This is a very long Warcraft post. You have been warned.
Blusummers is having a bit of an identity crisis at the moment. I don’t know if I want to spec primarily Arcane or Frost. Blu has pretty much always been a frost mage so I never thought I’d really have to worry about this decision, but Deathwing’s emergence shook up a lot more than just the landscape. Bear with me as I try to organize my thoughts.
As I said, Blu has almost always been a frost mage. Leveling, all through Burning Crusade, and for the beginning of WotLK. Once the guild I was in started peeking into raids in Wrath, I switched to arcane because there was a massive difference in DPS between frost and arcane. Frost was not raid viable at that time. It just wasn’t. I don’t remember, but I think fire may have not been doing so well either.
What I took away from that time was that overall, frost was more fun for me, but so crippled that I was hurting the group if I didn’t spec arcane. I say overall it was more fun, but there were a couple things I liked about arcane. I liked that it had more of a rotation than frost. (At the time frost’s rotation was frostbolt followed by more frostbolt, thrilling huh?) I also liked that arcane had different rotations to fit the situation. I don’t mean AoE vs single target, I mean that the highest DPS rotation was also the worst DPM meaning that if the fight was only going to last another 30 seconds, you switched to your highest damage rotation and could end up oom at the end of the fight knowing that you did what you could to use all your mana up to put out as much damage as possible. I still liked frost for the control it had for soloing and I liked it best, but arcane wasn’t so bad.
Then the cataclysm hit. Talent trees got refined and mastery was added to the game. Frost’s mastery increases damage against frozen targets. To me this smelled suspiciously like it was designed for PvP, but it does apply to deep freeze, ice lance, and frostfire bolt damage when you’re using the fingers of frost proc (notice that frostbolt, frost’s main nuke, is left out of this). So I stuck with it through 5 mans. I liked hitting bosses for big deep freeze crits (once every 30 seconds) and using deep freeze for control on multi-mob trash pulls to help reduce tank damage for a few seconds. The problem I had came once we started getting more into heroics. I was constantly last on the dps charts and when the bosses hit an enrage phase where the key was to dps them down before the healers went oom from the massive group damage they were doing. I didn’t like how dependant my spec seemed to be on procs for “reliable” dps, and I was holding groups back. There were several times that I feel that if we had had more dps, we wouldn’t have wiped. This was a very different thing from Wrath where all more dps did was make the fights shorter.
So, I decided to give Cataclysm’s version of arcane a try. I did a little research, came up with a spec I liked and went to the test dummies (before I even bothered with glyphs). My sustained dps was around 2k dps higher than it was with frost. My burn phase dps was about 4k higher.
Quick overview of how arcane works. It’s split up into 2 phases. A burn phase and a conserve phase. Due to the way arcane’s mastery works, you deal more damage (all spells) the more mana you have. It’s completely percentage based. So, if your mastery on your gear gives you up to 10% extra damage based on mana, then at 100% mana, your spells will hit 10% harder, at 90% mana, they’ll hit 9% harder. The burn phase kind of ignores mastery and goes into a simple rotation of arcane blast spam. This will go through all of your mana in about 15-30 seconds depending on your mana pool and how many times you get a free spell from clearcasting. You do this when you’ve got evocation off cooldown, or when the fight is almost over. The conserve phase is where you try to stay at 90% mana or higher by alternating a couple of arcane blasts and then a free arcane missile or an arcane barrage to get rid of the AB debuff.
Anyway, I loved the new arcane. It was a fun little mana management game that changed with your gear so no one could tell you what the ideal rotation was. You had to figure it out based on what was going on with the fight. It was all the things I enjoyed about arcane before, with a new twist. (The big damage numbers I was putting up didn’t hurt either). For heroics, this was the ideal spec. Boss fights weren’t too long and didn’t require much movement. Most bosses, I could go through a burn phase, evocate to get my mana back, and go through a burn phase again and the boss would be dead. The dps output was crazy, I was having a lot of fun with it, and I didn’t feel like a strain on the group.
