Why I hate the level 90 Mage talents

I have been raiding on my mage for all of Mists of Pandaria thus far. I really enjoyed the mage class leveling up from 89 to 90. However, as succinctly discussed on a youtube video by MikePreachWoW, the level 90 mage talents are the exact opposite of fun. The level 90 talents are largely a management problem that reduces the fun of the mage class,  adds needless complexity, and goes against everything in the game’s encounter design. Lhivera’s Library has tried to fight against some of these types of critiques in posts, but this doesn’t change the fact that every raid day, I dread having to manage my mage’s level 90 talents when I’m learning new boss encounters.

Lets look at why all 3 of these talents (at least for PvE) work against me in raids and spoil my fun:


This is currently the talent that I use in raids. The goal of this talent is to use Evocate (a 4 to 6 second channel). If you are able to successfully complete this Evocate channel, then you get a massive damage buff that is the difference between sucking and being the worst mage ever, or actually being competitive. Mages who are able to maintain maximum up-time (note, by this I don’t mean casting evocation before the buff ends, but in starting your evocation cast as soon as the buff drops since evocation doesn’t do damage) on this 25%  Invocation damage buff are able to be incredibly powerful. Here is why Invocation is the one thing I hate in raids but do anyway:

  • Invocation causes me to die more often than I otherwise would die in raids. It encourages risky behavior. If I have 2 seconds left in my invocation channel and I’m standing in something likely to kill me in the next 3 seconds, sometimes I will choose to not interrupt my evocation cast and hope for the best. On bosses when I know I will have a period of time when I can stand still, I can try to time my evocation – but this often means evocating early before the buff has fallen off and costs me DPS.
  • Forcing you to complete a long evocation cast works against encounter mechanics: When bosses have random spells that make you have to move randomly, then more often than not, you will get randomly selected to move half way through your evocation. Your choice then is to take a huge damage loss or potentially blow up your raid. Any mechanic that encourages you to “stand in bad” just to have equivalent DPS of other players is a crappy mechanic. Interrupting your evocate means you end up having more downtime when you are not doing any damage to the boss, and this can be problematic if you are in a burst phase or heroism was used and you are losing out on precious damage time.
  • Managing Invocation is a giant pain in the neck and works against encounter mechanics and causes needless stress. While Llhivera argues that we’re not balanced around having maximum up-time on things like invocation’s damage buff, the fact is that if the best performing mages in the world can have close to the maximum up-time on invocation’s damage buff, then the class has to be balanced around maximum up-time. As these buffs from our level 90 talents are multiplicative, they are going to be stronger and stronger and stronger as the expansion goes on. Llhivera argues that the level 90 talents are burst cooldowns, but they aren’t used as burst cooldowns – they are used as constantly maintained buffs where the goal of any reasonable person is to keep the buff up as much as possible, and it goes against human nature to do otherwise. When my buff falls off, I do everything in my power (including standing in bad stuff) to keep the buff up longer. Claiming not to balance this buff around maximum up-time is turning out to absolutely not be true, as seen by the fact that mages are actually pulling this off and causing the class to get massive damage nerfs every patch thus far this expansion. The up-time of a burst cooldown should be determined by having a cooldown on the burst (eg. icy veins) rather than having that burst come from overcoming mechanics that set you up to fail.
  • A passive damage buff is boring and was the type of talent they were trying to get rid of in Mists talent trees. A passive damage buff that is obnoxious to maintain is the opposite of fun. While arcane mages always used evocation in their rotations, it doesn’t work well in frost and fire rotations because they were never designed to take 5 second breaks when trying to ramp up all the different procs and such that fire/frost relies upon. The psychological effect of the talent is more problematic than the math theorycrafting side of the talent.

Rune of Power

Rune of power has similar problems to Invocation, only these problems are so much worse because this talent requires you to not ever move in raid boss encounters, which is an impossible task. Rune of power is actually my least favorite thing I’ve ever dealt with in the entire game.

