Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dungeon Soloing as a Frost Mage

With so many bodies, it's hard to find the gnome in the middle of it all...

The other day, I was playing around on my alt, a level 17 Dwarf Holy Priest. I was looking to complete a few deadmines quests, so I joined the LFG channel. Lo and behold, I found a 70 mage offering a free run through the instance (he was running his guildmate through, and had extra slots available). I joined up with a bunch of others, expecting that the run wouldn't take more than 10-15 minutes.

Turns out he was fire-specced, and took 30 minutes to complete it.

At the end of the run, I was grateful for his deed, but at the same time, dissatisfied by the duration of the run itself. This was more attributed to the fact that he was a fire mage (and my slight bias favoring frost), and the undisputable fact that frost mages are strictly better for dungeon soloing. Thus I decided to write this post about the nuances of soloing lowbie dungeons to maximum efficiency.

While not as efficient as farming or playing the AH, there is definitely money to be made in running strangers through low-level dungeons. Surprisingly, a lot of people are willing to spend gold on runs through Stockades and/or Deadmines. Whether it be for easy experience, or obtaining certain boss drops, a frost mage can make good money from such jobs. If you're lucky, you'll find multiple people to run you through the dungeon simultaneously for upwards sum of 10-15 gold for a single run-through. In this post, I will outline the general tips to use when running dungeons for your friends, or for making easy money.

Ice Barrier is Your Best Friend

The most important factor that seperates frosties from their fiery counterparts is the liberal use of Ice Barrier. Ice Barrier shields the mage from the multitude of attacks from a large number of mobs while you run through the dungeon grabbing as much aggro as possible. While fire and arcane mages do not have Ice Barrier, they can still use Mana Shield to absorb damage, but the mana-loss as a result of damage may require the expenditure of potions or mana gems, which limits the amount of mobs that the mage can pull without putting his or her own life in danger. Thus, frost is the safer spec for this situation.

The general rule for using Ice Barrier is to constantly recast it when your cooldown expires. With practice, you can get a feel for how many mobs you can collect on a single pull without having to take a significant amount of damage. Before starting your pull, you want to cast IB first, and then wait a small while so that your cooldown can expire sooner without having to worry about taking damage. Also, there's always Mana Shield available if you're still waiting on that Ice Barrier cooldown to reset.

Molten Armor is Your Other Best Friend

Perhaps the most underappreciated buff that mages received in patch 2.4 is the ability of Molten Armor to inflict damage on enemies after they inflict melee damage to a mage with a damage shield on. Combined with Ice Barrier, this buff serves a purpose similar to the combo of bubble+spikes that pallys use for their solo dungeon runs: it increases the mana efficiency of your pull, since you don't have to use as many AoE spells to kill all the mobs at once. On a stocks run, by the time you reach the last mob that you want to pull, the first mob that you pulled may have already lost about 50% of its total HP, depending on your +Spell Damage. ALWAYS have this buff up, along with Arcane Intellect, which increases the amoung of mana available to do your pulls.

Have a Pulling Path Planned Ahead of Time

Having done these dungeons before as a lowbie, you should be familiar with the placements of all the mobs in the dungeon. With that in mind, try to establish a path that allows you to pull as many mobs as possible with the least distance travelled. The more time you spend running and not casting spells, the more damage you're taking, and the sooner your Ice Barrier will expire. Unlike paladins, mages are squishy, and given enough time without a bubble effect, the mage will surely die.

Deep Frost is the Ideal Spec for Soloing Dungeons

Well, this is not absolutely true. Either way, 0/0/61 (all talents except for Frozen Core and Frost Warding) contains all of the important talents that improve your performance in soloing lowbie dungeons. Ice Barrier is an obvious example. Generally, most important talents for soling dungeons are the ones that reduce cooldown on your important ice spells (Frost Nova, Ice Barrier, Ice Block, Cold Snap), as well as Shatter, which allows your arcane explosion to crit at a higher rate after casting frost nova on all of the mobs that you pulled. Talents that are part of the Blizzard/Cone of Cold grinding specs are also useful for higher level dungeons that allow for killing a room full of mobs in the same pull.

An Example Pull
Before you start off the dungeon, be sure that you have enough food and drink to last you the duration of the run, as well as having the self-buffs mentioned above. Using enchanting oils and alchemy elixirs are not important, as AoE damage is not significantly boosted by them.
First off, put up your Ice Barrier, and wait a small while for your mana to regen and for your cooldown to return, or at least come close to it. Then run your path.

