It's here, at last. Finally done, now I can enjoy a guilt free cup of tea without perpetually thinking that I should be doing something important :P
The aim of this guide isn't just to suggest to you the talents, enchants and gems you should be taking but also hopefully impart a little bit of knowledge so that you know why you are taking them. I certainly know that in my guild it's not just expected for you to take a good spec and gear appropriately, you will be expected to demonstrate that you know why you have picked those enchants as it shows you have an understanding of your class and spec mechanics. It's all too easy to say "I chose this cos teh interwebz told me to" but in most progression guilds they're going to see an understanding of your class mechanics as a sign of a competent and reliable playing who is going to be able to progress with the raid content and new patches/tier sets.
Next up will probably be Fire Mage PvE and Vidyala from the awesome Manalicious has kindly granted me permission to use her rotation flowchart and other pearls of wisdom that she has. Manalicious is always on my read list and if you guys haven't seen Vid's awesome stuff then I suggest you go look, she's one of the coolest bloggers I know.
Introduction: Why Go Arcane?
The Arcane Mage is unique amongst all other DPS classes, and that includes other mages. It is the only DPS'er where the amount of damage you do is directly related to how much of a ability resource (mana) you have, rather than just being limited by it (ie. you can't deal damage when you run out of it).
Arcane mages are very very good single target DPS'ers and are currently the top mage spec for DPS in Firelands according to World of Logs. However, despite an early very strong showing in Firelands they have been overtaken somewhat by a number of other classes in particular Moonkin Druids. I would hasten to add that World of Logs is entirely representative of the people who choose to upload and therefore only represent a sample portion of the total number of people playing certain specs and what their results are. Arcane Mages remain a very strong DPS spec and, with all things such as gear being equal, you can usually expect to be among the top DPS'ers in your raid group.
Arcane Mages excel at stationary fights which allow them the opportunity to complete their rotations which have relatively long cast times compared to other Mage specs, they lack the same ability of Frost and Fire Mages to maintain a consistent level (or high level in the case of Fire Mages) of DPS when forced to move. They are also weak in fights involving significant AoE and should not be used to deal with groups of adds in boss fights. However, they're very effective at dealing with single adds that must be burnt down quickly.
Arcane Mages bring a good variety of utility to Raid Groups when talented correctly. Obviously they have Arcane Brilliance, Mage Tables and Time Warp which all mages can bring but in addition talents allow them the Arcane Tactics passive buff which increases the damage of all nearby raid members by 3% and the Focus Magic active buff which will increase a single raid member's crit by 3% and periodically granting a proc which also increases your crit by 3%.
Arcane Mages are also relatively simple to play but allow for much greater complexity once you understand the spec more through experience. The basic Arcane Mage rotation requires as little as three buttons allowing for relatively simple play with good DPS results. However, this belies the actual complicated nature of an Arcane Mage. Instead of viewing the Arcane Mage as having abilities that deal damage, they are better understood as having a resource they are constantly manipulating in order to do damage.
Every other DPS class/spec in the game is more or less a sprinter that is going to blow everything they can as fast as they can as often as they can. The Arcane Mage is a marathon runner who wouldn't last past the first minute of a raid encounter if it was fought with the mentality of every other DPS class.
Additionally, at higher end play you can significantly improve your damage output through careful theorycrafting (or by reading other peoples' theorycrafting), gear, enchant and reforging selections and by refining your rotation specific to individual boss fights.
The ongoing joke is that Arcane Mages have only one button to be pressed in every boss fight, but don't be fooled by others' misconceptions! There is a great deal of depth to the Arcane Mage IF you bother to look into it and research. The rotation is not hard at all but the finer points of mana management and gear optimisation can be extremely challenging. However, even if you don't want to go through the extra effort or you're a beginner looking to start out in the PvE scene you can still perform reasonably well with the basics (and one button lol).
To see the rest of the guide, clicky clicky the title or the Read More button
Basic Mechanics of Arcane
Arcane Mages primarily work on two principles; the use of the Arcane Blast spell to rapidly increase your damage and the conservation of mana to maximise the damage of each spell cast. Each time you cast Arcane Blast you gain an Arcane Blast buff stack. This buff stacks up to four times and as they add up the amount of damage your Arcane Blast spell does increases, but so does the mana cost of the Arcane Blast spell. However, the Arcane mastery bonus increases damage based on total mana you have remaining in your mana pool. As you may well have guessed, these two principles do not go well together. Your task is to make these principles fit together as best as you can.
