Arcane Brilliance: Arcane mage Cataclysm talent analysis

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C. Belt|11.20.10

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Arcane Brilliance: Arcane mage Cataclysm talent analysis
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. This week, it's the arcane tree's turn to go under the microscope. If you're looking for our coverage of the fire and frost tree, you can find it here and here.

You've no doubt been waiting breathlessly, hammering the F5 key over and over in the hopes that this time, instead of last week's Arcane Brilliance, you'll see this week's Arcane Brilliance on your computer screen. You've likely written your local congressman, put up "Have you seen this weekly internet mage column?" posters in your neighborhood, and perhaps even undertaken a massive, 120 hour quest involving a rotating roster of companions embodying various and sundry fantasy archetypes in order to locate the one thing that can fell the evil emperor and save your dying world: Arcane Brilliance.

Or maybe you stumbled upon this page while looking for hot mage porn. Here at Arcane Brilliance, we don't judge. Also, we want links.

Either way, here you are! And here I am also, itching to deliver the final part in our increasingly unwieldy compendium of mage talent analyses (analysises? analysi?) for the coming Cataclysm. This week we tackle the mysteries of the arcane tree, which is both the left-most mage talent tree, and also a powerful warlock-zombie-killing option in the forthcoming lawn-defense game, Awesome Mage Plants vs Smelly Warlock Zombies. Or if it isn't, it totally should be. Get on that, Popcap.

Arcane Concentration

This is and always has been a core part of the base arcane build. With mana management being so completely integral to arcane mage DPS, any talent that helps conserve mana becomes that much more valuable. The 10% proc rate on this talent gives you a free spellcast with surprising frequency, and the longer your mana pool can stay right of center, the better your DPS will be. This is no longer a mana talent, it's a straight-up DPS talent.

Improved Counterspell

A vital PvP talent for all builds, this is the talent you used to spend a bunch of otherwise wasted points in the arcane tree to get. Now it rests comfortably on tier one, ready to be snatched up by any mage bent on entering the field of battle against his fellow player. The ability to silence your opponent preemptively instead of simply interrupting their spellcast and locking them out of a single school of magic is so valuable in PvP that this spell alone makes a mage a formidable opponent in any PvP setting.

Netherwind Presence

For some reason, I always want to call this "Netherwing Presence." Too much time spent hunting for stupid eggs and crystals, perhaps.

Anyway, are you a mage? If the answer is yes, then your should probably have this talent. 3% haste is a lot of haste. And the good news? At level 85, it will still be a lot of haste, unlike all of the other haste you have right now. Rating may devalue as you level, but 3% is always going to be 3%. Arcane mages have no excuse not to put three talent points here, and this will also be a rightfully popular stop for both fire and frost mages. This is just a universally valuable talent.

Torment the Weak

This talent was mandatory in Wrath and frankly not much has changed. Though it isn't what it once was, a near-constant 6% damage buff is still impossible to ignore. You don't need to feel compelles to cast Slow to apply the necessary snare yourself, because if you're any sort of party or raid, chances are excellent that you'll have one form of snare or slow effect being deployed by your teammates at all times on whatever you happen to be fighting. This eliminates the need for self-application of the slow effect, and frees you up to simply sit back and enjoy your fat 6% damage increase.


Your mileage on this talent will vary based upon how many opportunities for interrupt a given fight has. At the absolute best, accounting for the cooldown of your only real interrupt (Counterspell), you'll be looking at a 10% damage bonus for 8 seconds of every 24. That's in a fight where you manage to successfully interrupt an enemy's spell the instant Counterspell comes off cooldown, every single time. This also needs to be tempered by the very real DPS caused by having to waste mana and a global cooldown on casting Counterspell at every possible opportunity.

Still, 10% is an impressive damage buff, even if conditions for maximum uptime aren't precisely optimal. Consider this talent optional, and base your choice on your personal playstyle and the opportunities provided by the fights you plan to participate in. You may find it worth having for the fights where it works, despite the fights where it doesn't.

Improved Arcane Missiles

With Arcane Missiles becoming more of a mana-management tool than a DPS tool (and considering the fact that the distinction between mana management and DPS is more than a little muddy for arcane mages these days), the ability to up your number of missiles from 3 per cast to 5 per cast is significantly less awesome than it used to be. Still, two points here are required to get to the two points you need to spend on Missile Barrage to shorten the time spent channeling Arcane Missiles, taking this talent or not isn't really much of a decision. And increasing the potential damage of a spell that's a vital part of your normal rotation by what amounts to 40% is nothing to sneeze at.

