OK, I'm not going to sit here and pretend mages are terrible. I'll leave that to the official forums. The honest truth is that we're a more than capable DPS class, with two currently mediocre specs (one of which is making some substantial strides on the PTR) and one fairly spectacular one. We have one dominant PvP spec, and two others that can kind of hold their own if you don't look too closely at them. In this game, that's pretty much par for the class-balance course.
So I'm not saying the end is nigh, Blizzard is the root of all evil, time to re-roll a death knight, I'm canceling my subscription and buying Rift, or anything else equally ridiculous. And I'm not going to spend a thousand words complaining about stupid things. We have it pretty good, all things considered, and I'm simply not jaded enough yet to ignore that fact.
But the fact remains that the mage class has been pretty damn stagnant for some time now. We've now gone through two straight expansions with no discernible face-lift to speak of, while other classes have undergone some fairly seismic reboots. For the most part, that's not a bad thing. It means we're doing okay, or at least the class design team feels like we are. I tend to agree, but there are still a few nagging problems with our class that I feel need to be addressed. When the status quo has flaws -- even if those flaws are comparatively minor -- then maybe the status quo simply isn't good enough.
So in that spirit, I'm going to list a few things that need to be changed, and provide my own suggestions for how I'd like to see them changed. I'm not going to just throw around patent impossibilities, like what if mages could cast a Pyroblast backwards and have it rez a party member! Whoooooo!
No, these are things I've thought about for some time, and though I know that in the end, this column amounts to nothing more than a glorified wishlist, I'm OK with that. Sometimes wishlists are fun, and I'm interested to see what you all have on your own wishlists.
I'll cover all three specs in the coming weeks. The columns likely won't be concurrent, but I'll try to get them all out in a reasonable amount of time. We'll begin this week with the spec that is lately getting the most attention on the PTR: arcane.
Addressing the arcane problem
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm beyond excited about the straightforward buffs arcane is getting in patch 4.1. Arcane needed some extra numbers in order to compete with fire, and it looks like that's the direction we're moving. A pure DPS class needs at least two competitive PvE specs (though there's absolutely no good reason why we don't have three), and it looks like Blizzard has pegged arcane as our second one.
But the issue most people have with arcane isn't so much the DPS woes it has had of late. The problem, really is that the spec is by and large a one-button spec. The only reason to cast anything other than Arcane Blast in a normal DPS rotation is to avoid running out of mana. Now, I personally find the playstyle to still be a lot of fun. I think it requires a firm awareness of your own limitations, your changing surroundings and current situation, and a keen and alert sense of the best times to use each of your mana return/conservation abilities.
But one button? Really? This can easily be rectified. The key spell is already in place. It just needs to be tweaked.
Arcane Blast Missiles
Is there a reason why Arcane Missiles no longer benefits from the Arcane Blast debuff? It's probably the iconic arcane mage spell. When people think of arcane, they think of those cool gatling gun missiles firing out like they're being expelled from the oversized shoulders of some kind of giant mech fighting off a monstrous phallic metaphor monster that's threatening earth or a chick with blue hair or something. The spell effect is awesome. In the last expansion, it was the secret reason a lot of mages switched to arcane. Now Arcane Missiles has one purpose: resetting your Arcane Blast stack to save mana. And that, I think we can all agree, is pretty lame.
I have some combination of three solutions here. For starters, would it be so bad to just put Arcane Missiles back on the Arcane Blast debuff? Suddenly the spell becomes a useful part of the rotation. Tweak the damage so that using it still isn't anything near the level, damage-wise, of another full power Arcane Blast, preserving the mana-management meta-game. There's nothing less fun, though, than hitting your Arcane Missiles button, watching that awesome spell animation, and knowing that it has done no real damage. You've done the 2011 version of switching to your wand for 5 seconds to trigger your out-of-combat mana regen. It's weak, and stupid.
Arcane Multishot Missiles
The other change is less likely, but doubly fun. I'd like to see Arcane Missiles changed to hit multiple targets. The mechanic is already in the game in the form of abilities like Multishot. Arcane Missiles, with its missile salvo appearance, seems like a prime candidate for this kind of ranged AoE. It could hit 2-3 additional targets, doesn't need to do a ton more damage to be worth casting, and would allow mages to have a way to contribute in multi-target fights. Arcane Explosion still has its place when the targets are more numerous, but in 3-4 target fights, Arcane Missiles suddenly becomes a DPS increase whenever it procs.
Arcane Scorch Firestarter Missiles
The last -- and least likely -- suggestion I have involves altering the mechanics of Arcane Missiles to allow it to be cast on the move, like Scorch coupled with Firestarter. Yes, I want Arcane Missiles to become the game's first moving channeled spell.
This addresses one of the major issues with the spec: its lack of mobility. Currently the only spell arcane mages have to cast on the move is Arcane Barrage every four seconds. That's not good enough. With this change, you could also fire off a strafing Arcane Missiles in between Barrages. Not every time, but at least you'd have a chance to see it proc when you're running from spot to spot, desperately watching the seconds tick down on your Barrage cooldown. Would this be overpowered in PvP? Really? Is arcane becoming more mobile going to be a threat to anybody's arena comp? I'm pretty sure the answer to those questions is "duh."
So in my dream world, Arcane Missiles goes from being a mana conservation ability to being a spell that does good damage, hits multiple targets, and can be cast on the move. Perfectly doable.
I guess the upshot of all this is that I miss Arcane Missiles. To me, the single most efficient way to improve the arcane spec is to make Arcane Missiles awesome again. There are a lot of directions the class designers can go here, and frankly I'm not that picky about which direction(s) they choose, as long as the eventual destination is Awesometown.
So that's my arcane mage fan fiction. I want to fire out an unending salvo of machine-gun missiles at multiple warlocks while strafing behind cover. I don't think that's too much to ask. What are your ideas, guys?
Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent Cataclysm 101 guide for new mages or our mage Thanksgiving spectacular. Until next week, keep the mage-train a-rollin'.