the feeling this talent will change, but if it stays like this, I lust after it. Did you see Prismatic Cloak? Right now, it's not much more than a small damage mitigation talent that only PvP Mages ever take, and then only if they can't find somewhere else to put the points. If this leaked talent tree is right, though, the expansion will allow this talent to--brace yourself--make Invisibility useful. For 2 talent points, this will reduce the fade time of Invisibility by 4 seconds. That means when you want to drop aggro, or just pop out of sight in an Arena match, it'll only take you 1 second to do so. Wow. I might actually hotkey that spell if this goes down. There's even a positive change to Magic Attunement, making it something I might actually take. Increased range on my Arcane spells? Yes please. Think of an extra 6 yards on Polymorph, and Arcane Missiles, and Slow for a second. Just think about it. Well? Pants still dry? I know mine aren't. And not just because my kid spilled apple juice on me, either: because I peed in them.

Let me reiterate that nothing here is set in any kind of stone at all whatsoever. None of this leaked info is anything even remotely approaching what will actually happen. But it does suggest a direction for us Mages. Right now, that direction is looking pretty awesome. We're getting a lot of what we've asked for: sweet, sweet DPS improvements for every tree, and nicely boosted utility in several situations. Does this mean a return to the top of the DPS meters? Who can say? The expansion is still a full beta, about 62 thousand PTR patches, and probably something like 8 months away. Absolutely anything can happen. To me, though, this leaked info looks suspiciously like a step in the right direction. I'm optimistic.

As a self-diagnosed whiny Mage, it's very, very nice to feel that way.

Let me know what you think, fellow Mages. I didn't have space to mention every tidbit out there, so let me know what I've missed. Looking forward to eating Sweet Potato Pie while riding tandem with a Death Knight on your new warp stalker mount? I know I am. Impart to us your wisdom, robed flame-slingers of Azeroth, and I'll see you on Saturday like always.

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