World of Warcraft

BFA Mage Retrospective

wow4 - BFA Mage Retrospective

Hey all, I made this post originally on the official forums ( ) but I'm not sure where most people are hanging out these days. Would really appreciate getting to hear folks outside the class discord bubble share their thoughts and opinions about Mage this expac, whether you agree/disagree or felt that something was left out.

Full post:

While this is certainly personal opinion, a lot of these thoughts have been collected and filtered through observation and interaction with the Mage community as a Contributor for Altered Time, as well as through individual and group theorycrafting discussions for Simulationcraft work. Big thanks to Kuni, Zulandia, Norrinir, Malon, Toegrinder, Frosted, Dorovon, Komma, Preheat, Sergrand, and probably several other notable Mages I forgot to write down in this list (I’m sorry!) for their help in organizing and refining this.


Mage in BFA saw some drastic swings from start to finish that really highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the class. While some of it comes down to raid fight design, the overall mood that prevailed for a large part of BFA was “I’m here for the int buff”. Two major reasons contribute to these feelings:

1. All three Mage specs are primarily focused on single target with the potential for stacked passive cleave. This has historically been the point of Mage, and is an iconic core part of the class feel. Unfortunately, it has not always been the case that Mage specs have been able to excel at this role compared to other ranged classes, who performed just as well in this area and then were able to be further amplified when their niches presented themselves. This leaves Mage players feeling, bluntly, like other classes are simply “better” with little to no tradeoff.

2. Mage has a large amount of personal utility (in PvE). This is also deeply tied into the class feel, where spells like Blink, Ice Block, and Barriers form a useful bag of tricks that skilled Mages can call upon to keep themselves alive and maximize their time spent casting. The downside to this, however, is that Mages rarely can contribute to group utility, outside of using the immunity of Ice Block (which, since Tomb of Sargeras, seems to be something the encounter team has tried to avoid creating too many uses for). This becomes even more evident in dungeons, where the long cooldown on Counterspell, the restriction of Dragon’s Breath to a single spec, and the overall lack of generally useful situations for slows and Polymorphs (or worse, other classes having the same tools as well) become very apparent.

Together, these elements combine to leave Mages feeling like the only role they are there for is to turret into enemies. And when they don’t manage to go above and beyond classes that have additional roles in an encounter (or, as has been the case in several tiers, actually performs worse than others), it leads to the aforementioned malaise: “I’m the only Mage in here, and it’s just for Arcane Intellect”.

Below are some comments on individual specs.


Frost Mages have had a weird time for most of the expansion, where one of their core abilities (Ice Lance) was actually able to be removed from the rotation entirely and used only when nothing else could be cast while moving. Feelings on this are fairly mixed, but most agree that it seems unintuitive at a glance, and it additionally has the effect of removing part of the most iconic piece of the Frost rotation, “Shatter” combos. The Azerite trait Flash Freeze is a big culprit here, but the underlying cause is rooted in the design of Mastery and how it affects Frostbolt/Flurry (as it stands right now, it is possible to gain DPS by avoiding Ice Lance just by having enough Mastery, before talents or traits are even considered).

On the flip side, Azerite has led to the most unique situation among Mage specs, where another set of talents and traits allows for a very different, Ice Lance-focused build in combination with Frozen Orb. Personal opinions on which build is preferred vary greatly, but it cannot be understated how much players seem to enjoy having another competitive option if they happen to dislike one setup but still want to play Frost.

Compared to other Mage specs, Frost is the most stable in terms of damage output. While the reliability itself doesn’t feel bad, it has become increasingly apparent that the lack of any “burst” windows for the spec ends up as an overall detriment. When balanced to be about even in average performance, Fire and Arcane’s ability to rapidly dump damage at specific times offers them more flexibility, usually leaving Frost performing worse in real encounters. Additionally, Frost and Fire both compete on the niche of stacked cleave, but Frost is significantly more limited in target count while lacking the option to burst down a group.


Fire had a very underdog story throughout BFA, coming from a last place, niche execute-phase pick up to the most desired ranged spec overall. Despite the common myth, this has nothing to do with Fire “scaling well at the end of the expansion” (which wasn’t ever true) but rather is the result of a combination of very powerful items and effects that weren’t present at launch of BFA. This leaves Fire in a tenuous position moving into Shadowlands, as the loss of Hyperthread Wristwraps, Memory of Lucid Dreams, Blaster Master, and even Azshara’s Font of Power will significantly weaken most of the current strengths of the spec.