Thankfully you can clear Arcane Blast stacks by cast any Arcane damage spell except Arcane Blast or Arcane Explosion, so although you lose the stacked damage bonus you are resetting the mana cost back to its base level. You will usually seek to clear Arcane Blast stacks with Arcane Missiles. This spell costs no mana, but can only be cast when it 'procs'. Arcane missiles has a chance to proc on any offensive spell cast. The third spell you will come across is Arcane Barrage, this is far less effective as it costs mana and has a cooldown period therefore it should only be used in a last resort if Arcane Missiles has not proc'd.
You will always do more damage by continually casting Arcane Blast with 4 stacks of the spell buff than conserving mana for the mastery bonus by clearing stacks. However, if you continually cast Arcane Blast without clearing stacks you will run out of mana very very quickly and therefore be useless. Therefore you must utilise mana restoring abilities to allow you periods where you can continually cast Arcane Blast (called burn phases) and maintain a relatively mana neutral casting rotation when your mana regeneration abilities are on cooldown (called the conservation or conserve phase). These are the simple mechanics that form the basis of the Arcane Mage rotation.
Mastery; How It Works
Mana Adept: This increases all spell damage by a certain percentage based on your Mage's mastery score and the amount of mana remaining in the mana pool when the spell is cast.
Initially your mastery bonus if 12%, although this will increase as you increase your mastery score. What does this mean? Well it means that when you cast a spell and you have 100% mana remaining in your mana pool do do 12% more damage with that spell. So if the spell did 1,000 damage without the mastery, it would do 1,120 damage with the mastery. However; as your mana pool decreases, so does the percentage of bonus you receive to your damage.
With a 12% mastery bonus with a spell dealing 1,000 damage you would do 1,120 damage at 100% mana.
With a 12% mastery bonus with a spell dealing 1,000 damage but your mana at 50% you would do 1,060 damage (50% of 12% is 6%, 1,000 + 6% = 1,060).
With a 12% mastery bonus with a spell dealing 1,000 damage but your mana at 10% you would deal 1,012 damage (10% of 12% is 1.2, 1,000 + 1.2% = 1,012).
Understanding this concept is important as, for the most part, you will aim to keep your mana pool as close to 100% as possible in order to maximise your damage.
The Basic Rotation
The basic rotation of an Arcane Mage revolves around the two phases, conservation and burn. The conservation phase is aimed at playing to the strengths of your mastery bonuses ie. keep your mana pool as high as you can to cause the maximum possible damage. You achieve this by wiping your Arcane Blast buff stacks regularly to balance your mana spent and your mana regenerated as best as you can. When you look at the talents and glyphs sections you see that a lot of selections are based on aiding this process either by boosting your mana regen or reducing mana costs of spells.
The other phase of Arcane Mages' rotation is the Burn Phase, so called because you are going to burn through your mana pool very very quickly with lots of pew pew "omg look at mah critz damage and dps" going on. Non-mages might call this your burst phase, but that's boring and we mages have a flair for the theatrical so we call it the burn phase. It reminds us of burning warlocks :P So what's the main condition for initiating a burn phase? Having your evocation spell off cooldown! With evocation available it means you can burn through your mana until you have roughly 35 - 40% left causes nasty nasty damage, you can then hit evocate and enter a conserve phase, safe in the knowledge that your mana pool will be roughly 95 - 100% full thereby once again maximising your mastery bonus damage. OK you could blow all of your mana in the burn phase, and that can be a good idea in certain situations (such as when you're certain the boss will be dead at the end of your burn phase), but in most cases you're going to be entering a conserve phase again and if you've blown all your mana in the burn phase you're only going to be getting a 60% of your mastery damage bonus. If you've played it smart, however, you'll be getting 95 - 100% of your mastery bonus damage. Don't let short term pew pew awesomeness blind you to being an effective DPS'er over the course of an entire fight. Remember what we said in the intro; you're a marathon runner, not a sprinter!
You'll also note that in the burn phase we're using all our non-mastery cooldowns and on use items, this is because we really want to maximise the amount of damage we're getting from our burn phase - it's where the largest chunk of our damage is going to come from in fights overall. Therefore try and build up those 4 stacks of the Arcane Blast buff, pop mana gem to restore mana and get a boost to damage (see the talent selection section) then get them cooldowns popped.
