Build 15640 is being deployed, and there are many changes listed on the various community sites. A couple of notes before I dig into the meat:
- Don't believe the cast time reductions being reported on MMO-Champion. I'll eat my hat if those are real. First, I'll buy a hat.
- The damage number changes may or may not be correct. I won't really trust them until the database is parsed for Simulationcraft.
- Glyph of Arcane Language - Your Arcane Brilliance spell allows you to comprehend your allies' racial languages. I love it.
The most significant changes are for Frost. This isn't surprising, because the Frost players have been a lot more vocal and energetic about providing feedback for some reason; going strictly by feedback, you'd think that Arcane and Fire players are mostly content. Apart from a few complaints about Arcane's mobility (probably legitimate), they just haven't given Blizzard a lot to work with in terms of guiding playstyle development.
Frost players, though, have had a few consistent complaints that the devs are trying to address in this patch:
- Brain Freeze is pretty ho-hum and we don't care much if we cast it.
- Fingers of Frost procs feel too common when Frozen Orb is up, and too scarce the other 50 seconds out of every minute.
- Too much damage is concentrated into those ten seconds.
- Too much damage is concentrated into a single spell (Ice Lance), which carries the full weight of our Mastery in PvE.
As they often do, the devs have taken a path to address these problems that doesn't quite match the ones players have tried mapping out, and which may well prove to be more elegant than the ideas we've proposed.
Brain Freeze is now, effectively, Fingers of Frost for Frostfire Bolt. Both buffs increase the damage of the spell they affect by 25% and allow them to treat the target as if it were frozen. Frostfire Bolt's innately higher damage (even taking into account Ice Lance's frozen target multiplier) means that a BF-FFB cast will now do about 40% more damage than an FOF-Ice Lance cast. Brain Freeze is thus transformed from our boring, worth-casting-but-not-exciting proc into, essentially, the Frost equivalent of Hot Streak.
On average, at zero haste, we can expect about five Brain Freeze procs per minute; haste will increase this number. With Frost Bomb, this number will be exact (and controllable). With Nether Tempest and Living Bomb, the number will vary, sometimes fewer procs, sometimes more.
Fingers of Frost
Now more of a bread-and-butter proc, Fingers of Frost isn't worth as much damage as Brain Freeze, but it's more common. You get about four procs per minute guaranteed from Freeze, figure against a single target you'll get 1-2 charges from a Frozen Orb (which has had its FOF proc chance reduced to 12%), and then you should get perhaps another 2-3 charges from Frostbolts and BF-FFB casts, for a total of 7-9 charges. Add those to the Brain Freeze procs, and you're running something like a charge every 4-5 seconds. Some of those will be wasted when we can't use them before they're overwritten, but still, that's a lot of procs to handle.
The big question here is whether an average of 1.2 procs per cast makes the relatively low single-target damage of a Frozen Orb worth the global cooldown when you're fighting a single target. I suspect the answer is still yes. Obviously it will be much stronger in cleave and AOE situations.
And speaking of AOE, your Blizzard ticks now also have a 4% chance to proc Fingers of Frost. This effectively guarantees that you'll have two charges of FOF when you return to single target DPS after an AOE phase. This can also be useful during the AOE phase itself if you use glyphed Ice Lance.
Our Mastery is no longer resting solely on Ice Lance's shoulders in PvE, and has been changed somewhat to reflect this fact. The damage bonus against frozen targets has been reduced by 40%, from 2.5% per point to 1.5% per point, and now also affects the Water Elemental's damage.
This should smooth out our damage considerably; the bulk of our damage will still come from procs, but it will come in smaller numbers from more procs. The Water Elemental will feel like it scales better, and can serve as a fine-tuning knob for adjusting Mastery value.
There are two outstanding issues that have received broad consensus in the Mage feedback threads:
- Freeze, the Water Elemental ability, feels really out of place in the PvE rotation. We'd like a less baroque method of interacting with the pet and generating those controlled Fingers of Frost charges. Interaction is good; weird interaction is bad.
- Icy Veins, no longer available to Fire and Arcane, can be tuned more specifically for Frost now, and if there's one single stat that Frost tends to have too much of, it's haste. It's very easy, between Icy Veins, Heroism/Bloodlust/Time Warp, gear, and random procs, to find oneself smashed up hard against the 1.0 second GCD floor. This not only feels awkward, since it interferes with precasting, it can also hurt performance by wasting part of the value of significant haste buffs from which other specs and classes gain full benefit.
These changes hold great promise to smooth out the Frost playstyle and address many of our complaints. There are a couple of issues I'd still like to see addressed, and of course I expect to have further thoughts after playing around with the patch, but I think this is a huge step in the right direction.