Arcane Brilliance: Mage leveling guide: 1-10

Christian Belt
C. Belt|09.26.09

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Arcane Brilliance: Mage leveling guide: 1-10
Welcome to another installment of Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that thinks nothing goes better with strudel than a warm ball of fire.

Ok, so last week, we all clicked the "Create Character" button and selected a mage. We picked a race for that mage, gave him or her facial features, a skin tone, a hairstyle, possibly even a lower jaw, and chose a non-stupid name for our fledgling master of the arcane arts. This week, we're backing our new mage out of the garage and taking him for a spin. Interesting fact: mages actually appreciate in value the more mileage you put on them!

The first few levels can be a trying time for a new mage. A couple things you'll notice:
  1. You're wearing a skirt and wielding a stick.
  2. You're a huge wuss.
This can be quite vexing, especially if you're used to another class, possibly one that wears actual armor into battle, doesn't get a nosebleed from standing up too quickly, and isn't the dungeon master for the chess club's Dragonlance campaign. Well get used to it. You may have been on the football team before, sacking the quarterback and dating the head cheerleader, but that was before, when you were a paladin or a warrior or whatever. Now you're Bill Haverchuck. Intelligent and frail, mages are the geeks of the World of Warcraft. We might as well embrace it. We're the nerds, warriors are the jocks, and warlocks are the emo kids. The good news? Someday, they'll all be pumping our gas. At least that's what my guidance counselor always told me. Someday means soon, right?

Anyway, the fact remains that mages are wimps at low levels. Rest easy, though. It gets better.
Levels 1-2

New spells: Fireball, Frost Armor, Arcane Intellect

You begin your existence as a mage with a grand total of two spells: Fireball and Frost Armor. There's a third available to you at the trainer, Arcane Intellect, but you can't afford it just yet. Accept your first quest from the guy with the yellow exclamation point hovering above his head and get to it. No matter your starting area, this quest will generally involve killing a certain amount of something and then reporting back to whoever gave you the quest. In almost every case, you'll be hitting level 2 before you finish the quest, and by the time you turn it in, you'll be well on your way to level 3.

The enemies you'll be fighting will all be neutral, meaning they won't attack you until you attack them. Being the fragile mage that you are, this is a tremendous help. Fight everything one-at-a-time, as more than one enemy at low levels for a mage can often be more fatal than we'd like. Cast Frost Armor on yourself right away, and don't let it expire. This spell gives you two major advantages: first, it provides you with armor, meaning you can absorb more physical punishment, making you less flimsy. Second, it slows down anything that hits you, making them attack less quickly and move more sluggishly. This can and will be a lifesaver in the event that you get yourself into trouble, because it allows you to run away with relative ease. Hopefully this won't be a problem until the enemies become more hostile to you in later levels, but you never know.

Your primary (and only) offensive spell is Fireball, and though it eats up your mana pool quickly, you're much better off using it than trying to whack something to death with that bent stick of crappiness you started the game with. Most mobs will need 2-3 Fireballs to take down, and may require a few stick-whacks to save mana if that third Fireball doesn't finish them off.

Once you've finished that first quest and sold off all the junk you picked up along the way, you should have the 95 copper pieces you need to purchase Arcane Intellect from your mage trainer. Also at level two, you'll be getting a quest that points you to find that mage trainer anyway, so you can kill two birds with one stone. Go pick up this spell without delay. It's your signature buff as a mage, and the two intellect points it grants at rank 1 are well worth your time. Intellect increases the effectiveness of just about everything that's important to mages: the size of your mana pool, the rate at which it is replenished, the percentage chance that your spells will score a critical strike, and later on, with the right talents, even the damage those spells will do. There is arguably no better stat for a leveling mage (well, spellpower is pretty dope, too, but difficult to come by until higher levels).

Level 3-4

New spells: Conjure Water, Frostbolt

After killing some more mobs and doing a few more quests, you should be hitting level 4. The moment you do, run, don't walk, back to your mage trainer and learn Frostbolt. If you can't afford it, sell more stuff. Frostbolt is awesome. It does about the same damage as rank one Fireball, but costs a lot less mana, and has a slowing component. Think of it as being able to throw your Frost Armor at mobs. From this point on, begin every battle by standing at max range and spamming Frostbolt. You'll find your mana pool goes down far more slowly, meaning less downtime, and you'll often kill things before they even reach you. This is a good thing, because it's around this point that you'll begin encountering hostile mobs. These are the mobs that have red-colored nameplates. They will attack you without provocation, simply for getting close to them. Again, it's a lot like being a nerd in high school. Be careful not to attract more than one of them at once, as even with Frost Armor up, you're still a mage, which means you're as sturdy as a wet napkin.

Conjure Water is also a boon, as it allows you to never have to carry any water ever again. Just sell any you come across. Don't worry, you'll be getting its food-producing counterpart very soon.

Keep an eye on the loot you're picking up and selling. Watch for anything made out of cloth. If you find something, chances are that either you have nothing equipped in that slot, or it's better than whatever you do already have there. You can fill a lot of your gear slots with gray-quality crap that drops from the mobs you fight in the starting area, so make sure to equip the stuff you do find. Whatever you do, don't waste your hard-earned money by buying gear upgrades at the vendors in the starting area. You replace gear so quickly at lower levels, and you need your money so badly for purchasing new spells, that you'll absolutely regret any purchase you do make. At lower levels, all your money should be going toward two things: training new spells every two levels, and what I like to call the "Buy me a new bag for the love of god" fund. Don't fritter it away on some white-quality sword you'll likely be replacing any second from a drop you could have gotten for free.

