Cataclysm Final Grades – The Mageiest Mage Edition
Today’s Cataclysm Final Grades guest post comes from Shintakie/Pollia, my real-life partner. I suppose it might come across as a tad nepotistic to sing his praises here, but allow me to bestow one accolade upon him – the highest I can think of: I’d ask for his advice on pretty much anything WoW even if he didn’t live with me. (Excepting, of course, anything involving healing classes.)
It’s a little odd for me to have wanted to do a post like this. I started my WoW journey as a Feral Druid way back in the days of Vanilla WoW when everything was fresh, new, and exciting. For almost 6 years I stared at the same giant bear butt and pretty purple (eventually pink) kitty. In fact the only reason I originally played World of Warcraft boiled down to one thing. A friend convinced me to play it and the way he convinced me was the thing that will forever be my weakness in RPGs. He used the line “There’s a class that lets you turn yourself into animals.” It took all of five seconds for me to be sold after that. Yet here I am at the end of Cataclysm and the toon at the top of my character list isn’t Shintakie, a character I’ve had since my first journey into WoW. It is instead a little Gnome Mage by the name of Pollia who I totally fell in love with.
Let me get one thing out there before I begin this: I hated Mages my entire time in WoW. I have a general dislike for Mages in almost every single instance that they’re in any RPG setting. They’re condescending. They’re the epitome of self importance. But the most damning thing against them was that they always killed me. Any game I have ever played, the only enemies that ever beat me more consistently than my own stupidity were Mages. Always flinging spells and always staying just out of my reach. Every time I fought them I always envisioned them having a stupid smirk on their face like they were thinking, “Hah. It’s this guy again. Hey, watch as I pretend to let him get the advantage and then explode him in the blink of an eye.”
My dislike for Mages carried over to WoW and kept me from trying one for a very long time. Sometimes I’d create a new one and tell myself “This time you wont give up before you hit level 20. This time you’ll make it to max level and actually do things with him!” Then I would inevitably grow bored of him and delete him. A month later I’d be right back at it again. This was a cycle that lasted far longer than it probably should have. The last time I tried it with was an adorable little Gnome Mage that I named Pollia. She was everything that I loved about Gnomes, cute, weird, funny, weird … mostly weird. But I couldn’t stand her because she was a mage. Once again I struggled through 20 levels of Mageiness before I gave up, but considering how incredibly adorable she was I couldn’t stand to delete her so she ended up sitting on my character select screen for – I honestly don’t know how long, but a long time sums it about up.
Enter Tzufit and her almost OCD-level altitus. She suddenly got it in her head to level a Warlock because her first character was a Warlock. The real reason? She was bored and wanted another alt. The best part? She wanted to level through PvP which was interesting since before then she never really showed an interest in PvP … outside of the first time I met her when I made the incredibly drunken decision to drag a bunch of people to AB. (No matter what happens, I’ll always be amused by being able to answer the question, “So how did you meet,” with a wonderful “Oh I was drunk off my butt and dragged a bunch of friends into a battleground. Backed my butt right off the edge of the cliff at the lumber mill and died and we all laughed so hard over Vent.” It’s funnier if they don’t know what WoW is). She asked me if I had any low level characters that I wouldn’t mind leveling with her. Lo and behold there she was – the little Gnome Mage that I had shelved at least 6 months earlier with her bright blue eyes practically jumping up and down with excitement that finally her time had come.
It’s a minor exaggeration, but honestly it’s what it felt like in my head. This was a moment that I had been striving for since my time in WoW first began. I was leveling a Mage and I friggin loved it. All the things I hated about Mages? Gone like a Frostbolt out the window directly into that stupid Orc Warrior who thought he was so awesome jumping me at half health while I was eating. I have never enjoyed getting a character to max level or really at all as much as I did with Pollia, and I doubt I ever will. The company was a major reason of course, but there was just something so magical (pun so intended) about that time because it was 5 years of frustration finally seeing some relief. 5 years of failures and setbacks culminating in that “little Gnome that could” reaching max level. It was a great feeling that I knew would continue on through to end game. Then I actually started doing something other than PvP and was that like a nice punch to the gut.
I’ll say it right now: Mage PVE in Wrath was the biggest disappointment I have ever had in WoW. Every single spec boiled down to press 1, sometimes press 2, and if you were Fire you got to press a third button. There was no thought, no finesse, no soul to it. I tried Frost because that’s how I leveled and cried at how awful it was. There were Fingers of Frost procs, sure … except casting Ice Lance wasn’t worth it because Frostbolt was so much better. I tried Fire and I couldn’t wrap my head around how incredibly dull it was. Pyroblast was okay, but only because the numbers were big and shiny while everything else about the spec was boring and uninspired. Crossed my fingers and prayed that Arcane would save me … it didn’t. Arcane Blast to 4, cast Arcane Missles, wonder what the heck this Arcane Barrage thing was actually for. Dull, repetitive, uninspired, none of the words I would have described my experience as while I was leveling her and yet here they were. Once again my adorable Gnome was shelved, sitting at level 80 with absolutely no reason to exist because there was nothing fun to do on her and then something amazing happened. The world blew up.