Then we started raiding. First up was Magmaw in Blackwing Descent. I read up on the strategies. It seemed like it basically came down to dps the boss, deal with the adds, get back to the boss, and then there would be a burn phase where the boss would take double damage (ideal for arcane’s burn phase). This would be fun. And it was fun because I was raiding again. However, my spec didn’t seem to be doing so hot. While the burn phase numbers were nice, the real threat to the raid wasn’t the boss, it was the adds. As long as we could keep the adds under control, the boss would eventually go down. I didn’t quite get just how bad an idea it was to stand anywhere near the mobs from reading the strats. When our raid leader explained the fight, it sunk in. I wasn’t going to be able to use my spec’s aoe on the adds for 2 reasons: it would require me to be near the adds who would possibly notice the mage spamming arcane explosion in their faces, and it would require me to be away from the rest of the raid. The second reason is the real killer. Talented arcane explosion has its threat reduced by 80% so it’s possible that as long as the adds weren’t rooted, I’d be safe, but the boss does a targeted damage spell that is split with your group members nearby. If I was hit with this while I was out by my lonesome, there’s a good chance that I’d be 1-shotted. Dead mage = 0 dps. There was also the problem that we didn’t have a great way to slow and keep the adds slowed before they could get to the raid. For most of the night I kept thinking how this fight would go a lot more smoothly if I had blizzard with a slow on it.
So, we decided that we would take another crack at the boss 2 days later. In the meantime, I respected one of my dual specs to frost. I also started looking a lot more into my single target dps for frost. I discovered a few things. One was that they had made some adjustments to frost and pumped up frostbolt damage and taken down some of the frozen target damage. The other thing I discovered was just how reliant frost dps is on crits and just how low my crit was. After some serious reforging to squeeze every last bit of crit out of my gear at the cost of haste and mastery, I managed to get up to 20% crit. Add the glyph of molten armor and that spell gives me an extra 5% crit. There are 2 raid buffs that provide 5% crit each. The magic number frost needs to aim for is about 33% crit when fully buffed. I had 25% self buffed and boy did that make a difference. I could put up fairly respectable numbers and when we got to Magmaw the next night, ignoring one accidental pull from one of our hunters :), we one-shot it. Now, I’m not going to be all pompous and claim that it was all me. It wasn’t. The break had given others in the raid time to notice some things about when the tank was dying and that made a big difference. However, having a permanent slow on all the adds while doing damage to them did make a significant difference in my opinion. We weren’t killing them extremely fast, but they weren’t getting to the raid, and that made me feel like I was really making a contribution to the raid’s success despite my frost damage numbers not being quite as high as arcane.
So now we get to my dilemma. Frost and Arcane are both “viable” specs for raid damage. Arcane’s damage is higher, but frost’s is acceptable. Frost currently has better AoE especially for fights like Magmaw where I can’t be anywhere near the AoE mobs. For adds that I can get near, and need to be slowed, I still have cone of cold as an arcane mage. As we progress, I’m betting that we’ll run into more bosses with hard enrage timers where dps does matter. Those are the fact based decision makers.
As far as play what you want to play…I’m not sure. I think I’m leaning towards Arcane, but I feel reluctant. I’m not sure if I think arcane is more fun right now because I like the new mechanics and it’s more reliable instead of proc based, or if I just like seeing the big numbers and being at the top of the chart. The other issue is that I may be reluctant because I’ve always played frost. Blu has always been a frost mage and I feel weird with that not necessarily being the case anymore.
I think my decision for now is to go with arcane, but to keep a frost off-spec. I’ll reforge my gear for arcane so that when I want to do as much damage as possible I can. Unfortunately this will hurt frost (arcane’s worst secondary stat is crit, frost’s best), but hopefully the damage won’t matter too much on the fights where frost’s control is needed most.