Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Leveling as a fire mage, or how to be awesome

One of my readers, Lugnut Daffodil, has posted some very interesting questions under my previous post regarding the awesome dps that my mage does at level 60. To quote him,

1. As fire, how has survivability and mana efficiency been while leveling? I also have the full set of heirlooms and a good rotation of blues from dungeon finder rewards.

2. When did you stop using pyroblast as an opener and only use it during hot streaks procs? Or not? Do you still throw out a pyroblast with its cast time here and there?

3. When in a instance, are you AOEing a lot, or for now is it still safer/more efficient to just stay single target killer?

These are very good questions and they come at the right time because I was just going to write a post about my play style as a leveling fire mage. His questions just made this post that more relevant. I will answer them all and hopefully something extra.

I will start with the usual disclaimer: I am by no means an expert in WoW, mages or fire mages in particular. I just happen to enjoy my latest class and he happens to be a (you've guessed it) fire mage.

The funny thing about fire is that traditionally I have always been scared to play with a fire spec. In fact, I was generally confused about mages. What was the best leveling spec? Arcane? Fire? Frost? They all looked equally baffling to me. This indecision caused me to delay starting a mage up until just before patch 4.01. I did attempt one on the Horde side a long time ago but he remained at level 28 with an uncertain spec.

Patch 4.01 simplified a lot of things and allowed me to dive into this fascinating class head on. I started with a fire spec going from level 10. At 40 I dual-specced into arcane. I tried arcane for a while because I liked the way you never seem to run out of mana. Eventually, in my 50's, I decided to switch back to fire and see if some extra talents made a difference. Wow, what a difference! While arcane was never top dps, often lagging behind the 2nd or 3rd person on the damage charts, fire boosted me to the top. At 60 I'm rocking 1000 DPS and at 63 I'm pumping 1300 DPS. I do have a dirty little secret why this is possible though. But that's a story  for another time.

I love fire so much at this point that I doubt I'll ever go back to arcane. I might replace my arcane spec with frost just to see how that works but truthfully frost seems a bit lackluster just by looking at the talents.

Here's my spec at around level 60: 0/26/0. I'm shooting for something like this at level 70: 0/31/0 and something like this at level 80: 2/31/3. Sue me if that's not optimal but that's how I like to roll. What follows is a breakdown of the talents that I have picked until level 60. This spec is equally useful to me when solo questing or running a 5-man dungeon.

Tier 1
Master of Elements 2/2 - Seeing how the fire spec is a very thirsty one, this talent is important in mitigating a part of that thirst by refunding a third of the cost of any spell that crits. This will be even more valuable in Cataclysm when mana will be at a premium.
Burning Soul 2/3 - This is mostly a filler talent for me because my aim as a ranged dps class is not to get hit. It does come in handy occasionally when I pull aggro or some mob is hitting on me.
Improved Fire Blast 2/2 - Some people don't like this one much but I use my Fire Blast whenever it's off cooldown because I like instant spells. 8% extra crit is pretty huge and I think 2 points in this talent are definitely worth it.

Tier 2
Ignite 3/3 - This is one of the defining talents of a fire mage. Simply put, it causes a DOT to be applied whenever you crit with a spell. It's a fast acting DOT which is even better. It makes any critting spell 40% more powerful.
Fire Power 3/3 - Flat 3% increase in fire damage. Mandatory. Also makes your Fire Orb explode. Whatever. I can't even imagine how awesome Fire Orb will be.
Impact 2/2 - This is a tricky one. It's pretty much mandatory for several reasons. First, it can proc from any spell that deals damage (including arcane, frost or AOE spells) and it instantly resets your Fire Blast. You can, for example, cast a Fire Blast, Impact procs and then you can immediately cast another Fire Blast. That's nice. But wait, there's more. The procced Fire Blast also spreads any DOTS on the target to all additional targets in a small radius. As a bonus, it also stuns the target for a very short time, enough to give you time to escape or hit it with another spell.

Tier 3
Blast Wave 1/1 - Do yourself a favor and take this one. Blast Wave starts of as a moderate instant AOE spell with a longish cooldown but further down the tree becomes a monster. If you want to be an AOE god, get this.
Hot Streak 1/1 - Another defining talent for a fire mage. Those lame Arcane Missiles are transformed instead into an instant and free Pyroblast!!!1!oneone The catch? The proc rate is much lower. And it has a chance to happen on crits instead of just spell casting. It's ok though, once your crit chance gets high enough you'll be chucking fiery chunks of death left and right.

