Karazhan is the first of what will hopefully be several end-game raids you'll take your Mage through now that you've reached the end of the current version of the game. As raids go, Kara is fairly forgiving, and you don't have to be decked out in the best of the best gear to be successful inside. You'll need to be fairly well-geared before challenging the later bosses in Kara, but in the early stages of the instance you can get away with being under-geared, if your raid is skilled and knowledgeable. The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you really want to be the weak link in an otherwise strong raid. If you have a good guild, and they don't mind gearing you up by running you through the instance itself, well lucky you, go get your purples and be happy. For everybody else, you're going to need to bridge the gap between "new level 70 Mage" and "level 70 Mage who is ready for Kara," and believe me when I say that particular gulf is wide.
Your first priority should be stacking spell hit. The cap against raid bosses is 202 spell hit rating, which translates into an extra 16% chance to hit the boss with your spells. If you've taken Elemental Precision (and if you haven't, go respec right now and get it. There's really no acceptable reason for a PvE Mage to skip it) the cap is 164 for your fire and frost spells, and if you happen to be heavy Arcane specced and use primarily arcane spells to DPS (uncommon, but not incomprehensible) Arcane Focus will cap your spell hit at 76 for the arcane spells you cast. Keeping your spec and spell rotation in mind, focus on the cap for the kinds of spells you'll be using, and try to approach that number as best you can without going over it. Don't kill yourself doing it--not yet, anyway--but the time to start accumulating spell hit gear is now.
As far as the other important Mage stats go, you'll hear widely varying standards trumpeted about by anyone who can get you to listen. There will be Mages that tell you they did fine with 400 spell damage, no spell hit, and wearing the Imbued Netherweave set. These Mages are most likely suffering from some kind of severe head trauma, but you'll run into them, mark my words. You'll have some elitists tell you not to bother going to Kara with anything short of 900 spell damage, capped spell hit, and improbably large genitals. Ignore these people. I'd say a good number to shoot for is 600 for the early stages of Kara. If you're much lower than this, your DPS might not cut it. You'll probably need to be substantially higher than 600 by the time your raid reaches the end bosses in Kara, but hopefully the gear you pick up along the way can improve your situation.
So how do you go about obtaining good pre-Kara gear? I'm going to focus here on what I think is a good, obtainable piece or two (or three) for each slot. I'm going to try to avoid instance drops as much as I can, due to the randomness of obtaining said gear. If you want to brush up on some of the instance gear available at level 70, Arcane Brilliance ran a level 70 checklist not too awfully long ago that lists drops you can shoot for. Anyway, without further ado...
Spellstrike Hood: This is a crafted item, which makes it easier to obtain than a lot of things. Simply gather the admittedly steep materials and look for a tailor who can make it for you. If your Mage is a tailor, the recipe is bind-on-pickup and drops at a truly lousy rate from Grand Warlock Nethekurse in the Shattered Halls.
There isn't much with spell hit on it for the neck outside of instances, so I'm going to recommend the Brooch of Heightened Potential from the Blackheart fight in Shadow Labyrinth. The drop rate is a respectable 12%, so cross your fingers and hope.
A decent alternative, as far as spell hit rating goes, is the Eye of the Night, a jewelcrafted item, and if you aren't hurting for spell hit rating when filling this slot, exalted reputation (not nearly as hard to get as it sounds) with the Shattered Sun Offensive will net you the opportunity to buy yourself the Shattered Sun Pendant of Accumen, which is very nice indeed.
If you're a frost Mage and a tailor, the Frozen Shadoweave Shoulders are nice. If you're a fire or arcane Mage, you might just want to farm some honor for the Merciless Gladiator's Silk Armice. If your spell hit is lacking and you need help from this slot, your best bet is to kill Chrono Lord Deja in Black Morass over and over until the Mantle of Three Terrors drops. At least that instance is fast.
Spellfire Robe: Another tailoring only item, this is quite simply the best pre-Kara DPS option for fire and arcane Mages (the Frozen Shadowweave Robe is the frost Mage equivalent) if you happen to be a tailor.
If you don't happen to be one, your options are limited. The Kirin Tor Aprentice's Robes from the Destroy Naberius! quest in Netherstorm are okay and at the very least have some spell hit and are easy to obtain. If you don't mind a bit of PvP, a reasonable amount of honor will buy you the Merciless Gladiator's Silk Raiment and you can socket it for spell hit. In fact, at this point, I'm going to stop listing the PvP gear, since it is universally solid, but lacks some of the key PvE stats, like spell hit. It's a good option to fill in certain slots for PvE pre-Kara, but will likely be replaced therein.
The only spell hit pre-epic wrist items out there are the Crimson Bracers of Gloom, which drop off of Omar the Unscarred in heroic Ramparts. This is a relatively easy instance as far as heroics go, though Omar himself is a fairly challenging encounter.
Spellfire Gloves: these are tailoring only, and won't help frost Mages, but their DPS is perfect for Karazhan, especially as part of the complete set.
Alternatively, you could find a group for normal Magisters' Terrace and pray that the Gloves of Arcane Acuity drop off Kael'thas.
Yes, I'm going to recommend the Spellfire Belt here, did you ever doubt it? Again, tailoring only, best as part of the set, and no good for frost Mages. Another option is the Sash of Serpentra, which is packed with spell hit rating and drops off of Warlord Kalithresh in normal and heroic Steamvault at a rate of about 13%.
