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Arcane Brilliance: Mage's guide to patch 4.2

Christian Belt

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. This week we're taking a quick break from our look at the state of the three mage specs to deal with the impending release of patch 4.2. Yes, I know it has only been one column, and we're already taking a break. Honestly, why do you always have to point things like that out? Sheesh.

So with patch 4.2 dropping at any moment (all signs now point to the 28th of this very month), I figure we'd better just sit down, look deeply into one another's eyes, and discuss our future. You see, we're going places, you and I ... more specifically, we're going into the Firelands, to kill Ragnaros and his buddies. We're looking for increasingly elaborately decorated dresses to wear, and one very impressive magical staff. I just want to make sure that we're both prepared for what we will find there, for the challenges we'll be facing, and for the changes we will be experiencing before we start the journey. We'll have deeper voices, hair where we didn't have hair before ... no wait, that was what happened when we started middle school. This is pretty similar, actually, only with fewer pimples and slightly more Fireballs.

What's changing

Crowd control is 100% less likely to get you killed. This is a general change, applying to everybody with a crowd control ability, and boy is it a welcome one. You remember all of those times you were asked to sheep pull a group and so you did, casting sheep on that healer mob then watching as the tank failed to pick up the whole group until it was too late, and then dying in a pile of blood and viscera? Good times. Well no more! Now, when you cast Polymorph on somebody before the group has been pulled, you no longer generate any threat. The mob you sheeped will not attack you when the spell expires or is broken, and his buddies will no longer come charging toward you with the intention of breaking you in twain. This allows you to better plan out the crowd control strategy before a pull, coordinate who is doing what to whom and fix any mistakes prior to everyone dying horribly. It also helps ensure that the tank can easily pull the mob the way they want to, without worrying too much about stealing back aggro or breaking your late sheep with an AOE attack.

This will, quite simply, make everything about pulling multi-mob groups easier on everybody. I am a fan of this change.

Spell interrupts won't interrupt you quite as much as they used to. This one's pretty minor, but worth mentioning. Currently, if you get hit with a silence or interrupt that knocks out a particular school of magic, dual-school spells like Frostfire Bolt would also be knocked out. This is no longer true. If somebody knocks out your ability to use fire or frost spells, you'll still be able to cast Frostfire Bolt. Unfortunately, the converse is still in place. If somebody manages to interrupt you with a school-specific interrupt while using Frostfire Bolt, you'll be locked out of both frost and fire spells, just like now.

Arcane Blast is being nerfed. But it's okay. As we discussed last week, arcane's damage is eclipsing fire's right now, in current gear. Fast forward a couple of weeks, when top arcane mages will all be suiting up in shiny new tier 12 gear -- without a nerf, the disparity would be much larger. Arcane scales so incredibly well with intellect that this nerf, which is a 5% damage reduction to our major nuke, is really just a minor balance tweak to keep our top two PVE specs competitive with each other as our gear improves. It'll be alright. I promise.

Pyroblast does a buttload of damage, no matter what. I guess the Hot Streak version of Pyroblast wasn't doing quite as much damage as regular flavor Pyroblast. Now they both do the same. Either way, you're hurling a giant flaming boulder at that warlock's face. It's going to hurt.

Spellsteal is getting nerfed, but it could have been much, much worse. I'm not even kidding. The spell needed a bit of nerf. It was being spammed and abused in PVP in ways that Blizzard simply couldn't ignore, so they nerfed it. Only when they first nerfed Spellsteal, they basically tied it up, drug it out back, and shot it in the mouth. Spellsteal nerf version 1.0 was a full on slap in the proverbial face, and there was much whining on the forums. It was pretty ugly. I myself lobbied for a different sort of change in this very space not long ago, and because the class designers totally read Arcane Brilliance with an almost religious zeal and do whatever I suggest without exception, the nature of the Spellsteal nerf was soon reworked. Cough.

Now, instead of a completely unacceptable 6 second cooldown on the spell, Blizzard has opted for a 100% increase in mana cost. Basically, if you want to spam Spellsteal, you still can, right up until the point where you burn through all of your mana and die in embarrassing fashion. By making Spellsteal spam a cost/benefit mechanic, they left the usage of this signature mage spell in our hands, and I trust us to make the right decisions.

