Mage Raiding Guide
This guide is a distillation of my knowledge related to playing the Mage class for raiding purposes. It is meant for usage at level 80 while raiding and using Frostfire Bolt as your primary nuke. I’ve used a variety of builds for a variety of purposes while leveling and raiding at 60, 70 and now 80 and they all have their place and utility. As far as what is “optimal” I think it is a moving target and what might be true today may change with a patch tomorrow. That being said, I have always preferred to use a deep Fire talent specification for raiding and continue to use it now. I welcome any and all feedback regarding this build or alternatives that emphasize Arcane or Frost; one can never know too much and information is power.
Here is the talent specification I am using currently.
I take no credit for this build as it is widely used and known to be popular. Before I explain why I think this is a good build and why I use it, I want to talk about some fundamental rules that seem to prevail with any talent build for any class. Upon reaching the level cap it is assumed that one tree will be emphasized above the others and at least 51 points invested to obtain that ultimate talent, ability, or spell. The question then becomes how to spend the remainder. This can go one of three ways: continue in the same tree and dedicate yourself to that tree only, choose a secondary tree and obtain a sometimes powerful 11 point talent or possibly forego your own 51 point talent to get a 21 point talent in this other tree, and finally there is the option to sprinkle points where applicable in the other two trees.
In my experience I have found that spending all talent points in a single tree is limiting and that choosing one tree to dominate and spending points in each of the other trees is also problematic for a Mage (I use all three trees for my Rogue and feel that is the way to go). This leaves only the choice of emphasizing one tree and then spending a large number of points in a secondary tree that offers some synergy with your primary tree. Looking at how one might spend 20 or even 21 points in a particular tree has lead me to the conclusion that the only good choice for this case is the Frost tree. In my opinion, the first 4 tiers of Arcane talents do not synergize well with a Fire or Frost build (though they do with Frost if you’re making a PvP build where I do just that) and the first 4 tiers of Fire talents do not synergize well with Arcane or Frost. The first 4 tiers of Frost talents, however, do work well with both Arcane and Fire because they are more generic.
Let me explain my build below with commentary on various talents I chose and also why some others were purposely ignored.
Ice Floes 3/3. Every mage uses Frost Nova frequently, it is our root and our escape mechanism. Cone of Cold is a decent spell due to its application of a snare which also provides a mechanism to escape with Blink, etc and does decent damage in its own right. Ice Block is a life saver, literally, and since it is now trainable it can be used by all Mages regardless of talent build. Finally, if one invests enough points to gain Icy Veins then they will realize a significant DPS boost via haste that lasts 20 seconds and has a 3 minute cooldown. All of these spells are useful and reducing the cooldown with this talent is a no brainer.
Frostbite 2/3. The only reason this is chosen is because you cannot use talents to reduce the casting time of Frostfire Bolt. Investing points in Improved Frostbolt will not benefit Frostfire Bolt and so, in order to unlock the next tier of talents, this is the better choice and can be a nice benefit when soloing.
Precision 3/3. Another awesome talent that benefits any build by reducing the mana cost and increasing the chance to hit of all spells by 3%. Having to invest too much of your gear to become hit capped typically comes at the price of spellpower or crit and this reduces that significantly.
Ice Shards 3/3. This does affect Frostfire Bolt and is therefore very useful.
Piercing Ice 3/3. This also affects Frostfire Bolt and is therefore also beneficial to that build.
Icy Veins 1/1. A defining talent for raiding as a Mage. When used in tandem with Fire talents such as Molten Fury, you can really lay down the DPS when it counts towards the end of a boss battle.
Frost Channeling 3/3. Reducing the mana cost of all spells by 10% is huge and the fact that it does affect Frostfire Bolt from a threat perspective is just icing on the cake.
