10 Apr 2010

Mage Cataclysm Preview

On the early hours of Saturday Morning, Bashiok unveilled the planned changes for Mages in Cataclysm. Some of them represent light touch changes, while others are fundamental changes to the way the class will work. As a response, I’ve stepped through each of the key changes and highlighted the changes that they’ll bring to the class.

New Spells:

Flame Orb (available at level 81): Inspired by Prince Taldaram’s abilities in Ahn’kahet and Icecrown Citadel, this spell allows the mage to cast a flaming orb that travels in front in a straight line, sending beams that cause fire damage to passing targets. Once it’s cast, the mage is free to begin casting other spells as the Flame Orb travels. While the spell will be useful to any spec, Fire mages will have talents that improve it, possibly causing the Flame Orb to explode when it reaches its destination.

In this copy of a raid boss mechanic, I’m hoping that this will be a targetable spell. I’m also hoping that the augmenting targets will increase the damage it causes while passing as well as the final damage it does when it arrives. I’d also really like to see some interaction between this and Living Bomb.

Time Warp (level 83): Grants a passive Haste effect much like Bloodlust or Heroism to party or raid members. It also temporarily increases the mage’s own movement speed. Time Warp will be exclusive with Bloodlust and Heroism, meaning you can’t benefit from both if you’ve got the Exhaustion debuff, though the movement-speed increase will still work even when under the effects of Exhaustion.

Although this initially feels useful, it’s essentially a tweaked copy of a Shaman’s Heroism or Bloodlust abilities. It’s also a copy of the Chrono Lord Deja’s ability in Culling of Stratholme. It’s unfortunate that it’s further ability homogenisation – unless there’s a reduction to the duration of Exhaustion we’re unlikely to see both Time Warp and Heroism being used at the same time.

Wall of Fog (level 85): Creates a line of frost in front of the mage, 30 yards from end to end. Enemies who cross the line are snared and take damage. The mana cost will be designed to make Wall of Fog efficient against groups, not individuals. This spell is intended to give mages a way to help control the battlefield, whether the mage is damaging incoming enemies (Blizzard can be channeled on top of Wall of Fog) or protecting a flag in a Battleground. 10-second duration. 30-second cooldown.

This feels like a situational spell more than anything else. I can see this being used heavily in battleground PVP (as will Fire Orb), but the raid uses aren’t as clear at present. If anything I feel that it brings back an old Mage role of add management – snaring, kiting and bringing errant adds back to the main or offtank. These old-school skills used by Hunters and Mages seem to have been dropped in favour of off-tanking.

Changes to Abilities:

Arcane Missiles is being redesigned to become a proc-based spell. Whenever the mage does damage with any spell, there is a chance for Arcane Missiles to become available, similar to how the warrior’s Overpower works. The damage and mana cost of this spell will be reworked to make it very desirable to use when available. This change should make gameplay more dynamic for the mage, particularly at low levels.

This is an interesting standout – in essence it’s extending the arcane endgame raiding rotation. It also means that there will need to be a replacement for the primary Arcane nuke for mages to use as they level up. If anything I think that this will make playing a mage more entertaining – having this mechanic interact with a Fire Hot Streak spec or Frost Deathfrost spec (I’ll touch on this later). I’m also expecting the Arcane Tree to act as a modifier on this proc chance.

We are planning to remove spells that don’t have a clear purpose. Amplify Magic, Dampen Magic, Fire Ward, and Frost Ward are being removed from the game, and we may remove more.

This seems a little dissapointing – I’d prefer to have more buttons than less, and have an increased use for this. The biggest knock-on effect for this will be Incanter’s Absorption, which will struggle to remain viable. I’m also dissapointed to see Amplify/Dampen Magic go – in pure physical fights Amplify Magic was a huge boost to healing, while Dampen Magic was a great help to the solo mage farming spellcaster mobs. The biggest resistance to using these was the duration and application of the buff – if it was party or raid-wide I think it would have seen a much higher use.

The ability to conjure food and water will not become available until higher levels (likely around level 40), as we’re making changes to ensure mages generally won’t run out of mana at lower levels. Once mages learn how to conjure food and water, the conjured item will restore both health and mana.

