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Arcane Brilliance: Catching up on mage Cataclysm changes

Each week, Arcane Brilliance steps out of a portal from parts unknown, bringing with it a knapsack full of delicious mage content conjured expressly for your consumption. Try not to overconsume, though. Nothing's worse than waking up one morning to discover your robes don't fit and your fingers are too chubby to waggle your wand properly.

And after that culinary intro joke, it's time we got to the meat of the matter -- specifically, the Cataclysm beta and the constant mage changes going on therein. Each week (and sometimes more than once during each week), a new beta build hits that brings more new stuff for mages. Sometimes these changes are big, and sometimes they're not, but I feel like it's high time we spent a column talking about the more recent ones. I've let like five builds go by without dealing specifically with this stuff, so we'd better get going.

I figure we'll start with the most important change and move forward from there.

The Brilliance is back

It was gone for a while there, but now it's back, baby. With the consolidation of single-target and raid-wide buffs that Cataclysm's bringing, we no longer needed two separate buffs. We lost Arcane Brilliance, and its effect was rolled into Arcane Intellect. All fine and good, except "Intellect" is just a wimpier word than "Brilliance." Any 7th grade English teacher will tell you that. Also -- and I think we can all agree that this is the more pressing issue -- the name of the column is "Arcane Brilliance," not "Arcane Intellect." The mage community was justifiably ambivalent outraged. Torches were set alight, pitchforks procured and held aloft.

Well, the latest beta build has finally righted this grievous wrong. The name of the spell has been changed. Henceforth and hopefully forever more, the signature mage buff will be known as "Arcane Brilliance." And there was much rejoicing.

The new Arcane Blast

The past few builds have significantly altered the arcane tree's major nuke in a couple of different ways. The base damage has been increased a bunch; the stacking damage increase has gone from 15 percent per cast to 20 percent, but the buff now only applies to Arcane Blast itself; and the mana cost has increased from 7 percent of your base mana to 8 percent.

Does this make the spell more mana-efficient? Yes, but mostly no. The damage has gone up by a far greater percentage than the mana cost has, so the spell's damage-per-mana efficiency is much better. That's good. But the problem is in the size of your mana pool, which hasn't increased at all. You still have the same amount of mana to work with, but your main damage spell now costs more to cast, meaning no matter how much damage per mana it now does, you're going to run out of mana faster by casting it than you currently do.

The intent here is that Arcane Blast be arcane's most powerful spell by a large margin. Arcane Blast spam is going to be your highest damage rotation, but it'll also be completely unsustainable. This all plays into the whole Mana Adept, mana management metagame the developers have laid out for arcane mages. You'll have to balance your Arcane Blast spam very carefully with your free but weaker Arcane Missiles procs, keeping a very close eye on all of your mana return cooldowns. It isn't necessarily bad, but the spec definitely demands you pay some attention to what you're doing. You can't just memorize an optimal sequence of button presses anymore and call it good. Your optimal rotation will be dictated by the mechanics of each encounter and your own ability to adjust and react on the fly. Of all the mage specs in Cataclysm, I believe arcane, by far, will require the most skill to master.

Changes to Arcane Missiles and Arcane Explosion

Several other parts of the arcane tree have undergone some significant tweaks in recent builds. Arcane Missiles has become quicker, unloading its salvo over 2.25 seconds instead of 3 seconds. To balance this, the base damage of the spell has also gone down. This is a spell you'll want to cast most of the time when it's up, mostly because it is free, not because it is powerful. It's a way to continue to put out solid DPS when your mana situation demands restraint instead of all-out Arcane Blast spam.

Arcane Explosion has been improved, perhaps in response to all the concerns many beta testers have been expressing over the lack of AoE options for the tree. The mana cost for the spell has gone down from 22 percent of your base mana to 18 percent, making the spell a good chunk less expensive, a problem Arcane Explosion has had since the dawn of time. We've also gotten a new talent called Improved Arcane Explosion. It's a fourth-tier arcane talent that you can choose to put two talent points into. If you do, your Arcane Explosions from then on will be pretty awesome, actually. It reduces the global cooldown on the spell by .5 seconds and the threat generated by 80 percent, meaning that not only will you be able to wade into a crowd and spam your AoE spell with lightning speed, there's an 80 percent smaller chance that every mob you hit with it will suddenly realize there's a gnome in a dress running amok among them who needs to be eaten. It's not perfect, but it's a good start toward giving arcane a viable AoE option.

