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Arcane Brilliance: The state of the Mage, volume 3

Christian Belt

Every once in awhile, on a semi-regular basis, at randomly determined intervals, Arcane Brilliance (a weekly Mage column that is apparently also self-aware) likes to indulge in a little self analysis. Unsurprisingly, Arcane Brilliance's verdict is usually positive. Arcane Brilliance thinks very highly of itself, an attribute about which you may already have become painfully cognizant, if you have even briefly glanced at any Arcane Brilliances previous to this one.

Yes, we've done this before. But in a persistent game like WoW, where the nature of things are in such constant flux, I like to take a step back every now and again, gain a bit of perspective, and take a long look at the class I love and its place within that ever-fluid world. I choose this week, as we approach the second major content patch of this second expansion of the World of Warcraft, to do so once more.

On my imaginary WoW timeline (and in this case, when I say "imaginary," I mean completely made up), I have patch 3.2 as the literal midpoint of the game, halfway through the game's middle expansion. There will be one more major content patch in this expansion, and then three more expansions will follow. The next will be called "Maelstrom," followed by a fourth expansion called "Return of the Wrath of the Lich King," and finally, the long awaited but ultimately disappointing fifth expansion, titled "This is pretty much it, guys, now go buy WoW the Lich King." It is as logical a place as any to take a look at the state of the Mage class. Join me after the break for as much commentary as you can stand on Mages: where we've come from, where we are at this very moment, and where the class seems to be going as we march on into a future almost guaranteed to be nothing like my imaginary and completely ridiculous made-up timeline.

Mage 1.0

I don't know how well you remember vanilla WoW, but in case you don't, let me tell you something. This whole "class balance" thing Blizzard's been so keen on throughout the last two expansions? It didn't exist in WoW 1-point-whatever. Shamans were fearsome killing machines, Paladins were unkillable but couldn't hurt anybody, Warlocks kinda sucked the way they kinda suck now (not in the way I think they suck, but in a more quantifiable way), and Warriors were the only tanks worth having. Mages, more or less, were the proverbial glass cannons they were designed to be, infinitely killable, but able to top the damage meters with the best of them.

Fire Mages were excellent, but everybody and their mothers specced Frost, since Fire couldn't hit anything in Molten Core. There weren't a lot of Arcane Mages, which may have been because Arcane was a horrible joke of a spec that nobody ever used except as a way to augment Fire or Frost.

There were no such things as Arcane Blast, Water Elementals, or Ice Block. When something decided to smack a Mage, that Mage died, whereas now, in this enlightened age, we have the option of clicking Ice Block, waiting ten seconds, and then dying. Spell rotations generally consisted of endless Fireball or Frostbolt spamming, followed closely by more Fireball or Frostbolt spamming. Mages were generally brought to raids for their food, their intellect buff, a portal at the end, and their perfectly satisfactory ranged DPS.

Mage 2.0

The Burning Crusade brought with it an almost unfathomable amount of change, new spells and talents, and ten more levels of experience. Mages found that if they waited seventy two seconds for the spell to fade out, said three hail mary's and 10 our father's, crossed their fingers, closed their eyes, and wished hard enough, they could turn invisible. They could also steal a random buff from other people, which usually meant that for the cost of approximately half their mana bar they could have Blessing of Might for 3 seconds. The possibilities were endless.

Perhaps no single change altered the game as fundamentally as the advent of Arena combat. Suddenly, each class's relative power when compared to one another was brought into sharp relief. Each class saw its various strengths and weaknesses magnified to crazy proportions, and Blizzard turned its design focus to the never-ending chore of "balancing" the classes.

When the dust had settled, Mages found themselves in a quandary. Their PvE DPS had been eclipsed by Warlocks, Hunters, and Rogues. Even several of the so-called hybrid classes could outdo us on any given fight. With the exception of Frost Mages, we remained the single most fragile class in the game, but had essentially lost the "cannon" part of our "glass-cannon" personas. It got to the point that when the ultimate content of the expansion rolled around, Sunwell Plateau, raid leaders would invite Mages for their Mage tables, then kick them from the raid. Those were dark days. Balancing our class for PvP had stripped it of much of its punch. We longed for a return to the grand old days of being able to dish out punishment with the best of them, even if it meant getting one-shotted by Shamans again.

Mage 3.0

Wrath of the Lich King changed everything. For the first time, the Arcane spec was not only a viable DPS option, it became possibly the most popular Mage build in the game. It wasn't long until it found itself once more playing second fiddle to Fire, but the simple fact that it could even compete was revolutionary. Both Arcane and Frost were strong PvP specs, and Shamans weren't one-shotting anybody.

