For a very long time I've had a love affair with Frost, despite it's short comings.  I stayed true to it until I hit Northrend with the mage and watched the Frostfire build die and Arcane rise in it's place.  The difference in damage was so drastic, there wasn't any way to argue.  I hated the simplistic rotation, but I learned the little ways to make it interesting and squeeze that last bit of damage out.  I researched and questioned and played with Training Dummies until I knew it backwards and forwards, waiting for the day when Frost was on top again.

I say to you mage friends and fanatics, that that day has come.

It's not to say that Arcane can't hold it's own any more; it certainly can.  So what's my problem with Arcane?  Well for one, it bores the heck out of me.  There's a general agreement now that Arcane has two phases, the one button phase and the 2 button phase.  Ok, that's kind of derogatory for someone who argued that Arcane was never just 2 buttons before.  To be fair it isn't now.  You spam AB till you run out of mana sure, with all your cooldowns tossed in there, but there's a lot of other things to toss in too, depending on if you picked up the talents.  Then you have to force yourself to hold back with alternating AB and Missile Barrage till your cooldowns and evocation are back up, then it's back to blasting.  Your damage peaks can be huge if you do it right, but it's difficult to maintain and the AOE for Arcane has always been stunted.

Playing with Fire

So despite my dislike of fire, I dropped Arcane as my second spec and picked up a fire spec I'd been messing with, tweeking it a little bit.  I did some research, got a bunch of glyphs and planted myself down in front of the training dummy in Silvermoon.  (On a side note, it's important to take into consideration which dummy you're using to test your DPS.  Some boss dummies have a level 80 dummy next to them so that you can see splash damage and some don't.  Silvermoon's dummies are far enough apart, that you get true single target damage when testing on the boss dummy.)

I read up on rotations in a couple different places and most recommended a Fireball primary nuke with constant Living Bomb up time, using Pyroblast for Hot Streak procs, and Fireblast with Impact procs.  I went through this a number of times, trying different timing with Combustion and Mirror Images.  I have to tell you, the DPS I was getting was not holding a flame to Frost or Arcane.  I was about 2k lower than my frost spec and working my tail off to watch all those DOTs and keep max up time.  I was not impressed, but I had tried it and that made me feel a little better about my choice to stick with Frost as primary and Arcane as a second.

And then a guildie suggested that I try Frostfire Bolt instead.  I will admit I was kind of dumbfounded that I hadn't thought of this myself.  FFB used to be THE nuke for a short lived elementalist spec when Wrath raiding first began.  It quickly fell out of favor when Arcane usurped Frost and Fire and even when they made their comebacks, you only saw an inkling of it with Brain Freeze procs in frost.  It's used again in the Frost Rotation that I'll get into a little later, but there was no mention of it at all in all my fire research for my little experiment.  Even looking at the unglyphed spell, it seems rather lackluster.  You get less damage than what you get for Fireball, at the same cast time and mana cost.  (It's important to note here that Blizzard took away the DOT portions of BOTH of these spells in their primary form.)  So if you're looking at the flat numbers, why bother?  Look at the glyphs for them both:  Glyph of Fireball / Glyph of Frostfire Bolt.  If you've learned anything as a mage, then you must have learned that a flat damage increase is almost always better than a crit bonus.  Frostfire's glyph has that AND it adds back your DOT portion.  On top of that the DOT stacks 3 times.  Fireball's 5% crit glyph is all well and good if you're determined to use that spell instead, but that's 5% crit CHANCE and that doesn't add up to a whole lot when it comes down to consistency, plus the only DOT you'll get out of Fireball is from a talent that also works with Frostfire Bolt, so with the second spell, you're getting twice the punch for the same price.

So I changed out my glyphs and hit up the targeting dummies again.  With a complete exchange of Frostfire bolt for Fireball, I saw an easy 1.5k DPS increase, putting Fire just below Frost for my DPS and both of them right around Arcane.  Can I tell you how happy I was?  I was really happy.  One of my biggest complaints with the mage specs that more often than not lately, one spec was way ahead of the others and a clear choice.  I like these new murky waters with 3 viable choices and forgiveness for playing a little different.  You can honestly play what you like now, instead of what everyone else tells you is best and still do decent damage.

In short, here's how Fire adds up for me:
  • Spec : 2/31/3 - You can sub in Improved Flamestrike for Improved Scorch if you like.  I just like having the free spell for when my mana's low and I'm having to move.
  • Single Target Priority System : 1) Keep Living Bomb active on your target, avoiding clipping the explosion on the end if you can, but clipping a little damage is better than leaving time where the debuff isn't on your target. 2) Pyroblast with Hot Streak Procs.  3) Fireblast with Impact Procs (This is technically optional if you didn't take the Impact talent or don't have anything to splash damage onto.) 4) Frostfire Bolt is your primary nuke. 5) Scorch if you're low on mana or moving (This requires the talents Firestarter and Improved Scorch.)  With this system you want to use Combustion when you have the most DOTs active and I like to use Mirrors right afterwards for a little extra umph.
  • AOE Priority System : 1) Keep Living Bomb on as many targets as possible. 2) Dragon's Breath and Blast Wave, doesn't matter which first, but use them on cooldown. 3) Flamestrike in the middle of the fray to your heart's content. 4) If you get a Hot Streak or Impact Proc, use it!  They both have built in splash damage.
  • Glyphs : Prime - Living Bomb, Pyroblast and Mage Armor; Major - Frostfire, Mirror Image, and Molten Armor (You can sub in Dragon's Breath or Blast Wave for Mirror Image if you like, but I honestly think it's the better choice); Minor - Whatever floats your boat.
My Love Affair with Frost

