The game of Warcraft is changing. In the next few weeks the first of a series of patches will be pushed to the live severs. The first of these patches (4.0.1) will bring with it the core changes to all classes, as well as various UI and interface changes.
This guide to the key mage changes is intended to smooth your way into 4.0 and beyond, including making your first steps into Cataclysm. It should also help you with being able to raid during the two months before the expansion is released.
There are however a couple of key things that aren’t covered as part of this guide.
- This isn’t designed for minmaxers. There’s not been a huge amount of numerical analysis so far on optimal builds and glyphs. As these optimisations come out I’ll ensure the guide is updated.
- I haven’t included looking at the new racial abilities. I’m not convinced that they’ve been finalised, but I’m not expecting people to swap racials until 85 raiding kicks off.
- I’m also not covering rotation changes. For the most part things are still the same, although Frost has gone through more significant alterations. Arcane and Fire mages used to Missile Barrage/Hot Streak procs should find things largely unchanged
- Although there may be some usefulness for PvP mages here, I’m going to focus on PvE for most of this guide.
We’re all learning a lot as we work through the class changes, so don’t be afraid to experiment and try out radical ideas. Share any interesting findings you get with other mages by posting about it on the Mage forums.
Key Stat Changes
Update: I’ve just published a new article on Mage Stat Priorities in 4.0 to supplement this guide.
The biggest change to Mage stats is that Spirit is no longer useful. Molten Armor no longer uses Spirit, instead providing a flat 3% crit boost. Hit talents and racials are also gone, meaning that you’ll need to get the full 17% (446 hit rating) from gear alone.
Intellect is now the key stat for mages. More intellect means a larger mana pool, but it also means more spellpower and spell crit. Each point of intellect (including base) is a point of spellpower, making gear upgrades easy to work out.
Mana conservation is more important in Cataclysm, mainly due to the lack of mana regen we used to get from Spirit. As a result, making sure you have a large mana pool and use spells efficiently is an important habit to get into. A fire mage with a high crit rating can burn through their mana pool incredibly quickly. Think smartly on spell usage and mana costs.
The new Character pane will make all of these stat changes easier to understand. Spell crit, haste and hit ratings are all shown, together with their percentage values. It’s fairly easy to be able to swap gear in and out and see what effect it has on your stats.
Check Your Gear
The key difference you’ll notice when looking at your gear in 4.0 is that there are no longer any spellpower bonuses on armor. Crit, hit and haste rating should still remain. Weapons and some trinkets are exempt from this change, particularly where a proc or on use effect is involved.
In the main, mage tier set gear should be purged of all spirit. Most items aimed at warlocks and mages will probably have been re-itemised as well. Other gear that has Spirit on it can be reforged to halve the amount of spirit and gain a more meaningful stat.
On the subject of reforging, I would suggest moving points to hit only where needed and focusing on crit and haste otherwise. It’s likely that you’ll need to make some gem changes, so try and introduce hit with those if possible.
The great news is that we’ll only need minimal regemming for 4.0 A large number of gems will be automatically converted over to new ones that are just as useful.
- Chaotic Skyflare Diamond is fine for using as a metagem
- Runed Cardinal Ruby becomes Brilliant Cardinal Ruby
- Reckless Ametrine becomes Reckless Ametrine
- Purified Dreadstone – I suggest swapping these to Veiled Dreadstone and help climbing back to hitcap.
There’s a very handy conversion list for all gems over at Revive and Rejuvenate.
Most weapon and armor enchants should still be fine, although it may be worth sweeping over them just to make sure. Generally mages tend to go for spellpower enchants, which are still present in 4.0. If you’re using the Sanctified or Brilliant Spellthreads you may want to swap them for the Sapphire or Master’s ones.
One of the biggest changes in 4.0 is the redesigned talent trees. Talent points are now awarded once every two levels, meaning that at 80 you’ll have 36 points to spend. From 81 to 85 you get a point per level, putting the final cap at 41 points.
You’re also locked in to a particular tree until you’ve spent 31 points in it, leaving 5 points to “splash” into the other two trees at level 80. I’ve included a separate list of suggested splash talents at the end of the section.
Your core tree brings with it a few key bonuses. You get a flat 25% spell damage bonus when using spells in the school you specialise in. There’s also a specialist spell for each tree: Arcane has Arcane Barrage, Fire has Pyroblast! and Frost has a permanent Water Elemental. The specialist Mastery bonus is also different for each tree, but relies on the Mastery stat. This new stat relies upon Mastery bonuses being present on gear which won’t emerge until Cataclysm.
This time round the trees are a much greater mix of essential and utility talents. You’ll probably find that there are talents you’ll want to take as well as ones that would be nice to have. It all depends on your own individual playstyle, and you’ll probably want to experiment. As a result, I’ve split each tree into Core and Optional talents.
I’m also going to strongly suggest that if you don’t play Frost already that you consider getting a secondary spec. Levelling as a mage in Cataclysm is punishing work, but the permanent water elemental and Ice Barrier take away a lot of that pain.
The core Arcane spec will feel very familiar, with a selection of talents designed to burn targets down quickly. The playstyle remains largely unchanged as a result, with a few welcome additions. Improved Arcane Explosion is now much more interesting as an AoE choice, with the reduced threat being much more tank friendly. The Improved Mana Gem is lifted from the popular Tier 7 armor set bonus, providing a nice DPS boost when you need it.
