This isn’t a problem specific to mages. As new patches hit, abilities, damage and specs are tweaked. Gear scales, and different encounters favour different classes or types of damage or roles. Shadow priest DPS is the new hotness. Shadowpriest DPS is too low. Mages are too low, buff mages (yes, always!) And it’s true – the game isn’t always perfectly balanced. We have so many tools to track this in-game and out-of-game. Damage meters let us know where we are. Things like Spec Score analyze all available World of Logs parses, and they can paint a grim picture. But there’s also a story they aren’t telling.
1. Joe plays a mage! He enjoys playing his mage. He hits 85 and runs dungeons as a frost mage to get some gear from heroics and have fun. Joe’s friends tell him that Frost is “no good,” and he should spec Fire or Arcane instead. Joe takes his friends’ advice and becomes an Arcane mage. He begins to raid with his friends and does well! Everyone tells him, “See, we told you, frost mages are no good.”(He had really poor gear when he first started out anyway, so who is to say how he would have done as a frost mage in 5-mans?)
2. Joe plays a mage! He leveled up as Frost and he really enjoys it, but when he wants to get into raiding he starts reading some different sources. Elitist Jerks and all mage sources he can find say that Arcane is the top spec, so reluctantly he gives up on Frost. After all, Frost mages don’t even appear on the list of ranked DPS specs! Joe wants to do well.
The problem with both of these scenarios is that they keep Frost mages out of the pool of Mage specs being considered for evaluation at all. It’s not even a question of “Is Frost good relative to the other specs,” or “Is Frost viable?” because all of the info is peer pressure, hearsay, or purely anecdotal. Fewer (or no) raiding frost mages lowers the sample size. Let’s say in a fictional world, there are one hundred mages. 90 of the mages play Arcane, 9 play Fire, and only one plays Frost. The “highest ranked” DPS spec is always going to be the Arcane mages, simply because there’s a greater chance that more skilled players will be playing Arcane. The lone Frost mage could be an average player, or he could be awesome, but his representation is so low that nobody even considers him. (I’m ignoring the fire mages for the moment).
This isn’t to say that some specs don’t do better than others. Simcraft and other tools are able to math out these things to ‘prove’ superiority of one spec over another (in an ideal situation with the best buffs, gear, and choosing to ignore movement or player error). I haven’t done theorycraft for mages in awhile, so take this with a grain of salt. In those ideal conditions, given equally skilled players, Arcane is probably ahead. It scales so incredibly well with gear. But by how much of a percentage is it ahead of an equally geared Frost mage? Basically, you have a playerbase that looks and says, “Well, arcane is whatever percentage ahead, so I guess Fire and Frost are bad.” No! Blizzard has said themselves that PvE Frost is much more viable than we give it credit for. The real struggle here is against player stigma and popularity.
The fact is, Arcane is an easier spec to play than Frost. It is. It has a much higher margin for error. I’m going to avoid the “two-button” joke because that’s not what I’m saying. The nuances of Arcane aren’t necessarily easy, mana and Mastery management takes forethought, planning and understanding, but by and large – an average Arcane mage can still do pretty well for him or herself without knowing all the nuances of the spec. Not so the Frost mage, who needs to carefully manage a series of procs and buffs to maximize damage. Is one “easier” or “harder?” It’s not really my place to say, but they require different things. More importantly, playing Frost requires a willingness to overcome a massive and pervasive prejudice that I’ve been hearing pretty much since I started playing this game.
Frost mages are for PvP and are bad for PvE.
The problem with this statement is that it’s completely false. Yes, at one time it was true. Deep Freeze didn’t used to be usable on immune targets (read: bosses). Many Frost changes have been rolled out over the years with intent to make them completely PvE viable. Blizzard themselves has said that through their own internal testing, they are absolutely viable in PvE.
