An updated version of this guide can be found here.
- Character Attributes
- Useful Addons
- Useful Macros
Mists of Pandaria is upon us and while the world may not have changed as much as the last expansion, the way fire mages confront the world definitely has. Some bread and butter spells are now gone, either relegated to talent choices or gone completely. Some spells have new and different effects. There are new buffs to watch for. In total, the experience of being a fire mage has changed considerably, and it’s time for a new guide to reflect that.
One of the things I’ve worried about when thinking about writing a guide to anything at all is whether I’m qualified to do so. Since I wrote my original guide, I’ve rejoined the raiding ranks, stepped into Dragon Soul and cleared the place on heroic mode. But I am on an RP server and I do certainly not think of myself as one of the elite raiders. I’ve never ranked on World of Logs, though a lot of that may have to do with the relatively poor gear I had. In any case, if you can find another guide from someone else, great! That’s not this one. This one is mine.
And so it is that this guide is going to be a little different. My goal in writing guides has never been to theorycraft to death ideal rotations. My goal is to provide a guide for how fire mages are actually played, or more specifically, how they are actually played by me. It does no good to say, for instance, “You should cast inferno blast whenever heating up is active” without considering whether your fingers are quick enough to do such a thing, how spell travel time and cast time figure into that, and so on. We are not automatons who can do things by rote; we are people with actual physical limitations playing a game with imperfections. This guide, I hope, will recognize that and give you advice for how to handle your situations.
Nor am I going to assume your goal is end game raiding. Foes that have twenty million health are handled differently than foes that have two hundred thousand health, and chances are you’re going to run across the latter far more often.
I am writing this guide as of a few days before Mists of Pandaria goes live, when I’m still level 85 and before I’ve seen any of the Pandaria raid and dungeon content. I expect that some of the recommendations will change, and I hope that the language I use expresses uncertainty where I am uncertain. I intend to come back to this a few weeks after I hit 90 to revisit some things in light of how things work in actual Pandaria content. I am pushing this out now, though, because I think that this guide will be useful in leveling a fire mage and I don’t want people to miss out on that.
I’ve played primarily a fire mage for the better part of six years, in fights ranging from solo questing up to 25-man raids. Pandaria is a lot different from Cataclysm, which was a little different than Wrath, which was a little different than Burning Crusade, but even with the new changes, experience in the earlier expansions is not wasted in the latter. I’ve almost always enjoyed playing the fire mage, and when I didn’t play my fire mage it was usually for reasons other than the fun in playing the class.
Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s get to the guide.
One of the downsides with most typical guides is that they don’t try to express the personality that fits the role. It may seem odd to begin a guide with a section called “personality”, particularly if you’re not from an RP realm. It is my firm belief, however, that each class plays according to a certain personality and that if you do not enjoy being that personality, or at least pretending that you are that personality, you’re better off playing another class. There are real personality differences between one who smashes something with a huge axe and one who stabs things in the back with a dagger and one who flays the mind of her opponent and one who hurls fiery boulders at her target. I would think that would be obvious. But none of the guides I’ve seen try to even address this issue, which I think is perhaps the most important of all. Perhaps the reason you aren’t a good fire mage is that you just don’t have the right personality, or are not pretending to have the right personality.
The Myers-Briggs type best suited to a fire mage, in my mind, is ENFJ. Fire mages are perhaps the most extroverted of the cloth wearing classes; their flashy showmanship would lend themselves to be entertainers if they weren’t busy destroying things. A fire mage tends to use their intuition more than sensing the environment, but looks for emotions and circumstances rather than cold logic. The chaotic nature of the class makes it difficult to be a T, but being an S rather than an N is a possibility. An effective fire mage, however, is a J rather than a P because a fire mage is usually better off making the wrong decision quickly than the right decision too slowly. This is more true in Pandaria than it ever was before; mages must have very quick trigger fingers.
People who are more introverted, or more attuned to cold logic rather than feelings will be better served with the arcane spec or frost spec; it will just feel more natural to them and it will quite possibly play better. Of course, there’s always a warlock or a shadow priest as other alternatives for different personalities.
The obvious possibility for a psychological disorder is pyromania. You’d be hard pressed to play a fire mage that didn’t like to set things on fire. More severe disorders are quite possible; a fire mage could easily be sociopathic and not really care about the effects of her actions. However, I think it would be unlikely for a fire mage to be downright sadistic; that strikes me as something fitting one of the warlock specs or the shadow priest instead.
"But Jana/Saxsy," I hear you saying, "aren’t you just perpetuating a stereotype?" Maybe. But it strikes me that an introvert is going to have difficulty coping with the flashy nature of fire mage spells. It strikes me that a cold logician will have a fit with the bouts of randomness. It strikes me that the perceiver will be frozen by the split-second decisions that you need for the spec.
Remember, of course, that you don’t need to actually be that personality type to play a fire mage. You just have to enjoy pretending to be. For my own part, I’m much more an introvert than either Saxsy or Jana are.
I suspect there will be many guides covering the theoretically ideal strategies here, which I recommend you to read. This guide might differ from those strategies because I am primarily concerned with enhancing the experience of being a fire mage rather than choosing the strategy which will get you the absolute highest DPS. Again, if it’s the latter you want, feel free to find and read those guides. My hunch is that these will largely coincide. My view, though, is that given a decision between making a character more fun to play and making a character do marginally more dps, I will choose the former. You may disagree, and if you do I suspect there are plenty of other guides that will cater to that viewpoint.
Tier 1: Scorch
This is an absolute no brainer for me both theoretically and thematically. Without scorch you lack a quick spell and you lack a spell to be cast while moving. Ice Floes would only work on fights where there is predictable movement at more than one minute intervals, while Presence of Mind would interrupt your rotation for a instant cast Pyroblast that doesn’t do as much damage as if you had just gotten Pyroblast! Presence of Mind also does very little for movement.
