Arcane Brilliance: The state of the mage, volume 4 of 72

Christian Belt
C. Belt|02.07.10

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Arcane Brilliance: The state of the mage, volume 4 of 72
It's time again for another Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that would like to present, once again, its multi-annual state of the mage address. My fellow mages, we are awesome.

First of all, you might be wondering why only 72 volumes. I'll be honest: it has to do with the great zombie apocalypse of 2037. I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say it severely impairs my ability to write. To be frank, the last 15 parts are pretty much just "braiiinns...warlocks....suuuuck...brains...braiiiins..." repeated over and over for a thousand words or so. After that, my zombie-self just loses interest. Some of you may wonder how those columns will be any different from the ones I write now. To you, I say bite me.

I've extolled upon the state of mages on three previous occasions. It's actually interesting to go back and look over those ancient texts from our current perspective. Oh, the silly things we were worried about back then! Fire PvP... ha! Spirit, less than useful? What a ridiculous concern! Oh... how far we've come.

Ignore my sarcasm. I'm not actually unhappy at all with the current state of mages. We are, as I stated in the opening blurb, awesome. Join me after the break and we'll look at where we are as a class in 2010.

2010 ushers in a fun era. Patch 3.3 puts us at the tail end of the Wrath of the Lich King content. There may yet be another patch before Cataclysm hits, but my guess is that it won't be a major content patch, and will more likely be the big pre-expansion patch, priming the world for the coming revamp. I don't anticipate another Sunwell-type patch, like we got at the end of Burning Crusade. Blizzard claims that toppling the Lich King is the capper for this go-round, and I believe them.

So what we see now, largely, is what we'll be getting for the rest of this version of WoW. We are who we're going to be as a class until Cataclysm reboots everything again. And for the first time I can recall in my career as a mage, I'm okay with that.


Last week I wrote a basic primer on this tree that enumerates a lot of the strengths and weaknesses of the spec. In short, Arcane is our current top-dog raiding spec. Glance around your guild. How many arcane mages are there in your regular group? My guess is that your answer is "a buttload." Compare that number to the number of fire, frostfire, and frost mages, and I expect you'll find something of a disparity. Arcane, for so many years the black sheep of the mage family, is now the favored son, gets the best seat at the supper table, is the quarterback of the football team, and gets to take Jaina to the prom.

When properly specced and outfitted, an arcane mage has the highest potential pure DPS capability of the four major mage specs. Sustained damage output is high, ranking at or near the top of the DPS class hierarchy in most encounters. The Arcane Blastx4/Missile Barrage+Arcane Missiles rotation is incredibly powerful, and doesn't cause the mana efficiency issues arcane used to suffer from.

Arcane's problems lie in a different aspect of the game. At the beginning of this expansion, the brute force of pre-nerf Arcane Barrage made arcane an intriguing PvP option. The spec was mobile, slippery, and capable of strong bursts of damage. Now that Arcane Barrage isn't the weapon it once was, arcane simply isn't a viable option at the upper echelons of Arena combat. Burst damage isn't high enough to burn high level opponents down with the speed necessary to compete.

Things I'd like to see happen for arcane:
  • A buff to Arcane Barrage. The spell was nerfed to limit its effectiveness in PvP, but what's happened is that it's become an impotent spell in both PvE and PvP content. It needs to have its base damage increased a bit, and it needs to proc Missile Barrage with the same frequency as Arcane Blast.
  • The talent tree itself is still a bit bloated. I'd like to see talents like Arcane Stability or Arcane Concentration reduced to 3 talent points instead of 5. I'm not pretending to understand class design, but 81 talent points in the arcane tree, compared to 73 in fire and 74 in frost just seems excessive. It takes too large an investment in the tree to get all of the valuable PvE talents, and this is an issue that should change.

For a patch or two, deep fire was the ringleader of the mage PvE specs, but has since fallen to a distant second, behind arcane. Living Bomb is still a potent weapon, far and away the most worthwhile of the three mage 51-point talents. The spec is still incredibly random-number-generator dependent, living and dying by crit frequency and proc timeliness. It's a fun, powerful-feeling spec, but can far too often become frustrating when a particular run of bad virtual dice-rolls sucks the potency out of your damage output through no fault of your own.

