Probably the most frequently asked question on most WoW class forums is what spec is "best". Generally the player asking the question doesn't want the honest answer - namely that they need gear and skill, not merely a cookie cutter talent spec, before they can expect to win at PVP or get accepted to top raiding guilds. That said, they often leave out the most crucial piece of information - what do they want to DO with said spec?
For better or worse, WoW is a game with increasingly many numbers under the hood - even the pure DPS classes can no longer rely on a single spec regardless of what they're actually doing, and this situation is going to get even more pronounced with 10 more talent points and new 41-51 point talents in the coming expansion. Most classes in WoW don't get many new abilities past level 40 (my Fury Warrior projects to get only 5 new abilities the rest of the way to 70 - a 41 point talent and the four new TBC abilities in the 62-70 stretch), so the allocation of those precious talent points is becoming a bigger and bigger portion of a character's power, which means less and less room for experimentation and fun builds. The tyranny of the 21/31/41 point talents doesn't help matters either - the cost of spreading out your talent choices across two (or, Elune forbid, all three) talent trees can be monumental when it means you can't get class defining abilities like the Water Elemental.
That said, both of my level 70's are retired from group content, and that's given me the freedom to mess around with specs that wouldn't fly in a group setting. And that's the unfortunate part: both of these specs are FUN and interesting, and they'd both be laughed off of the class forums. Which is too bad, cause really, fun specs are fun. The offending setups:
Water Elemental/Master of Elements (0/18/43): My mage used to be a relatively cookie cutter 51 point Water Elemental build with 10 Arcane for Clearcasting. Clearcasting is boring. Then, as I was getting done with my PVP gear grind in patch 2.3, I realized that I was sitting on a 27% frostbolt crit rating. That makes full Master of Elements worth an 8% mana refund, arguably worth more than Clearcasting's 10% since clearcasting has a habit of proccing when the mob dies and the next one isn't in sight. Now the question was what a Frost Spec can spend 15 points in Fire on to unlock MoE, and what I'd have to give up to get there. I'm actually very happy with the results. As I discussed last time out, I've long maintained that impact is under-rated, and that was BEFORE it could proc off Molten Armor. I avoided Ignite for crowd control reasons, but with Burning Soul, the 1.5s cast time on Scorch is nigh un-interruptible, for those times when something almost dead is beating on you and you've already used Fire Blast. With gear, I'm still just above the hit cap for level 71 mobs, though I'll concede that elemental precision and frost channeling are the two big things that I just didn't have room for.
Holy Shield/Sanctity Aura (0/33/28): So my Pally's build is a bit more unusual. Real Tankadins don't have room for that many points in Ret, cause they need to stack over 41 points in Prot. Pallies who want to swing a 2-hander usually go full Ret. Thing is, I don't like Ret much. Sure, stuff dies very fast, but in full ret gear you've got no mana pool, no spell damage (which means crappy heals), and not much in the way of defenses or crowd control. I play this build stacked with Spell Damage and Defense gear, a combo you'd never ever see on anything other than a main tank in a raid group. In my normal gear, I'm almost immune to crits by level 71 mobs (I can get up to immunity vs level 72 and 73 mobs relatively easily if I actually want to tank), I have over 33% pure avoidance while swinging a 2-hander, I'm a weapon switch macro away from 600 +healing, and I'm another weapon switch away from being able to cast Holy Shield (around 500 spell damage, which is more than plenty with Sanctity Aura to boost it) if I get a bunch of adds and need more durability - I am my own crowd control. With Sanctified Judgement, I don't find myself drinking every few mobs if I'm judging Vengeance, Righteousness, etc. (Yes, I'm a level 70 Pally and I use a 2-handed weapon with Seal of Righteousness as my primary offense.) It's a big improvement in DPS over the pure tankadin build without giving up much survivability, and I could probably still tank anything up to heroics (if I actually knew how).
Meanwhile, my leveling characters are stuck with boring cookie cutter builds, because they're trying to unlock their key talents first and foremost. I wonder what Blizzard is going to do about Death Knight talents, with DK's starting somewhere below level 70 (but previously stated to be above 55). I can't imagine starting a brand new character and immediately being presented with the choice of how to assign 50+ talent points, but I can't imagine how they'll be able to differentiate the DK's class roles sufficiently without the full 71 talent points. But that is another story.