26 Jan 2011

Reader Q: From Arcane to Fire

I recently got a reader email asking for some advice with improving their fire spec. I love getting messages like this as it gives me a chance to help someone out and get geeky about my favourite spec at the same time. This particular email was eerily familiar…

We started raiding last evening and had great difficulty controlling the adds. Since then I have been asked to go as fire for the supposedly superior AoE. I’ve spent a little time on the dummies and my DPS is at best unpredictable. I’m guessing this is because I’m not criting enough to proc Hot Streak often enough and therefore having to recast scorch to get the de-buff. Just how much crit do I need and what would be worth reforging?

The first thing is that you’re not alone. I was also struggling with my fire DPS, particularly when compared with Arcane mages. Arcane is great for when you’re learning fights as the simple rotation allows you to focus on positioning and targeting. The great thing is that I found some really simple techniques that allow me to maximise my fire DPS.

The Basics

Before I start there’s some basic rules to improving any DPS setup regardless of spec or class.

  • Get hit capped. Blizzard’s double-roll system means that for every spell you cast, there’s a check to see if you hit the mob followed by a check to see if you crit. For fire, you want to crit as much as possible to trigger Hot Streak, so failing the first roll because of a lack of hit is a bit of a fumble.
  • Get relevant gear.  A while back I wrote a handy guide to stat priority for Mages. While secondary stats are being tweaked in patch 4.0.6, the changes aren’t significant enough to affect a change in the priority order. Picking up hit/crit gear instead of haste/mastery will help by the bucketload.
  • Get optimised. Make sure everything is gemmed and enchanted. Everything. They don’t have to be the best money can buy (hell, I use 81 spellpower instead of Power Torrent on my staff) but put in some effort. Reforge stats that aren’t as useful to stats that are – see that stat priority guide again.

Maximising Single Target DPS

The biggest issue with swapping from Arcane to fire is maximising single target DPS to match the levels that Arcane can provide. There’s a couple of tricks I use for improving fire DPS in my rotation

When comparing Arcane and Fire DPS, you need to consider overall damage output rather than just burst damage. Think how long the typical bossfight lasts – five to ten minutes – and plan your tests around it. This means that you can then balance out the arcane burn/conserve phases with the fire ones.

Don’t always trust the dummies. Evocation lasts long enough to drop you out of combat, meaning you don’t get an accurate reading of overall DPS when testing, just how high you can get it before you need to evocate. The best I can suggest is track overall damage done over five or ten minutes and compare numbers.

The other aspect is that because Fire is more complex than Arcane it can be trickier to keep things up like Living Bomb and Critical Mass when learning a fight. I use Power Auras to help make it clear when Living Bomb and Critical Mass need refreshing. The clear indicators that Power Auras provide mean I can focus on learning the fight instead of focusing on optimising my rotation.

Combustion can have a significant impact on DPS when used well. I use CombustionHelper to time it right so that the dots are up and have a fair amount of time left. if I’m lucky Impact will proc and it’s another dot to push out to nearby adds.

Finally, the Fire spec has a hover or conserve phase just like Arcane. Scorch is free to cast (and becomes more free in 4.0.6) meaning that we can hover at pretty much a static mana value. And because we don’t need to rely on pesky Arcane Missiles procs, we can even automate it with a macro. Murloc Parliament has an excellent guide to setting up a Fire spec hover rotation macro.

All this should help even out the unpredictability of Fire DPS. It’s unlikely to flatten out though until we start reaching much higher crit ratings purely due to the way crit is calculated and how Hot Streak adds to it.

Handling AoE

The trick with Fire AoE is that you have a couple of options. One is great for handling small numbers of adds – load up a boss with dots, add Combustion and then use an Impact Fire Blast to push those dots to nearby mobs. The trouble with this is that it relies on adds being tanked nearby and that they only require incidental damage to take down. As a result, it’s best for smaller groups of up to four adds.

Large packs are fodder for Blast Wave and Flamestrike. Open up with a Blast Wave to get the slowing going, then use Flamestrike to take them down.  It’s only efficient for large packs though, so for less than five adds switch to direct damage and use Impact + Fire Blast to push the dots out. Remember to throw in the occasional Dragon’s Breath as well!

Practice Makes Perfect

Remember that you’re going from a spec you were incredibly familiar with to one that’s going to feel a little clumsy for you. A new spec and rotation is going to take a while to bed in and become instinctive, especially if you’re switching specs constantly. The best thing I can suggest is taking the time out before the raid to configure your addons and macros. Once you have things set up just practice, either against target dummies or in some heroics, until you’re familiar with what you’re doing.

That about wraps it up for this session and I really hope it answers your questions. Remember though, if you have any questions or could just do with a hand just drop me a line.

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