Saturday, July 16, 2011

Class Compendium: Arcanist Wizard

The Class Compendium series comes to an end with what is likely the most complex class update yet: the Player’s Handbook Wizard, now known as Arcanist. Ever since I read Heroes of the Fallen Kingdoms, I had been awaiting this revision, to finish the changes started there: give miss effects to wizard encounter powers, and add school keywords to all spells. The article addresses this, but also tackles the issue of attacks with persistent, damaging zones, severely weakening many wizard spells that, to be honest, were likely deserving their fate.

A huge amount of game elements were changed in the article, so I’ll show them classified into five broad categories: General, At-Wills, Encounters, Dailies, and Paragon Paths (curiously, the update had no effect on wizard utilities).


Zone Damage: Almost every damaging zone was changed. Zones now tend to deal damage at the end of turn, using static amounts rather than damage rolls, and only once per turn. This is a severe reduction in power, but in many cases it was well deserved . On the bright side, the powers become much more interesting, since enemies now actually have an incentive to move away from damaging zones, so the wizard has -gasp- control over their actions. Still, in some cases this would work better if the end of turn damage was raised - I’m not advocating returning to damage rolls, but some higher modifiers would be in order.

Cantrips: Arcanist Wizards can now choose which cantrips they have, so spells released in Essentials books become relevant for them.


No Improvements: This is the big letdown for me, in the article: PHB wizard at-wills haven’t got any better, despite the fact that the standard for controller at-wills is now much higher than 3 years ago. I was particularly hopeful for my pet power, *Scorching Burst*, which really deserved some additional effect, or (my personal favourite) just boosting its damage die to d10. Ray of Frost is likewise unimpressive, and would really need to slow on a miss, slow (save ends), or prevent shifting to remain remotely competitive. Cloud of Daggers, which was fine before, has been hurt by the sweeping changes to zones, so its damage now triggers at the end of turn - underwhelming to say the least. I would really like it if they kept this timing but, say, doubled the zone damage. The rest of at-wills are ok, though: Magic Missile is weak but has its niche, and Thunder Wave is awesome as ever.


The update had a very positive impact on wizard encounter attacks - the vast majority of the ones released in  Player’s Handbook now have an effect on a miss, and the very few which don’t are likely mistakes that will be corrected before the final version. A couple of powers suffered a reduction in power, due to the sweeping changes to zone damage, with automatic damage triggering at the start of turn getting downgraded to damage at the end of a creature’s turn. Still, most remain competitive.

Note that many encounter attacks had already been reprinted and improved on Heroes of the Fallen Lands, and have not been affected by this article.

Get better (* marks very weak improvements): Chill Strike (L1*), Ray of Enfeeblement (L1), Icy Rays (L3), Spectral Ram (L7*), Mesmeric Hold (L13), Prismatic Burst (L13), Thunderlance (L13), Combust (L17), Ice Tomb (L17*), Thunderclap (L23), Black Fire (L27), Force Cage (L27)

Get worse (* marks weak powers now): Winter’s Wrath (L7), Frost Burn (L13*), Acid Storm (L23)

Unchanged, deserve improvement: Force Orb (L1), Fire Burst (L7)


If the update brought an increase in power level for wizard encounter attacks, the same cannot be said about dailies. Daily attacks with damaging zones are much weaker now, and non-zone dailies with multiple damage rolls like Prismatic Beams and Prismatic Spray no longer get to pile damage bonuses several times against each target. This affects some of the best damage-dealing dailies in the wizard class (or in the whole game, for that matter), and it’s a change likely to affect many players. On the other hand, these powers definitely had it coming, and they remain, for the most part, very playable, and very dangerous, even in this diminished state. The one exception where I feel they went too far with the nerf is Flaming Sphere, which may have become too much of an action sink for too slim a chance of damaging an enemy: having it trigger on enemies moving adjacent to it in addition to ending their turns there would greatly increase its usefulness in combat.
I generally approve of the updates made to dailies, but for a glaring omission: Fireball (and its big brother Meteor Swarm) still suck. I really, really want to play those, but they are extremely poor options, even after the errata to their worst competitors for area damage.

Get better (* marks very weak improvements):Acid Arrow  (L1*)

Get worse (* marks weak powers now):Flaming Sphere (L1*), Freezing Cloud (L1, also got minor buff), Stinking Cloud (L5), Wall of Fire (L9), Prismatic Beams (L15), Cloudkill (L19), Elemental Maw (L25), Necrotic Web (L25), Prismatic Spray (L25)

Unchanged, deserve improvement:Fireball (L5), Lightning Serpent (L9)

Paragon paths

For a long time, the undisputed star of wizard paragon paths has been the Bloodmage, and even a couple attempts at errataing it down to more reasonable levels didn’t bring it down. This article reduces its power level once again, and it looks like they finally nailed it. Two other paths also see minor changes, though nothing of that scale.

