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Arcane Brilliance: Good and Bad in patch 3.2

Christian Belt

Welcome to another edition of Arcane Brilliance, the weekly Mage column where you can find all the latest issues that are important to those of us who can alter the molecular structure of our enemies, conjure great missiles of entwined flame and ice, and create delicious pastries from the very air around us, but can't seem to negotiate the mysteries of wearing anything more substantial than a fancy bathrobe into battle. Mages: masters of the arcane, failures at dressing.

Let me begin with a few nice things. These are things I like--things that do not, in principle, infuriate me. We'll get to things that do a bit later. I'll hide them after the jump, I suppose, so as not to annoy those of you who cannot stand to see even the most minor of complaints from any class but your own. For now, we'll be positive and cheery, and illustrate that--as it ever has been and ever will be--there are aspects of this game that I love, and aspects that I simultaneously do not. Such is life on the class-balance carousel. As a Mage with a pulpit from which to preach, I will never cease to celebrate the changes I agree with, and decry those which I consider to be affronts to Magekind.

Preamble aside, let me tell you what I love right now: our mana gems no longer share a cooldown with Warlock healthstones. Yes, though it wasn't in the patch notes, this seems to be an undocumented change that has made it live, and one that Mages have been lobbying in favor of for a very, very long time. For far too long, we've been largely unable to take advantage of the one good thing Warlocks have to offer, for fear that we'd use one and then not be able to pop our own mana returning item when the need arose. No more! Dying? Need a few thousand health in a hurry and can't wait for the healer to notice you're on death's doorstep? Ice Block on cooldown? Use that healthstone with impunity, my fellow Mages!

More good stuff after the break. Also bad stuff. If you dine on Mage tears, feel free to wring the second half of this column for whatever sustenance it might provide.

Have you noticed the new Blizzard animation? I never did on the PTR, but that could be because I never used Blizzard much on the PTR. Several of you guys pointed it out in the comments section last week, and I had to run out and take a peek at it. It's pretty cool. Turn your spell effect setting up to maximum and check it out. Even if you're not a Frost Mage, and your Blizzard spell hits with all the efficacy of a little girl throwing unpacked snow, you have to admit this new animation is pretty cool. I guess Blizzard (the company) feels like it behooves them to make the spell that bears their name look impressive. I feel compelled to concur.


On to other things.

Yesterday morning, I awoke to an email. As with all of your comments, I get each one in email form and tend to check them in that format first. When a column is first posted, I receive a deluge of them. As time passes, and the column slips from page one of the website to page two and beyond, those comments slow to a trickle. Tuesday's guide to Mage class changes for for 3.2 (in which I unveiled the musical masterpiece that is and always be known as "Living Bomb is Castable on Multiple Targets Now...Yay!") is well entrenched within that trickle phase, but it still garners an occasional comment. This morning, a reader who goes by "purduemeb" left one more. It was short, concise, and more than a little bit forlorn.

"Our song of joy has been nerfed."

I was immediately afraid, clutched by a cold terror that fastened its black fingers around the part of my heart that I reserve for my Mage. I ran to the official forums to see what purduemeb was talking about, and found this. Living Bomb had been hotfixed on the 6th, and since I hadn't been online since patch day, this was the first I was hearing of it.

Alright, I think we can all agree that I've already been emo enough about this. I'll leave the dramatics behind so we can look at it objectively. Living Bomb is still castable on multiple targets (Yay!), and now it appears it will stay that way for the foreseeable future. This is excellent.

One aspect that made this change so cool, though, was the (also new) ability of Living Bomb's periodic crits to trigger Hot Streak. It made for a great deal of fun, and very nice DPS increase in fights that involved multiple targets. It created sustainable, almost constant Hot Streak opportunities in those specific fights. It was awesome. For about 36 hours. If that.

Somehow, in approximately a day-and-a-half, during in which it's likely that very few guilds had even been able to access any of the new raid content (or even the old raid content), Blizzard had determined that "Living Bomb periodic damage triggering Hot Streak was too powerful." That's it. That's the reasoning. "Too powerful."

We can only guess at how they reached that conclusion. What data could they have possibly obtained in less than two days of live server testing? Are there some internal numbers Blizzard had access to that we don't know about? What were they? At this point, I can only imagine a testing process that went something like this:

Class designer #1: "Wow, Mages are sure enjoying their new Living Bomb. Just look at those Hot Streaks fly!"

Class designer #2: "Holy crap...we let that make it live?"

Class designer #1: "Yeah it's pretty powerful, I guess."

Class designer #2: "Yeah...too powerful..."

So here's my major issue with this: It wasn't necessary. In my PTR experience, the new Living Bomb mechanics served to make our DPS competitive in single target fights, and only made us marginally better (if that) in multiple target fights than, say Death Knights, Rogues, and Hunters. And the thing of it is: we'll never really know how it would have panned out on live, because it got yanked out of the game before it had even put its roots down. It might have grown into a giant tree of overpoweredness, or it might have just blossomed into a tiny flower of awesome.

Mages are in a place right now where we're a fairly average DPS class at the highest levels of content, and an excellent AoE class. Living Bomb triggering Hot Streak raised our DPS in single target fights by a small percentage, and really only served to put us on par with other DPS classes (and some hybrid classes. And yes, I just threw up in my mouth). It certainly didn't make enough of a dent to put us above anybody we weren't already above.

So why nerf it? The only reason Blizzard gives us is that nebulous "too powerful" quote from Crygil. My personal suspicion is that the PvP implications scared Blizzard a bit. Never mind the fact that Fire still isn't any sort of threat to Arena PvP balance, and never mind that Arena PvP is the major area Blizzard has balanced the classes around since its inception. Never mind that it's patently impossible to balance any ability around its potential in a large-scale environment of wildly-varying size and scope. The only apparent problem Blizzard could have been worried about based on the testing the spell has gone through prior to the hotfix is its awesomeness in large battlegrounds. All I can figure is that they saw some Mage throwing LB up on everything that moved in some Wintergrasp or another and deemed that kind of awesome to be something with which they simply weren't comfortable.

And that's just stupid. If there is some hard DPS test data they're working on that we don't have any access to, I'd love to hear about it. As much as I love Mages, I'm as opposed to us being overpowered as the next class. But as of right now, I'm just not seeing anything to lead me to believe Living Bomb triggering Hot Streak was anything other than a nice perk. And a lot of fun. As we've all probably asked at one point or another in this game, why nerf fun?

Still, Living Bomb is by no means terrible now. It remains as much a part of a balanced Mage breakfast as it ever was, and is still going to be very nice for multi-target fights. I just don't understand, that's all. And if complaining about stuff like this means I never get honored with an Anti-Warlock Greatstaff of Mageitude in game, so be it.

(Pst...I didn't mean that, Blizzard. Let's be friends. Wink, wink.)

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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