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Arcane Brilliance: The Arcane tree in WotLK

Christian Belt

Each week, Arcane Brilliance blinks in from out of nowhere to deliver an instant cast full of Mage info and analysis to the interwebs. Or at least it tries to. Sometimes it blinks sideways, you see. Sometimes, backwards. On rare occasions, Arcane Brilliance casts Blink and goes absolutely nowhere. Oh well, at least the sparkly lights looked pretty.

Let's hear it for no more NDA! Now we can finally talk in detail about things a lot of us have known about for months. I'm sure we're all underwhelmed by the Beta patch notes as they apply to Mages. Here they are, in full. Pull up a chair, these could take you a full 90 seconds to read:

  • Arcane Focus (Arcane) is now 3 ranks and increases chance to hit and reduces mana cost of Arcane spells by 1/2/3%.
  • Counterspell now costs 9% of base mana.
  • Frost Armor, Ice Armor, Mage Armor and Molten Armor are no longer Magic effects and cannot be dispelled.
  • Invisibility now makes the caster invisible after 3 seconds, reduced from 5 seconds.
  • Magic Attunement (Arcane) now also increases the range of your Arcane spells by 3/6 yards.
  • Polymorph now costs 12% of base mana.
  • Portal spells now cost 18% of base mana.
  • Prismatic Cloak (Arcane) now also reduces the fade time of Invisibility by 1/2 seconds.
  • Slow Fall now costs 6% of base mana.
  • Teleport spells now cost 9% of base mana.
Ok. Deep breath. Repress urge to kill. Repeat after me: "It is still early in the testing process. These notes are incomplete. Changes are likely coming. Mages will get something cool." Feel better? No? Me either. Still, there are some things worth discussing here, and with the lifting of the embargo on leaked Alpha talents, we do have a great many things to talk about. Join me after the break and we'll do just that, starting with the tree that has changed the most: the Arcane tree.

We'll talk about the new talents in a bit. First, let's look at those patch notes.

Ok, we're getting a lot of mana cost changes that will allow spells with currently fixed mana costs to scale as our base mana improves. This isn't good news, but it's no reason to panic. Base mana isn't anywhere close to total mana. Your base mana is your mana pool before any buffs or talents or stat gains from gear are applied. At level 70, this translates to 2241 mana for Mages. Polymorph will cost 269 mana at level 70 with this change, so no big deal.

The change to our armor spells is excellent, but we already have it. It came in patch 2.4.3. It's very nice, but not new. Always good to know that though the felhunter that's chewing on us can silence us multiple times and eat our intellect buff, at least our Molten Armor is safe.

The other significant change is to the spell Invisibility, which has always been a rather sore spot for me. The current 5 second fade-out will be reduced to 3 seconds, which is very nice. This makes the spell a much more versatile aggro drop and escape mechanism, and as we'll discuss further down, it can become even better.

Aside from the talent changes (which we'll discuss below), that's the extent of what the Beta currently gives us. I'm optimistic that more will be added to these notes as the Beta goes on. It almost has to. Frostfire Bolt isn't even mentioned there, so I'm holding out for more complete notes.

Ignoring the lack of news the patch notes provided us with, I'm going to instead look at the new talents we're getting. I'll start this week with the Arcane tree, with posts on the Fire and Frost trees to follow in the coming weeks. I'm going to look at each altered or brand new talent in turn.

Arcane Focus

The change here is from 10% chance to hit for 5 talent points to 3% chance to hit for 3 talent points. A clear nerf, to be sure, but an understandable one. This brings the talent in line with Elemental Precision, which applies to the other two trees, and ensures that Mages who take both talents will need a consistent amount of spell hit rating to reach the cap, regardless of the spell they're using. No spell hit will be wasted when casting spells from a different school, and I guess that makes sense.

Magic Absorption

This talent, on the other hand, is getting a very significant buff. It was always more of a filler talent before, something you took on the way to Improved Counterspell because it sucked slightly less than other choices. Previously, it gave you a fixed +10 resistance buff, but now, when fully talented, it will provide 1 per level. Now...after putting on my math hat for a minute...1 x 80 is...carry the 8...aha!. 80. Eighty. This talent, at max level, will now increase a Mage's resistances by 80, as well as continuing to provide a significant mana-return on fully resisted spells. I'm not sure how anyone taking talents in the Arcane tree can pass this beauty up now.

Magic Attunement

This talent used to be fairly worthless, conferring a buff to two spells that didn't matter enough to bother taking the talent. But now Blizzard's gone and snuck something in there that makes it worth picking up for an Arcane Mage: range. This is another way to bring the Arcane tree in line with the other two trees, by allowing the Arcane Mage to increase the range of their primary spells similar to the way Fire and Frost Mages can. Wait...does this mean that Blizzard might be attempting to make the Arcane tree a viable standalone tree? Well, I can dream, can't I? I just wish they'd picked a less crappy talent to attach this to.

