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WoWMar 22, 2015 10:00 am CT

Arcane Sanctum: Four simple ways to improve your mage DPS

Welcome to another edition of Arcane Sanctum, where the cakes are always fresh and the Frostbolts are snappy. This week we’ll be looking at doing something we really like to do: making things explode with magic. We’ll be discussing how you can finetune your damage dealing to generate those big yellow numbers we all love so much.

Whether you’ve been playing a mage for a week or for years, there are usually things we can all do more efficiently to maximize our damage. There’s a big difference between theorycraft and practical damage. Many factors affect damage dealing execution: lag, reaction time, environmental hazards, RNG, and of course player error. Your damage is also dependent on your gear, spec and talent choice, but that’s not what we’re looking at this week. Instead, we’re considering ways that will allow any spec of mage to see an improvement in their damage immediately.

Remember your ABCs (Always Be Casting)

You’ve probably heard this one before, but it’s worth repeating. The single best thing you can do to improve your DPS is to minimize idle time. Even between similarly geared mages, if you compare logs you will find that the mage who cast the most number of spells did higher damage. What’s great about this that it’s also the simplest thing you can do. You already know where your spell casting keybinds are. You just need to push them more.

The key here is that even if a spell you’re casting is the “wrong” spell, it’s still better than casting nothing. So if you accidentally hit Pyroblast but didn’t have Heating Up to make it instant – well, let it finish anyway and just be ready with a Fireball as that spell finishes.

This brings me to another important point. One thing we all have to contend with is latency – the time between you casting and when the server knows you’re casting. There are addons (e.g. Quartz) that show latency within your cast bar itself. The addon isn’t a requirement, just be aware that the time between when you are casting a spell and when the server knows you are casting a spell always has a slight gap. Because of this, you should be hitting the key you want to cast multiple times before your cast actually finishes. It should sound as if you are repeatedly stepping on a warlock after killing them. It’s even better if your keyboard is a loud one. (I’m sorry roommates, spouses, parents, pets, but it’s for the greater good).

There are two settings you may not know about related to this. Go into Interface and then Combat and look for these:


If you know what your typical latency is, you can adjust the tolerance here by checking off “Custom Lag Tolerance” and moving the slider. Next, make sure that “Cast action keybinds on key down” is checked off. Take advantage of more global cooldowns and cast more spells!

Have a look at the logs of a similarly geared mage who is doing more damage than you. See how many times they cast their main nuke and other spells compared to yours. Now challenge yourself each week to increase your number even by just a few casts.

Manage your movement

This next one can be tougher to do depending on your spec, but we do have options. It’s all related – the more time that you spend moving, the less time you’ll be casting. The ideal situation for us is that we never have to move, and we can stand in one place being an awesome glass cannon from now until we need to take a break.

The reality is, we’ll seldom have the freedom to do that. So the second best scenario becomes moving the least amount possible while still performing your ideal rotation. This varies depending on which spec you are playing. Scorch used to be the assumed “movement ability” for any fire mage. Its damage has been nerfed considerably, but it does have a small movement speed perk attached now in the form of Improved Scorch. If you use Scorch while moving, you’ll be losing a bit of damage compared to casting your main damage abilities and moving.

Ice Floes is good for this. If used correctly, you can mitigate the effect that movement has on your damage. You may use it only for movement heavy fights. If you have to move and you can’t use Ice Floes to continue casting any spell with a cast time, then at least use that time to cast instant abilities or to refresh DoTs if you have them. If you’re able to learn to keep casting even when you are moving and only move as much as you need to, you’ll see a marked increase in your DPS.

Plan ahead and pay attention to timers

There’s always a learning curve when you’re attempting a new boss during which your DPS will naturally be lower. You aren’t used to phases or abilities, you may have to move unexpectedly or you may mistime a key cooldown. That’s unavoidable. But especially with many of the talents that comprise our level 100 tier in Warlords, not knowing what a boss is going to do next can be extremely punishing.

Let’s take Kargath Bladefist as an example. If you are a mage using Prismatic Crystal, you know that proximity matters for this ability. PC is a major cooldown for us as well, with a 1.5 minute cooldown on it. If you’re not paying attention to what the boss is going to do, you would automatically cast it as soon as it’s available. If you happen to do this right before he begins to chase a player with Berserker Rush, you’re going to regret it and lose out on a significant portion of damage as a result.

This is also true of any fights with large numbers of adds such as Beastlord Darmac or Operator Thogar. It isn’t just about padding the meters, these adds need to die and if you can time your AoE damage cooldowns with the arrival of adds, you’ll see a major payoff.

Unfortunately, sometimes this is out of our control. Specifically in the case of Meteor and Prismatic Crystal, you are somewhat dependent on your tanks. This is where a little communication goes a long way. Take a moment outside of raid to explain to your tanks that the more predictable they are the better it will be for you. Show them what Meteor and Prismatic Crystal look like. Beg them, please, for the love of cupcakes, not to spontaneously sprint to the other side of Azeroth when they see these abilities.

Track your procs and buffs

Finally, the last simple improvement you can make to increase your damage may require you to download a new addon or two. What you want to be able to do is two things:

  1. Be alerted in some way when trinkets and buffs are active.
  2. Keep an eye on the internal cooldowns of trinkets and anything else that has a proc.

Why do you want this? It’s simple. The more aware you are of buffs and upcoming buffs, the better you’ll be able to line up your key abilities to maximize your damage. Let’s look at Combustion, for example. Even though DoTs now calculate their damage dynamically with each tick, you will still get more benefit from Combustion if you cast it when you have the most buffs up. The same goes for any other ability on a longer cooldown (e.g. Meteor, Prismatic Crystal, Supernova, Comet Storm, etc.)

If you know that your trinket is likely to proc in the next 5 seconds or so, then it may be worth holding off on an ability you’d ordinarily cast right away, thereby gaining greater benefit from it. There are a number of addons capable of giving you this information. Weak Auras 2 can be configured to track both buffs and internal cooldowns. TellMeWhen and NeedToKnow are other powerful options for internal cooldown and buff tracking.  If you use any other methods to track your buffs and procs, let us know in the comments!

The four things outlined above are deceptively simple, but form the basis of doing competitive DPS as a mage. It’s easy to set up the addons, but attempting to do everything at once might be overwhelming. If it’s too much to think about, start small with trying to increase your active casting time. You can combine this with minimizing extraneous movement and being efficient when you do have to move. Then pay special attention to major boss abilities so you don’t lose out on damage. Finally, you can make sure to time your major abilities with important buffs. If you do even a fraction of these things, you will definitely see your DPS improve in short order!

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