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Arcane Brilliance: PvPing as a Frost Mage after 3.1

Christian Belt

Each week Arcane Brilliance brings you a column about Mages. This column used to be housed on Wowinsider, but now it's featured on some newfangled site called The url is a full seven letters shorter. It's crazy. where did those seven letters go? I don't know, but I blame Warlocks.

There's an old saying: you can please some Mages some of the time, but you can't please all Mages all of the time. Or something like that. Last week, several of you complained that I was spending too much time writing about PvP, while ignoring PvE completely. This will be the fifth PvP-related Arcane Brilliance in a row. Previous to that, you have to go back to October 25th of last year to find our last PvP-centric column. A short list of things that have happened since then:

  • Wrath of the Lich King was released.
  • Barack Obama became the president of these United States.
  • 5 dollar foot-longs.
  • Arcane Brilliance brought you 24 PvE columns in a row.
Seriously, guys. Make up your minds. I don't know what you want from me anymore. Anyway, on to Frost Mage PvP.

Frost is the most widely-used and widely-accepted PvP spec for Mages, by far, and for good reason. It offers a balanced mix of the things every class wants to have in PvP: a wide array of damage mitigation and avoidance options, multiple CC/root/snare/silence abilities, and high burst damage potential.

In fact, You'll run into a large and vocal contingent of players who won't even take a non-Frost Mage seriously in PvP. A quick glance at the official forums on any given day will reveal several "PvP advice" topics, and without fail, there will be several responses in the thread that essentially say "respec Frost, noob." Though the sentiment reflects equal parts elitism, ignorance, and extreme close-mindedness, it is grounded in the simple, undeniable fact that Frost is awesome.

The Frost tree is designed for PvP effectiveness, and if you're serious about Mage PvP, Frost is absolutely the spec of choice. You can be effective with Fire and Arcane, no question. But those two specs--Fire in particular--come with certain inherent handicaps you'll have to learn to work around. Frost has none of those handicaps.

Talent Build

Frost+Improved Counterspell 20/0/51

This is it, really. There aren't too many other ways to go. This gives you all of the goodies in the Frost tree, all the way up to and including Deep Freeze, and then delves into Arcane to get the essential Improved Counterspell.


  • Be patient.
This is the problem I've always had with Frost-magery. I want to rush in and kill everything in sight as quickly as possible. Though Frost Mages are perfectly capable of doing massive amounts of damage in a short span of time, they do so in a very opportunistic fashion. When you first try out a Frost spec, especially in Arena, you may wonder what all the hype is about. You'll probably find yourself losing matches you used to win with another spec. The first, and possibly most important lesson you'll learn will be patience.

Frost Mages are built for long fights. They are extremely mana efficient, and have a whole crapload of ways to keep enemies at bay and lessen or outright negate incoming damage. Their spellbook is rife with high-damage, proc-based abilities on various cooldowns. The hardest thing to learn, initially, will be timing the use of these abilities to maximize their effectiveness. Fingers of Frost procs on your opponents' healer...but he has full health, and his Rogue teammate is slicing up your partner. Should you unload a Shatter combo on the healer, or just Deep Freeze him and switch to the Rogue in an attempt to give your partner some breathing room? There are so many variables to learn that the only way you'll improve will be through experience. Play--and lose (a lot)--and eventually, you'll know exactly when to use which ability and when.

Save your cooldowns for when they'll be most effective, or as emergency measures. You don't have to fire off a Fireball every time Brain Freeze procs. You may find it more effective to keep that free, instant Fireball in your pocket until your opponent is near death and that one extra instant tacked onto the end of a Shatter combo will spell the difference between killing him and giving his healer time to land that great big match-resetting heal on him.
  • Set up your combos.
Following the same line of thinking--and almost as difficult to learn the finer points of--you've got to learn how to properly set up your combos. Your patience must extend to learning when those Shatter combos are best used and when they aren't. Just because you have a target Frost Nova-ed, or Fingers of Frost has procced on him, it doesn't mean you have to bombard him with Ice Lances and Frostbolts, simply because he's frozen. Take a few things into account:

Has your target already burned his CC-breaking abilities, or is he about to break out of that Frost Nova before you can get your Frostbolt off? Is this target a prime kill target, or are you better off locking him down with Polymorph and setting up a Shatter combo on somebody else? Are you in a position to be bursting this target down, or should you be focusing on escape and damage mitigation? Is Deep Freeze off cooldown, or are you better off waiting for that extra CC to become available before firing off your best salvo?

Be patient, time your shots, and keep a close eye on your targets' cooldowns. If the timing isn't opportune, use the time your target is frozen not for dealing damage but for escaping or switching targets. If the timing is right, your best abilities are off cooldown and ready to go, then by all means, blow the crap out of your target.

