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Arcane Brilliance: I hope for an icy apocalypse

Christian Belt

It's time again for Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that has, for well over two years now, been your one-stop source for mage-love and warlock-hate. Which, of course, made it pretty much inevitable that you all would vote that I roll a warlock by such a hilariously high percentage in Friday's Choose My Adventure poll. Jerks. Just know: it may not be all that fun to watch me repeatedly drown myself or run naked into crowds of high-level mobs. Or ... maybe it will be.

So, I don't know if you saw this, but I found it a little depressing. It's a collection of DPS data from the current endgame of WoW, Icecrown Citadel 25-man. And while fire and arcane mages appear to be right up there in the mix, frost is not. Instead, they're relegated to the same marginal, fringe PvE status that other under-represented specs enjoy, like subtlety rogues, or beastmaster hunters. It seems that not only were the few frost mages whose data made its way into those World of Logs parses doing some pretty woeful DPS, but so few of them were actually going into Icecrown that the data we do have is rendered completely unreliable. Maybe they weren't all that bad? It's tough to tell when there were sometimes less than 50 frost mage results. Even low-representation specs like arms warriors had thousands.

This, my friends, is unacceptable.

Frost mages, while kings of the PvP hill, have long been the redheaded stepchildren of mage specs when it comes to PvE content. Still, they've seen multiple recent changes to their spec that have promised to narrow the gap, and to a large extent, those changes have made something of a difference. Frost isn't by any means up to the same same level as arcane and fire yet, but in terms of raw DPS output, the gulf is narrowing.

Sadly, it seems nobody has noticed. Now, I'm not blaming frost mages. I expect that a large and unsavory part of the problem is not frost mages failing to go to Icecrown or failing to perform well when they do go, but is instead a failure of Icecrown groups to allow frost mages to go. The stigma against frost is ancient, its taint deep. I have all but given up on this changing during this expansion.

But I do expect it to change. Part of my hope stems from simple, unflagging enthusiasm for the spec. I freely admit that. I love frost, and want to see it succeed in PvE. But another, larger part, comes from cautious optimism about the direction Frost appears to be taking in the next expansion.

Let's put the negativity aside and focus instead on the potentially bright future that lies ahead of those of us who like to create warlocksicles. If you've never had one, they smell terrible, but taste like triumph.

Frost mage mastery

The single biggest indicator of the direction each spec seems to be headed in Cataclysm--at least from the information that we've been given thus far--is that spec's mastery bonus. The mastery stat is purported to be an overarching bonus awarded to each spec for every talent point spent in their chosen tree, and placed on many pieces of gear that are desirable to the spec. Basically, as you place your talent points and gear up your frost mage, your mastery stat should also be increasing.

Mastery will grant three distinct bonuses. Two of these bonuses will be flat statistical increases, but the third will be a unique bonus property, tailored to the spec.

  • Spell damage
Statwise, frost mages are getting excellent DPS bonuses. Spell damage is the one constant between the mage specs, and frost is no exception. As your mastery goes up, so will your spell damage, and thus your DPS.
  • Crit damage bonus
It's the second mastery stat that seems specifically suited to the needs of the frost PvE playstyle. Instead of another regular stat like the other specs are getting (haste percentage, crit percentage), frost mages are getting an increase to the bonus damage their critical strikes do. Ice Shards already increases this parameter by 100%, and assuming that the frost-specific mechanic of Shatter combos remains unchanged in Cataclysm, this stat promises to raise that bonus well above 100%. I'm envisioning Deep Freeze crits that hit for three times their normal output, or more.

When I go to sleep, I usually dream of one of three things: A second season of Firefly, an Xbox Live Arcade version of Herzog Zwei that's playable online, and a Deep Freeze crit that does somewhere in the neighborhood of 50k damage. I used to think that none of those things were actually possible, but now I'm beginning to think that one actually might (well ... maybe two, if the whole "Joss Whedon tied up in my basement" thing works out).
  • Deathfrost
Now, here we have the unique mastery bonus for frost.

Deathfrost: Casting Frostbolt places a buff on the mage that increases the damage for all frost, fire, and arcane spells. The only damage spell that won't be affected by this buff is Frostbolt.

This intrigues the crap out of me. The frost mage PvE rotation currently consists of Frostbolt spam with a Deep Freeze inserted in whenever that spell is off cooldown. What this bonus seems to do, essentially, is provide an incentive to use other spells. Any other spells, really. My hope is that this will make the frost rotation far more interesting, providing a number of other valid spellcasting choices.

Now, I have many questions about Deathfrost, and in the bulletted list that follows, I will attempt to chronicle those questions in a haphazard and scattershot manner.
  • How big will the buff be? For this to be any fun at all, the buff must be significant enough that alternative spells to Frostbolt become attractive enough that using them feels like a bonus, and not just a very slight improvement to another Frostbolt cast.
  • Will multiple spells be rendered viable parts of the rotation with this buff? Or will we simply be adding Frostfire Bolt, or Fireball, or whatever spell offers the next best bang for our DPS buck?
  • Any chance the buff will stack in some fashion?
  • Will this buff be enough that Ice Lance finally cracks a PvE spell rotation in some fashion?
  • How will Deathfrost scale as gear improves? Will the damage simply increase by X amount as your mastery increases by X amount?
  • Will we ever find out what the deal was with Walt and or baby Aaron? Why were they both so special? Why'd we spend like a season and a half dealing with how important those two were (for crap's sake, the twist at the end of the first season finale was all about how much the Others wanted Walt)? Why was it such a big deal that Aaron not be "raised by another?" Those aren't "minor mysteries, guys. You made a big damn deal out of both of those plot points over the course of multiple episodes, and if you don't revisit them in some fashion over the course of the final three episodes, I swear to God I will come to your houses in Hollywood or wherever it is that you live, and I will pee on the hillside above until I trigger a mudslide. Don't test me. I'm an angry nerd with an internet blog. I will ruin you.
  • I'm just kidding, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, I love you. I didn't mean any of that. Please don't block my emails.
  • But seriously, though: Walt and Aaron. I don't need much. Just have Hurley see Walt in the jungle carrying Aaron or something, and have him say something expository, like "we are the second coming of Jacob, being held in reserve for Lost: the Next Generation, coming in 2012 to ABC. Also, Vincent the dog is the secret last candidate, and he rules the island now from his black throne of blood and skulls." It'll take two seconds. Then you can move on to all the other nonsense you seem obsessed with teasing out, like who Jack's stupid alternate reality wife is (spoiler: It's totally going to be Bai Ling.)
Sorry about that strange detour, there. I promise that won't happen again.

My great hope for Deathfrost is that it will do two things:
  1. It will increase frost's overall DPS by a significant margin. I want that buff to be large enough that casting a Frosfire Bolt under the buff is a large damage boost over simply continuing to spam Frostbolts.
  2. It will bring some vastly-needed interactivity and decision-making to the spec. I'd like to see some viable situational rotations, like a Frostbolt/Ice Lance one for times when mobility is important. I want several spells to move up into prominence within the frost rotation, not just one.
Overall, I'm optimistic for the spec. I expect it to retain its PvP dominance, but also hope for it to continue to gain ground in the raiding side of things. Maybe when we all hit level 85 and start gunning for Deathwing's loot pile, raid leaders will actually let a few frost mages come along. Some people dream of a white Christmas. I dream of an icy Cataclysm. If it has to involve Jake Gyllenhaal, so be it.

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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