Friday, July 27, 2007

How I Hate to Love my Spellfire

Every so often (as in, a couple times a day) on the Mage forums you will find a post like this one. "Should I get Spellfire?" The answer to this is invariably a universal "Yes". One which I would be inclined to echo, unless the player were principally a PVPer. It doesn't mean that I am without reservation regarding the tailored set, however.

The Spellfire set (as well as the Frozen Shadowweave set) follow a principle laid out by the epic tailoring robes at level 60 ~ Robe of the Archmage and Robe of the Void, respectively. These items were lean on stats but the best thing going in respects to spell damage enhancement on a chest piece at early end game. Not many people ever crafted and wore them (I only ever recalled like, 3 mages including myself on Aerie Peak who wore RotAm), but those who knew well enough to actually make and wear them invariably had a leg up on heading into ZG or MC and pumping out some of the best damage in the raid (if not *the* best). Similarly, my first epic raid chest upgrades were banked because my crafted robes were "better".

Robe of the Archmage (mage)
+12 Intellect
+40 Spell Damage
+14 Spell Critical Strike Rating
Use: Restores 375 to 625 mana.

Robe of the Void (warlock)
+14 Stamina
+46 Spell Damage
Use: Heals your pet for 450 to 750 health.

When I first noted the epic tailoring patterns in the Burning Crusade, I immediately knew that it was what I would work towards. Afterall, I've always been a tailor (both on my mage and my warlock). I've always gone for the crafted epics. I picked up Spellfire specialization even though I was (and always had been) a deep frost mage, mostly because I felt about ready to give fire a shot, considering I'd no longer be fighting dragons and fire elementals almost exclusively.

An interesting thing happened as I hit 70 and my tailoring reached 375 though... I couldn't do it. I drug my feet respeccing for fire, not only because frost spec is a psychological safety blanket to frost mages as well as because...

It (effectively) has no stamina.
It has no spirit.
It has very little intellect.
It is a 3-piece set of all of the above.

The tradeoff of pure performance itemization has always been that you equip them in moderation. But here, they are a set, with a set bonus. The complimentary Spellstrike set is more of the same. Quite simply, I thought it was too much, too lopsided. I felt it was an unwise itemization choice to wear too many pieces like that. I also felt the old vest version of the chest piece was ugly, and as much as I hate to admit it, I don't like wearing ugly pieces. So I sold the Spellcloth I'd saved up on the AH and dropped tailoring for alchemy.

The kicker came later as I was in Karazhan and came to a realization that I felt that mage dps potential simply wasn't what it once was... I wasn't happy with the damage output I was capable of relative to what I expected of myself. I eventually bit the bullet once again and dropped herbalism in order to level tailoring to 375 all over again. Long story short, here I am... deep into the Tier 5 raid instances, working on Lady Vashj and my health and mana pools are lower than they were when I entered Karazhan in 5-man blues. My spirit is about on par with what it was at level 60. The damage is (finally) there, but just about everything else is a little lacking.

The Repercussions of Spellfire

It can probably be said without reservation that Spellfire is a highly questionable itemization choice for a player ~ even though, as I stated above, I will always tell another mage "Yes" if they ask about whether or not they should craft them. Truth of the matter is, we're sort of stuck with it. In some corners, it is considered a requirement for a mage, which only further proves how much of a misstep it was in its conceptualization.

The mage community today has many concerns about the state of mage performance even beyond the state of mage dps. Namely, they have concerns about survivability and mana efficiency. It can be stated pretty well that these problems likely have less to do with ineffective mechanics and more to do with the fact that everyone is running around with gimped stats due to the nature of epic tailoring.

Not only is Spellfire a poor itemization choice, it is a poor choice that is reinforced by other mages and raiding guilds that encourage all mages to make this questionable itemization choice. Why would people pressure players into bad gear choices? Because the current mechanics for mage dps do not support properly budgeted gear. Quite simply, you need this stuff in order to obtain relevant performance. With Spellfire, a mage posts the damage you would expect. For many mages, you need it simply to do your job. At least until your gear becomes relatively advanced. People who chide mages concerns by stating "get some stam gear" or "just get some spirit" aren't entirely grasping the itemization dilemma of the class relative to performance. If mage dps potential were just a little better than it currently is, mages would have more breathing room to make wise itemization choices.

In that thread, one mage states that mages are not being forced to be tailors. I have to call this into question, however ~ citing the initial tuning of Level 70 raid instances where Blizzard so much as stated that they felt obligated to assume that raids would be flasked and buffed to the absolute max. They felt they had to do this because players *could* do it. If they didn't, players would trivialize the content by simply bringing more buffs.

Since the precedent is there, it stands to reason that along those same lines of thinking, mage damage has been tuned to account for the idea that many mages would be wearing Spellfire. Interesting that they will not similarly retune other aspects of mage performance around Spellfire, such as mana regen ~ but ultimately, doing so is a bad idea anyway. No class mechanic should ever be tuned according to specific pieces of gear they might obtain. If mage damage output has been retuned (or other classes buffed) relative to Spellfire, then that is a mistake that may not play out today, but will play out down the road, since gear-based performance imbalances come and go as the gear does. Class mechanics do not.

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