Soften your target up with some Frostbolts and Ice Lances. Frost Nova if he gets too close, and get some distance. When Fingers of Frost procs, and the timing is right, my favorite combo involves a Frostbolt/Frostbolt double whammy, or a pair of Ice Lances if I need to stay mobile, then a saved Brain Freeze Fireball followed by a Fire Blast for some filler damage. If more damage is needed, I'll substitute a Deep Freeze for the second Ice Lance/Frostbolt, and continue the combo.
...if you keep an eye on it. Granted, it can still be awesome if it goes off unexpectedly, but it isn't too hard to plan around, and it's always nice to know exactly when you're going to get a free Frost Nova. I like a little mod called Shield Monitor for this. It keeps track of how much damage you have left on your Ice Barrier, so you'll have a pretty close idea of when it'll expire. Knowing when Shattered Barrier will go off allows you to set up yet more Shatter combos. Though you can't always know when the next hit is coming, you can often time your combo by watching things like DoT ticks, and begin a Frostbolt just before you get that free Frost Nova. When this works, it makes you feel like a frigging hero.
  • Ice Lance is a great totem killer.
If you have a combat text mod (and if you don't, you should definitely check out last week's Arcane Brilliance to see the error of your ways), make sure it alerts you every time a Grounding Totem comes out. When one does, kill it with an Ice Lance. You aren't out much mana, and only have to waste a global cooldown, instead of burning a Frostbolt, or god help you, a Brain Freeze proc or something. This is actually a good tip for every spec, but I'll put it in this column because I forgot to put it in the other two, and because Ice Lance has the word "Ice" in it, and this column is about Frost Mages and stuff.
He adds to your damage output, yes, and he is big and blue and awesome, but his real value in PvP is his extra CC. Don't waste it. And for the love of god don't let him decide when to use it, because he isn't very bright. Seriously, I'm beginning to suspect that our Water Elems go to the same special school that our Mirror Images go to, and they all ride the short bus to get there.

With good timing, you can use your big blue buddy's Freeze to create some really cool extended Shatter combos, especially if you have a Deep Freeze available to tack onto the end. Pick your spots to use this, but don't wait too long, since the time your Elem is out is limited, and can always be cut tragically short if somebody decides to kill the poor bugger.

In closing...

My Mage goes Arcane when he PvPs, and does just fine. You might find Fire more to your liking. Don't ever let anybody tell you you're wrong. This game is massive, and allows for a lot of leeway in how it is played. Spec in ways that complement the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of you as a player as well as those of your team, and have fun doing it, or don't play at all.

Having said that, I submit that every serious PvP Mage should spend some time playing as Frost. You can certainly find varying degrees of success as another spec, and anybody that tells you otherwise is speaking from a very limited pool of experiences, or they're just a troll. But I'm telling you, playing as Frost will actually make you a better Mage.

My PvP strategy before trying Frost consisted mainly of trying to out-burst my opponent--of trying to kill them before they killed me--with almost no regard for such things as crowd control or survival. A lot of the reason for this is because the other specs simply don't give much time for those things.

Frost is far more forgiving, gives you so many more control options, and can stretch matches out so much longer, that you will discover a myriad of things Mages should be doing that don't directly deal damage, or you'll lose until you do. By necessity, you'll learn patience, and how valuable it is to focus on shutting someone down completely with Polymorph, Counterspell, and various freezes, as opposed to getting into a pure DPS race. You'll learn these things, and begin to win, because Frost usually can't win by just out-damaging folks.

Then, when and if you eventually decide to go back to your preferred spec, you'll take those new skills with you, and employ them to greater effect. Instead of losing to everybody you can't immediately blow out of the water, you'll learn that there are times when it is most effective to control the other team, and save your burst for the perfect moment. PvP will become less of a frag-fest, and more of a chess match. Trust me, Mages do much better in the chess matches.

We're fragile. We wear dresses and carry sticks into combat. We're allergic to sunlight, we skip gym class to play D&D in the library, and we're captain of the Academic Olympics team. I don't care what you are in the real world, in WoW, Mages are nerds. When we're not studying magic, we're probably reading comic books about Khadgar or something, and drawing pictures of video game characters on our wizardly Trapper Keepers. We don't do well in physical fights. We prefer to do our battles on an intellectual level. Now if only I could have talked that big kid in junior high into a game of Risk instead of a game of "pound my face in behind the monkey-bars."

Anyway, that's it for the PvP for now. Next week we'll be back to some PvE goodness. Precisely which kind of PvE goodness we'll be covering, I haven't decided yet. I'm sure there are a lot of better Frost Mages than me out there with a lot of excellent tips of their own to share. I expect a wealth of information in the comments section. Get typing, guys!

Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of Mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent three-part guide to professions for Mages, or our look at a few ideas for dual speccing your Mage. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

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