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Mage Class Talent Changes From Blizzcon 2011

I spent the whole day liveblogging and hardly had time to stop and consider changes (until now) but I’d really like to talk about the most drastic change proposed for the upcoming expansion: all new Class Talent systems. (I’m not even going to touch the Panda controversy for the time being).

Talent trees as we know them are going away, to be replaced by a single choice of talent point every fifteen levels. What’s especially relevant about these is that they aren’t specific to any one spec of mage. So for example, you could be a Fire mage with Slow, or a Frost mage with Blast Wave. Transcribed below are a few quotes from Ghostcrawler during the Mage portion of the Class Talent panel. Apparently we are the poster children for this new system, because traditionally many of our utility spells were located in the Frost tree. The only thing I really have misgivings about is that none of these talents are DPS increasing talents at all. Don’t freak out about that, because they said specifically that in most cases, talents you know and love are simply going baseline for a spec. Or hopefully, we’ll be balanced so that our damage is just part of being a mage, and the choices are fun utility things. I say “hopefully” because it seems to me as if some of the “choices” warlocks and other classes get to make aren’t just fun utility things, but rather are specific DPS increases (a more powerful warlock pet? The opportunity to have a second pet out for a certain length of time?)

Most of the spells represented here are things we’ve already seen or have, and the major change is that we’ll be able to choose them. The other big thing is that not only will we be able to choose them, but they’ll be “as easy” to swap as Glyphs currently are. What does this mean for the modern mage? Well, suppose you need to slow Shannox’s dogs. No problem – choose Slow as your T6 talent for a given fight. On the next fight, you would like to have an AoE slow – okay, take Blast Wave. (Presently Blast Wave also lays down a Flamestrike for a Fire mage – I can only hope that will persist but it’s tough to say at this point).

I’m going to come down firmly on the side of “cautiously optimistic,” as I usually am. I’m not entirely sure how this will all look at the other end, but at the moment I’m intrigued. Here’s what Ghost Crawler had to say about us.

“Mage is a great example of a class that worked really well with this talent system because historically we had a lot of the most fun abilities for crowd control, survivability, and utility in Frost and then we always had trouble increasing their damage because they had so much utility here. So we figured it would be a lot of fun just to take the utility, put it throughout the talent tree and then let Frost do different types of damage (because obviously you’re doing Frost here) than Arcane and Fire.

In this brave new world, Arcane Blast is Arcane only, Fireball is Fire only, and Frostbolt is Frost only. I know, it’s crazy.

…As we were mentioning with the warlock, we really wanted the mage to feel slippery and glass-cannon-ey and we wanted the warlock to be more of the tank of the casters. These are ways that mages survive and get away. (Re: Tier 2)

Re: (Tier 3) I should also mention here, we are going to make sure that Scorch isn’t the no-brainer spell for Fire mages. You know, Fire mages buff all their Fire spells, so I have to take Scorch. We want these to be attractive to any of the three specs.”

If you’d like a closer look at any of these talents, MMO-Champion has images taken from the presentation screens for you to see here.

Tier 1 (Level 15)

Ring of Frost
Summons a Ring of Frost, taking 3 sec to coalesce. Enemies entering the fully-formed ring will become frozen for 10 sec. Lasts 12 sec. 10 yd radius.

Cone of Cold
Targets in a cone in front of the caster take 802 Frost damage and are frozen in place for 3 sec and slowed by 60% for 6 sec.

Frostjaw (1.5 sec cast, 20 sec CD, 30 yd range)
Silences and Freezes the target in place for 8 sec. Lasts half as long versus Player targets.

So this tier gives us an initial choice of control options. Do you want to have an AoE freeze on a long-ish cooldown, a shorter CD freeze that breaks more quickly (this is the only Cone of Cold that will be available, and functions as the current ‘Improved’ version) or do you want to use the new spell, Frostjaw, to both silence and freeze something in place? The option of a secondary interrupt to back up Counterspell is a nice one in my mind, and I could see it being situationally useful in five-mans and naturally quite nice for PvP. Note that it will have reduced efficacy in PvP, however.

Tier 2 (Level 30)

Greater Invisibility
Instantly makes the caster invisible, reducing all threat and removing two damage over time effects. The effect is cancelled if you perform any actions. Lasts 20 sec.

An attack which would otherwise kill you will instead bring you to 60% of your maximum health. However, you will burn for 10% of your maximum health every 1.50 sec for the next 6 sec. This effect cannot occur more than once per minute.

Cold Snap
When activated, this spell finishes the cooldown of your Ice Block, Frost Nova, and Water Elemental spells.