  • Rune of power requires you to stand still for 35 seconds to fully benefit from this talent. There is not a single encounter in Mists of Pandaria raiding where using Rune of Power is a fun decision because every encounter is designed based on forcing the players to run around and move all the time. Being able to cast rune while moving is unhelpful because we’ll still have to move again in 10 seconds after we put down the rune. I had to abandon rune of power (a spell that does no damage when you cast it) when I was having to re-cast rune of power every 10 or 20 seconds because of constantly having to move in raid encounters.
  • Rune of power encourages you to stand in bad stuff and die.  First, Rune of power covers up bad things on the floor so you can’t see them, and you can’t see your rune of power when all the other spell effects in a 25-man raid are covering it. Since my other option is Invocation (another talent that requires me to stand still often during the fight), this is the option between death by a thousand needle pricks versus death by being stabbed with forks. There’s no fight where either Evocation or Rune of Power make sense to use – they don’t interact well with encounter mechanics. Instead, raid encounters require you to spend more time managing either rune of power or evocation than you spend on anything else you do in the encounters. Anything that a DPS class is casting and managing that would be a DPS loss if it wasn’t for the huge DPS buff attached to using the ability, is a huge annoying burden that every class has had issues with (eg. improved soulfire for warlocks, every time they try to put Faerie Fire in the moonkin DPS rotation).

Incanter’s Ward

Gives you a passive buff when you don’t cast anything (boring) and then if you cast Incanter’s Ward right before you are about to take a huge amount of damage, that damage can be absorbed to give you an even bigger damage buff. That damage buff is contingent on you taking damage, and if you screw up, you lose both the effect of the burst damage and the passive bonus for the entire 25 second cooldown.

  • While this talent has PvP uses, this turns out to be absolute crap in most raid encounters. The passive damage buff alone isn’t as strong as spending all your mental energy to maintain Invocation or Rune of Power. So, you end up being better off standing in bad stuff and relying on your healers to keep you alive while you DPS than taking the passive bonus from this. Even if you benefit regularly from the “use” effect, you still get better (and more reliable) DPS returns from Invocation, even if casting evocation regularly ends up being a giant burden, as well.
  • The DPS cooldown requires you to take damage and increases your number of PvE deaths. The cooldown effect requires needless management in PvE. The cooldown use effect requires you to be psychic about when you are going to take 24,727 damage in the next 8 seconds (the current size of my absorb bubble). The most reliable way to make sure I get my full 30% damage is to actually stand in bad stuff until the bubble is absorbed. This killed me often enough in PvE that I had to stop taking the talent.


So, of the 3 talents, I’m currently using Invocation all the time right now. Why? Well, I have some control over it and the two other talents caused me the most deaths in raids compared to invocation. I’m not going to propose fixes for these talents because I honestly don’t believe there are fixes. The point of these talents are to encourage you to play poorly by standing still too often or taking needless damage to increase your DPS - and it turns out that this actually hurts the ability for me to enjoy the mage class. If I was level 89, and didn’t have any of the level 90 talents, I would love playing the mage class far more than I do as being at level 90 and having to manage my needlessly overcomplicated level 90 talents. These talents are marketed as being “fun” and “optional choices,” they fail at being either. While they were marketed as being things that you should choose for encounter-specific things, none of them work with any of the encounters, so this ends up being a false choice and impossible to figure out – so most mages pick the one that provides the most damage most of the time and just stick with it across encounters.
EDIT: after I wrote my post, a new version of invocation showed up on the PTR patch notes. While I like the idea of the 5.2 invocation version a lot better (it’s a significant quality of life improvement if it reduces the amount of time you have to stand still), this doesn’t solve the problem of that I feel the whole talent tier is not living up to Blizzard’s overall design standards for talents.

Posted in Mage, Written By Lissanna
14 comments on “Why I hate the level 90 Mage talents
  1. Jamie says:

    While I don’t particularly like the talents, I would disagree that they are balanced around full, 100% uptime.

    Invocation doesn’t require “full” uptime. In fact, if you’re keeping it up 100% of the time, that’s bad – ironically, that means you’re losing about 5-6 seconds on each of them. The trick is to let it fall off, and then take a few seconds to get your bearings before using it again. Like, for example, if I’m fighting Blade Lord Tayak and he’s about to do Unseen Strike, I’m not gonna bother refreshing it right then; I’ll have the buff up, but I won’t be able to attack him! It’s easier to just stack in, wait for the Unseen Strike, and then Evocate afterwards.

    Even on Gara’Jal, the pathwerkiest fight in the expansion, top Mages’ uptime on Invoker’s Energy is roughly 90%. The trick is to be aware of what mechanics might interrupt or kill you, and wait until the coast is clear.

