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Arcane Brilliance: Weighing the level 90 mage talents

Rune of Power
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. This week, we're looking once again at the mage of the future. And just like the mage of the right now, the mage of the future needs two things in abundance: mana and spellpower. Fortunately, the mage of soon™ only has to get to level 90 to get a new way to gain both.

You've traversed the wilds of Pandaria. Your mage has decked himself out in shiny new quest reward greens that are better than the purples he farmed Deathwing for months to collect. You've killed X number of mobs, collected X number of inexplicably difficult-to-locate vital organs from those mobs and returned them to people with increasingly tough-to-reconcile reasons to want said organs, killing a potentially genocidal percentage of the warlock population along the way. Now, you're level 90.

Your reward is two new abilities. One is Alter Time, which we've already discussed at length. The other is entirely up to you. There are three new choices in your talent ladder to select from. They range from a fresh and infinitely more useful version of Mana Shield to a crazily improved buff for Evocation to a rune of wizardly sparklesauce that you place on the ground and then set up shop there, serving up magical deathfire to all customers forevermore, amen.

They sound quite different, but have one thing in common: You press a button, and you get mana and spellpower. I think we can all agree this is a button we want. The question is, which of those three buttons do we want the most? And the next question is, do we want any of them as our capstone talent?

Incanter's Ward

You know how how Mana Shield is a terrible spell that sucks away all your mana in exchange for a tiny bit of damage mitigation, and how you wish you could cast it offensively on that warlock you're trying to kill so you can drain all his mana? Yeah, this spell is not that one.

Incanter's Ward has two components. The first is similar to Mana Shield in that it absorbs incoming damage and turns it into something. But while Mana Shield turns that incoming damage into lost mana and the damp, salty tears of disappointment, Incanter's Ward turns it into instantly restored mana, up to 18% of your max, and straight-up spellpower, up to a 30% boost. You take damage, you get mana and spellpower, and the effect lasts 15 seconds. It's super sexy.

The second component is a passive 8% spellpower and 65% mana regen boost. This bonus goes away when Incanter's Ward is on cooldown. That cooldown is 25 seconds.

So in your basic fight, this talent will almost always be granting you that 8%/65% buff, and whenever you see the threat of/opportunity for incoming damage, you can throw up your Ward, absorb the damage, hope your healer is on the ball to keep you from becoming a steaming puddle of mage on the floor, and get a sweet 15-second 30% spellpower buff and fat chunk of immediate mana return. Once the 15 seconds ends, you have to wait out 10 more seconds of cooldown (give or take, depending on how long it took you after casting the ward to take the full amount of damage, which is 1,374, scaling up with spellpower), and then you get your passive buff back.

Pros: Those buffs are serious business. The 8% passive and 30% occasional spellpower is nothing to sneeze at, and the relatively controllable option to switch between 65% passive regen and a quick 18% instant mana return is pretty great. The slight incoming damage absorption is just gravy, though I imagine most mages will not be thinking "Oh crap, here comes an AoE splash -- I better throw up my shield so I don't die." Rather, I assume takers of this particular talent will be thinking more along the lines of, "Yay, there's some fire on the ground -- I am going to throw up my shield and go stand in it for a couple ticks." The combination of minor passive and situationally controllable major buffs make this a versatile spell. You won't find yourself running into any fights where the talent is useless.

Cons: As a squishy, squishy mage, I've never been much of a fan of anything that requires me to get smacked in my fragile face to be most effective. This spell will have us charging willy-nilly into harm's way just for some happy spellpower time. We'll have to temper our desire for extra DPS (strong) with our desire to not be pulped by Bigmob McNasty's shredcleaver of magekilling (also strong). I suspect that this will prove easier for some of us than others. The other downside is that down period, where we have no major buffs and no passive minor ones either. At max, this will be 10 seconds with no buff at all, though all things considered, that's not a huge amount of downtime, and you can choose when you want to endure it. The trade-off is good.

Invocation

This one's interesting -- and for me, problematic.

Invocation
lowers the cooldown of Evocation from 2 minutes to 10 seconds. Awesome. The trade-off is that it lowers your passive mana regen by 50%. Not awesome. Still, being able to Evocate pretty much constantly should more than balance that out, right? Basically, what we're being given here is the ability to completely control our mana situation, Evocating whenever we damn well feel like it.