Speaking of those strengths, Fire has several very desirable ones. The first is Ignite, which when amplified by all the aforementioned effects, turns Fire Mages into an absolute monster for those 10-15 seconds of cooldown use. The high APM gameplay and free, passive, bursty cleave of Combustion is typically one of the biggest draws to the spec. Even on a single target, Combustion is a powerful window that typically feels good to play now, when every cast is instant. To many players, Fire just feels good and fluid at all points, but especially when popping everything. Additionally, Fire’s nearly full mobility during Combustion and (if talented) below 30% boss HP made playing Fire in hectic final boss phases feel strong and versatile this expansion.

Not much is said about the other 90+ seconds in between Combustions, and for good reason: while it’s not jarring to play by any means, the “regular” Fire rotation is fairly simple and also very weak. Some people don’t mind this, but it definitely is one of the worst-feeling aspects of the spec. Also tied into this problem is the lack of good AoE damage during this downtime. Flamestrike has a number of issues, the most significant of which might be that casting it can actually lose Ignite damage. Additionally, when talented into Flame Patch, the best behavior is simply to hardcast Flamestrike as much as possible, instead of doing a more normal rotation and spending Hot Streaks on it. This counterintuitive behavior for class mechanics is a running theme for Fire. The fact that Crit is not a necessary stat to play the spec, or that Ignite can require you to AFK to kill short-lived targets effectively*, or even the previously mentioned myth about scaling during an expansion are all misunderstandings that frequently muddy the waters for players.These issues aside, Fire covers a lot of roles and does them well, so barring significant imbalance it often ends up outshining the other two Mage specs, without turning a large number of people away. The biggest worry moving forward is that this enjoyment is temporary due to the upcoming loss of many expansion-specific items and powers.

*Clarification on this point: On targets that will die before a full Ignite would expire, refreshing the Ignite will redistribute the remaining damage out over a full duration, reducing the DPS it deals and losing any damage stored in Ignite when the target dies. Ex: 3 ticks of 80k vs 10 ticks of 24k, where the target dies after 5 seconds.


Arcane had a rough time in BFA. There’s no other way to really put it, most of the systems and items added to the game did not benefit the spec as much as they did Fire or Frost, and it is very much pigeonholed into either a single target build for raid or an AoE build for dungeons, with little cross-over in terms of Azerite itemisation or talents. Multiple times the spec has needed buffs simply to keep up with the power creep Frost and Fire received, and even then real raid encounters often sidelined a spec that can only do single target damage. The introduction of Equipoise moved Arcane to an even stricter burn/conserve cycle, limiting the ability to adapt or focus a target if things didn’t happen to line up just perfectly with cooldown timings. The increasingly long setup of buff-related GCDs before moving into the often-memed “single-button spec” rotation turns many curious Mages away, even when the spec might be able to compete.

There probably isn’t a single cure-all solution to what Arcane needs, and player commentaries on it run the whole gamut from wanting old abilities back or useful (Arcane Orb, Nether Tempest, Quickening) to more extreme ideas like shifting the spec to healing or tanking. Dedicated Arcane players seem to mostly stick with it for the pure purple magic identity or the fundamental concept of being a sorcerer. On a practical level, one of the biggest gripes is usually how boss and trash toolkits are completely different, yet Mythic Plus requires both in equal measure. This difference is extreme when compared to other classes, and makes Arcane feel like a hindrance in at least one role no matter what they choose.

The last and thorniest issue for Arcane is that of Mana. As mentioned above, Equipoise threw the spec into very strict percentage-based gameplay; but even before the introduction of the trait, the issues were clear. With how Arcane Charges work, it is mathematically unstable* for the spec to be flexible with its mana spending, and this is what typically creates the burn/conserve cycle that locks Arcane into its current playstyle. Most of the bad feelings about Arcane can point to this as their source. Arcane Blast spamming doesn’t feel good when you do it in both burn and conserve. Arcane Barrage is the only way to take a few steps while casting, but also resets your Charges. Arcane Missiles are no longer tied to Charges, so you are free to use them without worry; but since they no longer stack you must use them immediately, which means you cannot save them for utilizing Slipstream. In AoE situations, Arcane Charges behave just like Combo Points to be spent on Barrage. Some of these comments are fresh to BFA compared to Legion’s design, but those that aren’t highlight the underlying feeling of Arcane players: the spec doesn’t have enough variety, and the spells it does use are frequently overloaded with conflicting roles.

*If dumping charges (by casting Arcane Barrage etc) is high dps, the rotation will gravitate to trying to dump as often as possible. Conversely, if spamming spells at high charges is high dps, the rotation will attempt to maximize the amount of time spent in this state. Any equilibrium in between the two that allows for tradeoffs like choosing when to burn mana etc. is inherently unstable, and a slight tip in the balance one way or the other will drive the optimal rotation towards one of the two extremes.

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