Sorry this was so long in coming.
Now, for this issue of Magecraft, we are going to assume that you, lovely mage, have just reached level 70. So now what?
Well, first off we’re going to go over the standard builds for level 70 mages. You’ll see these referenced on the forums as “10/48/3″ and “LOL 17/0/44 nub”, and other such enlightening and pointless verbiage.
(Disclaimer: the following talent specs are cookie cutters. This means that they are intended as an excellent place to start your own theorycrafting about where talents should go. They are meant as an outline to end-game specs rather than an end-all. Of course, these specs are cookie cutter for a damn good reason.)
These are the three specs primarily used for PvE.
The Raiding Standard
This is an extremely popular end-game build, and one that yours truly uses for any serious group PvE. This build capitalizes on the heavy innate damage and crit rate that comes from the fire tree. By stacking full Scorch debuffs, it essentially gives any person using fire spells a 15% boost to their damage! This turns your fireball spell into an incredibly powerful weapon (even more so now that 2.3 has scrapped the damage co-efficient). This build scales extremely well. Obviously, it gets better the more spell damage and crit rate you have, but because of the nature of the fire tree, it gets more returns than any other spec from those stats. Flat out increased damage, and Ignite provides a ton of damage that only gets more powerful the better your gear gets.
Master of Elements and Clearcast gives you very solid mana-efficiency, and elemental precision is an absolute must for the hit rating.
A very solid raiding build, and comes highly recommended by me. Remember, make sure you have max Scorch debuffs at all times. Make sure to refresh it with a scorch at least every 25 seconds, so that nothing stupid happens and you lose the whole stack.
Drawbacks: A hefty chunk of the damage you can deal is left up to random chance (crits, and thus ignite).
Note that the random point spent in Magical Attunement can be put pretty much anywhere. It doesn’t matter, its kind of a silly leftover… thingy.
This is the alternative build to a Fire raiding spec; this is the arcane raiding spec. Arcane is… an unusual spec, to say the least. Let me put it this way… the damage that can be dealt by a fire specced raiding mage is limited by two things: cast time and crits. Those are the two ruling factors for a fire mage. The same holds true for frost. But with arcane, your damage is limited by how much mana you have. Take Arcane Blast as a perfect example. It’s cast time is reduced at the same rate as its mana cost goes up. Hence, you are limited by the amount of mana you have. In addition, as an arcane mage, a percent of all your Intellect becomes spell damage. What does this mean? You make your mana pool bigger, thus letting you cast longer. It also increases your crit rating. It also increases how much spell damage you have, which gets ridiculously powerful with Arcane missiles nabbing an extra 45% of bonus spell damage.
Quite bluntly, if you stack endless amounts of Intellect and Spell Damage, you will make tanks weep.
This Arcane spec also has the unique property in that it is the only Mage spec where Spirit is actually useful. Combine the (improved) Arcane Meditation with Mage Armor, and spirit looks very tasty indeed.
Drawbacks: Lack of range leaves you standing within several bosses AoE effects. You will have to be fast and clever to avoid these without hurting your DPS. Oh, yeah, and it goes Out of Mana faster than a Moonkin with 600 spell haste rating.
Frost Raiding (LOL spec)
A highly contraversial spec for raiding, by simple merit that it has the least amount of innate damage than any other PvE spec. A lot of the burst damage from frost comes from being able to “freeze” the target, and thus gain Shatter abilities. Sadly, most of the end-game raiding mobs are immune to being frozen, and only one boss in the entire game can be rooted. Due to this mechanic, frost is sorely lacking in the DPS department. Frost emphasizes control, controlled burst damage and survivability above all else. For raids, it is a poor choice. However, it is an excellent 5-man Instance spec, due to those same reason. Very few mobs in 5-mans are immune to freezes, meaning frost can gain some very respectable damage from this type of PvE. As well, the control the spec offers is highly useful for Heroics, adding a very nice cushion for screw-ups. Hell, any mob that can be rooted or slowed is solo-able by a frost mage.
Again, you’ll see we put 10 points in Arcane. Couple Clearcast with Frost channeling, and frost will have mana long after the other specs have run OOM.
Drawbacks: Lowest damage output of the three cookie Mage specs.
Now, for PvP, things get a little different.
PoM + Pyro!
Like any non-frost spec, this build simply will not hold up inside an arena. It is used to its best effect in Battlegrounds, and can only perform well in 5v5 arenas if played very well.
This is the PoM + Pyro spec that is QQ’d about endlessly on the mage forums. It has the best burst potential of any build in the game, provided some jackass shaman doesn’t Purge you. You’ll be seeing a lot of the kind of super-heavy damage Arcane puts out, as long as you continue to have hefty amounts of Intellect and Spell damage in your PvP gear. And, of course, if you pop the classic PoM + Trinket + Arcane Power + Pyro, you’ll be seeing that single spell crit of upwards of 4k damage. Against people without Resilience, it is entirely possible to get close to one-shotting them.