The second part of the spell is the spellpower buff. Every time you successfully complete a full 6-second Evocation, you get a 40-second, 25% spellpower boost. As far as anyone can tell, there is no internal cooldown of any kind on this spellpower buff, meaning that in theory, you can immediately reapply it whenever it goes away. In a perfect world, this means you'll be able to stand and cast with that 25% spellpower buff for 40 seconds, then complete an uninterrupted 6-second Evocation to replenish your mana reserves and resume dealing out heaps of magical doom upon your foes. So 40 seconds up, 6 seconds down, and the occasional shortened Evocation thrown in whenever you overdo it and need the extra mana.

Pros: When conditions are ideal, this will be pretty spectacular. That whole 40 seconds up, 6 seconds down thing just sounds powerful. Coupled with the mana pool flexibility we'll get from being able to evocate all over the place with impunity, and this is a very powerful buff on paper.

Cons: The problem, then, is the fact that we don't actually play the game on paper. Those ideal conditions I mentioned above would be every fight where your mage can stand in one spot and cast without ever having to move or ever being interrupted by damage, and those fights do not, as far as I am aware, exist, in the sense of being a thing that is real. The places where the effectiveness of this talent breaks down is any fights where conditions are not ideal, and in my experience, that includes exactly every fight in the game ever. Any interruption of an Evocation, any time where you're forced to move before that 6-second window is over, any time where you get smacked unexpected after 5 seconds of channeling, and you have to either do without the spellpower buff for awhile or spend another 6 seconds not casting to get it back.

This spell forces us into an endless cycle of casting and Evocating, and God help us if that cycle gets screwed up. Even if that cycle is entirely uninterrupted, we're talking about spending 15% of our time not dealing damage at all. There's no way to spin that mechanic that makes it sound fun. This spell has high potential for both success and failure, but I fear the most common outcome will be failure.

Rune of Power

Of all the level 90 mage talents, Rune of Power simply sounds the coolest to me. I get to put a circle of runes on the ground, stand in it, and do wizardly things? Yes. I would like one of those. Possibly two.

You place the rune anywhere on the ground, it takes 1.5 seconds to place, and you can have two runes active at any given time. When standing in our own runes, we gain 100% extra mana regen and 12% spellpower. Though not as large a spellpower buff as the other two spells when those spells are at their best, the uptime for this buff is potentially almost constant. As long as you can find a way to nearly always be casting from one of your two runes, you'll almost never be without your spellpower and mana buffs.

Pros: That 100% mana regen buff is the best mana regen buff available to us of these three talents, by far. A 12% spellpower certainly doesn't sound as good as 25% or 30%, but on the right fights and with the right rune placement, that 12% will be available almost constantly. The only downtime will be either moving between existing runes (when we'll be using a less-than-ideal mobile spell rotation, anyway), or during that 1.5 seconds it'll take us to throw down another rune at our new casting location.

Cons: As with Invocation, this is another spell that forces us to find time to stand still for long periods of time to be effective, The trend for some time now in this game has been for boss fights to require more and more movement. And though we can always move and then recast our rune, there's still that 1.5-second cast time to contend with. I'd like to see the cast time for this spell to be closer to, say, zero. If it were instant, I could see the mechanic being quite tactical, requiring us to plan out good standing cast spots and think through smart rune placement, but also fun, because you can get to your new spot, throw out a quick rune, and get back to being magely. And while that flat 12% buff is potentially consistent, it also means less opportunity for burst damage. How can a talent that sounds so exciting be so boring?

And that's my major issue with all three of these level 90 mage talents, guys. They're nothing much to get very excited about. I like spellpower and mana as much as the next mage, but in the end, they're just numbers. I like numbers, but I like them attached to giant balls of flaming death. Give me my spellpower and mana buffs -- I need those. But tie them to something fun. These spells are great and all, but they're kind of dull and more than a little flawed as mechanics.

So what are your thoughts, mages? Which of the three will you be choosing and why? And what would make these capstone talents better?
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.

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

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