In summation, investing these 18 points does much for any Mage spec, but it benefits Fire much more than it does Arcane due to Ice Shards, Piercing Ice and Frost Channeling. Even Frostbite, which is useless in a raid, does benefit a FFB spec when soloing while it has no benefit for an Arcane mage who is likely not casting Frostbolt or Frostfire Bolt.
The choice of talents in the Fire tree are obvious and do not require commentary in my opinion. Simply skip those that are most applicable to PvP and take all the rest while still allowing 18 points to be invested in the Frost tree. I do believe that a good talent spec can be had by spending 53 points in Arcane but I haven’t researched that. The problem I have with Arcane/Frost over Fire/Frost is that Fire benefits so much more from the investment in Frost that I find it highly unlikely that when taken as a whole, the Fire/Frost build could be surpassed by Arcane/Frost.
Regardless of which build is better or best, there is something to be said for play style and how one derives enjoyment from this game. I prefer Fire because, to me, it offers the greatest diversity. You have several long-range nukes with FFB, Fireball and Pyroblast (instant cast with Hot Streak), you have an additional close range AoE that is also an interrupt with Blast Wave, you have a powerful (due to talents) ranged AoE in Flamestrike which I like to cast and immediately follow with a Blizzard on top, you have another close range interrupt with Dragon’s Breath, a guaranteed 5% crit with Improved Scorch and a long range DoT/Nuke with Living Bomb. There are lots of different spells to choose from and this diversity makes playing a Mage more enjoyable while also providing added flexibility for a given situation.
Prior to patch 3.1, the choice for your 3 Major glyphs as a FFB raiding Mage were simple and straightforward but there are now some new glyphs that must be considered.
Frostfire. This glyph is still absolutely required when using a FFB talent spec. Increasing damage by 2% and the chance to crit by 2% is great and this glyph has no downside.
Living Bomb. This glyph was newly added in patch 3.1 and has become very desirable for Fire or FFB Mages. This is a spell that I always have ticking on my targets and letting the ticks crit can be a significant DPS boost.
Improved Scorch. Stacking the Scorch debuff to 5 no longer gives a 10% chance for spells to critically hit, but it does give 5%. This is the same for Winter’s Chill offered by deep Frost Mages but is now also possible from Warlocks via Improved Shadow Bolt (and applies with a single Shadow Bolt!). Since there are now 3 different ways to achieve this raid wide buff, the desirability of this glyph has dropped and it is one I may change. The issue becomes one of raid composition and what are the chances that someone else can apply this debuff. This glyph does stack the debuff to 5 with a single Scorch which is very cool and faster than a Frost Mage, but it never disappears when either of those two classes apply it since they are frequently casting the spell that stacks it (Frostbolt and Shadow Bolt respectively). Clearly, to maximize DPS as a FFB Mage it is best to never cast Scorch and let someone else apply this debuff. If you do not have this glyph and find yourself without help, you can still stack it to 5 with 5 casts since the talent point investment has been made.
Molten Armor. This glyph is now debatable since it has changed with the 3.1 patch. Previously it offered a 5% increased chance to crit and since most FFB Mages use this armor more than any other and since our build truly shines when we crit, this glyph was an obvious choice. Now that the bonus to crit scales with Spirit, you must consider using it based upon how much Spirit you have. Higher end gear has more Spirit and thus makes this an easier decision, but for those of us with ilvl200 epics, there isn’t as much Spirit to reach the 5% increase previously offered by this glyph. There are two pieces of good news however: this now scales so every time your gear improves and you get more spirit, you will notice a benefit and secondly, all Priests can now cast Divine Spirit which should be available in any 25 man raid. On a personal note, since my gear is weak when considering 25-man UIduar, I am dropping this glyph for Living Bomb. Not only do I not have much Spirit, but the increased resistance offered by Mage Armor helps mitigate various damage I’ve encountered which helps overcome my lack of Stamina as well and makes me less likely to die. As my gear improves, I may swap this back in for Improved Scorch especially if there are others (preferably Warlock) that can apply the debuff.