I assume that class Invis will continue to be baseline, and this new improved version is an option you have for survivability. Cauterize is as it always was, except now is available to any mage and not just those of us who are wont to blow ourselves up. The only outlier here seems to be Cold Snap; in a tree based primarily around survivability talents, it feels like they just stuck Cold Snap in because it had to go somewhere. Also, I don’t really see how that’s a potential utility talent for any tree. Who would take it but a Frost mage? Now, if they’d made Icy Veins an option…

Tier 3 (Level 45)

Presence of Mind (Instant)
When activated, your next mage spell with a casting time less than 10 sec becomes an instant cast spell.

Scorch the enemy for 809 Fire damage. Can be cast while moving.

Arcane Flows (Instant, 45 sec CD)
Invoke the flow of Arcane magic, allowing the next two non-instant Mage spells to be cast while moving. Lasts until cancelled.

Presence of Mind, same old same old, except now available for any mage. PoM Pyro makes a startling comeback, you heard it here first! GC mentioned specifically how they do not want us to feel that we have to take Scorch if we’re Fire, which is fair. Whether this talent becomes a no-brainer for Fire mages is going to depend on the movement requirements of the upcoming content and perhaps even specific fights. Scorch will not be baseline and you will need to take this talent if you want it.

Arcane Flows is pretty interesting, and seems aimed at addressing the movement issues of turret specs like Arcane. ABs on the move would be pretty nice. Right now only having ABarr to cast while you dodge around can get old pretty quickly. Having two “cast and move” options in this tier will be nice to tailor to what is needed.

Tier 4 (Level 60)

Mana Shield
Absorbs 1597 damage, draining mana instead. Drains 1.0 mana per damage absorbed. When your Mana Shield is destroyed, all enemies within 6 yards are knocked back 12 yards. Lasts 1 min.

Blazing Speed
Suppresses movement impairing effects and increases your movement speed by 50% for 4 sec. May only be activated after being affected by a movement impairing effect.

Ice Barrier
Instantly shields you, absorbing 7960 damage. Lasts 1 min. While the shield holds, spellcasting will not be delayed by damage.

GC mentioned how this new and improved Mana Shield has Incanter’s Absorption baked in, but I don’t see the spellpower increasing component. If this is gone, I am a Sad Panda (will that joke get old quickly?) because I really like using MageĀ  Ward for that. We also have the option of the zippy Blazing Speed, which still seems pretty PvP-based, or Ice Barrier – it’ll be nice to borrow that from Frost mages if the mood strikes.

Tier 5 (Level 75)

Sickly Polymorph
Your polymorphed targets regenerate life at 10% of the normal speed.

Heavy Polymorph
When a target you’ve polymorphed is damaged, that target is stunned for 3 sec. This effect cannot occur more than once every 10 sec.

Double Polymorph
You may polymorph an additional target for half the normal duration.

It’s clear that they wanted to take our signature CC and pump it up. Sheeping is after all the iconic mage ability. The options here are fairly solid – giving us the ability to chain a polymorph with a stun and burst damage will be very powerful in PvP, likewise sheeping someone without guaranteeing their health comes back will be dead handy. I don’t see that having much use in PvE beyond the usual – if someone breaks your sheep it won’t immediately eat your face, and if you polymorph an already damaged target it won’t regenerate its health as much.

For PvE, Double Polymorph will be pretty great depending on how the dungeons are tuned, but at this point I can hardly get a tank to let me sheep one thing, never mind two! The biggest attraction in my mind will be using different polymorphs to create my own animal menagerie. (Turtle + Pig? Turtle + Sheep? Turtle + Penguin? How will I choose?!)

Tier 6 (Level 90)

Blast Wave
A wave of flame radiates outward from the target location, damaging all enemies caught within the blast for 923 Fire damage and are slowed by 70% for 3 sec.

Dragon’s Breath
Targets in a cone in front of the caster take 1285 Fire damage and are disoriented for 5 sec. Any direct damaging attack will revive targets.

Reduces target’s movement speed by 50%, increases the cast time between ranged attacks by 30% and increases casting time by 15%. Lasts 15 sec. Slow can only affect one target at a time.

I have to admit, I find this tier the most underwhelming and am a little jealous of classes that seemed to get something new especially in their “last” tier. These are all existing abilities that, granted, are currently tied to a specific spec but it’s nothing huge. DB and Blast Wave have fairly situational use in PvE content (I used them a ton on Heroic Maloriak). The de facto choice for most fights would be Slow, currently limited only to Arcane mages – we’ll be able to use it whenever. Use of Blast Wave is more needed for a Fire mage in any AoE situation, but we’ll have to wait and see whether Fire mages still have things that interact with this particular talent. (Alas, free Flamestrike, I hardly knew ye).

What are your thoughts on the proposed changes? Remember, nothing here is set in stone and may well change before the expansion ever comes out! For now, that’s enough writing in one day for me. If you tuned into the liveblogging over at Twisted Nether, thanks for your commentary and support. I tried to keep up with the comments coming in as best I could, but at some point it just became a whirlwind of frenzied typing!

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