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Arcane Brilliance: Patch 3.3.3 PTR changes for mages

Christian Belt
February 27, 2010

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It's time again for Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that wants to point out that while gnomes often come compared to the other races, they do have one special feature that always looks larger by comparison. Their spells are huge! Wait...what did you think I was talking about?

So anyway. It's always an exciting time around here when a new patch hits the PTR. We all wake up, head down to the living room and gather beneath the tree to open our presents. Sometimes the bounty is rich, and we reap a choice harvest of new content and features. Other times the crop is more meager. And while patch 3.3.3 doesn't seem to have brought with it the largest pile of new stuff we've ever seen, it's turning out to be a bit more generous than I'd have previously suspected.

Yes, for those of us who play this game, a new patch is just like Christmas. You just never know what you're going to get. Will that gaily wrapped parcel contain an N64? Or a hideous sweater? A huge buff? Or a soul-crushing nerf? Let's all head over to the PTR together and start unwrapping, shall we?


  • Arcane Empowerment: This effect is now passive instead of being a proc off of critical strikes. The self damage buff remains unchanged.
This, in essence, removes any small stress you might have once felt about keeping Arcane's raid damage buff up. Now it'll simply always be there, instead of being a near-constant proc from critical strikes. A slight but welcome change.This, on the other hand, is a massive, steaming pile of crap. Farewell, Incanter's Absorption, we hardly knew ye. This talent was one of the most interesting, potentially powerful, and plain fun mechanics available to arcane mages, and now it's just not worth the talent points. Let's hope as the PTR progresses this talent will regain some of its former glory.

To break it down, let me use the following tortured metaphor:

Imagine you are presented with two delicious pies to choose between. One of them, the baker tells you, is more delicious than the other. This particular pie is an acquired taste, though, and will take some time to fully appreciate. Also, it is full of sharp razor blades, and thus will require great care and skill in order to eat it without maiming yourself. Still, you think to yourself, the pie's so tasty, it's worth the extra trouble.

Then the baker tells you that you are only allowed to eat it with your hands tied behind your back, using only your face.

This concerns you.

Finally, he discloses that he has taken a huge dump in the tastier pie before baking it, making it far less delicious than it once might have been.

Suddenly, the other pie looks like a far wiser choice.

Incanter's Absorption, like so many of the more interesting mechanics in this game, seems to have proven too difficult to balance for Blizzard. Teamwork, timing, skill, and luck all played a vital role in determining its usefulness. Unfortunately, some mages have apparently used it a bit too skillfully, and so a nerf has come.

Previously, if you had a priest willing to shield your mage, you could stack up the spellpower bonus to the 5% of your maximum health cap, which for many mages was a very high amount, something in the neighborhood of 1,000 spellpower or more. Under the right circumstances, with the right raid group, against the right bosses, this could be--and often was--an extremely powerful buff.

With the PTR changes applied, the mage is limited to his own shielding spells to build up the buff. Since Mana Shield is too great a drain on your mana pool to be a reliable method of stacking the spellpower buff, the only viable options are our warding spells. This means that we can now only absorb up to about 6,000 points of damage every 30 seconds, and that means a maximum buff of 900 or so spellpower for 10 seconds, and then only in fights in which you are taking frost or fire damage. All this at the exorbitant cost of a global cooldown and three talent points. The removal of the 5% cap doesn't factor in, since the only way to reach the previous cap is to use Mana Shield, which will severely gimp your mana pool, eventually costing you far more DPS.

The bottom line is that it is now more prudent to place those three talent points elsewhere, relegating this spell to a rare oddity that some mages will cling to because it was once a great deal of fun, and optimal builds will simply skip over.

A better solution would have been to simply lower the cap, leaving the talent intact, instead of rendering it impotent.

Really, I just want my razor-blade-filled pie back.

  • Combustion cooldown has been reduced from 3 min to 2 min.
Here's what Ghostcrawler had to say about this one...

