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Cataclysm Beta: Mage talents and specializations

Let me begin by telling you I had an Arcane Brilliance column about halfway done last week before a family health emergency intervened, preventing me from finishing it. The column was going to be all about predicting what the new revamped talent trees were going to be like. Now that Cataclysm beta build 12479 has dropped upon us like manna in the desert, the entirety of that now-ancient text is so outdated as to be worthless. Let me assure you that it was witty, and brilliant, and possibly mankind's greatest written work -- art of such singular value that small children would have been taught of it from textbooks with my picture upon their covers. But, alas, now it is gone, relegated forever to a remote corner of my hard drive, never to be seen by human eyes. The literary world mourns.

Still, I was able to salvage one small fragment of it. It is but one of a batch of haiku I wrote about Improved Polymorph. I will reprint it here, because whatever else this monumental beta build has altered, my passion for this new talent remains.

improved polymorph
flaming warlock sheep corpses
snuffleupagus

On second thought, perhaps it's best that no more of that sees the light of day.

Anyway, let's move on the rest of the awesomeness.

OK, a couple of brief disclaimers.
  1. This is the first pass at these new talent trees. They are quite unfinished and will change significantly throughout the beta cycle.
  2. Mages (and especially the arcane tree) are particularly unfinished. Some classes have a more accurate look at their new trees and specializations; mages do not.
  3. Do not panic, burn Ghostcrawler dolls in effigy, take up pitchforks and/or torches, or send anything potentially volatile to any class developers. Nothing you see here or elsewhere on the interwebs is even remotely close to being final. Relax.

Specializations


These are the primary skills you learn at level 10, when you select your talent tree. In case you haven't been following the change, go read this. It'll bring you up to speed. Back? Fantastic.

So basically, at level 10 you still select your first talent, but in doing so, you also choose your primary talent tree and will be unable to put any talent points anywhere else for the next 60 levels. In addition, when you select your tree, you will be given a few abilities that immediately give you access to some of the awesome things associated with that tree. The plan is to make you instantly feel like a fire mage, if a fire mage is what you'd prefer to feel like. Here's how the specialization bonuses look after this first pass:

Arcane
Fire Frost So that sounds pretty awesome.

Arcane mages get one of the coolest arcane spells, previously the arcane tree cap talent, at level 10. I just want you to spend a moment thinking about how awesome it would have been to level an arcane mage with an instant nuke on a three-second cooldown, as opposed to now, where leveling an arcane mage feels like something child molesters spend eternity doing in the deepest pit of hell. I'd like to see Arcane Blast given out bit earlier, because the arcane playstyle is so dependent upon the mechanics of that spell, but Arcane Barrage is great too.

Fire mages begin with two signature fire abilities: Pyroblast and Molten Armor. This immediately gives a fire mage a distinct flavor. Massive fire balls and flimsy, damaging armor? Not shabby for a first try, Blizzard. Also, not having to spend a talent point on an ability that so many later fire talents depend upon is a welcome change. Still, I have to wonder if this means arcane mages and frost mages can't learn Molten Armor? If that's the case, why aren't arcane and frost learning their armor spells as well? Will those spells already have been made available to them prior to level 10? I shudder to imagine those first 10 levels without Frost Armor ...

Frost is officially a pet class. We'll learn to summon our water elementals at level 10 and never be alone again. Except when we get jumped by 16 murlocs and leave our big blue buddy behind to die in our place while we run, screaming, for a safe place to change our soiled skirts. The beta tooltip for this still lists a 45-second expiration on the elemental, so I have to wonder if the pet will still require a glyph slot to make permanent. I would hope not. I'd like to see that glyph excised completely from the game. If water elementals are now going to be an essential part of the frost mage leveling experience, I'm not sure it makes any sense at all for them to be of limited duration.

All three trees get passive increased damage to spells from their school of magic, which is logical. I'd like to see frost and arcane both get one more ability at 10, possibly their armor spells (or maybe a more powerful, exclusive version of those spells, if they're going to be available to all mages). I feel, though, that Blizzard is on the right track with these specialty bonuses. They immediately give a strong sense of uniqueness -- a very distinct flavor -- to the mage who chooses them at level 10 and should make the early leveling process far more pleasant.