Improved Blink

Here's another of the many mage talents that may appear to be PvP-only talents, and I'll grant you that it's a very powerful PvP tool. But consider its usefulness in any fight that requires heavy movement, and you'll likely reconsider that stance. It provides a very nice 70% speed increase every time you cast Blink, providing you all sorts of valuable benefits:
  • A get-out-of-jail-free card in PvP
  • A movement tool that maximizes spellcasting time during portions of a fight where you need to go from point A to point B before you can resume stand-still casting.
  • An escape mechanism for PvP and PvE
  • A powerful kiting tool
  • A way to make sure you get something out of every Blink cast, even the ones where you go nowhere (or backwards) on the initial cast
And any number of other situational bonuses. Only you know how much you'll use this one in PvE, so consider it optional. If you're thinking in PvP terms, this one's mandatory.

Arcane Flows

This lowers the cooldown by 25% on three of your most important spells: your two main DPS cooldowns (Arcane Power and Presence of Mind) and your main aggro-drop (Invisibility). It provides increased DPS and more frequent utility. This one's too valuable to pass on, no matter what kind of arcane mage you happen to be.

Presence of Mind

Remember when the arcane tree was a place you went just so you could get Presence of Mind for your PoM-Pyroblast builds? Ah, memories.

Well, in case you just awoke from a coma you fell into in 2006, let me bring you up to speed:
  1. Your house is now worthless.
  2. Everybody hates the president. No not that president everybody hates. A new one everybody hates. And we look eagerly forward to hating the next one, whoever he/she may be.
  3. The star of Van Wilder is now the Green Lantern
  4. Lost ended, and it turns out that Vincent the Dog was behind everything. Also, Kate is a dude.
  5. Warlocks are still pathetic,
  6. Arcane is a viable, standalone tree, and actually tops the DPS charts.
  7. Presence of Mind is still pretty cool.
That about covers it, I think. PoM has always been one of arcane's nicer tools, and that's still the case in Cataclysm. For only one talent point, it can be used as a DPS cooldown, removing the cast-time of an Arcane Blast or two during the course of a fight, or even as a utility spell, giving you an instant Polymorph when you need it most. Sometimes, when I'm feeling clever, I use it to instantly conjure a stack of strudel, simply because I can.

Missile Barrage

Here's your Arcane Missiles-gatling gun effect. It still performs as advertised, though instead of being a pure DPS talent, the decreased channel time for Arcane Missiles is the real draw here. AM is now most valuable as a reset button for your Arcane Blast stacks, meaning that cutting the time you have to spend casting it will allow you to spend that time casting other, more powerful spells, thus increasing your DPS. Plus, it looks super-cool.

Prismatic Cloak

As close to a pure PvP talent as you're likely to find anywhere in the mage trees, this talent carries two important defensive buffs. First, it gives you a flat 6% damage reduction that applies to all incoming damage. That's a frigging tank ability right there. A friendly reminder, though: you're still wearing a dress into battle.

Second, this talent makes your Invisibility spell a true instant-cast. No more fade-out for your escape spell. This is also valuable as a faster aggro drop, but honestly, if you managed to build the kind of crazy aggro that makes you need an instant aggro-dump, you're probably just not trying hard enough.

Improved Polymorph

This isn't all that great now, but the powerful control utility it adds to your already powerful Polymorph spell will be much more useful in Cataclysm, where you will either relearn how to keep an enemy sheeped or die painfully a lot. In PvP situations, the added stun effect whenever your sheep target gets whacked is pretty incredible. This one's mandatory in PvP, optional for the next few weeks, and then most likely mandatory again once you start hitting Cataclysm 5-mans.

Arcane Tactics

This is a mandatory talent if nobody else in the raid is providing the same 3% damage buff. For a single talent point, though, you should probably just have this one anyway.

Incanter's Absorption

At one point, this talent was overpowered, then it was underpowered, and now it's probably about right. It's main functionality is to provide a solid damage buff whenever you manage to absorb incoming damage with one of your own shield spells. These 2 points are well-spent if you're engaged in a fight that provides multiple damage absorption opportunities.

The other effect of this talent is mainly useful in PvP, where you're more likely to be using Mana Shield. The knockback effect it provides when your Mana Shield goes down is awesome, but difficult to control. It can go off when that rogue is stabbing you in the face, or it can go off when the hunter is putting arrows into your trachea from 30 yards.