- Arcane Concentration
- Netherwind Presence
- Torment the Weak
- Improved Arcane Missiles
- Missile Barrage
- Presence of Mind
- Arcane Flows
- Arcane Tactics
- Improved Arcane Explosion
- Prismatic Cloak
- Arcane Potency
- Nether Vortex
- Focus Magic
- Improved Mana Gem
- Arcane Power
There’s no real need to take the optional Arcane talents, as the core talents will use up all of your 31 points. That said, if you find yourself doing a lot of counterspelling you might find these talent choices rewarding.
Fire’s core talents are all about making use of Hot Streak procs to cast Pyroblast! instantly. There’s also a lovely AoE combination available by using Blast Wave and Improved Flamestrike together. Be warned though, Flamestrike eats through mana very quickly. The remaining talents are there to encourage mana regen and boost single target DPS.
- Master of Elements
- Burning Soul
- Fire Power
- Blast Wave
- Hot Streak
- Improved Hot Streak
- Improved Flamestrike
- Molten Fury
- Dragon’s Breath
- Living Bomb
- Critical Mass
The optional talents provide a fair amount of choice. Cauterise can save your bacon if you take a bad hit, especially if you hit Mage Ward, Mana Shield or Iceblock quickly enough to avoid burning to death. Pyromaniac also plays well with Flamestrike and Impact, particularly in add-heavy boss fights. Improved Scorch and Firestarter go hand-in-hand if you fancy trying out Firedancing. Impact and Improved Fire Blast are also a good combination, but again rely on particular encounters.
I’d be the first to admit that I’m not completely familiar to the frost playstyle, but if you’re looking for a refreshing change with survivability oozing from every pore then this is the spec to go for. In Cataclysm it’s no secret that mobs hit like a truck, or possibly two trucks rushing together in order to make a thinly spread mage sandwich. If you’re not playing this spec already then get a second spec, go frost and practice playing. It’ll remove a lot of frustration when levelling.
Frost has much more of a reactive and priority based cast sequence than using a fixed rotation, although the optimal sequence is still being worked out. The new UI enhancements really help out in signalling when abilities are available to be consumed. Overall, the spec is all about proc management and making the most of chilled or frozen targets. The core talent selection reflects this.
- Early Frost
- Piercing Ice
- Ice Floes
- Ice Shards
- Icy Veins
- Fingers of Frost
- Enduring Winter
- Cold Snap
- Brain Freeze
- Ice Barrier
- Deep Freeze
The optional talents are around further mob management including bolstering AoE effects. Shattered Barrier and Reactive barrier would be ideal for PvP or solo questing, but might not be a priority until the expansion releases.
One of the nice things about the talent tree redesign is that most of the useful general purpose talents have been moved right to the top, making them easy to splash into once 31 points have been spent in the main one. The following talents are all worth considering as splash candidates depending on what you feel you need. As always, you might feel you want to experiment with your choices here.
A further tier of glyphs is being added in 4.0, making Prime, Major and Minor the three types available. You’ll also be able to learn all the Mage glyphs and swap them around easily, instead of having to buy fresh glyphs every time. The only other change is that to overwrite an existing active glyph you’ll need to use Vanishing Powder before another one can be inserted.
Prime glyph choices are going to be unique for each spec, and will have some bearing on your own chosen playstyle. The most critical one is deciding which armour you’re going to use – Mage Armor for improved mana regen or Molten Armor for improved spell crit. Whichever you go for, one of your Prime slots should be this.
Fire Prime Glyphs have a choice. Both Fireball and Frostfire Bolt are on almost level pegging for DPS at the moment, although Fireball will probably have the edge at level 80. It is likely though that as your Mastery increases at 85 that you’ll want to swap to glyphed Frostfire Bolt for the additional DoT component. Your last choice is between Living Bomb and Pyroblast. I would probably suggest Living Bomb, but it entirely depends on how often you can get Hot Streak to proc.
Frost Prime Glyphs are also a little tricky. Deep Freeze and Frostbolt would seem to work well together, but the Deep Freeze debuff can only be applied to unstunabble mobs, making it worthless for raiding (Frostbolt on it’s own remains worthwhile) . Other than that, Ice Lance and Frostfire Bolt could also be good candidates
Arcane seems to be the easiest choice of them all when looking at prime Glyphs. Arcane Blast and Arcane Missiles are the obvious choices here. Rounding off the set, Mage Armor is likely to be chosen over Molten Armor, but check first to see how far your mana stretches.
Major Glyph choices are far more straightforward. The first one to consider is Arcane Power, Blast Wave or Ice Barrier depending on your spec. Following on from that, Evocation and Polymorph are great utility talents to help your healers out and help maintain crowd control.
Minor Glyphs are also fairly straightforward. Armors will mean that you can buff Arcane Intellect/Brilliance and your armor buff at the same time and they’ll keep the same duration. Slow Fall gets rid of annoying reagent requirements. Mirror Image is more cosmetic than anything else, and could be swapped for Monkey or Penguin if preferred.
As you can see, there’s an awful lot of changes to consider, analyse and adjust to. There’s also the balance between speccing for 4.0 while still raiding Wrath content, yet still providing enough versatility to be able to cope with levelling when Cataclysm hits the shelves. To this end, the Dual Spec facility will be incredibly useful.
It’s also important to test and feed back on the suggestions in this guide. Feel free to describe your experiences and findings either in the comments here or in the Mage Forums. The more input there is, the more that guides like these can be refined and improved upon. You’re also welcome to ask questions about the current beta and patch 4.0, or to make your own suggestions.