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Arcane Brilliance: Patch 3.2 for Mages

Christian Belt

Each week Arcane Brilliance sits down to write a column about Mages and all things Mageworthy. Big news this week in Mageville: Patch 3.2 is hitting the PTRs. And we all know what that means -- new Mage cat forms. Finally.

Having had some time to ingest the 3.2 PTR patch notes, I feel I can now speak about them in a calm, rational manner. The PTR (and all of the additional changes that tend to take place therein) is only just beginning, and yet there are already so many nuggets of newness to devour that my news-stomach feels full to the bursting point. The Isle of Conquest... the death of 2v2 Arenas... Engineering becoming cooler... Emblems of Conquest dropping from heroics (?!)... the fact that Blizzard is now shutting all twinks away together in their own battlegrounds, exiled from the general populace, where they can only pwn each other all day long, until one day Kurt Russell is sent in to rescue the president after Air Force One crashes there... there's simply so much to take in that it's been a little bit difficult to process it all.

And yes, once again, looking at those patch notes, I can't help but feel a bit underwhelmed at the 3 lines Mages got. Does every other class really need that much more fixing than us? Really? Still, what's there deserves some analysis. We're not getting much, fellow Mages, but what we are getting is fairly significant. So let's all stop staring at the 72 changes Death Knights and Paladins got for a few minutes and have a little talk about the notes for Mages, such as they are.

One nice thing about the lack of changes we're getting: according to the brand new Mage Q&A, Blizzard thinks we're fine, which of course explains why we're not getting messed around with. More on that next week, after I've had a chance to make my peace with God and get my affairs in order. In fact, Blizzard has long suggested a direct corollary between the amount of changes a class is receiving and the general status of the class. Looking at the patch notes, I can't help but notice the following: Mage changes: 3... Warlock changes: 8. I'm looking at this as statistical proof that Warlocks are almost three times as screwed up as Mages. It's good to see Blizzard accept what I have always known: Mages are way better than Warlocks. Just like I've always said.

Invisibility: now 100% more useful

Many of you suggested this after Arcane Brilliance's useless spells column, and apparently Blizzard has heard your pleas. Yes, I would like to think that the class developers read the comments you guys leave here and that they directly influence the game's progression.

Invisibility has long been the poster child for "should be awesome but isn't" as far as Mages are concerned. The three second fade time, coupled with the fact that any damage of any kind, be it a DoT tick, direct damage, being caught in a lucky AoE, or somehow being hit directly by server lag or something after actually becoming invisible, made the spell a situational aggro drop at best. Not being able to see anybody while invisible sort of robbed the spell of any sort of Rogue-ish content-skip utility, and so Mage Invisibility remained a nice idea, poorly implemented.

Though this change doesn't make it perfect, holy crap is it a good place to start. The notes say that no damage can interrupt the 3 second fade out, which is awesome. Now we know that when we trigger the spell, it is actually going to work, no matter what. The notes don't say anything about whether or not damage taken after becoming invisible -- be it getting caught in an AoE, or a DoT tick, or that random latency-induced extra swipe the Feral Druid got on us after he was no longer supposed to be able to target us -- will still knock us out of Invisibility, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it won't.

We can still be damaged, of course, and the note specifically states that we will still be able to be stunned and silenced and whatnot while invisible, but I wouldn't expect anything different.

The way I'm reading this (and once I get onto the PTR I'll tell you if it's accurate) is that whether we get smacked around or not, once we Mages hit our Invisibility button from now on, we're going to actually become invisible. No interrupts, no getting bounced back into the visible world prematurely. This makes the spell highly useful as an escape mechanism in PvP, and a far more reliable aggro drop in PvE. I think I speak for all of us when I say: "woot."

Arcane Blast: now 12% less of a mana-guzzler

If you happen to be a sentient being, you're aware that Arcane Mages have suffered from mana-efficiency issues throughout this expansion. Reducing the cost of one of our primary DPS rotation spells is a decent step toward solving those problems. The standard rotation for Arcane generally consists of three Arcane Blasts and an Arcane Missiles, so a 12% mana reduction on a spell we use three times more frequently than any other should help ease the mana-burdens this spec has to deal with. It isn't going to fix the problems that Arcane has, by any means, but it's a step in the right direction. Now we just need a reduction to the mana cost of Arcane Missiles. I'm not holding my breath.

Given the stacking nature of the spell, the 12% reduction will be fairly significant by the time you get to that third cast. Overall, this is a very welcome change. We'll have to wait for some PTR data to see if this balances out the mana-return we'll be losing from the Replenishment nerf, which is what this seems to be a response to.

Oh, and Replenishment is getting nerfed

And MP5 is getting buffed. The various Replenishment buffs available to raids currently (not the least of which is provided by Frost Mages) will return 1% of a caster's total mana pool over five seconds, whereas it now returns 0.25% each second. That's a nerf of 20%.

MP5, on the other hand, is being buffed by an effective 25%, since the amount of the stat on all equipment is being buffed by that percentage. Since Mage gear doesn't generally have MP5, the buff doesn't help us, but the nerf will most definitely hurt. The Arcane Blast change will help soothe some of the pain, but according to my math a 12% buff and a 20% nerf don't quite balance out. I'm no numbers wizard, but seriously.

Empowered Fire: now with 1% more mana return

The note states that this talent will now--along with the 15% spellpower buff to Fireball and Frostfire Bolt that it has always granted -- return 1% of the caster's base mana every time Ignite deals damage. Let's do some rudimentary math on this.

Ignite triggers on crits, ticks every two seconds, and lasts four seconds per trigger. In theory, if you can manage to crit at least once every four seconds, you can consistently be gaining back 1% of your base mana every two seconds (for a level 80 Mage, this equates to 32.68 mana, or not a lot). My guess is that most Fire and Frostfire Mages (especially given the plethora of movement-based fights we're faced with these days) are going to have Ignite up somewhat less than always. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

Again, this appears to be something of a response to the Replenishment nerf, which, of course, makes me wonder why Blizzard is nerfing it at all. I understand their desire to make MP5 a more valued stat for healers, but this doesn't seem to be the most efficient way to do that, at least not to me.

The major problem I see with this change lies in the ongoing Ignite-munching issue. Ignite skips ticks when it refreshes itself, costing us DPS, and now, mana. This means that that theoretical 32.68 mana every two seconds (or about 82 MP5) we talked about a couple paragraphs back isn't going to actually exist. It'll likely end up being less than half that. Each time Ignite rolls over itself, we miss a tick, and thus lose a chunk of mana regen.

This means that if Ignite isn't fixed, or the amount returned by this talent isn't increased (it would have to be almost doubled), then this change, like the Arcane Blast change, isn't going to balance out with the Replenishment nerf, and Mages will be getting an overall nerf to mana regen, no matter how you look at it. We're still going to have to throttle our DPS in long fights to keep from going out of mana, and after the patch, we'll have to do it even more than we do now. Here's hoping the PTR testing process irons this out.

Come back next week, when we'll discuss the Mage installment of Blizzard's class developer Q&A series. Holy crap do I have a lot to say about that.

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 PvP for each Mage spec, or our look at what hit rating means to Mages. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

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