Though I enjoy burning down raid bosses as much as the next Mage (especially now that the raid bosses in question are so much easier to burn down), I make no secret about the fact that my first love has always been burning down other players. When patch 3.0.2 landed so forcefully upon our heads, bearing with it a plethora of new and revamped spells and talents, I have to admit that my first burning question was not so much "how will this help me down Kil'jaeden," as it was "how will this help me brutally slaughter the next Warlock I stumble across?"
Before the patch, Mage PvP could be distilled down to a couple of absolute truths. The first of these was: Spec Frost. The second was: You will lose to Warlocks, Druids, Priests, Hunters, and Rogues, and only reliably beat Warriors one on one. PvP was a known quantity. We knew based upon the matchup what our chances were, we knew our strengths and limitations, and we knew which spec worked the best (cough...17/0/44).
The patch turned all of that on its head. What spells work now? What talents should we be taking? Are we better or worse off now than we were two weeks ago? Join me after the break and we'll see where we stand.I won't be linking specific talent builds here, as I'm still ironing out my own builds. I simply wouldn't feel comfortable recommending anything specific to you when I'm not even comfortable recommending anything to myself. Instead, I intend to take a broader view of the three schools as a whole, noting their pros and cons, a general strategy for each, and which aspects of PvP they excel at.
This is the build I've had the most hands-on time with, and I have to say I'm impressed. At first, I was worried about the low survivability I was seeing. Aside from incredibly high spell resistances via Magic Absorption and the minor mitigation of talents like Arcane Fortitude, Improved Blink, and Prismatic Cloak, there just isn't much here to keep you from dying like the clothie you are. I soon discovered that the problem lay not with the tree itself, but with my play-style.
I was going into battle with the old, stand-in-one-place-and-unload mentality that the Arcane tree used to require. That idea is gone now. The Arcane tree is now designed for mobility. Spells like Arcane Blast and Arcane Missiles that require you to stand still and cast are relics of the past. The primary PvP spell for Arcane Mages is now Arcane Barrage. An Arcane Mage should now be constantly moving in PvP, running and Blinking from cover to cover, launching out Arcane Barrages every three seconds, applying Slow when needed, squeezing in the occasional Fire Blast or Arcane Explosion as the situation dictates, and pausing only to rattle off a truncated Arcane Missiles whenever Missile Barrage procs, or to throw out a Polymorph when control is needed.
Arcane Barrage provides strong, consistent damage while on the move, and burst damage comes with decent frequency whenever Missile Barrage procs. Presence of Mind can be coupled with Frostbolt for snare purposes, or Arcane Blast when raw damage is more useful. Arcane Missiles is still useful in the same situations it was pre-patch, as a way to ensure damage when the target is about to duck out of line-of-sight.
Survivability is low if caught in the open, but this spec provides a surprising sense of slipperiness. Use the mobility provided by Arcane Barrage to pillar-dance, ducking back and forth behind cover between casts. Blink and Frost Nova provide escape mechanisms, as well as instant-fade Invisibility (as long as you don't have any nasty DoTs on you that would break it). The key here is to remain constantly mobile, and constantly casting. Ice Block is even more helpful in this situation, as it can be coupled with Invisibility to provide an almost Rogue-like getaway mechanic. Ice Block removes the DoTs, and instant-Invis lets you flee unseen to wherever you please (unless you're fighting a Warlock, of course).
Slow is powerful control option, allows you to stay mobile, and increases your damage when coupled with Torment the Weak. Focus Magic keeps your crits high if used on a teammate who casts and crits frequently. Improved Counterspell is still the powerful tool it always was, and hasn't lost any of its luster among all of the changes. Arcane Flows lowers the cooldown on your two single biggest DPS boosts (Presence of Mind and Arcane Power) to a very agreeable two minutes, and does the same for your new most useful escape spell, Invisibility.
Overall, this tree is possibly the most mobile of the three, provides high DPS, decent burst capability, very nice control mechanics, and a pleasant amount of escape options to offset an otherwise low survivability. I have very few complaints with the Arcane tree as it relates to PvP.
Fire is still the least attractive of the three trees for PvP purposes. Fire Mages have always been the poster children for "kill fast, die faster," and the patch hasn't done much of anything to change that concept. If anything, the changes have reinforced the high-damage, low survivability role of Fire Mages, rather than attempt to diminish it. Still, nobody can bring the pain quickly like a Fire Mage, and with an expanded AoE repertoire and a few new tricks up their sleeves, Fire Mages have a unique place in the PvP hierarchy.
As always, damage is king with Fire Mages. Crits come often and hit hard with talents like Combustion, Hot Streak, and Burnout, and the potential for blowing the crap out of multiple targets has never been better. Potentially, nobody kills more payers faster than a Fire Mage. With Firestarter, you can now throw out a guaranteed instant Flamestrike every time you cast Blast Wave or Dragon's Breath. Doing it right takes a little luck and a decent amount of skill, but when it works, that's a lot of damage to a lot of targets, very quickly. You still won't last long in the middle of that crowd, but they'll definitely know you were there after they've reduced you to a spot on the ground. Throwing a Living Bomb in the middle of that pile of enemies and the damage will add up very quickly.
