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Arcane Brilliance: Cataclysm beta highlights for mages

Christian Belt

It's time again for Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that hasn't gotten a beta invite, despite an ongoing salvo of increasingly pathetic groveling at the feet of Blizzard's customer service department. Oh, the things that Arcane Brilliance would do ... It's shameful, really.

So I want you guys to know that it's been difficult. I don't want you to assume it's been easy for me, this last run-up to the beta. There have been so very many things I've wanted to tell you but couldn't. I've wrestled with myself. There has been a hefty amount of soul-searching, an activity that -- for me -- requires spelunking gear and a machine gun that doubles as a flamethrower.

But now the beta has dropped, the NDA has been lifted and it's open season on all the awesome changes in store for the mage class. In the coming weeks, we'll be going over everything in ridiculous detail, picking through every new build with a fine-toothed comb and just generally having a total nerdgasm on a weekly basis. There's so very much to discuss. In the interest of getting started, though, I figured that today I'll stick to what I see as the most significant changes. There are plenty of other places where you can get a full list of new stuff. That information's readily available. In the end, we'll get to everything, but I figure when you come here, it's for three things: analysis, opinion and warlock jokes. I hereby promise to deliver at least some of all three.

Arcane Tactics

This is a new eighth-tier talent in the arcane tree. It's a passive raid buff talent, granting 3% extra damage across the board. Before you get excited, though, just know that this same buff is currently granted by Arcane Empowerment, a talent that still exists in the beta, only minus the damage buff.

It seems bad on the surface, but I don't automatically have a problem with this. The arcane tree appears to have undergone some pretty sweeping changes in the beta, far more than either fire or frost, and frankly it needed the attention. The problems the tree has now include a massive gap between the useless talents and the mandatory ones, and an overall bloated feel to the tree as a whole. My initial impressions of the tree in the beta are that these two issues are well on their way to being fixed.

Sure, there are still approximately a billion talents in the tree. (I mean, seriously, just look at it, then look at the other trees. It's clearly gained some weight.) But many of the more useless ones have been tweaked so that they provide at least some value to certain playstyles, and some of the more bloated talents (like Arcane Empowerment) have been divided up a bit. The mandatory ones are a bit less mandatory, and the crap ones are a bit less crap. Yes, I just used "crap" as an adjective and no, I'm not British.

Improved Polymorph

A new addition to the first tier of the arcane tree, this one should be a pretty significant PvP talent. The first thing it does is provide you with a three-second grace period whenever some numbskull decides to break your sheep. It delays any damage done to your polymorph target by three seconds.

Not only does this give you a buffer in terms of time when somebody smacks your sheep, it also does something else, something I think is even cooler. Look at that tooltip. Notice that it doesn't say the damage is "negated." It says "delayed." I haven't tested this on the beta, but what I assume this means is that you can now polymorph something and then essentially queue up three seconds' worth of damage on that target before the sheep breaks and that damage is applied.

I'm not going to lie -- I had a wet dream about this talent last night. I was in the garage with my shirt off, working on cars and carving things out of wood with my bare hands and stuff, my chiseled muscles all sweaty and glistening and whatnot, and Improved Polymorph was the hot new neighbor, just coming by to say hello and drop off brownies or something. One thing led to another, and we totally made out. It was sexy, and I am a massive nerd.

I just keep fantasizing about turning a warlock into a turtle, then stacking my Arcane Blast up to four on another warlock, then switching back over to the first warlock (the one that's currently a turtle) and launching out a fifth Arcane Blast, followed by a Missile Barrage and an quick Arcane Barrage, then watching that turtle change back into a warlock just in time to explode.

Like I said, sexy.


The latest build of the beta includes this nugget of awesome. Evocation still dishes out 60% of your total mana, but it now gives you 15% of that mana instantly and the other 45% over the next six seconds. You heard me. I said six seconds. Not eight. It ticks three times, giving 15% each time. But the important part is that instant 15% you get just for clicking the button. That means that even if you get smacked right as you evocate, you'll still get 15% of your mana back. Mmmm.