Prismatic Cloak

This was always a very nice way to mitigate damage, but so deep in the Arcane tree that most PvP Mages never took it. Now it becomes a must-have for survivability purposes. The new addition is a reduction in the fade-out for Invisibility from 3 seconds to 1. That makes the spell as close to instant as it's likely to ever get. It goes from being an easily interruptible PvE aggro drop with very limited PvP application to a fairly incredible spell all at once. Think of the possibilities: Unless you get hit during that one second, this spell will now serve as a very reliable way to hide in both PvP and PvE, providing even non-Frost Mages with a way to escape and drink in Arenas, and dump threat in PvE without undue fear of wasting the cast. Coupled with Blink or Frost Nova, this vastly improves Mage survivability in every aspect of the game.

Potent Spirit

Now this one is all new. It increases your spell crit by 15% of your total spirit, which can end up being a very nice buff with the right gear. It's good to see another reason to gear for spirit being introduced, as the stat was losing some of its luster for Mages.

Incanter's Absorption

What this talent purports to do is pretty phenomenal. As it reads now, this will return 15% (when fully talented) of any damage you absorb to you in increased spell damage for the next 10 seconds. The problem is that we still have a whole truckload of question marks there.

So...I have my Mana Shield up. It absorbs a Rogue's attack for 500 points of damage, which then gives me a 10 second buff of 75 spell damage. That's fine and good. But now the Rogue hits me with his other weapon, doing another 500 damage, which is also absorbed by my Mana Shield. What happens now? I'm assuming I get another 75 spell damage. Does the buff refresh? Are they two separate buffs? What happens if I then cast Ice Barrier? If the Rogue is still whacking me, does the buff keep improving? Does it keep refreshing? If my Priest companion casts Power Word: Shield on me, does that count too? Which shielding buffs apply and which don't? Is there a cap on the buff? Does it continue to get bigger as I get hit? Could I, possibly, keep absorbing damage until my spell damage is through the roof, then unleash a PoM-Pyroblast that destroys the entire planet? Could another Mage steal my world-destroying power before I have the chance to cast? So many questions. So much potential for awesome. We'll have to wait for actual testing data to know more.

Student of the Mind

Increasing you total spirit by 4/7/10% is very nice, especially when coupled with Potent Spirit. More mana regen and spell crit? Yes, please.

Netherwind Presence

At max rank, this spell gives an array of Mage spells a 5% chance to make the next spell in that same selection instant. The spells covered by this effect include Arcane Missiles, Arcane Barrage, Arcane Blast, Fireball, Frostbolt, and Frostfire Bolt. This seems quite weak to me, especially coming as it does so deep in the tree.

What this means, in essence, is that every 20 Fireballs (or pick your nuke of choice) you throw, on average one will be instant cast. The proc could be more or less often, of course. Since Arcane Missiles and Arcane Barrage (we'll get to this little spell in a moment) are already instant cast spells, the instant effect can only apply to Fireball, Frostbolt, Arcane Blast, or Frostfire Bolt. If you're using Fireball or Frostbolt as your primary nukes, their cast time is likely already shortened by talents. If Arcane Blast is part of your rotation, you're likely already using the lowered cast-time debuff to your advantage. Frostfire Bolt appears to be the best option to use this proc on (assuming it's going to end up as powerful as it could be), but that's only if you notice that the effect has procced, and have the presence of mind to switch out of your normal rotation to trigger the spell. I'm sorry, but this spell may be one I skip over. It will definitely provide a small DPS boost over time, but perhaps not enough to be worth 5 talent points this deep in the tree.

Arcane Barrage

Alright, now we're talking. This spell has the potential to be fantastic, to completely change the way Arcane Mages play in PvP, and to almost single-handedly make the Arcane tree a legitimate spec choice that can stand on its own. I couldn't be more excited about this spell. It isn't physically possible. As a Mage who already specs deep Arcane despite my better judgment, the thought of getting this spell makes me very, very happy.

What the spell does, essentially, is provide us with an instant cast nuke with a very short cooldown (3 seconds). At max rank, it does damage comparable to a max-rank Fireball, for slightly less mana. What it will do is nothing short of revolutionary. This spell will allow Arcane Mages to provide high DPS while moving. I can't italicize that enough, frankly. Mobile damage. Say it aloud. Feel how it just rolls off the tongue. Arcane Mages will be able to hurt things consistently without having to stand still. I'm...I'm giddy.

There are still some questions concerning how much spell damage will apply to this spell. Reports from the Alpha put the spell damage coefficient as high as 85%. If that or a similar number hold true, what an astounding spell this could turn out to be. Bring on the nerfs!

All told, I have to say I'm fairly excited about the changes in store for the Arcane tree. As far as game-changing mechanics go, I'm afraid these alterations and new talents are as close as we're going to get, based on the information we have so far. The new Fire and Frost trees aren't nearly as encouraging. We'll get to those next week and the week after. Hopefully by then we'll have a bit more info, as Mages get into the Beta and start monkeying around with this stuff for real. Bring us some good news, you brave pioneer Mages.

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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