Unlike paladins, bears, and other multi-mob soloers, you have the advantage of using rank 1 Arcane Explosion to pull a number of mobs around you without actually having to run into them directly. Use this only to pull new mobs, not to damage the ones already on you. This method shortens the time you need to pull all the mobs within an area, and lets you maximize the duration of your Ice Barrier.

If there is a sizeable distance between groups of mobs (such as Stockades, when you have to run in between rooms), use Blink to get to the next area faster.

When you reach your limit of mobs pulled, it is optional to use Ice Block to let all the mobs gather around you, but not necessary. If you're in a dungeon that has ranged mobs or casters (eg. Defias Wizards, Scarlet Evokers), you will want to finish your path around a corner, and then ice block allow time for the LOS pull the ranged mobs closer to you. Then, depending on the level/design of the dungeon, cancel your Ice Block, and then do either of the following:

- Frost Nova the mobs in place, and repeatedly use your highest ranked Arcane Explosion until they die, or
- Frost Nova, Blink away, cast blizzard repeatedly until they reach you, then Frost Nova, Blink, and repeat until they die.

The former option is the easiest and simplest method to use in dungeons such as Deadmines, Stockades, Wailing Caverns, and Blackfathom Deeps. Higher Level instances such as Scarlet Monastery might require your more damaging AoE spells such as Blizzard and Cone of Cold.

Soloing Bosses

Pretty much all the bosses up to Scarlet Monastery do not require any detailed strategy. You can simply put up a shield and frostbolt the boss a few times before he dies. In general, bosses that come with adds (Greenskin, Houndmaster in SM) require that the adds should be downed first with Arcane Explosion before the boss himself. To help kill the boss faster, feel free to summon your water elemental for MASSIVE DAMAGE.

In higher level instances, bosses might deal a significantly high amount of damage such that the boss will have to be kited.

Getting your Rewards

Some of the most useful features of soloing dungeons is the fact that you get all the loot to yourself. In a single run, the cash you get in total from all the mobs that you have demolished is considerable, but not on the same level as farming for motes, minerals, or leather. You can get some green world drops from Deadmines and Stockades, and sell them on AH for 2-3g buyouts. Even the Blackened Defias Belt can go relatively high if they ever drop off of Captain Greenskin.
Because of the loot described above, it's quite fair to charge a reasonable amount to run lowbies through dungeons in a way that they can keep all the greens. They'll pay 5-6g for a run, but in the end, may get up to 7-8g worth of drops.

If by chance you happen to be an enchanter, you need to look at your server's economy to determine if disenchanting your loot is more profitable than selling the greens themselves.

You Don't Even Have to Pull the Whole Dungeon!

If you're not in a party, you may elect to go straight to the bosses and kill them for disenchants or vender blues. While each dungeon may vary, you can sidestep through a few groups without having to actively engage in combat with them. This is simply due to the fact that the level difference between you and the mob results in a very low aggro radius, or minimum distance from a mob that a player can stand without drawing aggro. Depending on the dungeon, you can even blink through a group of mobs that is impossible to walk through without drawing aggro (ie, the halls in SM Library and Armory). With proper timing and positioning, you can kill Arcanist Doan within 4 to 5 minutes from stepping into the Library!

In Conclusion...

Soloing dungeons can be rewarding, whether it be by farming your alt's Defias Leather set or Scarlet Mail sets, or disenchanting boss blues for your Fiery Weapon mats, or charging runs to lowbie alts. The rewards may not be as rich as farming motes from outland, but at least you have the pleasure of absolutely destroying those pesky Defias or Scarlet Crusaders, en-masse.

Stay tuned later tonight for pictures to accompany the text above, as I'm posting this from the office.


gnomeaggedon said...

Nice post... If Zupa does convince me to try frost, I will be back here for some revision... I have done VC and a few others as a fire mage.. things definitely go down, I just haven't found that balance between having enough mana and health and pushing on. I guess I just can't be bothered with a ghost run, so take it slow and easy...

One thing is for sure... there is a marked difference between a Mage clearing and instance for a lowbie, to a druid doing it...

krizzlybear said...

for sure. druids can solo vc as soon as they get their dire bear, if they can manage their frenzied regeneration, and don't get cocky with their pulls.

still, there's that exhilleration of pulling an entire room practically naked, and still surviving, that fills me with infinite glee.

gnomeaggedon said...

do it yeah... but it's the time. A friendly druid dragged me (my twink) through VC and WC, after I had dragged him (his twink).

The difference in time was staggering... Constant AoE seems to bring the mobs up short.

Actually ducked into VC today... all the mobs were dropping from hitting my mage armour... don't need to aoe anymore... just stand there and watch them die.