Arcane Brilliance: Mists of Pandaria talent spec guide for mages

Christian Belt
C. Belt|08.05.12

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Arcane Brilliance: Mists of Pandaria talent spec guide for mages
Arcane Brilliance Mists of Pandaria talent spec guide for mages
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. This week, we're looking at the overhauled talent system in Mists of Pandaria and figuring out which talent is best for killing warlocks. My initial impression is all of them. All of the talents are good for killing warlocks.

So with the expansion less than two months away and patch 5.0 looming on the "any week now" precipice, it's time we stopped messing around. I promise to stop skipping weeks of this column for trivial things like "family," or "crippling work schedule," or "violent and possibly terminal illnesses," because, damn. The time is short. The end of the end of the world is nigh, and the coming panda apocalypse is nearly upon us. We need to get down to the nitty-gritty here, guys.

Look forward to some extra mage content in between Arcane Brilliances as we ramp up in the coming weeks, in the form of basic class 101 guides for all the stuff you need to know before the expansion hits. I'll save the Saturday columns for more detailed analysis.

This week, we're wading neck deep into the new talent system, since it's probably the single biggest change our class is undergoing in Mists. It's a bona fide shock to the system and a radical departure from the status quo, and believe me when I say that it will take all of us some getting used to before it begins to feel even remotely normal.

The whole basis behind this talent system revamp is to eliminate cookie-cutter specs and provide us with six distinct choices between talents that serve roughly the same function as each other with slightly different mechanics. The idea is to provide freedom of choice by removing the need to pick the best talent at each tier. Each of the three choices at each tier is designed to be a good choice depending on playstyle, and no specific talent is supposed to provide measurably better DPS than another, so we can all hold hands, smoke the peace pipe, and pick whatever we like.

And now's the part where we all decide which of these equal talents are more equal than the others.

Don't act surprised. Blizzard's noble intentions aside, we all knew this was going to happen. The number crunchers have been busy on the beta, and some talent spec choices are emerging as slightly better than others. Now, are the differences between the cookie-cutter "best" specs all that much better than other lower-performing specs? Not really. It's not like it is now. On the live servers, picking your talents incorrectly can absolutely cripple your DPS. After the revamp, you can pick your talents with your eyes closed and still perform pretty damn well. We're talking about a very small gap here.

Still, a gap is a gap. It exists. And those of you who are looking to squeeze every last decimal point out of your DPS performance at the highest levels of raiding are going to want to choose your talents with your eyes wide open and your spreadsheets and calculators firmly in hand. So let's look at each spec and the talent choices that are currently putting out the highest numbers on the beta.

Several caveats, though:
  • The data samples floating around out there aren't especially huge yet. They give us a good idea of the direction specs are trending in but aren't foolproof.
  • Even at this late hour, the numbers on the beta are still being balanced and tweaked. Nothing's ever final in this game, and that's especially true during beta cycles.
  • More than ever before in the history of this game, your mileage with these talents does depend somewhat on your playstyle. Some mages will have different results with a specific talent than others. The majority of these talents are far less dependent on numbers than on how well you apply them. Effectiveness will absolutely vary.
  • These numbers are largely gleaned through simulation, under perfect conditions, with equal gear. I'm drawing heavily upon the work of Lhivera and his wondrous library in this column, and you would be well served to pay that particular resource a lengthy visit. The man is truly a wizard, in every sense of that world. By which I mean he is fully capable of harnessing the energies of the nether to conjure bolts of frost and hurl them at his foes, and also when he needs to chill his beverages. He's a wizard.


This is currently the top-performing spec on the beta. Now, before you get all excited/full of rage, just know that the spread between the top spec (arcane) and the bottom spec (fire) over the course of a 10-minute fight is less than a thousand points. That's essentially negligible. The design team has done a damn fine job so far of keeping the specs roughly equal.

The top arcane spec is looking like this:

Arcane 1/1/1/1/2/2

I have no idea how to represent the new talent specs in text form, so you're getting what you see above, with a 1 representing the first choice on each tier, a 2 for the second choice, etc. I'm open to alternative suggestions, believe me.

So your first tier choice is Presence of Mind, which gives you an instant Arcane Blast every 90 seconds. Second tier brings you Temporal Shield, for the damage healing, but I'm going to go ahead and say this tier is going to have exactly zero bearing on your DPS. I like Temporal Shield for the cast-and-forget nature of the healing and the ability to cast it while otherwise incapacitated.

