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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Patch 3.0.8, or Blizzard's love letter to Arcane Mages

Each week, Arcane Brilliance gains 5,000 reputation with the Kirin Tor by writing a column about Mages. That's right, I said 5,000. Are you reading this, Kirin Tor? I'm declaring myself exalted. Give me my dagger already, you selfish jerks.

I may have mentioned this before, but I'm an Arcane Mage.

I wasn't always. I spent my initial leveling days as a pure Fire Mage, and loved it. I spent a good chunk of time PvPing as a Frost Mage, and had a glorious time. But now I'm all Arcane, all the time, and I'm as pleased with it as it is possible for an unapologetic cynic like myself to be pleased with a thing.

And so, as you can imagine, I look at the PTR 3.0.8 patch notes as Blizzard's Christmas gift to me personally. It's as if they decided, "yes, we would like to keep taking money from your credit card, Christian, and so make our product better specifically for you." Actually, that's probably exactly what they decided, only substituting the names of every person ever for my own. The difference is that for me specifically, they've actually been successful. Anytime you give me a patch that buffs my spec of choice specifically and also fails to nerf it in any way, your "give him what he wants and he will give us money for it" business model has been successful.

Follow me after the break and we'll discuss what will hereafter be referred to as patch 3.KeepChristianHappy.8 (ok, maybe not...that's incredibly cumbersome), and all that it will change for Mages, especially those of the Arcane persuasion.

Let's start with the most significant change, the one that makes a previously almost useless spell incredibly useful and will fundamentally change Arcane spell rotations and DPS for the better.

  • Arcane Blast: This ability has been significantly changed. Arcane Blast now increases the damage of the next Arcane spell by 15%. However, using Arcane Blast itself does not consume the charge itself. Each time you cast Arcane Blast, the damage of Arcane spells is increased by 15% and the mana cost of Arcane Blast is increased by 200%. This effect stacks up to 3 times and lasts 10 seconds or until any Arcane damage spell except Arcane Blast is cast.

You couldn't see it, but as I typed that, I performed a little happy clap between each word. Also, my wife watched, shook her head sadly, and reconsidered her life-choices.

That's a huge buff, ladies and gentlemen. Currently, Arcane Blast does about the same amount of damage as Arcane Barrage, only it takes three seconds longer to cast and has a massive mana penalty for using it more than once consecutively. It's a pretty useless spell, for all intents and purposes. It doesn't fit very well into any spell rotations, and in fact, Arcane as a spec doesn't really have any really well-designed rotations to speak of.

If this change makes it through the PTR testing and onto the live realms unscathed, here's how the spell will work in the future:

Essentially, the spell will function both as an intermittent nuke, and as a buffing spell for the entire Arcane tree. You can stack it by casting it consecutively--at a stiff mana penalty--to buff a single spell, whether it be used for the instant punch Arcane Barrage or the five-missile damage spread of Arcane Missiles. I don't know about you, but the idea of casting two Arcane Blasts, proccing Missile Barrage, then popping Presence of Mind/Arcane Power/spellpower trinket and launching out five missiles in 2.5 seconds, each with a 30% damage buff from Arcane Blast and another 30% on top of that from Arcane Power, plus an extra 30% chance for each missile to crit, thanks to Arcane Potency's buff...well, I find that idea very pleasant.

In longer encounters, a sensible rotation would probably be alternating Blast and Barrage, so that each Barrage is buffed by 15% and the mana penalty for Blast never comes into play. Missiles could be threaded in whenever Missile Barrage procs, of course, and things would die in large quantities.

I can't wait to see how this plays out on the PTR.

Arcane Mages, more than any other Mage spec, have had mana-efficiency issues in long encounters so far in Wrath. This change--along with the next one--certainly helps with that problem. This is a talent that most Arcane Mages are taking anyway, for the DPS increases that a shortened cooldown on PoM and Arcane Power brings, and this change makes it an absolute must-have.

  • Evocation: Cooldown reduced to 4 min.

And this one helps a bunch too. Couple the two changes, and you've got an Evocation cooldown of two minutes. Two. Minutes. That means you'll be able to Evocate multiple times in most boss-encounters. Who needs potions?

Add to that the fact that every spec will benefit from having a full minute chopped from Evocation's cooldown, and this is just a fantastic buff.

Unless I'm misunderstanding this, and there's some as-of-yet-unannounced change to Arcane Focus that we don't know about, this means that with some careful talent-point distribution, Arcane Mages will be able to go 8 points into Frost and pick up an extra 3% chance to hit, to go along with the 3% Arcane Focus already gives. 6% talentable hit rating is pretty cool. Now let's all cross our collective fingers for a free respec when the patch hits.

Awww...what? But you were doing so well with the buffs, Blizzard! You just had to throw in a giant middle-finger to Frost Mages, I guess? Blizzard is admittedly one of the best AoE spells in the game right now, but I'm not sure this was called for. Oh well, at least they didn't nerf the damage, or take away the spell's shiny new ability to crit.

I know other changes are much more important, but I think this one holds the highest potential for out-and-out fun. I envision Mage-run Thunder Bluff-cliff-diving parties, or mass assaults from the Lumber Mill to the Blacksmith in Arathi Basin, with a Mage standing on the cliff, popping Slow Fall on each of their mounted comrades as they leap off. Very, very cool.

  • Torment the Weak: Now works with Arcane Blast and does bonus damage against targets afflicted with any type of slow (such as the combat slow from Thunder Clap).

I'm still divided on this talent, since so many slowing effects simply don't work on bosses, but this change certainly increases its appeal. This allows for it to work in more situations, more often, and I like that, and making it work on a spell that we'll actually be using more often now is a great idea. Now if only Slow could be tweaked to have an effect on more bosses...

All in all, I couldn't be much happier than I am with these changes. Seriously, has any spell gone from crap-to-awesome in one change as abruptly as Arcane Blast has? Put in a few prayers to whatever deity you believe in, write your local congressman, do whatever it is that you feel you can do to help make sure these changes make it live, nerf-free.

One last entirely unrelated soapbox moment:

Lately, there have been quite a few complaints in the comments section about my clear, unmitigated antagonism towards Warlocks and all things Warlock-related. To those who have complained, I have to ask: have you read anything else I've ever written? I would think that my feelings toward Warlocks would be fairly well-established by now, seeing as how I've made hostile, biased, libelous, and frequently downright nasty comments about them in every single column I've ever posted since the day I started here at WoW Insider. In case there is any confusion, let me restate my position: If you have a Warlock-shaped avatar in this game, I want to kill it. I expect no less from any Warlocks who come across my Mage-shaped avatar.

I love to hate Warlocks. I can't see why I should have to apologize about something I've been so consistent about.