In summation, the first two glyphs mentioned should always be used by a FFB Mage. The last one to choose depends on many factors. Since my Spirit is pretty low, the benefit from Molten Armor and its associated glyph are not that significant. The benefit of Improved Scorch however, coming into play when you do 5-man dungeons, 10-man raids or find yourself in a 25-man raid without anyone else capable of adding this debuff, is very useful. As my gear improves and my Spirit increases, I may replace Improved Scorch with Molten Armor.
Intelligence is still the primary stat for FFB Mages as it significantly increases our mana pool and increases the chance for spells to crit. Everyone loves to crit, but FFB Mages benefit in so many ways with synergies like Hot Streak that it cannot be emphasized enough and is why I maintain that Intelligence is still the primary base stat. Stamina would have to come in second because everyone does zero DPS when dead and boss fights have so much AoE damage that you owe it to your healers to have a little stamina so that you are not so easily killed. Spirit is next as it provides some mana regeneration but more importantly with how it scales with Molten Armor and its associated glyph. Strength, Agility, and Armor are all secondary.
The most important thing for anyone doing DPS in a raid environment is to maintain the hit cap. Without it your spells will miss from time to time and cause a significant drop in your overall DPS. When some spells apply a debuff and you cannot rely on them being applied, this causes issues with spell rotations and makes things a little chaotic. To learn how much hit you need in order to be capped, I recommend this handy web page.
There is a table near the bottom that covers various classes, races, talents and everything you need to figure out how much hit you need. If there is one single item that is fairly easy to get and very useful in achieving the cap it is this. It can be found in Heroic Violet Hold which is always nearby since everyone hangs out in Dalaran, it’s a quick and easy dungeon and you should farm it until you get it. Having this at your disposal gives great flexibility in what gear you can wear and/or how you gem your gear to maintain the hit cap. Another item that you might consider is this food which will grant you 40 hit and while it’s nice to use the spellpower food from feasts like everyone else, if this makes it easier to wear the gear you want, then it is a viable alternative.
The next most important Spell Stat, in my opinion, and this is specifically for FFB Mages, is crit. This is because it synergizes with so many spells and talents. Ignite procs when you crit, 2 crits in a row will proc Hot Streak, you get mana regeneration from Master of Elements when you crit, you get 50% more critical damage from Burnout, etc.
The next spell stat is obviously Spell Power. This stat benefits all your damage spells and ensures a consistent amount of DPS. Next is haste since there is a direct correlation from casting time to DPS, the faster you cast the more spells per unit time you cast and thus your DPS increases accordingly. I have yet to find any battle where mana becomes a constraint since we have Master of Elements, Pyromaniac, Mana Gems and Evocation along with MP5 and Spirit that Haste is always a good thing but rarely something to concentrate on when you consider the stats mentioned higher in this list.
The first decision to be made is whether or not you are responsible for establishing the 5% spell critical debuff or not. If you are, then Scorch should be your first spell cast when combat ensues. Considering the importance of critical strikes for a FFB mage, and considering the benefit given to many others in the raid, this is clearly of vital importance. You must also diligently monitor when this debuff will end and cast another Scorch again to prevent that from happening. This is very easy with the talent and the glyph, but if you are not using the glyph then once established at a stack of 5, it is absolutely essential that you not let it roll off as this will require 5 separate Scorch spells to be cast and this will impact your DPS.
Once the Scorch situation is established you should cast Living Bomb. You want to constantly keep this on your target and recast when it rolls off. This is also a good spell to use at the very beginning of combat because it is a DoT and very unlikely of pulling threat from the tank whereas a nuke of some kind might crit and more easily cause a problem. Another thing to realize about this spell is that not only can it only be cast on one mob at a time, but you cannot cast it on a mob where it is already applied. What does this mean? It means that if you attempt to cast it and cannot because it is already applied, you will waste time (not sure if it triggers the GCD but trust me, you don’t want to do this). If you find yourself with Living bomb about to go off in 2 seconds or less, cast another nuke or scorch if you have to, and then cast Living Bomb after it has clearly expired. Do not wait around casting nothing, it is better to let the mob not have Living Bomb for a second or so than it is to not constantly be casting.
