16 Jul 2010

Early Look: Mage Talent Revamp

Spoiler Alert: There’s a fair bit of discussion about the new Mage talent trees. It’s limited to theory, analysis and scenario discussion. Fairly strict game mechanics focus.

The most recent Cataclysm beta push brought with it the overhaul to class talent trees. It’s all part of a grand design – remove the talents that everyone took and integrate them into the core mechanics of the class, while trashing the ones that no-one took. In doing so, drop the size of the trees and reduce the number of points available to spend. You can find Wowhead’s Mage talent calculator here.

It feels like Vanilla all over again.

I can understand the logic behind it – as a mage you’d tick all the boxes that make you perform better. More DPS? Yes please! Movement speed increase? No thanks. By taking out the ones that are just an increase to DPS, the idea is that you allow people more flexibility to tailor their talents to suit their playstyle.

It also means that it’s easier to tune spells. The game engine is already being revamped to introduce a number of additional hooks into the spell pipeline. Couple these along with a revamped set of glyphs and we should see much better balancing between the three Mage trees.

It’s worth saying that the trees aren’t final yet and are more of a first pass. Expect some further changes to emerge as the talents are finalised and detail is fleshed out. They do however help with working out the current direction of thinking – how talents are likely to look and what the intention for each tree is. As a result I’m not going to go through every talent in detail, but instead focus on the highlights.

Tick Here To Annoy Your Tank

Back in Burning Crusade I used to raid with a tank sitting next to me. Every time I used Blast Wave I’d get a punch in the arm, while the tank went round collecting up their mobs again. If I used Blast Wave then Frost Nova.. well, let’s just say it wasn’t good news.

Arcane Repulsion seems to add to the basket of “things I can do to annoy the tank”:

Your Mage Armor spell causes a successful melee attack to knock the attacker back 12 yds and be slowed by 50% for 6 sec.  This cannot occur more than once every minute.

I can see a spec involving both Blast Wave and Arcane Repulsion. I don’t think it’d be good for my health though.

See? They Do Listen

First of all, there’s not a trace of +hit modifiers in any of the talent trees. I want to say a big THANK YOU to Blizzard for this – it was one of the first requests I aired right back when I started blogging. I’m really hoping that this means we won’ have to swap gear back and forth between specs. Well, not too much at least.

The big non-surprise was that Improved Polymorph got nerfed before even being out of the gate. I suggested as much back when the talent was unveiled, but the decision to swap the damage delay with a 3ec stun was predictable.

Arcane About-face

Looking at the Arcane tree, the interesting move is Focus Magic into a deep position. With the current batch of both Fire and Arcane raiders picking this up, there’s going to be a substantial drop in people using this talent. Cue every other spellcaster class cheering the end of mage daisy chains.

Arcane Empowerment drops to become a pure 3% raid damage buff. I’ll be interested to see if hunter Ferocious Inspiration and paladin Sanctified Retribution go the same way. I’m surprised to see this remain as a talent – it seems to go against the “remove all simple talents” theory.

I’m very much on the fence about Invocation. I can see the attraction with encouraging mages to counterspell more, but it relies on the target not being immune to interrupts (rare in bossfights), plus it’s on a 30sec cooldown. There are some fights where I can see it would be great, but those are only a handful.

I’m expecting the combo of Arcane Concentration and Arcane Potency to be in almost every mage’s talent build. They’re the low-hanging fruit of the Arcane tree and both seem well worth picking up.

From Hot Streak to Cold Defeat

Let’s be clear, I’m not happy about the proposed changes to Hot Streak. The new tooltip basically makes me feel that proccing it is very unlikely to happen:

Your Fire spells no longer trigger Arcane Missiles.  Instead, any time you score 3 critical strikes with fire spells within 6 sec of each other, you have a 33% chance the next Pyroblast spell cast within 10 sec will be instant cast.

It couples with the changes to Scorch, where it looks like we’ll be using one to force-proc the other:

Increases your chance to critically hit with Scorch by an additional 30% and your damaging Scorch spells have a 100% chance to cause your target to be vulnerable to spell damage, increasing spell critical strike chance against that target by 5% and lasts 30 sec.

Now I know Blizzard wanted us to use Scorch more, but come on guys! Are we just going to use Fireball to place a dot on the target that needs to be refreshed every so often? Well yes, if you read the changes to Critical Mass:

Increases the damage done by your Fireball, Frostfire Bolt, and Pyroblast by 1% per Fire damage over time effect on the target, up to a maximum of 3%.

Fire will change from being all about critting big and critting often to keeping dots up and critting big. Feels like we’ll be pulling stuff from the Affliction Warlock playbook here.

There is some interesting news: Improved Flamestrike and Pyromaniac feel like they’ve been redesigned to work together. I’m really hoping that we see a mix of AoEs now and non just the “lol blizzard” zergfest we have now.

The Cold Shoulder

Now I’m not much of a Frost mage, but it feels as if Frost has changed the least of all three trees. As bringing_chaos on twitter points out, there are a few talents which may make it more of a Feral druid priority rotation setup. Early Frost is a clear indicator of this kind of pattern – talents with a cooldown built in. My gut feel is that there’s more work to be done here.

The Bigger Picture

Overall, it’s easy to see the three trees moving to three distinct playstyles:

  • Arcane will become all about mana and spell haste management
  • Fire will be about spell dot and spell crit management
  • Frost will be about spell crit and mob management

Arguably a lot of these playstyles are already in place, with the Cataclysm revamp serving to amplify those differences rather than make all mages feel the same to play. It should also mean that mages perform differently but still equally well in raiding, PvE and PvP environments. Of course, until we get figures from Beta, it’s all theory and conjecture.

Here’s hoping that the Beta Opt-in will proc for me sometime soon, so I can actually test all this stuff…

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