Let me get this out of the way right now: I feel a lot better after reading through this than I did prior. You may or may not share this sentiment, and I can honestly understand either way. There's still a great deal to be concerned about in the coming patch for us Mages; from the across-the-board spirit nerf to the Molten Armor change to the Fiery Payback and Impact nerfs, to Improved Scorch and Winter's Chill being slashed in half, Mages are seeing a lot of change, and almost none of it is positive. Still, after reading the developers' answers to our questions, I feel I have a better grasp on the rationale behind the changes. I may not agree with all of it, but I understand it.
A few of the more interesting points:
Blizzard's philosophy on Mage QQ feedback
Apparently, and maybe I was reading this wrong, but Blizzard wants our feedback, but they only want it if it's backed up by verifiable numbers, and even then, our feedback doesn't actually trigger any sort of change. Does that about sum it up?
Bitter as that pill may be to swallow, I can understand it. As Vaneras posts, our venue for giving direct feedback to Blizzard is the official forums, which are, of course, owned and operated by Blizzard. They set the rules for what is posted there, and they determine what kind of feedback is or isn't appropriate. There are other outlets on the internet for Mages to use to give voice to opinions that Blizzard might now allow on their forums. If Mages wish to post on Blizzard's forums, they have to abide by Blizzard's rules. Fair enough.
By the same token, WoW is also Blizzard's game. We sometimes, I think, tend to elevate our own positions to something like stockholders, when in fact we are only consumers. Blizzard offers us a product, and we can choose to continue to purchase it or not. That, really, is the extent of our rights when it comes to this game. If we are disatisfied with it, we don't have to buy it. Blizzard has provided us with a forum to provide feedback (according to their rules), and they do (as evidenced by this massive Q&A session) take our feedback into account. But at the end of the day, WoW is still their product, the Mage community is still just a portion of their consumer base, and they have no obligation of any kind to please us.
The bottom line on Mage feedback is that the developers listen to us, but our feedback does not directly infuence class changes. Good to know.
The Molten Armor nerf is subject to change, but not much
Though the developers are keeping a close eye on it, this change appears to be here to stay. Blizzard wanted to make spirit useful to Mages, and this was their way of doing it. Those of us who have it will now want more of it, and those of us who do not have it will need to go out and get some. Or just use Mage Armor, I guess. Blizzard has taken a stat that was previously of very little value to Mages and added more value to it. Though spirit still isn't all that great for us (certainly not as valuable point-for-point as, say, straight crit rating), it now is a stat we can't ignore completely. This appears to be a change that isn't really intended to help Mages so much as it is to bring Mages in line with Blizzard's overall design philosophy. The developers wanted spirit to be a necessary stat for most casters, and Mages didn't need it. Now we do.
The problem, of course, that I have with this--and I'm sure a lot of you guys will agree--is that the developers sort of lied to us. They don't see it that way--and as the stewards of a product they have total control over, they are totally justified in not seeing it that way--but from our point of view as consumers, we are also totally justified in feeling betrayed. The problem is that the only thing we appear to be able to do about it is to stop purchasing their product every month. My dissatisfaction with these changes isn't anywhere near the point of making me want to leave the game, so there goes that option.
When the developers told us they wanted to make spirit a more interesting and useful stat for Mages, we all assumed this meant they would actually make the stat more useful and interesting. We assumed that we would be better off having spirit post-patch than we were pre-patch. What we got instead was a nerf to an ability we already counted on, and a way to reverse that nerf by accumulating spirit. Spirit isn't going to be useful or interesting, but it will be necessary.
The good news here is that the developers are apparently keeping a close watch on Mages' performance (which isn't good) on the PTR, and if they feel the current 4 to 1 conversion of spirit to crit rating isn't high enough, we could be seeing a higher scaling rate. So good news, Mages: all we have to do is keep sucking on the PTR, and we might get more crit rating from spirit! I know I, for one, will do my part.
Blizzard doesn't make promises
All of which brings me to this next nugget. Prior to the PTR opening up, Blizzard provided every class with a bit of a preview of what they could expect from the patch.
It turns out that when you tell a class they are getting something, they get mad when they don't get it. Also, they get really mad when they not only don't get it, but actually get nerfed instead.
The developers should probably never have given us that preview, and they admit as much several times over the course of these posts. Blizzard doesn't have to give us anything, technically, but by painting themselves into a corner with those class previews, they set themselves up for backlash. Granted, it's backlash they can ignore, but still backlash just the same.
So the developers tell us that they don't make promises, which is probably a good philosophy on their part. In addition, they will probably never do the same kind of class previews in the future. So well done, Mages. Way to screw it up for everybody, guys.
Apparently, Blizzard still has our backs
The most encouraging thing I took from this gigantic thread is that the developers seem to truly be watching Mages closely, are aware of the major concerns we have, and want us to be a good DPS class. Maybe this makes me a sucker, but I feel a lot more confident now that Mages will be okay after patch 3.1. If we continue to underperform in Ulduar testing, the developers will improve our damage output until we're competitive. If Mages suffer too much from the various nerfs we've been receiving, we'll see some buffs to balance it out.
In fact, one of the things the developers mention specifically in this Q&A session--a selfish buff to Improved Scorch--has already been added in the latest PTR build. The improvement is slight (a 3/6/9% increased chance to crit with Scorch) as of this writing, but Ghostcrawler hints at more to come (no promises!).
The upshot of all of this is that either you trust Blizzard or you don't. Right now, I guess I sort of do. We had a rough couple years with Burning Crusade, but so far WotLK has been rather kind to our class. 3.1 isn't looking all that great for us right now, but could end up being okay after all is said and done. At the very least, I now feel a lot less ignored, and am optimistic as we go forward. What say you, fellow Mages?