Frost has traditionally been regarded as the PvP spec for mages, especially with its high survivability, exceptional rooting and snaring capability, and options for burst and a pet. That hasn't changed in 4.0.1, but the other two specs are now competitive in other aspects while offering a different flavor. Frost is all about controlling the opponent's movement, and as before, frost mages can be extremely frustrating for melee classes to handle because frost still has the best options for kiting.
- Shatter You like to freeze things in place. That's what you do. Shatter increase your crit chance against frozen targets by three -- not 3 percent, but multiplied by three. This means that if you have 30 percent crit, you'll get a 90 percent chance to crit. A vital component of the shatter combo which, in layman's terms, means nuking frozen stuff to kingdom come.
- Ice Floes Boring but necessary cooldown reduction on key frost spells. It's pretty hefty at three points, but totally worth it.
- Improved Cone of Cold This talent completely changes the frost mage's go-to spell -- instead of relying on Frost Nova to freeze targets, you'll now be blasting away with Cone of Cold. The PvP impact of this is tremendous, mostly because it can be cast out of harm's way. Frost Nova becomes an extricating spell that can be used as a self-peel and to freeze in a pinch, but for the most part, Cone of Cold will keep freezing opponents in place out of melee range. Note that Cone of Cold's snare is still applied, so even after the root breaks after 4 seconds, enemies are still slowed for another 4.
- Piercing Chill When you're not freezing people in place, you're slowing them down and making them tear their hair out in frustration. This talent spreads that frustration out to your target's friends with your Frostbolt crits. The area effect currently breaks rogue stealth, which is a nice bonus. You'll want to catch those rogues.
- Permafrost This is just the talent that keeps on giving -- a stronger snare, a Mortal Strike effect on chilled targets, and it even heals your pet. Nice to have in PvE; an absolute must-have in PvP.
- Ice Shards The chill effect of this talent is at a deceptive 1 second, but shouldn't be considered for the chill debuff as a prerequisite for DPS bonuses. It basically makes Blizzard an 8-yard radius AoE slow that's castable at 35 yards, which is great for battlefield control. As a bonus, it increases the range of Ice Lance by 5 yards, pushing it to 40.
- Icy Veins This is an excellent kill spell on a long cooldown that grants haste and the all important immunity to pushback. It lasts for 20 seconds, which is eons in PvP, and can be used to expedite channeled spells like Evocation. It becomes a bona fide PvP ability when glyphed with the Glyph of Icy Veins (major), which allows Icy Veins to break all snares and removes cast time reduction debuffs.
- Cold Snap The curiously worded Cold Snap finishes the cooldown on all frost spells and is still the main reason why frost mages have such high survivability. The ability to Ice Block in quick succession -- after Hypothermia -- is why frost mages are extremely hard to kill, especially with healer support. Cold Snap importantly doesn't trigger the GCD, allowing you to macro it with key frost spells, such as the aforementioned Ice Block. Because Ice Block usually just delays the inevitable -- it doesn't heal you and you're rooted -- it's great to pair it with Glyph of Ice Block (major), which gives mages an out by finishing the cooldown of Frost Nova.
- Brain Freeze Technically not a true PvP spell, Brain Freeze nonetheless makes this list because practically all the spells you'll be casting in PvP will apply the chill effect, which means there's a good chance you'll proc a free and instant Fireball or Frostfire Bolt. And in PvP, instant spells are king.
- Ice Barrier, Shattered Barrier, and Reactive Barrier If you thought frost mages were tough to kill, wait till you get a load of Ice Barrier, which is an absorption shield much like a priest's Power Word: Shield with similar pushback protection. Shattered Barrier adds an automatic AoE root effect when the barrier is consumed, so it's an excellent talent to have when you're being beaten up by melee classes. It's also better than a generic root because it's a freeze effect, which contributes to more damage. The downside is that it is triggered by an opponent's action, which means players can't dispel or dismiss their own Ice Barriers to proc Shattered Barrier. It's a passive tool meant to give frost mages a means to escape in a pinch, at a moment where they presumably need it the most. Although you would want for Shattered Barrier to proc, the longer Ice Barrier stays up, the better, so use Glyph of Ice Barrier (major) to keep your ersatz Power Word: Shield up a little longer. Finally, there's Reactive Barrier, which is exactly what it says -- a passive, reactive ability that casts Ice Barrier automatically when your health dips below 50 percent. The benefits of this talent are somewhat tricky considering frost mages are so hardy and usually play so conservatively (as opposed to, say, fire mages) that going below 50 percent health is a rarity. Furthermore, this ability won't proc when Ice Barrier is on cooldown and will trigger Ice Barrier's cooldown when it does. However, the upsides to the talent are that it will put up an Ice Barrier even if you're silenced, stunned, or otherwise crowd-controlled, and the proc doesn't trigger the GCD. Whether it's worth a two-point investment in an already loaded tree is up to you to decide.
- Deep Freeze I know I've said I wouldn't discuss the 31-point talents in a tree, mostly because they should be automatically included in all builds, but I just have to point out that Deep Freeze is one of the most powerful PvP talents for mages. It's a controlled stun, not a proc, and also re-applies the freeze effect on a target. Use your imagination on what you'd like to do to a target that's at your mercy for 5 seconds. Add some Cold Snap to that daydream and you'll know what I mean about just having to talk about Deep Freeze. Let's not forget that all frost mages will have Glyph of Deep Freeze (prime) active ... I'm sorry, but the thought of it just gives me chills.
The coolest thing about PvP and the various specs is that in 4.0.1 leading up to Cataclysm
, players can play the spec they love instead of the most "optimal" spec. There's no DPS race in PvP, so players aren't forced to spec the flavor-of-the-month spec that deals a shade more DPS than the other two specs. The developers have pumped up the survivability of the fire and reworked some spells to put the fire mage out of harm's way, significantly changing the spec's formerly reckless playstyle. Still, the spec exudes a maverick air, just as arcane mages are about toolbox utility, field control, and unexpected tricks. Frost, meanwhile, has changed the least, making it the most familiar playstyle of all.
Whatever spec you choose for mage PvP, choose the spec that will let you enjoy the game the most. For now, the three trees stand on pretty even footing when it comes to PvP viability. We'll see what happens in December!
Zach delivers your weekly dose of battlegrounds and world PvP in one crazy column. Find out how the Cataclysm talent tree redesign affects PvP, how sub-speccing will work at higher levels in the expansion, and how the new Azeroth will affect world PvP. Visit Blood Sport for the inside line on arena PvP.