Arcane Brilliance: Mage AoE in Cataclysm, part 2

Christian Belt
C. Belt|09.11.10

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Arcane Brilliance: Mage AoE in Cataclysm, part 2

It's time again for Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that likes AoE. In fact, you can expect those three specific letters in that precise configuration to appear approximately fourty-three thousand times during the course of the column to follow. Pretty impressive, considering the column's only a shade over 1,500 words long. How'd I do it? A true magician never reveals his tricks, guys.

A brief history of fire:
  • 17,000 B.C. - Motivated mainly by an intense desire to cook bacon, mankind discovers fire.
  • 3,000 B.C. - On Azeroth, the first mage, motivated mainly by an intense desire to cook warlocks at range, discovers how to hurl a Fireball.
  • 2004 A.D. - Mages set fire to Hogger for the first time. Bacon is served.
  • 2010 A.D. - Cataclysm comes out, bringing with it such fiery wonders as Flame Orb, moving Scorches, and the reworked Combustion. Warlocks are served.
  • 2015 A.D. - Following the Zombie Apocalypse, mages find that Blast Wave + conjured strudel is the ideal skill-set for surviving in a world full of ravenous undead. Zombies are served. Also: zombie warlocks. Also: zombie bacon. Mmmm ... zombie bacon.
Last week we discussed the general changes to AoE spells across the board, as well as the specific AoE capabilities of the arcane and frost trees in the upcoming WoW expansion, Zombie Cataclysm. Those trees both have their ways and means of killing things in large groups, but I think we can all agree that when it comes to mass murder, the fire tree is where it's at. Join me after the break, won't you?


Forget everything you know about this spell. It's simply not the same ability anymore. Yes, it still does fire damage over time to the area you cast it on. No, it doesn't suck anymore.

The real story here is Improved Flamestrike. It's a two-rank talent on the 5th tier of the fire tree. You'll want both ranks. It does two things:
  • It makes Flamestrike instant. As in: no more cast time.
  • It triggers a Flamestrike every time you cast Blast Wave (more on this in a moment), on that same location, so long as the Blast Wave will affect two or more targets (and if it won't, why are you casting it?). This Flamestrike is free, instant, and off the global cooldown. Also? Awesome.
So, yeah. Flamestrike. The spell still does some very nice initial damage, plus damage over time, and the instant awesome damage of the additional Blast Wave added on to that Flamestrike every 15 seconds means you'll be doing a buttload of high-quality fire damage to a buttload of mobs pretty much all the time.

One other nice change to the spell is that it now enjoys an 8 yard radius, putting it on equal footing with Blizzard. Oh, and I want you to keep in mind that this spell counts as a DoT for the purpose of any talents that may affect DoTs. This will become important later.

Running tally of fire DoTs: 1

Blast Wave

This spell has also been overhauled. It's still a massive flaming explosion that does a bunch of damage and looks super cool in cinematics. Only now it can be thrown. Instead of radiating out from the mage, forcing him to be far closer to his intended target than any mage is comfortable being, Blast Wave can now be cast at range. This means, essentially, that fire mages in Cataclysm will be true ranged AoE specialists, able to stand at a safe distance and burn everything, as God intended.

The spell's secondary effect has also changed. Instead of a knockback, Blast Wave now acts as an AoE snare, slowing everything within its 8 yard radius by a solid 70%. I will miss the knockback, but assuming I've taken Improved Flamestrike and paired my Blast Wave with a Flamestrike, the slowing effect will keep my targets in the fiery circle of death I've conjured for longer. That's nice. In AoE situations, you'll want to cast Blast Wave every single time it's off cooldown, really. It costs so much less mana than Flamestrike that even if the mobs are about to die, and you don't really need the extra damage, you'll want to cast it just to save mana.

Blast Wave is a third tier, one-rank talent, and as far as I'm concerned, it's a must-have for any serious fire mage.