Once the debuff is up and you have Living Bomb ticking away, it’s time to nuke using Frostfire Bolt. It’s really that simple. You will hopefully proc Hot Streak from time to time which you should use to cast Pyroblast as soon as possible. While you have 10 seconds to cast Pyroblast instantly, it is best to make use of it immediately for multiple reasons. First, you may find yourself incapacitated and unable to make use of it (Loatheb’s web, being thrown into the air or put into Ignis’s Slag Pot) and secondly since you are a critical strike machine, you may find yourself critting again before you leveraged this ability and thus lose out of the proc (the 10 second timer is just reset, you don’t get to cast 2 instant pyroblasts).
There are other situations to consider that are not part of the standard spell rotation but are worth mentioning. If you find yourself unable to cast spells because you are moving (like being thrown in the air) then consider instant cast spells like Fire Blast (I do this when Ignis throws us up in the air during Flame Jets). If you pull an add on to you and think you can survive from being one-shot, you might use Frost Nova to root and/or Dragon’s Breath to daze (Nova allows you to keep distance a little better and possibly avoid being hit, but will not hold the mob for long whereas DB lasts for 5 seconds and gives others the chance to pull threat off you). Of course, there is always Ice Block and depending on the fight and where a lull might occur, a preemptive Invisibility is always useful to ensure you do not pull threat from those wearing plate mail. Another spell to consider is Spellsteal, which is largely ignored by the Mage community. I have yet to find a web site with a database of all boss abilities that can be stolen but it could make a significant difference in not only the damage dealt by the boss, but in the DPS you generate which is clearly win-win.
Finally, there is the end of the boss battle. This is when the health of the boss drops below 35% and Molten Fury starts to apply by granting a 12% increase in spell damage. It is during these final moments (or minutes depending) that you should make use of your cooldowns. For a FFB Mage this includes Icy Veins as well as Combustion and for all Mages, Mirror Image. I have a macro that casts all of these for me since I want them to execute as quickly as possible and none cause a GCD:
/cast Mirror Image
/cast Icy Veins
The order here is somewhat significant in that Combustion has no timer and instead is applied until you crit three times so that clearly should be done first. I prefer to cast Mirror Image next since it seems to take a while for the copies to begin attacking anyway and once I cast Icy Veins I want to start doing damage as soon as possible. What to cast after this macro is something I’m still considering. In the past I have tended to cast Living Bomb before it so I can nuke with the benefit of Icy Veins. On the other hand, the Mirror Image copies do not seem to attack any target until one of my own spells does damage and it is for this reason that casting Living Bomb (instant cast) immediately after this macro may be beneficial as you might increase the DPS of the copies. I’m not sure it makes a huge difference either way, but it is something to consider.
When raiding it is better to use flasks than elixirs for obvious reasons and the best flask for a Mage is Flask of the Frost Wyrm. They only last one hour now, but they stack to 20 which is nice. Be sure to bring enough to last the duration of the raid.
Hopefully someone is dropping feasts while raiding since the bang for the buck with those items is multiplied when in large groups. If so, and you have no special needs (the aforementioned +hit food) then these are adequate. I tend to carry a stack of this food for when I really want to emphasize critical strike, but that’s a personal choice.
An entire guide could be written about gems, so all I’m going to do is tell you about a great mod that makes choosing the best gem for a given spot much easier and it’s called GemHelper.
Again, much can be said but with the things I mentioned for both “Stats” and “Spell Stats” the choices should be fairly obvious (and this guide is getting to be really long already). To help you learn about all the enchants possible, where to get them and what reputation level is necessary (if applicable) I will direct you to yet another great web page for that information.