Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tension in Gearing: Arcane Mages

In the comments to the previous post, Kadaan makes a very strong case that Arcane Mages have to balance between Damage and Longevity stats, and have very similar tension in gearing as healers and tanks.

So why are Arcane Mages special? Arcane mages possess a spammable, high dps, high mana-cost, unsustainable nuke in Arcane Blast. Because Arcane Blast cannot be spammed for the entire fight, an Arcane mage has to use what Elitist Jerks calls a "2-cycle theorem of spell selection," where they alternate "between a mana intensive burn mode and a mana efficient mode." The burn mode consists of spamming Arcane Blasts and the efficient mode is usually something like Frostbolts or Scorch.

Getting the correct ratio of burn mode time to efficient mode time to maximize damage done is non-trivial, even before you take upgrading gear into account. It's a Linear Programming problem, and can be solved using the simplex algorithm for a given initial gear set and fight length. Under this setup, Longevity stats are valuable because they allow you to increase the amount of time in burn mode, which increases total damage done, even if those stats do not increase the DPS of either mode directly!

In a lot of ways, it's very similar to paladin healing mechanics, in that we have a burn mode, Holy Light, and an efficient mode, Flash of Light. The major difference is that the spell paladins use is dictated more by incoming damage in the short-term future, rather than attempting to maximize total raw healing done.

However, Arcane Mages are very different from most other DPS classes in the game. Most of the DPS classes use the simple DPS algorithm that I've outlined before. They have a single, sustainable nuke (Sinster Strike, Shadow Bolt, Fireball, etc.) that they rely on, while juggling cooldowns for certain higher-dps abilities and lower-dps enablers. I'm not sure I know of any other class that uses a 2-cycle spell rotation. Perhaps Balance druids with Starfire and Wrath.

(Note for the random DPS who seem to think I am putting them down: the simple algorithm is only "simple" in comparison to the 2-cycle algorithm. Please do not interpret this as me insulting you.)

Now, should more DPS classes have a setup such that they have to use a 2-cycle rotation, and thus increase tension when gearing? Maybe. However, one issue is that a burn mode can be quite devastating in PvP, where burst damage is more important than total damage done. Arcane Blast keeps this in check by making the mage take time to ramp up to the high-dps setting.


  1. 90% of the Balance Druids I know use only Starfire. Its a bit less DPS than Wrath spam, but Wrath has absolutely terrible DPM (plus the 4-piece T6 bonus is incredible for Starfire spam). Due to the way Nature's Grace mechanics work as well, Wrath gets nothing while Starfire gets faster (it doesn't reduce the GCD so Wrath remains 1.5 seconds between casts whereas Starfire becomes 2.5 seconds instead of 3).

    Interestingly, Retribution pallys have the same kind of doube cycle as Arcane Mages, though not quite as complicated. For example, we have our minimal rotation (CS and Judgement on cooldown) which costs almost no mana versus our "Full Burn" cycle of CS, Judgement, Rank VI Consecration and Rank VII Exorcism, which will run you dry in about 45 seconds. Most of the time you'll see ret pallys do a minimal rotation for most of a fight and switch to a Full Burn during Avenging Wrath cycles.

    Of course, it is slightly different than what you describe, as ret pallys don't gear for optimal balance but rather decide mainly by choosing different types of pots (Haste versus Super Mana versus Fel Mana). Still an interesting comparison though.

  2. Maybe warlocks only have one spell they spam (destro locks that is) which is shadowbolt, but even they have to use incinerate every time the dot fades and have curses etc.

    shadow priests have to keep dots up (VT, VE, SW:P, depending on race the ... undead racial spell) they have to mind flay, mind blast (MB is very high dps for a rather high mana cost) so i guess if you will ... mind flay and VT is the low mana casting cycle and VT, VE, SW:P, MB, MF, MB, SW:D, etc is the high damage mana draining cycle.