Spellstrike Pants: These are great for entry-level Kara Mages. The spell hit is there, the set bonus is nice, and they look snazzy (or would, if they were visible beneath the dress you're likely wearing). Scrounge together the mats, find a tailor who can make them for you and you're golden.
They may be green, but I'm going with the Boots of the Nexus Warden here, because they have excellent spell hit and are easy to obtain from the The Flesh Lies... quest in Netherstorm. Also, they don't require farming Tavarok in heroic Mana-Tombs like the Extravagant Boots of Malice do. The Shimmering Azure Boots are an alternative here, as well, obtainable from the Securing the Celestial Ridge quest, again, located in Netherstorm. Apparently Blizzard thought Netherstorm would be a good place to give out free spell hit rating for the feet slot.
For spell hit--upon which you may have noticed I'm focusing here--Ashyen's Gift provides it in spades if you can manage exalted reputation with the Cenarion Expedition. You have a 7% chance of getting a Sparkling Arcanite Ring to drop from the Epoch Hunter in heroic Old Hillsbrad Foothills, if you like farming instances. That's pretty much it for spell hit rating pre-Kara. There are plenty of options out there for spell damage and spell crit, though, so don't despair.
You have some options here. If you're into two-handers, you can't go wrong with saving up honor and purchasing the Merciless Gladiator's War Staff. Yes, I know I said I wouldn't mention anymore PvP stuff, but this staff is just really nice for both PvP and PvE, without argument. Also, screw you for bringing that up...jerk. The Auchenai Staff, purchasable from the Aldor reputation vendor once you've become exalted with that faction, is also a lesser but still a good option here, as well as Ameer's Impulse Taser, available from the Nexus King Salhadaar quest, located in--you guessed it--Netherstorm, bastion of Mages looking for easy spell hit rating.
For a one-hander, the best pre-epic weapon out there when prepping for Kara has got to be the Greatsword of Horrid Dreams, which drops at a respectable clip from Murmur in normal or heroic Shadow Labyrinth. Also obtainable from the Keepers of Time reputation vendor at revered is the Continuum Blade, which isn't bad at all.
A good offhand to accompany this weapon is the Lamp of Peacful Radiance, a drop from Skyriss in The Arcatraz, both normal and heroic.
Nether Core's Control Wand drops from Dalliah in normal or heroic Arcatraz. If you don't want to rely on instance drops, you just won't find a lot of spell hit available on wands pre-Kara. Sad but true. Go lose Arena matches for a few weeks and buy yourself a shiny new Brutal Galdiator's Touch of Defeat, since it doesn't have a rating requirement, or purchase the season 2 version for a few thousand honor, and call it good.
I'm not going to list trinkets, since those vary so wildly in stats and utility. A good spell damage trinket is a must, and use the other slot for whatever you like to use.
Before you go to Kara, make sure all your gear is enchanted and gemmed to full capacity, focusing on spell hit until you're as close as possible to your build's cap, and then on spell damage, crit, intellect, spirit, mana regen and haste. If you do your due diligence in gearing up, you'll be fine. Like I said before, there is no magic number that makes you Kara-ready, just get what you can and then make sure you do your job. If you get taken along for a Kara run and find you're lagging way behind on the DPS meters and your group is having trouble taking bosses down in time, then you may have to re-evaluate. If your DPS is respectable, and the bosses are dropping in a timely fashion, enjoy out-rolling the Warlocks for all those pretty purples...and as always, have fun.
One last completely unrelated note:
Looking over the news from the class panels over at the WWI, I have to say I'm skeptical, and a little sad. I would heartily welcome what they're promising...if I thought they'd actually deliver it. With very little to set our class apart from all of the other DPS classes in the game (everybody seems to get the best toys but Mages, and if you think that's just whining, you're seriously marginalizing the issue), our role has to be "kings of DPS." Flat out. Since everybody, their moms, and their pets seem to have a reliable and spammable CC ability these days, there is no longer any other way for our class to be unique and viable. We aren't ever going to be a pet class, or a survivability class, or a DoT class, or be able to throw out heals, or turn into fricking demons, so Mages need to get back to the top of the DPS charts, and not just in the realm of AoE DPS, which is far too niche and situational a skill set to be acceptable. That was a pretty ridiculously long sentence, but I'm ok with that.
The bottom line here is Blizzard seems to have their hearts in the right place, but I just don't trust them to implement it properly. The track record, at least as far as my class is concerned, simply isn't there. Here's a hint, on the off-chance that anybody who has any power over our class at Blizzard actually reads this column: Mage spells should do more damage than other kinds of sustained DPS. That isn't complex, or difficult, or asking too much. We're not asking for anything crazy--like being able to change into a cheetah and run behind a pillar to throw up an instant cast HoT, or the ability to endlessly Fear our opponents while draining their mana and health--we just want to be given a unique role in the game again. We want to be sought after in groups for more than our ability to feed the masses. Please, Blizzard. Frostfire is nice, don't get me wrong; frost Mages would absolutely love to be able to do damage to Lord Ahune, instead of having to respec to fight a seasonal boss. Sure, Frostfire is great.
It just isn't enough, and we all know it.
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 analysis of Mage talent builds, or our recent look at 10 things Mages should know before entering the Arena. 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'.