31-Point talent trees

So much is left unfinished about these trees, it's quite difficult to view them as anything other than a very preliminary preview of what's to come. Still, there's a treasure trove of speculative information to be gleaned here. Go take a look. Browse. Peruse. Then come back, and we'll talk a bit.

Here's what I'm seeing at first glance:
  • We're down to between 19 and 20 distinct talents per tree. Arcane has 20; the other two have 19.
  • There are 40-41 talent points total per tree. Again, arcane has the most, at 41, while the other two trees clock in at 40 each. That means that should you choose to do so, you could very well get every talent in your chosen tree (since you'll have 41 talent points to spend at level 85), though it looks to me as if doing that would be a very bad idea.
  • All talents require between one and three talent points to max out.
  • Many low-tier talents have become high-tier talents and vice versa. For example, Focus Magic is now very deep in the arcane tree, while Torment the Weak has become a first-tier talent. This dramatically alters the landscape of what you will be diving into the other trees for, after reaching that level 70 threshold.
  • A great number of the more passive or boring talents have been removed entirely (Student of the Mind, we hardly knew ye), with which I have zero issues.
  • While we have significantly fewer talents to deal with, many of them are simply amalgamations of older talents, stripped to their basic components and then smooshed back together into one uber-talent monstrosity. See Ice Shards. I can't find a good link for it as it exists in the current beta build, so check the talent trees again; the same applies for most of the talents you'll see mentioned below.
Other interesting things of note, organized by tree:

Arcane
  • Arcane Repulsion now only works when you have Mage Armor up, making Mage Armor your PvP armor of choice if you're an arcane mage (and maybe even if you aren't).
  • Netherwind Presence is a first-tier talent? Holy crap. Unless fire mages and frost mages both hate haste for some reason in the expansion, why wouldn't every mage ever want to pick this talent up?
  • Improved Arcane Missiles gives two extra missiles? Sweet fancy Moses. I just peed a little.
  • Improved Polymorph, while still being awesome, is now completely different. Instead of being able to queue up damage for three seconds on a polymorphed target, you now stun them for three seconds when you do damage to them. Please, please don't let diminishing returns affect this stun. Anyway, so much for my little haiku. The whole of that lost column is now officially obsolete. Oh well, at least I got to type "snuffleupagus."
  • Arcane's cap talent is now Arcane Power. Hmm.
Fire
  • Improved Fire Blast now basically gives Fire Blast the same essential functionality as Arcane Barrage, only with a slightly longer cooldown and no travel time. Glad to see Fire Blast back in the game as a viable spell.
  • Both Master of Elements and Incineration look like potential secondary tree destinations for my talent points.
  • Molten Shields looks like a colossal waste of talent points, a rarity in these new trees.
  • Pyromaniac is massively altered, making it almost mandatory that fire mages be attacking multiple targets in fights where doing so is possible.
  • The new Combustion deserves its own column, really. I'm dying for more beta data (ha!) on this, so any of you who have wisdom to dispense, please do so in the comments below.
Frost
  • Um. Shatter. Drool. For just about everybody, this is going to give you a more than 100% chance at a crit against frozen targets. We're going to need some theorycrafting once everything solidifies to determine the exact point at which frost mages don't need any more crit, ever.
  • Ice Shards is now Improved Blizzard, so don't worry, guys. AoE Blizzard farming is still on the table.
  • Frostfire Orb! Whoo! Frostfire Bolt isn't going to be totally useless!
  • See also: Brain Freeze. I'm very interested to see if a viable Frostfire spec emerges, despite the hybrid spec limitations inherent in the new talent system.
So ... a lot to take in. I'm still absorbing things, and can't wait until the next beta build throws me for yet another massive loop. What do you think, guys? Barring a meteor strike or biblical plague, I'll be back on Saturday with more analysis/wild speculation. See you then!

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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