Arcane Brilliance: News and notes for mages from PTR patch 4.0.6

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. This week, a magical journey awaits ... a fantastic voyage through a mystical realm. I speak, of course, of the Public Test Realm, and the wondrous patch notes that dwell therein.

Now before we begin, I should make it clear that mages aren't getting anything even remotely earth-shattering in patch 4.0.6. It's not like Blizzard is letting us autofire while moving or anything. But a patch is still a patch. Things are going to change, and though mages have been left largely un-fiddled-around-with (at least in comparison to many other classes), we do have some incoming alterations to be aware of.

So with our expectations in an appropriately subdued state, let's peek beyond the jump for an annotated look at what be happening, yo.

Full notes, updated as of Jan. 12, can be perused here.

Mana cost reductions

The mana cost of several of our spells has been reduced, presumably to help balance out the issues many mages have been having maintaining our mana in longer heroic fights. Nobody wants to see us standing around with our wands out, including the developers. Reducing the base mana cost of many of our most-used spells should assist us in this regard. Similar changes are in store across the board for the various ranged caster classes.

The main culprits so far have been arcane mages, whose consistent damage output depends directly upon the amount of mana still left in the mage's coffers, and fire mages, who have comparibly little in the way of mana return or conservation options. The major nukes for those two specs are seeing their mana budgets lowered by a pretty hefty amount.

In addition:

... which puts our major raid buff in line with the mana cost of Mark of the Wild. Even better:

... which now allows us to switch armor spells on the fly if need be without costing us a bit of mana.

Spell changes

  • Counterspell lockout duration reduced to 7 seconds, down from 8.

This is a PvP balance change, and though that second we're losing can feel like a very long time in the Arena, 7 seconds is still a remarkably long time for a silence effect, a fact to which everyone who has faced a mage in PvP during this expansion would eagerly attest. As a class, we're in a good place in PvP at present, which of course means everybody else thinks we're overpowered, meaning this won't be the last time the nerf bat grazes us.

So while I can no longer hurl my orb down a rabbit-filled hallway and rack up the critter-kills, at least I no longer have to worry about wasting any of my Flame Orb's damage ticks on the cockroach that wandered into range between me and the boss.

  • Mage Armor now reduces the duration of magic effects by 35%, down from 50%.

Another PvP balance nerf, this just removes some of the survivability from Mage Armor, moving it even further down the road to no longer really being an "armor" spell and simply being a mana-return buff.

  • Polymorph now has a PvP duration of 8 seconds.

  • Slow now has a PvP duration of 8 seconds.

And see, here is where I have to wonder why all PvP balance nerfs aren't done in precisely this way. I understand Blizzard's reluctance to differentiate the PvP aspects of the game too markedly from the PvE side of things, but holy crap. The two schools of thought seem to be as follows:

  1. If we nerf something for PvP balance, we nerf it for everything.

  2. If we nerf something in PvP, we can leave it alone in PvE.

The stated issue the developers have with school of thought #2 is that if they begin doing too many PvP-only nerfs, the game becomes too different from one aspect of the game. They'd rather design spells that work in both parts of the game and balance around both at the same time. It's a "slippery slope" way of thinking, and I understand it. The worry is that eventually, once that road is followed far enough, you end up having what is essentially two sets of abilities for each class: the PvP set and the PvE set. God knows it would be a design nightmare to have to design everything in the game in two wholly separate and distinct forms.

But my issue is this: aren't we already sort of doing that? The line between PvP and PvE is clearly delineated, and though it's slightly fuzzier now than it ever has been, it's still very much there. The two aspects of the game are inherently unique, and the playerbase will use the spells that work and ignore those that don't, regardless of designer intent.

These patch notes only highlight the issue. We're nerfing spells that are utilized in both aspects of the game (Counterspell, Mage Armor) for purely PvP purposes. The changes are only needed in PvP but changed in both arenas of play. And yet a couple of other abilities (Polymorph, Slow) are being nerfed in PvP only, leaving them unsullied in the PvE environment. Why the inconsistency? Either you want to keep things the same throughout or you don't. When you try to do it both ways, to me, it only serves to emphasize how much better it is one way than the other. And my personal opinion is that the better way will always be thus:

Nerf in PvP only, unless the PvE usage of the spell also warrants a nerf. If the PvE usage of a spell requires a nerf, but not the PvP usage, feel free to apply this wisdom in reverse. If you get to the point where a spell becomes too far removed in one aspect of the game than the other, perhaps you need to reconsider the spell entirely. I'm just saying.