Important Considerations For Your Burn Phase & Evocation
Aggro; make sure your tank has a firm hold on the boss aggro, the last thing you want to do is waste your burn phase because you're running away from the boss like a little girl. Even popping invisibility means you've wasted at least 4 seconds of burn time time (and all those cooldowns you popped) to drop the aggro.
Time your burn with Time Warp/Bloodlust/Heroism; your evocate spell may well be off cooldown but if you know that the raid leader is going to call Time Warp within the next minute or so hold off entering a burst phase so you can start burning when Time Warp is popped. A lot of Arcane Mages tie their haste soft cap around Time Warp (see the Stat Priorities section), doing that is pointless unless you're timing your burn phase with the Time Warp. Obviously if you're going for a higher soft cap because you're not relying on Time Warp then you don't need to worry about this so much. That's a personal decicion for you to decide depending on your play style, yes you'll sacrifice some mastery if you're going for the higher soft cap but play to your own strengths because that will increase your dps much more than just slavishly following a predetermined set of numbers because Simcraft simulations told you so. If you can't get the knack of timing your burn phase with Time Warp then go for the higher haste soft cap, at least until you know the boss fight well enough to get the timings right.
Situational Awareness, having none will fuck you up buddy; be aware of the boss's abilities and phases. If you remain oblivious to whats going on around you then you cans eriously mess up and waste a lot of opportunities. The most important is Evocation, don't evocate if you're going to have to interupt it by moving. This will leave you with no mana for the conserve phase, no mana for your next burn phase and still waiting for the evocate cooldown before you can really do anything about it. Similarly, although slightly less catastrophic, is wasting a burn phase. As mentioned earlier, Arcane Mages suffer in high mobility fights because they like to plant their feet and gets with the castings. If you enter a burn phase by popping your cooldowns and then you're forced to run about you're going to lose DPS. In some fights this is unavoidable, but as a responsible DPS'er in a raid team it's your responsibility to know the fight so you can at least try to time your burn phases during periods when you know you can stand still and nuke. You not always going to achieve that 100% of the time, but make the personal effort to minimise wasted burn opportunities, it will pay dividends to you in terms of sexy sexy DPS results.
If you want to go much deeper into this then the nice people at Elitist Jerks have complete tables on optimal spell rotations during different conditions. If you can translate it then good luck to you fella, you're doing better than I am lol.
Area of Effect (AoE)
I've already mentioned that Arcane Mages are weak at AoE gameplay and to be honest there's no real complexity here. If you're specc'd into Improved Arcane Explosion (see below) then try to build four stacks of the Arcane Blast buff then spam Arcane Explosion to your hearts conent. If you are out of position to use Arcane Explosion, then use the Flamestrike/Blizzard combination. This basically consists of laying a Flamestrike down underneath a target then casting Blizzard.
If you're not specc'd into Improved Arcane Explosion then I would reverse the above ie. try to cast the Flamestrike/Blizzard combination, if you're caught out and you're too close to the enemy then use Arcane Explosion until you can get some distance again. Remember you can use Frost Nova and Cone of Cold to root/slow enemies and Blink to gain some distance.
Personally, on small packs of mobs (3-4) that you tend to find in heroic dungeons I often find that you're better off following your single target converse phase rotation; no you're not going to match the DPS of that muti-shotting Hunter but that's ok.
Lets start by looking at the talents available within the Arcane Talent Tree; remember the talents we're going to be looking for are those that either going to directly boost our damage or work well with Arcane's mechanics and therefore indirectly increases damage:
Arcane Concentration: Considered to be a mandatory mana conservation selection for Arcane Mages, it also combines with Arcane Potency to increase DPS. This gives you a chance (up to 10% with Rank 3) to enter a 'clearcasting state' after successfully hitting anything with a damage spell. This clearcasting state allows to cast the next damage spell for free (ie. it costs you no mana).
Improved Counterspell: Considered to be a PvP talent and should be skipped for PvE builds. Taking this talent means your counterspell also silences your target for a period of time.
Netherwind Presence: Considered to be a mandatory selection. Ranks in this talent increases your spell haste.
Torment the Weak: Mandatory damage boost selection. Increases the amount of damage your Arcane spells do against targets that are snared or slowed.
Invocation: Optional but not advised. You get a damage bonus lasting for 8 seconds after any successful interrupt with Counterspell.
Improved Arcane Missiles: Mandatory damage boost selection. This talent increase the number of missiles fired by your Arcane Missiles spell.
