Simple answer: a lot. Strap in, this is going to be a big one.
Mages were identified by Celestalon as undergoing a lot of changes in WoD. With the patch notes dropping (I’m on GMT, so they arrived at midnight on Friday – thanks Blizz!) we now have a rough idea of what we might look like on Draenor. Remember that these are only the first round of notes – more will be coming.
Back in vanilla we were billed as a master of AoE, and our extensive list of spells in this category still supports that today. However, that has been more of a hindrance than a help. Throughout MoP our AoE rotation has been confused, usually consisting of your choice of Bomb spell, Flamestrike on cooldown and a spec-specific cleave mechanic (Arcane Barrage, Inferno Blast or Glyph of Splitting Ice).
Pruning those abilities down makes absolute sense, and while I will mourn the loss of Blizzard and CoC for mass control as Fire and Arcane, I also hope to see some real power returned to our AoE – Celestalon has already tweeted that both CoC and Dragon’s Breath will have “significant DPS value” in WoD.
Our AoE spells becoming limited by spec does, however, introduce an issue for Arcane: namely the loss of consistent ranged AoE. Getting into melee for any length of time is extremely dangerous for a Mage. Arcane may be relegated to using talent-based abilities and cleaving with Arcane Barrage.
There’s little to say about our rotational spells becoming spec-restricted – it’s just an extension of the changes that MoP began. There is almost always a better option compared to using an off-spec spell today, we just won’t have that choice in WoD.
Frost and Fire Mages haven’t cared about mana throughout MoP, so the loss of Evocation – if WoD continues that tradition – is a non-issue. The glyphed heal is staying, but is now attached to Ice Block, with a (possibly) weaker heal when specced into our new talent, Evanesce.
Deep Freeze has always been difficult to use in group content without being specced Frost, so its loss, while annoying for some niche situations, is not a big deal; likewise with Shatter (although it was fun when grouped with a Remorseless Winter DK). The loss of Mana Gem will likely be compensated for, and Pyromaniac going the way of the Dodo was both expected and welcome.
- Presence of Mind moving to baseline for Arcane is actually a bigger change for Fire, as it will give the spec some actual choice in the first tier of talents; it will also go some small way towards helping Arcane’s movement issues. However, it is worth noting that with the above ability pruning and a change to make PoM not affect Polymorph, the only spell we can PoM will be Arcane Blast.
- We don’t know yet how our PoM-replacement, Evanesce, will work, but my guess is that the avoidance will not apply to ground effects and environmental hazards, and that it won’t clear existing debuffs (but will prevent them from ticking/new ones being applied). Still, it looks like a strong ability that gives us an option in the tier for fights that don’t require much movement.
- Temporal Shield has been a raiding staple for several patches, especially since its buff in 5.4. Alter Time will now fill a similar role (without the damage-reduction) on a longer cooldown: for a short-cooldown survivability buff, IB will remain a solid choice. Flameglow still needs a significant buff to make it competitive in a raiding environment.
- Cold Snap‘s expansion to include PoM, Dragon’s Breath, CoC and Evanesce will benefit Arcane in all situations, as PoM is a straight damage increase even on a single target. Outside of AoE, though, it’s still the same talent. I expect this ability to undergo more revisions.
- The Bomb spells (level 75 talent tier) have been amalgamated into a single spec-specific talent. The most significant changes were made to Nether Tempest and Frost Bomb. Thanks to Lhivera, we know that the FrB pulses triggered by Ice Lance will not snare targets.
- While Living Bomb technically can still be manually applied to multiple targets, it can once again be spread through Inferno Blast. Realistically, we won’t be applying DoTs to multiple targets before throwing direct-damage spells – which, after all, is what the Mage class is all about.
- The entire level 75 tier is now focused on AoE: Unstable Magic is a passive affecting our filler spells and Supernova/Blast Wave/Ice Nova replace Frost Nova for a target-based explosion. This last talent is a bit of a gamble for solo play as Fire and Arcane, but will be very useful in group work – especially as freezing a target in place next to a healer will no longer result in said healer’s squishy death. I believe that Ice Nova will work similarly to Ring of Frost today: i.e. targets will be unable to perform any action, but the freeze will break on damage.
- Our level 90 tier was named as ‘one of the most problematic Talent rows in the game.’ In WoD, we get two new talents here: Mirror Image replaces Invocation and Incanter’s Flow replaces Incanter’s Ward. The duration of Rune of Power has also been tripled.