Tier 4
Combustion 1/1 - Get this one. I don't pretend to understand the theorycrafting behind it but suffice to say that it is a pretty good long-cooldown spell, provided that your target is already burning from a bunch of your DOTS.
Improved Hot Streak 2/2 - Mandatory. This improves on a classic by dealing with those times when your crit rate is too high to proc Hot Streak reliably. Again, I won't go into details why this is so but I read it somewhere so it must be true :)
Firestarter 1/1 - Optional but I would suggest you take it. As a fire mage, Molten Armor is up at all times so you can cast Scorch on the move whenever you feel like it. There are some tactical advantages to this and I will discuss them below.

Tier 5
Improved Flamestrike 2/2 - 2 points in this talent makes Blast Wave really shine. From a so-so ability it morphs into an awesome twofer of a spell. Whenever you hit with Blast Wave, a Flamestrike also hits the same spot. Two instant spells for the cost of one. In addition, if you're feeling freaky, you can cast another instant Flamestrike on top of the ongoing carnage.
Dragon's Breath 1/1 - Mandatory because you can't progress down the tree without this one. Some people dismiss it, claiming that it's useful mostly for PvP but I disagree. I find it very useful for AOE and it has the added bonus of stunning the mobs for 5 seconds.
Molten Fury 2/3 - I'm only putting 2 points in this talent but you can choose to fill it up if you wish, later on after you've finished filling the fire tree.

Tier 6
Critical Mass 1/3 - You'll want to fill this up eventually but this is where I stop at level 60 (or rather 59). This talent improves on some of your big nukes but it also allows Scorch and Pyroblast to weaken the target and make it more susceptible to fire damage. Its tactical uses are interesting because in a group setting I usually start off with a quick Scorch to apply this debuff, before I unload with the big guns.

You will have noticed that I left out a bunch of utility talents. It's strictly up to you if you want to pick some of those. For my style of play I consider it unnecessary. They can come in handy in certain situations and will certainly make you less squishy and more survivable but I like to go for pure dps talents 'cos that's the way I roll. The theory behind these neglected talents is fairly complicated and doesn't constitute the subject of this article.

At level 60 you have access to 2 out of 3 of each glyph type. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), mage glyphs are screwed up at the moment so glyphs which should have been prime are major, for example, while others are missing. Luckily for us fire mages the missing glyph doesn't concern us.

Glyph of Pyroblast - This one is, simply put, essential for a fire mage. Increases the crit chance of an already awesome spell by 5%. Holy crap!
Glyph of Cone of Cold - This is the odd one out but I've picked it for several reasons. First, as I said, glyphs are currently screwed up. This spot should have been filled with Glyph of Fireball. But hey, lacking something viable (at least until Living Bomb becomes available), I've chosen to fill this slot with something that will significantly boost one of my AOE spells. Yes, I still use Cone of Cold even as a fire mage. You'll see why below when I discuss strategy.

Glyph of Fireball - This should have been a prime glyph. Since it's not, it will do just as well as a major. It gives my Fireball an extra 5% crit chance. Sweet.
Glyph of Molten Armor - This glyph is the reason why fire mages like to wear their Molten Armor day in and day out. It's because it gives you an extra 3% crit chance.

Glyph of Slow Fall - I love minor glyphs that negate the need for a reagent. I use Slow Fall all the time so this is a must for me.
Glyph of Conjuring - This works well for me because I like to conjure lots of water and Mana Gems.

Solo strategy
These days I mostly run dungeons through the dungeon finder tool. I find it efficient to quest in between queues. For solo-ing, my rotation is simple and often mobs drop very quickly. First, I start off with a Pyroblast from range, because I have all the time in the world to cast it. As soon as the Pyroblast is released, and while it's still in the air, I cast 1-2 Scorches and if the target is still alive a Fire Blast will surely finish it off. If need be, I can kite the mob while Scorching it, thanks to Firestarter.

Group strategy
I'm doing most of my destructin' in 5-man dungeons because it's fun and it allows a character to get great gear. A mage's place is at the top of the damage meters so here's how I manage to accomplish this.

