Arcane Brilliance: Fire 101

Christian Belt
C. Belt|05.01.10

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It's time again for Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that believes there is no such thing as too much Pyroblast. You can certainly have not enough Pyroblast, as any fire mage who is desperately praying to the RNG gods for a second consecutive crit so that Hot Streak will grant him an instant one can attest. But you can never have too much. Never.

Since publishing Arcane 101 and Frost 101, for our series of class 101 guides, I've received numerous requests for Fire 101. Where is it? When is it coming? Why haven't you written it yet? There's even one guy who I swear has emailed me pretty much daily inquiring as to Fire 101's whereabouts. These emails progressed steadily in their tone and verbiage from mild annoyance to frustrated desperation, to thinly veiled threats to do me bodily harm. It wasn't long before the emails began coming with increasingly creepy pictures attached: first one of a road map with a thumbtack in the southwestern portion of Nevada, then one of the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign, then one of the street where I live, then one of my house, my driveway, and so on. The picture contained in yesterday's email was of a naked man who wasn't me standing in my bathroom brandishing a large knife. So, I've decided that today is the day!

Now, please ... get out of my bathroom,

As always, these posts come with a small disclaimer: these are meant to be basic guides covering a general overview of the spec from a PvE perspective. This one is meant as an introduction to Fire. It will not help you maximize your DPS on heroic 25-man Lich King. It will, however, help you get some idea of what the fire spec is, and how to go about playing it.

Without further ado, I bring you Fire 101.

1. What is fire?

In prehistoric times, man discovered that by rubbing two sticks together or by striking flint to steel, he could produce a spark, which if allowed to settle upon dry tinder could then be made to grow into a flame. Then, man learned to conjure that same flame from the air around him and hurl it at warlocks. Thus, the fire spec was born.

Fire is a pure DPS spec, producing high burst damage, frequent crits, extremely high AoE damage, and a delicious smoky flavor. Fire is perhaps the most random-number-generator (RNG) dependent spec in the game, and certainly the most RNG-dependent mage spec. There are fights when the game's internal dice are kind to this spec, when the crits will flow freely and your DPS will be high. There are times when none of that happens, and your DPS will suck.

2. Fire benefits
  • High single target damage
  • Extremely high multiple target damage, especially in longer fights
  • Good raid utility
  • Simple rotation
  • Only one cooldown to manage
  • Living Bomb is awesome
3. Fire drawbacks
  • Highly RNG dependent
  • Boring rotation
  • DPS is currently still generally lower than Arcane
  • Terrible survivability
  • Extremely high hit cap
4. Stats to look for

Intellect and stamina are both important parts of a balanced fire mage diet, but you get plenty of both from your gear. You should never need to gem or enchant for either of those stats.
  • Spellpower. By far the most important mage stat, fire or otherwise. This is your priority for gemming and enchanting. Almost all mage gear will have spellpower on it, but you always want more. Unlike most other stats, its value doesn't grow or diminish over time. Adding spellpower will always increase your DPS by the same amount, every time.
  • Haste. This is less important at lower levels of gear, but becomes more valuable as your gear improves. It speeds up spellcasting and lowers your global cooldown.
  • Crit rating. Unlike haste, crit is more important at lower levels, and becomes less important as your gear improves. It increases your chance to get a critical strike with your spells, but by the time your fire mage is well-geared, your crit chance will be so high as to make adding more crit rating slightly unnecessary.
  • Hit rating. Unlike frost and arcane mages, fire has no access to talents that grant hit rating, meaning that the hit cap for fire is very high. Your cap, unbuffed, is 446. That's a buttload. Hit rating, until you reach that magical 446 number, is the single most important DPS stat for you to hunt down. Once you reach the cap, any additional hit rating is a total waste. You want the cap and no more.
5. Stats to avoid
  • Spirit. This increases your crit chance via Molten Armor, and your out-of combat mana regeneration (which isn't important). This isn't a bad stat, but you'll get most of what you need from gear, and should never need to go looking for spirit.
  • MP5. This is never a mage stat. It's always a healer stat. It's going away entirely in Cataclysm, but for now, if a piece has MP5 on it, it's not for you.
6. Typical PvE talent setup

This cookie-cutter talent spec for fire mages goes deep into the fire tree, but makes a short excursion into arcane for Torment the Weak, a mandatory talent.

