If you've never rolled a Mage before, let me tell what you're getting. A Mage at low levels is a giant, unmitigated wuss. I'm not even kidding. You'll throw your Fireball at that level 6 Infant Brown Bear Cub Baby and think you have things under control, because it's a freaking bear and you are a sorcerer, conjuring giant balls of flame from the nether just by wiggling your fingers and gyrating your hips at the same time. Then that bear--you know, the one you supposedly just set on fire--will waddle over to you, smack you once across the face, and take off a third of your health. That's when you remember you're only wearing a Burlap Girdle of Vendor-Trashiness and a pair of ragged cloth pants some chick gave you for rescuing her apples, and that bear is going to whack you as many times as he wants to in the 57 seconds it takes you cast your next Fireball. You begin to utter a silent prayer to whatever deity you believe in while the casting bar takes its sweet time getting from one point on the screen to another one an inch and a half away. And then another level 6 Infant Brown Bear Cub Baby happens by and not even God can save you.
It's a terrifying experience, especially if you're coming from a class like Warrior or Paladin, someone wearing actual armor, someone who can handle like 3 bears at once. You might begin to wonder if being an allegedly all-powerful wizard, a caster of powerful magics and summoner of cinnamon rolls, is all it's cracked up to be.
Don't despair. Hopefully, my emotionally scarring trip though Elwynn Forest will aid you and your newly minted Mage. Below you'll find as much advice as I can reasonably pack within a weekly column. Hopefully, it will help you get from level 1 to level 20 with your robes intact, and a trail of dead bears in your wake.
Making your Mage
You have six races to choose from when you roll a Mage. Each has their small advantages and disadvantages, but the choice should eventually come down to personal preference. If you're going Alliance side, you can be a Human, Gnome, or Draenei. These classes each offer racial abilities of varying degrees of usefulness to Mages. I'll highlight those that I feel are most relevant to your choice. Humans offer a 10% innate buff to spirit, which can be fairly awesome for mana regeneration at higher levels. Gnomes grant a 5% bonus to intellect, a Mage's bread and butter stat. Draenei have the Gift of the Naaru, which would give your Mage their only healing ability, as well as the incredible wondrousness that is Inspiring Presence. Yes, that really does give you and everybody in your party an extra 1% chance to hit with spells or melee attacks, depending on their class, and yes, that is awesome in raids. I'm not saying pick a Draenei, I'm just saying holy crap, Blizzard.
If you're for the Horde, your choices are Troll, Undead, or Blood Elf. Trolls come with Berserking, a very nice ability that essentially grants you a bunch of spell haste for 10 seconds every 3 minutes. The Undead have several useful racial abilities, though none of them relates specifically to Mages. Will of the Forsaken is an excellent PvP ability for any class, while breathing underwater definitely has its uses. Blood Elves can silence their opponents while recovering a small amount of mana at the same time. This is more useful at lower levels and in PvP, but is still a very welcome ability.
Depending on your Mage's race, you will enter the world at one of six starting areas. There will be several quests for you to participate in here, and I recommend you not skip any of them them. You'll gain experience for completing them, and for killing the monsters involved in the completion thereof, so questing, if done well, is the most efficient leveling method in this game.
Though you'll have very limited bag-space (unless your Mage is a spoiled alt) you'll want to pick up absolutely everything dropped by everything you kill, even if you have no use for it. You won't find much in the starting area that will sell to other players, so almost everything should be sold to the nearby vendors. Money is incredibly hard to come by at the beginning of the game, so if you want to be able to afford anything you might need, you have to pick up everything and sell everything you won't use. Avoid buying anything from these vendors. Chances are that you'll find comparable gear on the mobs you kill, and the things they have to sell are quite simply not worth the price. Keep an eye on the things that you're picking up. Compare anything made of cloth to what you're currently wearing in that slot, and equip it immediately if it's better.
The monsters in the starting areas are for the most part neutral to you, signified by the yellow text their names are displayed in when you mouse over them. This means you can walk right up to them without fear of them attacking you, and you never have to fear fighting more than one of these monsters at once unless you happen to attack two at once. For this reason, these early quests are stress-free, and allow you time to learn to use your class and play the game.
You start out with only two spells at your disposal, Fireball and Frost Armor. At level 2, you'll get a quest that leads you to you class trainer, where you can add the column's namesake, Arcane Brilliance, to your arsenal. You'll want to keep both Frost Armor and Arcane Brilliance up at all times; if you notice the timers running down on them, recast them. Mages are a very buff-dependent class, and that's no different at level 1 than it is at level 70.
