(with apologies to Robert Frost)
There are different schools of thought on whether you play a spec, or you play a class. I’ve heard people say that you shouldn’t consider yourself a (Fire/Frost/Arcane) mage but a MAGE – able to switch specs accordingly should the need arise. This is an attitude that ticks off other people who really only like one spec for their various classes.
Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle and have actually changed my mind over time. It’s a little-known fact that I originally created Millya with the intention of making her a Frost mage. I seem to remember even choosing her appearance accordingly. Thank goodness I didn’t name her “Frostwizzard” or anything like that. Or another mage I knew, Icyfire… what if they wanted to go arcane later? But as I was leveling, Frost just wasn’t working for me. Conventional wisdom at the time (Burning Crusade) said that Fire was bad for leveling. And you know, I died a lot. But by gosh I had fun doing it. Later on when I hit 70 I went to BGs as the best kind of glass cannon – the kind that would merrily explode in the face of a dozen people. I think it was Christian Belt, the erstwhile great Archmage from WoW Insider who joked that all Fire mages really wanted was a spell that would just, literally, make them explode. They’d be okay with this, as long as they took plenty of people with them.
I’ve played all three mage specs over the years as their fortunes rose and fell. I was Frost at the start of Wrath for leveling. I was a Frostfire mage when I hit 80 because it was actually pretty good at low gear levels for awhile. I was Fire unless I had to be otherwise – at the end of Wrath I was Arcane for a good chunk of it because Fire was too far behind Arcane to ignore it. For all of Cataclysm, I was Fire, and so far for all of Mists I have been Fire as well.
I like the changes they have made to the spec. Heating Up helped to smooth out some of the frustrating RNG aspects of Hot Streak! and Inferno Blast gives you a reliable way of managing your procs to a certain extent. It’s better than just fishing around for HS procs as we used to do. Combustion is, by its nature, still very RNG dependent. You have to get a super ignite and manage all of your other DoTs in order to time it just so. The reduced CD on Combustion itself makes this less punishing than it used to be, though. I think they did something about ignite-munching? Don’t quote me on that though. I’m not a theorycrafter and I never made that claim. It’s not really my thing. I’m just an avid mage who has been predominantly Fire for a long time.
Recently, I was tripped up by a problem, though. I felt as if I was holding our challenge mode group back from success. Fire’s AoE power in this expansion has always felt weak to me. I miss Blast Wave/Instant Flamestrike. I don’t like having to get right into a group of mobs and spam my Arcane Explosion button. Nether Tempest is nice, but you still have to put it on a group of mobs before it really starts to ramp up, and by that time our shaman’s chain lightning has already killed stuff. It’s not fun. Taking into account the lowered gear levels of challenge modes (a normalized 463 ilevel), being Fire was even less fun. I found, frustratingly, that things were living too long and my trash DPS just wasn’t high enough. On boss fights, I wasn’t getting enough HS procs or a really nice Combustion. Fire seems just too dependent on gear to be the most effective in challenge modes. So I thought the time may have come to do something radical: set my Fire spec aside and play Frost in challenge modes.
I dusted off the spec. I fixed my keybinds and buttons. I read guides. I reforged and regemmed. Once I made the decision, I wanted to just go ahead with it. So I figured – hey, I’ll play Frost for our raids this week, too. Everything is “on farm” anyway, I wouldn’t be holding us back while I fumble around a little bit. I stood at the target dummy getting used to the “feel” of the buttons and I updated my Weak Auras to include some new notifications. I went into the raid feeling excited and a little apprehensive. I take pride in being a good DPS, I didn’t want to be at the bottom of the meters because of this change.
But something strange happened. I wasn’t doing poorly. In fact…well, let me just show you. If you like charts and things, you can look more closely. If you don’t, let me just tell you, that I gained between 16-26K DPS on the fights shown. I omitted Council because I actually did better as fire there and I think my DoT uptime was a bit poor on the Frost version. I’m not too worried about it. I also omitted Tortos for the opposite reason – as Fire, my performance was truly pathetic, but the Frost combat logs are not an accurate comparison either because I was helping to AoE bats. I had AoE! Bats died! BIG YELLOW NUMBERS. (This basically sums up my DPS mindset in a nutshell).
So I was thrown into a quandary, except it wasn’t much of a quandary. Playing as one spec clearly and roundly has trounced the other spec for me, and so I will be staying Frost for the foreseeable future. Still, I know for a fact it’s not that I was suddenly playing miraculously better as Frost… In fact, you can see that my active time went down in every case. It’s hard to avoid this kind of human error. Our motto is “always be casting,” but I was still a little fumbly and getting the hang of Frost, so I wasn’t managing it as well as I could be, and yet I still beat my own DPS by a significant amount. I have to admit, it’s a bit disheartening. Now I’m questioning myself – did I never truly get the hang of the “new” Fire? Is it just that because I’m not a heroic raider, I’m not able to play Fire to its fullest potential? It’s true that Frost isn’t subject to the kind of RNG stuff that Fire is. I find it plays really smoothly. There’s always a button you need to be hitting. You can imagine it did make a big difference in CMs, too. My contribution felt much greater than it had in previous weeks.
I have had a few Frost growing pains, too. Mostly related to suddenly creating a truck load of threat unexpectedly. I’ll put it this way, I used to use Mirror Images as a safeguard, especially at the start of fights. Now it’s the only thing standing between me and (buh buh buh bum) CERTAIN DEATH. This is how I came to be shrieking around dragging Horridon last week while yelling “Get it off, get it off!” I also had a retrospectively hilarious death at the end of our last Lei Shen kill. I don’t know if that’s directly related to being Frost… but let’s just say that Alter Time -> Thunderstruck -> Blink -> Alter Time doesn’t end well for anyone wearing a dress.
If I’m being honest with myself, I guess I have to admit that maybe I just wasn’t pushing myself as Fire any more. In the past, many of the times I switched specs was because my damage had been lagging behind. It can help to mix things up, and some of that may be at play here. Although I try to stay current on my information with any spec I’m playing, maybe I had gotten complacent and that’s the biggest reason why Frost has been such a marked improvement. One thing is clear, though. It’s time for a new Frost transmog!