For an early iteration, the tier looks better than today’s but still far from perfect. Mirror Image will be the easiest option to play with, requiring a simple button press once every three minutes. To be balanced with the other talents, however (Flows averages out to a 15% damage increase and RoP provides that at all times), it will have to be a very significant source of burst. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the damage and cooldown lowered slightly.
RoP retains most of its old flaws. Duration was never the spell’s main issue; being chained to one spot on the ground – with our damage balanced around that – was. You can argue that there’s a higher skill requirement for pre-planning, but fights today are so movement-heavy that taking the talent has always felt like choosing to play with a handicap. It’s unviable out in the world, running dungeons and PvPing, as combat doesn’t last long enough to bother placing the Rune and/or moves around.
- Encounters in Warlords will be less movement-heavy; the longer duration will also mean that placing two Runes next to each other will give a significant amount of room to manoeuvre in – at least for the first three minutes of a fight. However, the above issues still make it a difficult and frustrating spell to use, and one that you feel punished for not standing in at all times. The fact is, it’s still a maintenance buff.
Incanter’s Flow is very interesting. Each cycle will include two consecutive seconds at 25% increased damage and 2 consecutive seconds at 5% (source). Although it’s a passive, this will probably be the most difficult talent to play with, although the one that skilled players can use to reap the highest rewards. For example, building procs in the build-up and unleashing at the peak.
- Changes have been made to Frost Armor, glyphed Icy Veins, Shatter (now Frost-only) and Brain Freeze to make Frost scale better with Haste and Crit. While some seem like nerfs, I’m confident that, in the long run, they will be better for both the game and our gearing.
- A similar change was made to Arcane Blast, raising its cast time to make Arcane value Haste more. Damage has been increased to compensate. Arcane Charges also last longer – a quality-of-life change, especially for periods of movement and in questing.
- From a separate section of the patch notes that many may have missed, Slow can now be applied to multiple targets but no longer slows casting speed.
- Our level 100 talents have changed little since Blizzcon. I really can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to reaching up and pulling down the stars on my enemies’ heads (Meteor and Comet Storm. I guess Arcane Orb should also get a mention here, but come on – let’s get a cool name. How about Pulsar?).
I’m still not impressed by Overpowered/Kindling/Thermal Void, which are just plain boring. Level 100 talents should be exciting and look special; I’ve tweeted before about the lack of ‘flash’ in Mage spells, and it’s part of the reason that I’m excited about Arcane Orb/Meteor/Comet Storm.
Prismatic Crystal looks much less clunky to use than it did at Blizzcon, having been changed to release damage as soon as the crystal is hit rather than storing it and releasing it all after 10 seconds. The talent will depend heavily on the amount of movement in an encounter.
None of our Draenor Perks are shared between specs. We get the standard throughput-increasing ones on rotational abilities and cooldowns, but some are more interesting.
- Both Arcane and Frost will be able to hold an extra proc of Arcane Missiles/FoF, raising the potential for burst damage – especially with Arcane’s ability to stack Arcane Charges faster with a 5% AB cast speed reduction per Arcane Charge stack. This Perk will play well with Incanter’s Flow.
- Mobility will rise, with Arcane seeing the return of Improved Blink (increases movement speed after cast) and Frost having some interaction between Blink and Frost Nova (still undergoing iterations). Fire will gain a movement speed increase after casting Scorch.
- Frost will enjoy much more significant AoE power with Blizzard ticks cutting Frozen Orb‘s cooldown. We will also finally see some pet interaction through the introduction of Water Jet.
- Fire has seen comparatively few changes to its mechanics through Perks – something that the Mage community has already been voicing their displeasure about – but there has been some effort made to strengthen the spec at low gear levels. Non-crit Fireballs will grant a (probably stacking) 5% crit chance to the spell, resetting after landing a critical strike. Personally I feel that this isn’t enough to prop the spec up in early raiding tiers, but only testing will tell.
Wrap-up Thoughts, News and Speculation
With the removal of Shatter and Deep Freeze for non-Frost Mages, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the level 45 tier changing entirely, probably with RoF going baseline. The tier has always been more of a PvP-focused one – it would be great to see those spells have more use in group PvE environments!
Oh, and one final thing: Blizzard are trying to spread raid utility out amongst the classes in Warlords, with the result that we get a raid cooldown! Amplify Magic is a two-minute cooldown ability that increases healing taken by the raid by 20%, and was confirmed in a WoW Insider interview by Celestalon.
All in all, Mages have come out of the first round of alpha notes in a pretty strong spot. Have you got any favourite changes? What would you like to see in the next round of tweaks? Let us know in the comments.