Ring of Frost

I hope you weren't too awfully attached to Curtain of Frost. It's not a curtain at all anymore, in fact. It's a ring. There is still frost involved, though, so that's nice.

You cast the spell on a targeted area, and instead of having a cast time, it now takes 3 seconds to "coalesce." It does nothing until that 3 seconds is up, and then after that, it freezes anybody who enters it for a full 10 seconds. It doesn't slow them, and it no longer does any damage. It freezes them, as in frozen. Solid. So instead of being an AoE snare option for frost mages, this is now an AoE crowd control option on a 2-minute cooldown. The effect lasts 12 seconds and still has a 10-yard radius, so you'll want to use it pretty much any time you think you might have mobs you'd like to control, and you have a good idea they'll running through a specific area no less than 3 seconds from now, but no more than 12. So ... yeah.

And yes, the affected mobs/opposing players you catch in your little frost trap will count as frozen for the purposes of every frost talent that takes frozen status into account, meaning not only are you controlling those who stumble through it, you're also setting them up for some sweet burst damage. I'm anticipating some pretty spiffy uses for this as a defensive ability in PvP, with the frost mage casting the spell around himself and daring melee to come closer. Or in PvE, where he can cast the spell in the area of the tank to help control every mob around him at once and set them up as DPS targets.

Combustion revamped

Here's what this spell does now:

Say you're a fire mage. Say you're flinging flaming balls of death at a warlock with the intent to blow that warlock into tiny warlock giblets. Say you've got a Pyroblast DoT, a Living Bomb DoT, and an Ignite DoT working on the warlock right now. You cast Combustion.

Right off the bat, Combustion does a bunch of instant damage. It also combines all of those existing DoTs into one uber-DoT, doing the same total amount of damage all of those other DoTs are doing over the next 10 seconds. It does this without consuming your previous DoTs. Those DoTs are still on him. The uber-DoT is a new DoT, burning simultaneously to your previously existing DoTs. How many times can I say "DoT" in one column? Let's find out!

To recap:

You've got your Pyroblast/Living Bomb/Ignite DoTs. You've got your instant Combustion damage. You've got your Combustion uber-DoT. You've got a warlock on fire. Also, and I forgot to mention this earlier, but you've also got an Impact proc in your pocket, literally burning a hole in it. You smack the already burning warlock with a Fire Blast, doing instant damage, stunning him for 2 seconds and spreading all of those DoTs (including the Combustion uber-DoT) to the warlock's friends felhound.

I love the fire tree, guys. I really do.

Start flexing your portal-summoning fingers now

Trust me. One of the more recent beta builds removed the portal hubs from Dalaran and Shattrath. I guess Blizzard means for people to actually have to spend time exploring the new Azeroth instead of simply portal-hopping around it the way they do now, but what it's actually done is turned mages back into portal monkeys.

Let me put this out there right now:

The first guy who whispers me asking for a portal, making me take time out of my day to invite him to my party and get together with him, then just hops into the portal I summoned with my own mana pool, my own purchased reagent and my own 10-second cast time ... that guy gets a Fireball right in the teeth. I'm not talking about in the game, either. I will go to that guy's house, I will knock on his door, and when he answers it, the force of my hate will allow me to spontaneously gain magical abilities in real life, and I will conjure a ball of flame from the air around me and I will hurl that ball of flame into his stupid face.

Don't be that guy.

Other stuff

This is by no means all of the changes. Some other significant changes:
  • Living Bomb can now only be applied to three targets at once, which sucks.
  • The base damage of almost every damage spell we have has been improved, to match the across-the-board changes for every other class.
  • Flame Orb is instant-cast now.
  • Impact resets the cooldown on Fire Blast when it procs.
  • Focus Magic migrated down a couple tiers in the arcane tree, from tier 4 to tier 6.
  • Pyroblast can now proc Hot Streak.
And some other changes I'm probably forgetting. But we can't end without mentioning the most recent and most important change of all. I'm not exaggerating here:

Pyroblast is an awesome spell. I've always been fond of it. It hurls a massive ball of flaming death, does a bunch of crazy damage and applies a solid DoT effect. But ask yourself: What could make this already awesome spell even more awesome?

The answer, of course, is "adding an exclamation point."

So that's what Blizzard has done. We began with a spell name change, and we end with one too. The name of the spell shall forevermore be Pyroblast!, and I think we can all agree that this change alone is worth the money we'll be spending on this expansion.

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 what to expect for mages in patch 4.0.1. Until next week, keep the mage-train a-rollin'.

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

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