Arcane Brilliance: How to be a good PUG mage

Christian Belt
C. Belt|12.13.09

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Arcane Brilliance: How to be a good PUG mage
Welcome to another installment of Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that is incredibly proud of mages. We are, after all, the only class in the game that can conjure our own 5-man group, as evidenced by the picture above. And though our mirror images may not be too bright, I'd still take them over about 3/4ths of the folks I PuGed with last night.

Holy crap. I'm not even kidding. It was like some kind of idiot convention, and I was the keynote speaker. I came in with some prepared remarks, like "Don't stand in the green stuff that looks like poison, because it is poison," "when he begins spinning his giant sword around like a whirlwind, it's because he's doing Whirlwind and you should get out of the way," and "Warlocks drink their own pee," but ended up just sighing and shaking my head a lot.

This whole Dungeon Finder tool is incredible, right? My head has been spinning since the patch dropped, marveling at the ways it has already changed the game, both for good and ill. Suddenly, PuGs are the norm, not the exception. Each instance is a complete unknown, and not just because you don't know which one you're going to get. Is that rogue going to inexplicably decide to eschew his formerly stealthy ways and take up tanking? Who knows? Is the pally healer who just joined specced ret? It's not as unlikely as you think. Did that warlock really just go afk during the boss fight, then return only to need the Frozen Orb and drop group? Yep, he did. Outstanding.

It works the other way, too. There I was, minding my own business, happily spamming Arcane Blast on some kind of giant disgusting undead guy, only to see him turn and begin lumbering over in my direction. OK, I thought, I'll just stop casting, let the tank snatch him back up. Only that doesn't work. I look over at the threat meter to see that I have like three times more threat on that mob than anybody else. In fact, the only two other names on the threat list were the tank and the healer. That's right, I had been pew pewing the wrong giant disgusting undead guy. The fight ends with me reduced to a stain on the floor, and nobody to blame but my own stupid self. Sometimes, when you can't spot the nub in the room, it's because the nub is you.

So how, in this new environment of PuGing, do we ensure that we aren't the only doofus in the group? Or at the very least, make sure we aren't the biggest doofus in the group? I've compiled my thoughts below, and hope that in the comments section you will all chime in with your own advice. I feel it is my duty to help us, as the proud mage community, to not be morons. Let's not be the idiot, the drooling, gibbering mouthbreather in the corner that the rest of the group tweets about later in the evening.

Now, I understand that a great many of you couldn't be that kind of moron if you tried. I'm confident that the vast majority of the mages out there are fully competent, highly-skilled DPS machines who top the DPS meters in every group. But even those of you who have already blinked into Arthas' room and soloed him down somehow with a clever combination of Spellsteal and Incanter's Absorption (screenshots or it didn't happen) may not be fully familiar with this new etiquette of entirely random grouping. It's a brave new World of Warcraft out there, and it's an adjustment for all of us.

So without further ado, here is my short list of ways to avoid being the soup sandwich in your PuG:

1. Remember the basics

You absolutely cannot assume anything going into these groups. The tank will not wait for you to drink between pulls. The healer will not heal you if you get whacked accidentally. The ret pally may very well be doing like 17k DPS somehow, making you look like the lowliest scrub to ever put on a robe and shake a stick at something. You may be expected to sheep... but probably not.

The bottom line is that you need to do your job -- and that means every part of your job -- regardless of what you're used to doing in your experienced guild on your seven-hundredth trip through Trial of the Grand Crusader. You may not be getting things you take for granted, like marked targets or even buffs. This makes it doubly important that you do what you're supposed to do. Remember your role: produce high DPS, manage your threat, and give strudel to everyone.

One thing I've seen a lot of in my short time with this new system is this guy: Mr. Elite Mage Who Will Continue To Pump Out Massive Amounts Of Damage Whether The tank Can Keep Up With It Or Not.

I understand that you are uber. I fully sympathize with your desire to blow up everything ever. But if you're pulling aggro off the tank (who is competent, but simply not equipped to deal with the girth of your particular can of whoopass) because you're simply unwilling to reign yourself in a bit, you're wrong. Don't blame the healer for not keeping you alive when you decide you'd be a more effective tank than the tank. Adjust a bit. Along with several others, this is a basic lesson we all learned in the infancy of magehood, but a lot of us appear to have forgotten.
  • Keep your threat below that of the tank.
  • If you pull aggro, stop casting and run toward the tank.
  • If your sheep breaks, recast it.
  • Keep your mana up between fights as best you can.
  • Buff everybody.
  • Make strudel when you can.
  • Only attack the tank's main target.
I know these are basic things, but you have to keep them actively in mind because there's absolutely zero guarantee that anyone else will.