I didn’t need Blizzard’s internal testing, because I raid with an amazing Frost mage. He could frost any mage up one side and down the other, any time, any day. I am confident in saying that he is the best mage I have ever played with, and he plays Frost. Back in Wrath, he raided for the last part of Wrath entirely as Arcane because it was clearly superior at the time. (He also hated it, which is neither here nor there). He relegated his love for Frost to a secondary mage alt that would come on ICC runs with us (and I’m pretty sure he still did top DPS in those alt runs). With the changes to Frost that came with Cataclysm, he went Frost full-time. As I’ve said, he is consistently our highest DPS. Some might say, “lol get better DPS noobs if ur Frost mage is highest you are all BADS!”
Well, he’s too polite to say it, so I’m going to say it for him: Everyone who knocks on someone for playing a spec that they are too myopic to recognize is a strong spec can go to hell. This includes all the “hurr hurr” types that you meet in 5-mans who start ribbing on you before they’ve even seen you play, just because you have a water elemental by your side. It especially includes the mages who happened to be in an ICC 25 run the other week along with our mage.
It’s actually a pretty ludicrous scenario, when you think about it. Five mages were there – four of whom were Arcane, naturally – and the mage ‘in charge’ starts handing out Focus Magic assignments, which I imagine is something like a self-congratulatory circle. “You FM her, she’ll FM you, I’ll FM him and he’ll FM me,” he said, “And Fsob, you need to learn how to spec your mage.”
I wasn’t here for this personally, which is probably good because my head would’ve exploded on the spot. Again, because he’s classy, he didn’t say anything beyond a simple sad faced emoticon. I would’ve had a lot more to say to this guy, especially after Fsob beat ALL of their DPS on the heroic Lich King fight. This is what I wish I could have said.
Just because someone chooses to play an “unpopular” spec doesn’t make them wrong. It doesn’t make them bad. It’s bad enough that other people like to shit on individuals playing an uncommon spec without mages jumping on board to do it too. You’re not in Vodka. The day that we wipe because Fsob’s DPS is too low is a day I will eat my hat, and he could out DPS you any day of the week.
And he did! (Colour me unsurprised). Being someone who thinks for yourself isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Being someone who refuses to bow to the spec of the month, or play something because that’s what everyone says they should do is someone you should admire, not give a hard time. If Frost were truly not viable in PvE content, I’m confident that Fsob wouldn’t play it. He, too, wants what is best for the team as well as himself. But I’m happy that he does, because I know it’s his favourite spec.
You can take this and apply it to any of the “unpopular” DPS specs, or any class or spec at all that people say “isn’t worth playing.” Right now, for me that’s Fire. I went to the Fire EJ page and it basically says “Nobody is interested in this spec right now.” Fire is receiving massive buffs on the PTR so I know that Blizzard is aware that Fire mages are behind. They don’t usually leave something unbalanced for too long, and I have faith in them. I have the good fortune to be playing a class that usually has three viable PvE specs, which is not something every class can say. It makes me happy. I’m playing Arcane right now because we don’t need two Frost mages, Fire is a bit hurting, and I don’t actually mind Arcane. I am not knocking on Arcane mages, either. If you love playing Arcane, more power to you! Keep on keeping on. Just please don’t be the kind of Arcane mage who is going to put on some kind of superiority dance because you happen to run into someone who has their Squirtle by their side and is freezing things in place. Worry about your own game. More importantly, play what you want to play unless it truly matters. I said Fire is “a bit behind,” which for my purposes (heroic raiding) is a bit too far. That doesn’t mean you “can’t” be a Fire mage either. It’s up to you to judge the requirements of your group. Buffs for Fire are coming soon. Meantime, remember: we turn people into sheep, we don’t seek to emulate them. Millions of Arcane mages CAN be wrong, if they take their spec’s numerical superiority as an excuse to try and bring other people down. The “best” spec is all relative, and I think the best spec for a mage to be is whatever he or she wants.
p.s. There are resources out there for those of you who’d like to take a walk on the Frosty side. You can also always ask a question here; if I don’t know the answer I have access to a Frost mage who definitely will, for either PvE or PvP.