We had plenty of new toys to play with, from the cool but of dubious value (Mirror Image), to the truly impressive (Living Bomb). We got an entirely new spec to experiment with, the Frostfire build.

But most importantly to Mages, we found we were competitive on the DPS front again. On most fights, we found ourselves fully capable of being at or near the tops of the damage meters, and the universe felt right again.

Mage 3.2...

As the latest major content patch approaches, we are in the somewhat enviable position of only having a few nagging concerns. The worst offenders:

1. Fire PvP viability
2. Frost PvE viability
3. Mana efficiency issues across the board

I've written about these stubborn worries and others recently, and not much has changed since then. Patch 3.2 looks set to bring us a lot of small changes. Here's what we know so far:


  • Arcane Blast: Mana cost reduced by 12%.
  • Invisibility: Can no longer be interrupted by a hostile action or damage done during the 3 second fade time, however an invisible mage can still be stunned or silenced.
  • Mirror Image: Images will no longer trigger the death sound when their time expires.
  • Empowered Fire: In addition to its existing effects, this talent now also grants a 33/67/100% chance to regain 2% of base mana each time the Ignite talent deals damage.
  • Molten Armor: Damage reduced to 75/130 for Rank 1 & 2, Rank 3 remains at 170
  • Hot Streak: Now procs any time you score 2 non-periodic spell crits.
  • Burnout: now increases the spell's cost on non-periodic spell criticals instead of all criticals. (a similar change to Ignite has since been reversed)
  • Living Bomb can now be used on multiple targets at the same time.
  • Ice Barrier mana cost has been reduced from 25% of base mana to 21% of base mana.
  • Cone of Cold mana cost has been reduced from 29% of base mana to 25% of base mana.
  • Frost Ward mana cost has been reduced from 16% of base mana to 14% of base mana.
  • Frostbolt mana cost has been reduced from 13% of base mana to 11% of base mana.
  • Ice Armor mana cost has been reduced from 28% of base mana to 24% of base mana.
  • Ice Lance mana cost has been reduced from 7% of base mana to 6% of base mana.
  • Frost Nova mana cost has been reduced from 8% of base mana to 7% of base mana.
  • Empowered Frostbolt now reduces the cast time of your Frostbolt by 0.1/0.2sec instead of increasing its critical strike chance by 2/4%.
  • Permafrost: In addition to its existing effects, this talent now also causes the mage's Chill effects to reduce healing received by the victim by 7/13/20%.
  • Enduring Winter now cannot occur more often than once every 6 sec.
The Arcane changes are a sort of half-hearted apology for the Replenishment nerf in the form of a reduced mana cost for our main nuke, a PvP buff in the Invisibility change, and a cosmetic change to Mirror Image, lowering its annoyance factor by 100%.

Similarly, the Ignite change will replace some of the mana we lose in the Replenishment nerf, but not all of it. Living Bomb being usable on multiple targets is huge, as we discussed last week. My euphoria has only worn off a little bit since then. I'm still ecstatic about this change and the impact it will have in a large number of PvE situations and in battleground PvP.

Frost was already the most mana-efficient tree; its issues are in DPS output, not mana conservation. That's why the nearly across-the-board mana reductions in this tree mystify me. The only thing I can come up with is that Blizzard felt they had to make up for the Replenishment nerf as they had done for the other trees. That's fine, but what the tree really needs is a base increase in the damage it can do in PvE, not even more mana efficiency. The Permafrost change is interesting, giving Mages a seat on the "Now we get our own Mortal Strike" bandwagon. Again though, this amounts to a PvP buff for a spec that already is quite strong in that area.

...and beyond

So where does all of this leave us? Blizzard's class Q&A for Mages revealed that they consider our class to be pretty squarely where they want it, so I'm not expecting any major change anytime soon. These small adjustments are okay, but our major concerns remain pretty much as they have been throughout this expansion. We still run out of mana too quickly, Fire PvP still isn't up to par, and Frost PvE is still sadly lacking. None of these problems is by any means game-breaking, but neither can they simply be ignored.

So is the Mage class set for now? Are we static? If not, where are we headed from here? Blizzard has stated a desire to make Mages and Warlocks more unique to one another, but their philosophy seems to lean more toward changing Warlocks and leaving us alone.

So what do we think, Mages? Which direction are we going, if any? And where do we want to go? And how many Warlocks do we want to kill when we get there?

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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