2. Don't be a ninja.

Really. This random PUG thing is going to be an absolute breeding ground for douchebags, Don't be one of them. Roll greed or disenchant on anything you don't need, and need on anything you do. If somebody ninjas something, vote to kick them from the group. It's not hard to find replacements.

One of the worst offenders here seem to be the Frozen Orbs handed out at the conclusion of Heroics. They come right at the end of the instance, so it's incredibly easy to need them when everybody else greeds and then drop group, no muss, no fuss. It might be a good idea to quickly establish the ground rule at the outset of an instance that on Frozen Orbs, everybody rolls need, to prevent the end-of-instance ninja from even being a possibility.

I actually had a guy ninja one at the end of a ToC run last night and when confronted about it, he responded "I need it, I'm a tailor." True story. If only you could punch people in the face over the internet. Why isn't there an app for that, Apple? Huh?

3. Communicate.

Seriously, it seems like in at least every other instance I PUG, everybody is lurking-serial-killer silent. If you want the tank to mark targets, ask him to do so. Warn folks if they're about to aggro a patrolling mob group. Congratulate others on drops. Just because you don't know these people and will likely never see them again doesn't mean you can't have rudimentary verbal interaction with them.

Every once in awhile you'll land in that special group where everybody knows what they're doing, is familiar with the instance, and is on the same page. The run may go by smoothly without a word being spoken. These groups are the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of the time, a little communication will prove invaluable, even if it's just to point out that Uther's ghost is freaking chatty.

4. Don't assume folks know the fights. They don't.

When you reach a boss encounter, throw out a brief primer for the fight. Chances are there's at least one member of your party who has never done that encounter and could use the friendly advice. Maybe that party member is you. Don't be afraid to ask for tips. The momentary (and largely imagined) feeling of being the nub is much better than the very real shame of causing a wipe.

5. Let the tank set the pace...

...but don't be afraid to slow things down. If your tank is charging from group to group without leaving you any time to recharge your mana batteries, feel free to ask for a second. Just don't expect to get it. Mana conservation and efficiency is doubly important in these rush-jobs, so just do what you can to keep up. A second or two before a boss fight to drink up is important.

6. Be patient...

Don't kick that rogue just because he comes in wearing blues. He may just be trying to gear up an alt, but be a competent rogue beneath all that blue. Now, if he's undergeared and terrible... well do what you must. Just don't be the elitist prick who thinks everybody without epics is wasting your time. Give folks a chance. Random means taking the good with the godawful.

7. ...but know when to throw in the towel.

You know when things are going to be bad. The tank doesn't know how to tank. The healer can't keep anybody alive. The moonkin is directionally challenged. The warlock's doing 1k DPS. The paladin's name is "XcRSDrdGHghFGF" and he introduces himself by asking you to visit his goldselling website. You can usually tell fairly early on if you'd be better off waiting out the ten-minute debuff and trying again.

Now, I'm not advocating being the pantywaist who bolts at the first sign of trouble. Sometimes a wipe is just that: one wipe. Somebody screwed up, it won't happen again. Sometimes perceived incompetence is just absent-mindedness or simple bad luck. Give things a chance, but in the immortal words of the great Kenny Rogers, "know when to fold 'em."

8. Keep reagents stocked, and make tables whenever new people join the group.

These new cross-server PUGs don't allow for trading between party members, so as a mage, you are the first, last and only line of defense against folks showing up without anything to eat or drink. It'll happen, and it is our duty, in my opinion, to provide these hopeless losers with strudel. Don't be stingy with your magical pastries, guys.

I'm about out of advice. All in all, though, I have to say that I'm loving the Dungeon Finder tool. It has revolutionized the game for me. I love the pick-up-and-play feel it has added to the game. Old instances feel new when you're using the tool, and everything just seems...funner than it used to. And yes, I'm aware that "funner" isn't a real word. Frankly this is the internet, where anything can be a word.

What other nuggets of wisdom would you impart in this new era of randomness?

What else are we looking forward to in this patch, mages?

Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent mage primer for patch 3.3, or our lengthy series of mage leveling guides. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

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