Thematically, Scorch makes a lot more sense than either of the other two alternatives. It was a bread and butter fire spell in Cataclysm, and not having it would hurt in so many situations that it’s hard to fathom not taking it.
Tier 2: Ice Barrier
I’ve used Ice Barrier to great effect while farming old raid content; it makes soloing things much much easier. Temporal Shield could be a decent choice in fights with predictable spikes of damage, so if you have a second spec to change to in those fights it might be worthwhile. I prefer the practical benefit of having a shield that absorbs damage until it falls off, though, and for that reason I suspect Ice Barrier is more useful. In addition, having spell casts not be delayed by damage is likely to be a huge dps boost in AoE damage fights. Blazing Speed might fit thematically, but it’s an obvious PvP talent and if you want to learn how to PvP, you’re reading the wrong guide.
Tier 3: Frostjaw
None of the choices in the third tier of content seems thematically appropriate, and indeed none of them are spells that jump out as being tremendously useful. In my experience in Cata, I hardly ever used Ring of Frost in PvE content. Ice Ward also seems to be very PvP oriented. Frostjaw has slight utility in PvE in that it adds a second type of counterspell (albeit with a cast time, meaning you have to plan ahead) with a very slight CC mechanic.
For soloing and certain situations, however, Frostjaw comes with it a surprising and incredibly valuable technique. Frostjaw will freeze the target, which is not something a fire mage would ordinarily think to do. All mages now have the Shatter ability, which was previously exclusive to Frost Mages. This will double your crit chance against that target plus 50%, effectively guaranteeing a crit if your crit rate is above 25% (after considering Critical Mass!). Thus, when you get a Pyroblast! buff, you can effectively guarantee a crit with your Pyroblast by casting Frostjaw first. Yes, this takes a little over a second to cast, but it’s almost certainly worth it.
The only variable in that scenario is whether the freezing effect will last for the pyroblast to hit it, which might not be true in group situations. My understanding is that Shatter applies based on the time Pyroblast is cast, not the time it actually hits the target, but I have not confirmed this. If this is true, this technique should have significant utility against any freezable target (i.e., non-bosses). In limited personal testing, I’ve found that a Living Bomb tick can sometimes come between the frostjaw freezing effect and a Pyroblast cast, giving the Living Bomb tick the guaranteed crit and removing the freezing effect for the Pyroblast. So I’m not sure that this will always work in practice, although I have seen a boost in Pyroblast’s crit rate.
edit: Thanks to a suggestion from @ArcaneTactics, if you cast Deep Freeze immediately after Frostjaw, the target will remain frozen for five seconds regardless of damage to the target. This will ensure crits not only on the next Pyroblast, but the next Fireball as well and possibly the spell after that. While this will add a couple GCDs to cast time, it will almost certainly be worth it on Freezeable targets. The only issue I’ve come across with this strategy is that lag will enable to freezing effect of Frostjaw to be broken before you have a chance to cast Deep Freeze. Test it out to see if you can make it work reliably. On Freezable targets this should be a significant damage boost, as it will practically guarantee a second Pyroblast! buff because of the successive crits.
In any case, for soloing, Frostjaw should provide a serious damage boost, if only by opening with it instead of Pyroblast. This is more than can be said for the other two choices in this tier.
Tier 4: Cauterize
I can’t count the number of times Cauterize has saved me in Cata, It’s a wonderful ability in part because it is passive; it just saves your life when your life needs saving. In Pandaria this spell is generally even better, because the DoT will not kill you by itself, and in conjunction with Ice Barrier or Temporal Shield you can deal with the DoT without having to Ice Block it off. (Ice Block remains available to remove the DoT). Cauterize is effectively a 60% heal timed for exactly when you need it (in addition to protection from death by things that would kill you up to three times over). This seems far superior to me than a 90% damage avoidance you have to activate yourself, or a 30% heal on a 3 minute cooldown.
Tier 5: Living Bomb
From what I can tell there is not much to choose between the bombs theoretically. Some bombs are theoretically better against certain numbers of targets; Living Bomb seems to be best in the 3-4 target range, while to my understanding Nether Tempest is best against single targets and Frost Bomb, because of the lack of a target cap, is best on high numbers of targets. But my understanding is that the theoretical advantage of any single bomb in any single situation is relatively small, and that you will encounter multiple situations as you adventure.
Thus, my preference here is to stick with what thematically works, and that’s Living Bomb. Making things blow up is a key aesthetic appeal to a fire mage and I suspect that you will have more fun casting Living Bomb than Frost Bomb or Nether Tempest because of some of the changes to how it works. I’ll cover exactly what those changes are below.
Tier 6: Invocation
None of these talents are in the game yet, so it’s hard for me to tell which will be most useful at level 90. None of them are thematically tied to being a fire mage either, so there’s nothing that pops out and says “Hi! Choose this!” Point being: YMMV, this is just a best guess as to what would be appropriate most of the time.
Icy Veins says that Invocation is the highest DPS choice and I see no reason to doubt that. But beyond that, Rune of Power seems to have very limited utility because it requires you to stand in one of two spots, something that can be limiting or impossible on a lot of fights. Incanter’s Ward may be useful in situations where you know you will be hit by damage, both for its spell damage buff and its shield ability. But I suspect for most situations, especially fights that are not boss fights, Invocation will be superior; you would simply evocate prior to any pull and get a constant +25% damage buff.
I’ll certainly revisit this later.
Gearing in Pandaria should be just as simple as gearing in Cata. In my experience there are very few situations in which you would have to choose between two appropriately itemized items at the same item level, and you can let item level dictate your choice. In Dragon Soul, for instance, the only real choices you had between items of the same item level were in trinkets and weapons. I don’t think this will change.
Thus, acquiring gear is easy. If it has int on it, does not have spirit on it, and is a higher item level than the item you currently have equipped, take it and use it.
Racial talents provide some bias for which type of gear you would want. If your character is a gnome, you get a +1% hit bonus for using a dagger or a sword. If your character is a human, you get a +1% hit bonus for using a sword. This effectively adds about 340 or so hit rating to these items (at level 90) and would make them preferable even over higher item level weapons of a different type.