Of all the damage dealing classes I don’t think a single one came even remotely close to the amount of change that the Mage class went through when Cataclysm hit. Arcane’s rotation was tossed out the window. Frost suddenly had a reason to use something other than Frostbolt. Fire … was still fire, but they finally got a cooldown that wasn’t completely sucktastic. What was once a class filled with boring amounts of boring was now a class with possibilities and fun coming out the ears. I’d finally found my second home.
On to the actual point of the post! Indulge me while I actually type out the words again.
Cataclysm Final Grades – The State of the Mage
(Spoiler alert … it’s awesome.)
As I said before, I honestly can’t think of a class that went through more changes than the Mage. Sure a lot of classes got changed mechanically, but the theme was always the same. One could argue that the theme of Mages is still the same – one flings ice, one flings fire, one makes arcane energy explode on their enemies. However the way they actually do this has changed dramatically because it now requires some actual thinking on the part of the player. To do this, Blizzard had to do some pretty massive reworking of a lot of different numbers, add in a couple talents here and there, and – in the case of Arcane Mages – rework the very idea of how to DPS. At first I was skeptical, but now? Kudos to Blizzard for it all.
First up, lets talk about the spec that saw the least change. Fire.
Fire and I have always been at odds with each other. I get the point of it, but I just never really got it. Outside of the general rush of shooting a gigantic fireball at something, there just never was that wow factor that I always look for in a DPS spec. Unfortunately, Fire kept that horrid trend through Cataclysm. The spec plays roughly the same way it’s played since Vanilla WoW. You shoot fire and leave your opponents with a burning sensation. They’ve had things added to them over the years, but it still was entirely about flinging Fire and not much else. I won’t knock someone for being consistent, but a little variety never hurt anyone. That said, there are a few things I enjoy a ton about Fire that were added in Cataclysm. The ability to always be casting no matter whether you were moving or standing still is a welcome change of pace. Sure other classes can cast instants while they run, but (and I recognize this is a dumb argument) there is just something exciting about seeing a cast bar. It’s like you’re building up to something and when it finishes you get to see lovely yellow numbers on your screen.
The other change that I adore is the absolutely fun and at the same time incredibly frustrating mechanic of Combustion. For those who don’t know, Combustion takes all of your damage over time abilities (Ignite which procs on crits, Living bomb, and if it’s up the Pyroblast DoT) and combines them into one big DoT while leaving the original DoTs up. This sounds fun in theory and when it works out well it is incredibly satisfying to watch your DPS soar – especially if you are any form of cleave situation – but in practice it’s a mess of RNG. The biggest contributor to Combustion is Ignite which, as mentioned, only procs off crits. The best time to hit Combustion is after you get a big juicy Pyroblast crit. The only time you actually use Pyroblast is if you get two non-periodic crits in a row. Just typing that out makes me sigh in annoyance. The Fire spec went from what was a boring spec in Wrath to a boring and frustrating spec in Catacylsm. Truth be told now that Fire isn’t blatantly broken compared to the other two specs I can’t imagine why I even still have the spec … and then I remember Cauterize.
Remember what I said about unique utility a minute ago? Cauterize toes that line like a champ. The times I get to use Cauterize to cheese some ability or another always bothers me. There isn’t any thought to the use of Cauterize, I take a shot that should kill me and instantly come back at half health. Sure there is the whole burning thing afterwards, but a quick ice block or a single heal makes it a complete afterthought. Other classes need to actually use an ability (well … Sub Rogues don’t) to survive this stuff. I just sit there and continue to do my job without a single lost moment of casting. As an aside, I am so glad that Cauterize is a talent in Mists so I can get rid of it. I actually like to have some input in how I live and die.
That’s really all there is to Fire. Mechanically speaking, outside of Combustion it’s the same as it was in Wrath which is a shame as it could of used a tune up.
Next up is Frost, my favorite PVE Mage spec.
I make no secret on the forums that I’m a huge lover of Frost PVE. The twitch-based gameplay engages me far more than the check list style priority systems and the absolutely arcane (no pun intended) rotations of yesteryear. Also with the inclusion of Brain Freeze we got use out of the prettiest ability in the game, Frostfire Bolt. It may not be quite up DPS levels for heroic level raiders, but in normal modes it’s quite easy to keep on par with people of equal skill and gear. Even when I trailed behind my fellow Mages in Firelands, I wasn’t too upset because I was having a blast the entire time (even when those jerks mocked me >.>).
