Arcane Brilliance: Mistakes mages make

Welcome to another edition of Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that would like to say to warlocks: Look... even when we're alone, we outnumber you.

We belong to the best class in World of Warcraft. I know this because I have a checklist. Do you want to see it? Too bad, you're going to see it anyway:

You see? Mages meet every criteria on the checklist. The fact that I just made the checklist up is unimportant; the important thing to take away from this is that mages are, indisputably, the best class in this game.

But we aren't perfect.

We make mistakes. Five of them, to be precise.

The introduction and ensuing popularity of random pugging has brought these miscues into sharp relief for me, and I have no doubt many of you have probably noticed a similar phenomenon: there are some terrible mages out there. This is unacceptable. We have the greatest class in the game, and I feel it is our sacred mandate to preserve it as such. Therefore, I present this list not as finger-pointing, but as a collection of solutions.

I've made every single one of these mistakes, in some cases with far more frequency than I can really justify. I've seen other mages make them. I've seen mages die because of them, and I've seen mages cause the death of the entire group because of them.

Most of these issues can be categorized under one or both of the following categories: Things that make life harder for the tank, and things that make life harder for the healer. We, as a class, and DPS as a general role, should always be actively avoiding making things more difficult for either tanks or healers. Always. Why, you ask? Why can't we just concentrate on pew-pewing and leave the tanks and healers to do their own job? Well, the answer is two-fold:

First: You're an idiot... for asking that, you're an idiot.

And second: Tanks and healers keep your squishy hindquarters alive.

I've been lately leveling a lowbie tank through the old-world content, something I've never tried before. Tanking is an interesting thing. It makes you hate everyone else in the party. First it's the priest who somehow runs out of mana every fight and forces everyone to wait while he drinks for a freaking eternity between each pull. Then it's the hunter who rolled need on Jang'thraze the Protector last night in Zul'Farak and then refused to give it to you, even after you patiently explained to him that it was a pure tanking weapon and he had no business ever using it, ever, after which he asserted that he was six, which explained why he went the whole instance with his pet's growl turned on and insisted on standing at the bottom of the steps during the pyramid event, prompting you to tell him to have his parents explain to him why a melee weapon with no stats and a defensive proc should go to the tank, and not the hunter, which of course leads to the kid dropping group with your low-drop-rate tanking sword still languishing in his stupid hunter inventory, which of course leads to an uncomfortable conversation with a GM in which you propose the idea of tracking the child's IP address so you can go to his house and punch his dad in the face.

Seriously, tanking makes you hate everyone. So let's not make the tank hate us, fellow mages. He is, after all, the only thing that stands between us and the giant monster with the teeth and the claws and the large stabby things.

Without further ado, the list:

1. Attacking the wrong target

The problem:

As a DPS class, your role in a group is to kill everything. I understand that. But issues arise when what you are killing and what the tank is tanking don't overlap. In general, you want to be unleashing flaming death upon the tank's target and only the tank's target. Even if the tank is great at tanking multiple mobs, attacking the wrong one is only going to make things more complicated for him. At some point, chances are good that he's eventually going to stop working so hard to keep you alive, at which point, you will soon cease to be alive.

The solution:

There are several methods for making it easier to stay on the tank's target. One is to click on the tank, then hit the "F" key, or whatever you have "assist" keybound to, showing you exactly who the tank is currently targeting. But that can quickly become cumbersome. If you're using the default UI, I suggest right clicking the tank at the start of the instance and selecting "set focus" from the drop-down menu. Then go into your options menu and turn on "show target of target." For the rest of the run, you'll have a nice unit frame showing you the tank's target, which you can then click on whenever he switches to a new target.

If you use addons, something like Pitbull or X-perl can help tremendously, with their ability to customize unit frames. But perhaps the simplest solution is to set up a focus assist macro. Something like this:

/target focustarget

Then set the tank as your focus, bind that macro to a button that's easy for you to hit, and you're done. Every time you hit that key, you'll instantly be targeting the right mob.

2. Generating too much threat

The problem:

We love to blow things up. It's true. Blowing things up is our job. It's what we do. We love to top the DPS meter, we love to see those juicy crits, we love to see health bars vanish and know that we were the cause of said health-bar-vanishing. But sometimes, we fall too much in love with our own destructive power. We put out so much damage so quickly that we out-threat the tank, and the mob he was trying to keep away from us lumbers over in our direction, tired of banging his claws against plate and shield and looking to bury them deep within our flimsy dress and soft wizard-flesh.

Sometimes, it isn't even really our fault. Maybe the tank simply isn't generating enough threat, or an AoE pull went horribly wrong. Either way, the problem is immediate and potentially deadly. You are a mage, and you are about to get struck, which of course means that you are about to die.

