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Arcane Brilliance: Great balls of fire

It's time again for Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that asks the question: Which balls are the best? The answer, of course, is also provided by Arcane Brilliance: balls of fire. Balls of fire are the best. Wait, what kind of balls were you thinking about? That's pretty gross. But Arcane Brilliance likes where your head is.

When the Cataclysm class previews were announced by Blizzard lo those many months ago, my initial reactions were a decidedly mixed bag.

Arcane scared the crap out of me. Mana Adept? It took several weeks and many hours of therapy before I could envision any sort of scenario in which that idea didn't sound like a terrible, terrible idea.

Frost struck me as kind of meh. I gradually became more excited after I thought about it for a while, but Deathfrost and Wall of Fog simply weren't all that thrilling as initial concepts.

Fire, on the other hand, sounded awesome.

A giant ball of conjured flame that travels along a set path, sending out tendrils of destruction that incinerate anything in its path? Sexy.

Seriously, there is no boring way to describe that. How do you even show up to magic school if you're an arcane or frost mage after that? You're sitting on the magic monkey bars or whatever having this conversation:

Arcane mage: "Yeah, so we're getting ... um ... something that makes us do more damage when we have full mana, but less when we don't? My mom says it might not be too bad after we get used to it ... "

Frost mage: "Oh yeah? Well we're getting a huge wall of ... fog. Suck on that. Can you say low visibility, bitches?"

Fire mage: "Massive orb of moving tendril-flame. Consumes all it touches."

Seriously, that's the kind of thing that gets you laid in magic school. Chicks dig fiery balls.

So let's spend a few minutes talking about the new and improved fire tree, shall we?

New spell: Flame Orb

If you want a preview of what this spell will be like, go to Icecrown Citadel and fight the Blood Prince Council. Prince Taldaram uses a spell called Conjure Flame. Or, just head over to The Old Kingdom and fight Taldaram there. In either case, he will sometimes cast a spell that sends a giant ball of flame floating toward somebody. That ball of flame sends out tendrils of fire that do AoE damage to anybody near the travel path of the orb and does a large amount of damage to whomever it eventually hits.

Flame Orb, our new fire spell for Cataclysm, is modeled after that boss attack. Learned at level 81 by all mages but presumably improvable through talents by fire mages, Flame Orb will conjure a similar ball of flame that will travel in a straight line, sending out beams of fire that will do damage to any enemy it passes along the way. It will be a cast-and-forget spell and will not require channeling or additional control once it is dispatched. It will deal AoE damage as it travels, but will also be balanced for single target damage. Fire mages will possibly get a talent that causes the orb to explode upon reaching its destination. The spell will not be targeted. It will instead be sent out in a specific direction and will not deviate from its assigned path.

Those are the things we know so far. Here is a list of the things we don't know:
  • Will the spell be instant, or have a cast time?
  • How will a spell that does AoE damage also be balanced for single-target damage? This is the part of the released information that makes the least sense to me. We've never, in the history of this game, had access to a spell that's useful both as an AoE spell and as a PvE-rotation-viable single-target spell, as such a thing would presumably be severaly overpowered in PvP. The closest we've come is probably Living Bomb, but even that is severely limited in its AoE capabilities.
  • Will the spell continue on along its path without interruption no matter what? Will walls interrupt it? Will scoring a direct hit on something along the way cause the spell to cease? My guess is that yes, it will continue even after striking something directly, and no, it will not travel through walls or other obstructions.
  • Will the mana cost be prohibitive in a PvE environment?
  • Will the single-target damage make the spell worth casting in pure single-target fights? I sincerely doubt it, but my fingers are crossed so hard they may never uncross again.
  • Will the spell generate threat the way a normal AoE spell does? Because that's the scariest part of this spell in theory: Sending an uncontrollable ball of AoE death hurtling into a moving pack of mobs, there is simply no way to reliably predict which mobs it will strike and whether or not those mobs are currently being held by the tank. The likelihood of a miscast (or even a well cast) Flame Orb getting me killed seems high.
  • Will the spell function require a second targeting click, or will it simply fire out on a single press, in whatever direction your mage happens to be facing? I'm hoping for a single press, but the extra precision of a second press might be necessary.
  • How fast will the orb travel, and how far will it go?
  • What sort of cooldown will it have?
  • At what rate will the AoE damage tick? As it passes a mob, will that mob be getting hit once, or multiple times?
  • What sort of range will the spell have as it travels? Are we talking about hitting a wide swath of mobs or only those within a few feet of the direct path?
Despite the unknowns -- and you may be able to tell this already -- I'm super-duper excited to see this spell in action. And though it isn't as flashy, I'm also really interested to see how the mastery bonus for the new fire tree works.