The Combustion change was to let its cooldown line up better with e.g. trinket cooldowns. It just felt awkward at 3 min.

...which makes a certain kind of sense. Now you can blow your combustion cooldown every time your trinket cooldown comes up. That's good. But the thing I like most about this is that we're getting those three almost-guaranteed crits a third more often. That should prove to be a solid DPS boost for fire mages, and coupled with the craptastic nerf to Incanter's Absorption should bring fire more in line with arcane's DPS output. A little more guaranteed crit for a spec that's so infinitely dependent upon crits is welcome.
  • Burning Soul now reduces the threat caused by Fire spells by 10/20%. (Up from 5/10%)
This is another solid DPS boost. A threat reduction of 10% translates loosely into 10% more time you can spend blasting away instead of reigning yourself in. This should provide a slight boost to overall damage output. Fire needed a more consistent, less RNG-based boost, and these two changes are a good start.

This glyph change only continues the trend:
  • Glyph of Fireball: No longer increases critical strike chance of Fireball. Instead, it now reduces the cast time of Fireball by 0.15 seconds.
The Fireball glyph change was because some Fire mages were getting such absurdly high crit rates that even more crit wasn't attractive. We weren't trying to make this particular glyph ridiculously powerful.

The actual dps increases are something more like adding Pyroblast to Torment the Weak and Empowered Fire. That may have missed the most recent patch notes.

This change, like those above, provides a more static boost. The extra crit wasn't a huge help to more powerful fire mages, as Ghostcrawler points out, but the shortened casting time will most definitely be. In case you were wondering, the removal of the DoT effect remains on the glyph.

And the second part of that quote reveals something not yet in the patch notes, the addition of Pyroblast to the spells affected by Torment the Weak and Empowered Fire. This should prove to be a significant straight-up DPS boost for fire when it goes through. I'm always in favor of anything that makes Pyroblast, the single most powerful mage spell in the game, even more powerful.

  • Frostbolt: Spell power scaling on this spell has been increased by approximately 5%.
Excellent. Frostbolt needs this kind of buff to bring it in line with the other specs' primary nukes. Frost needs a lot more, but a buff to Frostbolt that scales as our spellpower increases is a step in the right direction.
  • Brain Freeze: This talent now allows your next Fireball or Frostfire Bolt to be instant and cost no mana. There is a small internal cooldown to keep the Frostfire Bolt from immediately triggering Brain Freeze again.
I'm excited about this. Fireball was always a suspect choice for this proc. A properly-talented frost mage would have zero talent points invested in making Fireball more powerful, but Frostfire Bolt, on the other hand, benefits from a large number of frost talents. I'm not even sure why Blizzard would even leave Fireball on the talent as an option. Frostfire Bolt will be the more powerful choice in every situation here.

So where does all this leave us? It's clear from these patch notes and comments like this...

I would also expect Arcane damage to fall overall with the Incanter's Absorption change. (Torment is also gratuitously overpowered, but that would be too big a change for now.) That should get Fire a lot closer to Arcane. Getting Frost up there too is harder, but we're still trying.

...that the devs are trying to level the playing field between the mage specs. This idea cuts both ways. To bring fire and frost up to the level of arcane, those two specs are receiving a few buffs. I'm all for buoying up under-performing specs. But why does doing so require knocking arcane down a peg? Let me say this another way:

I'm near-sighted. Seriously, blind as a bat. Don't ask me how many fingers you're holding up because I don't know. I negotiate my surroundings via sonar. I'm more than a little jealous of folks with natural 20/20 vision. I'd love to have the same eyesight as everybody else. I can accomplish this equality in one of two ways:
  1. I can improve my own vision by wearing glasses, contact lenses, or getting eye surgery. Or...
  2. I can gouge everybody else's eyes out.
Which sounds more reasonable? Keep in mind that we're talking about normal people here, not warlocks. I have no inherent desire to disfigure regular folk.

I just wish the developers could find a way to make all three specs viable without hobbling the most powerful of the three. What's stopping them all from being powerful?

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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