Single target
Because groups are go-go-go and they seem to tear through trash like it were butter, I don't have time to cast Pyroblast. Ideally, I should be casting Fireball because it has a higher chance to proc Hot Streak for the instant Pyroblast. However, I prefer to start with Scorch for 2 reasons. First, it puts Critical Mass on the target, making it vulnerable to fire. Second, it is quick casting so I can follow up quickly with a Fire Blast, or, if the target is taking longer to die, with a Fireball. As you can see, I never start off with Pyroblast in groups because by the time it finishes casting the mob is dead. Even some bosses are more than half dead in those 3.5 seconds. I'm all about the instant spells or quick-casts. So it's Scorch > Fire Blast > Fireball.

Multiple targets
Here's where the fun begins. I simply love to AOE everything to crap as a fire mage. I haven't truly AOEed stuff before this guy. There are several spells and talents that make this great fun.

I like to start off with a Blast Wave because it's instant cast (it can be used on the move) and it also procs Flamestrike on top. I then get close and use my Dragon's Breath and Cone of Cold in quick succession. Instant spells FTW. I also have the option to cast another instant Flamestrike on top, and even a Frost Nova. All of these add up big time. By the time I'm finished with all these instant spells, even elite trash mobs should be dead or almost dead. If there's a particularly nasty group of mobs, I can also toss an engineering bomb but that's only valid if you're an engineer so it doesn't apply to everyone. I am, so it does.

The beauty of all the instant AOE spells is that they also proc Impact which means I can follow with a devastating Fire Blast on whichever mob I have targeted, but more importantly Hot Streak which means instant Pyroblast.

I use the single target strategy, except that I start off with Mirror Image.

A word on mana efficiency
I was a bit worried at first that as a fire mage I would run out of mana after every fight. I find that this is not the case. Very seldom do I find myself low on mana. I suspect that at higher levels this will be more of a problem. There are several things that help with my mana issues.

Evocation - every mage has this. If your mana is dangerously low, use it. In fact use it if it's off cooldown and your mana is less than 70% or so.
Mana Gem - you can conjure 3 of these at a time. They are like a mana potion only on a separate cooldown. They're cheap to produce so you should use them whenever you need to top off on your mana.
Master of Elements - that's why I suggested to get this talent. Since mages crit a lot, the mana returns aren't insignificant.
Mana potion - use this in addition to the mana gem since it's on a separate cooldown. I have a ton of mana potions collected over the levels. I even use the lower level ones because why not?
Drink conjured water - if everything else fails, try to drink a little after every fight. Conjured water is pretty much free, especially if you make sure to create a few stacks as soon as you log in.
(Glyph of Conjuring helps with both Mana Gem and conjured water)
Heirloom trinkets - I have the advantage of wearing dual heirloom trinkets which give me a total of 4% mana back on each successful kill. The beauty of this is that I can cast a whole complement of AOE spells on a large group of trash mobs and have all that mana refunded because usually I'm the one dealing the killing blows.
Endless Mana Potion - as an alchemist you also have access to this awesome little doodad. Use it every chance you've got. My mage is not an alchemist but my priest is and I really appreciate this item.

In conclusion, mana is not a problem at this point. Surprisingly so, I would say.

A word on aggro
There will be times in your mage career when you will pull aggro whether you like it or not. I like to manage this in several ways.

I always try to target-assist, by selecting the tank and pressing the F key. This will select their current target and the one which should have the most aggro from the tank.

I will give the tank a few seconds to grab aggro on multiple mobs before I unleash my AOE spells. Even then, sometimes I will pull aggro, especially if the tank isn't very good. I will keep an eye out for Death & Decay or Thunderclap or Consecrate, etc. Usually that indicates that it's safe to start AOE.

When pulling aggro I will either attempt to finish the mob (which I usually do thanks to my awesome dps) or I will stop casting and move towards the tank. Also, Mana Shield and Mage Ward can do wonders and will keep you alive in many a sticky situation.

When pulling aggro on multiple mobs I can often save my butt by casting an Ice Nova to freeze them in place. I can then jump away and do one of the above.

If all else fails, use Ice Block. It has saved my skinny little ass on numerous occasions.

This has been a marathon of a post. I'll be stopping here because it's late and I need to get some shut-eye. Hopefully all the important questions have been answered about leveling as a fire mage. If not, shoot me your queries in the comments and I will answer them the best I can. Until then, stay awesome y'all apprentice fire mages!


Tam said...

