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Cataclysm Class Changes: Mage Analysis

Man, you go out of town for a few days and look what happens: Mages get Bloodlust and a warlock adulterates the mage column. Remind me never to do that again.

We'll look at the Cataclysm class preview in more detail in the coming weeks in warlock-free (I promise) verisons of Arcane Brilliance, but for now, let me unload some of my initial reactions on you.

New spells

Three spells were announced, and only one is a mechanic we're really familiar with.

Time Warp, which enters our arsenal at level 83, appears to be akin to what is arguably the single best raid buff in the game: Bloodlust/Heroism. One key difference exists, though, and that is that Time Warp will also turn mages, briefly, into rogues. Rogues in silly dresses. I really, really hope that this speed increase:
  1. is significant enough to make mages into truly mobile casters, both in PvP and PvE. I don't want a rehash of Blazing Speed, which was a fun mechanic that simply wasn't powerful enough,
  2. doesn't share a cooldown with Icy Veins (or whatever that talent's Cataclysm equivalent ends up being), or better yet, stacks with it, so as not to render that beloved spell redundant,
  3. and lasts long enough that it's worth blowing the cooldown either during the burndown phase of a fight (if somebody else isn't already using Heroism/Bloodlust) or during a high-mobility phase of a fight, simply for the haste bonus.
I'm incredibly excited about this spell, because of the three new ones, it's the only one we can safely say (with what we know now) will actually be awesome. We already know this spell's core mechanic works, and if the movement speed increase is worthwhile, this could truly be the defining spell of the expansion for mages.

Flame Orb will be our first new spell, learned at level 81, and is an undeniably intriguing concept. New mechanics are always chancy propositions, and this one seems exceptionally difficult to balance. A powerful DPS spell that's tuned for single-target damage, but can also damage multiple targets if aimed properly? That seems easily exploited. If Blizzard's stated aim is to make the spell a useful part of the rotation on bosses, how can it possibly do AoE damage as well? Imagine that Arcane Explosion did as much single target damage as Arcane Blast. That kind of spell simply couldn't exist within the current framework of WoW. Still, just like on that glorious island that provides the main setting for Lost, every parcel of info we get only brings more mysteries. There is so very much we don't know. A sampling of burning questions:
  • What kind of mana cost/cast time/cooldown will this spell have?
  • If it is tuned for single target damage (as Blizzard claims), will it be a useful part of the rotation for all mages? Or just a specifically talented fire mage? Or not at all?
  • The preview states that the spell will damage passing targets. How much range will it have? Is this something that if dispatched down a hallway (or, say, through a hole in the wall in Wintergrasp) will do damage to everything standing therein? I'm eagerly awaiting more specifics on the actual area the orb will affect.
This is a brave new mechanic, and if done well, could provide a truly unique mage ability for us early in the new expansion.

Wall of Fog, at first glance, screams PvP ability. It's going to lay down a 30 yard field of control for the mage, snaring and doing damage. An AoE snare that lasts 10 seconds, is not broken by damage, and does damage? Yes please. Some big questions occur to me here:
  • What kind of damage? Are we talking Blast Wave? Or Frost Nova?
  • Is this wall something enemies will need to move out of ASAP? Will the damage tick while they remain inside the wall? Does the snare refresh?
  • How long does the snare last once enemies pass through the wall?
  • Will this wall of fog make my graphics card chug and hum like a 1979 Pinto with 200,000 miles on it like it does when Skadi's stupid dragon deploys its foggy breath attacks?
I imagine this spell being put to great use in both arenas and battlegrounds, and I can picture a number of valid PvE uses as well. Let's hope the spell makes it through testing in some still-useful form.

