I mentioned last week that I was going to collect questions and put together a Frost Q&A post. I'm revising that plan, because such a post would be insanely huge. Instead, I'm going to do individual posts for each question, in whatever order strikes my fancy. They may be spread out between other posts, they may come in quick succession.
We're going to start with the most basic question of the bunch.
Q. Will Frost be competitive in PvE in Mists of Pandaria?
It seems a straightforward question, but let's clarify that: when people ask this question, what they almost always mean is: will I be able to play Frost in progression raid content without being booted from my raid group, without being asked to change specs, and while feeling like I'm pulling my weight?
A. Yes, but.
It's always important to qualify this answer, because it's guaranteed to be followed by people saying things like, "But on the Megabunny encounter it's really important to kill the baby rabbits before they reach the carrot and Arcane is much better for this because of these reasons, so Frost is useless." And when there are a whole lot of examples like the Megabunny encounter, that's a legitimate criticism. In Cataclysm, Frost's AOE is weak enough, and AOE is important enough, that even when its single-target DPS was competitive in earlier tiers, it was not unreasonable to say that it was just not a good choice.
But the fact remains that there will always be encounter mechanics, or combinations of mechanics, that favor one spec over another. We all want specs to have different playstyles and different mechanics driving them; this keeps them interesting and helps make them feel unique and interesting. This is especially true (and especially challenging from a design standpoint) for pure classes, where all three specs do the same thing.
But a natural consequence of having different ways to deal damage is any encounter mechanic that causes a change to normal stationary rotation will have a different impact on how much damage you deal. These differences can be mitigated, but they cannot be eliminated. You can, for example, give every spec some tools for dealing mobile damage, but unless you actually make them deal the same percentage of total damage and work the same way, they will not allow each spec to deal equal mobile damage in every situation.
So what does this mean for Frost? Well, it means the same thing as it means for every spec: if it's important to you always to use the strongest spec in every situation, then the whole idea of "raiding as Frost," or raiding as any specific spec, is right out the window for you. You've already chosen not to do that. You've chosen to min/max for encounters, and you'll be playing Arcane, Fire and Frost in combination, depending on what the situation demands.
So the real question here is: for those of us who want to play a single spec, and who can accept being stronger than other specs in some situations and weaker in others, is Frost going to be competitive enough on average to use for raiding?
The answer is a qualified "yes." Qualified because numbers do need to be balanced properly, and anything can go wrong at any given time. But there are no structural issues, no problems built into the design, that threaten to prevent this goal from being reached. There were two significant issues holding Frost's DPS back.
This came mostly in the form of control and survivability. These have been largely equalized in Mists of Pandaria — not perfectly equalized (because they take different forms), but close enough that Blizzard feels secure in not compensating for differences through DPS changes. For example, every spec can now have a snare on its primary nuke, but it costs Fire a major glyph slot. The major differences are:
- Fire has a stun on a 45-second cooldown and a ranged AOE snare with a cast time.
- Frost has a ranged AOE root.
- Arcane has a spammable instant-cast snare with a casting speed and ranged attack speed reduction.
In order for Mastery to work, it needs to provide value per point similar to that provided by Crit and Haste. If a given quantity of Haste increases your DPS by 1%, then a similar quantity of Mastery also needs to increase your DPS by 1%. But since Mastery is generally designed to affect only part of your damage, or to affect it only part of the time, achieving that 1% means it needs to increase the damage it does affect by more than 1%.
Coming into Mists, the full weight of Frostburn in PvE was being borne by Fingers of Frost and Ice Lance. This meant a need for lots of Ice Lances with a fairly large damage multiplier. The result was a huge damage differential between our "normal" damage — mostly our Frostbolts — and our Ice Lances. And of course in turn, this meant enormous burst damage in PvP when the target was frozen or Fingers of Frost was active.
By reducing the Frostburn bonus by 40% (from 2.5% per point to 1.5% per point) and spreading that bonus out to more damage sources (adding Brain Freeze Frostfire Bolts and the Water Elemental), Blizzard was able to provide a solid value for Mastery that works in PvE without providing unreasonable burst in PvP.
The result of all this is a spec that no longer has a significant inherent advantage in PvP over Arcane and Fire. Yes, it does have some specific [i]advantages[/i] — it can more easily set up a Deep Freeze, for example — but it is no longer the only spec with advantages. Indeed, some beta testers are predicting that Fire may be preferred by many players. With these balance obstacles overcome, there is nothing preventing Blizzard from giving it competitive DPS.
What about AOE and cleave?
Many people are still worried that Frost will continue to suffer from shortcomings in encounters that require significant AOE or cleave damage.
The majority of our multitarget damage will now come from abilities that all the specs share in common:
- Your choice of level 75 talent: some are stronger than others in certain situations, but your spec choice doesn't lock you into a particular talent.
- Flamestrike: high priority, good damage per execute, but on a cooldown.
- Blizzard: weaker than Flamestrike, but fits nicely between Flamestrike cooldowns and has a built-in snare.
- Arcane Explosion: same DPS as Blizzard, but can be used while moving.
The only spec-specific differences are:
- Arcane: Can used Arcane Explosion to build Arcane Charges (30% proc chance per cast) and use them to hit up to four additional targets for half damage with an Arcane Barrage. On average, you'll get once charge every 3-4 Arcane Explosion casts.
- Fire: Can use Inferno Blast to spread DOTs to three targets. Can use this as often as every 8 seconds, assuming you've built up DOTs worth spreading in that time.
- Frost: Can use Frozen Orb once per minute. Can use Fingers of Frost charges built by Frozen Orb and Blizzard to hit a secondary target for half damage with Ice Lance. You can expect one charge per 25 Blizzard ticks; if you're hitting 4 targets with a Blizzard (and you probably shouldn't be using it if there are fewer targets), there's about a 2/3 chance that you'll end the Blizzard cast with two charges.
Now, clearly, some of these abilities will be stronger than others in certain situations. But no matter the situation, they will only make up a minority of your total output, so those differences are heavily mitigated by the abilities all specs share in common. In short, yes, there will be AOE and cleave situations in which Frost is weaker than Arcane and Fire, but there should also be some where it is stronger, and the differences will not be large either way.
Yes, my Frost-loving friend, you will be able to raid as Frost, provided you are not raiding at such a cutting-edge level of progression that you are switching specs to optimize for every encounter. There are no structural or design obstacles to making this happen. At this point, it's purely a case of Blizzard getting the numbers right, and based on my personal interactions with them, I believe they are very much inclined to do so.
Next time: Frost and the Bomb talents.