31 Mar 2010

Finding Our Place

As we drift towards the end of Wrath and eagerly await the launch of Cataclysm, I’ve been taking the opportunity to reflect on how magecraft has fared. From the new spells the expansion brought through to the talent changes each patch, we’ve been through considerable change. And yet I can’t help but think that we’re not as special as we once were.

What started this all off was the movie Yesterday’s News. It’s about how the Meeting Stone crafter copes with a changing world where the LFD tool makes meeting stones redundant. It struck a chord with me – I’ve been seeing increasing numbers of mages struggling to get groups with both PuGs and their own raidgroups. Even my own raidgroup only tend to miss a mage when they don’t have any free strudel – other than that, there’s not really an issue.

The current state of mages was really brought home for me by Larisa’s great analysis of Paragon’s world first kill of Arthas in 25-man heroic mode. If you look at their raid setup you’ll notice that they decided not to bring any mages. There’s a thread explaining the choice on Paragon’s forum, where they pinpoint the slightly lower DPS output as the reason. A pure DPS class would get benched, with other DPS classes and hybrid classes specced as DPS being used instead.

What about the other tricks that mages have? With the homogenisation that’s taken place during Wrath, mages have only two unique tricks left up their sleeve – polymorph and strudels. Arcane Intellect can be swapped for Fel Intelligence, while even the recent Arcane Empowerment buff can be matched by Retribution paladins and Beastmaster hunters. Crowd Control has been sidelined for much of Wrath, with AoE tanking being the preferred method for the majority of trash pulls and offtanks used for adds during bossfights.

Larisa is right to be concerned – even though the difference is slight, she’s worried that raid groups will look to Paragon’s results as a reason why their own groups are underperforming, and may choose to run without mages as a result. This argument only stacks up when each player is equally skilful at their class and you’re purely relying on statistics to minmax, but that point may be missed on those looking to form groups, raids and so on. They’ll point to the Paragon forums and say that it’s official: mages don’t cut it any more.

The whole situation is compounded further when you have scenarios like the one described by Krizzlybear on their blog. Considering that with a mage’s three talent trees that you have one that still doesn’t compete against other classes and another that’s laughed at completely, you begin to wonder what the point of playing a mage is. Even the skill of the player is discarded entirely, despite when they demonstrate that they’re just as capable of keeping up.

I’m not trying to encourage anyone to change their spec; I had to go through Molten Core as a Frost mage even though I much prefer Fire. Rather, I’d prefer to see the three specs brought in line with each other so that they all bring solid DPS but also provide additional benefits depending on the chosen tree. I’m hoping that this will arrive with the complete talent revamp for Cataclysm, so that the differences between each tree aren’t in terms of damage output but in terms of playstyle and what else the mage can do besides damage.

These things are cyclical – I remember when Warlocks, Paladins and Warriors were all in the same position that mages find themselves in now. I’ve also got faith that thes problems will be resolved and that once again all three specs will be matched on a spreadsheet (even if the skill of the players can vary wildly). It’s an agonising wait though, considering that we’re currently at the end of March and Cataclysm is predicted to land in October. We might be looking at six to eight months before the pre-expansion patch is released and all the talent trees get revamped.

Till then, mages have a job to do. It’s up to us to show the rest of the Warcraft-playing public that in the 99.99% of cases that aren’t a Lich King heroic world first kill that we still have something worthwhile to contribute.

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