So far we have talked about polymorphing, decursing, kiting, and our “Oh Shit” buttons, but I know that none of those are the reasons why most of us became mages. We became mages because at the end of the day there are some people who were born to hurl power magic at those who oppose us and make them pay for whatever slight they have transgressed against Azeroth. For me that transgression is usually related to them having money or items I wish to have or sell. Your reasons may vary.
As a class we are known for big numbers. We are expected to be near the top of the damage meters or combat logs. We are a pure DPS class, so people expect us to kill things pretty quickly. Here are the key things to remember.
If it is on the floor, but not the floor….
Ask any healer what irks them most about DPS classes (or anyone really) it will usually end up with two main complaints. First will be “they always blame the healer for the wipe” and the second (and somewhat related) is “those #$@%ing morons keep standing in the fire? Did their parents drop them on the head at birth? WTF!?”.
In a raid, the vast majority of fights are simply a dance. Move here, stand there, shoot this, shoot that. On any fight the first time you see it, do not worry about doing your top damage, worry only about learning the dance steps and staying alive. Almost all fights are Heigan the Unclean in some fashion, anyone who says otherwise is lying.
So let me put in this another way DEAD DPS = ZERO DPS. Learn to stay alive by understanding how the fight flows and you can then start chaining together the steps to go from staying alive to victory dance.
Movement is the bane of casters. When you move your options to be the best you can really start to narrow. So what I want you to take away from this is that when you are moving stop at the place where you will be able to hit the target and not move the longest.
To use Grobbulus as an example. That fight requires the tank to keep moving him in a circle around the room. As a caster you should get kind of close, stop, then start casting and keep casting until he gets out of range then run in close again. The less time you spend running the better. Economy of movement is key.
Likewise there can be enchants which will improve movement speed. Depending on how the math breaks down compared with other enchants available in game, it might very well be worth it to take the speed boost over other enchants.
Your Spec will dictate how you play
This should be obvious, but playing a spec pretty much will direct you on what spells should be on your hotbar for easy use. In cataclysm this will be even more the case since you can only spend talents in one tree until you reach a 31 points in that tree. Your talents relate to the spells that will be your primary nukes, and probably what your proc based ones are. It should also guide you on how to gear and gem, but more on that later.
Each tree will also have a different gameplay theme to a degree. This will help determine what the optimal spell rotation is, and how to prioritize your spell choices. When assembling a spec, think about what each talent does and how it relates to other talents very carefully. If you are taking a “cookie cutter spec” look very closely at how the spec is designed to make sure you understand why each talent was taken.
If there is a stat that can be buffed, it should be buffed.-Eoc
Buffs are a prefight decision. Most of the time you will use Arcane Brilliance to buff the whole raid, and you will probably choose Molten Armor for yourself, but be sure to remember about mage armor and ice armor and be able to recognize when they would be more important. If you are specced into Arcane decide who would benefit most from your Focus Magic and remember it should be a spell caster who has a decent chance to crit.
Gear, Gems, and Enchants
Gear is a constant ladder. We get new gloves or a new belt. And sometimes it can be daunting to know if it is an upgrade. But the basic rules of thumb I would follow is: Is it a higher item level? Is it giving me more of a stat I want? What if anything am I giving up? Now everything has a value and a balance.
People, including myself, will say “Get hit capped”. This means that you need to find a way to make sure that you don’t miss the mob under any circumstances. The hit value really shouldn’t be that hard to find with resources like Elitist Jerks around. But while you are gearing up, you will have to make decisions and sometimes you might have to pass up on hit to get a greater benefit else where. For example if you offered me a hat that had 20 hit on it, or a hat that had 0 hit but 60 spell power, I’d take the spellpower because even though I might miss occasionally I still will do overall more damage. Gear calculators like RAWR are really good at sorting this out.
Something else to consider is that often gemming for optimal output means not worrying about socket bonuses. Make sure you have the right colors for your Metagem, but after that you generally want to stick with spellpower and haste.