Ability/Talent/Mechanics changes

I have some assorted thoughts here, and I intend to present them to you in no particular order:
  • I'm in favor of our spellbook being pruned a bit. Bon voyage, Amplify Magic. I forgot you were around, but I'm sure somebody will miss you. The Ward spells were marginally more useful, but only situationally so. I assume the meager protection they provided will be replaced in some fashion by more generally useful spells.
  • Will my new proc-based Arcane Missiles still be speedy and cool like it is when Missile Barrage procs now?
  • So...now every mage--fire, frost, frostfire, arfrostfirecane--will want to find room for Arcane Missiles on their action bars. Right?
  • The Scorch change looks like it will absolutely make Scorch a more regular part of a fire mage's rotation, though I'm very curious to see how it meshes with the other spells in that rotation. At what point will it become more valuable to insert another Scorch, and its attendant buffs, into the rotation instead of continuing to spam Fireball? Will it be a stacking buff, or will it simply be a one-time thing you only cast when the buff timer is about to run out? Will Scorch do enough damage on its own to warrant a cast that isn't expressly a buff-refresher?
  • So Burnout is Life Tap now? I really hope this doesn't end up how it sounds. I guess the key difference will be the fact that it doesn't start to use health as a spellcasting resource until the fire mage has already run out of mana. At least we'll have a lot more stamina in Cataclysm than we do now...
  • I can't wrap my head around the Arcane Focus thing. Somebody please explain it to me in such a way that makes it sound rational. The way it sounds now, I have visions of arcane mages actively avoiding hit rating so that more of their spells miss and thus return more mana. That sounds terrible. And stupid.
Mastery

This section of the preview, I feel, is the single best indicator we have of the role of each tree in Cataclysm.

Arcane will be a mana-based tree. The more mana you have, the more damage you do. This, essentially, means that every spell cast lowers the damage of the following spell? I guess? I'm concerned, but I cling to the idea that we still know so very little. The class revamp, at this point, seems like it will be so total, so all-encompassing, that it's likely futile to draw even the simplest of conclusions from our current frame of reference.

It sounds like the going concept here will be that a good arcane mage will deftly juggle his spell rotation with mana-returning mechanics, so that his mana pool never goes too low, and his damage fluctuates but stays comparatively high. I'm not inclined to prophesy gloom or doom, but holy crap does that sound crazy hard to balance. Good luck with that, Blizzard.

Fire, on the other hand, sounds far more straightforward. Fire mages will be warlocks. They will have DoTs and Life Tap.

Yucko.

Now, certainly, there will be a number of unique qualities that set fire mages apart from their ancient foes. But I think the comparison is fair. Fire mages are getting a number of decidedly warlockian qualities in Cataclysm, and that particular slippery slope is one I think we'd all like to steer well clear of.

I'm not diametrically opposed to DoTs. The idea of health as an extension to your mana pool isn't one I am automatically set against. In fact, I've already more than embraced the concept of frost mages as a pet class. The problem I have is not with each specific warlockish change, its with the trend as a whole. I don't mind the occasional area in which warlocks and mages overlap. I just worry that eventually, warlocks will learn to change mobs into little demonic sheep, and water elementals will start to look like evil, whip-wielding devil-whores, only blue. Keep our class flavors unique, please. Because nobody wants to taste like a warlock.

Nobody.

Frost is still largely an unknown. We know that Deathfrost will encourage the use of other spells and discourage the straight spamming of Frostbolt, which is a welcome change. But we're given no other real hint as to which direction the tree will be taking in the coming expansion. Will it remain the PvP tree? I assume so, but the real question is whether Blizzard intends to use this class reset to continue trying to make the tree PvE viable.

Deathfrost doesn't promise to increase frost's overall damage output (which is what the tree needs), but only seems designed to increase the variety of spells the spec will wish to use in its rotation. More decisions to make--more options to choose from, more general interactivity--means more fun, in my opinion, but doesn't necessarily mean more DPS.

Frost in particular seems comparatively under-represented in this preview, so I have to believe a lot more information is coming down the pipe as the testing process progresses. Let's hope it's information of the high-damage variety.

Keep an eye out for more analysis in upcoming editions of Arcane Brilliance, fellow mages. We have a lot more to discuss, and the proverbial surface of this glut of new info has really only been scratched. Oh, and in case you were wondering if the fact that Dominic Hobbs, our resident warlock, was allowed to fill in for me during my absence this week means that I will perhaps be presented with the opportunity to return the favor in an upcoming Blood Pact, I have an answer for you:

Yes.


World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will destroy Azeroth as we know it. Nothing will be the same. In WoW.com's Guide to Cataclysm you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion. From Goblins and Worgens to Mastery and Guild changes, it's all there for your cataclysmic enjoyment.

Filed under: Mage, Analysis / Opinion, Cataclysm

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