Anyway, Polymorph doesn't last as long, but only in PvP. Your PvE sheep will keep its current staying power post-patch. Same goes for Slow.

  • Ring of Frost: Radius shrunk to 8 yards, and inner "safe" radius is now 4.7 yards (exactly matching graphic). Dispelling the effect of Ring of Frost will now make the target immune to being refrozen for 3 seconds. If a second Ring of Frost is cast by the same mage while the first is still active (via Cold Snap), the first will now disappear and cease functioning. In addition, Ring of Frost now has a PvP duration of 8 seconds.

And here we have a spell that's getting both an across-the-board change and a PvP-only nerf at the same time. I'm so confused right now I feel like a warlock without his eyeliner.

So the spell effect radius now matches the animation, which mean it'll affect a smaller area overall. This is probably more of a bug fix than a nerf from a design perspective. It'll also make the victim immune to being refrozen for three seconds, a change that makes the spell work for the purposes of CC-breaking abilities. The last PvE/PvP change is that the spell can no longer be double cast via a Cold Snap.

And, like the rest of our major CC spells, the ring itself will now have a PvP duration of 8 seconds.

  • When a mage uses the Invisibility spell, it will now also cause their pet Water Elemental to become invisible.

So now you no longer have to put away your big blue buddy before you go Invisible, lest he give away your position or, you know, suddenly realize he is alone and about to die and go into the corner to sob his big blue tears of abandonment.

  • Firestarter now allows the mage to cast Scorch while moving (regardless of which armor spell is used), and no longer eliminates Molten Armor's critical strike chance reduction.

This is a nice change. Firestarter is, bar none, one of the single most fun aspects of being a fire mage in the game right now, and this change makes its effects armor agnostic. It'll work no matter what armor spell you choose to use. So if you're a fire mage who wants mana return, go ahead and switch to Mage Armor. Getting mobbed by melee? Frost Armor is a perfectly acceptable option. Also, it's nice that the talent no longer takes away the crit chance reduction from Molten Armor. Just a nice change, all around.

This, on the other hand? Not nice at all. Was frost really doing too much damage in PvE? I'm pretty sure it wasn't. A straight damage nerf to a damage spell that's part of the regular rotation makes no sense unless a damage nerf was called for, and I'm not really sure what data Blizzard's using to justify this one. Why frost and not arcane or fire? Since Deep Freeze's damage component only applies in PvE, I can't blame this nerf on PvP balance. What gives?

The only explanation I can come up with for the Deep Freeze nerf is that the designers felt they needed to compensate for this buff to Ice Lance, but this change doesn't really increase overall damage much, it only makes Ice Lance a bit more worth spending a Fingers of Frost charge on. I'm all for getting Ice Lance more involved in the rotation, but not at the cost of a buttload of Deep Freeze damage. Though it is nice to no longer have to worry about FoF being dispelled.

Mastery changes

  • Flashburn (Mastery) benefit per mastery has been increased by 12%.

Mastery wasn't valued as highly as it should have been for fire mages, but this helps fix that. Blizzard's intent seems to be to make the various reforgable secondary attributes relatively equal to each other in terms of value, allowing us more flexibility in customizing our characters. Fire mastery needed a tweak, and hopefully, this will prove to be the tweak it needed.

  • Frost Specialization now only grants 2 base points of mastery (instead of 8), reducing all Frost damage to frozen targets by 15% from previous values. However, Frost Specialization now increases base Frostbolt damage by 15%.

So here we have another change to frost that will hurt frost mage PvE DPS but seems targeted at nerfing them in PvP. Oh well, I've already had my rant on that particular topic. We're losing 15% of our overall frost damage to frozen targets due to the base mastery point loss. The tradeoff is that Frostbolt's base damage is going up by 15%. This encourages Frostbolt spam and makes frost damage slightly less dependent upon Fingers of Frost procs, but will almost undoubtedly result in an overall loss of DPS.

Again, I'm not entirely sure what data Blizzard's looking at that suggests a downward adjustment in necessary for frost mage DPS. My feeling here, as before, is that these nerfs are keyed toward PvP balance but have the side effect of lowering PvE damage. I'll say again: I understand the thinking here, but believe it's based upon faulty logic.

So what think ye, mage community? Tell me how I'm wrong, but most of all, tell me how I'm right. I crave affirmation.

Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent Cataclysm 101 guide for new mages or our mage Thanksgiving spectacular. Until next week, keep the mage-train a-rollin'.