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Arcane Brilliance: Frost mage Cataclysm talent analysis

Christian Belt
November 13, 2010

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Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. This week, we're discussing the ins and outs of the frost tree, the mage tree wherein you learn to conjure delightful snow cones from the air around you, and then how to hurl those icy treats into your opponent's face at 1,000 feet per second. It's like a winter miracle that kills you.

Whenever I do these kinds of things, where we explore each of the three mage trees on consecutive weeks, it seems like the frost tree always goes last kind of by default. In the English-speaking world, we read left to right, we tend to organize things on a page in left-to-right fashion, and until Simon's Quest came along and screwed everything up as awesomely as possible, we played our video games from left to right. Frost's the tree on the right, so it always ends up last, while arcane somehow always gets to go first.

It isn't fair, so what we're doing here is giving the usual way of things a big middle finger. Last week, we hit the fire tree, and this week we're going frost. Arcane will have to wait until next week. Take that, conformity! I feel like we've really done something here. Society will be better because of this column. I really believe that.

After the jump, we'll look at each and every talent in the frost tree in turn, picking them apart for nutrients, then squeezing the rest into a fine paste to use as a crude adhesive. Yes, once we're done with the frost tree, we should have the raw materials to feed our family and also to build a small hut.

Early Frost

This one sounds good on paper. A 0.7-second reduction in cast time for Frostbolt? Where do I sign up? In practice, though, Early Frost starts to look a little less appealing.

The major issues here are twofold:

  1. It only works once every 15 seconds, which means it is awesome in fights in which you only have to cast Frostbolt once. Which of course means never. Over time, the 15-second internal cooldown of the talent equates to a relatively insignificant DPS increase.
  2. At high levels of haste (fairly common among endgame frost mages at this point), taking this talent reduces the cast time for Frostbolt below the global cooldown during Icy Veins or Heroism, meaning the talent is completely wasted during burn-down phases of most battles. Not cool.
Still, Early Frost isn't without its uses. In PvP, it's a fairly powerful tool, providing a super-quick Frostbolt to open fights and then at regular intervals throughout. But as part of an extended raiding DPS rotation, it simply isn't worth the two talent points at this point.

Piercing Ice

Absolutely mandatory. 3% more crit to all of your spells is a basic, rock-solid DPS increase and plays into everything frost mages do. In fact, this is one of those first-tier talents almost every mage will end up taking, no matter his spec. It's that much of a no-brainer.


Shatter is one of the bedrock talents of the frost spec and has been since the dawn of time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and warlocks could beat mages in a fair fight. It multiplies the crit chance of any spell you cast against a frozen target by three for two talent points. When you're building a frost mage, Shatter is where your first two talent points go.

Coupled with Fingers of Frost later in the tree, this will give you a good shot at a near 100 percent crit chance. One issue to keep in mind is that once your normal crit chance exceeds 33.333333333333333333% (repeated to infinity), tripling it will give you a higher than 100 percent crit chance, meaning stacking any crit rating beyond that point is far less valuable.

Ice Floes

This gives you a significantly reduced cooldown to five of your core spells. It's an incredibly valuable talent, both for PvP mages (Cone of Cold, Ice Block, Ice Barrier) and PvE mages (Icy Veins and Cold Snap). Anything that allows you to cast Icy Veins more often is a straight DPS increase.

Improved Cone of Cold

This is a pretty obvious PvP talent, upgrading your Cone of Cold so that it freezes its targets instead of just slowing them. This is invaluable in PvP, providing you a powerful control tool at close range, but of limited import in PvE. It can come in handy during fights in which that added AoE crowd control option might be helpful and is pretty cool to have while playing solo or AoE farming.

Piercing Chill

This talent is situationally awesome. Ask yourself: Am I fighting a boss that has one or more add being tanked at once? If your answer to that question is yes, then you will wish you had this talent. If your answer is no, then you can carry on, unperturbed. It spreads your chill effects to one or two additonal nearby targets whenever you crit your main target with Frostbolt, which of course means awesomesauce.

You can certainly make room for this talent (either in its one- or two-talent-point varieties) in a PvE frost build, but nobody's going to fault you for skipping it, either. If you find yourself in a lot of multi-target fights, grab it. If you don't, don't.


