Yes, gearing up for raiding used to be hard.
Patch 3.2 is bringing all of us a little something called the Trial of the Champion. For the first time in the history of WoW, a 5-man instance will be filled with bosses that all drop epic-quality loot. Every boss. Every major piece of loot. You can now enter a 5-man instance in a group comprised of: 1.) the annoying guy who was spamming in the trade channel, 2.) a buddy of yours who happened to be online, 3.) a keyboard turning Rogue who either doesn't speak English, hasn't learned how to communicate in-game yet, or is a burgeoning serial killer who lacks the capacity to interact socially with other people, and 4.) some Paladin who thinks they can tank as Ret--and you can leave it geared in epics. You'll wipe a lot in that specific group, as I have learned the hard way, but the underlying concept is solid.
The items in normal mode will all be item level 200. That's the same level of gear you can find in 10-man Naxx. Heroic will drop items at level 213. If you'd have told me a year ago that I'd be able to get that kind of gravy by running a 5-man, I'd have laughed in your face, in much the same way that I'd have laughed in your face if you'd told me in 2001 that the dorky kid brother from Even Stevens would someday be an action movie star playing opposite a computer generated Optimus Prime in what is simultaneously the most financially successful movie ever created and the herald of the coming apocalypse. Also...wait. That's still fricking stupid. Even if it did actually happen.
Here's how the loot breaks down for Mages:
(Obligatory disclaimer: All of this info comes from the PTR, and is subject to change, but with the patch coming literally any day now, I wouldn't expect much change.)
Belt of the Churning Blaze
The Confessor's Binding
Bindings of the Wicked
Handwraps of Surrendered Hope
Leggings of the Haggard Apprentice
Mantle of Inconsolable Fear
Signet of Purity
Brilliant Hailstone Amulet
Tears of the Vanquished
Peruse that list one more time. Just by running normal mode a few times, you'll be able to potentially fill the following slots with epic gear: waist, wrist, hands, legs, shoulder, neck, finger, and a trinket or two. There are several pieces there that grant spell hit, which is crucial to cap out before raiding.
Once you've geared up a bit in the normal instance, you and your rag-tag band of misfit puggers can venture on up to heroic mode and fill up a bunch of your other gear slots with epicness. By then, maybe the Rogue will have learned how to type words into chat, the Ret Pally might have respecced into Prot, and the kid from Even Stephens will have starred in two more movies that pimp out your cherished childhood memories for millions of dollars. His turn as Quicksilver in the live-action adaptation of Silverhawks will eventually lead to his brutal murder at the hands of a thousand nerds at the San Diego Comic Con. But you won't even notice, because you're too busy getting your hands on Naxx-25-quality purples in a 5-man heroic and worrying that the Rogue in your group--who may or may not be a sociopath--is at some point going to show up at your house, laptop in hand, and ask you if he can lick your hair.
Boots of the Crackling Flame
Embrace of Madness
Gaze of the Unknown
So that gives us sweet loot for our heads, feet, chest, backs, other fingers, and our sweaty palms. I mean, look at that freaking dagger! If you aren't 80 yet, imagine snapping that up when you hit max level. If you've been 80 for awhile now, imagine having that puppy in-hand before you'd even set foot into Naxx. That's a little like I imagine It'd have been if I'd had access to the internet when I was a kid. I don't know how every kid's head doesn't explode with happiness every single day they wake up in this modern age. When I was their age, our idea of an MMO was three nerds, some graph paper, and a 20 sided die. We didn't have Youtube or Netflix. We had to go to the rental place and fork over three bucks for Robot Jox, thinking how could a movie about giant robots be bad, and then realize we had been so, so very wrong.
In addition, you can start earning Emblems of Conquest from every heroic instance, meaning you can fill in any gaps in your gear with even more epics. You can be fully decked out in pretty much full epics long before you ever step foot into any kind of raid whatsoever. I'm not sure that's a good thing. Maybe Robot Jox and graph paper made me a better person? I don't know. Still, would I trade in Youtube for the refining fire that was being a teenager in the early 90's? No, sir. Progress is progress, I guess. We'll have to see how it all plays out. In the mean time, go pug yourself some epics, and watch Silverhawks on Youtube. Before Michael Bay options the film rights to it, casts Hugh Jackman as Bluegrass, gives Jessica Alba a keytar and lets her play Melodia, and takes another giant dump on my childhood.
Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of Mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent three-part guide to PvP for each Mage spec, or our look at what hit rating means to Mages. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.