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Arcane Brilliance: Arcane 101

Welcome to another Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that is the only place I know of where a gnome in a dress with glowing hands hanging out in the middle of the forest isn't so much creepy as it is socially acceptable.

Since I see a growing trend among the other class columnists, and because I crave the approval of my peers, I bring you Arcane 101. This is intended to be a relatively basic overview of the spec; I won't be delving into much in the way of the more complex mechanics here. This will also be a PvE-centric column. We'll revisit arcane PvP at some future point, but sadly not today. So without further ado:

1. What is arcane?

The leftmost of the three mage specs, this tree focuses on magic that is neither fiery nor frosted. It is (for the next five minutes or so, at least) the current single-target pure DPS champ, as far as mage specs go.

2. Arcane Benefits
  • Extremely high damage
  • Simple rotation
  • Low hit cap
  • Provides good raid utility
  • Missile Barrage is awesome
3. Arcane drawbacks
  • Highly dependent on timely procs for mana efficiency
  • Cannot sustain highest DPS rotation
  • Rotation is fairly boring
  • Sub-par AoE


4. Stats to look for

Intellect and stamina will be on just about every item you get, so you don't ever really need to actively seek them out. Spellpower generally will be too, but you can absolutely never have too much spellpower.
  • Spellpower. Point for point, arcane benefits from spellpower more than anything else...by large margin. Other stats may decrease in value as you get more of them, but spellpower is always spellpower. The bottom line is that gaining spellpower will increase your DPS, no matter what.
  • Haste. This decreases the cast time of your spells, which is a good thing because Arcane Blast takes for-freaking-ever to cast, and you have to stand still to cast it. More Arcane Blasts in less time means more mobility, more Missile Barrage procs, faster global cooldowns on all your spells, and less time spent channeling things like Evocation and Arcane Missiles.
  • Crit rating. This increases the percentage chance that your spellcasts will critically strike. Arcane isn't nearly as crit-dependent as other specs, and you will get most of what you need here from the gear you already have.
  • Hit rating. This increases your chance to hit monsters, which is of vital importance when fighting raid bosses, due to the fact that raid bosses are always considered three levels higher than you. It has a hard cap, and is the single most important stat to you until you hit that cap. The cap for arcane, properly talented, is 289. Optimally, you need that number, no more, no less. For more, see this column.
The priority order here is hit (until capped), spellpower (always), haste, and then crit. Intellect is the next most valuable stat, especially given arcane's talents, but again, you will generally have enough of it on your gear already.

5. Stats to avoid

I'm not saying these stats are worthless, just that you shouldn't actively look for them.
  • Spirit. This increases your out-of-combat mana regen rate (which doesn't matter), your in-combat regen rate if you use Mage Armor or have Arcane Meditation, and the crit rating bonus granted by Molten Armor. It's not terrible, but your gear will give you more than enough.
  • Mp5. Not a mage stat. We have no talents that increase it, and more than enough other ways to conserve or regain mana. If your group's pally gives you Blessing of Wisdom instead of Kings, set him on fire politely ask him to reconsider.
6. Typical PvE talent setup

There are a lot of quality arcane specs out there that vary quite substantially. Below is a common cookie-cutter spec. There are multiple ways to tweak it, but I'd advise against putting anything less than 51 points into the arcane tree. Though Arcane Barrage doesn't fit into an optimal arcane rotation, it has a lot of situational uses that would be impossible to replace. No 21 point talent in either of the other trees is worth losing it for.

