Arcane Brilliance: A Cataclysm 101 guide for mages

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. This week, we'd like to welcome any and all of you who decided the end of the world was as good a time as any to roll a new mage. For you newbies, here's magehood condensed into sound effects: Pew pew! Splat! Rez!

It has come to my attention that there are still some of you out there who are not mages yet. Unacceptable, people. Frankly, there are only a few legitimate reasons left that make not being a mage OK:

  1. You are a warlock.

  2. You are a tauren. (A reminder: the Interracial Humanitarian Association of Tauren and Everyone in WoW Against Race Limits On Choosing Kinship with Sorcerers, or IHATEWARLOCKS, still meets every Saturday, right here at WoW Insider. I'm bringing nachos and punch this week. You should totally come.)

  3. That's it, really. I don't know, maybe you have a severe allergy to massive crits or something? Just roll a mage already.

I imagine that the combination of a new and immeasurably improved leveling process, exciting new race/class couplings, and the introduction of worgen and goblins has already inspired and will continue to inspire a fresh influx of the uninitiated to join the hallowed ranks of magedom in the coming weeks. As is our custom here at Arcane Brilliance, we would like to offer a quick and dirty guide to being a mage for those of you plan to join our awesome little club of awesomeness in the coming weeks. It is our ongoing mission to keep magehood the single most highly prepared and well-played class in the game, so here is a basic primer in advance of the release of the biggest WoW expansion yet. Join us, won't you?

Arcane 101

Arcane is the go-to spec for high, single-target damage. The spec's mastery, Mana Adept, varies your damage output based on how much of your mana pool you've got left. On paper, it's relatively simple: The closer to max mana you are, the more damage your spells do. The way it plays out is actually far more complex. Playing an arcane mage requires skill, patience, and a willingness to do some research on your class. Once you get a good grasp on what you're doing, though, the spec is incredibly rewarding. There's very little I can do to describe the feeling you get when you see an Arcane Blast crit for six figures, not only killing the mob you had targeted, but also doing damage to his posterity down through seven generations, causing his children's children's great-great-grandchildren to speak in hushed tones about the time many generations past when a mage blew up his forefather.

Detailed talent analysis for arcane can be found here.

Base spec Arcane 31/2/3

This gets you the basic DPS talents (and the always-useful movement talent Improved Blink). It also picks up the crit-increasing Piercing Ice from the frost tree and the mana-refunding Master of Elements from the fire tree. As you make your way to level 85, you'll pick up five more discretionary talent points that you can deploy however you wish.

Basic rotation
Arcane's rotation is governed by Mana Adept's dependency on your mana pool. Your highest damage rotation is simple Arcane Blast spam, but spamming that spell also burns through your mana pool at an incredibly rapid clip. The idea is to break your rotation up into phases.

  • Burn phase Arcane Blast spam until you get to about 40 percent of your mana pool. Slip in Arcane Power and your Mana Gem when you deem appropriate (to buff your damage output during this high-output phase and return your mana to full when it gets low enough).

  • Recovery phase Evocation to get your mana pool back to 100 percent.

  • Conservation phase The actual rotation here varies based on your gear and level. The concept is to keep your mana at the same optimal level long enough to get close to the cooldown of your Evocation being up and thus primed for another burn phase. For most mages, you want your mana pool top stay around 85 to 90 percent. The best rotation to maintain this mana level (and thus consistent high DPS output) will change as your gear improves, and you will need to do some tinkering and/or research to determine the rotation specific to your mage.

The basic template to follow for the conservation phase is:

Arcane Blast x2 (or more) --> Arcane Missiles (or Arcane Barrage if Arcane Missiles hasn't procced) --> repeat

Adjust that as necessary to make sure your mana pool stays at 85 to 90 percent; then when Evocation comes back, you begin the burn phase. Mastery of this complex rotation is something of an art, and I firmly believe that Blizzard has placed playing this this spec properly so far beyond the scope of the casual WoW player's reach that number-crunching, spreadsheet jiggery, and outside research is pretty much required for arcane mages now.

If that sounds like too much work to you, don't spec arcane.

Fire 101

Fire is an incredibly well-designed tree. The talents interplay with each other throughout the tree in such a way that the entire spec just feels incredibly cohesive. Based around damage over time effects and area of effect spells, the fire tree provides exceptional and consistent multi-target DPS but still packs a punch even when there's only one enemy to be blown up. But what can't overstated about the fire tree is this: It's really, really fun to play. You may not get the gigantic crits of arcane or the PvP dominance of frost, but you will get moving Scorches. And moving Scorches are the shiznit.

Detailed talent analysis for fire can be found here.

Base spec Fire 3/32/3

This build nets you every DPS talent and grabs Piercing Ice's crit increase and Netherwind Presence's haste buff from the frost and arcane trees, respectively. The three points in Burning Soul are for pushback protection, something that's only beneficial if you're actually getting hit regularly. If you don't get a lot of pushback normally, you might want to redistribute those points elsewhere. This build leaves you with three floating talent points to put wherever you wish.

