During Blizzcon’s Talent panel, mages were cited as the class whose current design best fits the new talent system. The proposed talents for mages were almost entirely familiar abilities which sorted themselves nicely into Blizzard’s new tier design, backing up their official statement. At the same time, with many of our familiar abilities simply transitioned into the new system, we’ll have more gaps than other classes in terms of spells learned through the leveling process.
See the Wowhead Mists of Pandaria Talent Calculator (pictured in the Header image) here and a list of current mage abilities including when/how they are learned here. Also make sure to read Christian Belt’s MoP talent analysis for WoW Insider for an in-depth discussion of each of the new talents!
The Current Structure
At present, mages learn an ability every other odd level (plus level 8) starting at level 1, picking a specialization at level 10 which gives them an additional ability and resets the cadence to even levels rather than odd. This system hiccups at 30, giving us 2 abilities; 40, giving us no ability; 52, giving us a teleport/portal set in addition to an ability, and 60, again conferring no ability. The system breaks between 61 and 80, giving us a total of 8 new abilities, 4 of which are transports and 1 of which is Ritual of Refreshment. While these abilities confer great convenience to us, the point is that we only gain three new combat utilities in Outland and Northrend (which may be one of the reasons that content seems so slow).
Abilities gained through leveling are supplemented with talent points, gained at level 10, 11, and every odd level thereafter, with every level between 81 and 85 granting a point. Relevant to this post, all three specs gain access to ability-granting talents in the third, fourth, fifth, and seventh tiers. Arcane is a bit different from the other specs in that its fourth tier ‘ability’ as a 3% damage increase aura, while it gains an active ability (Focus Magic) in the sixth tier that cannot be self-cast, making it useless for questing if that is how the mage chooses to level.
Assuming only 5 points are spent in any one tier, these abilities can be accessed at levels 29, 39, 49, (59 for Arcane), and 69. The level 39 ability (Combustion or Cold Snap) can be treated as filling in for the empty level 40, while the level 69 ability gives us the “best” spell of the spec, which may count for more than one ability depending on who you ask.
Also attached to levels is the Glyph system, which unlocks 1 each of Prime, Major, and Minor glyphs at levels 25, 50, and 75. For the most part, these modify ability aspects such as damage, cooldown, and critical strike chance or are quality of life changes such as removing the reagent cost for Slow Fall. They have no major impact on how a spec is played, just how effective that spec is. I won’t really pay attention to them in my analysis.
Finally we have what could be called “universal” bonuses – Apprentice Riding at 20, Journeyman Riding at 40, Wizardry (cloth armor bonus) at 50, Expert Riding at 60, Artisan Riding at 70, and both Master Riding and Mastery at 80. These bonuses cannot be customized or altered in any way, and so like Glyphs, I won’t be discussing them.
Confirmed Repurposed Spells
The current level 1 mage ability, Fireball, will be replaced by Frostfire Bolt in Mists of Pandaria. Fireball, Frostbolt, and Arcane Blast will become spec abilities learned at level 10. This already gives us three empty levels: 7 (Frostbolt), 20 (Arcane Blast), and 56 (Frostfire Bolt).
The talent system is claiming the following spells currently obtained through leveling:
Tier 1: Ring of Frost (83), Cone of Cold (18)
Tier 3: Scorch (26)
Tier 4: Mana Shield (46)
This brings our total number of confirmed empty levels to seven: 7, 18, 20, 26, 46, 56, and 83. Notice that the distribution is heavily biased towards earlier levels: three will affect trial accounts and six occur before moving to Outland. This in my mind is the greatest risk of the new system: new players want toys to play with. Arcane raiders spam 1 button because they know and care that it’s the optimal playstyle for their spec. New players don’t care about topping charts and downing bosses; they just want to enjoy themselves.
Potentially Repurposed Spells
Note that the graph above is misleading – red blocks were added to denote spells I feel might be moved to the new spec system, but the new levels of these respective trios haven’t been marked since there’s no indication as to when they’d be learned, if they are in fact becoming spec abilities.
Since the new talent system has been completely divorced from the specialization system, Blizzard is increasing the number of abilities that are locked to a particular spec. In Cataclysm we already have Arcane Barrage, Pyroblast, and Summon Water Elemental, and to reiterate, it’s been confirmed that Arcane Blast, Fireball, and Frostbolt will be added to that list.
