How it works
In the most recent beta build, Alter Time is learned at level 87 by all mage specs. It is instant-cast, costs 1% of your base mana, and has a 3-minute cooldown.
When cast, it takes a snapshot of your current status. This includes your health, mana, buffs and debuffs and the time left on each of them, as well as the physical location of your mage. As of this writing, it does not restore cooldowns. It extends the duration of them (if they are in play when the spell is cast) by exactly 6 seconds but does not, say, give you a free Ice Block.
After 6 seconds pass from the moment you hit your Alter Time button, your mage will revert back to the exact status as when that snapshot was taken. Any health or mana lost or gained in the ensuing 6 seconds is restored to you instantly. Any buffs, debuffs, negative or positive, that your mage might have had 6 seconds prior are instantly returned to however many seconds they had left at that moment. And your mage is instantaneously transported to the exact spot when they cast Alter Time, whether that spot be near or far, high or low, within line of sight or well outside it. If you cast the spell before jumping off a ledge, 6 seconds later, you'll find yourself right back up on that same ledge.
... if you're still alive, of course. The spell cannot rez you. Being dead negates your ability to travel through time -- which is the same reason the Terminator had to dress up in Arnold Schwarzeneggar's skin before it could try to kill Sarah Connor.
The spell is currently off the global cooldown, which means it can be macroed to your DPS cooldowns. And though it can't be used to give you an extra Presence of Mind, it does serve two very useful functions.
Get out of jail free card
Because it restores health and mana and returns you to a specific location, this spell becomes incredibly useful in any fight where you know beforehand that a large, hopefully non-lethal amount of damage or a crippling debuff is coming and when. You can click Alter Time in anticipation of the bad times, and 6 seconds later, the good times return.
In PvP, where the incoming bad times are less predictable, this spell becomes a far more chancy escape plan. Yes, it could still function pretty well as a heal or mana return (though the amount of mana you could potentially burn through in only 6 seconds is probably less than you'd get back from using a mana gem), but the location revert could prove to be more of a negative than a positive.
The spell has a pretty distinctive time-travel-y clock spell animation when you trigger it. I just picture the death knights of the world learning to watch for that animation, then making sure they're right back at that spot 6 seconds later, when you poof back into the timestream right into their enormous stabbing implements.
Still, this is in my opinion the spell's most intriguing utility. With clever application, I could see this being a true difference-maker when the circumstances are right.
DPS cooldown extender
But how often, really, will those circumstances line up the way we need them to? In a large majority of PvE encounters, I suspect, the get out of jail free aspect of the spec won't really be worthwhile.
... which is where Alter Time's second application will come into play. To be honest, I foresee this being the spell's chief application for most mages.
Essentially, every 3 minutes, this spell has the ability to add 6 seconds onto the duration of as many DPS cooldowns as you can manage to stack up prior to casting it. This is true not only in some fights but in all fights.
Six seconds every 3 minutes may not seem especially exciting, but it's a substantial DPS boost. Macro the spell to your spec's best DPS cooldown, and your numbers will go up noticeably. The nice part about this aspect of the spell, even if it isn't very sexy, is that it means the spell will always be useful, in every fight, no matter if there aren't any big opportunities to use the spell as a heal, mana return, damage avoider or teleport.
How I'd change it
I'm certainly not the first mage to suggest this, but I wholeheartedly endorse the idea: Instead of a 6-second mandate, how about a 6-second duration during which the mage could press the button again at any point, triggering the conclusion of the spell on his own terms? This would offer more control, more opportunity to max out the spell's effectiveness, and far more PvP utility. It would give that death knight a harder decision to make: Do I wait for him to reappear, or do I follow him?
This doesn't strike me as a particularly game-breaking change, but it would certainly improve the spell for most mages. It's a good spell, but with a just a little more tweaking, it could be great.
What are your thoughts, mages? Does this spell do what you wanted it to do? If not, what would you do to it? Besides, you know, making warlocks disappear like Marty McFly in that Polaroid. And yes, it should totally do that.
Update: As of yesterday's new beta build, this spell has been changed to reflect almost exactly what I suggested above. I know I wasn't the only mage clamoring for this change, but the timing of the change makes it clear: I am a prophet.
Editor's note: This article wins the award for best title of the year.
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.