Basic rotation Like most other rotations in Cataclysm, fire's is priority-based but varies depending upon the situation at hand:

  1. Living Bomb (if not already up)

  2. Combustion (if off cooldown and if Living Bomb, Pyroblast, and a large Ignite DoT are all up on your main target at the same time)

  3. Pyroblast! (if Hot Streak has procced)

  4. Fireball (or Frostfire Bolt with glyph if your mastery is high enough that it becomes better than Fireball)

If there are multiple tanked targets within range of each other, cast Fire Blast whenever Impact procs to spread your DoT effects to those additional targets. During movement phases, spam Scorch and maintain Living Bomb.

In short, this means you keep Living Bomb up at all times, spam Fireball (or Frostfire Bolt) until Hot Streak procs, then cast Pyroblast. When all of your major DoT effects are up on your main target and Combustion is off cooldown, Combust the living crap out of it. Add water, stir, bake for 45 minutes at 375 degrees, and serve hot. Enjoy!

Frost 101

The frost spec is based upon control, high burst damage, and sexy, blue-green water elemental familiars. This is the kind of mage you want to be if you like freezing your opponent in his tracks, then pelting him repeatedly in the face with sharp spikes of deadly ice while you run away from him laughing. Ever been hit in the head by a snowball some kid thought it would be funny to put a rock in? Being a frost mage is like being that kid. Only not an asshole. Well ... maybe a little bit of an asshole. Frost mages excel at keeping their enemies at a safe distance while they kill them. Still the most effective of the three mage specs for PvP combat, frost mages are also (finally) competitive single-target damage-dealers in PvE. Oh, and they have a freaking pet. He's big and blue, enjoys long walks through the Wetlands, and subsists on a strict diet of warlock tears.

Detailed talent analysis for frost can be found here.

Base spec Frost 3/0/31

This gives you access to all of the damage talents in the frost tree and nabs the massive haste increase of Netherwind Presence in arcane. You have a great deal of free talent points to work with here -- seven, to be precise. Frost is by far the most flexible of the three mage specs. You can swoop back into the frost tree to make your mage a PvP powerhouse, or go into the fire tree to grab spell pushback or mana return. The arcane tree could be exploited for Improved Counterspell or even Improved Blink. Go crazy, guys. Seven totally discretionary talent points is a lot to play with.

Basic rotation Again, frost's rotation is less a rotation in the classic sense than a list of priorities. Just like adult life. Only with more magic and less bill paying.

  1. Deep Freeze (when cooldown is up and Fingers of Frost is active)

  2. Frostfire Bolt (if Brain Freeze has procced and FoF is up)

  3. Ice Lance (if FoF is active)

  4. Freeze from your water elemental (if off cooldown and if Deep Freeze is also off cooldown and ready to be deployed, but FoF is not active)

  5. Frostbolt

So most fights will involve Frostbolt spam until Fingers of Frost procs, followed by whatever the higher-priority spell the conditions are right for, starting at the top of the list and working down. Playing a frost mage right involves being cognizant of your priorities in every situation, then being constantly on the watch for FoF procs and aware of your various cooldowns.

Stat weights

So now you've rolled your new mage. Chances are he's a wolfperson. That's fine; wolfpeople are indeed pretty cool. Whatever kind of mage you've created, you've probably leveled him to 10 by now and picked a spec. But now you've gone and completed a quest that rewards you with a choice of weapons. There's a dagger there with some stats on it. But wait ... there's also a staff with some other different stats on it! Crazy! In desperation, you turn to the internets. After typing randomly for hours, stumbling across all manner of fajita recipes and midget porn, you somehow manage to find Arcane Brilliance. "Weekly internet mage column!" you say, "What should I take? The Dagger of Hasty Agile Strength or the Staff of Intelligent Critical Spirituality?" Then you stare at your computer screen, feeling foolish for talking to the screen out loud at the computer kiosk there in the middle of the public library. The homeless guy sleeping next to you snorts awake and gives you a funny look, murmuring something that sounds suspiciously like "noob." Mashing the mouse buttons, you eventually make the web page scroll down to this paragraph. It is there that you find your answer.

Mage stat priorities (in descending order)

  1. hit rating (until cap, which is 446, or 17%) Edit: The cap at level 85 is still 17%, only at 85, it'll require 1742 hit rating to get there. Man, it would sure be nice to have a hit talent or two ... you know ... like every other DPS caster class? Wink wink, nudge nudge? Thanks to g2g591 for pointing this out.

  2. intellect (gives you spellpower, mana, and a small amount of crit; you will find it on every piece of cloth gear ever)

  3. mastery (only available after level 80, but awesome once you can get a lot of it)

  4. haste rating

  5. crit rating (the values of this and haste vary depending upon your spec and how much you have of both, but at higher levels, mastery will almost always trump both)

That's pretty much it for Arcane Brilliance's basic intro to the mage class in Cataclysm. We'll close with some random extra tips for new mages:

  • You are made of wet tissue paper. Avoid sharp things, stiff breezes, children with runny noses, and uneven terrain.

  • Aggro is what happens when you're in an instance and you attack something you aren't supposed to. Or you attack something you're supposed to attack, but you attack it too much. You will know you have aggro when something large and pointy lumbers in your direction, ignoring the guy with the big armor who is trying to protect you. When aggro happens, stop casting.

  • There's no shame in running away. The shame comes when you do it by jumping off a cliff, then realize in mid-air that you don't have any reagents to cast a Slow Fall spell.

  • A steady diet of nothing but magically conjured strudel is not heart-healthy.

  • You have a spell called Remove Curse in your spellbook. Use it.

What other tips would you guys offer?

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'.