Arcane 57/3/11

7. Talent overview

Arcane
  • Arcane Subtlety: The point here is solely for the sake of threat reduction, though you can easily justify two if aggro is an issue for you.
  • Arcane Focus: This is mandatory for the hit increase. The mana cost reduction is just gravy.
  • Arcane Stability: Though you can argue for taking a full 5 points here for encounters in which you are likely to get smacked around a bit, generally 3 points is going to be enough. If you're confident in your ability to not get hit, these points can be redistributed elsewhere. Still, nothing hurts like a fully stacked Missile Barrage/Arcane Missiles getting cut down before its time. So young. So full of promise. Such a waste.
  • Arcane Concentration: This is a mana conservation tool (nothing's as delicious as a free 4-stack Arcane Blast), and a substantial DPS increase through Arcane Potency later on.
  • Magic Attunement: The benefit here is the extra range, which is crucial in a large number of encounters.
  • Spell Impact: Flat damage increase to Arcane Blast, my primary nuke? Yes please.
  • Focus Magic: Put this on a holy pally and see if he doesn't subconsciously throw a few more heals your way tha normal. Oh, and the near-constant extra crit you'll be enjoying is nice too.
  • Arcane Meditation: Extra mana regen. If this isn't a problem for you, you can consider placing these points differently.
  • Torment the Weak: In a raid setting, there will always be a slowing effect on your target in one form or another. This talent provides a very significant damage increase for the points.
  • Presence of Mind: For one point, you're getting an instant Arcane Blast often enough to be worthwhile. Also, you have to take this to open up four other talents you want.
  • Arcane Mind: The extra intellect becomes more important later in the tree, and this increase is substantial for the points.
  • Arcane Instability: 3% damage and 3% crit chance? That's a lot of awesome in just 3 talent points.
  • Arcane Potency: This giant 30% crit chance, between PoM uses and Arcane Concentration procs, will pop up regularly.
  • Arcane Empowerment: This talent was never bad, but now it's unmitigated awesome. The fat damage increase to your two primary spells is enough all by itself to make this talent mandatory, but the added raid damage buff on all of your crits sends it to a whole other place. A place where everybody does more damage.
  • Arcane Power: The old, reliable DPS increaser for those burn-down moments when you absolutely must make something dead right frigging now.
  • Arcane Floes: This cuts the downtime on your two major DPS cooldown buttons, but also reduces your Evocation cooldown to a meager two minutes, making you the envy of other mages everywhere.
  • Mind Mastery: This not only provides you with extra spellpower (always a good thing), it allows that bonus spellpower to scale along with your gear as you progress through content.
  • Missile Barrage: Yay.
  • Netherwind Presence: 6% haste is a whole lot, and arcane needs it.
  • Spell Power: That 50% crit damage buff is meaty.
  • Arcane Barrage: This is your tree-capper, and though it only truly shines in PvP, you'll find it invaluable for getting rid of Arcane Blast stacks when Missile Barrage refuses to proc, and in any fight where you have to stay mobile. Plus,it looks pretty.
Fire
  • Incineration: 6% crit chance to your primary nuke. More than worth the 3 point excursion ito the fire tree.
Frost
  • Frostbite: Spoiler alert: this talent isn't the reason you're going into the frost tree. I know. Crazy, right?
  • Ice Floes: This is actually nice for a number of reasons. And that number is two. First, it means you can Ice Block more often, which translates to fewer gruesome painful deaths. Second, it reduces the cooldown of Icy Veins, which is much of the purpose for spending these points in the frost tree anyway.
  • Ice Shards: Wave goodbye to these talent points...you won't be seeing them again. But they have to go somewhere. This is as good a place as any.
  • Precision: Ah, now here's the first reason we detoured into this tree. This, coupled with Arcane Focus, gives you full 6% hit chance purely from talents, which gives arcane the lowest effective hit cap of all mage specs.
  • Icy Veins: And this is the second. Icy Veins will pop up every couple of minutes, and when coupled with Arcane Power provides you with a phenomenal burn-down button. The pure joy you'll feel when you pop this, the Shaman pops Bloodlust, and your Arcane Blasts come out as fast as you can spam them for 20 seconds, is beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.
8. Leveling as arcane

This is a comparatively bad idea until you get to level 64 and finally obtain your spec's primary spell, Arcane Blast. When I die, I will ask Jesus why Blizzard refuses to make this spell available earlier to the spec that relies upon it. Then the good lord will look down upon me and say, "LTP nub." But barring divine wisdom (or a blue post) bestowing upon me the answer, I suppose I will have to settle for my current state of perpetual bafflement.