The first two stat priorities are likely to be the same. Intellect is the primary difference maker and offers the highest benefit, but it is primarily dictated by item level so there’s not much choice involved here.
Hit is the second most valuable stat, but only up to a cap. If you are running raids, that cap is 15%, but if you are not at that point the cap is 12%. Because hit between 12% and 15% is only worthwhile against raid bosses, I recommend aiming for 12% until killing those raid bosses becomes your primary goal.
Critical Strike is what you want next, and I say this with absolute and resolute certainty without regard to any possible SimulationCraft results. Crits give you Heating Up and Pyroblast! buffs and getting those buffs is not only the key to good fire mage dps, it’s the key to fun fire mage play. The lower your crit rate the more frustrated you will be.
Haste and mastery are what’s leftover and I doubt there will be many critical decisions between one or the other. Haste has traditionally been kinder to fire mages than mastery, and I suspect that this will remain true in Pandaria.
One thing that is likely to come into play is what’s called a “haste cap”. This is a serious misnomer; it would be more accurate to call it a haste goal than a cap, as haste above the cap has similar value to haste below the cap. A haste goal is a level of haste where you gain an extra periodic DoT tick, thus making your Living Bomb or Ignite or Combustion much more powerful.
Combustion is the easiest spell to use as an example. If you have it glyphed (which you probably will), Combustion applies a DoT that, without considering haste, will tick 20 times in 20 seconds. With haste added, the game will try to keep the duration of the effect as close to 20 seconds as possible while doing damage at whatever interval is specified by your haste.
To take an easy example, let’s suppose you have 50% haste. 50% haste means that you will cast 150% more spells in a given time period than before, or three spells for every two. Thus, the periodic ticks from Combustion would go off every 0.67 seconds, instead of every 1 second. The net effect of having 50% haste is that you would get 30 combustion ticks instead of 20, which would thus result in a straightforward 50% damage increase.
The haste goal exists because at some point, the game has to draw a line between giving you X ticks over slightly less than twenty seconds and giving you X+1 ticks over slightly more than twenty seconds. For a glyphed combustion, these lines are drawn every 5%, starting at 2.5%. Thus, if you have 2.49% haste, you will only get 20 ticks of combustion, but if you have 2.51% haste you will get 21 ticks of combustion. The value of that extra tick of combustion makes the very small change in haste necessary to get that slight boost particularly valuable.
Combustion is the easiest example because there are so many ticks in a Glyphed Combustion that there are lots of different haste goals. But haste goals also apply to Living Bomb and Pyroblast. Living Bomb has four periodic ticks in its unhastened state, and thus you will get an extra tick of damage for each 25% haste you have, starting at 12.5% haste. Pyroblast has six periodic ticks in its unhastened state, and thus will you will get an extra tick of damage every 16.67% haste, starting at 8.34%. Pyroblast DoTs are very typically overwritten by subsequent Pyroblasts, so creating a haste goal based on them would have little utility, but I state it here simply for reference.
Thus, reasonable haste goals are as follows, assuming you have Combustion glyphed. Note that these figures do not include buffs you may get from your party (in particular, the 5% spell haste buff given by shadow priests, elemental shaman and balance druids, or the 30% spell haste buff given by Time Warp/Heroism/Blood Lust):
- 1 extra tick of Combustion at 2.5% haste.
- 2 extra ticks of Combustion at 7.5% haste.
- 1 extra tick of Pyroblast at 8.34% haste.
- 3 extra ticks of Combustion and 1 extra tick of Living Bomb at 12.5% haste.
- 4 extra ticks of Combustion at 17.5% haste.
- 5 extra ticks of Combustion at 22.5% haste.
- 2 extra ticks of Pyroblast at 25% haste.
- 6 extra ticks of Combustion at 27.5% haste.
- 7 extra ticks of Combustion at 32.5% haste.
- 8 extra ticks of Combustion and 2 extra ticks of Living Bomb at 37.5% haste.
- 13 extra ticks of Combustion and 3 extra ticks of Living Bomb at 62.5% haste.
I could go on, but that’s starting to wander into the territory of unrealistic haste values. In general, though, if you find yourself just below one of these goals, it will probably be worthwhile to reforge a bit to bump your haste to just above one of these goals.
There is a practical concern with haste, especially as it concerns trinkets. The more haste you have in your gear, the faster your spell casts will be, and the less time you will have to react to a Heating Up buff. This is unlikely to turn you away from haste on a piece of armor, which is not usually enough by itself to shave more than a couple hundredths of a second off your fireball cast time. It may come into play, however, for trinkets, where you can get a buff that increases your haste by a noticeable margin. A trinket that gives you 30% extra haste for 20 seconds may have great theoretical value, but if it prevents you from using Inferno Blast on a trigger (as we’ll talk about below), it may not actually be any good at all.
Spirit is useless for fire mages. Do not use gear that has spirit on it. Other mages will laugh at you and healers will cry. Don’t roll need on it, and if you win it on a greed roll, don’t equip it unless it’s at least 13 item level higher than the gear you’ve currently got. Be prepared to be laughed at anyway. (In Dragon Soul, there was one exception, as there was no item level 410 off-hand, and the item level 397 off-hand never, ever dropped. Toward the end of Dragon Soul, Jana used the 403 item level dagger from heroic Madness and the 410 off-hand from heroic Ultraxion in preference to the 397 staff off of regular Hagara. The lack of a non-spirit item level 410 off-hand was a major flaw in DS and I don’t expect it to be repeated.)
Gems should generally be int gems. If you want, you can use int/haste, int/crit or int/hit gems to match socket bonuses, but unless the socket bonus is int or hit, it’s probably not worth it. It’s probably not worth it if it’s hit, but I do it anyway because I have an affinity for purple gems. I should probably kick that habit.
