Arcane Brilliance: Fire mage 4.0

Christian Belt
C. Belt|07.31.10

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Arcane Brilliance: Fire mage 4.0
It's Saturday, and that of course means it's time again for Arcane Brilliance, weekly mage column, hero to the downtrodden, vanquisher of evil, dispenser of justice. That's right. By day, Arcane Brilliance is a mild-mannered mage-related wall of text. But by night ... Arcane Brilliance is Deathspank.

Another beta build hit a couple nights ago -- as they tend to do -- and it brought a number of class changes. A quick glance at the new talent trees revealed the expected (some talent position swaps, a few talents vanishing, some tooltip alterations, the occasional loss of a rank here and there) and the ... unexpected. Three changes in the fire tree, particularly, caught my eye:
Yes, the tooltip for Molten Shields really is "Redesign!" With an exclamation point. For emphasis.

So clearly the fire tree is in a certain amount of flux? I became instantly excited. The fire tree, perhaps more than either of the other two trees, really has been due for some focused attention. Then I saw this, from none other than Lead Game Designer Tom Chilton:

On another note, the revamped Fire tree should be in the beta sometime early next week. There will be some slight changes in the next beta patch (today/tomorrow), but don't put much stock in them... some of those changes have been changed in other ways, and many more things will have changed the build early next week.

Reading that, I rubbed my palms together vigorously and began smacking my F5 key with feverish glee. Eventually, Kalgan posted again. In the interest of spacial economy, I won't reprint the entire post here. But I will link you to it, and insist that you click on said link and then read about the upcoming changes to the fire tree directly from the proverbial lich's horrific, undead mouth. Go ahead, I'm not going anywhere.


Okay. Let's get started.

Tier 1

Okay, we've got a tier 2 transplant here in Improved Fire Blast, which doesn't do a lot for me. This talent, in general, kind of sucks, even for fire mages. It makes Fire Blast a short-cooldown spell with a more acceptable range, and I suppose the tier 1 option it provides is giving any tree access to one more instant spell for movement-based portions of fights, or for PvP. I'm not a fan of these talents that only affect one spell, especially those that simply take an existing spell and bring it up to the level of functionality it should probably already have at baseline.

Incineration, which was a pure damage-increasing spell for specific spells in each tree's rotation, is gone and that's probably for the best. It was a minor DPS increase at best, and an outright boring talent at worst.

Burning Soul (which I truly, truly wish would just become baseline, bringing mages in line with every other ranged DPS class) remains unchanged. It keeps its status as the only absolutely mandatory tier 1 talent for all three specs. Yay for choices! Master of Elements costing one less talent point is nice.

Tier 2

Ignite and Blazing Speed are unchanged, which is fine in the case of Ignite, but crappy in the case of Blazing Speed, a flawed PvP talent for two expansions and counting now. Luckily, the next tier has a new talent that makes it a bit better.

The real news here is the change to Fire Power, which still increases fire spell damage across the board (a straight 3% to all fire damage now, instead of a 5% increase to fire DoT effects), but also makes your Flame Orb explode once it has run its course. Finally. We were wondering when that promised explosion effect would appear, and its nice to see that's still on the way.

Impact, besides dropping a tier, apparently still has its current stun effect in place, but the tooltip announces Blizzard's intent to add some non-DPS raid utility to the talent. Aside from the tooltip being hilarious, this is a great idea. Making the raid utility non-DPS leaves the talent optional, rather than mandatory, and Chilton's request for "awesome ideas" in the forum post gives mages the impression we're involved somewhat in the evolution of our class. So let's get over there and put in our two cents, guys.

As for my idea, I'm still working on it. But rest assured that it involves a warlock rectum, my wand, and the sudden, painful introduction of the one to the other. Which then provides replenishment to the raid.

Tier 3

Holy Cauterize, guys. Let's think about this for a second. Cauterize will be a new talent that will provide you a 100% chance to avoid death once per minute, causing any attack that would have otherwise killed you to instead bring you to 40% of your maximum health (most of the time, this will be a heal, but I guess if the attack was epic enough it would actually bring your health down?). The trade-off is that you'll also burn for 12% of your maximum health each second over the next four seconds. So you're going to need a heal very swiftly or you're going to die anyway.

