How to Play Arcane Mage

Note (9/30/09):  The information in this guide is out-of-date.  For my updated guide that’s current with Patch 3.2.2, check out Wow Confidential

In deciding whether to play frostfire or arcane, there are a couple key factors to consider:

  • Frostfire scales very well with crit, arcane does not.  Frostfire crits gain a huge damage bonus (over 300%) and can proc hot streak.  Arcane crits have about half that damage bonus, and can’t proc anything.
  • Likewise, arcane scales well with intellect (and, potentially, spirit), frostfire does not. 
  • Mana is a very real issue with arcane.  You can easily burn through 25k mana is 30 seconds if you want to.  On the other hand, it would take you 7 or 8 minutes to burn that much mana with frostfire.  Think of the specs like cars:  arcane has about 5 gears that you must shift between, frostfire has 1 and only 1 gear.
  • And because of that, arcane is a much more “involved” spec.  You can ramp up your damage when needed (for example, when you’re standing in two damage buffs on Malygos), and scale down to recover mana.  This makes the spec more fun, but also more dangerous.  If you are arcane spec’d, there is a VERY REAL possibility that you will end up having to wand a boss, if you’re not careful. 

So, if you’re just starting out raiding, I recommend beginning with frostfire.  The playstyle is easy to figure out with a little practice, and if you are geared at the same level as the other dps in your raid, you should be at or near the top of the damage meters on boss fights (if you follow the guide in the post below).

But if you stay frostfire a while, you will probably get bored.  The fights do tend to get monotonous, and it’s also frustrating because your damage on any given fight largely depends on factors largely out of your control (how many times you crit consecutively to proc hot streak, for example). 

Before you re-spec, however, remember that Frostfire provides 10% crit to all dps casters in your raid, whereas Arcane provides no such utility.  Therefore, for 25-mans or dps caster-heavy 10-mans, you are doing your guild a disservice if you respec to arcane unless you regularly run with a frostfire mage.  Just keep that in mind.

For those of you still ready to take on Arcane, let’s get right into it!

Spec:  Unlike Frostfire, there is plenty of room for debate when it comes to the ‘best’ arcane spec.  No spec involving scorch (or pyroblast) is really viable for raiding, so forget about that.  The most popular distribution of talents is 57/3/11, though which exact arcane talents you take is up for debate.  Here is an example build that should serve you just fine.  The only flexible talents in the arcane tree are the three top-level ones: 

  • Arcane Focus (depending on how much hit rating you have, you can lose a point or two)
  • Arcane Stability (I like the pushback protection because there are a number of raid fights where damage pushback will screw you up, but it’s your call.  This talent will not help you at all on, say, Patchwerk)
  • Arcane Subtlety (you could reasonably run with only one point here if you manage your threat well)

You can mix and match points in those, and if you’ve got a couple leftover you could invest in Magic Attunement, Student of the Mind, Incanter’s Absorption, Slow, or another peripheral talent.

Glyphs:  A few viable choices here, let’s list them:

  • Glyph of Arcane Blast:  Required – this was nerfed a bit in patch 3.09 but it’s still by far the best arcane mage glyph.
  • Glyph of Mage Armor/Glyph of Molten Armor:  You can only afford to glyph one of these.  Most people agree that Molten Armor will provide more dps, but a lot of people run mage armor – so if you’re one of those people, you might as well glyph it.  I recommend learning to play with molten armor though because 5% crit is significant.
  • Glyph of Arcane Missiles:  The new glyph of arcane missiles isn’t groundbreaking, but it still provides a bigger dps boost than anything else available for your third glyph slot.

Note that Glyph of Mana Gem and Glyph of Arcane Power might seem a little tempting, but they’re both weak choices. 

Rotations:  Here’s where it gets interesting.  The general idea of arcane is as follows: 

  1. Arcane Blast is your bread-and-butter spell.  Casting it increases the damage your arcane spells do by 15% (18% with glyph), but also increases the mana cost of arcane blast itself.  You can stack it up to three times, which gives you a massive damage buff – but at that point arcane blast costs over 1,500 mana to cast! 
  2. The way you “dump” the damage/mana cost buff is by casting another arcane spell (arcane barrage or arcane missiles).  This spell will benefit from the stacks of the arcane blast buff you have, and then clear the buff itself.
  3. Ideally, you always want to stack Arcane Blast three times before casting another spell. 