Improved Blink: Optional, very useful for high mobility fights in which case it's best to replace improved Arcane Explosion points with this. Some Arcane Mages will swear by it, others completely disregard it. Personally I'm considering swapping out the Improved Arcane Explosion for this as for me personally it has more utility. It increases your run speed for 3 seconds after casting Blink.
Arcane Flows: Mandatory selection. Decreases the cooldown time of your Invisibility, Presence of Mind and and Arcane Power spells by 25% and decreases the cooldown time on Evocation by 2 minutes.
Presence of Mind: Mandatory prerequisite selection for Arcane Flows, also provides DPS boost especially with Arcane Potency. When activated, the next spell cast with a casting time of less than 10 seconds becomes instant cast.
Missile Barrage: Mandatory damage boost selection. Decreases the time between missiles when Arcane Missiles is cast.
Prismatic Cloak: Optional but Runz advised for damage reduction. Decreases the amount of damage taken, also reduces the fade time of the Invisibility spell.
Improved Polymorph: Optional, not advised. When a target you've polymorphed receives damage it's stunned for 1.5 sec. Effect cannot occur more than once every 10 seconds. Should only be used if you group with people that can't organise their Crowd Control.
Arcane Tactics: Mandatory, raid wide damage boost. All group or raid members within 100 yards receive a 3% boost to their damage.
Incanter's Absorption: Optional but Runz advised. When Mana Shield or Mage Ward absorbs damage it increases your damage by 20% of the amount absorbed for 10 sec. Ideally you're not going to be using Mana Shield as it can be a very bad thing when combined with the Mana Adept specialisation but it is useful with Mage Ward to help DPS output whilst mitigating damage.
Improved Arcane Explosion: Optional, being sat in Melee range to AoE can be all sorts of bad juju. Skip it if you want to take Improved Blink. Reduces the cooldown time, mana cost and threat generation of Arcane Explosion.
Arcane Potency: Mandatory, DPS boost. Increases the critical strike chance of your next two damaging spells by 15% after gaining either clearcasting or Presence of Mind.
Slow: Mandatory, prerequisite. Grants you the slow spell, which slows the target's movement and ranged attacks by 60% and spell casting times by 30%. Lasts for 15 sec. Only one target can be slowed at any one time.
Nether Vortex: I consider this mandatory but others consider it to be optional. Most (all?) Arcane Mages are going to have it either way to be honest. Combines with Torment the Weak for a damage increase. Gives your Arcane Blast spell a chance (100% chance at Rank 2) to apply the slow spell to any target it damages PROVIDED no other target is currently affected by slow.
Focus Magic: Mandatory, damage boost & buff. Grants the Focus Magic spell which increases the target's critical strike chance with spells by 3% for 30 minutes. When the recipient of this spell gets a critical hit it increases your chance to critically hit with spells by 3% for 10 seconds. It cannot be cast on yourself and you can only buff one person with Focus Magic at any one time.
Improved Mana Gem: Mandatory, damage boost. Mana gained from your Mana Gem will also increase your spellpower for 5 seconds. You're going to be using this at the start of your burn phase in your rotation!
Arcane Power: Mandatory, damage boost. This grants the Arcane Power spell which, when activated, allows you to deal 20% more spell damage but also causes your damaging spells to cost 10% more mana. Lasts 15 seconds.
Other Talents Available:
All of these talents from the Frost and Fire trees are optional but very highly recommended because they work well to enhance the Arcane Mage.
Master of Elements (Fire): All spell critical strikes will refund a proportion of their base mana cost.
Burning Soul (Fire): Reduces the 'pushback' (increased casting time) caused from taking attacks.
Piercing Ice (Frost): Increases the critical strike chance of your spells by 3%
Recommended Talent Builds
Talent Build One:
This is the talent build I currently use and it pretty standard for most Arcane Mages out there. It has two points in Improved Arcane Explosion to boost the Arcane Mages' limited AoE ability, to do that I have had to pass over the improved mobility afforded by Improved Blink. Improved Counterspell, Invocation and Improved Polymorph are not going to be much use to you in a Raid boss fight situation so they've bee skipped. Every other talent contributes in some manner to your class mechanics by increasing damage, crit chance, haste or adding damage mitigation or mana conservation. the same goes for the talents in Fire and Frost, you can't really go deep in either of the other two trees and there's not really very much there to help the Arcane spec even if you did go deeper as most of them are specific talents for spells from the Fire or Frost school. The exception is Blazing Speed but generally speaking if you're getting hit from melee then either you're doing it wrong, your tank is doing it wrong or it's a wipe. There may be specific fights where Blazing Speed helps but I can't think of any and to lose the 3% Crit chance from Piercing Ice is just not worth it to my mind.