The solution:

We have two panic-buttons. The first is Invisibility. This is an aggro fade. It takes a few seconds to fully drop your threat to safe levels. If you realize your peril early enough, it can and will save your life. Then, when the mob leaves you alone and wanders (hopefully) back to the tank, you can simply click off the Invisibility debuff and resume your death-dealing.

The second is Ice Block. This isn't so much a threat dump as it is a threat interrupt. It will keep you alive when death is imminent, but just know that when it fades, or when you click the Ice Block off, thinking you are safe, your threat has not gone down, and the mob may very well return to you. Unfortunately, the mob may also simply move on to whoever is next on the threat list, be it another DPS or the healer. When you Ice Block, you save yourself, but often set the mob loose on somebody else. It's a handy panic button, but best only used as a last resort.

If both are on cooldown, you still have options. First and foremost, stop generating threat. That means stop casting. Second, don't run away. The mob will catch you. In order to stay alive, you need the tank to pick your new admirer back up. Run toward the tank. That way he can notice your plight and save you from yourself.

A lot of mages like to use a thrid panic button, but this is often a mistake. Which brings us to our next issue...

3. Using Frost Nova at the wrong times

The problem:

As mages, we have a handy escape mechanism that we like to use when soloing: Frost Nova, then Blink. This gets us some distance and keeps the mob's pointy parts away from our pasty mage skin. Unfortunately, this is generally a bad idea in groups. Oh, it can still keep us alive. But only us. See, the problem with Frost Nova is that it freezes a mob, and sometimes multiple mobs, in place. These mobs then turn to whoever happens to be standing within range and begins attacking them. Threat doesn't matter. The tank can't pick those mobs back up until your nova breaks because the mobs can't move, and those mobs will simply turn on whoever's closest. That often means the healer... who is probably too busy keeping the tank alive to notice he's being smacked around until it becomes too late.

The solution:

There are times when using Frost Nova in a group is useful. Are you far enough away from everybody else that the rooted mob won't be able to wreak any additional havok during the spell's duration? Then maybe you can get away with using it and then running for the tank. There are also times when a tank may want you to nova a group of mob as they enter a room or something, at the start of a pull, for positioning purposes, but these times are rare and only useful if the group knows exactly what you're up to.

The easy solution? Don't bother with Frost Nova in groups.

4. Pulling, or attacking too early

The problem:

Mages shouldn't pull. Oh fine, if the tank wants a sheep pull, go for it. But for the love of god, don't cast before the tank pulls. In fact, don't cast until well after the tank pulls. Here's the major problem: Tanks need time to generate threat. Sometimes, as DPS, I think we just assume that once a tank has engaged a mob, he's instantly got that mob locked on to him and has massive amounts of threat already generated. This is wrong.

Tanks need a bit of time to attack a mob and generate a solid amount of threat. Bear tanks and warrior tanks need to attack and be attacked to build up rage, which all of their threat-generating skills require. Even paladin and death knight tanks, who begin the fight with their resources largely intact, need time to go through a few global cooldowns and pick up all the mobs in a group. If you begin casting the instant a tank begins attacking a mob, you greatly undermine his attempts to grab everybody, causing aggro issues, positioning issues, and tank-hating-you issues.

The solution:

Wait for the tank to attack. Then count to three. heck, even two would probably work. Then attack. And don't start every fight off with a giant Pyroblast crit of death, either. Build up to that.

5. Decursing

The problem:

Mages can dispel curses. But most of the time, we don't.

We forget, I think. We spend so much time focusing on doing damage and only doing damage, that we forget that we have the ability to help out the healer immensely with just a second or two spent removing curses instead of topping the damage meter. Often the healer is busy keeping the tank alive, and can't spare the global cooldown to remove a curse from a party member or two. By taking a moment to use Remove Curse on occasion, we take a massive weight off the healer's shoulders, and can often save a life, possibly our own.

The solution:

Healers have the luxury (if you can call it that) of tunnel vision. They're not hurling fireballs at anything. They're usually staring at a healing addon, or a group of health bars, and they easily notice when somebody's gotten cursed and needs a dispel. (Or if your healer is a priest or paladin, they simply can't dispel curses.) Mages, on the other hand, tend to be watching the fight, staring at the mob they're trying to send into the afterlife. We frequently don't pay much attention to the folks around us, and often miss opportunities to remove a curse or two.

Addons can help. A combat text mod, like MikScrollingCombatText. can be configured to give you an alert when someone's been cursed. My peronsal favorite is Decursive. This mod gives you an easy-to-manage display of the people in your party and their current status. When one of them gets afflicted with an ailment you can remove, Decursive will let you know, and allow you to remove it with a single click.

The bottom line is this: mages were given the ability to remove curses for a reason. That reason is because we're awesome. Let's use that ability.

That's my list. What other mistakes do we make, mage community? And how do we avoid making them?

Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent mage primer for patch 3.3, or our lengthy series of mage leveling guides. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.