Arcane Brilliance: Patch 3.1 Musings

Each week Arcane Brilliance dispeneses a tall glass of sweet Mage content. Sometimes this content consists of pure, undistilled truth. Other times, there's some crap in the mix. I blame Blizzard, for putting the truth and the crap right next to each other on the same shelf. You'd think they'd put the truth all alone on its own shelf--you know, to prevent any misunderstandings--or maybe put labels on this stuff, clearly distinguish the truth from the crap. If it were me, I think I'd just stop stocking the crap all together. They must know something I don't. I guess that's why they're the giant game developer and I'm the guy sitting in front of my computer in my pajamas eating pop tarts and trying not to get too many crumbs on the keyboard.

In case you've been stranded on a remote island for the past week with nothing but a volleyball for company and only just made it back to civilization, put a shirt on, shave your beard and brace yourself: we finally got some solid patch 3.1 info. I know, it totally makes that week of eating coconuts and talking to yourself worthwhile, right?

We've been waiting for this patch almost since day one of Wrath, with its tantalizing promises of Ulduar and dual specs, and now Blizzard has given us a lot more details. There will a huge amount of class changes, and Mages will not be left out of the mix. The announced changes are intriguing, even if they are infuriatingly vague. We're definitely getting some new stuff, some buffs, some nerfs, some buff-nerfs...but as to the specifics, who knows, really? Pending more detail, we're going to have to take our best educated guesses as to what all of this means. Follow me after the jump for as much unsubstantiated conclusion-jumping as you can handle.

Let's begin with a general change that is designed to mainly impact healers, but will also affect all casters, Mages being no exception.

Mana Regeneration

The whole concept here is that healers in general currently seem to have never-ending mana pools. Blizzard's answer to this problem is to nerf 5-second-rule spirit-based regeneration across the board. They want to limit the regen gained by certain classes when not casting, and I can understand the concern. For the most part, this will not affect Mages much, since we're casting almost constantly in fights anyway. The place where it would have become a concern for us is in relation to spirit-based spells and talents that allow a certain percentage of mana regen to continue while casting--spells like Mage Armor, Arcane Meditation, and Pyromaniac. For raiding Arcane, Fire, and Frostfire Mages, those spells and talents are almost mandatory, and to have the stat they're based on become less effective would significantly hurt our already fragile mana regen capabilities.

To counterbalance the negative impact such a change would have on DPS casters, Blizzard is buffing those talents and spells by some unspecified amount. They assert that the net effect will leave our mana regen about the same. I hope they're right, but will reserve judgment until the patch hits the PTR and I can test it out for myself. I can imagine this will need to be tweaked a few times before things work the way we need them to.

As a Mage with a Holy Paladin as a main alt, I feel the healer nerf keenly. Pallies are getting their own special nerf, since they don't rely on spirit for mana regen the way other healing classes do, but their nerf sounds as if it will be every bit as painful as everyone else's. Still, I can understand the reasoning behind the nerfs overall. Healing does need to be limited by a need for mana conservation, and by so limiting it, the game developers do give themselves a little more leeway in how they design boss encounters in the future. The way it stands currently, the only way for them to make boss fights challenging for healers is to give the bosses massive burst damage capabilities--to essentially try to out-burst the heals. Speaking as someone who has healed those kinds of encounters, trying to catch up to massive bursts of damage, especially of the AoE variety, sucks. I'd much rather have bosses deal damage I can keep up with, but have to watch my mana expenditure more closely. I'm optimistic that this change will be a positive one after all is said and done.

The problem is that as a Mage, it really sucks to get drawn into a change that is designed around a mechanic we have nothing to do with. I like the idea Blizzard has come up with to counterbalance it, but am skeptical about how well it will even out in practice. Until we get some hard numbers and/or actual testing, I await this change with significant trepidation.


Going hand in hand with the sweeping mana regen changes, 3.1 will also apparently be bring Mages their first taste of a replenishment-ish ability. This yet-unspecified ability will be replacing Improved Water Elemental. It will supposedly be similar the ways Shadow Priests gain their mana back. What does that mean, exactly? Your guess, my friends, is as good as mine. I have so very many questions about this. I will present them below, in a handy, bulleted format.

  • Since you say it will replace Improved Mana Water Elemental, I would assume this is going to be a talent. Will it be physically taking Improved Water Elemental's place in the Frost tree?