The meta-gem should be of the “Burning” variety, which increases intellect and critical effect.
There are a lot of glyphs from which to choose, but there are really only four that stand out as ones that are worthwhile for a fire mage.
Glyph of Combustion is a solid choice. It doubles the direct damage and doubles the length of the DoTs at a cost of doubling the cooldown. While this might seem to be a zero sum tradeoff, it’s actually a considerable advantage. The time between combustion coming off cooldown and the stars aligning for a good combustion cast is the same in either case, and thus in a fight of infinite length you will cast combustion when glyphed more than half the time than you would unglyphed. Also, fight lengths are such that you might only be able to cast one combustion, glyphed or no, or perhaps two glyphed combustions but only three unglyphed combustions, and so on. This is a solid DPS boost, which is more than can be said for practically every other glyph.
Glyph of Fire Blast is also a solid choice. With it you can cast Inferno Blast to spread Living Bomb, which will save you about 0.7 seconds of dps time versus target switching, grant you the freedom from annoyance at switching targets, and do an Inferno Blast’s worth of damage on top of that. It’s a solid dps boost in situations where there’s more than two targets.
Glyph of Evocation is a solid choice, as it gives you a heal you can use in combat. It can be very useful for soloing, in that it will allow you to evocate instead of eat and come out fresh with full health and full mana.
Glyph of Frostfire Bolt is useful while leveling. While using this glyph, you would cast Frostfire Bolt instead of Fireball. Frostfire Bolt in this circumstance is identical to Fireball except that it adds a slowing snare to the target. Using Frostfire Bolt in this way gives you more time to kill a mob before it gets to you. I do not expect this to be useful in raids or dungeons, however, unless for some reason you prefer the aesthetics of Frostfire Bolt to Fireball.
All of the other Major Glyphs seem to have very situational benefits. I suspect that in some fights it may pay to use one of them in place of one of the glyphs above, but I don’t expect any of them to provide any general use.
Minor glyphs are primarily a matter of personal preference. The only two choices that have significant combat effect are Glyph of Mirror Image and Glyph of Momentum. The former I consider mandatory because I don’t want my mirror images to cast Frostbolts. The latter can be very useful; for instance, you can mimic a hunter’s disengage effect by backing up and casting blink. The other choices are personal preferences.
Now let’s get into the meat of the discussion, one that I intend to get into more detail than I’ve seen anywhere else. The biggest difference, in my mind, between a great fire mage and an okay fire mage is that the former has an implicit understanding of every spell in her spellbook such that she instinctively knows what spells to cast when. A lot of the spec is reactionary, as there’s little that can be planned. It’s important to be able to react with the right spell when the circumstances call for it.
Reactions require a knowledge not only of the spells but of the buffs a fire mage can get and the debuffs and DoTs that a fire mage can put on a target. I use TellMeWhen and CombustionHelper to help me keep track of these things. There may be other mods that will suit your taste better.
All of the following examples assume no haste. Haste in gearing is quite valuable because it can lead to DoTs having additional ticks, as shown above. All of these DoTs can hit or crit independently of whether the spell used to apply to DoT hits or crits.
- Ignite - This is a DoT that is applied to the target whenever any your direct damage spells hits the target. It does some percentage of the damage of the hit over 4 seconds, in 2 second intervals, with the percentage determined by your level of mastery. (In Jana’s case as of September 22, that figure is 17.25%: 12% base plus 5.25% from mastery). To give an example, a spell that hits for 10000 damage will put an ignite DoT that does 863 damage every 2 seconds for 4 seconds, for a total of 1726 damage (assuming a mastery effect of 17.25% with a rounding error). Consecutive spell hits can add to an ignite DoT present on the target, resulting in a DoT that can be quite powerful (an effect called rolling ignites). Simultaneous spell hits can theoretically result in a ignite DoT being overwritten (an effect called ignite munching), but this effect seems to be largely fixed. In Cataclysm this was likely to be your most powerful DoT, but in Pandaria it will vary widely.
- Living Bomb - Living Bomb is a DoT that does a certain amount of damage every 3 seconds for 12 seconds. After 12 seconds, the target explodes, doing the same amount of damage as an AoE to targets within 10 yards. The last tick thus applies double damage to the afflicted mob. The DoT can be refreshed with a new Living Bomb cast. If you refresh your Living Bomb between the next to last tick and the last tick, the Living Bomb will explode immediately and your DoT will be refreshed. This is, to my understanding, the best practice. If you have chosen Frost Bomb or Nether Tempest you will have DoTs associated with those spells, but this guide assumes you have chosen Living Bomb.
- Pyroblast - The Pyroblast spell puts a DoT on the target that does a significant amount of damage, even compared to the pyroblast itself. It lasts for 18 seconds and can be as much or more powerful than the Ignite or Living Bomb DoTs.. A subsequent pyroblast spell will overwrite this DoT, but that’s not a reason to wait to cast Pyroblast.
- Flamestrike - Flamestrike has a DoT component that is applied every two seconds for eight seconds. The DoT from Flamestrike is placed upon the ground, not upon the target; as far as I know, a target that moves out of the region of the original flamestrike cast will not suffer damage. It is not incorporated into Combustion.
- Combustion - Combustion places a DoT upon the target that is the sum of the Ignite and Pyroblast’s DoT dps. In effect, it takes half of the Ignite DoT (which ticks every two seconds) and a third of the Pyroblast DoT (which ticks every three seconds) to compute the value of its own DoT, which does damage every second for twenty seconds (ten if not glyphed).
There are several buffs you want to watch out for as a fire mage.
- Heating Up - This buff activates after you crit a target with a direct damage spell (i.e., Fireball, Frostfire Bolt, Pyroblast, Inferno Blast, and Scorch), provided you do not already have this buff. One way or another this buff will be removed with your next direct damage spell, or after 12 seconds.
