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Arcane Brilliance: Getting your mage up and running in 4.0.1

Christian Belt

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. Except for last week, when Arcane Brilliance was unable to sit upright, formulate a complete thought, or control the vast majority of its bodily functions.

Some of you speculated that the reason I didn't write an Arcane Brilliance last week was that I was busy slaying warlocks. I regret to report that this was not the case, though the desire was certainly there. The sad fact of the matter is that I was out last week with what I believe was a case of what 14th-century Europeans called "The Plague." I woke up on Tuesday morning with a headache, which soon progressed to waves of nausea, racking coughs and severe congestion, and by Thursday, I was shambling through the streets at night in search of brains.

Thankfully, I seem to have made a full recovery, though I still crave brains. I'll let you know how that goes. While I was indisposed, it seems a patch of some significance has dropped. Then we got nerfed or something? All I know is that I logged in on Tuesday night and my fire mage was doing a buttload of DPS, and then I logged in again two days later and he was doing maybe one-and-a-half cheeks' worth of a buttload. It was super fun.

So, massive buffs followed by massive nerfs aside, we should probably talk a little bit about this whole patch thing. By now, I assume most of you have already respecced your mages, for better or for worse. Even still, I feel like a 4.0.1 primer is in order. Click the link below and you'll find a basic starter guide for getting your mage back on his feet after all this craziness. This week we'll cover specs, general rotations and glyphs.

Changing the way we think about speccing

Before we begin, I think it's important that we get something out of the way. Since the patch, my inbox has been clogged with a deluge of requests for the best specs to raid with, or PvP with, or whatever. Let me say this:

There is no best spec.

Seriously, stop asking. The new talent trees are set up so that there simply isn't an optimal spec for anybody anymore. You have to spend 31 talent points in your tree of choice before you can even begin to think about putting points somewhere else. Only some of those 31 points are going to directly help your DPS. The rest are discretionary. It's forced discretion, but that doesn't make the freedom any less free.

The general idea here isn't to find the one optimal spec and copy-paste it so your numbers are as uber as they can be. Instead, you simply take the few specifically DPS-oriented talents that are considered "mandatory," then you do whatever the hell you want. Really. Just take a breath and enjoy not knowing exactly what to do for once.

You will find people who disagree with this philosophy. They will tell you that such-and-such is the best spec. They will laugh at your talent choices. They will offer some kind of compelling argument about why Molten Shields is somehow going to increase your DPS by more than Cauterize, when in fact the answer is that they are idiots. Forgive these people. They have learned their dickish behaviors from years of WoW culture. For a very long time, there was one optimal way and one way only to spend your talent points, and thinking outside the box meant you didn't get invited to the raid. That time is over. It will take some time for the status quo to adapt, but eventually, it will change.

Take your DPS talents. Then take the talents you want. Get to at least 31 points in your primary tree. Subspec into whatever you think will help you most. Experiment. Test. Respec. After a few tries, you'll find a spec or two that fits your raid's needs and your own playstyle. Trust me.


With that out of the way, we can move on to the first of the three mage trees. Here's the level 80 spec I'm currently running with:

Arcane 31/2/3

There are some very discretionary talents in there. Do you want Improved Blink? No? You still need to get to 31 points in the tree, so put those somewhere else. Invocation? That's fine. Improved Polymorph? Go for it.

As for the other five points you have to play with once you hit 31 in arcane, I'm putting those into Master of Elements, simply because mana is so vital to arcane's DPS, and Piercing Ice, because the extra crit is a no-nonsense DPS increase. You could just as easily make an argument for the pushback resistance offered by Burning Soul. Feel free to do so.

Suggested rotation This is somewhat complex, actually. It's easier to explain if you think of each fight as having certain distinct phases, during which different rotations are called for.

The first phase is any point in the fight during which you have access to all of your cooldowns and Evocation is ready to go. The idea here is to burn through your mana pool doing maximum DPS until you get to 40 percent of your max mana. At this point, you're popping Evocation, returning to max mana and beginning the next phase of the fight.

The rotation here is simple: Pop Arcane Power and spam Arcane Blast. This phase won't last long. With my current gear, I usually hit 40 percent within 20 seconds of beginning the Arcane Blast spam. The better your gear, the longer this phase will last. It may also last longer if the fight mechanics demand movement or some other interruption to your normal spellcasting.

The second phase begins once you're back at max mana and Evocation is on cooldown. The concept at this point is to go with a rotation that allows you to stay at a consistent mana level for a long enough period of time to get your Evocation back. You want to stay somewhere between 80 percent and 90 percent of your mana pool during this phase. Generally, the rotation consists of the following:

Arcane Blast x 2 --> Arcane Barrage or Arcane Missiles

As your gear improves, you may find you can squeeze an extra Arcane Blast in there without blowing your mana conservation endeavors. You also need to be cognizant of the opportunities provided by timely Clearcasting procs. If you can get in a free Arcane Blast, do so. Your choice of whether to use Arcane Missiles or Arcane Barrage to break your Arcane Blast stack depends entirely upon whether or not Arcane Missiles has procced after casting your two or three Arcane Blasts. If it procs, you use it; if it doesn't, you cast Arcane Barrage and waste a bit of mana. When and if you find your mana pool dipping a bit below that 80 percent threshold, or just at some point in the middle of this phase, you'll want to pop one of your mana gems to keep your damage output maximized.