    Druids see above

    Keep in mind that although you're technically right by saying arcane blast is mana inefficient also keep in mind that mana becomes less and less of an issue the better gear you get. a mage with BOW, BOK, AI, Mana regen food buff, mp5 gems or mp5 on gear and a shadow priest in his group regenerates a huge amount of mana. That plus mana pots and evocation (on a rather short cooldown) basically means that it gets less and less of an issue.

    warlocks obviously can life tap which can in certain fights be a problem, in most fights however it's not an issue. ofc that will lower their dps since life tap = 0 but warlocks tend to top the damage and threat meters anyway so it's probably worth spending some time not dpsing :)

    Elemental shamans also have different ways to dps (though i haven't really played one myself so can't go into detail there at all)

    balance druids in raids are not really of any importance so i won't bother going into detail there.

    also keep in mind that you can always downgrade your spells and thus save mana (dunno if that makes much sense though)

  3. I suspect the problem is not that dps feel insulted, but that your argument is a gross over simplification, and your reasoning is inconsistent. I'm not sure how someone can argue that it is important for a healer to maintain mana for the duration of a fight and that somehow makes them 2 dimensional vs dps classes who also use mana are somehow one dimensional. Strikes me as coming to a conclusion and working backwards.

    I think there is more to playing dps, and doing it well, than you realize.

  4. Good DPS players have it easy. Great DPS players have it hard.

  5. I was going to go and give some anecdotal examples of burn mode vs efficient mode for ret paladins, but Dazanna beat me to it.

    I suppose you're right though Rohan, burn mode vs efficient mode doesn't change my gear at all, it just changes my consumable of choice and when I pop my cooldowns during the fight.

  6. Maybe warlocks only have one spell they spam (destro locks that is) which is shadowbolt, but even they have to use incinerate every time the dot fades and have curses etc.

    This is somewhat incorrect. Yes, destro locks have curses to keep up, but if a destro lock is using fire spells in a raid he's doing something wrong. Especially if you are running 3 warlocks and 2+ shadowpriests.

    Using fire spells will lower overall raid dps in this case. Fire warlocks may get more personal dps, but it's at the cost of raid dps, and thats not a healthy trade off.

    Elemental shaman have different ways of dpsing? It's LB/Chain Lightining spam, along with adding in flame shock if you can afford debuff space and have a shadowpriest.

  7. I'm probably being very dim here, but I just don't get the argument. The role of dps classes is to do as much damage as possible within the limits of the encounter - which often includes pacing, either for survival or mana conservation. Longevity is integral to every aspect of your class, from talents and gear to playstyle and group buffs/synergies — but it's only important in so far as it enables you to perform at your optimal level. If you die, you fail. If you run out of mana, you fail. Mages make an interesting case study because they have to spec and gear for individual encounters more than most but the principle of adapting your play to an encounter is universal. Even if a class does have a rather simplistic dps cycle (elemental shaman spring to mind here) that still doesn't excuse the suggestion that their gearing dilemmas are any less involved than healers and tanks. It's not true. It makes for very interesting debate (I love your blog for that) but it's just not true.

  8. that still doesn't excuse the suggestion that their gearing dilemmas are any less involved than healers and tanks. It's not true.

    I'm not suggesting that their gearing dilemmas are any less involved, just that they are involved in different ways. More that there is a mathematical difference in the way that healers/arcane mages work vs most other DPS, and this difference manifests in how they gear.

    Most DPS are intent on maximizing a single equation, while Arcane mages need to solve the linear programming problem.
    Maybe I'll try to put up a post with some numbers as a concrete example.

  9. There exists the same gear-tension between DPS and healers regarding HPS /DPS and longevity. The difference is healers MUST maintain a certain amount of HPS in order to keep the raid alive. Whereas DPS can take a 5-second casting break to regen mana. (a mage's Evocate for example)

    Obviously, there are encounters where burst DPS is required to win, but it isn't every single fight.

    If your DPS runs OOM, the encounter-time is lengthened. If the healers run OOM, you wipe.

    There's gear-tension with all classes, but it's significantly greater with Tanks/Healers

  10. The problem with that is that it ignores the fact that dps goes OOM -> lengthened fight -> heals go OOM. The only time the last link doesn't matter is when you're overgeared for the fight, in which case its just a specific example of "someone can screw up and we'll still be ok".

    Probably the only one that can't really screw up much is the MT, and that's because they generally don't have much redundancy. If you have steller dps, an OT will have a hard time picking up aggro unless they sacrifice a lot of dps to serve as a backup, which probably isn't a good choice.