- Pyroblast! - This buff activates after you crit with a direct damage spell while Heating Up is active. The buff will last for 12 seconds and will enable you to cast a mana-free instant Pyroblast with a 25% damage buff. The buff will be overwritten by a new Pyroblast! if conditions occur for a new buff, resetting the timer but in effect wasting a pyroblast opportunity.
- Time Warp - This is a buff that is granted by the time warp spell, which increases the haste of all party and raid members by 30%. It is the mage’s version of bloodlust or heroism. It lasts for 40 seconds, and places a buff on all affected members such that they will be unable to benefit from a second heroism, bloodlust or time warp for ten minutes. Generally it is the responsibility of the raid or party leader to call for Time Warp.
- Miscellaneous Buffs - Depending on your gear, you may have other buffs that pop up from time to time. Trinkets often have an on use or random buff that procs off of damaging spells. Lightweave Embroidery gives you a buff randomly, as do many enchants for weapons. To the extent these are under your control, you may want to save them for occasions where you will be casting more damaging spells like flame orb.
There is really only one debuff that fire mages have to worry about; it is called Pyromaniac. Pyromaniac is applied by whatever you have chosen as your level 75 talent and lasts for 15 seconds. It increases your damage done from all direct damage spells other than Scorch by 10%. Pyromaniac is a debuff that, as far as I can tell, is personal to you; other fire mages in your party will not benefit from it. Spreading Living Bomb through Inferno Blast will also apply the debuff to the targets Living Bomb is spread to. Because the debuff lasts 15 seconds, it should be on the target so long as you maintain your bomb on the target. Finally, while it is a nice buff, it is not large enough to make Living Bomb worth casting in single target situations where the target will not live for the full duration of the Living Bomb.
Now that you have some idea of the buffs and debuffs to watch for, you can have some sense of when to cast certain spells. The fire mage has a dynamic combat system and it is impossible to reduce it to a “rotation”. Rather, each spell has conditions, depending on the status of buffs or debuff and DoTs on the target. Thus, contained below is a list of each of the spells you might want to cast and the conditions under which you should cast them.
Bread and Butter Spells
These spells are ones that are frequently cast in combat. You should be able to quickly react to conditions to cast one of these spells.
- Fireball - This is your primary damage spell, as it does the most dps for any spell that you can spam. Use it on a main target when you do not have a reason to cast any other spell.
- Pyroblast - This can be cast as an opening spell for an extra bit of damage at the start of combat. Otherwise, you should cast it only when Hot Streak is active. Generally, you should cast it as soon as possible when Hot Streak is active, but there are a few exceptions to this rule. First, if a mob is nearly dead and will likely be killed by the fireball you are currently casting, and there is another mob that can take a pyroblast, wait until you target the next mob. For soloing, you can wait to apply a fireball and pyroblast combo to the next mob, which is especially powerful. Secondly, if the mob is snared by frost nova or frostjaw, or confused by dragon’s breath, and has enough life to not be killed by the pyroblast, cast a fireball then a pyroblast. That way you will enjoy the benefits of the snare/confusion.
- Living Bomb - This is the most powerful fire mage spell without a long cooldown. (The other two tier 5 talents are similarly powerful.) You should keep it on a target so long as the mob will live for the entire duration of the DoT. For mobs that take successive Living Bombs (e.g., dungeon bosses), the most effective time to refresh a Living Bomb is between the next to last tick of the bomb and its explosion. This will cause the prior Living Bomb to explode early and will increase your dps. You should not cast Living Bomb, however, if the mob will not live for the duration of the DoT. Obviously that takes a bit of practice to determine what amount of mob health that is. For AoE fights, you should cast it on one target only and rely on Inferno Blast to spread it to other targets. Generally, you should not cast Living Bomb when there are targets to be crowd controlled, as the explosion at the end of the cast will break the crowd control.
Living Bomb has changed in some important ways as compared to Cataclysm and it’s important to note those ways. The damage from the explosion of Living Bomb is limited to three targets, including the target it is on, making it less effective versus large packs of mobs. If you kill a mob that has Living Bomb on it before the end of the Living Bomb duration, however, the Living Bomb will explode, doing damage to nearby targets. (This can create a fun chain reaction that in my mind makes Living Bomb the choice for any fire mage regardless of the theoretical value of other Tier 5 choices.) Also, as noted above, if you “clip” Living Bomb by casting a new Living Bomb after the next-to-last tick, the existing Living Bomb will explode.
- Inferno Blast - This is an instant cast direct damage spell that always crits and is cast for two purposes. First, because it always crits, it is generally cast when the heating up buff is active to trigger a Pyroblast! buff. Second, it spreads Pyroblast, Ignite and Combustion DoTs to up to two targets within 10 yards, and also spreads Living Bomb to those targets if glyphed. This spell can also be used as a “finishing move” in place of fireball if you believe it will kill a mob. That will save you the fireball cast and travel time.
- Scorch - This is the fire mage’s primary movement spell, and should be substituted for fireball whenever you anticipate moving. It can also be cast in an attempt to force a Pyroblast! buff in situations where one cannot use Inferno Blast reliably to force such a buff (e.g., when a combination of haste, latency and distractions reduces the time you have to react to the Heating Up buff to less than the time it takes you to reliably react).
- Dragon’s Breath - This spell can be used as a powerful cone AoE on multi-target fights. It can also be used defensively to confuse mobs that have aggro’d to you and are within melee range. In the latter situation, you should move away from the mob after casting this spell, and then cast either a fireball or pyroblast as the situation may call for.
- Flamestrike - This spell is the Fire Mage’s only pure AoE spell, burning targets within a certain radius for approximately 60% of a fireball’s worth of damage over a period of 8 seconds or so. It now has a cast time before haste of 2 seconds, but as a practical matter positioning the target will add a significant delay to your cast. My back of the hands calculations suggest that you must have 4 targets within your Flamestrike radius for it to provide a net dps gain over single targeting any one of those targets. You will use this spell a lot less often than you did in Cata, if only because, in addition to the added cast time, it now has a 12 second cooldown.