It's not that arcane mage leveling is terrible, just that you'll have an infinitely easier time of it if you spec frost or fire instead. Arcane's best spells don't come until much later in the game. Does 60+ levels of using untalented Fireball/Frostbolt as your primary DPS spell sound good to you? No? That's cool, you can always spam Arcane Missiles I guess. Because until you hit level 60 and can finally take Arcane Barrage, that's your sole tree-specific damage spell. Have fun with that.

Arcane leveling can be done, but it's simply not a lot of fun for the majority of the game. Switch to it at level 64, though, and you'll have a great time from Outland through Northrend. If you insist upon doing it, then talent your way down the arcane tree first, because you'll want Arcane Barrage as soon as possible, and make certain you fully talent into Arcane Stability right away. You'll want to make sure your Arcane Missiles are uninterruptible ASAP. Prismatic Cloak is another must-have leveling talent. Nothing saves a mage's life like instant Invisibility.

I've recently written an entire series on mage leveling, so visit that if you want a more comprehensive guide.

9. Your basic arcane rotation

Arcane's max DPS rotation is actually pretty simple: spam Arcane Blast forever. This will kill everything. Unfortunately, it will also kill your mana pool. It's an unsustainable rotation.

Your actual rotation should look like this: Arcane Blast x 4-->Missile Barrage+Arcane Missiles-->repeat. Missile Barrage is the key here. If it doesn't proc after 4 Arcane Blasts, you have a choice. You can either get rid of the stack with an Arcane Barrage (also the best choice if you need to move), or cast another Arcane Blast in the hopes of finally proccing Missile Barrage. This can be rough on your mana pool, so you have to choose judiciously based on the current state of your mana and the time left in the encounter.

Use Arcane Power, Icy Veins, and Presence of Mind pretty much every time they're up, and when you run out of mana (which shouldn't be happening very often, if you're being conservative about your Arcane Blast spam and Missile Barrage is proccing at a reasonable rate) Evocate. In fact, if you can, it can pay to time an Evocation along with Icy Veins or a Bloodlust pop by the Shaman.

For AoE: Arcane AoE sucks. I'm not saying, I'm just saying. Your best AoE spell is Arcane Explosion, which requires you to A.) be in the middle of lots of things that like to eat mages, and B.) burn through mana like nobody's business. You're better off standing at range and spamming Blizzard, to be honest. Your AoE DPS is going to suck, but nobody much cares about that. Or at least, nobody who isn't a douche cares about that.

10. Gems

I just wrote a column on this, so go read that for more detail. The TL;DR version is below:
  • Gem for spellpower first, second, third, and always, if you can help it.
  • It's largely a bad idea to gem for intellect, spirit, or crit. You have plenty of all of those stats already.
  • Gemming for haste is defensible, but you're still almost always going to be better off with a spellpower gem in the same slot.
  • Your meta should be the Chaotic Skyflare Diamond.
  • Unless the slot bonus is spellpower, don't worry about matching slot colors. Just gem for spellpower and call it a day.
11. Enchants for endgame

Again, there is a very recent column on this very subject. It lists the best enchants for every slot, plus some low-cost alternatives for those on a budget.

12. Glyphs
  • 1st major slot: Arcane Blast. It's a flat DPS increase, which is always nice in a glyph.
  • 2nd major slot: Arcane Missiles. Another nice DPS increase provided by this one.
  • 3rd major slot: Use this slot to glyph your armor spell of choice. If you need mana, go with Mage Armor. If you don't, go with Molten Armor.
So there you have your basic primer on the wonderful world of arcane mages. If you guys like this kind of thing, I'll move on to doing one on the other mage specs at some future date.

Edit: Oh, and warlocks are dumb.


Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent mage primer for patch 3.3, or our lengthy series of mage leveling guides. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

Filed under: Mage, (Mage) Arcane Brilliance

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