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Arcane Brilliance: An argument for raiding as a frost mage

Christian Belt

Welcome to another edition of Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that would like to assert the following:

  • Fact: Mages are the sparkliest class in the game.
  • Fact: Sparkles are awesome.
  • Fact: Warlocks have poor personal hygiene and generally smell funny.
None of these assertions can be disputed.

Hey, mages! Let's have an argument.

Well... maybe not so much an argument per se, because no matter how you slice it, an equally geared frost mage is going to do less overall DPS than a fire or arcane mage... but we'll definitely be having a discussion.

Here's a general format for how this discussion will take place:
  1. I will present my reasons why raiding as a frost mage is viable.
  2. You will then tell me why I am wrong.
You may be asking yourself: Christian, what has provoked this sudden defense of frost magery? You play an arcane mage! Also, where are your pants?

To your first question, I would say, "yes, you're right. But in preparation for writing my forthcoming Frost 101 column, I have been toying with a secondary frost spec, and finding it a great deal of fun." To your second question, about the whereabouts of my trousers, I would say stop watching my webcam. Really, you knew what you were getting into when you clicked that link.

For the first time in a very long time, recent patches have brought significant upgrades to the raiding viability of the frost mage. Since the first raid breached the door of Karazhan way back in early 2007, frost mages have found themselves overshadowed by other specs in terms of damage output, and each successive raid, patch, and expansion found them falling farther and farther behind their mage brethren. It wasn't long before frost became known as the PvP tree, and rightly so, because frost mages were best at that aspect of the game, but simply could not compete on the PvE side of things.

This is still, for all intents and purposes, the case. For over three years, bringing a frost mage into progressive raid content was a fairly taboo prospect. But things are changing:

  • Water elementals became permanent with the application of a glyph.
  • Deep Freeze was given a massive damage component versus raid bosses.
And forthcoming patches continue the trend:Clearly Blizzard is making an effort here, but though frost is closer than it has been in a very long time to the other specs in terms of raw DPS numbers, it's going to lag behind. In raid content, where DPS is king, what incentive is there to bring a spec that does less damage than another spec?

And thus the argument will always go. Spec A does (x) DPS. Spec B does (x-1) DPS. Take spec A.

So why bring a frost mage when you can bring an arcane or fire mage? (And my apologies to frostfire mages. Blizzard stopped supporting that spec pretty much the moment they introduced it.)

Reason the first: The DPS gap is closing.

It's still there, certainly, but it's much, much smaller than it has been. The above-mentioned changes have made the gap small enough that now the choice to bring a frost mage no longer hampers your raid's DPS. Arcane and fire still rank higher, but frost is now, for the first time since the end of vanilla WoW, in the mix. The most recent PTR changes promise to make the situation even better.

A straight-up damage buff to frost's primary nuke, Frostbolt, is a fantastic place to start. And by incorporating the occasional Brain Freeze-triggered Frostfire Bolt into the rotation (a vast improvement over Fireball for frost mages), the situation becomes even better. Now if only we could find a way to get Ice Lance involved somehow...

I realize that saying frost isn't as bad it used to be isn't much of an argument, but I've never been a big fan of the whole min-max mentality. From a hard numbers perspective, arcane is currently the DPS king. Frost is not. This is true. But we're at the point now, where frost has drawn close enough that the choice is simply no longer black-and-white. The bottom line is this: Given the choice between a decent arcane mage and an excellent frost mage, I'd now take the excellent frost mage without hesitation. Previously, the conversation had to go something like this:

Raid organizer #1: Well, we have a mage spot open. We can bring Jim, or Dave.

Raid organizer #2: Let's see...Jim has threat management problems. He tends to stand in things that kill him. Also, he's a racist.

Raid organizer #1: Yeah, but Dave's a frost mage!

Now, you take Dave. It isn't even a question. The gap is too small to worry over numbers. There are a lot of quality frost mages out there. They know their class. They understand their roles. And now, your guild can use them. You can bring the best mages you have, not just the ones who went to Elitist Jerks and copy-pasted whatever the "optimal" spec happened to be that day.

Reason the second: Survivability

The very thing that makes frost such an attractive PvP choice is also of underrated value in a raiding environment. Frost's ability to throw up a quick Ice Barrier in between themselves and a massive incoming blast of splash damage often spells the difference between a live DPS and a dead one. Or how about the ability to throw up two consecutive Ice Blocks, removing debuffs and avoiding death twice in a short amount of time? Which would you rather have in your raid group? The arcane mage who bites it 20 seconds into an encounter, or the frost mage who has the tools to survive?

There are a great number of encounters where the simple ability to keep the DPS alive for a few more seconds can spell the difference between a wipe and victory. It's always a good thing when your DPS can find ways to keep themselves alive. It takes a bit of pressure off your healers, and allows your DPS to stay higher, longer.

Reason the third: AOE

It isn't going to be useful in every encounter, but an AOE snare is going to be fairly awesome in some of them. Frost mages have excellent AOE capabilities, making them fantastic to have around for trash pulls, and the CC/AOE potential of Improved Blizzard could prove very, very valuable in certain boss encounters.

Reason the fourth: Kiting

Frost mages might be the best dedicated kiters in the game, pound for pound (with Glyph of Frostbolt removed, of course). Put a frost mage on Darnavan during the Lady Deathwhisper encounter and watch him complete the quest for you. Any melee class that's ever been led around by the nose in PvP by a frost mage can attest to the fact that when it comes to kiting, frost is unparalleled. Any encounter that calls for a dedicated kiter is made tremendously easier when a skilled frost mage is involved.

Reason the fifth: Threat management

Frost mages have low threat for one reason: a significant percentage of their threat is being generated by their pet. Their ability to manage threat is significantly better than that of fire or arcane mages, who must rely upon talents to lower all-around threat. This means more time spent putting out DPS, and less spent doing things like casting Invisibility or Ice Block.

Reason the sixth: Shut up.

Seriously, I'll bring my frost mage because I like my frost mage, so cram it. How's that for having a discussion?

Frost is fun, pure and simple. And with the DPS gap closing so swiftly, it's just not absolute anymore that an arcane mage will be better. If I'm a frost mage, and I'm good at my class, you want me in your raid.

Also, no mage is better at killing warlocks than those of the frosty variety. That counts for something.

So, Frost mages, are you finding spots in your guild's progression raids? Or are they still taking Jim and his racism?

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'.

Editor's Note: There was a scheduling error that originally published this post at 2pm EST Friday March 5th, 2010. We've corrected the error and re-published this edition of Arcane Brilliance at it's usual Saturday time. It's all the fault of those Warlocks, true story.

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