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Arcane Brilliance: How to fix Mages

Christian Belt

Each week, Arcane Brilliance puts a Mage-related joke at the beginning of a column about Mages. This week, though, after the class panels at the WWI, Arcane Brilliance is not in a joking mood.

Warriors are unique in that they are the strongest, most durable melee class, can use all of the biggest and best weapons and armor in the game, and make highly-sought-after tanks.

Rogues are unique in that they can Stealth past almost anything, are downright impossible to hit at times, and can contribute incredibly high single-target DPS in groups.

Druids are unique in that they can shape-shift into awesome animal forms that amount to slightly lesser versions of several other classes, can be excellent tanks, DPS, and healers, have incredible buffs, and are the single most annoying Arena class in the game.

Priests are unique in that they can be both an incredibly effective caster DPS class as well as the best (and surprisingly durable) pure healing class, while providing some of the best buffs around.

Hunters are unique in that they can tame their own pets, then use them to tank for them while they sit back and provide top-tier ranged DPS.

Paladins are unique in that they are the only healing class that can wear plate, can perform the duties of the best multiple mob tanking class, the best single-target healing class, or an effective melee DPS class. Also, they have a bubble.

Shamans are broken currently, but will soon have some of the best raid-wide buffs in the game via their totems, and are still sort of unique in that they can spec to provide both melee and caster DPS, as well as very nice healing, and have an incredibly nice panic button.

Warlocks are unique in that they can provide what is possibly the best caster DPS, both single-target and AoE, have Life Tap, which makes their mana almost never-ending in groups where they have a healer willing to throw them a heal every now and again, have a pet which can add to their DPS, tank for them, destroy casters in PvP, or provide CC.

Mages...Mages are Warlocks without pets.

Ok, to be entirely fair, we can also make food and open a portal to Shattrath at the end of every instance.

Mages need help (Shamans need help too, but Arcane Brilliance isn't a column about Shamans). Come back after the break and we'll talk about what needs to be done.

After I responded briefly to the WWI class panels at the tail end of last week's column, I received several requests to give the matter more attention. The more I thought about it, the more I agreed with those requests. This matter does need more attention, and even though I'm certain you guys are seriously over-estimating the amount of clout we have with the folks over at Blizzard (the actual amount of clout? None), if there is any chance that someone who can get things done in that company might stumble across this column, I'd be remiss not to give the ongoing problems with Mages the space they deserve.

I'm a Mage. I've been a Mage since I first logged into the game three years ago and have loved being one ever since. I love the idea of Mages, the whole concept behind the role we have to play in the game. We're glass cannons. We're incredibly fragile dealers of death. We aren't built to get close to the action; we dispense our damage from afar, channeling the might of the twisting nether into great orbs of flame and frost and launching them over the helms of the mighty melee classes and into the gaping maw of the dire foe beyond. We know that the trade-off for our mystical prowess is that physically we're the weakest class in the game, and we accept that.

We made that particular deal with the devil at the character creation screen, and have upheld our end of the bargain ever since. When the Rogue sticks stabby things into our backs, we die quietly, because that's what we're supposed to do. In return, we hope that our swift death was preceded by copious amounts of pain inflicted on the Rogue's allies. When the monster breaks our sheep and lumbers over to smack us, we fall without complaint, believing that our death is the price of that top spot on the DPS meter. We trade our blood for power, suffer one extreme to benefit from another.

I'm not trying to be melodramatic about this. If I was, I'd have followed that last paragraph with a line that read something like "But the devil has not upheld his half of the bargain," possibly even made some sort of Faustian reference. I'm not going to do that, because not only would I be inadvertently equating Blizzard with Satan (something I definitely don't want to do), but I'd sound even more stupid than usual (something I also wish to avoid, if at all possible). This isn't an issue that warrants melodrama, frankly. This is a blog column about a character class in a video game, not an infomercial in which Sally Struthers tearfully pleads for your coffee money to save children in Africa. Even so, this happens to be a character class that is important to me, and I'd wager it's also important to most of you who read this column, so forgive me if my tone is somber.

The issue is this: Mages remain the single most delicate class in the game; even Frost Mages compare unfavorably with other DPS classes' similar survivability specs. That's our weakness. Our strength is our DPS output, but it can be bested by no less than 5 other classes at the highest levels of the game as it currently stands. Utility aside, this game we all play boils down to two essential components: how quickly can you kill, and how long can you survive? A Warlock can survive longer than quite a few classes, and can out-DPS all of them in most encounters. A Druid can survive forever, DPS better than some, and even help others survive. A Mage, on the other hand, has the shortest life-span of any class in the game, and is currently not even close to being the best DPS class.

Every other class has something that no other class has, something that sets them apart, makes them unique, a specific role or roles that they can perform better than any other class. Mages have a magical food table. We used to have the most reliable CC in the game, now every class has their own version of it. Our role is absolutely replaceable in every way. Other classes can provide what we provide, and the sad truth is that most of them can provide it better.

This isn't a problem that can be solved by the player base. Telling Mages to "learn to play" isn't going to help anything, because even the best Mages in the game can still be bested on the DPS meters, and be one-shot if they pull aggro on the wrong boss. Telling Mages to re-roll and stop whining is also counter-productive, since we clearly want to continue being Mages, and so are faced with the choice of either voicing our dissatisfaction or living with an underdeveloped class. No, this problem can only be solved by Blizzard.

During the WWI class panels, Tom Chilton was asked a rather pointed question that echoes the sentiments I've expressed here. With every other class able to assume our role and frequently best us at it, and Mages having no truly unique qualities to offer at the highest levels of the game, how did Blizzard intend to reestablish the class as something valuable and worth playing? Chilton's answer was perfect. Mages would be given back their essential hallmark: raw unadulterated damage.

This is exactly what's needed. To offset our unmatched squishiness, we would be given back our status as the kings of damage output. It's the solution to the problem, would re-vitalize the class, and give us back a unique, irreplaceable role in the game. We don't need to be given anything that isn't ours. Other classes can have their Titan Grips and their Demon Forms. We just want to have what's rightfully ours: the highest DPS potential in the game. We don't need to be the best by a large margin, either, just enough that our role is secure. All it would take is a small balance tweak, perhaps to the talent trees, perhaps to our trainable spells' damage potential, perhaps to both. There would be no danger of us replacing the other ranged DPS classes in end-game raids, simply because those classes can and will always be able to offer things we cannot, like rezzes, buffs, healing, utility, and survivability.

But then Chilton backtracked, saying that Mages were intended to be the best at a very specific type of DPS: AoE. The intention seems to be to return us to the being the best class at that particular kind of damage-dealing, but not necessarily overall. In as civil a tongue as I can manage, let me say that no, Blizzard, that is not going to work.

Barring some kind of new and class-altering mechanic that you intend to introduce in the expansion (of which I haven't heard even the slightest rumblings), the only resolution to our ongoing dilemma as a class is an all-encompassing DPS buff that affects Mages across the board. We can ask for nothing less in any sort of good conscience.

Mages are broken.

We need to be fixed.

Please, Blizzard, fix us.

As always, we promise to keep dying when things hit us.

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'.

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