The third tier choice is Ring of Frost. This is a crowd control tier, and again, your choice here should be motivated by utility needs because the DPS difference between Ring of Frost and, say, Ice Ward, is not a thing that exists. I like Ring of Frost because I feel like the AoE freeze it provides will be more useful in more situations to me personally. Again, this is not a choice that really affects your numbers.

For the fourth tier, the majority of testers appear to be going with Greater Invisibility. This is purely a damage mitigation/surivivability tier, and while your ability to not die directly influences your ability to deal damage, this is not an easy variable to quantify in actual integers. You know, as opposed to make-believe integers. Take what you believe will keep you alive longer on this tier. I prefer Greater Invisibility for its threat control, removal of DoT effects and freedom it provides you to reposition safely when needed.

Fifth, we have Living Bomb. Your choice on this tier actually does affect your DPS but should be more motivated by the number of targets you expect to facing than by your talent spec. Frost Bomb is relatively weak compared to the other choices, and most mages will probably relegate it to a secondary spec that they switch to whenever they face a fight with with more than six DPS targets. It's looking slightly better than the other two bomb spells against large crowds. Living Bomb appears to be the most commonly accepted choice for most fights, performing well against one to six targets. And Nether Tempest does well against single targets but falls behind the larger the enemy force. Living Bomb is just a solid choice for a main spec here, though it is also possible that it can credit its slightly higher numbers to the fact that the mages testing it are already familiar with its mechanics, place in their rotations, and are already skilled at using it. More on this tier in Bombs and Tempests on the Mists beta.

The sixth tier is also a DPS-altering tier, much maligned though it may be. The talents here simply aren't exciting, especially as level 90 capstone talents, but your choice on this tier will absolutely affect your damage output. For arcane, the choice appears to be Rune of Power, which synergizes well with arcane due to providing you a strong platform from which to stand and cast, and also for the powerful mana return's interplay with Mana Adept. On fights where you can maximize its potential, Rune of Power simply allows your mana bar to stay more full without sacrificing your rotation.

Arcane in Mists is still not a particularly mobile spec, and Rune of Power is best when you can stand and cast. For fights requiring more spontaneous movement more often, where you can't plan for spots to stand and cast for long periods, you may want to go a different route on this tier. More on this tier can be found in Weighing the level 90 mage talents.


Here's the currently trending top fire spec:

Fire 1/2/2/2/2/1

Fire is lagging just a bit behind the other two specs right now on the beta, for whatever that information is worth at this stage. And again, when I say "just a bit," I'm actually saying "not nearly enough to get worried about." Seriously, the gap is minimal.

The differences here include taking Blazing Speed instead of Temporal Shield as your damage mitigation/escape talent on tier two, Ice Ward as your CC talent on tier three, and Cauterize as your survivability talent on tier four. How do these choices affect your DPS? They don't. Take what works best for you on those three middle tiers.

The only three DPS-altering tiers for all three specs are tiers 1, 5, and 6. Tier 1's choice for fire appears to still be Presence of Mind, for the instant Pyroblasts and whatnot. Tier 5's AoE choice is still Living Bomb, because it is Living Bomb and you are a fire mage. And tier 6 goes with Invocation. Fire doesn't have a ton of mana issues, and so fire mages can rely on Invocation mostly for the spellpower, using it as a regular part of the rotation to keep the spell power buff up as much as possible.


Frost 1/3/3/3/1/3

Frost's top spec takes Presence of Mind again, because instant Frostfire Bolts are awesome. And in the middle tiers, the utility talent choices all fall in line with the traditional frost spells, Ice Barrier, Frostjaw, and Cold Snap.

On the fifth and sixth tier, the choices are Nether Tempest and Incanter's Ward. Tempest performs well against single targets and double targets, but you may want to go a different route in multi-target situations. And Incanter's Ward is still what I believe to be the most consistently useful of the tier 6 talents. Frost mages are still a bit more durable than their counterparts, making a talent that works best when the mage is taking some damage a good fit for them.

So those three builds appear to be slightly better than others going into the new expansion. But again, there simply isn't a significant difference between the top arcane spec and the bottom one or between the top arcane spec and the top fire spec. In the end, your talent choices won't cripple your mage's DPS, but they won't elevate you to the top of the charts either. Spec in the way that works best for your mage, your playstyle, the mechanics of the fight, and the needs of your group.

Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Start out with our recent beginner's guide to being a mage, then check out our three-part State of the Mage columns on arcane, fire and frost. Don't forget to look at some of the addons your mage should probably be using.

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