    Rune of Power used to suck until the cooldown was removed; now, it’s just a matter of spending a global moving away, and then casting another RoP. Or, if you only need to move in and out of a spot (Sunbeams on Tsulong, the floor on Elegon), you can cast Ice Floes, Scorch, or save your GCD attacks to quickly dip in and out. It can require a little planning on some fights, but it’s not so troublesome after a bit of practice.

    If anything, I think the problem with these two talents is that they’re just plain boring; Incanter’s Ward is cool, but, well…it sucks.

    Incanter’s Ward can be safely and effectively used on a lot of encounters, but it’s not always fun to do, and it’s not always consistent. I know for a fact that it can be used effectively in most of MGV (except Spirit Kings and Stone Guard 10, when Jade Guardian is down), and on at least some of Heart of Fear. The real problem with Incanter’s Ward is that it’s virtually unusable in Arcane, and virtually unusable on some raid encounters. Even if you really had to jump into fire to use it (which I don’t think you do), there’s really not enough constant ways to die that you could keep it up 100% of the time.

    Feel free to yell at me on twitter if you think I’m dumb – @GLJamie.

    • Lissanna says:

      By “full up-time”, I didn’t actually mean that you would want to start casting Invocation 5 seconds before it ends (that’s not something I ever do unless the encounter mechanics force me to). Instead, what I meant by that was that you benefit most if all your DPS spells benefit from the buff (where evocation isn’t a damage spell), and that the goal is to have 100% of your DPS spells benefit from the buff (EVEN IF most people don’t actually attain this in practice, it is still the goal that people spend a vast amount of cognitive resources in the fight worrying about maintaining a buff).

      Since casting evocation takes a huge chunk of time (and people don’t typically pre-cast it before it ends), it won’t show up on WOL at 100% (and that’s not really the point of the post anyway). For effects that are random (or time poorly with your rotation), it hurts your overall DPS exactly because CAN’T always plan when to cast evocation appropriately to maximize the number of DPS spells you cast. I went through and replaced “100%” with “maximum”, reflecting the fact that evocation isn’t a damage spell and actually lowers your active DPS time impacting what it looks like in logs. It requires such a high intricate knowledge of the fights before you encounter them that it’s just a giant pain in the neck (and thus leads to more problems on progression fights when you don’t know what the consistent timers are going to feel like because you haven’t done the encounter before). In addition, anything that has a random timer and a random chance of whether or not it will effect you are specifically designed to reduce predictability of fights and conflicts with invocation’s design. Considering the fact that there are zero alternative talent options for the majority of raiding encounters, all three are problematic (though the new versions of invocation including a shorter cast time show that they are already aware of the fact that invocation is problematic).

      • Jamie says:

        I agree that the Goal is 100% uptime on your damaging spells, but it’s completely impossible. There’s nothing wrong with having it down on occasion. There are even a few situations where it’s a bad idea to refresh Invoker’s Energy right away, even if nothing will interrupt you:

        – Invoker’s Energy falls off and you still have time remaining on Bloodlust/Icy Veins, because it’s an even greater DPS loss to lose all those seconds of BL/IV. This is especially true of IV when it’s glyphed.

        – Invoker’s Energy falls off and you need to refresh Nether Tempest/Living Bomb soon (or Frost Bomb in an AoE situation), since it’s a greater DPS loss to wait until IE is active to recast.

        – If Invoker’s Energy falls off and you predict the fight will last less than about twenty-five seconds plus the channeling time for Evocation, it’s best to forego refreshing it, since it needs around twenty-five seconds of full active casting to benefit from the amount of time spent not-casting.

        – For Frost Mage, you should wait to refresh Invoker’s Energy until you’ve gotten rid of your Brain Freeze proc; the same if true if you have any Fingers of Frost procs if the debuff falls off while Frozen Orb is active.

        And these are just the situations where it’s best to wait for a DPS reason. There are plenty of times when it’s fine to wait for survival reasons, and your DPS won’t drop to the gutter.

        I agree that using Invocation takes some knowledge of the fight; however, you can get an idea for where and when to move/stack/stop casting/switch targets/phase changes from watching videos or doing LFR. Between those and DBM, it requires nothing more than a little concentration I also feel that complaining about dying during a progression boss is moot; most people don’t encounter a boss for the first time thinking that they’ll down it immediately, so it’s not as if dying while learning the mechanics is such a bad thing.