This is awesome, thank you. I have a level 70 mage, and, DPS not really being my strong point, I'm making a respectable but not entirely successful crack at it.

Can I just ask a really stupid question about your level 70 spec - and bear in mind that this is a stupid question from a position of total ignorance, but is improved scorch not worth it? Since scorch is my go to spell these days because it procs shit, it's quick and it can be cast on the move, I find the mana reduction means I rarely have to stop for mana at all, which, err, makes me more efficient at levelling, since obviously you want to be exploding shit, not sitting around drinking or evocating.

Bloodshrike said...


Hehe, seriously, awesome post. My mages always leveled as frost for survivability, and because I can't get away from my penchant for using pets. I dual-specced my highest mage Banesidhe for Arcane, and it's nice, but it's repetitive and since I don't have a lot of haste, mobs are usually killed by the other dps before I have a chance at Arcane Missile proc.

I might have to try out fire again.

Darth Solo said...

@Tam it's up to you. You can choose to forsake some of the more hardcore dps talents for Improved Scorch. IMO at this point it's not worth it because (read the section on mana efficiency again) I don't have any problems with mana at this point. Perhaps later, in Cataclysm, Improved Scorch will be useful, maybe in certain long fights. Right now, though, I wouldn't waste those points on it.

@Bloodshrike seriously give fire a try. If you're playing frost just for fun, that's perfectly ok. If you're squeezing plenty of dps just from frost, that's also ok. But if you find that you're lagging behind in terms of damage, give fire a try.

Speaking of survivability, last night I was trying to get a screenshot of my mage casting his Pyroblast for this post and I was killing boars around Honor Hold in Hellfire Peninsula. At one point I see this elite lv 61 orc patrolling around. He's got around 21K health. So I decide to kick his ass. He was dead in less than 10 seconds. And I also got aggro from 2 boars. I got hit about 2-3 times but by the time all 3 mobs were dead my life was still around 90%.

Lugnut Daffodil said...

Since I started my mage, I can't remember having this much fun in a long long time. Didn't think it was possible after 5 years of playing.

Thanks a ton for the post and answered questions! This is why your blog is one of my faves!

I'll dual spec tonight and go fire to give your thoughts a try. Frost has actually been perfect in questing and groups, but at the same time I would like to try a mage tree that doesn't require me to lug a pet around all the time (even though the water elemental has only gotten himself killed once in 30-something levels).

So again, thanks for all your posts, sir! And you know, all the mage enthusiasm begs the next question: which class do you think will be the first you bring into Cataclysm? Mage is a good contender for me, but I haven't decided yet for sure. It's close tho :)

Tam said...

I did read the section of mana efficiency - previously I found (very minimal data admittedly) that I was having to drink noticeably more without improved scorch but with it I just could keep going like a Duracell bunny - of course that could have been other factors, rather than improved scorch. I guess I should spec out of it and do emperical testing :P

Darth Solo said...

@Lug thanks for the appreciation man! I'm a bit over pet classes. They have some advantages but I like it when 100% of my dps comes from me alone.

The first class in Cata? Well I want to start a new druid, first thing. Worgen. Then a dwarf shaman. Of course I also have to level my 80s to 85 as well. I think I'll start with the hunter as usual.

@Tam between Mana Gem, Evocate and conjure water I don't think you should have many problems. Try drinking as soon as the fight is over, even if for a few seconds. You can let the others run ahead and then catch up with Blink. Use your Mana Gem and Evocate whenever they're off cooldown.

Starrydance said...

Im getting excited about a fire mage worgen - thanks to this wonderful walkthrough.

Do you happen to know if Heirlooms will work on Worgen - and a suggested Heirloom weapon?


Darth Solo said...

Of course they'll work. Blizzard has confirmed it repeatedly. Initially I was also gonna start a Worgen mage but a reader said that they look ridiculous in cloth and I figured that's true so I started a human. Anyway, I was itching to start one.

As a heirloom I use the Dignified Headmaster's Charge with a 30 SP enchant. You can also use the 22 INT enchant which is actually better overall but also expensive.

Starrydance said...

Thank you! Im hesitant at the whole Worgen in cloth thing myself.

I still might end up rolling (yet another) Hunter. I love the class but have never gotten it to max level - its my constant reroll.

Darth Solo said...

You might get it to max with the new mechanics but personally I don't like them. I wouldn't level a hunter again.