  • If it is, indeed, Frost only, is this a way to make Frost Mages more raid viable?

  • Is this going to be a passive talent, or will it be on-use, and have a cooldown, or require channelling or some other awkward mechanic?

  • Will using it cut into Frost Mages' already sub-par DPS in any way? If so, no thanks.

  • Will it provide more mana than the Water Elemental does now? Boy, I hope so.

  • Will there be any changes to the normal Water Elemental? My fingers are crossed for more DPS, and/or possibly making our big blue buddies permanent pets. I know those are probably both pipe dreams, but they're nice pipe dreams.

  • Free respeccs? Please?

I'm not even a Frost Mage and I have all of those questions, and more that I'll probably think of in the coming days. I'm sure those of you who are specced Frost can think of a great deal more. I look forward to some clarification, and hope it comes sooner rather than later.

PvE Shatter Combos

Mmmm. This could end up being a very intriguing patch for Frost Mages, when all is said and done. This change, more than any other, has the potential to be very sexy indeed. Shatter combos have been one of the defining characteristics for Frost Mages for a very long time, but the mechanic has until now been mostly limited to PvP scenarios. PvE Frost-Magery has for some time consisted largely of spamming Frostbolt and nailing the occasional Brain Freeze proc, then finishing up well below Fire Mages on the damage meters.

Patch 3.1 may change a great deal of that. The only information we have at this point is that Blizzard is "working on a way to give Frost Mages Ice Lance 'Shatter combos' in PvE". Again, so many questions, and not enough bullets with which to list them. I'll try anyway:

  • How?

  • What?

  • How?

Ok, so that list wasn't actually very long at all. Also, It got a little repetitive there by the end. For a three-item list, I'm going to look at that as some kind of achievement. I want a title or a tabard or something.

The possibilities here are limitless. Ice Lance is a very fun spell, but is currently only really viable in PvP. adding it into a PvE rotation built around Shatter procs would add a level of interactivity to Frost PvE that has been sorely lacking for a good long while now. It would also add a level of DPS that has also been sorely lacking, and I can't think of any change that would be more welcomed by Frost Mages, short of being able to wear plate or kill Warlocks with their minds or something. I can't wait to see how exactly this is implemented, and I'm sure a lot of you can't either.

Fire PvP Survivability

Adding to our growing list of vague, possibly entirely-full-of-crap promises that sound really good on paper, we get this little nugget. Blizzard is "working on more survivability for Fire spec in PvP." There is absolutely no possible way for that quote to contain less actual information. None.

Fire desperately needs some more ways to not get killed in PvP. That's been the case since always. There simply isn't another class/spec in the game that dies as quickly and easily as a Fire Mage, and it isn't even a close contest. There are multiple ways for this to improve. We just have to hope Blizzard picks a viable one.

My personal suggestion? Give Scorch or Fire Blast a knockback (attached to a fire talent), and make Blazing Speed more dependable. I wouldn't be opposed to having Blazing Speed proc a lot more often. It's quite simply never been a good enough talent, and wouldn't be overpowered even with a 50% proc rate, in my incredibly biased opinion. Fire Mages are so infinitely killable in so many ways, why not let them run fast and escape from snares and such all the time? That'd at least give them a fighting chance.

Spirit = Useful?

"We Are working on making Spirit a more useful and interesting stat for all Mages."


This would be good, I guess? We already have spirit slathered all over a lot of our gear anyway, it'd be nice to have it be more worthwhile. At the same time, though, I have to wonder if making it "more useful and interesting" might make spirit a stat we have to start stacking again. I hope not. Between gearing for hit rating, crit, spellpower, haste, and intellect, spirit would be just one more thing to have to worry about.

What I'd like to see here is some additions to talents like Student of the Mind or Arcane Mind that give some kind of haste or spellpower benefit from the amount of spirit you have. Adding a similar benefit to talents in the Fire and Frost trees (possibly to currently under-utilized talents) would make spirit far more useful to each kind of Mage, and give us a few more speccing options. I'd like to see spirit become a stat you can choose to stack and spec for, rather than yet another mandatory stat. In any case, I look forward to discovering Blizzard's defenition of the words "useful" and "interesting."

Holy crap, the PTR is going to be fun.

Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of Mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent guide to gearing your Mage for Naxxramas, or our look at which glyphs to pick for each spec. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.