Battle Mage: Closing Spell (L20 Daily) reduced in area.

Bloodmage: Bolstering Blood (L11 feature) damage limited to one target; Burning Blood (L16 feature) damage changed; Destructive Salutation (L20 Daily) reduced in damage, now dazes instead of stunning.

Spellstorm Mage: Extra Damage Action (L11 Feature) damage limited to one attack. Storm Cage (L11 attack)  wall damage moved to end of turn.


  1. Elemental Maw got worse... sorta. If you actually Rules Lawyer your way through it, a character with Spell Accuracy can omit squares from the spell, meaning that those squares aren't part of the zone, so you could, for instance, pull the enemy into the origin, then teleport them adjacent...

    ... but what's really odd is that, what happens if you omit the ORIGIN of the spell? It's still the spell's origin, it's just not part of the spell. So then, you teleport them directly into the origin infinitely? Perhaps the weirdest thing is that you could alternatively teleport the target directly above the origin square, so that they fall 20 squares (10d10 damage). This, of course, allows a saving throw every time.

    Ultimately, Elemental Maw used to be really powerful if you had a Staff of Ruin and could figure out how to get pull effects to pull targets into the origin. Now, it's about the only good reason why intensely powerful slide effects are still useful.

    I've been playing a Forceful Movement based Psion/Wizard, whose primary power was Dread Spiral. Combined with Stinking Cloud or the like, it was frickin' nuts! But, well, that got taken off the table, so I ditched Dread Spiral, and now focus mostly on pushing and prone. Once I hit 25, I'll have Elemental Maw at least, which will be nice.

    BTW: My recommendation for Scorching Burst, Fireball, and Meteor Swarm is the Master's Wand approach: have them deal +damage to the origin square or, in Meteor Swarm's case, an area burst 1 centerd on the origin square. Or, other alternative, make the spell four area burst ones that can overlap. Though, at that point, it may be overpowered.

    Biggest thoughts: stealth staff of ruin nerf. Wizards, unless they Summon Mariliths or use Furnace of Sand, really can't be super heavy hitters anymore.

  2. I am not experienced with Elemental Maw in actual play, but from what I can see, any loophole that you can exploit post-errata was also possible before, usually without so much effort. My classification didn't refer to the clarifications made to this power so much as the fact that the maw damage is now a fixed 10, rather than an all-too-scalable 3d6+Int.

    Of course, I'd be so much more comfortable with the Maw if the teleport explicitly stated 'ground squares' as destination... but that is a different story.

    As for how to fix the vanilla fireballs, I don't think the 'damage on origin' is useful for anything other than Scorching Burst. Fireball is unwieldy enough to use as is, without bothering to fit a specific enemy in its center, and doing the same with meteor storm would be madness. In fact, having some experience with trigger-happy blaster wizards and Master's Wand of Scorching Burst, I can tell that extra damage on origin is as often a curse as it is a blessing. Tempting bursts of enemies tend to appear around the party defender (never mind a party defender with Come and Get It), and when the origin square is commonly known as 'the fighter's square', you don't quite want to boost your damage just there.

    As for the alleged staff of ruin nerf, I'd say it's more a blaster wizard nerf. It's not like staff of ruin is going anywhere due to the lack of alternatives for an item bonus to damage on implement attacks. And I believe wizards still remain a very solid alternative for area damage, even without the broken stuff.

  3. I dunno, they still seem very powerful, although maybe my problem is I'm comparing them to the Warlock, who's spells usually deal about the same damage, except only to one target.

  4. Pre-errata, Elemental Maw only worked on pull effects. Pull is single directional, though I suppose you could argue that you could pull a target, teleport it, then keep pulling. Hmmm...

  5. As for the "The Fighter is the Origin Square" concern, that's what slides are for. Hybrid Psion for Forceful Push! Or moreover, that's where tradeoffs come in. Besides, will Spell Accuracy, you can practically turn Scorching Burst into a single target spell.

    For fireball, I'd say +damage to AB1, with normal damage out to AB3. Meteor Swarm could be similar, though again, a part of me wants it to be four seperate AB1s, just to make it more consistent with earlier versions of the game.

  6. "The one exception where I feel they went too far with the nerf is Flaming Sphere, which may have become too much of an action sink for too slim a chance of damaging an enemy: having it trigger on enemies moving adjacent to it in addition to ending their turns there would greatly increase its usefulness in combat."

    I agree - it needs to trigger aura damage on both Enters and Ends Turn In the aura. That's how I'll treat it.