If I could turn back time
Let's start with Alter Time, since it created this furor in the first place. Those who are in favor of keeping Alter Time cite several reasons. It's a complex ability that, when used, must take many factors into account. You have to consider:
- Where you're standing
- Where you'll be standing in a few seconds
- What procs you might have that you'd like more seconds of
- Whether Time Warp or Heroism is about to be used
- Whether the boss or enemies you are fighting are about to use an ability that could render where you're standing a very bad place to be
It's complex. It has the potential to be dangerous and also very rewarding. This is what I like about it. You have to be skilled to know how to use it, and even then you can still goof up. At the same time that I say I like it, I understand why the reasons I like it might be reasons someone else hates it. I don't mind a little bit of risk in exchange for an interesting ability. I like the "Time Lords" flavor that has been added to mages with Alter Time and Time Warp. The two biggest potential issues with Alter Time are its interaction with Time Warp and potentially its situational effects. Regardless of changes that might be made to it going forward, this is something that should be fixed. If you've just hit Alter Time and someone else hits Heroism, you should not lose the buff and gain the requisite debuff.
The other issue is a prominent one for folks who'd like to see Alter Time nixed – the fact that it moves you back to the position you were at before you cast it. It's pretty easy to see how this can be a hazard – you cast Alter Time, a few seconds later the ground where you had been becomes dangerous, and you are popped back into something bad. Of course, you can Blink or Ice Block to get out of the bad unless it's an instant-death sort of bad, but then you've used some defensive cooldowns you wouldn't have otherwise needed to. You can also use a /cancelaura macro to completely shut Alter Time down, in which case it won't teleport you at all (though you also lose its beneficial effects).
You can see why Alter Time is so divisive. Some mages have called for its removal, others for an adjustment to the spell that would make it purely a defensive cooldown that doesn't interact with your buffs (e.g. increase DPS at all). I've seen suggestions that the situational aspect could simply be removed, or a glyph added that lets you choose whether to have it or not. We can all agree that fixing the interaction with Time Warp/Heroism effects is necessary and very desirable for going into WoD, whether the spell is kept or not.
Other spells potentially at risk
It's also important to note that Blizzard hasn't tipped its hand at all with regards to Alter Time or any other mage spells. We don't know whether it's on their list or not. But if not Alter Time, then what? Close examination of the mage toolkit may reveal some bloat, but it's not really that much overall. I counted (as a Fire mage) 39 unique spells in my spellbook. That excludes duplicates such as Polymorphs, and Arcane/Dalaran Brilliance. Of those spells, 23 of them are keybound within easy reach. The most obvious and glaring buttons most mages wouldn't miss are all of the level 90 talents, particularly Rune of Power and Invocation. I would shed no tears over their entire removal. Gut that tier and remake it into something else and that'd be fine by me. It's easy to point to things like Conjure Refreshment, but they've explicitly stated that they're targeting abilities that are often used and part of a primary rotation or priority system. So we can't escape the axe by offering up a sacrificial mana bun.
Another area of confusion we have right now are AoE spells. We have Arcane Explosion, Flamestrike, and Blizzard. For conal spells, we have Cone of Cold and Dragon's Breath -– CoC being a damaging slow, and DB being a damaging disorient. These could be made spec-specific (and add an Arcane version, Nether Vortex or something). As for the other AoEs, call me old school but I liked when my AoE was generally related to the spec. It feels odd to be in melee spamming Arcane Explosion as a fire mage. It feels odd not to use Blizzard as a frost mage. And I still miss Blast Wave, RIP. If there's an area for cleaning up mage spells, I'd put forward the AoE spell group as an obvious choice. Whether it's consolidating or boosting the efficacy of some of these spells or making them spec specific, we probably don't need all of them in every spec.
Bombs don't seem too bad in terms of ability bloat, since you can only have one at a time anyway and you never have to swap them in and out on your bars. Some spells that perform a similar function could also be made spec specific; so Arcane/Fire mages would let go of Ice Lance and Arcane/Frost wouldn't have Fire Blast. For Fire, Inferno Blast has a cooldown so perhaps Ice Lance serves a useful purpose in being an instant cast, occasional use spell with no cooldown. Frostfire Bolt could honestly go and be replaced by either a beefy Frostbolt or a Fireball for Brain Freeze purposes. Elementalist specs were a brief possibility during Wrath but since then Frostfire Bolt has languished as a sort of oddball, slushy spell that's not viable as a primary nuke and only used for Brain Freeze procs. It does have a nice graphic, though.
I've also seen it argued that mages have too many survival cooldowns. To this I say, you can pry my survival cooldowns from my cold, spellcasting hands – as I pop Temporal Shield, Blink, Alter Time, Cauterize/Greater Invisiblity, Ice Block... But it might be a fair point. It probably wouldn't send me into hyperbolic fits of rage if I lost Ice Barrier/Temporal Shield/Flameglow. It might have a greater impact on a PvP mage though, so I don't want to speak for all of you.
By and large, 23 keybound abilities doesn't seem excessive and they all feel like they have a use. Mirror Image adds negligible DPS but its "keeping things from hitting me in the face" component is invaluable. The real crux of the matter is that it's a mage's varied and unique spells that make us such an interesting class. Spellstealing, making ourselves invisible, bending space and time, polymorphing our enemies, encasing ourselves in blocks of ice and freezing other people in place – it all adds up to what we know and love as being a mage.
So it's natural to get defensive when talk turns to taking abilities away that we've grown to love. I'd like to hear your ideas in the comments, because I definitely haven't covered everything. What would you be willing to lose if you had to choose? What do you think is essential to keep? Please keep it polite though, I don't like seeing mages fighting with each other. We're on the same side here, and while there's room for civil debate there's no need to pour gasoline on a fire or stoop to personal attacks. Mages are friends, not warlocks.
Editor's Note: Due to an editing error, the originally published article was lacking several necessary paragraphs. Those paragraphs have been restored.