- Primary Abilities: Arcane Blast (20)/Fireball (1)/Frostbolt (7)
- Signature Spells: Arcane Barrage/Pyroblast/Summon Water Elemental
We can see that these abilities must come as a set of three, each ability greatly influencing the playstyle and flavor of one spec while having little use in the other two. There are three other combinations that I believe may fit this model. From most to least likely, they are:
- Secondary Abilities: Arcane Missiles (3)/Fire Blast (5)/Ice Lance (28)
- Armors: Mage Armor (68)/Molten Armor (34)/Frost Armor (54)
- AoE: Arcane Explosion (22)/Flamestrike (44)/Blizzard (52)
We again observe the unfortunate situation where the most likely addition to the specialization system is the one featuring the lowest-level abilities. In the best-case scenario, the list of levels with missing abilities expands to 3, 5, 7, 18, 20, 26, 28, 46, 56, and 83. Half the new abilities learnable by trial accounts are now spec-locked, and the first ability is learned at level 9, with the last four levels are also devoid of new abilities.
In the worst-case scenario, the empty level population expands to 3, 5, 7, 18, 20, 22, 26, 28, 34, 44, 46, 52, 54, 56, 68, and 83 for a total of 16.
Possible Recourse: Unaccounted-For Current Talent Spells/Effects
Of the talent abilities, six remain unaccounted for in the new system, but it is almost a given that they will be spec-locked:
- DPS Cooldowns: Arcane Power (Arcane T7)/Combustion (Fire T4)/Icy Veins (Frost T3)
- Signature Spells II: Focus Magic (Arcane T6)/Living Bomb (Fire T7)/Deep Freeze (Frost T7)
These are the sets I believe the abilities will be bundled in. Focus Magic admittedly seems a bit out of place in its group, but to me it would have been more out of place with Combustion and Icy Veins.
There are also talent effects which haven’t been accounted for. A lot of these talents are simple damage boosters that can be ignored through DPS rebalancing, and still more are extremely simplistic modifications to single abilities that can be rolled into the existing spells. The most important of the remaining effects are, in my opinion:
- Mana Control: Arcane Concentration (Clearcasting procs)/Master of Elements (Mana refund from crits)/Enduring Winter (Replenishment from Frostbolt)
- Damage Boosts: Incanter’s Absorption (Increased damage through shield absorbs)/Ignite (DoTs from fire crits)/Fingers of Frost (Procs that buff Ice Lance/Deep Freeze)
What a coincidence – there are again six items on the list. Actually, I think this is just a coincidence which may be due in part to me actively looking for trios. At any rate, the first set of effects deals with mana control while the second covers uncontrollable damage increases. The reason I don’t think these could stand on their own as passive abilities is that Enduring Winter is reliant on Frostbolt, Ignite basically defines of Fire’s playstyle, and Fingers of Frost relies on Frost’s chill effects. In other words, if these effects make it into Mists of Pandaria, they’d have to be bundled as spec bonuses, possibly as I’ve suggested above.
The only way I could see any of these abilities making it as baseline is if Blizzard picked one of the mana set and cut the other two. Any of them would be viable, though Enduring Winter would have to be changed to proc off of at least any of the four nukes: Frostfire Bolt, Arcane Blast, Fireball, or Frostbolt. This doesn’t actually matter, however, since leveling mages won’t care whether an ability is baseline or spec-locked, as long as they get something.
– – –
If every single hypothetical I’ve postulated turns out to be true, a total of 16 of our baseline spells will be lost. In return, we’ll gain five talent abilities at levels 15, 30, 45, 60, and 90 (75 is a re-flavoring of Polymorph) and nine specialization abilities across the leveling experience, three of which (Armors, Mana Control, Damage Boosts) are passive. If Blizzard arranges the combination of leveling, talented, and specialization abilities to space them out in a similar manner to what we see now, we end up with only two empty levels.
The problem lies with the fact that other classes are still gaining abilities overall. We won’t be lacking much compared to what we have now, but compared to what other classes will have when Mists of Pandaria is launched. Of course, we still know very little about the ability restructuring that will come with 5.0. Other classes may see their current list of abilities slashed to match ours, or we may get more new abilities during the pre-Mists leveling grind in addition to whatever Blizzard comes up with for levels 86-90.
Once more, make sure to read WoW Insider’s Pandaria Mage talent analysis, penned by Christian Belt, to get an idea of what our new talent abilities will do for us.