Patch 3.0.2 is going to be simply enormous. It will be massive not only in terms of actual new content, but also in terms of how it will effect the current class mechanics. A lot of things we accept as normal, things that have become second nature to us, will be altered so dramatically with this patch that the entire landscape of the game will change. Since this is a column about Mages, we'll lay aside some of the more general changes (barber shops, Inscription, Dalaran moving north, achievements, etc.) in order to focus on the aspects of the patch that will specifically affect those of us who wear cloth and turn things into sheep.
Talent point refund
When you log in on patch day, you will discover, as will every other class, that all your talent points have been refunded. You will also notice an abundance of new talents, including powerful new 51-point talents. Even old talents will have numerous changes from their current iterations. You get a free respec, and you'll need it, because none of the currently accepted talent builds will work in any recognizable fashion after the patch. More specifics on the new/changed talents will be forthcoming on Monday.
This is a fairly large change, but it's simpler to understand than it may sound at first. Several stats that are important to Mages will change significantly with the patch. These changes are mostly an attempt to consolidate several of the various stats together.
"Spell critical strike rating" will become "critical strike rating," and will be consolidated with the old melee critical strike rating. This means that any weapon that had either rating will now have the same amount of the new, consolidated rating. If a sword gives 15 critical strike rating, that crit rating applies both to the rate at which your magical abilities crit and the rate at which your physical abilities crit, whether you're a Rogue or a Mage or whatever.
By the same token, hit rating and spell hit rating are becoming the same stat. After the patch, your spell hit rating will become just "hit rating," affecting both melee and spell chance to hit, so be aware.
So how will this affect us? In most cases, not much. The rating should stay the same on all your gear. When you log in on patch day, don't panic about your Merciless Gladiator's War Staff having 42 crit rating instead of 42 spell crit rating. The stat has a different name, but performs the same function. The only real difference I can think of is that if, for some odd reason, you mess up and roll need when Malchazeen drops off Prince, you can claim it's to help you hit the spell hit cap. You may still get kicked out of the guild, but at least you'll feel slightly less stupid about it. Slightly.
The final stat change that will affect us is the consolidation of spell damage and healing. These are becoming an entirely new stat called "spellpower." This change is slightly more impactful than the previous ones. Don't worry, your spell damage now will become your spellpower after the patch, and the value will be the same. The difference is that in many cases, gear that is now healer-only will be perfectly suitable for Mages. Things like the Primal Mooncloth set will suddenly become viable gear for certain Mages, which is weird to say the least. In the month between the patch and the expansion, when cloth gear drops, you may suddenly find yourself rolling against Priests as well as Warlocks in some situations. It isn't the biggest deal in the world, but it'll at the very least be an interesting change.
Spell pushback is being changed quite a bit. Nothing--and I mean nothing--is more frustrating than fighting an attacker with rapid attack options (cough...Rogue) and trying to cast a spell with any sort of cast-time. With the current implementation of spell pushback, every attack has a chance of pushing your casting bar back, every time, forever. A 3-second cast could become a 10-second cast, a 1.5 second cast could easily be stretched to 5 or 6 seconds, and heaven help you if you try to throw out a Pyroblast.
The patch will bring a limit to how much your spells can be pushed back. The first hit will add .5 seconds to your casting time, and the second hit will add an additional half second. Every hit after the second will not affect casting time. That means that even if that feral Druid is smacking you 27 times every second, your cast time will only increase by 1 second, at most. No more perennial casting animations while that Rogue turns you into a pincushion in a dress. Very nice.
This change also affects channeled spells. If attacked while channeling a spell, the first hit will decrease the duration of the cast by 25%, and the second by another 25%, while every hit to follow will have no affect on the cast duration. In other words, no channeled spell's duration can be reduced by anything more than half. Any Mage who's ever tried to channel Evocation in combat will welcome this change, knowing that even if you happen to get hit while casting, at worst you will only have wasted half of your 8 minute cooldown spell (5 after the patch!).