I love this. Love it. This is going to be one of those utility talents that fire mages will feel a strong desire to have in their toolbox for PvP or for raiding. The PvP uses of a talent that allows you to stave off death are obvious, but even in PvE, you can make a very strong argument for this sort of thing, even over a DPS increasing talent. After all, how much DPS can you put out when you're dead? I don't know about you, but for me, the answer is "surprisingly little."

Oh yeah, and Blast Wave is going to be targetable. That's right. You'll be able to take your Blast Wave, pick a nice spot, preferably a safe distance from the spot your soft, robed flesh is currently inhabiting, and place your Blast Wave there. It'll still have its rock-solid fire damage, but instead of a daze effect, it'll apply a 75% slow to all within its area of effect. Also? 15 second cooldown. I've got goosebumps. A targetable AoE damage/slow spell? Sexy.

Molten Shields has moved up a tier, with Blazing Speed as a prerequisite. It has two functions. First, it lowers the cooldown of Mage Ward by a whopping 1.5 seconds (on a 30 second cooldown? Really?), and second, it makes Blazing Speed more tolerable. Specifically, it makes it a bit more controllable. More specifically, it makes Blazing Speed trigger whenever Mage Ward dissipates from absorbing damage. I'm still not a fan of an escape talent being so unpredictable, but this makes it a bit better.

Edit: I am a moron. Also, Molten Shields is supposed to reduce the global cooldown of Mage Ward by 1.5 seconds, not the cooldown cooldown. That actually makes sense. Silly Christian. Thanks to everyone who pointed this out!

My major issue with this, though, is that they felt the need to make a separate talent here. Why? If you're in the Blazing Speed market, you're also going to want Molten Shields. If you aren't, you can't even take Molten Shields. Do we need two separate talents to make one moderately useful escape effect? I can't be too bothered, I suppose, since the total expenditure for both talents is only 3 talent points, but still. Seems poorly conceived.

Oh, and Improved Scorch is now a mana reduction talent for a single spell? I guess now, instead of needing at least one mage in the raid with this talent, we now need zero. The old effect (the spell crit debuff) has been moved down in the tree. I'm thinking this one's going to see a bit more work before we're done, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it vanish altogether.

Tier 4

Pyromaniac and Combustion are still the same. Hot Streak remains, with the new effect that the instant Pyroblast is also free (as in, no mana).

The new talent in this tier is Firestarter. And boy is it interesting. It changes the effect of Molten Armor, removing the reduction to your chances of being critically hit, and adding a very intriguing new twist. It allows you to cast Scorch on the move. Holy crap. So, does that mean the spell becomes instant, or that you can actually fire off a cast-time spell on the move? The wording suggests the latter. Which would of course be awesome. Scorch would become a spammable movement spell with a very short casting time, meaning fire mages would be able to maintain a large portion of their DPS even while moving, but the real implications here are probably in PvP.

I just imagine a fire mage, sprinting around spamming Scorch and Fire Blast, inserting a free, instant Pyroblast whenever Hot Streak procs, protecting themselves with Mage Ward and escaping with frequent Blazing Speed procs. Oh, and you can't kill them either, thanks to Cauterize. I'm not sure I'm prepared to live in a world where fire is our PvP tree, guys. But I'm prepared to visit that world, and I'm not booking a return flight.

Tier 5

No changes here. Which is fine, because we're getting up around 1500 words already, and you've got to get back to work.

Tier 6

And here's where the Improved Scorch debuff went! You can see the current beta tooltip for Critical Mass in the picture accompanying this post, wherein it describes itself as a "compelling talent that adds utility for all playstyles, but not DPS." I'm not sure how that translates into "Mandatory DPS-increasing raid debuff that also works with Pyroblast," but whatever. Maybe the compelling part is coming in later, or will pop up elsewhere. I could live just fine with the debuff going right back down the tree to Improved Scorch, and this talent doing something else entirely, but that's me.

Tier 7

Still the sole dominion of Living Bomb. As well it should be.

So there you have Blizzard's apparent plans for the fire tree. We'll see how things are actually implemented next week when the new build comes down, but for now, I'm incredibly excited. Fire's DPS promises to still be awesome, but these changes address some weaknesses the spec has had since the original beta, back when houses were still worth money and Justin Bieber was still an unknown 10-year-old Canadian boy who looked like a 10-year-old Canadian girl. Bring on the unkillable merchants of flaming death!

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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