With the Legion alpha in full swing, it’s time to share some thoughts on our favourite classes. First up: Mages.
Only one spec is playable right now, and to many it is the quintessential Mage specialisation, Fire. The Fire Mage artefact is Felo’melorn, the sword of the Sunstrider family of the Blood Elves. It was broken and then reforged (sound familiar?), and used by Kael’thas to fight the Lich King, who was armed with the runeblade, Frostmourne. It’s a powerful weapon.
After retrieving the sword, you will have a passive ability (Highblade’s Will) that generates Flame Orbs; these hover around you and turn your Pyroblast into Phoenix’s Flames, which deals about 1.5 times the damage of Pyroblast, is instant cast and also causes splash damage. The graphics aren’t great at the moment (the phoenixes you conjure just sort of hover towards the target – I’m hoping that they become faster, more direct and leave a trail of some sort behind them – likewise, it would be nice if the graphic on Flame Orb were changed to have a burning animation), but the ability is excellent, and goes hand-in-hand with Phoenix Reborn, the first artefact trait: using it, targets with Ignite will generate Flame Orbs (currently a maximum of three), which can in turn be used to cast more Phoenix’s Flames.
No Crit? No Problem
The elephant in the room is Fire’s abysmal performance at low gear levels. With every expansion, Fire Mages cry themselves to sleep until around six months in, when crit levels have risen enough to make the spec viable.
Good news: Blizzard appears to have finally cracked it. Fire is no longer the red-headed step-child of ranged DPS, and even without any gear on (barring Felo’melorn), I was throwing out Pyroblasts regularly on the alpha. There are three changes, two of them baseline, that make this possible:
- Combustion. Mages have had a love it/hate it relationship with this spell, which – on live – rolls your damage-over-time effects into one super-DoT. Very thematic, and with amazing potential. However, it is difficult to get the full effect from this spell, and it can mean the difference between a bad pull and a great one – all on one spell cast! The new version of Combustion is a 2-minute cooldown, 10-second duration buff that increases your crit chance by 100%, and your mastery by an amount equal to your critical strike. It’s a great spell, and looks amazing when used.
- Inferno Blast. Our two-piece T17 bonus gave us two charges of Inferno Blast, which meant that players didn’t have to choose between using the ability to spread DoTs or turn a Heating Up into a Hot Streak. Blizzard realised how powerful that was, and changed the bonus when Hellfire Citadel was launched (here) to encourage us to change our tier set. Two-charge Blast is back in Legion, though, along with two other major changes: it is off the global cooldown, and can be used while casting another spell. In the live game, you can waste Blast if the Fireball that you cast after generating a Heating Up was a critical strike (because it would have turned Heating Up into Hot Streak anyway); in Legion, that won’t be a problem.
- Pyromaniac. This talent is on our first row. It gives you a 50% chance after casting Pyroblast with Hot Streak to refund the Hot Streak buff; I’ve managed to chain up to eight Pyroblasts in succession using this ability. I expect to see it toned down, but either way it is incredibly powerful.
These changes, taken together, make Fire a fun and mobile spec to play. There’s nothing quite like chain-casting Pyroblast into a boss and watching the Ignite (which at this point is ticking harder than your Fireball is hitting) spread to adds, which then keel over in seconds.
The ability to generate more Pyroblasts is not the extent of the changes for Fire. Today, it is a DPS boost to ‘bank’ a Heating Up and a Hot Streak charge at the same time before using your instant Pyroblast; this gives you two separate chances to crit, and thus generate a new buff, at the same time. Blizzard was unhappy with the unintuitive nature of this, however, and it will no longer be possible: Hot Streak must be consumed before Heating Up will activate again.
Fire is most well-known for its high AoE damage, which mostly comes from DoT spreading using Inferno Blast: Flamestrike is a slow cast and doesn’t do enough damage to warrant its use, in many situations. Again, Legion aims to change this fact. We will have burst AoE thanks to Hot Streak, which will affect either Pyroblast or Flamestrike, as well as Dragon’s Breath and our talents Blast Wave, Living Bomb and Cinderstorm. Ignite now spreads automatically every two seconds, so Inferno Blast can be used almost solely for Hot Streak generation (it also spreads Living Bomb). Another talent, Conflagration, is on our first row and will provide a large buff to sustained AoE situations: an area where Fire has been traditionally strong.
Talents Set The World on Fire
In fact, many of our talent rows provide interesting choices. The first row is my favourite, with options for single target (Pyromaniac), cleave (Fire Starter) and AoE (Conflagration). The second tier has been criticised for combining Cauterize and Ice Block, although I would argue that if you’re Ice Blocking the Cauterize debuff you’re wasting two major defensives on a single attack. Ice Block now has two charges, and will be the go-to talent for fights where you know a big hit is coming; Cauterize will be useful for fights with random damage, and Shimmer is a great talent for solo work.