Spell mana cost (or the end of downranking)
Spell cost has been changed universally from numerical mana costs to a flat percentage of your base mana (your mana pool with no gear at all, and unaffected by talents or intellect, or 2241 at level 70). This change was made to ensure that the mana costs of spells will scale with level. It makes sure that using rank 1 of a spell at level 70 will cost the same as using rank 16 of that same spell. Downranking spellcasts has been a large part of Mage casting strategy for some time. This change will all but abolish such practices as using rank 1 Frostbolt or Frost Nova as low-mana control options, or spamming rank 1 Arcane Explosion to ferret a Rogue out of hiding.
I don't really have a problem with this change, though I'm sure many do. Downranking was always a kind of exploit, and it makes sense for Blizzard to end it across the board. I never liked the idea of having to mathematically weigh the mana efficiency of each rank of each spell to find the one rank that gave the most damage per mana value. Higher ranks of spells should always be better, and I guess this is one way to make that happen.
Finally, Blizzard has implemented a way for Mages to use this mechanic properly without an addon and a lot of complicated macros. By right-clicking any unit frame you will be able to set that target as your focus. You will also be able to key-bind shift, alt, or control as a "focus cast key," meaning that if you hold down your chosen key and cast a spell, it will be cast toward your focus and not your actual target.
Focus is a mechanic that every Mage should learn and use liberally. One major use is to set your sheep target as your focus, and then use your focus cast binding (shift/control/alt + your Polymorph hotkey) to recast sheep without ever having to leave your main DPS target. It has many other uses, especially in PvP, so if you for some reason haven't been using it before now, the patch will be the perfect time to start.
There are addons that do the job more efficiently, but the default UI version coming with the patch is a perfectly serviceable way to go. It's not fancy, but it's something.
We'll deal with the changes to talented spells on Monday. Below you'll find the changes to trainable spells, those every level 70 Mage will have when the patch hits.
The cooldown on this spell has been lowered from 8 minutes to 5, which is, quite frankly, all kinds of awesome.
This spell, on the other hand, has been molested so savagely, I'm pretty sure it could be classified as a hate-crime. Each cast now increases the next cast's damage by 15% while the mana cost goes up by a ridiculous 200%. The effect now only lasts 3 seconds, and is still stackable up to three times, by which point you will of course be using approximately the same amount of mana it would take to power Dalaran for like a week. What this means is that you will never want to cast this spell more than once in a row, and that the Arcane tree has nothing resembling a good spell rotation. The change was made to discourage spamming Arcane Blast, but no attempt was made to make the other arcane nuke (Arcane Missiles) viable. As it is now, Arcane Blast is probably too powerful, but it surely didn't need to be nerfed so horribly. Let's hope this gets ironed out into something more reasonable in future patches.
Conjure Mana Gem:
When you conjure these, they no longer vanish from your inventory after being logged out for more than 15 minutes, which is nice. Also, if you've used charges on your current mana gem, casting the spell again will recharge it to the full three charges. Also nice.
This spell always had a lot of potential, and now it finally lives up to it. The 5 second fade-out we have to deal with for so long is being lowered to 3 seconds in the patch, and by talenting into Prismatic Cloak, that fadeout can be lowered to instant. For non-arcane Mages, hey, at least 3 seconds is better than 5, right?
Currently this spell drains 2 mana for every 1 health it absorbs. This is being lowered to 1.5 mana with the patch, a nice buff to a relatively lackluster spell.
Remove Lesser Curse:
Brace yourselves. When the patch hits, this spell will be irrevocably changed forever and there will be no going back past the point of no return. Did that sentence have enough redunancies? I'm not sure...I think I could have packed a couple more in there. Anyway, what's changing? Only the entire name of the spell. That's right: when the patch hits, it'll be called "Remove Curse." Where'd the "lesser" go? I don't know! But I think we can finally give up hope of ever being able to remove greater curses.
Come back on Monday for the second part of this patch 3.0.2 blowout. We'll review the changes to each of the talent trees, and see how our 51-point talents have ended up.
Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of Mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent look at how long your gear will last you in Northrend, or our analysis of the current state of the Mage class as we move into the new expansion. 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'.