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15 Minutes of Fame: Mage(ic) with numbers, part II


15 Minutes of Fame is our look at World of Warcraft players of all shapes and sizes – from the renowned to the relatively anonymous, the remarkable to the player next door. Tip us off to players you'd like to hear more about at 15minutesoffame (AT) wowinsider (DOT) com.

Last week, we met master of mage theorycrafting Lhivera of US Aggramar-A. Lhivera's love of theorycrafting landed him in hot water with Blizzard recently, after he posted speculative analyses of Mage performance based on leaked Wrath of the Lich King alpha information. Blizzard didn't like the discussion appearing on their forums, and Lhivera ended up perma-banned from posting there again.

This week, 15 Minutes of Fame brings you part II of our interview with Lhivera. Last week, we talked about Blizzard's ban-hammer and the appeal of theorycrafting; this week, we'll dive into Magely mechanics, Lhivera's theory on the "right" spec for today's Mages and where Lhivera himself is heading as a character.

Be sure to read last week's Mage(ic) with numbers, part I.

What does the move toward spell haste bode for Mages? How does haste stack up against more traditionally desirable stats like spell damage and spell crit?
The short version is that haste is, point for point, our strongest DPS stat. The basic mantra is: hit (to cap) > haste > damage > crit.

Of course, it's never quite that simple. There's a big "if" attached to that, which is: "if your gear is currently reasonably balanced for your spec." Every stat influences the value of every other stat. When you add a point of crit rating to your gear, the value of hit rating, haste rating and damage increases relative to crit rating. So if, for example, you increase your haste enough, it's possible to push the value of a point of damage over that of a point of haste.

The interactions are pretty simple in concept, but actually calculating the relative values of the stats for a specific spec with a specific set of current stats can be a little complicated. That's where tools like mine and Vontre's come in. They do that work for you.

How has having haste changed Lhivera's play style and tactics?
It really hasn't -- partly because I stopped raiding before I collected much haste gear, but mostly because it doesn't really change the play style of a Frost Mage. You're still casting the same spells; you're just casting them faster. A deep Arcane Mage has to alter his casting more with haste, since it can change the way he works within the Arcane Blast debuff timer, but for a Fire Mage or a Frost Mage, all it does is introduce additional gear choices.

What spec do you recommend for a beginning raider? Is that different from what you'd recommend for a raider who's progressed further into end-game content?
I realize this is not a common view among many raiders, but to me, talent specs are not tools used to optimize your character for a particular kind of performance. They aren't meant to be swapped around like equipment or like weapons in a first-person shooter.

I don't care what kind of server you play on. World of Warcraft is an RPG, and RPGs are, first and foremost, character-driven. They are about creating and developing a character and overcoming challenges in the provided world with that character, whatever his strengths or weaknesses may be. This is true of World of Warcraft whether you're into using "in character" dialogue or not (I'm not), just as it has always been true of pen-and-paper RPGs. In World of Warcraft, talents represent your character's strengths, his natural aptitudes, training and experience.

Now, sure, if you hit 70 and decide Magic Attunement isn't all you thought it would be and you want to shift those points to Prismatic Cloak, that kind of thing doesn't bother me. But I believe very strongly that when you respec into a new tree to optimize your character for certain situations, you're destroying a large part of the RPG experience. Respeccing should be a last resort, something you do when you're just so bored with a character and so uninterested in leveling a new one that your choices come down to respeccing or quitting.

So my recommendation is this: create the character you want to play. If you want to play an Arcane Mage, then come level 10, start putting points into the Arcane tree. People will tell you you're making leveling more difficult for yourself because the tree just isn't very good for it. They're right. But who cares? Deal with it. Get to know the character, get to love it. If you don't love the character by level 30, delete it. You'll never have the personal attachment to it that you'll need to enjoy it long-term. If you do, keep at it, learn to play it well and learn how to gear it.

Many raiders disagree with this point of view. They feel that defeating the boss is the sole consideration, and the characters are merely tools used to achieve that goal. As far as I'm concerned, these people aren't playing an MMORPG. They're playing an MMORTS. And while Warcraft's roots are in the real-time strategy genre, that's not the kind of game World of Warcraft is meant to be, and it's not the kind of game I'm interested in playing.