If you've known me for a while, you know I love Frost a great deal.  Back in Vanilla WoW, all the dungeons seemed to be fire damage based, so Frost was the natural choice.  On top of that, it has always been an excellent choice for PVP and soloing because of the survivability, it's great for kiting, and we got a pet, even if it was temporary till recently.  I think it's safe to say every mage has their favorite spec and Frost is mine.  I'm so thrilled it's back up to par with the others, I'm loyaly devoted to proving it's worth.  Still people sneer at Frost because Arcane and Fire have potential.  But anyone who's been it's long time fan can tell you that it is a lot of fun and very versatile. 
And now the greatest news of all:  You can name your water elemental!

I kid you not.  There's a command in game that lets you give your wet buddy a clever moniker to impress all your friends and enemies.  That's right, warlocks.  Attached you may be to your stupid demon names, but we get to CHOOSE what we want to call our side-kicks.  The command is /run PetRename("NAMEHERE").  PROCEED WITH CAUTION however: whatever you decide to replace NAMEHERE with is permanent as of the current game build.  Perhaps later they'll put in a scroll for us to use like they did for hunters to rename, but there's no way to do it now.  In order to protect the innocent, I won't be revealing my name.
Allow me to deviate a moment from topic and give Blizzard some love.  As my readers know, I was not pleased with the initial descriptions of the spells and changes to mages for Cataclysm and I am not afraid to admit I'm still a little disappointed that they gave us a copied spell from Shaman so everyone would stop whining that shaman are required to raid.  However, with the majority of the changes implemented, I applaud what Blizzard has done so far:  They made mages versatile but similar enough between the specs that they all feel like the same class.  Each of the specs has a proc spell, they're all kiting accessible, you can change between them at your leisure and still pick your favorite way of doing things.  Bravo Blizzard.  My faith in the future of the mage class is restored.

Back to Frost.  Since Blizzard has thrown static rotations out the window (Hurray!), frost mages work off a priority system.  The DPS is comparable to that of the other two specs and in some situations even better.  Besides that, mana is not nearly as much of a problem as it is for the other two, so you can toss Mage Armor off your bar for now.  Make a note that when you're playing with Frost on a dummy, the DPS is going to look a lot lower than it is?  Why?  Because our big nuke, Deep Freeze, does not give accurate damage on a dummy to that of a boss.  Those dummies are susceptible to stuns so the big burst from the spell doesn't hit.  In raids, fully buffed, I get 45-50k hits on bosses in my ICC gear.  If that's not going to boost your DPS, I don't know what is.  Here's Frost at a glance:
  • Spec : 3/2/31 in Frost Master of Elements isn't an essential talent, but right now Frostfire Orb isn't a good talent since you don't have the spell yet.  Those two points are flexible.
  • Single Target Priority System : 1) Deep Freeze when the cooldown is up and you have a Frozen Target to hit or a Fingers of Frost proc. 2) Frostfire Bolt for Brain Freeze procs, even if you have a Fingers of Frost proc or a frozen target - the extra damage is applied to Frostfire Bolt now! 3) Ice Lance for frozen targets or FOF procs.  4) Frostbolt is still your primary nuke in Frost. 5) Ice Lance and Cone of Cold for movement, depending on your range from target.  Like we always did before, it's best to use your Icy Veins and Mirror Images in the very start of the fight so you don't lose a global from using the mirrors and to get that really nice burst right at the start along with the threat spread from Mirrors.  Now if you find you're not getting FOF procs, often, how do you get Frozen targets?  Easy, use your Water Elemental's Freeze right at the start for that initial Deep Freeze blast and another proc to boot.  You should be using this spell on cooldown during your proc downtime as it gives you 2 free procs.  Make sure you move it to a keybind for easy access as it's still a dropped AOE spell like it was before.  Make sure you have your Water Elemental active and he's spamming his Water bolt for extra damage.  Also, DON'T FORGET COLD SNAP.  It resets the cooldown of ALL your frost spells, Icy Veins and Deep Freeze included.  If there's a damage aura, it's always a good idea to have Ice Barrier up too.
  • AOE Priority System : Blizzard.  You can toss in a Frost Nova, Freeze, or Cone of Cold if you feel like it or need to put some distance between yourself and the bad guys, but you'll do the most damage from just spamming Blizzard.
  • Glyphs : Prime - Deep Freeze, Ice Lance, Cone of Cold; Major - Frostbolt, Molten Armor, and Frost Nova or Ice Barrier; Minor - Mage's Choice.