Arcane Brilliance: Mage leveling guide: getting started

Christian Belt
C. Belt|09.20.09

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Arcane Brilliance: Mage leveling guide: getting started

Welcome to another edition of Arcane Brilliance, the weekly Mage column that believes leveling a Mage is a noble endeavor, worthy of praise, tax breaks, and probably some kind of discount at Denny's. Arcane Brilliance also believes leveling a Warlock means you're going to Hell.

So, you may think I'm doing things backwards. You're right. I totally am. I spent the last two weeks blathering on about gearing up for raiding. This week, we're talking about the first twenty levels of the game. It makes no sense. Feel free to mock me in the comments. I'm freely admitting I'm a sad, confused individual, with little to no sense of journalistic etiquette. Also, bite me.

In any event, the last round of Mage leveling guides are growing decidedly long in the tooth, having been written sometime around the same time as the Carter administration. Back then, Mages were still the "Kings of AoE," 2v2 was still a viable Arena configuration, and crowd control was still something Mages were expected to actually do in instances. Remember all that? Me either. It's a whole new World of Warcraft out there these days, but it's the only World of Warcraft we've got. Let's get out there and nuke the living crap out of it, shall we?

Now before we start, let's lay out a couple basic assumptions. First, I'm going to assume you're not a level 80 Mage, angry about the fact that I still haven't written an encounter guide to hard mode Trial of the Grand Crusader. We'll get to that stuff, I promise, but first, we'll tackle these updated leveling guides. They're so long overdue it's not even funny, so it's high time we revamped them for this brave new world, just in time to revamp them again next year (fingers crossed) when Cataclysm again renders them entirely moot. If the idea of content in this column aimed at lower level characters somehow offends your sensibilities, I humbly request your patience. Come back in like four weeks. We should be done by then. Maybe.

Second, I'm going to assume you're interested in a Mage leveling guide for one of two reasons:
  1. You just started playing the game, correctly identified the Mage class as the best class in the game, and are looking for advice on how to proceed.
  2. You are a hardened WoW veteran, are looking to roll an alt, correctly identified the Mage class as the best class in the game (not on your first try, but we can't all hit the bullseye with our first shot, right?), and are looking for some pointers specific to the class.
I'm going to try to cater to both of you, don't worry. Rookie, I'm going to try not to talk down to you, over your head, or ignore the things that are important to you. Veteran, I'm going to do my level (ha! A pun!) best not to insult your intelligence. I know you've been there, done that, and have the heirloom items to prove it.

The final assumption is this: I'm going to assume you're not looking for a "go here, do this" guide. Those guides are boring. And, really, if we're being entirely honest with ourselves, taking into account all of the streamlining the leveling process has undergone in recent times, here's what that kind of guide would look like, stripped down to it's fundamental concept:

"Go...pretty much anywhere. Do...whatever you want. Ding!"

Leveling in WoW is no longer anything even resembling difficult. Not that it was ever really all that hard, but now, you can level to 80 almost without even trying. Just continue to log in, spend time in the game doing things, and watch the experience roll in. Whole chunks of the game can be skipped, entire facets of gameplay can be ignored, and almost everything in the game is entirely optional. With the recent advent of experience gain in Battlegrounds, you can now level from 10-80 without doing a single quest. If you happen to be a giant scumbag and a horrible human being, you could probably just AFK your way up levels in those same Battlegrounds, gaining experience points without pressing a button. Please don't think I'm advocating such nonsense. I'm of the opinion that people who AFK in Battlegrounds should be jettisoned into space to prevent them from spreading their taint any further into the gene pool. I'm just saying.

So instead of giving you a guide on how to do something that's actually incredibly easy to accomplish, I'm going to try to focus on how to do it well. It isn't hard to level. The trick is actually learning how to play a Mage as you go. Those abilities you keep getting every couple of levels--how do they work? What are they good for? What's wrong with just casting my favorite spell over and over till the kobold goes boom? What talents are worthwhile for leveling, and which should I avoid? We'll try to touch on a bit of everything.

Enough with the preamble. Let's get this thing started. We'll begin this week with actually creating your Mage. One thing you should know: Every time a Mage is created, a Warlock gets eaten by an angel.

Why choose a Mage?

Do you like bullet points? I do!
  • Mages are damage dealers, rock solid DPS, and stay that way from day one to the day you stop playing. When you roll a Mage, you're getting a top tier nuker, period.
  • Mages are incredibly fragile, preserving the whole archetypal "glass cannon" aesthetic Mages have traditionally occupied since the early days of games like Dungeons & Dragons. We wear fancy robes, shadowy cowls, and possess the structural integrity of a snowflake.
  • But we're tricky. Eventually, we gain some very fun tools for escape and control. Much like gym class, playing a Mage makes fleeing from a confrontation fun.
  • We get to use a magic wand. Mine's made of Griffin poo and Phoenix testes. Just like Harry Potter's. All kidding aside: it's a magic wand. It's impossible for that to not be awesome.
Bottom line: roll a Mage if you want to be the guy who stands in the back and hurls balls of fiery death. Think of an archetypal fantasy wizard. Gandalf? Raistlin? Dumbledore? Miracle Max? Roll a Mage if you want to play as one of those guys.

Which race do I choose?