Once Evocation is 15 to 20 seconds away from being back off cooldown, you can safely begin the first phase again, burning through your mana pool and the boss' health pool with wild abandon. You'll spend the majority of your time in that second phase, conserving mana, but damned if it isn't a whole lot of fun when you know it's time to spam that Arcane Blast button again and watch your numbers soar for a few seconds. The other two specs may be more flashy these days, but absolutely nobody does burst damage like an arcane mage in his burn phase.


Primes Arcane Blast, Mage Armor

Not a lot of choice here, which is how you'll find the prime glyphs for every spec. These two seem to be optimal, and the third is a garbage glyph at this point. You can leave it empty, for all the good it will do your normal DPS.

Majors Arcane Missiles, Slow, Arcane Power, Invisibility, Evocation, Polymorph

Here we get a few more options. The major glyphs are designed not to offer much of clear-cut DPS increase, instead offering a bit of extra utility or customization. The five I list above are all helpful for various reasons. Pick the ones you like best. If there's one you like that I neglected to mention, feel free to call me any names you feel are appropriate in the comments section below.

Minors Slow Fall, Conjuring, Mirror Image, whatever else you fancy

I won't repeat this in the fire and frost sections below, but honestly, nobody cares which minor glyphs you take. They're all just cosmetic alterations and conveniences.


This is the raiding spec I'm running with right now:

Fire 1/32/3

You may not want some of that stuff. You may want the death protection of Cauterize. You may not be interested in the extra AoE options provided by Blast Wave and Improved Flamestrike. You may want two more points in Netherwind Presence. That's fine. For the love of God, do it.

This spec only provides four extra points after getting done with the fire tree, and I feel like the two most attractive DPS choices here are Piercing Ice in the frost tree for the extra crit and Netherwind Presence in arcane for the haste.

Suggested rotation Fire has an incredibly intuitive and fun rotation that is very proc and situation-based.

Keep Living Bomb up. Spam Fireball until Hot Streak procs, then fire out a Pyroblast (Pyroblast!). During movement, cast Scorch. Refresh Living Bomb when it expires, but don't refresh it early. When fighting multiple targets, use Impact procs to spread your Living Bomb and other DoTs to the other targets.

The trickiest part is finding the best times to use your one big cooldown ability, Combustion. The optimal times to hit this button would be whenever you have your three major dots up at the same time: Ignite, Pyroblast and Living Bomb.


Primes Living Bomb, Pyroblast

These are the only two currently available prime glyphs that directly affect fire spells. That third slot is kind of a waste for now. Feel free to fill it with whatever you think you might use.

Majors Fireball, Molten Armor, then your choice of Evocation, Polymorph, Dragon's Breath, or Blast Wave

Minors Same as for arcane.


This spec was doing some absolutely crazy damage for the first few minutes there but has since come back to earth. Still crazy-powerful, though. Here's the spec I'm going with for now:

Frost 3/2/31

Again, lots of discretion here, though perhaps not so much as the other two trees. Frost's talents are simply more firmly delineated between PvE and PvP talents, so options are a bit more sparse. The 31 points in the frost tree are all pretty much mandatory, but outside the tree, you can make an argument for Master of Elements over Burning Soul if mana is an issue, though Netherwind Presence is an almost mandatory subspeccing option. That extra haste simply isn't easy to overlook.

Suggested rotation This works best if expressed as a priority list:

  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
Basically, you'll run down the list. You're casting the first thing on the list if the conditions are right, and then you're moving down the list until you find the next thing for which conditions are right. When nothing else is going on (no FoF, nothing off cooldown), you're spamming Frostbolt until something else procs or comes off cooldown. It's pretty fun, actually. especially when that Deep Freeze crits for like a billion. Mmmm. Deep Freeze crits. I'm thinking of opening a snow cone franchise with that name. Either that or a punk band.


Prime: Ice Lance, Deep Freeze, Cone of Cold

Again, these are really your only choices that apply to the frost tree. Good luck finding them at a reasonable price.

Major: Frostbolt, Molten Armor, and then your choice of Polymorph, Ice Barrier, Evocation, or pretty much anything else

Minor: See above.

And with that, I'll stop typing for this week. Hopefully, this helps those of you who still need help getting your mages back up to speed in the brave new world of patch 4.0.1. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to locate some more braaaaaiiiiiiiins.

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'.

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