Blast Wave's knockback effect is one of the most useful new mechanics you'll find in PvP for Mages. The knockback is substantial, and can wreak havoc in certain situations. It can only be used every thirty seconds, so save it for certain situations, like knocking an entire group of enemies off the cliff at the lumber mill flag in Arathi Basin, or blowing attackers out of towers in Alterac Valley or out of the flag room in Warsong Gulch. Words cannot describe the death you can deal with a well-placed Blast Wave in Eye of the Storm.
As you may already have guessed, Fire Mages are still not ideal Arena combatants. They simply cannot live long enough to unleash their considerable damage capabilities in that compressed environment. Survivability options, as always, are low. Fire Mages are limited to the all-too-unpredictable Blazing Speed, and the always useful Blink and Ice Block as escape/survival abilities. For control purposes, Frost Nova, the ubiquitous Polymorph, and Impact--which is too infrequent to truly depend upon--are the only options. The problem, as always with Fire Mages in an Arena setting, is that they are not only fragile but also sitting ducks, as they queue up their high-damage cast-time-heavy spells. Living Bomb provides a bit of mobility, but not nearly as much as is needed. In Battlegrounds, this isn't as large an issue, but it's crippling in Arenas.
Fiery Payback is a very interesting PvP spell. It provides a decent amount of damage mitigation when below 35% health, as well as a really sexy burst damage option. Nothing says "boom, you're dead" like a 1.5 second Pyroblast to the face every five seconds. When this talent is active, you'll take 20% less damage across the board, and be able to churn out a Fireball/Scorch/Pyroblast rotation with Fire Blast sandwiched in as cooldown permits, and inflict damage like no spell rotation has ever inflicted in the history of spell rotations inflicting damage. The problem, of course is that this rotation--like every Fire rotation--requires you to stand still, and it also requires you to BE AT LESS THAN 35% HEALTH. Good luck with that. My advice is to hide behind a tree, and hope nobody notices you.
In short, a Fire Mage can be very effective in Battleground PvP. When they can line up a target at range and rain fiery death down upon them for a few seconds, Fire Mages can kill very effectively. Their AoE skills are unmatched, and have greater application in the large-scale conflict found in places like Alterac Valley and Eye of the Storm. Sadly, low survivability and mobility still plague them in Arena, and you're simply better off taking a different spec into those close-quarters, short-duration encounters.
Before the patch Frost was the undisputed king of Mage PvP. After the patch, it totally still is. With very few exceptions, everything that worked before works just as effectively (if not more so) now. Ice Barrier is still awesome. Shatter combos still work beautifully. There are some fun new additions that come into the mix post-patch, though, and they're almost universally impressive.
The hallmark of Frost has always been control and survivability, and those two strengths have only been enhanced. Control is still provided largely by Frost Nova, Polymorph, and the chill effect provided by Frostbolt. Frost Mages can still play a virtually endless game of keep-away with melee classes, and dish out high and frequent burst damage with Shatter combos. The end of downranking has negated the old practice of throwing out quick-cast, low-mana snares with rank one Frostbolt, which sucks, but life goes on. By and large, the tactics that won a fight for Frost Mages two weeks ago still win the fight for them today.
Several major additions only enhance those tactics. Fingers of Frost allows your chill effects to apply a debuff that will consider the target frozen for the next two spells, and procs with solid frequency. This means your enemies will be frozen more often, which means more shatter combos, and that means more killing. Shattered Barrier gives you a reason to let your Ice Barrier expire, setting off a free Frost Nova, which again, means more control, more freezing, more Shatter combos, and yes, more killing. Improved Water Elemental, in addition to restoring mana to you and your allies, also increases the duration of your big blue buddy by 15 seconds, while Cold as Ice lowers his cooldown by 20%, which means more chill effects, more damage, more freezing, and--say it with me--more killing.
Brain Freeze introduces a fresh wrinkle in PvP for Frost Mages. Proccing as often as Fingers of Frost, it gives Frost Mages a frequent, mana-free, instant-cast Fireball. You will want to be watchful not to waste a charge of Fingers of Frost on it, as it won't benefit from any of the bonuses the Frost tree grants you against frozen targets, but otherwise, it's a free instant nuke, and a flat DPS boost.
My deep and abiding disgust with Deep Freeze is no secret, but PvP is where it fulfills its purpose. Though it only stuns frozen targets, as the previous paragraphs suggest, your targets will be frozen a lot. This spell locks them down completely for five seconds, and it treats them as frozen for the duration, meaning (all together now) more killing. Its sole purpose is control in PvP, and Deep Freeze performs this task with admirable efficiency. I will never stop wishing it had a use outside of Battlegrounds and Arena, but at the very least the spell does what Blizzard has designed it to do, and it does it well.
Frost is still highly mobile, as damaging as it always was, and very hard to kill. Frost Mages can still control a PvP encounter as well as or better than any other class or spec in the game, and the patch has only made that advantage more pronounced.
The final verdict? Though we ceratinly aren't the only class that got buffed in the patch, we are better off now than we were. The dynamic will change again as soon as we all begin the long strange trip to level 80, but for now, Mages are in a fairly good place. Our job is to kill things, and we have more tools with which to accomplish that duty than ever before. So go forth, fellow Mages. Go forth into the Battlegrounds. Go forth into the lag-fest that we once knew as Arenas. Go forth and blow things up. And may all those things you blow up be Warlocks.