At level 4, you'll get access to Frostbolt and the ability to conjure your own drinking water. At this point and forever onward, you'll never have to buy or carry normal water with you ever again. Welcome to the perks of being a Mage.
It's right here when you can begin to practice an actual spell rotation for the first time. You'll want to stand at max range when targeting a mob, and open with a Frostbolt. While the mob is slowed and moving toward you, you should be able to get two or three Fireballs off before it reaches you. In most cases, this will kill the mob, and you will remain untouched, pure and undefiled as God intended a Mage to be. Your mana will run out swiftly, but you can conjure water from the air, remember.
At level 5 or 6, you'll have completed all of the available quests in the starting area. Someone will give you a quest that directs you on to the next quest hub, and you will venture out into the wilds of Azeroth.
At level 6, you'll add Fire Blast to your repertoire, giving you your first instant cast attack. Use it when the mob is up close, when spells with cast times can take forever to pull off. You'll also learn to Conjure Food, so you can actually treat yourself to a full meal made out of nothing at all whenever you wish. Your Fireball spell upgrades to rank 2 at level 6, as well.
The quests offered in this second area will be more complicated and challenging than any you found in the starting areas. You'll find yourself under attack by multiple mobs on many occasions, and you'll run across mobs that are higher level than you are. Be very careful as you progress, and know your limitations. As I pointed out earlier, Mages die with shocking rapidity when mobs get up close, especially if more than one mob is involved. If you get engaged by more than one monster, learn when to cut and run. Frost Armor is a blessing in these situations, as its slowing effect will give you a nice head start on anything giving chase.
The nice part of this stage of the game is the new options available to you. You should be very close to your race's home city, giving you access to your bank, the auction house, weapon masters, profession trainers, and a whole lot more. The first thing I would advise is learning a profession or two. If you need to earn money, I would recommend a gathering profession to start with. Why is this important? Let me give you an example.
My new Mage, Niwt, wandered out of the starting area with only her 16 slot backpack to hold things in, and 1silver, 56 copper to her name. 30 seconds of killing mobs filled up her bag-space, and she couldn't afford her level 6 skills. She was desperate for money. Killing your average mob at that level nets an average of like 3 copper, so she needed something else. I took her into Stormwind to visit the Mining trainer there. For 10 copper, he taught me how to mine ore, and 81 more copper netted me a pick to mine it with. I then took that pick with me out into Elwynn Forest as I undertook my next quest, a trip inside a mine full of kobolds. I came back with 2 stacks of 20 Copper Ore. On Cairne, Copper Ore currently goes for about 50 silver, and it sells fast. I put both stacks up for auction and then went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I had a shiny gold piece in my mailbox. Gathering professions are the way to go for early money. Once money is no longer as much of an issue, you can happily switch to something more helpful to your Mage. You can refer to my two-part look at what the various crafting professions have to offer Mages if you need help deciding which to learn.
Once you have a bit of money, you can meet a few pressing needs. You can search the auction house for reasonably priced bags, and upgrade your carrying capacity, which you'll want to do as soon as you can. You can visit the weapons master and learn how to swing around things like daggers and swords. You can invest in a nice piece of cheap green gear to improve your stats. Money is nice, and once you leave the starting area, you can actually start to make some of it.
At level 8, you'll learn your first crowd control spell, Polymorph. Suddenly, more than one mob isn't too much for you to handle. Just turn one of them into a sheep while you kill the other one. You'll be expected to do this over and over in just about every instance ever for the rest of your Mage career, so you might as well learn how to use it now. You'll also get your first offensive spell from the Arcane tree, Arcane Missiles. It's a channeled spell, meaning that it will cast its three bolts of damaging arcane energy over the course of a 3 second time period. If you get hit during that time, the spell will likely be interrupted, causing one or more of the bolts not to be cast. At this point, a good spell rotation becomes Frostbolt,->Fireball->Arcane Missiles, then Fire Blast when the mob reaches you. If you cast your initial Frostbolt while the mob was at max range, you'll get all three missiles off before the enemy can even take a swing at you. Your Frostbolt spell gets upgraded at level 8, too, so you'll be doing more damage up front with that spell to boot.