        Granted, my guild isn’t terribly far into progression – we’re 6/6 Mogu’Shan Vaults and 2/6 Heart of Fear, so halfway through the tier. However, the only mechanic that has consistently makes Invocation difficult to use after learning the fight is Jasper Chains. Anything else has been manageable, as long as you’re fine waiting just a few seconds.

        Can you give me specific examples of mechanics that just ruin Invocation? I promise I’m not trying to be a contrary douche – I’d like to help if I could! I promise you I’m pretty good at Mage, and I’ve actually ranked on most fights I’ve completed as Frost and Arcane, so I’ve had a pretty extensive use of both Invocation and Rune of Power.

        • Lissanna says:

          There is already a new version of invocation on beta that has a shorter cast time (and that version is more ideal just because it requires less standing still), so I’m pretty sure Blizzard already agrees that the current invocation design isn’t ideal – even if the two of us spent all day arguing about why that was true or not. I really have a problem with the entire level 90 mage tree entirely based on the fact that all other similar mechanics are things people hated and eventually removed from other classes/trinkets/etc. I oppose them for the same reason why I always opposed attaching a damage bonus to spells like Faerie Fire for balance druids. Even if invocation is not as terrible as the other two talents for PvE, it still means that there is zero choice in the talent selection (so, even the new beta version of invocation is bad if they don’t also change the other two talents on that tier to give us viable choices).

          • Jamie says:

            I figured the change was because Invocation was flat-out better than the other two. Either way, don’t get me wrong – I totally agree that they suck. I am writing up a feedback post for the WoW forums right now that would suggest that the Level 90 talents (and the wretched Mage Bomb talents that I also hate just as much) be moved much lower down the tree, as the two talent tiers are dramatic game-changers for all specs and can totally shift a person’s opinion about the class right at the last minute. It’s crappy and it would be a colossal waste of time to find out you hated the class at 90.

            What I’d really like to see is a way to make Incanter’s Ward more viable, as I think that is the only fun one of the three.

          • Lissanna says:

            Here’s the feedback version I posted on the PTR forums: http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/7593740975?page=10#182

  2. Zy says:

    Yeah, my mages are sitting at 85 and 87 with no plans to level them. One is doing ToC dailies and the other is my pet battler (yay portals to wherever I want to battle in the world!). Part of this is because MoP is so alt unfriendly but mostly it’s the 90 talents. They looked about as fun as mushrooms from the moment they were introduced and since then I’ve been watching our mage struggle in my main’s raid. Not gonna touch with a fifty foot pole.

  3. Lhivera says:

    They’re definitely not balanced around perfect uptime (“perfect” not meaning “100%,” but rather meaning “the best it is possible to do”). We’ve got this information direct from the devs. They’re designed with the expectation that the typical player can generally maintain X% uptime, where X:

    (a) is different for each of the three talents
    (b) produces a benefit higher than 6% (the value you get from Incanter’s Ward if you treat it as a passive and never hit the button)
    (c) allows for exceptional players to gain an additional 2-3% as they approach perfect usage

    That should put the expected average benefit in the neighborhood of about 8%. That’s using Invocation once per 60 seconds, using Rune twice per minute and spending 50 of every 60 seconds standing on a rune, and using Incanter’s Ward once per 75 seconds with a full absorb.

    Now, this doesn’t mean they’re perfect. I think Rune is undertuned (it’s the most restrictive talent, most difficult to maximize uptime, and should have a higher multiplier on it to reflect this fact and make the average uptime as easy to achieve as with Invocation — especially important with Invocation being buffed). And I dislike the fact that the talents are more about correctly matching talent to encounter than they are about customization. But these are things that can be fixed through fairly minor adjustments such as Invocation is receiving, rather than through total redesigns.

    • Lissanna says:

      Except that there really aren’t any raid encounters (outside of LFR where you ignore mechanics) that rune or ward turned out to be a good option for me. I have had to default to invocation for all the fights because it’s not possible to stand still long enough in all but one or two fights to benefit from Rune and Ward. I tried out both early in this raiding tier and it ended up being that invocation was so much higher damage because it was the only one that I even consistently COULD benefit from in raids past LFR. It’s obvious that Ward is the PvP talent favorite, invocation is the normal/HM raiding favorite, and rune is for LFR based on what I’ve seen from people running the content. I’d argue that we’re not really rewarded for dynamically switching talents in the middle of raids, but that the talents are favoring different content entirely. The level 90 talents caused me such bad problems in trying to learn the mage class that I almost had to go back to raiding on the druid entirely to avoid them (except that I didn’t have time to get the druid leveled & geared).

