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Arcane Brilliance: A first look at fire mages in Mists of Pandaria

Josh Myers

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. This column is usually brought to you Christian Belt, rumored to be the actual chief sorcerer of King Arthur's court. Unfortunately, Morgan Le Fay seems to have cursed him with her most powerful spell: a full-time job. Resultingly, Senior Understudy and Last Surviving Student Josh Myers is covering his class this week. Arm your spitballs.

I've been a busy bee in the past day I've had Mists of Pandaria beta access. Beyond getting some testing in on the windwalker monk, playing my elemental shaman so I could write this week's Totem Talk, and getting Savior of Azeroth on my main, I spent a hefty amount of the day today playing Magelam on the beta Gilneas server. I've had a love/hate relationship with the fire spec since DS launched, as RNG and I have never been good friends. If we were members of the Dawson's Creek cast, I'd be Pacey Witter and RNG would be every female character he ever encounters. We don't get along. Don't be ashamed if you understood this metaphor; be ashamed of me for writing it.

With that in mind, I went in to test fire out on the PTR. I joined some friends from and a few puggers to try and run the Temple of the Jade Serpent, which we actually streamed from a mistweaver monk's point of view. (Note that the actual temple stream starts at about 43 minutes into the stream, so start there if you want to check it out). We managed to defeat it all, despite what seemed to be a very painful bug that made one boss fight last nearly 15 minutes -- but it gave me some excellent testing time with the fire spec.

Almost immediately, I noticed two things I disliked. First off, it's still incredibly RNG-dependent, as there definitely were minute-long fights with me receiving no Hot Streak procs. Second, there's no more Blast Wave, which makes me incredibly sad. I liked my instant-cast AOE slow, and I will miss it. With those two dislikes out of the way, however, there's a lot more about playing a fire mage in Mists of Pandaria that I do actually enjoy.

What I really enjoyed

First off, I believe I mentioned last week that my absolute favorite mage spec is frost, and if I could play that in PVE full time, I'd probably play my mage all the time. Part of my love for that is Shatter, which is just such a fun ability ... and it's available to every single mage spec in Mists of Pandaria. This means happy fun times of dropping Ring of Frost on a group of adds, hitting one with a Pyroblast, and Combustioning off of that. It's all the fun of PVP fire in a PVE spec, which just made it fun. Of course, it's not going to be at all useful on boss fights, but who cares about those, anyway?

New notification for first crit towards hot streak
For one of the first big changes, Blizzard has made a small change that should improve the quality of life of fire mages everywhere. Hot Streak now has a new, smaller spell animation to signify when you have the first stack of Hot Streak. Due to Inferno Blast's 100% chance to critically hit, you can actually force a Hot Streak proc any time you get your first crit, and you'll know you have by this new notification. I don't know for sure if it will be a DPS increase to force the Hot Streak with Inferno Blast's inferior damage or to just try another nuke cast, but that's something that we'll figure out in time. For now, I'm just glad to see fire getting some nice quality of life changes to make the RNG easier to deal with.

Speaking of Combustion, it happens to be incredibly fun on the beta, mainly because I'm still wearing my full tier 13 set. Due to its now having a 45-second cooldown, a full stack of Stolen Time reduces the cooldown to zero, allowing you to use back to back Combustions, and then do it again 45 seconds later when you stack Stolen Time again. Or, if you're feeling really feisty, you can actually glyph Combustion, giving you a 20-second-long Combustion on a 40-second cooldown, provided you have RNG on your side and can stack Stolen Time up in 20 seconds. Don't count on that, though. Regardless, this is only going to be pertinent for the first level or two of MoP content, but will be fun while it lasts.

More assistance for the RNG-deprived

While I still have issues with fire's overwhelming crit dependence and how much I positively hate the Hot Streak mechanic, there are some positive changes to help with our RNG dependence. First off, Ignite no longer procs off crits; it's just constantly applied every time you hit with one of your casted nukes or Inferno Blast. Inferno Blast is also the MoP answer to Impact, allowing you to spread your DoTs whenever you choose without relying on a proc.

You still will likely fish for Pyroblast crits for Ignite before you use Combustion on a single target, as Combustion's damage takes both your Pyroblast and Ignite damage into account. However, if you have multiple targets, you'll be able to wind up a Pyroblast to get its DoT and Ignite rolling, then Combustion, then spread Combustion with Inferno Blast without needing to try and fish for procs. This will make fire AoE a lot more consistent for fights like heroic Yor'sahj.

New flamestrike spell effect
And since I mentioned AoE and whined about Blast Wave in the same article, it'd be bad form if I didn't talk about one of the cool new changes to fire AoE: Flamestrike. It's very possible that this is a side effect of my playing on a higher graphic setting on beta, but from what I can tell, Flamestrike has a new spell effect, and it looks incredible. And painful. It looks actually harmful to stand in, which is kind of what I expect when I call down a pillar of fire on my enemies.

All in all, fire on the beta is a really enjoyable spec and a real improvement over live. Much as I feel about elemental shaman on the beta, I think Blizzard has done a great job of introducing subtle, good but not groundbreaking modifications. The spec has retained its flavor, and nothing totally game-changing has been added, but a lot of small stuff has been tweaked or changed in a meaningful way.

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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