Now although this is my current spec I'm finding that, personally, I'm really not using Arcane Explosion very much or at least not to its full potential. My limited AoE ability is already greatly overshadowed by other classes and, with the exception of certain fights like Occulathar in Baradin Hold, if I'm standing in melee range to kill adds then I'm doing it wrong. So with all this in mind I am likely to swith to Talent Build Two:
Talent Build Two, skips the points in Improved Arcane Explosion and places them in into Imporved Blink to give you greater mobility. I'm a big fan of mobility, especially after getting into PvP, and two points in Improved Blink gives you a 70% run speed increase for 3 seconds after casting Blink. Considering the problems Arcane Mages have with movement fights then anything that is going to assist is probably going to be a boon, especially if you combine it with a Glyph of Blink.
You could go for a third Talent Build which places those two floating points into Improved Polymorph rather than Blink or Arcane Explosion, but I would only do this for Dungeons or Heroic Dungeons if I was struggling with Crowd Control (or more specifically I joined groups who struggled with the concept of crowd control). I really would not consider this for raiding at all.
If you are unfamilar with any of the glyphs available for mages, or even if you just want to refresh yourself, then have a nosey at the Mages & 4.2: Glyphs article.
Glyph of Arcane Blast: As Arcane Blast is the main spell you're going to be casting and the spec mechanics work entirely around this spell and its corresponding buff stacking then this glyph is pretty vital. It increases the damage from your Arcane Blast (the one spell you will cast over and over again regardless of rotation phase) buff by 3%. Seriously, this isn't a choice, it's compulsory for any Arcane Mage.
Glyph of Arcane Missiles: Arcane Missiles will be the second spell you use regularly in your rotation, although not as regularly as Arcane Blast. It increase the critical strike chance of your Arcane Missiles by 5%. During the course of your rotation you will use Arcane Missiles to wipe your Arcane Blast buff (I'll explain in the rotation section if you're not familiar with this) far more often then you'll use Arcane Barrage which is typically the option of last resort. Therefore increased crit hits from this glyph is going to be far more beneficial to you in the long run than a static damage increase afforded by the Glyph of Arcane Barrage.
Glyph of Mage Armour: Your Mage Armour regenerates 20% more mana. This is important for trying to maintain being 'mana neutral' (or close as dammit) during the conservation phase of your rotation ie. not spending more mana than you're regenerating in order to maximise the bonus from your Mana Adept proficiency. Until such time as your mana pool is that large that you can afford to dip on mana regeneration (and I can assure you that's probably not during this tier) then this glyph is another compulsory one.
Glyph of Evocation: When you cast Evocation it regenerates 40% of your health in addition to the normal mana regeneration of the spell. This is pure win in my book and will help take some of the pressure off the healers during tough boss fights. Of course this means that you have to let your healers know that you have this Glyph and that you'll be using Evocation at the end of your Burn Phase in the rotation; being part of a good raid team is about good communication.
Glyph of Arcane Power: When Arcane Power is active it reduces the cooldown of your Mana Shield, Mirror Images and Blink spells to zero. Although you're probably not going to want to use Mana Shield where you can avoid it and the use on Blink is situation, the reduction of cooldown on Mirror Images can provide a really nice damage boost. Mirror Images has a relatively long cooldown, so use of this glyph may mean that instead of getting to cast it once during the fight, you could cast it multiple times. Just be careful in macro'ing Arcane Power and Mirror Images into one button, apparently it bugs and you don't get the benefit of the glyph. It might be worth hitting your WTFNUKE button (with Arcane power macro'd in it but Mirror Images not macro'd) then hit Mirror Images afterwards. If someone knows a better way of macro'ing I'd love to know, just mention it in the comments.
Glyph of Blink: There aren't many other options for major glyphs so I tend to plump for Glyph of Blink. It means you Blink for an extra 5 yards, combined with the Improved Blink talents this does start to boost your mobility. Anything that allows you to move as fast as possible and then seetle back into your rotation as quickly a possible is a good thing in my book. I think you could easily replace Glyph of Blink with something else if you wanted to, I just don't think there are any better options for an Arcane Mage and personally I value the mobility.