Here's what each race has to offer that's specifically useful to Mages:
  • Humans have Human Spirit, which increases total spirit by 3%. This gets more and more helpful as you go up levels. Spirit decreases your downtime by restoring mana, and increases your crit percentage once you get access to Molten Armor at level 62. It's not worth much for most of the leveling process, but becomes quite valuable as you near the end-game. Every Man For Himself is far more useful, providing a much-needed countermeasure against anything that causes you to lose control of your Mage. Losing control of your Mage for even a few seconds can often spell death, especially if you choose to use PvP as a leveling tool. This gives you one more weapon in your arsenal to stave off impending doom. That's life as a Mage, you see: doom is always impending.
  • Gnomes get Expansive Mind, which increases a Mage's key leveling stat, intellect, by a flat 5%. This is fantastic. They also get a very nice defensive mechanism in Escape Artist. Again, Mages run into a preponderance of situations that they need to run from, so this is a good thing.
  • Draenei make pretty awesome Mages for one reason: Heroic Presence. This increases a stat that helps you increase your damage output against higher-level enemies, hit rating. It becomes almost invaluable at higher levels, as you join groups and fight bosses in instances, because it increases the entire party's chance to hit with spells and attacks. It's only 1%, but trust me when I say that's a lot. Gift of the Naaru is also quite nice while leveling, since Mages need any way to heal themselves they can get.

  • Trolls get one of the best racials in the game in Beserking, which is an on-use ability that grants 20% haste. 20% is a good chunk of haste, equal to one of the most valuable Mage DPS talents, Icy Veins. Da Voodoo Shuffle is another good escape skill, and becomes especially handy in PvP.
  • Undead have access to one of the best PvP racials in the game: Will of the Forsaken. It removes sleep, charm, and fear effects, making it the perfect anti-Warlock ability, and it doesn't share a cooldown with your PvP trinket like, say Every Man For Himself does for Humans. Also, Undead are undead. That makes them 100% cooler.
  • Blood Elves are pretty. Also, they get Arcane Torrent, which is an AoE silence that restores a bit of your mana. It's on a relatively long cooldown, but it can be a lifesaver. It's a fantastic PvP ability, and the mana return comes in very handy in a lot of situations.
The choice of a race determines your initial starting area, but in the end, it's largely cosmetic. Aside from the appearance of your character, the only tangible difference is in the racials, which play a fairly miniscule role in the larger game. Pick the race you like best. They all make good Mages. Or just wait for the expansion and play a Worgen like everybody else.

A few random general tips

We'll start on the actual leveling process next week, but here are a few tidbits going in:
  • Pick up everything, sell everything. When you kill something, don't leave any loot to molder on its corpse. Money is hard to come by if this is your first character, and selling junk that you find on dead enemies is going to be a major source of income for a long time. When your bags fill up, go back to town and sell everything off, unless it's something you can use.
  • Visit your skill trainer every two levels, no matter what. Don't put it off any longer than you have to. The new skills they teach you will make everything infinitely easier.
  • Don't name your character something stupid. You're stuck with that name for the rest of the game. It costs actual real life money to change it. I'm not saying you can't use the random name generator when you create your character--some of those names are pretty decent--but just don't name your powerful archwizard-in-training "Lolmagelol" or something. Nobody thinks it's funny.
  • Take a profession early. Take two, even. You can pick them up at level 10 5 (Edit: I'm a moron), in the second town you visit. Gathering professions are fantastic for making money early, as long as using the auction house doesn't intimidate you. Crafting professions can be a money-sink, but can also be great for providing your Mage with useful gear and items as you level. And more important than that, in my personal opinion, learning a profession as you level adds a lot to the game. It's fun, and gives you a use for a lot of the junk you'll be picking up other than just selling it.
  • Take your time. I know. You have heirlooms for every slot. You're gaining 420% experience for every kill. You have a guildmate, standing behind you, healing you. That's nice. I'm not talking to you. I'm talking to you, guy who's just starting out, or you, guy who's rolling a Mage alt but still enjoys playing the game. Or girl. I fully recognize that I have a nasty habit of being very chauvinist with my nouns. I just don't know how to stop. Anyway, the point I'm failing to make here is this: The leveling process is going to be pretty quick, no matter how you do it. There are people who do it naked. There are people who do it without killing anything. Whatever you do, eventually, you're going to hit 80. One way or another, the leveling process will end, and you'll be doing all of the wonderful things there are to do once your experience bar stops moving from left to right across your screen. Leveling provides a tactile sense of progression that you simply can't replace at endgame. Enjoy it while it's going on. There are so many options for leveling, there simply isn't any sense anymore in making it a tedious grind. Switch things up. Learn your class. PvP. Get groups for instances. Quest. Look for rare spawns. Level your professions. Shop at the auction house. Join a guild. Explore the world. Pursue a few achievements. Don't just sit in elwynn forest and kill boars.
Anyway, next week, we'll tackle the first 20 levels of your life as a Mage. If you're level 80 already, and are already deleting Arcane Brilliance from your bookmarks, come back next week anyway. Start a new Mage! It'll be fun! We'll kill some boars Warlocks!

Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of Mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent two-part look at what Cataclysm will mean to Mages, or our guide to upcoming Mage changes in patch 3.2.2. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

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