Mage Ward

Remember how in the class previews, they said they were going to get rid of certain useless talents like Fire/Frost Ward? Remember how some of us cried foul, saying things like "Hey, now mister, I use Fire and Frost Ward, thank you." Well, we needn't have fretted.

Mage Ward is, apparently, the unholy love spawn of our current warding spells, absorbing both fire and frost spells, but with the new added ability to absorb arcane spells. Now if only it'd absorb whatever that rogue behind you is stabbing you with. Maybe the next new talent will help ...

Arcane Repulsion

This replaces Student of the Mind right down to the icon (new icons will be one of the last things they add in the beta) but couldn't have a more different effect. Instead of giving us more spirit, it now does something useful.

Whenever your mage is struck by a melee attack and you have an armor spell up (and when wouldn't you?), this talent (at max rank) knocks the attacker back 12 yards and slows their movement by 50% for the next six seconds. It can only happen once every minute, but oh baby.

This will potentially be one of the most powerful defensive talents in our arsenal, and its impact on PvP will be significant. Tonight, I plan to have a dream where Improved Polymorph is my hot neighbor and Arcane Repulsion is her hot friend.

Improved Mana Gem

Yes, even our mana gems are being improved in Cataclysm. By the way, let me take this moment to officially announce the beginning of my formal campaign for Improved Strudel. We will be having a bake sale and we'll be giving away buttons and bumper stickers. Our slogan will be "Improved Strudel 2010: Yes we mphhhlphrlmm mmm mpphh yum nom nom."

Now, when you use your mana gem to get back some mana (which you'll be doing as part of your rotation in the era of Mana Adept), you'll also be getting a flat spell damage buff, 3% at max rank for 10 seconds. That's not shabby.

Edit: That's 3% of your max mana, not a flat amount. As always, I blame warlocks.

Early Frost

This is a strange one. It's a new third-tier frost talent that purports to provide a half-second reduction in cast time for your Frostbolt, but it says that it will not work for 15 seconds after use. It's not an on-use ability, though, meaning that you'll begin each fight with this passive cast-time reduction, but it'll only work on one Frostbolt every 15 seconds. I assume. I'll let you know how it pans out after I can get my hands on some actual testing data, but it sounds intriguing. Haste for our main frost nuke is welcome, even if that haste is only sporadic.

Spreading Chill

Now the value of this one is far less vague. It's a fourth-tier frost talent, and it will spread the chill effect of your frostbolt spells to 1/2 additional targets. That'll be nice.

Now, this talent was present in the alpha and in the initial build of the beta, but appears to be missing in the current build. We'll have to wait and see if it'll return.


Shatter combos as we know them are ending, apparently.

This talent currently grants a 50% increase in crit chance against frozen targets. In the beta, the effect against frozen targets has been changed to a flat 15% damage increase. This almost single-handedly morphs the crit-heavy burst damage of frost DPS into something far more normalized. Your frost DPS will be more even, less bursty. We'll need far more testing numbers before we can make any kind of better or worse judgment on this one.

Also, the talent is still clearly being fiddled with.

Shatter has been a lot of things. At the moment it is double crit chance vs. frozen targets for 1 point and triple crit chance vs. frozen for 2 points.

I'll try to update some of the other concerns and make corrections when I get some time.

So never mind anything I just said, and never mind the spell as it currently exists on the beta. Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) has spoken. Double/triple crit chance is actually a massive buff, for the talent, since it'll scale with your normal crit chance. If your normal crit chance is higher than 25%, you'll be getting a solid buff against frozen targets even with only one point in Shatter, and an almost unimaginable one with two points.

I love betas.

Next week (and probably every week until I stop having erotic dreams about mage abilities) we'll go into more depth, but hopefully this has whet your appetites to some extent. Maybe we'll even have a few new fire spells/abilities to discuss, since there aren't really any worth mentioning in the beta yet.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go back to sending letters to Blizzard that alternate between pleading for a beta invite and threats of physical violence if I don't get one. And yes, it's entirely possible that my next column may be written from prison.

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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