On the PvP side of things, fire is a jekyll-and-hyde operation. On one side of the coin, fire is less than useless in Arena combat. But bring a fire mage into a large battleground, and their incredible AoE capabilities are nothing short of devastating.

Things I'd like to see happen for fire:
  • PvP survivability. I've been begging for this for as long as I can remember. My mom tells me that my first words were "Buff Molten Armor." Apparently my next utterance was "death to all warlocks." The nice lady at day care called the police when I tried to set fire to a stuffed sheep during play-time. It was scary then, but we laugh about it now.
  • Lower dependency on RNG. In particular, Hot Streak. There are a lot of ways to fix this, but my personal favorite the concept of some sort of counter component. Instead of having to cross our fingers for two crits in a row, change the requirements to an internal counter. After a certain number of crits in a set amount of time, Hot Streak triggers. There are plenty of other potential solutions, but main goal here is to allow fire mages to have more predictable access to their most powerful damage potential.

Frost is and always has been the undisputed king of the PvP hill. A feared class in both Arena and large-scale PvP across the board, frost mages pack survivability and controllable burst damage into a deadly package.

The issue with frost has always been on the other side of the game. Recent changes have made frost somewhat competitive, but the spec is still largely shunned in the upper echelons of raid content, and for good reason. Frost still comes in a distant fourth to the other three major specs in terms of raw DPS output. Permanent Water Elementals and raid damage added to Deep Freeze have closed the gap significantly, but a chasm still exists.

The knock on buffing frost PvE viability has always been that it's the PvP tree, that making frost effective in raids would upset ever-precarious PvP balance, somehow making it too powerful. But recent developments--such as the Deep Freeze change (does damage, but only to raid bosses, and remains unchanged in PvP), and the general nerf to healing (but only in PvP situations)--have rendered that point moot.

I can understand Blizzard's hesitance to create too much separation between PvP and PvE in the way the classes operate, but these changes show that they're willing to make concessions when necessary. What's stopping them from taking the next step and balancing the few remaining "PvP-only" specs so that they function in both aspects of the game? Why can't frost be good at both PvP and PvE?

Things I'd like to see happen for frost:

  • More PvE buffs. We're on the right track here. Buff Frostbolt's damage, but only in PvE. It's a simple fix that Blizzard has already set the precedent for. Is there anybody out there who wouldn't like to see frost become completely raid-viable? There are plenty of other ways to buff frost in PvE, but this is just the easiest one that comes to mind.
  • I'd still like to see more interactivity added to this spec. Previous to the Deep Freeze change, the optimal frost spell rotation was Frostbolt spam. Now the rotation is Frostbolt spam, but cast Deep Freeze when it's off cooldown. Somehow, some way, I'd like to live in a world where there is a situation where an Ice Lance is a better option than a second Frostbolt when Fingers of Frost is up.

Frostfire is less of a major spec than an alternate playstyle. This is essentially a fire mage who has specced around using Frostfire Bolt as their main nuke instead of Fireball. At the start of Wrath, frostfire represented the highest possible DPS for mages, but the spec has since slipped below arcane and deep fire on the raiding mage ladder. The main reason for this, it seems to me, is that Blizzard has simply stopped paying attention to it.

I shouldn't complain. Most classes only have three specs. Mages have four viable ones. Sure, they're all just different skins on a DPS class, but there are four of them. Still, the concept of an elementalist mage was (and still is) so intriguing to me, I can't help but lament the lack of attention the build has gotten in recent patches. Blizzard introduced us to this spec with the advent of Frostfire Bolt in this expansion, and I'd like to see them turn the penetrating gaze of their omnipotent, lidless eye to it once more.

Things I'd like to see happen for frostfire:
  • The only thing I can really think of here is also the simplest thing: buff Frostfire Bolt. The talents for the spec are already in place. The spell isn't really used by any other spec, so buffing it slightly wouldn't upset spec balance in any way that I can see. Just bump up the base damage of Frostfire a bit so that the spec can compete again on the damage meters.
And here is where I turn the column over to you, mage community. What issues do you still have with our class? What's working? What would you change? All in all, I'm happy with where our class is as a whole. So...where do we go from here?

Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent look at how much I hate damage meters, or our lengthy series of mage leveling guides. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

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