This one's entirely optional in PvE, but probably mandatory in PvP.

Improved Arcane Explosion

Arcane has kind of gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to AoE in this expansion. The only AoE spell we have that actually benefits from our specialization bonus, mastery, and talents is Arcane Explosion, which is of course, an underwhelming PvE ability, due to the fact that it requires your fragile mage body to be in the middle of a group of hostiles to work, and generates a lot of threat. This talent makes the spell more palatable.

The great upside to Arcane Explosion has always been your ability to spam it, and this talent maximizes the spell's spammability (spellchecker tells me that isn't a word, which is why I called spellchecker's mom a whore, prompting spellchecker to say "oh no you didn't," which of course resulted in a slap-fight. I'm not proud of this, but in the end, we hugged it out. The squiggly red line is still under that word in my word processor, but now I just ignore it.) in two ways:
  1. It reduces the global cooldown by half a second, and
  2. it reduces the threat generated by 80 freaking percent.
So feel free to stand in a crowd of evil things and blow them all up with relative impunity.

Given AoE's across-the-board reduction in usefulness in Cataclysm, this talent is still very much optional. If you find you need AoE functionality, these points are well worth it here. If not, they're not.

Arcane Potency

OK, this one's actually a bit more complicated now, but in a good way. It provides you with a 15% crit chance buff for the next two spellcasts, and it triggers in one-of two ways: whenever Clearcasting procs, which is a 10% rate, or whenever your cast Presence of Mind, a fully controllable trigger on a known cooldown.

So to maximize the (cough) potency of this talent, you'll want to avoid wasting the 15% buff on something like Arcane Barrage or Arcane Missiles, and instead save both buffed casts for Arcane Blasts, if at all possible. If that means squeezing in an extra stack of Arcane Blast when you otherwise wouldn't have, then so be it. This may not always be the best way to go, but most of the time, Arcane Blast is the spell to go with when you've got Arcane Potency up.


This one's not optional, because it's a prerequisite to Arcane Power. Still, it's Slow. It may not be any kind of measurable DPS boost, but it's still a powerful, instant snare, valuable both in PvP as a control spell and in PvE as a kiting tool and a way to self-apply the Torment the Weak debuff when no teammates are already doing so.

Nether Vortex

And here you have a talent that allows you to apply the Slow effect without even wasting a global cooldown. It attaches the Slow snare to your primary nuke, Arcane Blast, assuming you don't already have another target Slowed. The benefit here is mostly valuable in PvP, but has its uses in a raid environment in any situation where the task of controlling adds falls to you, or in any situation in which you don't have another player to apply a debuff that works with Torment the Weak.

These points are optional in a PvE build, but the talent is by no means weak.

Focus Magic

Nothing will make you a friend faster than putting this buff on another caster. It's only a matter of time before they start sending you texts that include pictures of their junk. As it has since it was implemented for Wrath, it provides a two-fold buff, giving your new admirer a constant 3% increase to spell crit chance, and yourself a 10-second 3% spell crit buff every time your companion scores one of those critical strikes. Since this is now so deep in the arcane tree, only arcane mages will be able to provide this particular buff, which also stacks with any other crit buffs the recipient or yourself might already be benefiting from. You should probably take this talent.

Improved Mana Gem

This one's great, because not only is your mana gem now a fairly standard damage cooldown because of Mana Adept, it also becomes an even more pure damage cooldown thanks to this talent's 10-second spellpower boost whenever you pop your gem. And it's not a crappy buff, either: it gives you 2% of your max mana pool as spellpower, and since that scales, and since we have absolutely massive mana pools at level 85, yum. It's a sizable chunk of damage that you'll have access to up to three times in a longer fight. Mandatory.

Arcane Power

And finally, we come to arcane's best and most powerful damage cooldown. The cooldown, with Arcane Flows, is a minute-and-a-half, and the damage buff is 20% for 15 seconds. The downside, of course, is the 10% mana penalty for every spellcast while the buff is active, but that penalty isn't as severe as it once was. This is a cooldown you'll want to be blowing pretty much whenever it's up, unless you simply can't afford the extra mana cost or wish to wait for your next burn cycle to come up. It's Arcane Power, you want it.

And now we come to the end of our painstaking list of every mage talent ever. What's that, you say? We didn't cover Wand Specialization? You're right, we didn't. And again: welcome back, coma-guy. It's 2010 now. Just be glad you didn't wake up in the zombie-apocalypse, buddy.

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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