Think of it as “charging up.”  You “charge up” by casting arcane blast up to 3 times, then you dump the charge by casting either arcane barrage or arcane missiles.  How do you know which one to use?  Well…

  • All of your arcane spells have a chance to proc “Missile Barrage,” which makes your next arcane missiles cast super fast.  If, after stacking your three arcane blasts, you do proc missile barrage, then you should cast arcane missiles immediately.
  • If missile barrage does not proc while stacking your three arcane blasts, you can do one of two things:
    –If you are totally comfortable with your mana situation (mainly if you have evocation available), you can continue casting arcane blast until missile barrage procs, at which point you cast arcane missiles.  This is the highest possible dps rotation, but it will destroy your mana pool, especially if you have to cast a bunch of arcane blasts to get the proc.
    –If you are doing ok on mana but your evocation isn’t available, you should cast arcane barrage to dump the arcane blast buff.
    –If you are in trouble with your mana, you should cast arcane missiles without the missile barrage proc.  Even though arcane missiles has a high mana cost, since the spell takes 4.5 seconds to cast it gives you a little break from stacking arcane blasts, which is where most of your mana is going.  See the section below for more information on when you get in trouble with your mana.
  • Regardless of whether you cast arcane missiles or arcane barrage to dump the arcane blast buff, you should immediately go back to stacking three more arcane blasts, and repeat the process until the boss is dead.
  • Note:  It no longer makes sense to cast arcane barrage without three stacks of arcane blast, due to a nerf to its spell damage coefficient.

So why is this more complicated than frostfire?  Well, try it and see just how quick you run out of mana.  Between the stacked arcane blasts and the hugely expensive arcane missiles, you’re going to be blowing through your mana very fast.  How do you counter this?   A few ways:

  • Mana gems:  Use them aggressively, and aim to use all three every boss fight.  I generally use one within the first 15 seconds of any fight, as soon as I’ve burned enough mana to warrant it.  Do not wait until you are low on mana to use one.
  • Evocation:  While frostfire mages rarely if ever have to evocate, arcane mages may find themselves evocating three times during a boss fight!  Thanks to the 2-minute cooldown from talents, evocation can and should be used aggressively to restore your mana pool.  If you can time it to where you start casting it in the final second of icy veins, then all the better.
  • Runic Mana Potions:  You only get one per fight, so make it count.
  • Mage Armor:  If you’re having serious mana issues, consider switching from molten to glyphed mage armor.

And finally, if you’re still finding yourself having to resort to wanding on boss fights:

  • Change your rotation.  If you start stacking arcane blast twice instead of three times, the spec is much, MUCH more mana efficient.  Of course this seriously hurts your dps, so you want to avoid it as much as possible, but sometimes you can’t.  The essence of playing arcane is to know when to hit hard and to know when to scale back.  This depends on too many factors to count:  your gear, the raid you’re in, the fight itself, whether you get an innervate, etc.  Therefore, it’s impossible to generalize about this stuff – it just takes experience.

Let’s talk about cooldown management.  The cooldowns you’ll have available are:

  • Icy Veins:  20% cast speed increase, no spell pushback for 20 seconds.  Can use every 2.4 mins with talents.
  • Arcane Power:  Increases your damage 20%, but also increases the mana cost of spells 20%, for 15 seconds.  2 minute cooldown (1.4 with talents). Cannot use Presence of Mind while Arcane Power is active.
  • Presence of Mind:  Makes your next spell an instant cast, and (with talents) increases it’s chance to crit by 30%.  You want to use this with arcane blast.  Puts Arcane Power on a 1.5 second cooldown when you use it.   2 minute cooldown (1.4 with talents).
  • Mirror Image:  Creates three mini-yous who do a little damage, and ensure that you don’t pull aggro for 30 seconds.  When they go away, the threat you accumulated while they were up is given back to you.  Great to use at the start of fights to make sure your tank gets solid aggro.
  • Any trinkets you have with a “Use”.

