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Arcane Brilliance: Patch 4.1 PTR for mages, (very) early edition

Christian Belt

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. This week, we discuss the upcoming patch 4.1, which hit the PTR in the wee hours of Thursday here in the North Americas, sending WoW bloggers everywhere into an early morning, sleep-deprived fit of feverish typing, followed by a deep and possibly fatal sugar and caffeine coma. For those who were lost, we mourn you -- but not for long because we gots deadlines, yo.

So yeah. In case you've been stranded in some Mesopotamian nation or another without internet access for the past few days, we've got a new patch on the PTR. It's not the most earth-shattering patch we've seen, but for some reason I'm just inordinately excited about it. I woke up this morning with dreams of raptors, tiger/panthers, and armored bears fresh in my mind. I was quite sad when Zul'Gurub vanished from the game, but every time I flew over that part of Stranglethorn Vale and saw that the ancient troll city was still there, empty and tigerless, I felt a surge of hope that until the structures themselves vanished, the instance wasn't truly gone.

Just the idea that Blizzard is willing to take old raids and turn them into heroic 5-mans for me to churn through in my daily valor point farming efforts is a cause for celebration. Though old 5-mans get new life whenever you level a new alt through the old content, no single part of the game falls into misuse more completely than obsolete endgame content. To see some of it repurposed in such a relevant way, well ... I'm just giddy. Like a schoolgirl, only male and 30ish. Similar outfits, though. Cough.

So there's a lot there to look forward to, you may be saying, but what about mages? I come here to read about magecraft and also to hear about how warlocks drink their own urine. Where's the info on the parts of the patch that are specific to me? I hear you, reader who I just made up. Read on, and we'll talk all about the few but significant mage changes we can expect in patch 4.1.

A Band-Aid for Ignite munching

I mentioned this very briefly last week, but we need to revisit it because one of the announced changes in this patch is being implemented for the sole purpose of addressing this ancient bug in the mechanics of the fire tree. Here's the preliminary quote from Bashoik on the mage forums:

Since the design of Ignite doesn't allow us to resolve munching (defined as multiple simultaneous crits that fail to properly proc Ignite) directly, we're thinking about a solution that would instead prevent Ignite from proc'ing on periodic crits. This might be a minor dps loss, but possibly no dps loss at all since it would stop most cases of munching. If it turned out to be a dps loss, we could compensate for it elsewhere. You're likely to see some experimenting in future patch PTRs. This is a pretty good example of something we can't hotfix, or rather wouldn't try. It's the kind of change that would likely have unpredictable side-effects.

Here's my take: Ignite munching has been around since patch 2.0. That's more than four years ago. I think it's safe to say that at this point, we're probably never going to see a direct fix. Bashiok all but says so. So rather than try to implement a fix he admits is impossible due to the design of the talent, we get this little line in the patch notes:
  • Ignite is no longer triggered from periodic critical effects.
One of the main sources of Ignite munching comes from simultaneous crits. When more than one spell crits at once, Ignite often fails to crit properly. Since the majority of the time, simultaneous crits come when a DoT ticks at or around the same time as you land a direct damage spell or at the same time as another DoT tick, the developers have chosen to mitigate that source of Ignite munching.

This may seem at first like a damage loss, since it seems like we'll be proccing Ignite less often now. The fact is, we don't really want Ignite procs from DoT ticks. At least, we shouldn't. Combustion relies upon casting at the most opportune time, when all of our most powerful DoTs are active on the same target. To get the best out of Combustion, we need to trigger it when we have a large Ignite DoT active. That means a Pyroblast Ignite, as opposed to a Living Bomb or Flame Orb tick Ignite.

In the current incarnation of the game, it's gotten to the point that many raiding mages are leaving Living Bomb and Flame Orb out of their early rotations entirely, so they can ensure a high-powered Combustion at the start of the fight. This change takes those smaller Ignite procs off the table completely and removes a large source of Ignite munching.

It isn't a fix, by any stretch of the imagination. Fire mages will continue to lose DPS due to lost Ignites. But this reduces the problem and will serve, until Blizzard decides it's time to rework the mechanic completely.

Further mana cost reduction for arcane

To further help arcane mages in their quest to become competitive on DPS with fire, it looks like Arcane Blast's mana cost will again be reduced on the PTR. Down from 7% base mana to 5%, this reduction to arcane's main nuke is welcome. Anything that helps us keep our mana pools full longer is a DPS increase, and DPS -- especially in longer fights -- is the area arcane mages need the most help in. I hope to see more improvements for arcane as the PTR process advances.

An almost inconceivably unnecessary mastery nerf for frost

One of the most disheartening parts of the patch is this apparent change to frost's mastery, Frostburn. The base damage bonus against frozen targets for frost mages is currently 20%. On the PTR, that bonus is 5%. I understand that as we progress into higher and higher endgame content, we'll also be stacking more and more mastery. That may be the reasoning here. Start the base lower so that the damage doesn't get out of hand later on as mastery levels skyrocket.

I don't know about you, but when was the last time you sat down and said to yourself, "Gosh, my frost mage is doing too much damage. It's only a matter of time until the rest of the caster DPS kicks me out of the guild for making them look bad." I'm pretty sure no one has ever said that, ever. Not once. In the history of time.

Like the Deep Freeze nerf that recently got hotfixed into the game, this seems like a kick in the groin to an already struggling PvE spec. Look, Blizzard, either you want frost to be PvE viable, or you don't. In the early stages of this expansion, it looked like you did. But these recent nerfs, which were entirely focused on lowering damage, make zero sense for a spec that wasn't doing that much damage to begin with. Generally, the idea when a spec is underperforming is to buff it. I simply don't understand this. Is frost just that overpowered in PvP? If so, man, there have got to be better ways of balancing it than this.

The promise of better AoE to come

This was kind of a throwaway line in the blue post announcing the PTR, but my ears perked up when I heard it:

To start, we want to do a better job of balancing the AoE power of the different damage-dealing specs. You can expect to see some changes to this end made throughout the testing process.

I don't know about you guys, but holy cow, do I miss AoE. I don't miss the tank-everything-at-once, AoE-spam facerolls we saw in Wrath, but I do miss the days when my AoE spells had some bite to them. I miss being able to wade into the crowd at a Good Charlotte concert and know that a well placed Flamestrike/Blizzard combo would take out like 75 warlocks. No more, guys, no more. Now I have to kill my warlocks one at a time, like everybody else.

So you can see why any hint that the current pathetic state of AoE is going to be re-evaluated makes me very excited. Am I reading too much into this? Probably. But a mage can hope, right?

A freaking caster legendary

This probably isn't going to come in this particular patch, but it's in the data files now, which means it's coming. You can read Anne Stickney's full post on the subject right here:

Caster legendary news and speculation

I have waited so very long to get my hands on something with orange text that my mage could actually use, I'm not even sure how to feel now that we've gotten a whiff of this impending caster legendary. All I know is that I want it, whatever it turns out to be, and I want it as soon as humanly possible. We don't know much, but it seems that the item will drop somewhere in the Caverns of Time, which probably means in the upcoming War of the Ancients raid, which we know isn't coming in patch 4.1. If past precedence follows, it'll be a weapon, which to me suggests a staff, the most iconic caster weapon. I covet the barely formed idea of this caster legendary so wholly, so completely, that I can barely hold any other thought in my head.

If it has spirit on it, I swear to god I will end this world.

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'.

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