Ok, so how awesome is level 20, exactly? The answer: so awesome.
Several spells get new ranks, including Conjure Water, Frostbolt, Polymorph, and Frost Armor. The good stuff, though--the stuff worth getting excited about--is all the new abilities you have access to. Your AoE spells get a very nice new addition in Blizzard, a ranged damage-over-time spell that packs a pretty decent punch, even at low levels. Fire Ward gives you a defensive tool when faced with mobs or opposing players who use fire effects. One of the handiest new spells is Evocation, which allows you to quickly regain most of your mana once every 10 minutes without the need to stop and drink. Perfect for long boss encounters, you will find yourself using it just about every time the cooldown is up, even if you're only soloing. Mana Shield gives you a bit of a damage buffer at the cost of a sizable chunk of mana, but defensive options are always welcome for we clothies. My personal favorite of the bunch--even if it only works properly once every thousand years, when the moons align with the planets, cats and dogs start living together, and snow falls in Tanaris--is Blink. Blink lets your Mage jump himself forward 20 yards, is splendid for PvP, and can help you get out of any number of jams. Plus, I just think it's a cool ability.
If you've been talenting into the Fire tree, you may now have Pyroblast available, giving you the single most powerful single-target spell in the game, if you can wait out the 6 seconds it takes to cast it. If the Frost tree is where you've been putting your talent points, you have the opportunity to pick up Icy Veins at this point, which makes your spells cast 20% faster and prevents damage from interrupting your casting for 20 seconds every three minutes. You don't need to visit the Mage trainer for either of these; if you have put your talent points in the right places, one or the other of them is yours. If you've gone Arcane, sorry, no shiny new talent spells for you. I wouldn't recommend spending your points in Arcane this early, anyway. I love the tree, don't get me wrong. I'm specced deep arcane myself, after all. But the Arcane tree is more useful at later stages of the game, as a way to generally up your spell damage and utility overall. The more clearly defined focuses of the other two trees will serve you better in the early and mid-stages of the game.
Level 20 is also the point at which you get your first teleport spells. Yes, you can now fold time and space as all Mages were meant to do, disappearing at one location and reappearing at one of your faction's capital cities. If you happen to be Alliance, head to Stormwind, Ironforge and the Exodar and seek out their respective portal trainers (invariably located near the Mage trainers). Horde-side, you'll want to visit Orgrimmar, Undercity, and Silvermoon. Yes, as a Mage you can teleport yourself across thousands of miles to a faraway city of your choosing...or 20 yards in front of you. Nothing in-between. We may be all-powerful, but we don't do middle-distances.
You have some choice now as to which zones you'd like to quest in, so go wherever appeals to you. The quests will become more complex, longer, and take you farther from their hubs now. Leveling slows substantially past level 20, so don't get too impatient. It's an excellent idea to group for some instances at this point, both to get nice gear and to speed up the leveling process substantially. You can still get groups at this level for Wailing Caverns (levels 15-20) and The Deadmines (15-20), though you will have outgrown them past level 20. A pair of higher level options would be Shadowfang Keep (18-25) and Blackfathom Deeps (20-27).
Level 22 brings you a few new abilities, including new ranks of Arcane Explosion, Conjure Food, and Fire Blast. Your new spells are Frost Ward, the frost magic counterpart to Fire Ward, and Scorch, a good low-mana, short-cast-time fire spell that works well when the enemy is at melee range and a Fireball or Frostbolt would take too long.
Level 24 gives upgraded versions of Arcane Missiles, Dampen Magic, Fireball, and Flamestrike. New at this level is Counterspell, a phenomenal utility spell that interrupts an enemy spellcast and locks them out of whatever school of magic the spell belonged to for 8 seconds. This wreaks havoc on any spellcasting mobs, and is very useful in PvP.
You have the opportunity to visit a trio of new instances in this level range if you so choose: Gnomeregan (24-33), Razorfen Kraul (25-30), and if you're Alliance, The Stockade (24-32). At level 26, you can accept another Mage-only quest-chain, this one originating from a Mage trainer in one of the capital cities and rewarding you with your choice of two nice caster chest-pieces. It's worth doing, if you haven't picked up a nicer chest item somewhere else already.
Your new spells at 26 include new ranks of Frost Nova and Frostbolt, as well as a brand new ability: Cone of Cold. This spell gives you another nice instant cast option, but only works at close range, and only on targets in front of you. It adds a slowing effect as well, which is never a bad thing.
At level 28, you can upgrade Arcane Intellect, Blizzard, Mana Shield, and Scorch. You also get to conjure a new consumable item with Conjure Mana Agate. It's essentially a one-time-use mana potion that works on a separate cooldown from the one your other mana potions work on, and one that you can always make another of. Keep one on you at all times.
