Arcane Brilliance: The two-button mage myth

Christian Belt
C. Belt|07.16.11

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Arcane Brilliance: The two-button mage myth
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. This week, we dispel mage-related myths, expose wizardly untruth, and separate magical fact from fiction ... just like the Mythbusters, only with more Fireballs.

You may not believe this, but lately I've been finding something more annoying than the continued existence of warlocks. I know, I know. Crazy, right? What could possibly be more annoying than our emo-loving, Hot Topic-frequenting, mascara-laden, parent-hating nemesises? Nemesi? Apparently the dictionary says "nemesis" is its own plural, which is just ... boring.

Anyway, the answer to the question that I just pretended you asked is this:

"Mages are a two-button class." -- The internet

These days, you literally can't post the word "mage" anywhere on the web without someone, usually multiple people, posting some poorly spelled, perplexingly punctuated amalgam of the above words. It's usually intended as an indictment of the class, a dismissal of what non-mages feel is the simplistic nature of of our major DPS spell rotations. The assumption is that mages are an easy, boring class to play, that one could be a successful mage simply by drunkenly alternating pressing two buttons.

For a very long time, it was easy for me to ignore this. It was stupid, and false, and perpetuated by non-mages who were either clear trolls or outright ignorant. But lately, I've been hearing self-deprecating versions of this same phrase from actual, honest-to-goodness mages. Are we really buying into the ignorant assumptions of the rest of the community? It was at that moment that I realized that it was time I addressed what I call the two-button myth.

My original concept for this column was to present my argument in the form of a dirty limerick: There was a young mage from Nantucket ... Then I realized that nothing good could come of that, only tears and heartbreak. I instead opted for a sampling of my favorite arguments, each of which plainly refutes the misguided assertion that mages are simple and boring to play.

If you're only using two buttons, you're doing it wrong. Let's just set aside the various main DPS rotations of each mage spec. Even if you, somehow, are finding ways to effectively DPS a boss with two buttons (and the only spec this is even remotely possible with is arcane, which we'll go into more in a second), you're a terrible mage. Let me reacquaint you with your spellbook.

Spells outside your DPS rotation that you should be using regularly:
  • Polymorph Yes, CC is still something you should be doing. Unless your tank and healer completely outgear the content, they will appreciate your taking one mob out of the equation on each pull, assuming you've discussed CC strategy beforehand.
  • Counterspell It's possible your group may not need you as part of their interrupt rotation, but it's also likely that they will. If you're an arcane mage with Invocation, interrupting actually results in a nice damage buff for you. Find ways to use this spell in a useful manner, and your group will benefit.
  • Remove Curse Look at the fight you're in. Are your enemies using curses? If so, then you absolutely need to take it upon yourself to remove them. Don't assume the healer will take care of it. Even if your healer can actually cure curses (many healer classes simply don't have an ability that does this), why should they waste precious mana on doing so when you're perfectly capable of shouldering that particular burden? You run low on mana, you temporarily do less damage; your healer runs low on mana, you all probably die.
  • Spellsteal You won't be using it in every fight, but when you see a mob with a buff that you can steal, chances are that you should absolutely be stealing it. Not only are you purging that buff from the enemy, reducing the threat that mob poses, you're also granting yourself a potentially powerful damage, healing, or defensive buff for a few seconds. The spell costs more mana now, so you need to pick your spots, but used effectively, spellstealing is one of the skills that separates a bad mage from a good one.

The two-button DPS rotation doesn't actually exist. The whole popularity of the "two-button" idea can largely be blamed on the spell rotation of arcane mages. And the thing is, it isn't even really true for them. The main rotation for arcane consists of Arcane Blast spam, threaded carefully with Arcane Missiles. There are your two buttons.

But that's not really how it works. Your two-button rotation is divided into three distinct phases, dependent upon your mana pool, and interspersed with judicious use of multiple cooldowns, from Evocation, to Mana Gems, to Arcane Power, to Presence of Mind, to the above-mentioned utility spells that every mage should be using. And then there are the times when you need to release a growing Arcane Blast stack and Arcane Missiles hasn't procced, meaning you will need to fire off an Arcane Barrage. I've said it before and I'll say it again: No class/spec has a wider gulf between competence and incompetence than an arcane mage.

And though each mage spec does have its main nuke, which is cast more often than any other spell, both fire and frost have multi-spell rotations even in their simplest forms.

Fire has a proc-based rotation that begins with Fireball and weaves in no less than 74 different spells, including but not limited to Pyroblast, Scorch, Living Bomb, Fire Blast, and Combustion.

Frost has a priority-centric rotation that looks like this when laid out as simply as possible:
  1. Frostfire Orb, if off cooldown
  2. Deep Freeze, if off cooldown and Fingers of Frost is up
  3. Frostfire Bolt, if both Brain Freeze and Fingers of Frost are up
  4. Ice Lance, if Finger of Frost is up
  5. Freeze, if off cooldown, Deep Freeze is off cooldown, and Finger of Frost is not up
  6. Frostbolt
All of these rotations are for pure, single-target DPS situations, and each is unique, dynamic, and complex when done correctly. The insinuation of the whole "two-button" accusation is that any fool can play a mage. Well, any fool most certainly can play a crappy mage. It takes a special kind of fool to play a great one.

We haven't even mentioned AOE and movement rotations. These are wholly distinct, multi-button rotations that are used when AOE attacks or movement are called for. Many fights will require periods of switching between the usual, single-target rotations detailed above and these other rotations. The tank's picking up multiple adds that need to be disposed of quickly? Time to switch to a mix of Flamestrike, Blast Wave, Dragon's Breath, Living Bomb, and Impact-DOT-spreading through Fire Blast. Going to have to move for a while? Better adopt an Improved Blink/Arcane Barrage/Presence of Mind-Arcane Blast rotation for as long as needed.

The simple fact of the matter that no class, no matter how simple it may appear to those who do not play that class, is a two-button class. Every class, especially mages, requires a level of skill and intelligence to play well. Each class and spec has its own complexities. When somebody throws around the easy-mode accusation, it does nothing so much as betraying their own simple-minded ignorance.

Unless they are talking about warlocks. In which case they would be totally correct. In fact, I'm pretty sure warlocks only use one button. And that button is "Douche."

Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Start off with our Cataclysm 101 guide for new mages, then find out which spec is best for raiding, get advice from the poor mage's guide to enchants, and learn how to keep yourself alive.

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