You want to use these early in the fight.  Since patch 3.09, it’s not as easy as just putting them all in one macro and hitting it every few minutes.  Here’s how I manage my cooldowns:

  • I created the following macro:/cast icy veins
    /cast arcane power
    /use [name of your useable trinket, if you have one]
    /cast mirror imageI use that usually 5 seconds after the start of each fight.  That pops every cooldown you have except presence of mind (see below).
  • I macro’d my Presence of Mind to my Arcane Blast.  So the macro looks like:/cast presence of mind
    /cast arcane blastAnd I use that as my bread-and-butter arcane blast.  That way I’m getting an instant arcane blast every time presence of mind is cooled down.
  • Now, arcane power will cool down prior to icy veins, so once it’s available I usually hit it individually.  Then I wait until it’s cooled down again, and use all the cooldowns at once again. So the “cooldown rotation” I use is:1.  Start of fight:  Icy Veins/Arcane Power/Mirror Image
    2.  1.4 minutes into fight:  Arcane Power
    3.  1.4 minutes after that:  Icy Veins/Arcane Power/Mirror Image

    And of course I’m using presence of mind whenever it’s available, because it’s macro’d to my arcane blast. 

What arcane does is give you the ability to control the rate at which you convert your mana into damage.   Your goal in boss fights is for you to always have enough mana to fully dps the boss when he’s alive, and to have as close to zero mana as possible when the boss dies.  This means that, if the boss is down to 10% and you have a near-full mana bar (after an evocate, for example), you can go into full-on kick ass mode and just spam arcane blast, ignoring other spells.  You’ll just be chain casting super powerful, super expensive arcane blasts – which should drain your mana nice and fast, and give you a pretty sweet dps boost.  Just make sure to time it so you don’t run out of mana before the boss dies!

Alright, let’s get to the summary:

  • The highest dps rotation you can use is three arcane blasts followed by arcane missiles if missile barrage procs, or another arcane blast if it doesn’t.  Continue casting arcane blast until missile barrage procs, then cast arcane missiles and repeat.  You should only use this rotation when you have evocation available (especially at the start of fights) or when a boss is nearly dead.
  • Your standard rotation is three arcane blasts followed by arcane missiles (only if missile barrage procs), or arcane barrage if missile barrage doesn’t proc.  In general, don’t cast arcane barrage without three stacks of arcane blast stacked.
  • Use your mana gems and evocation aggressively and as early as possible, and don’t be afraid to switch to mage armor if you continually struggle with your mana.

That’s about it!  Good luck out there.

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15 Responses to “How to Play Arcane Mage”

  1. VEyez Says:

    nice guide mate, even though they changed the arcane missles glyph, you still think its a weak choise ?

  2. Arcane Mage Guide Updated for Patch 3.09 « World of Warcraft Mage Guide to Raiding Says:

    [...] Mage Guide Updated for Patch 3.09 By Karch The Arcane Mage Guide below has been (finally) updated for patch 3.09.  It now contains up-to-date information on glyphs [...]

  3. velinath Says:

    Your tip on the PoM – AB macro is pretty handy – should up dps a tad as I usually forget to pop PoM. The only drawback is that it doesn’t necessarily always pop PoM on the third AB, which I think might be a slightly larger DPS increase – that said, it’s certainly easier than remembering to hit PoM.

  4. Karch Says:

    Velinath – totally agreed. You will get the most value out of presence of mind if you use it on the third arcane blast – but many mages forget to use it at all (or even worse, realize they should be using it and pause their rotation to activate it), and since this blog isn’t about maximizing your dps as much as it’s about just learning how to be a raid-quality mage, I think the macro method is an effective way for mages to take advantage of presence of mind without becoming hampered by it.

  5. Taara Says:

    Firstly thanks for a nice guide!! And I agree with Karch and Velinath about POM. honestly I did not use it ever (I respeced from FF to Arcane last night)
    Karch, you mentioned that this guide was not about maximizing dps.
    Can you give me any tips on maximizing dps. I did a 10 man maly. I had to use Evocation even though my mana regen was about 505 buffed.
    I am looking to maximing dps while not running out of mana.