Personally I choose the Glyph of Arcane Brilliance, because it reduces the mana cost of Brilliance by 50% which is a small advantage if you have to buff someone who has been combat ressed; Glyph of Slow Fall, because it saves on bag space by negating the Light Feather reagent for the Slow Fall spell; and the Glyph of Mirror Images, which makes it look like your mirror images are casting Arcane Blast rather than Frostbolt which just looks better to me. To be honest though, minor glyphs are entirely a personal choice.
I have seen it said that you must take Glyph of Mirror Images because the change to making the images cast Arcane Blast increases DPS due to the stacking mechanics; this is absolute bullshit. Blizzard have stated that minor glyphs are designed to be either cosmetic or conveniences changes (ie. reducing mana cost of buffs, increasing the duration of buffs, removing reagent requirements to free bag space or making cosmetic changes such as turning Polymorph: Sheep into Polymorph: Monkey cos hey... who doesn't like monkeys???). Granting a damage boost through Glyph of Mirror Images would make the glyph different from every other minor glyph in game and fly in the face of Blizzards' stated design intent with minor glyphs. By all means use the glyph, personally I love the glyph, but don't feel like you have to. It will not give you any damage boost.
Why Don't I Use This Glyph?
Glyph of Arcane Barrage: At first glance the Glyph of Arcane Barrage seems like a better option than Glyph of Arcane Missiles because it gives a flat 3% damage increase to the spell. However, in your rotation you will be casting Arcane Missiles far more often then Arcane Barrage. In fact Arcane Barrage is the spell of last resort (ie Arcane Missiles has not procc'd and you can't expend the mana to cast one extra Arcane Blast to get Missiles to proc, then you'll cast Arcane Barrage). Because of the this, the increased damage from more Arcane Missile critical hits far outweighs any increase in damage from Barrage. Similarly you could not afford to replace the Glyph of Arcane Blast (Arcane Blast is your main spell and the one you will cast most often, the damage increase the glyph provides is just too valuable to replace) or the Glyph of Mage Armour (you need to maintain mana regeneration in order to maximise the bonus damage from your Mana Adept proficiency). there are just no other options to stick this glyph in anywhere if you want to maintain peak efficiency.
Glyph of Molten Armour: At first the increased critical strike from this might sound tempting, but you will not be using Molten Armour. Ever. Mage Armour is just too important in terms of your mana regneration and corresponding damage output to replace with any other armour during a fight.
The following is the basic stat priority for Arcane Mages:
Hit Rating (to cap - 1742 or 17%)
Spellpower (Only applicable on main hand/two hand weapons, outdated enchants and some trinket effects)
Haste (to soft cap - see below)
Haste (after soft cap)
An Explanation of Stat Priorities
It is worth noting that stat priorities are a guide intended to help you select your gear upgrades, enchants and gems appropriately. You must exercise common sense when applying this as they can sometime vary depending on raid composition (and corresponding buffs), your gear and your playstyle. I do like to stress the playstyle part because some Arcane Mages perform much better with stacked mastery over the stacked hasted to soft cap, so you have two options here; play to your strengths (good dps) or practice to improve your playstyle (dps loss whilst you're practicing but an overall dps increase when you've mastered it). It can also sometimes vary by encounter but personally I rarely alter my gear specific for one encounter. So what do I mean by application of common sense? Well sometimes it is easy to become blinkered by stat priorities which can lead to some very stupid decisions. For example; deciding not to take a very clear gear upgrade because it has a very slight reduction on intellect, even though it massively boosts your haste and mastery. Although intellect is your best stat overall, the dps gained from a big increase to both haste and mastery would far out weigh a minor loss in intellect.
Intellect; this is your best statistic. It scales extremely well for all mages and particularly for Arcane.
Hit Rating; this determines whether you hit or miss your target. Do not neglect your hit rating for intellect, it is still your second most important statistic up to the cap and it is vital you reach this point or as close as you realistically can. The cap is the point where you can no longer miss the target. As raid bosses are considered to be three levels above your level (ie. 88 at present). it means you you start out with a 17% chance to miss any spells you cast against a raid boss. That's a pretty big chance to miss. Therefore you need to close that 17% gap by reaching the cap of 1742, which means you will always hit. Any points over 1742 are effectively wasted because you cannot improve on a 0% chance to miss. I wouldn't worry if you are a little bit over and I wouldn't worry if you're a little bit under but try to get as close to this magical number as possible. Sites like Rawr and Mr. Robot will help you close that gap. Generally if I have a choice between being under by a bit or over by a bit I'd go under by a bit. The last thing I would say about hit is try to avoid gemming for hit (gem for int instead) and try to avoid using trinkets to reach hit unless it is absolutely unavoidable (and if it is unavoidable, try to replace them as soon as you get other gear to boost your hit rating). The reason for this is that you will get far better DPS from Int Gems than Hit Gems, similarly trinkets can be very powerful items often with large static increases in valued stats like Intellect or Mastery so try to avoid using trinkets for hit, you can easily reach the cap with some careful reforging of crit or excess haste stats instead.