The interesting thing about Forst was how absolutely nothing changed from Wrath to Cataclysm mechanically and yet the way the spec plays is radically different. We had Brain Freeze in Wrath but you never used it because it just allowed you to cast an unbuffed Fireball or Frostfire Bolt for no mana and have it be instant. Fingers of Frost was in, but it wasn’t worth it to use it on a Ice Lance. Deep Freeze was in and … we actually did use it, so 1 out of 3. Now though? We actively use our Brain Freeze procs because our Frostfire Bolts benefit from Fingers of Frost. We actively cast Ice Lance because Fingers of Frost buffs the crud out of their damage. Deep Freeze is still our hardest hitting ability so that hasn’t changed. Plus we got two new abilities to add to the mix. Pet freeze automatically gives you two Fingers of Frost charges that can be used at your leisure. Deep Freeze comes off cooldown and you don’t have a charge? No problem – pet freeze the boss and you got yourself two to work with. Then you have Frostfire Orb. Every single shot has a chance to proc both Brain Freeze and Fingers of Frost and since it fires once a second, it’s possible to have more procs than you can handle, which is always fun.
Sadly Frost has the same issue it had back in Wrath when they tried to buff it to be competitive. There are very few ways to buff it without unbalancing it in PvP because every ability that a Frost Mage uses in PvE is also used by a Frost Mage in PvP. People like to answer this with the call of “just buff Deep Freeze,” to which I reply “no,” possibly “shut up.” I know a lot of people tend to ignore them, but there are battlegrounds where vehicles are a main part of the objectives. No one needs Frost Mages running around like they were at the start of Cataclysm one or two shotting Demos. Hopefully the changes in Mists fix this and that’s all I’ll say on the subject.
Finally we come to the greatest success story of Cataclysm, the Arcane Mage.
No change in the history of WoW so thoroughly thrashed the very idea of what a DPS should do like the one that happened to Arcane. In Wrath they were the epitome of what a rotation-based class was. Every single action you performed was mechanically ingrained in your head from the moment you walked away from EJ. There was no thought, no randomness, no real soul to it. It was a depressing place. Then something magical happened that had never happened before. Blizzard made a DPS class care about their blue bar and they did it with a single ability. They added in the mastery Mana Adept. For the uninitiated here is a very brief explanation of what Mana Adept does. You do more damage based upon the more mana you have.
I know, I know, some classes actually had to pay attention to their mana bar before. Some classes even went OOM, but that didn’t mean they actually cared about their mana bar. To them there were only two possible existences: you either had mana, which meant you kept casting, or you were OOM, in which case you … wanded I guess? There was no in-between whatsoever and we were all completely fine with that because we didn’t know better. Suddenly there was a spec where mana management wasn’t a simple on/off switch, it was the very basis for how you DPSed. You had to actively see your mana, gauge how much you could spend, react to a proc, and you actually had risk/reward situations. Do I spend that mana to eek out another Arcane Blast or do I play it safe and cast Arcane Missiles instead? Should I burn now knowing that it’s possible I could get targeted by “move of doom” in 40 seconds during an Evocation or wait till I have a safer time to do it in exchange for lower DPS? While I play my Arcane spec I am active, I’m planning ahead, I’m cursing myself for not taking that risk to cast another Arcane Blast, I’m pissy at myself because I should have held off that extra Arcane Blast, I get excited when I time my Evocation perfectly and finish just as I need to move and curse myself when I time it wrong and need to move before I finish. In other words, I am completely engaged in what I’m doing because of how complex the very nature of the spec is and yet the complexity isn’t complexity for complexity sake. People make fun of Arcane and say it’s a two button spec and you know what my answer is? Damn right it is – and I have more complexity and interesting choices with those two buttons than some specs do with ten. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
At the end of the day I only have one thing to say about all this: Thank you Blizzard. While Fire may not be as fun as the other two I have immensely enjoyed what was done to the class. You took three specs without theme and direction and turned them into three completely distinct specs with clear strengths and weaknesses. The three specs have radically different playstyles and a person is free to choose the one that they feel matches the way they want to DPS. The only complaint that I have is that they didn’t quite do enough to make Frost PvE hard mode viable, but considering that anyone who cares enough to try it out can find it to be amazingly fun and perfectly viable in normal modes, I won’t complain too loudly about it. Here’s hoping they build on the success story of Cataclysm and make the Mage class even better in Mists.