Fire 18/53/0

This spec maximizes single target DPS. You may find it useful, depending on your raid's needs, to redistribute your points a bit in order to pick up Dragon's Breath or Blast Wave (or both) for added AoE options. A good place to get the points from is Flame Throwing, as in doing so you only give up a bit of range.

7. Talent overview


Improved Fireball: Speeds up your main nuke. Mandatory.

Ignite: Makes your crits (of which there should be many) also apply a very nice damage-over-time (DoT) effect, which adds significantly to your DPS.

World in Flames: Useful for the increased crit chance it gives to many of your best spells, including Pyroblast and Living Bomb, among others.

Flame Throwing: Adds 6 yards of range to all of the spells you'll be using. Range helps in fights where standing at max-range is imperative. These points can be placed elsewhere if you deem another talent more important to your playstyle or raid needs.

Pyroblast: This is your highest damage spell, but has too long of a cast time to be worth casting. Fortunately, you'll be picking up a talent later on that makes Pyroblast instant from time to time. When Pyroblast is instant, it is a mandatory cast. Added bonus: it's a giant freaking ball of fire.

Burning Soul: Reduces pushback and threat. Both are essential, and you won't get them from any other talents.

Improved Scorch: This is your raid utility talent. It applies a 5% spell crit chance debuff to the enemy, improving raid DPS, and also provides a passive 3% crit chance buff to you personally.

Master of Elements: A very useful mana-return mechanic, this talent will give you mana back on every crit, and as a fire mage, crits happen often.

Playing with Fire: For 3 talent points, it increases your damage by 3%. Not shabby. The downside is it also increases your incoming spell damage by 3%, but who are you kidding? You're a fire mage. You're constructed entirely of tissue paper. What are you afraid of? That you'll be 3% less dead when the boss decides it's your time to go?

Critical Mass: 3 talent points gives you a whopping 6% added crit chance. That's a lot of crit.

Blast Wave: This is an excellent AoE spell, but not mandatory. In fact, if used improperly, it can actually hurt your raid's AoE output due to knocking enemies temporarily out of range. Still, its damage is high, and there are times when that knockback can come in handy.

Fire Power: For 5 talent points, this makes your fire spells 10% more powerful. What a deal!

Pyromaniac: Yet another crit-increasing talent, this one also allows 50% of your mana regen to occur during combat.

Combustion: This is your one and only cooldown spell. It basically gives you a stacking crit buff that lasts until you've gotten three crits from it. You'll want to cast it every time it's up, unless the mobs are about to die or something.

Molten Fury: Gives you a whopping 12% damage increase when you need it most -- at the end of the fight. During the burndown phase of a boss fight, your fire mage will see his DPS jump significantly.

Empowered Fire: This talent more than justifies its position so low in the tree. Its benefits are twofold. Firstly, it increases the damage of your primary nuke spells by 15% of your spellpower, which means that the damage increase scales as your gear improves. And second, it grants you some nice mana return whenever Ignite ticks. That'll be frequent.

Dragon's Breath: This is a nice short-range conical AoE spell that carries with it a daze effect. It's powerful, and only costs one talent point, and so is quite worth taking if you need more AoE options.

Hot Streak: Ah, here's your instant Pyroblasts. The trigger is 2 spell crits in a row (not counting those from DoT effects like Living Bomb), and you have 10 seconds during which to unleash your insta-Pyroblast. But why would you want to wait?

Burnout: Provides a massive damage bonus to your spell crits, but makes them cost 5% more mana. The damage increase more than makes up for any lost mana, and your crits will already be giving back a bunch of mana anyway due to other talents.

Living Bomb: I wrote a song about Living Bomb once. I can only guess that the reason nobody's set it to music and played it on acoustic guitar on YouTube yet has something to do with warlocks. Or perhaps that the song only had nine words total. And none of those words rhymed. At any rate, Living Bomb is awesome. It's a very powerful DoT spell that works on multiple targets (yay!) and explodes if allowed to run its 12 second course on a mob. You'll want it up on as many targets as possible pretty much always.