Remember, if you're not raiding and only doing heroic dungeons then your Hit Cap is only 4% because mobs and bosses in Cataclysm heroics are level 85 (the same as you). You don't need to push for 17% Hit if you aren't raiding.
Spellpower; this determines in a large part how much your spell will hit for. It is mostly governed by your intellect score and the spellpower score on your main hand weapon. Some trinkets will have effects (either activated by 'using' the trinket or by random chance called a proc) which will also increase your spellpower. It is primarily included to help you make decisions on weapons and trinkets so that you know its relative value.
Haste & The Soft Cap
So what is the 'Soft Cap'? The best way to describe it is the point where the value of the statistic reduces after reaching this point. This is different to a hard cap (like hit rating) because excess points in the statistic over the cap don't become valueless, just less valued (or less effective). Similarly, soft caps tend to be less cut and dry compared to hard caps and can change depending on a variety of different conditions including buffs available and the gear you're wearing.
So what's the soft cap for haste as an Arcane Mage? Generally it is agreed to be the point where the cast time of Arcane Blast becomes 1 second when Bloodlust or Time Warp is active. This is because your Global Cooldown (GCD) can never be less than 1 second. For an extreme example; your haste is so high you can cast Arcane Blast in 0.5 seconds during a Bloodlust, you still can't cast your next Arcane Blast for another 0.5 seconds, therefore all those extra points in haste are effectively useless during this time because no matter how low your cast time of Arcane Blast you can still only cast one Arcane Blast everyone 1 second. However, the extra haste is not completely useless (like in a hard cap) because Bloodlust is only a 40 second period of the fight, so you'll still be benefiting from that haste outside of the bloodlust period, overall though it's just not as valuable as it was before hitting that soft cap.
"Cut to the chase Runz, what's the number?"
I must admit, I didn't calculate these numbers myself. They're the work of the fantastic AceRider on Elitist Jerks, click the link if you want to have a nosey at them yourself. NB. All of these calculations assume that you have 3/3 in Netherwind Presence, cos if you don't you're probably doing it wrong.
With the 4pcT11 bonus;
Hard cap = 5097 rating.
With 5% = 4252 rating.
With TW = 961 rating.
With 5% and TW = 308 rating.
Without the 4pcT11 bonus;
Hard cap = 7082 rating.
With 5% = 6134 rating.
With TW = 2498 rating.
With 5% and TW = 1768 rating.
Goblin with the 4pcT11 bonus;
With 5% and TW = 2.4% or 181 rating.
Goblin without the 4pcT11 bonus;
With 5% and TW = 13.8% or 1624 rating.
The 5% buff comes from other members of you raid, you'll get it from a Shaman (Wrath of Air Totem), Moonkin Druid (Moonkin Aura) or Shadow Priest (Mind Quickening). TW stands for Time Warp, also means Bloodlust. 4pcT11 is the bonus received from having four pieces of the the Tier 11 Mage (Firelord) gear.
There's a little bit of quibbling over the math applicable to certain conditions, but as long as you're between 1400 and 1800 haste (or 300 to 500 with the 4pcT11 bonus) you're in a good position with 1768 being the golden number to remember.
Gemming as a Mage
Gemming as an Arcane Mage is exactly the same as gemming for any other kind of Mage; it's all about the red +40 Int gems baby!
Why do we always gem Int? Because Int is our number one statistic and will always provide greater DPS than gem hit, mastery, haste or crit. Additionally those secondary stat goals can be achieved by gear selection and careful reforging, there should be no need to waste an opportunity to stack more Int when there are other means of achieving Hit and Haste caps.
Exceptions to the Rule
Because there are always exceptions to the rules; if the socket bonus is going to give you a +10 or +20 Int bonus then you can choose to select a gem that will give you +20 Int & +20 secondary stat. Why? Because the socket bonus means you're not losing out on any extra Int (well maybe +10 Int, but that's down to you to decide if the +20 secondary is worth sacrificing +10 Int and that will depend on your gear and cap goals). Should you find the socket bonuses balances out then I'd advise the following:
Yellow Socket: Reckless Ember Topaz before haste soft cap and Artful Ember Topaz after haste soft cap.