Dragon's Breath

This is the fire tree's panic button AoE spell. When all else fails, and a large number of enemies get a little too close to us, we cast this little cone of death. It does some very substantial damage, and applies a life-saving 5-second daze effect at the same time. This spell remains essentially unchanged in the beta, but it wasn't really in need of tweaking. It does what it does, and it does it well.

Dragon's Breath is a 1-point, fifth tier talent, and well worth picking up.

Flame Orb

This is fire's new spell in Cataclysm, trained at level 81. It's still very buggy in the beta, and is undoubtedly due for a tweak or two before the testing process is over, but I'm still a fan. It's ranged, instant cast, and on a 1 minute cooldown. Here's a run-down on how it works:

It no longer has a cast time, so when you cast it, it instantly conjures an impressive-looking ball of flame that begins traveling very slowly in whatever direction you were facing when you cast it. I'm not kidding. It only goes about 10 yards in 15 seconds, that puppy moves slow. It fires off a bunch of tendrils of flame at every mob around it, but only does damage to the closest one, which makes me sad. It does that damage every second while it lasts. If you take Fire Power, your Flame Orb will then explode at the end of the 15 seconds, doing very nice damage to everything around it.

Flame Orb is an interesting addition to the fire mage AoE toolbox. Its fire-and-forget mechanics and low mana cost make it a very nice option to pile on top of your staple AoE rotation (Blast Wave/Flamestrike-->Flamestrike-->repeat), especially while moving. You can pump one of these out while strafing from one spot to another during an encounter, doing some solid damage over time while you move without requiring any more of your attention than it took to cast the thing. The damage seems a bit low to me in the beta, but there's plenty of time to tweak that. It's supposedly intended to be balanced around doing good enough single target damage to warrant a spot in boss rotations, but it isn't quite there yet.

Living Bomb

Ah, Living Bomb. It was awesome in Lich King, and it's still awesome in Cataclysm. In fact, it's basically unchanged, which in the case of Living Bomb is a very good thing. It's still instant, can still be cast on multiple targets (yay!), still applies a high-power DoT to its target(s), and still explodes after 12 seconds or whenever the effect is dispelled. In short, it's still Living Bomb, and I'm still a happy mage.


Running tally of fire DoTs: 2

And before we get to the next section, we ought to hit the other non-AoE fire DoTs, just to add them to our tally:


Running tally of fire DoTs: 3


Running tally of fire DoTs: 4

Ok, so now we're ready for the last note on fire AoE:


I know, this isn't technically an AoE spell. But it has a certain synergy with the AoE spells in your book that it simply has to be mentioned in any serious discussion of fire AoE. Here's what the new Combustion does:

It does some good instant damage, which is always nice. But the real meat of the talent is what it does to all of your existing DoT effects on the target you cast it on: it combines them. I know, you're not quite sure what makes this so awesome. I know I wasn't sure when I first read that tooltip. Let me elaborate:

Assume you're fighting a boss and his cronies. You have Flamestrike under them, doing what Flamestrike does. You have Living Bomb on several of them, ticking away. You're casting your single-target spells at the boss. He has a Pyroblast DoT on him, which you crit on, putting an Ignite DoT on the boss as well. That's four DoTs working on the boss at once. Time to click Combustion.

The periodic damage being done by each of those four DoTs is combined into a single uber-DoT that will now run for the next ten seconds, regardless of how much time was left on any of the component DoT effects. All of the DoT debuffs are then dispelled on that target, meaning you can get busy reapplying all of them to run concurrently with that Combustion uber-DoT. Holy crap.

So basically, any time you're AoEing, you should also be watching for that perfect time (which should happen pretty frequently) to hit Combustion also. And mobs don't die nearly as quickly in Cataclysm, meaning you'll have plenty of time to play with all of this stuff on each encounter.

In closing ...

Despite the overall nerf to AoE damage and the drastic increase in mob health we'll be encountering in this expansion, the fun factor for mage AoE looks to be going way, way up. I'm incredibly excited for these changes to go live, and also incredibly excited to one day stumble across a secret warlock convention deep in the woods somewhere to practice on.

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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