- Blizzard - This spell is one I wish fire mages would never, ever cast, but there are circumstances where it results in a dps boost. It does roughly 140% of a fireball’s damage to every target within a wide targeting circle, over a channeled time of 8 seconds. It is less effective than flamestrike and only makes sense to cast when there are at least six targets within its radius.
- Arcane Explosion - This is the weakest of the AoE spells available and only starts making sense over single target spells when there are seven or more targets. The advantage it has over Blizzard and Flamestrike is that it need not be targeted, but the disadvantage is that its targeting circle is always centered around the caster.
- Ice Barrier - Ice Barrier is covered above, but I suspect you will be casting it a lot. This spell works like a discipline priest’s Power Word: Shield, preemptively protecting you from damage. It should be cast before any combat, and in any combat where there is significant damage to you, it should be recast after it falls off. That it protects you from losing casting time to damage should make it a dps-neutral cast at worst when you do suffer periodic damage, and it will certainly help the healers out. In fights where you will not be hit there’s not much point in refreshing it, but those fights are becoming rarer.
Long Cooldown Combat Spells
These spells have long cooldowns and are generally used against high health mobs, typically in a party or raid setting.
- Combustion - This is a fire mage’s most powerful spell. It has a significant direct damage portion, roughly equal to an unbuffed Pyroblast. It then calculates a DoT value equal to one third of your Pyroblast DoT on the target (if any) and one half of your Ignite DoT on the target. That new DoT will tick once per second for twenty seconds (glyphed and without haste). Combustion’s volatility has changed significantly in Pandaria, as Ignite is always going to be on the target and Pyroblast’s DoT is also likely to be on the target. Still, the spell should be cast when there is a significant Ignite DoT, generally brought about by successive Pyroblasts and other crits. CombustionHelper will assist you in identifying a good time. In my experience, after a Pyroblast crit is a good time to cast Combustion, and frequent enough that you won’t be waiting too long. You will want to try to save it or use it for times when you are buffed, most obviously with Time Warp.
- Mirror Image - This spell transfers your threat generation to three “mirror images”. Effectively it means you will not generate sufficient threat on the main target to pull aggro for the entire thirty second duration of the spell. Use this at the beginning of boss fights as a “safety net” to allow for variation in your tank’s threat generation. Also use this when you have pulled aggro in multi-target fights to get the mobs off of you. As compared to Cataclysm, though, your mirror images have much less health and will likely not survive the full thirty seconds if they are attacked by mobs of any significance.
- Time Warp - This spell gives a powerful haste buff to you and all the members of your party or raid. In organized raids you should wait until the raid leader calls for it to cast it. In pickup groups, use this only on boss mobs and generally wait until the boss has reached 35% before casting it. This will allow you to take further benefit of your additional damage against low health targets.
- Evocation - Prior to level 90, use this spell to regain mana and/or health. (Evocation regains health when glyphed.) Your healer will thank you if you use it to regain health during stressful healing times. At level 90 and with the Invocation talent, you should cast this whenever the Invocation buff has fallen off and you are confident that you can complete the cast. You should definitely cast it prior to combat to get the relevant buff. You can also use it to regain health and mana at that point, of course, but that’s likely to be secondary.
- Alter Time - This spell will allow you to return to the buffed state when it is cast, as well as returning you to your location and giving you the health and mana you had when you cast it, either six seconds after you cast it or when you cast it again before those six seconds are up. My understanding of this spell is rather limited as of now and I will revisit this section later. However, I think it will commonly be used to extend valuable buffs such as Time Warp or trinket buffs, or more mundanely to duplicate an existing Pyroblast buff. Its use is likely to be highly situational.
(As a side note, I expect many a mage to have fun with Alter Time by casting it and jumping off a very high location, such as Dalaran or the bridge over the Howling Fjord. I don’t expect this tactic to have any practical utility but I bet it will be quite fun.)
Most of these spells are self-explanatory and are not cast within the regular course of combat.
- Polymorph - This is the mage’s standard crowd control. Use the macro given below to allow you to keep your polymorph target in focus while maintaining your dps on a main target. Be careful on using AoE abilities such as Living Bomb, Flamestrike and Blast Wave when there are crowd controlled targets.
- Counterspell - Used to interrupt the spell cast of an opposing mob. This generally requires an immediate cast, so use the macro below to make you stop what you’re doing to cast it.
- Spellsteal - Use this to steal buffs off of mobs. Generally, most buffs are worth stealing, but you will want to check the buff to be sure. Using an addon to help identify buffs which can be stolen is helpful.
- Frost Nova - Frost Nova can be used to snare mobs that have gotten within melee range of you, allowing you to move out of the way and cast Pyroblast or Fireball without the mob hitting you.
- Frostjaw - This can be cast to silence a target. Its most useful feature, though, is freezing the target in place, allowing you to retreat and then cast a spell that will be almost assured to crit. (I’m not sure whether to put this spell here or in the standard combat spells above; I think its use will be situational so I’m putting it here, but that might change.) edit: Frostjaw has a 30 yard range, while your fire spells have 40 yard ranges. Thus, if you want to try this spell to force a Pyroblast crit, make sure you’re within 30 yards of the target.
- Deep Freeze - This can be cast on frozen targets to stun them for five seconds and prolong the freezing effect through damage. It is most useful in conjunction with Frostjaw to ensure successive crits thanks to the Shatter ability all mages now have. It has a cooldown of 30 seconds, while Frostjaw has a cooldown of 20 seconds, so if you are using these spells in conjunction you will want to track the cooldown of Deep Freeze, not Frostjaw. (Thanks to @ArcaneTactics for this suggestion.)
- Ice Block - Ice Block is used as an emergency measure. It will remove DoTs that are currently on you and make you invulnerable to damage while it is active. It is very useful after Cauterize has procced to remove the DoT that will kill you if it is allowed to tick. It can also be used when you have pulled aggro on a mob, but it will not drop your threat against that mob. For that reason, you should prefer your other defensive measures (e.g., Dragon’s Breath, Frost Nova, Mirror Image, Invisibility). You will want to have this keybound to something easy to reach because you will need to cast it quickly.
