I started my mage back in The Burning Crusade with the intent of playing arcane. Arcane wasn't really a feasible leveling spec back then, though, and I ended up switching to frost around the time I hit Thousand Needles. The moment I got my first real Shattered Frostbolt off, though, I was hooked. When my mage hit 85 in Cataclysm, all I wanted to do was stay frost. Thankfully, we were into patch 4.2 by this point, and frost was moderately PvE-viable at the time.
When it came time to test the beta version of frost out this week, I had high hopes. Despite my mage being fire for most of DS, frost still feels the most familiar to me, and I was able to slip back into it fairly easily. A lot of the core feeling of the spec remains unchanged, with Frostbolt, Fingers of Frosted Ice Lances, and instant Frostfire Bolts comprising much of your core rotation. There are some real noticeable changes, however, and a lot of them are for the better.
Simple spell changes
The first real big change comes in Deep Freeze, which no longer has any damaging component to targets that are immune to it. Our heaviest hitter has been thoroughly neutered, and with the exception of the rare stun on non-immune adds, it will have little place in PvE. However, I feel like much of Deep Freeze's damage won't be lost. It's simply being rolled into other abilities.
These talents are the bomb
(Boy, that subheader joke was so 1990s.) The level 75 talents Frost Bomb, Living Bomb, and Nether Tempest add a new complexity to frost, as you want to maximize uptime on whichever you choose to use. This is because they are the only way to proc the redesigned Brain Freeze. Frost Bomb gives you a 100% chance on its explosion to proc your instant Frostfire Bolt, while Nether Tempest has a 10% chance per tick (it ticks every second without haste), and Living Bomb has a 25% chance every 3 seconds.
Brain Freeze is very similar at its core to how it is on live; it still allows you to use an instant-cast Frostfire Bolt. Unlike live, it doesn't allow for an instant-cast Fireball, but I think that saw limited usage anyway. Also unlike live, Brain Freeze increases the damage of your next Frostfire Bolt by 25% but no longer allows it to benefit from Fingers of Frost. Your Fingers will be spent entirely on Ice Lance in Mists of Pandaria, which could be a nice change; it was always frustrating to use a FoF charge a second before Brain Freeze procced.
Fingers of Frost has also seen some changes. It now has a 12% chance to proc off Frostbolts and Frostfire Bolts, rather than a 20% chance off offensive chill effects. It also can be procced by Frozen Orb, and Frozen Orb tends to generate stacks very quickly. If you take Scorch, you also can use it to proc Fingers of Frost, but the chance is only 8%. Your Water Elemental's Freeze also generates two stacks. Other than the changes to how it procs, Fingers of Frost is mostly unchanged from live. It still treats your target as frozen for Ice Lance, making Shatters possible. It also still increases your Ice Lance damage by 25%.
Frost is still more fun than anything else
I'm going to save my impressions about changes to frost's AoE capabilities for later, as it's a complex subject. My single-target impression, however, is very positive. With Brain Freeze off Fingers of Frost, Brain Freeze can be used as soon as it procs, unless you're already sitting at your maximum number of Fingers charges. (It can stack to three when glyphed.) You wouldn't want to waste the ability to proc another FoF charge by using Frostfire Bolt at three stacks. This is especially important because Ice Lance is significantly buffed in Mists of Pandaria. It now does quadruple, not double, damage against frozen targets, so it will be your most damaging spell.
Other than that, it's nice to see the addition of the bombs into frost's priority, especially with Deep Freeze gone. It gives us something other than Frostbolt to hit when we don't have procs up. The combination of tracking one DoT, using a primary nuke, and maximizing proc usage makes Mists of Pandaria's frost feel like a more defined and upgraded version of Cataclysm's frost, which it is.
More work to be done
There are some things I'd like to see changed. Mainly, the new frost absolutely needs a visual indicator within the default UI to help signal stacks. While I've relied on Power Auras for this in the past, being on an addon-less beta made me realize how easy it is to lose track of stacks of FoF without outside help. The new glyph that allows us to stack to three Fingers charges helps, but it's still possible to lose track of charge stacks and eat a proc without realizing it.
And, while it may be a pipe dream, I'd love to see a viable frost PVE DPS spec that utilizes a glyphed Frostfire Bolt instead of Frostbolt as the primary nuke. Currently, the glyphed FFB does slightly more damage but also has a longer cast time, and my rudimentary math skills suggested the damage increase isn't enough to make it worth casting over Frostbolt. I'd love to see coefficients tweaked and for that to become viable, as FFB is my favorite mage spell ... but that's just personal preference, and personal preference should not have any bearing on game balance.
Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Start out with our recent beginner's guide to being a mage, then check out our three-part State of the Mage columns on arcane, fire and frost. Don't forget to look at some of the addons your mage should probably be using.