Your gear can also help you determine what spec is best for you at the time. In the Burning Crusade there was this rather famous chart which outlined based on a combination of stats which of three different fire specs would yield the highest DPS. So as you slowly got gear you’d check and see how you did on crit and spellpower and see which spec region you were in. That is all the result of theory craft which usually becomes pretty readily available after gear starts getting introduced. And as Zel has pointed out, a google search can help find it quick quickly.
Now the final thing I want to say on this topic is that with enchants, if you have the ability to enchant an object you should. It doesn’t always have to be the super expensive high end ones, but having something on there will help. Please try to keep enchants related to your desirable stats (Spellpower, Crit, Hit) instead of stuff you shouldn’t care about like strength or agility. The same goes for gems. There is nothing wrong with getting a cheaper one to hold you over til you get more gold, or if you plan on replacing the piece soon anyway.
Likewise if there is a debuff that can be applied it should be applied.-Eoc
Debuffs are very useful in helping the raid as a whole, and in some cases might be necessary for you to maximize personal damage. Not all specs have a debuff mechanic to help their DPS, but I will use two mechanics in the game right now to help illustrate my point. First let’s look at frost. On live now the chance to score a critical hit against a frozen target is higher than on an unfrozen target. The Fingers of Frost acts as a substitute for the same affect. So it stands to reason periodically weaving in talents or spells which will freeze your target will help your overall damage. This mechanic appears to be largely continuing in Cataclysm.
The other debuff mechanic which jumps to mind is the Improved Scorch (live)/ (Cata) talents. This applies a debuff which increases the chance that the target will be critically hit by spells by 5%. Unlike the frost example this is beneficial to the whole spell casting raid. So like the warlock who does Curse of Elements instead of a self serving Curse of Agony, help the raid out by keeping the debuff up.
But there is a critical thing to remember about debuffs, if someone else is already doing the same thing as you for debuffs, you may not need to be renewing the debuff at all. For example, Torment of the Weak in the arcane tree will up damage done against slowed or snared targets. If your tank is applying Thunderclap you don’t need to applying a snare or slow to get the benefit of this talent.
Dots more Dots-Old Onyxian Proverb
This only really applies to Fire at the moment as neither Arcane or Frost have DoTs, but who knows what the expansion after next might have. When World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Revenge of the Burning Lich King’s Cataclysmic Crusade hits servers in 2012, and there is an arcane talents called Sparkle Shower (x dmg/18 sec and a chance to turn target into a sparkle pony) remember I said this. If you have a DoT, it should try to have near 100% uptime on the target. Some you can’t control (like ignite), but others you can (Living Bomb).
Proc it like its Hot!
Mage DPS didn’t use to be this way, but now every tree has a proc mechanic. Namely it is the old Cast X eventually Y will happen when it does use Spell Z. The most famous is probably Hot Streak for an instant , but is well known in Arcane Mage’s repertoire. In Cataclysm the default will be every once in a while something you cast will allow you to cast . And as you talent up you will be able to swap the Arcane Missiles to Pyroblast or , or if Arcane faster and more Arcane Missiles. It looks for the long term that proc based DPS is here to stay.
The most important thing to know is when to use your proc, and that is where add ons can be a BIG help. Currently I use Power Auras Classic, I’m sure there are other mods which do the same thing, but find one that works for you. When you get the Hot Streak, Brain Freeze, or Arcane Missile proc you should get some kind of clue that you are going to switch from your main nuke to your special nuke. Some like auditory clues, I prefer having a big green word pop on my screen letting me know now is the time to go from good to great.
If you can practice on the target dummies just rolling your rotation out over and over again, eventually you get a muscle memory that when I get my clue I use the proc. For example our guild is on the Lich King and in an effort to provide a little bit of variety in debuffs I am going to try out a torment of the weak fire spec(I have been arcane/Icy veins since mid ulduar) this upcoming weekend. I spent yesterday morning tweaking mods and practicing probably about an hour just focusing on getting my brain used to reacting automatically to procs and other aspects of the new spec. So when we are dealing with all the crazy of raiding, knowing “oh wait what do I cast now?” shouldn’t even enter my mind. Keep on practicing.
