- For the actual talent builds mentioned in this article, see Mage builds.
An Elementalist is a Mage who spends most of his talent points in the Fire and Frost trees, often spending no points at all in the Arcane tree. The name refers to the two elemental magic trees, whereas Arcane is seen as the school of pure mana energy. These specialisations almost always rely on the Frostfire Bolt spell for PvE damage. Elementalist specs were somewhat rare before Patch 1.11, but new talent synergy and reduced reliance on key Arcane talents opened up the opportunity for more mages to drop the tree all together.
Prior to Patch 1.11, the Arcane tree had two key talents that were considered must-have by most mages: Improved Arcane Explosion, which reduced the cast time of Arcane Explosion from 1.5 seconds to instant, and Evocation, which required 10 points and which was also talent trained. These talents combined were considered to be a requirement for Mages, which meant that they needed to spend 16 points in the Arcane tree. The always popular Improved Counterspell was available for two more points, for a total of 18 Arcane for many mages. Early elementalists had to sacrifice these three very popular talents, but the benefit was superior defensive talents such as Ice Block from Frost, and offensive abilities such as Blast Wave from Fire.
With the mage talent review in Patch 1.11, several changes made elementalist builds more popular. Arcane Explosion was made instant cast without the need for talents, Evocation was made available from class trainers, and certain Frost and Fire talents were improved or added to affect more than one school of magic. For instance, Shatter was improved to increase critical strike chance for all spells, not just Frost. Talents Elemental Precision and Master of Elements were added in each tree that affect both Frost and Fire spells. In Patch 2.0, Playing with Fire was added which affects all spell damage. These changes have reduced the reliance on the Arcane tree and have added synergy between the Frost and Fire trees that didn't exist before.
After Frostfire BoltEdit
Even with all the aforementioned changes, Elementalists have never quite achieved a position of PvE competitiveness, in terms of damage dealing, when compared to either the Frost or Fire trees.
That changed, however, with the introduction of Frostfire Bolt in Patch 3.0.2. The Bolt, in essence, gains the benefits of both Frost and Fire damage talents (with the exception of restricted ones like Improved Fireball or Empowered Frostbolt).
Previously, Elementalist Mages would use Fireball in raid situations due to its naturally higher damage, seeing half of all their talent investment (that in Frost) go down the drain and being unable to compete with fully specced Fire Mages. Frostfire Bolt changed that. Now, Mages can benefit from Ice Shards and Ignite, for instance, simultaneously, which is a massive increase to their DPS. Frostfire Bolt's stated goal from Blizzard was to make Elemental viable in raids. This is not nearly accomplished yet, since elementalist overall damage is far behind the two raiding specs, Fire and Arcane. One main reason why elementalists deal so little damage is Torment the Weak. In raid situation, there is always some kind of snare on the boss, and this talent gives a whopping 12% extra damage. It applies to Frostfire bolt, but elementalist mages just cannot afford to spend 20 talents on Acrane tree. Blizzard has many times indicated that the talent needs a Nerf, wich probably will arrive with Cataclysm.
It can, in fact, rival Fireball-based specs in terms of single-target DPS when in an optimised specialisation (see Mage builds).