Prismatic Cloak and Improved Blink are not necessary to take, but, seriously, where else are you going to put them? They are very nice survivability talents, and will help you nicely in Battleground scenarios. If you adore Arcane and Arathi Basin, this is the build for you.
Drawbacks: You are so squishy, a Ret Paladin will most likely two-shot you. You also have the least PvP control capabilities of either the fire tree or frost tree.
The PvP Fire build. Before we start, note that the points currently spent in Emp. Fireball can be spent roughly anywhere. In PvP, you generally won’t be using Fireball; you won’t have time. Once you enter the brawl, or the brawl comes straight at you, you’ll be using fireblast and Scorch almost exclusively. PvP changes too much, too fast, to warrant a 3 second cast. Otherwise, snag all the usual increased fire damage stuff and crit talents. Skip “Playing With Fire”, and shove points into Blazing Speed. A contraversial talent, you will fall in love with it while fighting warriors and rogues. Yes, it has a relatively low proc rate, but when it procs, it’s basically a huge “Fuck you” to the melee classes. Combined with Impact/Molten Armor, it basically gives you a 20% chance at a “I win” moment when anyone hits you in melee. And you’d still have all the usual Blink, Frost Nova type tactics to rely on. Dragon’s Breathe is also annoyingly awesome for pretty much everyone. The 3 second stun can ruin a casters day, especially a healer.
Now, lets look at the Arcane side here. Put points into both Clearcast and Imp. Arcane Missiles. Whenever clearcast procs, hit Arcane Missiles for an uninterruptible, un-LoS kitable, powerful burst spell. Once Arcane Missiles starts casting it will complete even if the target runs out of range or breaks LoS. And it won’t cost you mana to do. This is a common tactic for many PvP mages.
Also, getting the Improved Counterspell is just cruel. It is an excellent way to kill Paladins and Priests. Get it. Love it. It is sexy.
Drawbacks: Very squishy, and smart use of your Instants and Counterspell will quickly make you the “KILL FIRST” target of… well, everyone. That, and you’ll probably be on top of the damage charts, thus making you an even higher priority target.
For any Frost PvP talent, you MUST have the following talents:
5/5 Improved Frostbolt
5/5 Ice Shards
2/2 Improved Frost Nova
1/1 Cold Snap
3/3 Frost Channeling (shocker, I know, but you desperately need the mana efficiency. There’s so little Intellect on PvP gear, you cannot afford to go without this talent)
1/1 Ice Block
1/1 Ice Barrier
5/5 Arctic Winds
5/5 Empowered Frostbolt
1/1 Water Elemental
The following talents are very useful, and you can pick and choose them at will. I highly suggest testing them, and seeing how they work out for you.
Improved Cone of Cold
Personally, I can’t bear to play without Improved Cone of Cold. I use it a lot as a direct damage spell, so I need to squeeze all the damage I can get out of it. If you’re the type who uses it as a snare and nothing more, by all means skip it.
So. For speccing frost fore PvP, there are basically two other trees to use in support. You can either pick Arcane or Fire as a backup.
17/0/44 – Remember the whole Clearcast/Arcane Missiles thing? Yeah, same here, coupled with Improved Counterspell. Pick and choose your frost talents as you wish.
0/8/53 – This takes almost all of the awesome frost talents, and pairs it with Impact and the fastest cooldown Fireblast avaliable. Impact is excellent in PvP, since you’d better be running with Molten Armor. Stuns are good, learn to love them. The rapid Fireblast is also very important, the more you cast it, the better.
40/0/21 – An interesting spec, this combines a lot of the burst damage of the Arcane tree with some of the survivability of the frost. It allows for such neat tricks like PoM + Frostbolt. And, of course, combining Arcane Power and a Shatter combo will see Ice Lance critting for… well, an extremely high amount. Difficult to pull off, but this spec can be incredibly awesome. And you don’t lose Ice Block, either.
0/14/47 – Also known as “ADD” spec. It goes deeper into fire than 0/8/43, to get the improved fireblast/scorch crits, and Burning Soul. The idea is, that when your frost tree gets shut down for some reason, you drop scorch’s until its back up. Your damage dealt doesn’t slow because of this, but you do lose mobility.
0/27/34 – The very strange Elemental Spec. Essentially, it combines Blazing Speed with Ice Barrier, to gain… a very odd spec. It has strong control and survivability, and some very interesting burst damage from fire. If one tree gets shutdown, its very easy to switch to the next. Being able to Ice Block and Blastwave at the same time will confound the shit out of your opponents.
And thats it! Those are the specs most people end up using.