Blue Socket: Veiled Demonseye before Hit Cap and Timeless Demonseye after Hit Cap (unless it's a +20 Int socket bonus I would probably just go with the +40 Int gem in a blue socket regardless).
Reforge to Hit Cap
Because we should never be gemming for Hit, you're going to mainly get Hit from your gear and make up any shortfall by reforging. To achieve this look to do the following:
Any item Crit/Haste or Crit/Mastery; reforge the Crit to Hit.
If you are still significantly short on your hit rating then you can reforge any Mastery on Mastery/Haste item into Hit. I try to avoid this wherever possible but sometimes you will have to sacrifice that bit of mastery to make sure you're at the hit cap.
Reforge to Haste Soft Cap
Once you get to the Hit Cap with your gear, reforge any excess Hit you have on items into Haste.
Once again aim to reforge any spare Crit you have into Haste.
Worst case scenario, reforge mastery into haste to get to the soft cap.
After Haste and Hit Caps?
If you have any unreforged items left over, reforge any excess Hit, haste or Crit into Mastery. Not very likely in Patch 4.2 unless you have all the Best in Slot (BiS) gear.
4.2 Best in Slot Trinkets for Arcane
4.2 Best in Slot Trinkets for Arcane
So thanks to the guys at MMO-Champion and their thread here I'm able to stick up a rough and ready guide to BiS for Patch 4.2
These are in decending order (ie. the one at the top is best, the one at the bottom is... um... least best? lol).
Variable Pulse Lightning Capacitor (Normal) - Comes from the Cache of the Fire Lord after you defeat Ragnoros on Heroic.
Theralion's Mirror (Heroic) - Drop from Theralion on Heroic Bastion of Twilight.
Darkmoon Card: Volcano / Moonwell Chalice - DMC:V is acquired turning in the Volcano deck to Darkmoon Faire. The Volcano Deck is made up of the Ember Cards (get them from Inscription or buy them on the Auction House). MWC is purchased from Ayla Shadowstorm after completing the required Molten Front daily quests. Why are these two at a comparable level? Well it depends on if you're an engineer or not. Unfortunately you cannot use Synapse Springs and MWC at the same time so it works out that if you're an engineer DM:V is the better option. However, if you are NOT an engineer then you should take MWC. The difference between the two is not that great from what I've seen. Personally I take MWC over DM:V as an engineer but that is purely a personal playstyle choice and in strict theorycrafting terms I shouldn't do that but for me personally I accept the slight DPS dip for a trinket that I feel more comfortable using.
Theralion's Mirror (Normal) - Drop from Theralion on Normal Bastion of Twilight.
Probable BiS Trinkets in Patch 4.3
Taking a quick look at the stats Will of Unbinding (Normal) may well sit in third place depending on proc rate followed by VPLC(H) then Cunning of Cruel (Normal). Don't quote me on this, this is just taking a rough look at the available stats and Simcraft et al may well show something different once the patch actually drops.
I'm not going to go through complete lists of enchants and BiS gear, with the rest of this guide these should be somewhat intuitive. I mention the gemming specifically because that can be counter-intuitive and I still see a lot of mages gemming for Hit. Never sacrifice Int unless it is absolutely, completely worth it (+20 in a secondary stat instead of +20 Int is never worth it, except in the case of +Int socket bonuses). Sites like Mr. Robot and Rawr can really help you with gear choices and enchant options.
This is intended as a guide and hopefully gives something to aim for to achieve the best theorectical DPS. What it does not do is account for your own personal playstyle. I know some mages that play so much better when they stack Mastery above Haste. Don't be afraid to experiment to see what suits you. If you switch to this playstyle, you should see an overall DPS improvement BUT ONLY WHEN YOU'VE PRACTICED. Do not expect that by following this guide you will necessarily see your DPS shoot up overnight if you're used to playing a different style. Most likely you will see your DPS go down at first but if you practice you *should* see an overall improvement.
Don't forget all the other things a good Raid Member should be doing. Bring your Intellect buff food such as Severed Sagefish Head, Seafood Magnifique or Fortune Cookies. Remember your flasks and potions; you should be using the Flast of the Draconic Mind and the Volcanic Potion.
Most importantly, have fun! All the theorycrafting and DPS chart wins in the world don't mean anything if you're not enjoying yourself. Have fun, it's a game afterall XD