One thing you'll also want to consider at this point is picking up a wand. I don't know if you've noticed yet, but Mages suck at melee combat. A wand will likely be your best DPS option when you can't or don't want to use mana from the moment you get your first wand until you retire your Mage at level 120 once he's through killing Bernie, Arthas' illegitimate love-child with Illidan, in a 200 person raid, introduced in patch 18.5. There are some good options here, including shopping for a cheap one on the auction house, or completing one of a number of low level quests, including but not limited to Zul'Marosh if you're a Troll, and The Prophesy of Akida if you're a Draenei. If you are an Enchanter or know one, you can equip a Lesser Magic Wand at level 5. The DPS on that puppy will be better than what can be dished out by any giant battle-axe the Warrior next to you might be wielding.
Level 10 brings new ranks of Conjure Water and Frost Armor, as well as a brand new spell, Frost Nova. This spell is a godsend, allowing you to distance yourself from multiple enemies so you can wind up a whole new batch of spells to cast at them.
You also get to take on your first real Mage quest at this point. These quests are given out by your class trainer, and are fairly easy, they net you a choice between a nice off-hand item or a staff. You'll want to complete them as soon as you are capable of doing so, as the rewards are likely going to be better than anything you have access to at this point.
Level 10 usually leads you on to a new quest hub as well, bringing with it a large number of harder and more complex quests to complete. The levels begin to go slower now, and you'll complete quite a few quests each level.
The other big change at level 10 is the introduction of talent points. You can choose to increase your aptitude at one of the three Mage schools--Fire, Frost, and Arcane--every level from here on out. You don't necessarily have to fetter yourself to a specific school of Magic yet, just put your talent points wherever seems to fit the way you like to play. you can always re-learn your talents at some later point if you want to go for a specific build. It doesn't hurt to start moving in a direction now, though. Do you want the unmitigated damage capacity of the Fire tree? The utility and overall DPS increases of the Arcane tree? The control options of the Frost tree? You can start working toward your preferred specialization right now.
A new leveling option presents itself to you in the 13-20 range: instances. If you can get a group together for one of these dungeons, you'll be able to get your hands on rare-quality items and gain a load of experience points. You options include Ragefire Chasm for levels 13-16, The Deadmines or Wailing Caverns for levels 15-20, and Shadowfang Keep for levels 18-27. For analysis of the Mage gear that can be obtained in some of these instances, see Arcane Brilliance's earlier column on the subject. Watch the general chat channels for people looking for groups for these instances, or use the looking for group interface located on your action bar if you wish to join a group for one of these instances. When you get inside, remember your role as a damage-dealer, and sheeper, and try not to steal aggro from the tank. Our own WoW Rookie column has quite a few guides for how to conduct yourself in an instance if you need more direction on this topic.
Level 12 brings you two new very situational utility spells in Slow Fall and Dampen Magic. You won't use either very much, but they have their uses. Dampen Magic is good when fighting other spellcasters, and you should use Slow Fall when you're...um...falling. You'll also get new ranks of Fireball and Conjure Food here. At level 14, you'll get your first area-of-effect spell, Arcane Explosion. This mana-intensive spell is for when killing just one monster simply won't do. New ranks of Arcane Intellect, Fire Blast, and Frostbolt also await you at this level.
Level 15 allows you to undertake your second Mage quest, this time to obtain a nice set of robes. A Mage is nothing without a pretty dress to wear, and this quest is easy no matter where you start it. It generally involves bringing the questgiver a number of quest items that drop from specific mobs in the area you're in, and a pile of Linen Cloth, which if you don't already have can easily be obtained from any humanoid in the area.
Level 16 brings you another great AoE spell, and this time it's one you can use at range: Flamestrike. You'll also be getting a new rank of Arcane Missiles here, which adds a whole fourth missile to the spell. Level 18 will let you learn Amplify Magic, which is really only useful in groups where you're going to be healed a lot, and Remove Lesser Curse, which is useful all the way through the game.
The first 20 levels, as many of my fellow altaholics will likely agree, are possibly the most pleasurable levels in the game. Enjoy them, with all their uncomplicated fun and simple charm, as you start your Mage along the path to unlimited power and eventual world-domination. Next week, we'll tackle the mile-stone that is level 20, and the 20 levels that follow it, as your Mage grows into his or her robes, and learns to set things on fire in bigger and better ways.
Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of Mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our two-part look at Mage match-ups with other classes in PvP, or our recent look at the new caster gear in patch 2.4. If you're sick and tired of all this Mage-talk, there's a veritable treasure trove of guides and tips related to all of the other aspects of WoW over in the WoW Insider Directory. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.