      • Lhivera says:

        The differences simply can’t be that large, because the delta between perfect usage and zero usage is only about 11% (and only about 5% for Ward). Since very few players will achieve perfect usage, and most players will achieve better than zero benefit, the swing is unlikely to be much greater than 5-8% on any given encounter.

        Ward is always a good option, because you can do literally nothing with it and be only about 5% behind a perfect player using one of the other two talents in any encounter.

        Rune has been a surprisingly (to me) popular talent in raiding, according to the data I’ve seen, often outstripping Invocation, especially since the Scorch Weaving Arcane playstyle came into play. But I do think that it’s the hardest talent to maximize, and the only talent that has serious potential to result in a DPS loss rather than a gain if you’re recasting it too often (the real trick to using Rune is knowing when it’s better to place a new one, and when it’s better to go without until you can get back onto an old one). Hence my recommendation that it be buffed, especially given the Invocation change in 5.2.

        Note that you only need to stand on a rune for 10 seconds (less as you add haste) to break even on the cast time. 10 / 11.5 * 1.15 = 1. So the vast majority of the time, your benefit should be nonzero. If you’re even getting only 4% out of it, and the typical player is getting 9% out of Invocation, the delta is less than 5%.

        Now as always, none of this means the talents are going to be fun for you. But the numeral differences between them, even as you move between different types of encounters, just shouldn’t be terribly large.

  4. Gus says:

    Finished leveling up my mage and getting him up to LFR a short time ago I use frost because that’s my fun spec (also keep the top dps spec as my os) took invocation as most of the time I’m either doing dailies or doing random heroics I don’t get much time to use it Trash is usually dead by the time I finish casting it so not using it on trash and most of the time I can’t even pre cast it before a boss fight as we just charge in and pew pew..

    Loved jaime’s post on when it’s a dps loss to cast it since I’m almost not casting it I assume all others must be a dps gain.

    also yea the expansion is very alt unfriendly by this time I would be ready on all my toons with their off specs to be raid ready being the altholic I am I only have Druid(resto), , Rogue (assasination/combat) and my mage (frost/fire) raid ready with the DK sitting at 87 and the rest parked at 85 .. except the monk who is 40 …. and the twinks at 19 and 29 that I can’t bear to delete or level up even though I don’t pvp anymore.

  5. Felade says:

    I think as casters, we’ve gotten too used to being able to move with impunity. Yes, even Cata moonkin. Blizzard really wants to make moving for ranged a bit more costly, and I think that’s what you’re seeing here with the level 90 talents. Making movement costly for ranged means being melee isn’t such a terrible disadvantage (like it still is atm, unfortunately).

    Invocation isn’t all that bad, and the buffs are nice. The trick is to wait until just after the fire spawns under you – move out, then cast Evocation. You’re much less likely to be caught by mechanics that way. There’s always time to stand still on every fight, you just have to find it. The buff will make it that much easier to fit that in.

    I’m not going to say I enjoy the level 90 talents, but they sure contribute to the “cannon” part of “glass cannon”. Setting them up feels like I’m setting up the heavy artillery to fire!

    • Lissanna says:

      Except that they made movement DPS easier for most caster specs other than mages in MOP, including shots hunters can easily do on the move. Mages are really the class most punished for trying to move and actually follow encounter mechanics. I thought moonkin had it bad until I went mage. The mage level 90 talents are actually quite artificial (and not helpful) ways of limiting mage mobility. If the PvE and PvP progression encounters actually were designed for “cannon” behavior, that would be fine – but most of them require moving often. Having class design totally clash with encounter design is a problem. The encounter & class designers shouldn’t be working against eachother.

      • Felade says:

        Mmm, they’ve made a lot of comments about ranged mobility in the last few months, and they’ve toned it down for a lot of specs (except Hunters). Hunters are just coming off some oddities with their Aspects and I think they may have to be nerfed to have to work at moving a bit more.

        Mages are also supposed to pick between the abilities that work best. I personally don’t have too much trouble finding time to channel Evocates for Invocation, but Incanter’s Ward can help on fights with a lot of incoming damage. Rune of Power seems to be the odd man out in my opinion.

        All classes are going to have their annoying part. You just have to pick your poison :P

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