Arcane Subtlety: As with pretty much everything in the arcane tree, you're only taking this talent to get to Torment the Weak. If you can find a more personally useful way of distributing your talent points in this tree, feel free. The very minor benefits this talent provides are a lowered threat on arcane spells you won't be casting all that much (Spellsteal, Polymorph, Counterspell, etc.) and a lowered chance your buffs and DoTs will be dispelled (which isn't much of a problem in PvE, really).

Arcane Focus: Lowered mana and improved chance to hit with those same arcane spells, none of which are part of your rotation.

Arcane Concentration: Ah, now this one's actually useful. Gives you a chance on every offensive spellcast to make your next offensive spellcast free. A good mana management tool.

Spell Impact: This one's pretty nice too, as one of the spells covered by its 6% damage increase is Fireball. Also included: Scorch and Blast Wave.

Student of the Mind: You're putting a point here to meet the requirements for Torment the Weak. The extra spirit is just gravy.

Focus Magic: This applies a nice crit buff to a teammate, who then applies that same buff right back at you every time they crit with a spell. Fun for the whole family.

Torment the Weak: The reason we're here. Anytime the enemy you're firing at is affected by any sort of slowing effect (in a normal raiding environment, this will be all of the time, constantly, forever), you will do 12% more damage to them. That's a ridiculous damage buff.

8. Leveling as Fire

Fire is all about killing things before they reach you. Fireball is your main nuke, but it's still probably a good idea to throw out a Frostbolt opener to slow down your target while you set them aflame. Fire Blast is your best close-range attack. Blast Wave and Dragon's Breath are far more important while leveling than they are at max level, simply because both spells do a bunch of damage while peeling mobs off you and dazing them. The watchwords while leveling fire are these: "don't die." Survivability and escape options are scarce for fire mages, so either avoid targeting more than one enemy at once or be very confident in your ability to kill all your targets very quickly.

For more detailed info on leveling a mage, check out Arcane Brilliance's mage leveling series. You can find it here.

9. Your basic fire rotation

Fire's rotation is very simple: Start with Scorch to apply the debuff, then spam Fireball. When Hot Streak procs, throw out a Pyroblast. Use Combustion whenever it's off cooldown unless the fight is about to end. Keep Living Bomb up at all times, on multiple mobs if necessary.

For AoE: Apply Living Bomb on three or so of the mobs, then stack a rank 9 Flamestrike on top of a rank 8. Re-apply a rank 9 Flamestrike when the first wears off, then wait for Living Bomb to explode. Repeat as necessary.

10. Gems

Arcane Brilliance covered gemming for mages in detail in this column. Gemming is pretty much the same for mages no matter the spec.

The short version:
  • Spellpower trumps all. Gem a Runed Cardinal Ruby wherever possible.
  • If the socket bonus is spellpower, consider filling it with a Reckless Ametrine (for yellow/red slots) or a Purified Dreadstone (blue slots).
  • You'll need at least two Purifieds to meet the requirements for your meta, which should be the Chaotic Skyflare Diamond.
  • If you need hit rating, gems are a fine place to get it, and you can always replace those hit gems with spellpower ones as you gain better gear.
11. Enchants for endgame

Full enchant column here. It includes a full list of enchants available at endgame, including best-in-slot and low-price alternatives.

12. Glyphs
  • 1st major slot: Glyph of Fireball: This reduces the cast time of your main nuke. Mandatory.
  • 2nd major slot: Glyph of Molten Armor: This is the armor spell you'll be using, and the glyph for it only adds to its damage.
  • 3rd major slot: Glyph of Living Bomb: This glyph allows for the periodic ticks of Living Bomb to crit, which in turn makes Living Bomb even more awesome. This glyph will provide a bigger DPS increase than any other glyph at endgame.
  • Minor slots: If you've specced into Blast Wave, grab the glyph for it, which removes that pesky knockback effect and lowers the mana cost for the spell. The other two slots don't much matter, take whatever you feel will improve your quality of life.
So there you have it, crazynakedguy. Please put down the knife now. Also, put some clothes on. Nobody wants to see that. But by all means keep emailing me and sending me photos. I like to know someone's out there, watching over me. From my bathroom. Naked.


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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