This is an incredible PvP talent and may seem to be a PvP-only talent at first blush. Think about it this way, though:

Your water elemental is a significant DPS increase. Also, Improved Freeze means he'll give you more Fingers of Frost procs. These are things he does when he is alive. Things he does when he is dead? You'll find there aren't many.

Thus, healing your big blue buddy can actually be considered a DPS increase of sorts. It's not going to factor in on any damage spreadsheets, but it's tangible nonetheless. In addition, you're also getting a better speed reduction from your chill effects (great for kiting) and a psuedo-Mortal Strike effect, which is always nice, even in PvE, from time to time. Chances are that by now you need a few points somewhere to get to the next tier of the tree; consider the utility provided here and ask yourself if putting those points here isn't an option.

Ice Shards

Here's your old Improved Blizzard effect. Perfect for AoE grinding and multi-target kiting but not much else, this is a filler talent you can take if you think you might want it. You might think the extra 5 yards of range for Ice Lance would come in handy -- and I'm sure it does from time to time -- but when you consider the fact that Frostbolt's range is also only 35 yards, you start to realize those extra 5 yards aren't really all that useful.

Icy Veins

Your first, best DPS cooldown ability, Icy Veins gives you super-speedy casting and 100 percent pushback protection for a lengthy 20 seconds. This one's essential for both PvE and PvP frost mages. In most cases, you'll want to cast this one every time it's up, unless you're saving it for a swiftly approaching burn-down phase.

Fingers of Frost

Another of the "essential" frost talents, FoF is awesome for a number of reasons:
  1. It treats the target as frozen for the purposes of every other talent that takes advantage of that effect, including Shatter and our mastery ability, Frostburn.
  2. It only works with Ice Lance and Deep Freeze, two spells you'll only be casting when FoF is up, meaning you won't be wasting FoF procs with mindless Frostbolt spam and can pretty much pick your spots, doing massive burst damage when and how you choose.
  3. You can stack the charges to two before taking advantage of the proc, meaning you can stockpile a gigantic Deep Freeze > Ice Lance > Shatter combo for use on that unsuspecting warlock when he least expects it.
FoF is the bedrock upon which frost mage DPS is built, and no matter what kind of frost mage you hope to be, you need to have this talent. Oh, and taking it also gives you access to ...

Improved Freeze

... which is something you also want. Any opportunity to get more FoF procs is good, but this talent gives you the ability (assuming your water elemental isn't dead) to pretty much get a two-charge FoF proc on demand. Is it still considered a "proc" if you can get one on demand? I say yes.

The limitation, of course, is that it's tied to your pet's Freeze ability, which is on a 25-second cooldown. Still, having that controllable two-charge FoF proc in your pocket is more than worth the wait, and the three talent points. Don't believe me? Imagine the following scenario:

Did Deep Freeze just come off cooldown? Would you like to use it? Do you want to wait for a FoF proc? No? Shoot out a quick Freeze, and then blow the boss up. Improved Freeze is a talent you take for those moments when you absolutely need to kill something right now. Like last night, when the mouthbreather at the Taco Bell drive-thru forgot to put my caramel apple empanada in the bag and I didn't realize until I got home and didn't have it to chase my chalupa with.

Enduring Winter

You don't have to have all three points in this talent for it to provide with its main benefit: Replenishment. Two points will pretty much do the job of keeping Replenishment up constantly for the raid. The other part of the talent -- the one that reduces the mana cost of all of your spells by a flat 10 percent -- is nice too, though.

If nobody else in the raid is providing Replenishment and you find yourself running out of mana a lot, you could do worse than putting two or three talent points in Enduring Winter.

Cold Snap

For one talent point, you'd be extremely ill-advised to skip this one. Every 8 minutes (or once per boss, really), you get a free reset on everything on a cooldown, including Deep Freeze, Icy Veins, Ice Block, and Ice Barrier. This is perfect for those times when you need your cooldowns, and you need them now. When the moment is right, this talent allows you to be ready for it. It's like Cialis, except Cold Snap doesn't air ads during every commercial break in every sporting event ever that make you throw up in your mouth.

Brain Freeze

Mmmmm ... free, instant Frostfire Bolts ...

