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Arcane Brilliance: A lament for Frostfire

Christian Belt

It's time again for Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that today brings you the above fan-submitted picture of an apparent gnome explosion. Incidentally, Gnome Explosion? Also the name of my 80's tribute band. We play Tuesday nights in the parking lot at Scooter's Crab Shack just off the route 17 turnpike and we're known for our Stan Bush covers.

My father was a history professor, so I've always harbored a secret affinity for the events of the past. I like timelines, backstory, and dare I say it...lore. My mother, by the way, was a warlock-hunter, and warlock parents still to this day invoke her name in dire tones to get their warlock children to eat their vegetables, but that's a story for another time.

So, in the spirit of preserving the history of all things mage-related, I'd like to bring you this brief history of the single prettiest spell in the game: Frostfire Bolt.

  • November 2008: Wrath of the Lich King is released. Mages everywhere discover that at level 75 they get access to a brand new spell, called Frostfire Bolt. It combines the effects of both Fireball and Frostbolt. Because it benefits from all talents that affect either fire and frost spells, a new elementalist spec is born. It dives into both the fire and frost trees to take every talent that can possibly improve this single spell. Blizzard wholly endorses this spec, having introduced the spell for the sole purpose of allowing such a talent configuration.
  • December 2008: As mages everywhere enter the initial stages of raiding content in the new expansion, they discover that the so-called Frostfire build is at that time the single best DPS mage spec in the game.
  • March 2010: Frostfire what? I'm sorry. I totally forgot what we were talking about. Oh yeah. That old spell. People still use that?
Now, before all three of you serious Frostfire mages still playing this game destroy me, you should probably click through to the rest of the column.

I miss Frostfire Bolt. I miss it a lot. Here was an incredibly fun, interesting idea that mages had been asking for and even experimenting with (as far as the mechanics of the time would allow) for pretty much as long as WoW had existed: an elementalist spec. And with the implementation of one very sexy-looking spell, Blizzard had provided the means with which to bring the concept into the endgame. If a mage wanted to dabble in both the fire and frost trees, that mage could now do so, and even top the DPS charts while they were at it. Mages had four distinct specs to choose from, a new primary nuke to explore, and most importantly, a new and exciting way to slaughter warlocks.

In fact, aside from a few very limited situational uses, Frostfire Bolt existed entirely for the purpose of making such a spec possible. If you weren't a Frostfire mage, you simply didn't use Frostfire Bolt. It was created as the main nuke for a fourth mage spec, and outside of that function, it was essentially useless.

In its prime, Frostfire Bolt was a wonder to behold. It scaled better than Fireball, allowed for such awesome talent combination effects as Ice Shards and Ignite to apply simultaneously to the same spellcast, and was incredibly mana-efficient. During the beta testing process for the expansion, Blizzard had stated that their intention with the spell was to make such a spec viable in end-game raiding, and they had succeeded.

Then...they sort of forgot about it.

Though all three other specs have received their share of attention in subsequent patches, Frostfire remained static. The spell's scaling ceased to keep pace. No new talents, improved mechanics, buffs, or even nerfs were introduced to the spell or its possible talent setups. Frostfire enthusiasts watched with dismay as their spec fell into disuse and neglect, as their fellow elementalists rerolled as pure fire, or arcane mages, helpless to do anything other than shelve their chosen spec and move on to something more mainstream.

Though the spec still exists, it has fallen behind fire and arcane to the point of obsolescence. A few die-hards still cling to Frostfire, but the elitist raiding community has largely abandoned it. The spec depended on its damage output for viability, bringing with it no raid utility to offset its gradually increasing DPS shortcomings, and so it became a relic of an outmoded era.

The sad thing is that the spell is there. Frostfire Bolt still exists, residing in the same spot in our spellbooks where it has been for the past 18 months. It hasn't changed. It still provides a way to cast a single spell that benefits from both fire and frost talents, precisely the task it was designed to perform. And we, the same mages who pestered Blizzard for so long to provide this functionality and rejoiced so mightily when they complied in such elegant fashion...we're still here too. We still want a viable Frostfire spec.