Fire mastery: Ignite

This mastery bonus will add a DoT effect to every direct-damage fire spell. Sounds uncomfortably warlockian to me, but if it makes my fires burn hotter and longer, I'm all for it. Here are my questions:
  • How big are the DoTs? Will they be a set base amount, or a scaling percentage of a spell's inflicted damage? Please god, let them scale.
  • How long will the DoTs last?
  • Will each spell apply a unique DoT? For example, if I cast a Fireball, then follow it with a Pyroblast, will the mob now have a Fireball DoT and a Pyroblast DoT on it? Or will there only ever be a single fire mage DoT on a given mob? Please god, let them be unique DoTs.
  • Will each successive cast of a spell overwrite the DoT? Any chance they might stack? My money's on overwrites.
  • Does the fact that this mastery bonus is called Ignite mean that our existing talent called Ignite is going the way of Wand Specialization? I'm thinking the answer to this one is yes.
  • Are the current DoTs applied by Fireball and Pyroblast being replaced by Ignite? I'm also guessing this will be the case.
My hope for this component is that it will add a consistent, dependable DPS increase for a spec that is currently far too RNG-dependent.

Other talent and spell changes
  • Pyromaniac will grant an undetermined amount of haste to the mage when three or more targets are being affected by one of his fire DoTs. No word yet on whether this only applies to DoTs applied by Ignite, or if the DoT from Living Bomb will also apply.
  • Playing With Fire will no longer increase your both your incoming and outgoing spell damage. Instead, it will lower the cooldown on Blast Wave whenever you get hit by a melee attack, making it a potentially indispensable PvP talent. Whenever you get smacked at close range, you'll now have quicker access to Blast Wave's AoE daze mechanic, which should be pretty fantastic, depending of course upon how much the cooldown is actually shortened by.
  • Burnout will allow mages to cast spells using health when they run out of mana. This is potentially huge. It will make stamina a spellcasting stat, instead of just a "not dying" stat. Again, though, I'm not super-thrilled about another excursion into warlock-land. Hurting myself to cast spells? Bleah. Still, I guess we're indirectly getting ourselves killed by our spellcasting all the time. Maybe we hit ourselves in the face with a Pyroblast crit on a mob with spell reflect up, or maybe we were just a little overzealous and pulled aggro on the wrong mob at the wrong time. This will just be a more direct method for us to do damage to ourselves, I guess. I have to admit I'm not opposed to having a second pool of casting resources waiting in the wings when our primary one runs out.
  • Scorch will supposedly also provide a damage bonus to the mage's fire spells, as well as some additional unspecified benefits, effects that can also be increased through talents. This will hopefully provide a reason for fire mages to include Scorch in their regular rotation even if somebody else in the group is already providing the crit buff Improved Scorch applies.
Lower crit rates all around have been promised in the expansion, meaning that hopefully Hot Streak will feel more like a bonus when it's up, rather than a penalty when it isn't. This is the single biggest problem with the Fire tree right now: its reliance on the random number generator. Hopefully this will be alleviated somewhat in Cataclysm, allowing the tree to enjoy the more steady, consistent DPS most other specs do. I've always been fond of the high highs that fire experiences; it's the low lows that ruin it for everybody.

So what do you think, fire mages? Does the potential of this explosive, DoT-heavy new fire tree excite you the way it does me? Or are you already clearing the hard drive space for The Old Republic?

Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent look at how much I hate damage meters or our lengthy series of mage leveling guides. Until next week, keep the mage-train a-rollin'.

Filed under: Mage, Analysis / Opinion, (Mage) Arcane Brilliance

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