Impact's spreading of Living Bomb is a little easier to control now. Basically, when you hit something with Impact in an attempt to spread Living Bomb to additional targets, you'll now have an easier time predicting which additional targets it'll spread to. Firstly, it'll only spread to two additional targets. Secondly, it'll no longer migrate off of your primary Living Bomb target. If your Impact target is the same as your Living Bomb target, your Living Bomb will stay put on that target. This isn't so much a change as a bug fix. Now if only we could figure out Ignite Munching.

Deep Freeze and Ring of Frost now share diminishing returns. Which kind of sucks. I understand why they're doing it, but still. Essentially, this is a nerf on frost mage control in PVP. Admittedly, frost mage control in PVP was pretty awesome. Still is, even after this nerf, really. I haven't been PVPing much in this expansion, and I'm sure I'd feel more strongly about this if I did, but any nerf hurts. This one serves to limit frost's almost unrivaled ability to lock opposing players down. Again, I understand. Sort of.

Time to start hunting down Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa's Rest. Get your guild psyched up for the new content, because there's a legendary staff to be earned, and you need a strong progression raid to help you work toward getting it. But here's the thing: even if you're in an awesome guild, you're going to need to prove your worth to be awarded this staff. Look for an upcoming column in which I detail how to make sure you're considered the best candidate to receive this staff once your guild manages to earn it. A quick primer:

  • Be the most reliable DPS in the guild. Notice I didn't say "be the top DPS on the charts." Be on time. Do your job. Be there on raid nights. Do excellent DPS. Be consistent and trustworthy.
  • Don't be a douche.
  • That's it, really.
Follow those simple steps and you'll have as good a shot at this incredible weapon as anybody else, and absolutely everybody else will want it just as badly as you do. The stats on the staff make it the perfect weapon for every ranged caster DPS class in the game, so don't feel like being a mage gives you any special claim to it.

Why it's changing

I've tried my best to explain what is changing and what I think of the changes. Sadly, I am but a lone man, on the fringes of polite society, typing madly away on these columns alone in my basement, sustained by the moans of the dying warlocks chained to the walls around me. I do not work for Blizzard, I do not design this game, and thus I have no special insight into the reasoning and logic behind the changes I write about.

Thankfully Lead Systems Designer Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street does. And even more thankfully, he sees value in explaining said changes to us as a player base in as much detail as he can. In case you missed it, here's a reprinting of his explanation of the mage changes as posted on Thursday. There's a lot of interesting stuff in the article, and you should all go read it if you haven't yet done so.

  • We changed the way interrupts interact with spell schools. Our intent when we created dual school spells (like Mind Spike being Frost and Shadow) was to allow players locked out of one school to still have something to cast, and we now have the technology to deliver on that design. However, we maintained the rule that being interrupted while casting a dual-school spell will lock you out of both schools because we didn't want players to only use those spells as a way of avoiding interruption.
  • We removed the threat caused by buffs or crowd control because we wanted to make communication and coordination easier in dungeons, especially among strangers using Dungeon Finder. We want the challenge of a dungeon encounter to be the encounter mechanics, not marking targets. We also think this change will be a quality of life improvement for tanks, who inherited a lot of the responsibility for explaining fights, marking targets and otherwise setting the pace.
  • We nerfed Arcane Blast because Arcane's damage was too high in PvE. We wanted Arcane to be competitive with Fire, especially given that Fire tends to perform better on fights with movement or multiple targets. However, it looked like many Fire mages were begrudgingly respeccing to Arcane, which wasn't the intent. We wanted Arcane to be competitive, not the only serious mage spec for PvE. (See Frost vs. Unholy note above.)
  • We originally tried nerfing Spellsteal's cooldown, but that made it feel really random (for both sides) since the mage had no control over which spell was stolen. We instead nerfed the mana cost to encourage tactical use of Spellsteal and discourage spamming. We'd still like to try a model where dispels have a long cooldown but remove everything, but that is too big a change for now.
  • We added the diminishing returns to Deep Freeze and Ring of Frost (after earlier trying some different nerfs) to tone down Frost mage control, especially in the mid and lower tiers of PvP when dispels can't be assured.

I have my quibbles with things contained in that post, but I'll save them for another day and another column. Overall, I'm just grateful for the insight. I'd like to see a whole lot more of this sort of open dialogue going forward.

So what do you think, mages? We know what's changing, and we know why. Are we ready for the Firelands?

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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