6 Jul 2010

Polymorph or Polydeath?

Spoiler Alert: Discussion of Mage talents in Cataclysm, focusing on one new talent in particular.

I feel like I’m almost betraying my class by raising this discussion. We’ve been handed a gift almost, a rare glimmering tool that would be oh-so-nice to have. But I don’t like it and really hope that it doesn’t make it out of beta in it’s current form. From what I’ve managed to read on it so far, this new talent could have far-reaching ramifications.

Since Vanilla, us mages have been complaining about  Polymorph. One of the most versatile forms of crowd-control, it suffers from a single flaw – any damage done to the target breaks the spell. There are tools like Glyph of Polymorph that can make maintaining crowd-control a little easier, but in the main it takes a mix of practice and luck to get it right.

Classic situations like a sheep wandering into a Consecrate used to be a big deal back in the original game and even for part of Burning Crusade. Nowadays though, heroic dungeons and raiding are largely an AoE affair. Simply round up the trash, heal the tank and drop Blizzard on the pack of mobs underneath. I don’t think I’ve needed to use Polymorph at all during this expansion, save a few trips into battlegrounds and some dicey solo questing situations while levelling.

Blizzard’s already announced that crowd control will play a bigger part in dungeons and raids in Cataclysm, and I’m looking forward to dusting off my old macros as a result. But they’ve also added a new talent, Improved Polymorph, to help make things a little easier:

When a target you've polymorphed is damaged, that damage is delayed for 3.0 secs.

This talent is right at the top of the Arcane tree – you can have it maxed out at level 11. On the face of it, it looks fantastic – we’ll get a bit of a safety net from all the crazy AoE damage flying around. But what happens if we take it out of the dungeon environment and use it elsewhere?

For solo and questing PvE it still sounds great. I’ll be able to pull a mob using Polymorph, blitz it with a ton of damage over the following 3 secs then finish it off if it doesn’t die from all the damage I’ve dealt it. By having it from such an early level it should also be something I can get into the habit of using, right?

Wrong. Crowd-control is exactly that – controlling a crowd of mobs to make them more manageable. There are snares like Frost Nova and slows like… well Slow, that can help out with single target mob management. But using Polymorph as a three second stun? That just feels like you’re encouraging Mages to learn bad habits.

There’s also the huge PvP issue as well. If I go into a battleground, use Improved Polymoph on a player then burst them down in an Arcane spec, I can probably get close to killing them outright for very little effort. If other people gang up on the target as well, they’re toast. It’s not clear if they get dealt all the damage at once or if it’s only delayed by 3 sec, but either way that’s going to get messy. Considering this is going to be available at early stages, imagine what it’ll do to the twink setup? I know Blizzard don’t balance around early-level battlegrounds, but this does feel excessive.

There’s also the overall battleground and arena fight style to consider. I’m fairly certain that Blizzard wanted to remove the reliance on burst damage in PvP situation. This talent seems to encourage it though – can you make the weasel pop before the polymorph breaks? I know that plate-plate-plate teams have been emerging to counter the rogue-mage-priest team, but still.

That’s not to say all is lost. I’d suggest an easy change to this talent to make it much more balanced and not nearly as obscene:

When a target you’ve polymorphed is damaged, that damage is delayed for 3.0 secs, up to a maximum of x% of the target’s health.

I prefer this as it allows the total amount of damage to be fine tuned, but still handles accidental damage from multiple sources. We’d still get our new toy, but it wouldn’t be completely overpowering.

Why suggest it? I like the concept of the talent and it’s cheapness, so I want it to make it into live. But I’m also aware of how other classes will react to the talent, and want to address that with a suggestion. The last thing I want is for this shiny new toy to be taken away before all mages get a chance to play with it.

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