But that's the problem. The spell is still there, in exactly the same form it was when it was introduced, a year-and-a-half ago. Everything else has changed, but not Frostfire Bolt. Its power hasn't been neutered by some massive nerf. Blizzard's designers haven't removed the spell, or altered the spec. In fact, they've apparently paid no attention to Frostfire Bolt at all whatsoever. Frostfire's downfall hasn't been the result of any action, it has actually been the product of inaction.

Frostfire is dying of neglect.

Now, I didn't begin writing this column as an epitaph. As I stated before, the spell is still there, where it has ever been. And we who wish to make use of it are also still around. So can this problem be solved?

The major culprit comes from a somewhat unexpected source: the arcane tree.

Torment the Weak is a strange talent. It's incredibly powerful. So powerful, in fact, that it has become a mandatory talent for every single mage spec. Fire mages go into the arcane tree to take it. Frost mages must also spend an otherwise pretty useless 20 points in that same tree to obtain it. The near-constant 12% flat damage increase it provides in a typical raid setup is such a huge buff that it simply isn't an option for a pure DPS spec to avoid it.

Unfortunately, an elementalist build simply doesn't have 20 talent points to spend in the arcane tree. An elementalist build spends all of its points in the fire and frost trees. Frostfire mages simply do not have the option of taking Torment the Weak.

Blizzard has already spoken of their distaste for the mandatory status of this single talent. No one talent should be of such vital importance to every spec for a class. I'm not sure what the answer is here. Perhaps you can come up with better ideas. Here are mine, such as they are:

  • Torment could be nerfed, but not without equal compensation. Mage DPS cannot endure a major nerf and remain competitive. But if Torment could somehow become less mandatory, possibly by offering compensatory buffs in all three trees, somewhere deeper in the trees to prevent double-dipping, it would open the door for Frostfire builds to regain some ground.
  • Some talent or talents with unique benefits to Frostfire Bolt could be installed in the late tiers of the fire tree or the middle tiers of the frost tree that offers similar damage capabilities to offset the lack of Torment for the spec. This could be difficult to balance, but if done properly would offer the support the Frostfire spec has been starved for since its inception.
  • Frostfire Bolt itself could be altered in such a way as to improve its scaling. This is a nebulous idea that I really can't pretend to provide specifics for, but making the focal spell for the spec more powerful at the later stages of the end-game could ensure continued viability for the spec without overbalancing any of the other specs.
Now, there will be some of you--as there always are when I mention anything about the viability of a specific spec--who will say that mages don't need to have three viable PvE specs, let alone four. We already have arcane. If you want to raid, you should spec arcane or stop raiding. Arcane is the "best" DPS spec, and there will always be a "best" spec. Serious raiders should simply spec in whatever is "best" and stop complaining about the old "best" spec.

I refuse to subscribe to that school of thought. As you know if you've been reading Arcane Brilliance much at all prior to now, I want all of our mage specs to be raid-viable. I'm not concerned about minor differences between the overall damage output of the major builds. As long as the build is capable of producing decent raid damage, of holding its own in the DPS class hierarchy, I have no desire to see a mage respec simply to gain a few points of DPS. I'm more concerned about what a mage brings to the raid besides DPS, their skillset, their utility, their unique strengths. If my guild has an excellent arcane mage, and excellent fire mage, and excellent frost mage, and an excellent frostfire mage, I'm bringing all of them (well, as much as doing so is possible). But when a particular build falls so far behind that "best" spec that the DPS loss prohibits bringing that spec, I have a problem with that.

I've said it before, and I will repeat the sentiment now:

There is absolutely no reason every spec can't be viable. As long as the damage outputs are within spitting distance of each other, no spec should ever...ever...get shunned. Frostfire is, in its current and only incarnation, left out. The concept is too interesting, the idea too good, to be left to fade into obscurity. I mean...just look at that picture up there! That particular exploding gnome deserves better.

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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