    Also, how different should the gear be when playing Arcane vs FF?

    Here is my armory link.

    http://www.wowarmory.com/character-sheet.xml?r=Alleria&n=Taara

    Notice that I am using 4 Tier pieces for the 40% mana regen. I usally use “Spellwavers Robe” and “Hood of Rationality”.

    Also, I am planning on dropping Mining and picking up enchanting so I can get the extra 38 SP for the rings.

    Thanks in Advance!!!

  6. looneytic Says:

    well first off, you got almost everything in here, your missing 2 little things but that ok.
    but i really think guilds like this should not be published, people should learn their own class, and figure this stuff out for them selfs.

    ahh well good thing is 3.1 is comming soon and this will be useless:P
    and then the people who really know their class will rule again:P

    cya
    looneytic

  7. Questions & Answers: Heroic DPS « World of Warcraft Mage Guide to Raiding Says:

    [...] need to time your evocations well and be smart with your mana gems and cooldowns.  You can check my arcane guide for all the basic [...]

  8. Questions & Answers: Heroic DPS (part 2) « World of Warcraft Mage Guide to Raiding Says:

    [...] my arcane guide (it’s not shameless self-promotion if it’s on my own blog!) for glyph and rotation [...]

  9. Crowbeak Says:

    For lazy peoples like myself with no interest in updating macros every time they get a new trinket: each equipment slot is numbered, and “use” abilities on equipment can be proc’d via macros using a /use command in conjunction with the number of the appropriate slot. The trinket slots are numbers 13 and 14, so most of my spell macros include some variation on the following lines:

    /use Icy Veins
    /use Combustion
    /use 13
    /use 14

    This procs Icy Veins, if available, and Combustion, then proceeds to try to proc both trinkets — regardless of their names. And if your trinkets don’t have “use” commands, no harm done. Fewer characters used in the macro. Wins all around.

  10. When is your DPS too low? « Armaggedon’s coming Says:

    [...] is Karch’s solution to low DPS numbers. If your usual spec isn’t cutting it, change spec to rock the [...]

  11. Katt Says:

    Strange, you didn’t mention clearcasting at all. I’ve been levelling as Arcane on my mage since I hit 64, and clearcasting saves me a ton of mana, as well as increasing my chance to crit on the free spell. People would say Frost is the better levelling spec, but I actually have little downtime in Arcane, because 2-3 arcane blasts, maybe a missiles on procs, and most everything is dead, and with 2 minute Evocations, I hardly drink anymore. With Frost, I would drink every couple of kills, and spamming Frostbolt got really boring. Clearcasting makes the difference between unloading your Arcane Blast buff, or casting it again for the missiles proc, or even just making that missile cast free.

    • Karch Says:

      This is a raiding guide, so I’m going to assume you’re talking about fighting raid bosses as opposed to leveling.

      Now, on raid bosses: if you can alter your cast sequence immediately based on clearcasting procs, then more power to ya (and you must have sub-50 ms latency). But if you wait even a fraction of a second to see if clearcasting procs before starting your next cast, then you are lowering your overall damage. It’s like with missile barrage – if it doesn’t proc after the first two arcane blasts in a series, then you’re pretty much locked in to casting arcane barrage after the third, even if missile barrage does proc. I haven’t mentioned this in any guide because I take it for granted, but I’ll mention it here: It is absolutely crucial that you are chain casting your spells.

  12. Baylor Says:

    Hey, I just wanted to drop you a line to say thanks for the great info. I know it’s a little outdated, but you explain the mage class very well. I’m referring my friend who’s learning how to play an arcane mage to your site. Great work!

  13. gogonel Says:

    nice post. needed this guide. i was v low as dps, even removed from grup :(
    now some shit happens :D

    10x a lot.
    good job.

  14. Frosteyfrost Says:

    Thank You alot guys im on alextrasza as an arcane mage and you know after reading all this great information i am doing alot better as dps as well as saving mana. I hope you take care and again thank you so much for the info it really helped!!! btw to all of you listen to this guy its good info and it really helps.

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