This is another dissapointing touch – seeing a core mage mechanic being pushed out to the middle levels. One of the appealing aspects of playing a mage is the strong level of self-sufficiency, and this changes push this aspect to one side. I’ll wait to see how a new mage levels before making a final judgement, but I’m not convinced by the mention of mana regen at low levels.

Scorch will provide a damage bonus to the mage’s fire spells. Our goal is for Scorch to be part of the mage’s rotation and a useful damage-dealing ability, even if someone else is supplying the group with the spell Critical Strike debuff. Scorch will provide the mage with more specific benefits, which can also be improved through talents.

This seems to be a hark back to the original scorch mechanic, where you had multiple Fire mages ramping up the Scorch debuff on a target. I’m also hoping for some use of this by Destro warlocks as well. The two specs used to complement eachother well, and I’d like to see a return to it. I’m hoping that it’ll work by applying a debuff to the target, rather than the debuff on the player that Arcane Blast creates.

New Talents & Talent Changes:

Arcane Focus will now return mana for each spell that fails to hit your target, including Arcane Missiles that fail to launch. We want Arcane mages to have several talents that play off of how much mana the character has and give the player enough tools to manage mana.

I like this change, mainy because it ditches the +hit component of the original. I’m hoping that we’ll see Precision go the same way, either by being modified or removed completely. Depending on it’s location in the Arcane Tree, it might be something that mages with other specs will pick up.

The talent Playing with Fire will reduce the cooldown of Blast Wave when hit by a melee attack, instead of its current effect.

Blast Wave is currently one of the spells that tanks hate mages using, mainly because of the knockback effect. Having said that, it’ll be great in PVP. It’ll also be great to augment with a Frost Nova->Blink, particularly by players with an elementalist spec.

Pyromaniac will grant Haste when three or more targets are getting damaged by the effects of your damage-over-time (DoT) fire spells.

This is a really interesting mechanic change. Currently Blizzard rules the roost when it comes to applying AoE to packs of targets. This will bring the Living Bomb Tab Flamestrike back into play, with multiple targets being dotted up before dropping the big AoE. I’m also hoping that mages will benefit from haste on DoTs in the same way that Warlocks and Shadowpriests will.

The Burnout talent will allow mages to cast spells using health when they run out of mana.

This is another steal, this time from the Warlock Lifetap. It’s going to be interesting to see how the health-mana conversion works. It’ll probably best be used while waiting for an evocation or mana gem cooldown to pop, but it also presents Mages with a new way to kill themselves. As if Spell Reflection and Standing In The Bad wasn’t enough to worry about…

Mastery Bonuses:

Mana Adept: Arcane will deal damage based how much mana the mage has. For example, Arcane mages will do much more damage at 100% mana than at 50% mana. If they begin to get low on mana, they will likely want to use an ability or mechanic to bring their mana up to increase their damage.

This is going to hit Arcane Mages hard, and probably push them back into the Arena PVP role of burst damage. In a raiding situation the Arcane Mage is going to be running out of mana towards the end of a fight, and with that drop in mana we’ll see a drop in damage. When you have players warming the floor and only a few left standing, this will not help.

Ignite: All direct-damage fire spells will add a damage-over-time (DoT) component when cast. The flavor will be similar to how Fireball works; however, the DoT component will be much stronger.

This will work brilliantly with the Pyromaniac change. I’m hoping for some stacking DoTs, so that we won’t see clashes between more than one mage. I’d also like to see these interact positively with other DoT enhancing abilities.

Deathfrost: Casting Frostbolt places a buff on the mage that increases the damage for all frost, fire, and arcane spells. The only damage spell that won’t be affected by this buff is Frostbolt.

Again, this looks like an interesting spec. I’m hoping that this will play well with Brain Freeze and Master of Elements, and that the new Arcane Missiles proc will work well with this. I’m also hoping this will encourage more Elementalist specs, bringing Frostfire Blot back into play. Having a spell that would benefit from Frost talents as well as being affected by Deathfrost will be incredibly useful.

All in, it’s a mixed bag for mages. Some good, some bad, but mostly a step in the good direction. As always though, the devil is in the detail, and we won’t see that until Beta. Till then, it’s all theory, guesswork and conjecture.

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