Be careful not to over aggro. -Onyxia Wipe Meltdown
If you don’t have a threat meter, get one. It will allow you to calibrate your DPS on the tank’s ability to generate threat. The thing you have to remember is not all tanks are equal. Even similarly geared toons in the same class might tank differently based on player skill and that can be a huge difference in threat generation. As DPS if you pull aggro, people aren’t inclined to blame the tank. They will be looking at you as a meter hungry jerk who just got the healer killed. Not exactly a good reputation to be sporting.
One thing I think many people don’t understand is that range matters. The amount of threat over the tank to pull aggro as melee is 110%, but range is higher at 130%. When I see mages standing at the boss’s kneecaps I just want to take away their wand and send them to Warlock school where such nonsense is probably encouraged. Now while you can ride at 125% tank threat you need to be very careful when doing that because if they get lag or you get a super crit, things can turn south quickly. Over time with a tank you will begin to get a feel for how quickly they can generate threat and adjust accordingly.
When I was teaching someone years ago how to play caster DPS I said “It is simple just remember ABC…Always Be Casting.” The same can be true for your cooldowns. We all have them. That 2 or 3 minute ability which gives us a boost to something. Now some fights you may need save them for some kind of coordinated push in your raid. Check with your raid leader if this is the case. She might say something like “Save all your cooldowns for Heroism at 35%”. If told to do so, it is probably for the best to do that. But if your raids are like mine where it is mostly casual raiders, your cooldowns are your business. If that is the case I go for macroed in cooldowns with my main nuke.
/cast icy veins
/cast Arcane Power
Basically this means that every time I cast my primary nuke (substitute FirefrostArcaneboltballblast with the name of the spell), I will also use any use trinkets, cast my abilities that don’t use a Global Cooldown, then my primary nuke. Obviously adjust the macro to remove the talents you don’t have, but it will make sure that you get the most use out of your special abilities in every boss fight. On thing to note though is that doing it this way means there is a lot of potential for high threat the first couple seconds of a fight. Either get in the habit of counting to three after the tank’s first hit before starting your rotation or use mirror images at the outset to give you a threat immune 30 seconds (but remember to check that you are under the tank at the end of that 30 second window).
Closing Thoughts on DPS and the Series
DPS is easy if you remember a few basic rules.
- Don’t be a jerk if anyone makes a mistake. DPS is a dime a dozen, you can and will be replaced if you are an asshat. A tank or healer Prima donna will be tolerated. DPS Divas are quickly replaced.
- Work with the tank on letting her keep threat. You are following their lead. If you can remember that aggro management is a dance where the tank is leading and you are following just a bit behind, you’ll both be happy.
- Don’t piss off your healers. Help them out by not standing in the ick. Help save them with crowd control when they are in peril and they’ll remember and like you.
- Practice your rotation often. The training dummies make the spell casting automatic in raids so you’ll only have to worry about the fight mechanics.
If you can do all that and make sure your gear is well gemmed and enchanted you should do fine. Practice makes perfect, I cannot stress that enough. One last thing is if you can find a DPS rival, it can be a lot of fun. You will push each other to do better, but never let the quest for meter supremacy cross teh line where you endanger the raid.
And finally on the series as a whole. Being a mage is a lot of things, lots of fun things, but the thing I think we are best at is being a fight director. We can crowd control better than any class out there, we are competitive for top DPS, we can decurse, and we can move around a room faster than most. If we were a chess piece we’d be the Queen, very powerful and not to be underestimated. But what we should never be is one trick ponies. Many mages, especially because of Wrath of the Lich King’s raid and dungeon designs, see themselves as simply one of the DPS. We should be more, but that means every mage needs to practice all elements that make this class awesome. We should expect from ourselves and each other the ability to polymorph and babysit a target while still doing DPS. We should be able to kite a mob until the tank is ready to pick it up. We should be able to decurse and still be doing damage. And we should inspire envy among other players at how great we are as players. It is a good feeling to know that when people look at who is in the raid they think “We’ll do well tonight because that mage is here.” I’ve had that feeling and I want all of you to have that too.