Brain Freeze will proc a lot; at 15 percent, you'll notice it's up with surprising frequency. It doesn't so much provide a massive DPS increase as it gives you a powerful mana management tool and an extra way to maintain DPS during the movement portions of fights. This one's worth all three points.

Shattered Barrier

This is beneficial talent for soling and for PvP. It is essentially useless for a raiding frost mage. Why? Well, to be honest, if you're a PvE frost mage and you find yourself surrounded by mobs that are all attacking you, you're two things:
  1. dead
  2. doing it wrong
And since that's the only scenario in which this talent really comes in handy, I'm not sure there's any reason for a raiding mage to take this.

Ice Barrier

Taking Ice Barrier or not isn't even a question, since it's a prerequisite for Deep Freeze, but don't overlook its value in PvE. It provides you with one of the most singularly powerful damage absorption abilities in the game, and though casting it costs you mana and a global cooldown you could have been using for DPS purposes, it will also keep you alive so you can spend the rest of your global cooldowns on DPS spells. A dead mage, frankly, is the worst kind of mage.

And yes, since you asked, a dead warlock is indeed the best kind of warlock. I know, I just said what you were all thinking.

An absolutely mandatory PvP talent, Ice Barrier also connects to another interesting defensive talent ...

Reactive Barrier

... which for two talent points gives you an automatic Ice Barrier whenever you take damage that will take you below 50 percent health. This can be a good and bad thing. For starters, giving the spell an automatic trigger can save you, but it also removes some of the control of the spell. It could trigger when you most need it, or it could trigger when you'd rather not waste the cooldown. I'm normally not a big fan of anything that removes control from the player, and this is no exception.

For the PvE mage, this doesn't trigger the global cooldown, can trigger while casting, silenced, stunned, or otherwise CCed, and can provide an invaluable automated protective measure for those times when incoming damage is huge and unavoidable. This way, you can have all the defense of Ice Barrier without having to cut into your DPS casting it. Your healer will thank you for having it, but it is by no means required for a PvE build.

For the PvP mage, this can save your squishy butt during times when you wouldn't otherwise be able to cast it (i.e., when CCed), but it can also hurt you when it triggers at points when you would rather it didn't. And because it blows the normal Ice Barrier cooldown, if you really didn't want it, it's not like you can say "just kidding" and take it back. Weigh the benefits versus the drawbacks for your particular playstyle and decide if you think the talent is worth two points this deep in the tree.

Frostfire Orb

The main effect of this talent is for a spell (Flame Orb) that we don't get until the expansion hits and we can advance to level 81. The only benefit we get from it currently is the additional 20 percent snare for Frostfire Bolt. If you happen to be using the Frostfire Bolt glyph, which removes the snare entirely, you've just removed this talent's pre-Cataclysm utility entirely. Not that it was worth putting points into anyway at this point, but still.

The instant you learn Flame Orb, however, this talent becomes entirely mandatory. It makes your Flame Orb a Frostfire spell, meaning it benefits from all of your frost talents and mastery, and goes from a spell you won't cast to a spell you will cast pretty much every time it's off cooldown. The spell also gains a 40 percent slowing effect for every target it hits and still gives Frostfire Bolt that super-strong snare.

So don't take it now, unless you're dead-set against having to respec at level 81. The points are wasted until Cataclysm hits. But once the expansion drops (we're under a month now, eeeeee! I'm pretty sure I just peed a little bit), this is a mandatory pickup.

Deep Freeze

The capper of the frost tree, this spell serves a dual purpose:
  • In PvP, it is a powerful CC tool, providing a 5-second stun on frozen targets.
  • In PvE, against raid bosses, it is the single most powerful damage spell in the mage arsenal. The five-digit crits you see this thing do will break your mind. I'm not even kidding. You'll want to cast it every time it's off cooldown -- not because of the massive DPS increase, but because doing so will cause you to giggle uncontrollably, drool down your chin, and possibly soil yourself. Seriously, I just wear rubber pants when I play my frost mage. It's warm at first but cools rapidly, forming a sort of poop pillow for your backside. And if that doesn't gross you out, I don't know what to tell you.

Next week, we talk about the left-most mage tree: arcane! Come back, and I promise not to joke about fecal matter. Maybe.

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 what to expect for mages in patch 4.0.1. Until next week, keep the mage-train a-rollin'.

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