- Invisibility - Invisibility will make you invisible, but more importantly it will remove all your threat against all mobs and can take you out of combat. It is useful to use after Mirror Image if you’ve regained aggro, or on boss fights where you just want to eliminate threat as a concern for the rest of the fight. It is also situationally useful in solo farming to get mobs off of you and drop from combat.
- Blink - This will teleport you forward 20 yards. It is useful for quickly getting out of fire, or gaining some distance from mobs after you have snared or confused them. If you have the minor glyph Glyph of Momentum it will teleport you in the direction you are moving, rather than forward.
- Frostfire Bolt - This is useful against the rare mob that is immune to fire damage, and may also be useful if glyphed while farming or questing because of its snare effect.
- Slow Fall - Slows your fall. You’d be surprised at how useful this spell can be. Keep it handy. Also note that while you are falling you can still cast scorch, fire blast and living bomb.
- Arcane Brilliance - The standard mage buff, granting additional spell power and spell crit. Cast it at the beginning of runs and whenever it has fallen off (whether due to time or death).
- Molten Armor - This is the armor you should use at all times. Thanks to scorch being nearly mana-free, you should never need to sacrifice crit for mana return. (In my experience at level 85, mana regeneration is so quick that you should never even need to use scorch for that purpose, although I suspect this will change.)
- Conjure Refreshment - Gives you food to replenish your health and mana while out of combat.
- Ritual of Refreshment - Conjures a table where members of your party or raid can grab some food. Use it at the beginning of runs or when people ask you nicely.
Understanding all of the spells above will generally give you a sense of what to do in particular combat situations, but it will take a fair amount of practice to get up to speed. Here are a few examples of some fights to give you an idea of how to apply the above knowledge.
Solo Questing, At Level Mobs
- Target mobs singly.
- Cast Ice Barrier to protect you.
- Open with a Pyroblast or a Fireball, as is your preference.
- Cast Living Bomb if the mob will live long enough for it to explode.
- Cast Fireball until the mob has reached melee range. With limited exceptions, if Heating Up procs you should cast Inferno Blast if it is off cooldown, and if Pyroblast! procs you should cast Pyroblast.
- Alternatively, if Pyroblast! procs, you can try casting Frostjaw to freeze the mob in place, Deep Freeze to prolong the freezing effect and then cast Pyroblast. This process should guarantee several crits but might not be completely reliable, and may be overkill on low health mobs. Use experience to guide you.
- Cast Frost Nova to snare the mob, if Frost Nova is off cooldown, otherwise skip a couple steps.
- Take a few steps out of melee range, then cast Pyroblast, unless you have the Pyroblast! buff, in which case cast Fireball first and then Pyroblast.
- Cast Fireball while the mob is at range.
- Cast Dragon’s Breath to confuse the mob once the mob is back within range.
- Take a few steps out of melee range, then cast Pyroblast, unless you have the Pyroblast! buff, in which case cast Fireball first and then Pyroblast.
- In the unlikely event that the mob has sufficient health to last through two Living Bombs, refresh Living Bomb as necessary.
- In the case of very high health mobs, use Mirror Image to buy you more time and recast Ice Barrier once it falls off.
- Cast Fireball while the mob is at range.
- Cast Inferno Blast to kill the mob when the mob’s health is low enough.
- Continue to the next mob.
In actual practice, the mob may die before you have to cast Frost Nova, and will rarely have to be confused with Dragon’s Breath.
Instance Running, Single Target Pull
- Cast Ice Barrier before the pull.
- Try to precast Pyroblast so that it will land a second or two after the tank has pulled.
- If the target will live for the entire duration of a Living Bomb, cast Living Bomb on the target.
- When Heating Up is active and Inferno Blast is off cooldown, cast Inferno Blast.
- When Pyroblast! is active, cast Pyroblast! Alternatively, if the target is freezable, you can try casting Frostjaw then Deep Freeze then Pyroblast to force a several crits, but this may not work in practice. Experiment with this and use experience as a guide.
- After the next to last tick of Living Bomb, and if the mob will live for the duration of another Living Bomb, cast Living Bomb.
- Otherwise cast Fireball.
- If things go wrong, use Frost Nova, Dragon’s Breath and Mirror Image to protect yourself, and refresh Ice Barrier as appropriate. Move toward the tank if the problem is that the tank lost aggro.
Instance Running, Group Pull without CC
- Cast Ice Barrier before the pull.
- Try to precast Pyroblast so that it will land a second or two after the tank has pulled the main target.
- Cast Living Bomb on the main target.
- Cast Inferno Blast on the main target.
- If there are more than four targets, cast Flamestrike on the group.
- If there are more than six targets, cast Blizzard on the group.
- Otherwise, cast Fireball repeatedly on the main target.
- Cast Inferno Blast if it is off cooldown and Heating Up has procced.
- Cast Pyroblast when Pyroblast! procs. Alternatively, if the target is freezable, you can try casting Frostjaw followed by Deep Freeze followed by Pyroblast to get extra crits. Use experience to guide whether this is useful or not.
- Focus targets down with fireballs.
- Refresh Living Bomb as long as there is more than one target (even if a target will not survive to the normal end of a Living Bomb, it will explode when it dies and make the Living Bomb cast worthwhile), or if the remaining target will live for the full duration.
- After refreshing Living Bomb, cast Inferno Blast as soon as possible to spread it to other targets.
- When switching to a new target, cast Living Bomb if there is no Living Bomb on that target, if there is more than one target or that target will live for the entire Living Bomb duration.
- If things go wrong, refresh Ice Barrier as necessary and use Frost Nova, Dragon’s Breath or Mirror Image to protect yourself (as in the soloing rotation above). Move toward the tank if the problem is that the tank has lost aggro.