Level 30 is another major milestone for Mages. The slew of new spells you get at this level includes fresh ranks of Amplify Magic, Arcane Explosion, Conjure Water, Fire Blast, Fire Ward, and Fireball. You also have access to a revamped version of Frost Armor, called Ice Armor. It's essentially the same thing, but adds frost resistance to the mix of things it offers. It should replace Frost Armor on your action bar, and Frost Armor should now vanish, never to be used again. Ice Block, a PvP Mage's best friend, joins your repertoire at 30 as well. This spell is similar to a Paladin's bubble, as it removes negative status effects and makes you invulnerable to any kind of damage for 10 seconds. Use it in solo situations to remove DoTs and the like, but its real purpose lies in its ability to defend you in PvP and to drop aggro in group situations. Pop it when getting attacked in PvP, or when that elite breaks sheep and wants to eat you. It's pretty much a giant panic button, so use it accordingly.
If you've put all of your talent points into the Arcane tree, you now have access to Presence of Mind, a very powerful ability that can make any spell with a less than 10 second cast-time instant-cast. This can come in very handy for things like instant Polymorphs, Frostbolts or Fireballs, and at later levels, Pyroblasts. It comes into its own later in the game, but if you've insisted on the Arcane tree this early on, you can have it now. Enjoy. If all of your points are in the Fire tree, your new spell opportunity is Blast Wave, a spectacular self-centered AoE spell that does massive damage and adds a daze effect with a 30 second cooldown. The Frost tree counterpart to these spells is Cold Snap, a fantastic ability that instantly ends the cooldown on all of your Frost spells. You'll end up using this primarily for instant reapplications of Frost Nova, Ice Block, or Icy Veins.
You also need to take a trip to either Thunder Bluff or Darnassus to pick up your next teleport spell.
Level 30 also brings you the opportunity to start a new Mage-only quest chain deep within Dustwallow Marsh. Eventually, you'll finish the chain and get your choice of three very nice wands. I wouldn't venture into the marsh just yet--unless you like getting killed--but your Mage trainer will send you there at 30, because apparently, she does like getting you killed. Just sit on it for awhile, and complete the chain when you're closer to level 40ish. Unless you have a high-level friend who's willing to babysit you through Scarlet Monastery's Library. If you do, well then good for you. Go get your wand.
Level 32 brings you stronger versions of Arcane Missiles, Conjure Food, Flamestrike, Frost Ward, and Frostbolt, but no new spells.
At 34, however, in addition to new ranks of Cone of Cold and Scorch, you get your first non-ice-related armor spell, Mage Armor. You should probably still be using Ice Armor when soloing, unless you need the added resistances because you're fighting a lot of casters, but this spell really shines in groups, where the mana regeneration is far more useful than a little extra armor. If you're any good at controlling your threat by now, you shouldn't be getting hit in groups, anyway.
Level 35 allows you to accept another Mage quest-chain that takes you into Dustwallow Marsh to visit Tabetha again. This chain will take you into Uldaman with the end goal of your choice between a nice off-hand item or a powerful staff. You'll have a very hard time finding groups for Uldaman at 35, so this quest may have to wait until level 40ish, unless of course you have another nice high-level buddy.
There are a few instances you should be looking at getting groups for in this level range, though, including Razorfen Downs and the first few wings of the Scarlet Monastery instances.
The world really begins to open up to you in this level range, allowing you to choose between no less than 8 zones with level appropriate quests. You'll probably end up mired deep in Stranglethorn Vale like everybody else, but my personal preference is the revamped Dustwallow Marsh. Don't let me sway you, though. Choose whichever of those 8 zones you think might suit you and make that final push to level 40 and your first mount.
One other nice thing about level 35, added in the most recent content patch, is a new teleport and portal spell. make the journey to Theramore in Dustwallow Marsh if you're Alliance, or Stonard in the Swamp of Sorrows if you happen to be Horde. There you can learn a new teleport spell and your first portal spell. That's right, as of that last patch, your very first portal spell isn't to a major capital city at level 40, but to some town in a swamp at level 35. Anyway, grab it up and start throwing down portals for whatever reason you can think of.
Level 36 brings you no new spells, just new ranks of Blizzard, Dampen Magic, Fireball, and Mana Shield. Level 38 is more of the same, offering only updated ranks of Arcane Explosion, Fire Blast, and Frostbolt, along with a new version of your mana gem, called Conjure Mana Jade.
But level 40 is different. We'll hit it next week, along with the 20 levels that follow it. It's hard not to be in a rush to get to level 40 when you've gotten this close, but be sure to enjoy the midlevel content. I feel it's some of the best in the game, and am always reluctant to leave it. I have like 4 alts in this level range, and they all just kind of hang out in places like Shimmering Flats, or Desolace, wondering when I'm going to get them their mounts.
Whether you enjoy it as much as I do or not (probably not), the mid-game is an exciting time for Mages. Your spellbooks are nearly complete, your mount is just around the corner, and Outland is within sight. Keep your robes about you, my wizardly comrades, and we'll meet again next week.
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 what to do with your Mage upon hitting level 70. 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'.