What should be the main priorities of a raiding Mage in terms of spec and gearing -- DPS, utility, survivability ...?
I've probably already said more about spec than anyone cared to read. Beyond that, you focus on dealing damage. If you want to be a raiding Frost Mage, you really want those three points in Piercing Ice rather than Frozen Core, for example, and your gear should be oriented toward dishing out as much pain to a boss as your tank's threat will allow.

Utility is practically irrelevant; there's virtually nothing you can do to make a difference in your utility capabilities that a raiding group will care about. There's enough redundancy and flexibility in handling utility tasks that, should a breakdown occur somewhere, a sharp group will cover it.

Survivability is relevant, but only because it translates into damage. A Frost Mage having Ice Barrier isn't an advantage because it keeps him alive; it's an advantage because it allows him to wear less stamina gear and thus more damage gear. Having more Ice Blocks is an advantage not because it keeps you alive, but because it allows you to clear debuffs or avoid effects that would otherwise reduce your DPS time.

Is there a clear-cut best spec/spell rotation for Mages, as far as producing the biggest numbers?
Yes and no. In any given situation with any given raid composition, there's one spec that will outperform the others. But changes in both fight design and raid composition have large effects on the performance of different specs. Blizzard has actually done a pretty good job of balancing out our three trees so that they can all shine in the right situation, with the right group, in the hands of the right player.

Can you share a little bit about the man behind the characters and numbers?

Not a problem! I turned 40 in February. I grew up in South Windsor, Conn., got a BA in English Literature with a minor in Political Science and moved to Seattle in 1991, where I now work as a sys admin for a web hosting/colocation company. I have a lovely wife who is very tolerant of my gaming time and two cats who are not. I have an affection for old Saabs and vintage Vespa scooters. In fact, I have a crudely Photoshopped image of Lhivera sitting on a Vespa fitted with an anti-tank weapon outside the Stormwind Auction House; I'll send it along. Yes, the French military really did mount anti-tank weapons on Vespas.

It sounds from your perspective on choosing a spec and play style as if you have a good bit of experience with roleplaying games in general.
In high school and college, I played a variety of pen-and-paper RPGs -- not so much D&D, actually, though a little. Mostly I played Gamma World and Call of Cthulhu, with various games in various genres using the GURPS system thrown in when the mood struck the group. None of the people I played with were really into the deeply in-character roleplaying, the dialogue and so forth. Mostly, it was an excuse to hang out, have some laughs, drink some beer and see what kind of story had happened when we were finished. How closely the story wound up aligning with what the GM had planned was generally inversely proportional to the amount of beer consumed, but it was always fun.

The interesting thing to most of us was our characters themselves. Though we took the play itself very casually, and really serious role players would have been appalled at the way we handled dialogue, we all invested a great deal of time in crafting the characters we played in these games. We wrote back story, the more artistic members of the group made sketches for us -- we knew who these characters were, and while we may not have tried to duplicate their manner of speech, we did keep true to the character concepts as we moved them through the narrative.

Did you play many other games before that, or are there other games you also currently enjoy?
Well, as a Mac user, my selection has always been relatively limited. I've never been a huge gamer; as long as I have something to play when I'm in the mood, I'm happy. The most advanced console system I've ever owned was an Atari 5200. There are really only three games that have ever been more than very casual pastimes for me: Civilization II, Warbirds, and now World of Warcraft.

How are you spending your WoW time these days? What's ahead for your character?

Real life takes up more of my time these days, though I still spend a few hours a week in the game. I'm slowly leveling up a Fire Mage, a Feral Druid and a staff-wielding Warrior (a character I will never inflict upon a group); they're all in their low 60s on Hellfire Peninsula now. Occasionally I log Lhivera in to disenchant for the others or to work on Wintersaber Trainers rep, or I get onto one of my other 70s to run a 10-man or a heroic, but that doesn't happen often lately.

As for the future, that depends a great deal on how much time I have for the game, which will determine whether I'm able to resume raiding at level 80. It also depends on whether or not the classes I enjoy seem to be headed in directions that feel right to me, which will determine whether I'm interested in resuming raiding at level 80.

The only thing I can say for sure is that Lhivera and Macpherson, at least, will reach level 80, because I have a great deal of affection for them and for the world they live in.

Whet your appetite on more 15 Minutes of Fame with interviews of WoW players of every stripe, from well known figures to the player you run into the mailbox every evening.

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