Instance Running, Group Pull with CC
- Cast Ice Barrier to protect yourself.
- Use your polymorph macro to focus target the mob to be polymorphed. Polymorph the mob when told to pull.
- If a group of mobs are pulled at least ten yards away from the CC’d targets, follow the group pull instructions above.
- If one mob is being single targeted at least ten yards away from the CC’d targets, follow the single target strategy above.
- If a group of mobs or a single target is not pulled away from the CC’d targets, use Pyroblast, Inferno Blast and Fireball as in the single target strategy. Do not use Living Bomb, Flamestrike or Blizzard as this will break CC. (I do not believe Inferno Blast breaks CC by spreading DoTs to CC’d targets, but if your experience is otherwise PLEASE tell me.)
- Re-polymorph your target when switching targets or before the polymorph has broken.
Instance or Raid, Solo Boss Fight (Patchwerk Style)
- Cast Ice Barrier.
- If this is progression content, take a potion three seconds before the pull.
- Try to open with a pyroblast approximately two seconds before the pull. (This can be risky; be prepared to stop casting if your main tank doesn’t go.)
- Cast Living Bomb.
- Cast Mirror Image.
- If you get a Heating Up buff and Inferno Blast is off cooldown, cast Inferno Blast.
- If your Living Bomb is about to explode (i.e., it has ticked its next to last tick), refresh Living Bomb so long as the boss will live long enough for it to explode.
- If you get a Pyroblast! buff, cast Pyroblast.
- If you have a suitably large ignite on the target (generally after you get a Pyroblast crit or a number of Pyroblast buffs in a row) and Combustion is off cooldown, cast Combustion. (For most of the fight, this should be your primary mental exercise.)
- Use Time Warp when directed to by the raid leader.
- Cast Mirror Image when it comes off Cooldown.
- Cast Alter Time to extend Time Warp/Heroism or extend a particularly valuable trinket buff or grant you another Pyroblast buff.
- If you are moving, cast Scorch.
- Otherwise, cast Fireball.
Solo Instancing, Trivial Content
- Cast Ice Barrier.
- Hit a group of mobs with Flamestrike.
- Cast Living Bomb on a random target.
- Use Inferno Blast to spread the Living Bomb.
- Kill the random target with fireballs, using the Living Bomb explosion to damage other mobs.
- Cast Dragon’s Breath when the mobs get close.
- When a target dies, try to pick a new target without Living Bomb, and use Living Bomb and Inferno Blast as above.
- Pick off stragglers with Scorch or Fireball.
There are two addons I highly recommend for fire mages, in addition to whatever addons you like for raid warnings, health/mana display, casting bars, and so forth. These are CombustionHelper and TellMeWhen.
CombustionHelper is an addon that helps you track the DoTs on the target for the purpose of determining a good time to cast Combustion. It also helps you track the bomb of your choice. It does a few other things as well, such as informing you when you cast your bomb too early (although to my knowledge it has not been updated to reflect the ideal “clipping” strategy), how much ignite damage you have lost due to ignite munching, and how good you are at reacting to Pyroblast! buffs. CombustionHelper is fairly easy to set up and use, so I won’t go into that.
TellMeWhen is another matter entirely. This is the most helpful addon I have, but setting it up is quite difficult in part because it is such a powerful addon. The gist of the addon is that it allows you to put icons on your UI that will light up when certain conditions are met. To take a very simple example, you can program TellMeWhen to light up when you have the Stolen Time buff from the T13 set.
I’ve configured one group of TellMeWhen icons that greatly assist me in knowing what spell to cast next. Rather than cut and paste, I’ll just link to those here:
Once you have those five buttons up and running, you should have enough familiarity with the addon to create buttons for other things you would like to know. I have buttons to track every single enchant or equipment buff, and a row of icons to track what player-castable buffs I have (in lieu of a well placed buff bar). What you would like to track or not track is a personal preference, but I highly recommend the five icons set forth in the links above.
Here are some macros you may find useful.
This macro will enable you to keep a target polymorphed while focusing your damaging spells on another target. The first press will mark the target to be polymorphed. Use the shift modifier to select a new polymorph target. The macro will automatically select a new target if the previous target is dead or gone.
/cast [target=focus] Polymorph
If you have alternate polymorph spells (e.g., to turn the target into a Black Cat or a Turtle), replace “Polymorph” with the appropriate spell name.
This is a macro to make casting the combination of Frostjaw, Deep Freeze and Pyroblast easier. I use it when I get a Pyroblast! buff and the target is freezable.
#showtooltip Deep Freeze
/castsequence reset=15 Frostjaw, Deep Freeze, Pyroblast
Note that the tooltip will show Deep Freeze, as it has the longest cooldown and you will want to track that rather than Frostjaw’s shorter cooldown.
This macro will allow you to press the ice block key to dismiss the ice block effect, enabling you to get back into combat more quickly.
/cancelaura Ice Block
/cast Ice Block
Improved Mirror Image
This will tie any of your “on use” trinkets to your mirror image ability, allowing you to use the trinkets at a useful time without needing a separate keybind.
#showtooltip Mirror Image
/cast Mirror Image
Note that if you have on use trinkets that share a cooldown, only the first trinket will be used.
This macro ensures that counterspell will go off immediately, interrupting any spell you may be casting in order to perform this timely task.
Like the Ice Block macro, this macro will allow you to cancel the invisibility aura by pressing it a second time, allowing you to get back into combat more quickly. It also plays the Baby Murloc Dance, which I find to be somehow appropriate.
This concludes Jana and Saxsy’s Comprehensive Fire Mage Guide. I’ve tried to focus less on the theory behind a fire mage and more on practical explanations for the things you need to do while fighting actual fights. I may update this with more examples if I come across them; if you’d like me to illustrate a particular fight, I’d be happy to, so long as I have some familiarity with the fight. Feel free to ask!
I’m sorry this is so long, but I felt like I needed to cram everything into it in order to make the thing comprehensive. I hope you’ve found it useful.