There’s little to say about the third row, which consists of the same damage boosts as our level 90 tier holds today. The exception is Rune of Power, which is being turned into a cooldown. Well done, Blizzard, for retaining the idea of the talent and making it less painful to choose. Although I still prefer abilities with no drawback, Rune will no longer make Mages freak out whenever they have to use it. At the moment it has a 10-second duration and cooldown, but expect this to change: there are rumours of a 45-second cooldown, two-charge ability.
Edit: the RoP change has been confirmed on Twitter.
@SCDigerati Rune of Power changes are not complete yet. It should have 2 charges, 45sec recharge, and drop at your feet.
— WarcraftDevs (@WarcraftDevs) December 4, 2015
Flame On and Controlled Burn are new talents in the fourth row, competing with Blast Wave (now limited to a single charge). Flame On gives even more control over Hot Streak generation; however, I have found it fiddly to use. It would benefit from being castable while another spell is in progress (although it is off the GCD), as Combustion and Inferno Blast are now, considering the short cooldown on Inferno Blast. Often a Blast charge is close to coming off cooldown by the time I’ve finished my Fireball cast, making Flame On feel less powerful. Controlled Burn means that a single crit has a chance to generate Hot Streak, but more information is needed about its scaling: it certainly doesn’t increase the chance on a 1:1 ratio with your crit.
Tier five talents will be the same as our third tier in the live game, if they remain as they are now – rarely, if ever, changed. It is the most disappointing of our talent rows, putting perhaps the best mobile casting ability in the game – Ice Floes – against crowd control talents: Ring of Frost and Ice Ward (which now provides two charges to Frost Nova, rather than being a self buff).
I’m going to take a moment here to discuss these crowd control options. In solo play and PvP, both work fine, but realistically do the same thing: both freeze targets in an AoE. The main difference is that one can be cast from range and the other is point blank. In group play they suffer from the same problem that they have always had: raid mobs, even trash, tend to be freeze-immune, and the AoE and cleave effects that are rampant in smaller dungeons mean that they get broken too quickly.
Don’t get me wrong: Mages will still play an important role in Challenge Modes and the like, due to our excellent AoE damage and Time Warp. It would be nice to bring more than damage, but freeze effects like these just don’t cut it.
The 90 tier is AoE again, with Living Bomb, Unstable Magic and a new talent, Flame Patch, which makes Flamestrike leave behind a ground-based AoE. Both Bomb and Patch are valid choices, but Unstable Magic will be even worse for Fire than it is today, although nothing has changed with the talent itself. Unstable Magic only activates from Fireball casts. As I mentioned above, we are now casting many, many more Pyroblasts, in addition to Phoenix’s Flames, Inferno Blast, etc. If the ability could proc from other single target spells, it would be viable – and will likely be very powerful for Arcane, which casts so many Arcane Blasts. For Fire, however, early indications show that it will be outclassed.
Our final row is Kindling (more important now, which the higher number of crits we get and longer cooldown on Combustion), Meteor and Cinderstorm. More testing is needed with this latter talent, which sprays out multiple projectiles from right to left; each of these can hit and crit independently. It hits for less than half the damage of Fireball. Positioning will be important for its use, to get the maximum number of cinders hitting your target. At the moment, the spell is bugged and cannot be used with Ice Floes.
Burned by Defensives
Blizzard’s stated goal for Mages in Legion is to avoid damage, not absorb or heal it. However, we don’t yet have the tools to do this. Our survivability has been affected, with the loss of Rapid Displacement, Alter Time, Flameglow and – worst of all – Greater Invisibility. Ice Barrier is now baseline, but only absorbs a tiny amount of damage: less than 30,000, and we have to talent Ice Block, instead.
There will be a minor boost to our survivability through artefact traits, such as Cauterizing Blink, but it is unclear whether these will offset the loss of such excellent mobility and defensive abilities.
Mages are in an excellent place, defensively, in Draenor. We have long (Ice Block), medium (Cauterize/Greater Invisibility) and short (Alter Time/Ice Barrier) cooldowns. In Legion we have lost access to two of these completely, and a choice must be made between two more. We are facing a situation where we will need to call for external defensive cooldowns in any ‘big hit’ situation after using Ice Block/Cauterize, such as Explosive Runes (Kormrok), Touch of Doom (Gorefiend) or Cavitation (Fel Lord). I do not want to return to the Cataclysm era, when I could survive a single hit and then die – Lightning Conduit on Hagara comes to mind. I should not feel like I’m holding the raid back. We don’t necessarily need another ability; a simple (and significant) buff to or redesign of Ice Barrier would do the trick.