Level 5-6

New spells: Conjure Food, Fire Blast

New spell ranks: Fireball (rank 2)

At this point, you should be ready to move on from the starting area. Take whatever quest it is that directs you to the area's exit and get ready for your first foray into the great wide world beyond. Follow the road away from the starting area and into the next town. You'll know you're there when you see a bunch of new yellow exclamation points pop up on your minimap. At this point, a lot of new things open up to you.
  1. Professions. Take the ones that intrigue you. Mining, Herbalism, and Skinning are excellent money-makers, and feed into other useful crafting professions. Tailoring is especially useful to leveling mages, because it makes gear you can actually use. You'll also get a lot of good low-level gear out of Jewelcrafting, useful potions out of Alchemy, and sweet goggles out of Engineering. Inscription and Enchanting are useful to everyone, but can be costly at lower levels. Blacksmithing and Leatherworking are of only marginal worth to low level mages, but ultimately you should take what appeals to you. Just save your pennies, since initially training these professions is costly.
  2. The Inn. Log out here every time you do so, as logging out in an inn gives you rest experience, meaning the next time you log in, you'll gain double experience from killing mobs for a short time. This time increases the longer you spend logged. Also, you'll want to immediately talk to the innkeeper and set your hearthstone to return you to that inn. This will save you untold amounts of time, trust me.
  3. The Mailbox. This isn't super important to you if this is your first character, but for alts, this is a huge deal. You can now send and receive mail, including sweet gear and money from your main, heirloom items, and items and money from the auction house.
  4. Lots and lots of new quests.
You'll find that life gets a bit more complicated from here on out. The quests will be slightly more involved, the distance you'll be required to travel will increase exponentially, the monsters more plentiful and more difficult, and the goals more difficult to locate. Fortunately, you've now got more weaponry in your arsenal.

Rank two Fireball packs a punch at this level. You'll still want to begin each fight with a Frostbolt to slow your enemy down, but afterwards it's now far more worthwhile to throw out a Fireball than it is to keep spamming Frostbolt. If your enemy manages to get up close and personal, you now have your first instant-cast spell: Fire Blast. This spell costs a lot of mana, but is quite powerful, and again, it's instant. As in, no cast time. As in, perfect for when something big and ugly is pounding on you and you want to shove a ball of flame up its snout without delay.

Levels 7-8

New spells: Arcane Missiles, Polymorph

New spell ranks: Frostbolt (rank 2)

At this point, you may want to consider making the short trip from that second town to your race's main city. Whether it be Stormwind, Orgrimmar, Exodar, Silvermoon, or Undercity, that city is nearby, you can follow a road in relative safety to get there, and doing so opens up a lot of extra opportunities:
1. The Auction House. This is a huge one, so it'll actually be getting it's own subset of bullet points.
  • There are really only two things you should even consider spending your money on here at this low level. First, you might want to buy a wand. They are extremely cheap at low levels. Enchanters make this little beauty, mentioned in the comments section last week by the always awesome Turtlehead: Lesser Magic Wand. They often make it to level up, which means they'll put it up in the auction house for cheap. Look at the DPS on that! If you can afford to pick one up at level 5, that'll do more damage than you spells will, for crying out loud.
  • Second, you may want to pick up a cheap bag or two. Nothing helps at low levels like more bag space. Also, you can use the auction house to begin selling things. Things that sell well at low levels: green-quality gear and gathering mats. If you chose to go with Mining, Skinning, or Herbalism as one of your professions, now's the time to start selling off the excess ore/leather/plants you've been picking up. This can be a huge money-maker at low-levels. Just look at how much other people are selling the same materials for, and then undercut them. Works every time.
  • Any way you look at it, access to the auction house is a game-changer. You now have opportunities to make and spend money that you can get no other way. This low in the game, you should probably focus on the making rather than the spending, but do what makes you happy. The common lure for new players is to purchase gear upgrades, but that's an almost universally bad idea at low levels. The leveling game is easy enough without uber-gear, and the drops and quest-rewards you'll be getting along the way should be just fine. Also, gear is out-leveled and replaced so quickly that paying for it ends up being a giant waste of money at a time when money is at a premium. Resist the urge. Sell, sell, sell...and only buy what you absolutely need. Like a wand or a bag.
2. Weapons trainers. For a price, you can learn how to wield weapons other than staves from these guys. If you can afford it, you can learn to use daggers and swords, which is pretty cool. If the weapon you're looking for isn't offered by the trainer in your home city, you may have to venture to a different city to learn how to use it. Which totally sucks.

3. Other people. While you'll encounter people out in the world as you level, the cities are where they congregate. You'll find enchanters giving away low-level enchants so they can level their profession, crafters hawking their wares on the cheap, people looking for groups for various instances, and you can use trade chat to solicit all of those things and more. The game can be played solo, but really comes into its own when you involve other people and see what they have to offer. Give it a shot.

Your new spells are also awesome in this range. Frostbolt gets stronger, making it worthwhile to spam it again (though Fireball is still more powerful), and returning it to its position as your most mana-efficient damage spell. Arcane Missiles now becomes your single most powerful spell, but takes forever to cast and costs a ton of mana. It's really not much good to you until later levels, and then only if you decide to spec Arcane. You can pretty much ignore it for now.

The real blessing here is Polymorph. Here's what you need to know about Polymorph: It turns into sheep things that, until the moment you cast the spell, were not previously sheep. It's your first crowd control spell, and is still probably the single greatest crowd control spell in the game. Use it thusly: When fighting more than one foe, turn one into a sheep. Kill the other. Then kill the sheep. This spell really shines in a group environment, such as in an instance. Learn to use it. Practice. Life as a mage isn't all about nuking things down as quickly as possible. In fact, you'll find when you start going through the game's 5-man instances that "nuking things down as quickly as possible" can be a very bad idea indeed. More on this next week.

Levels 9-10

New spells: Frost Nova

New spell ranks: Frost Armor (rank 2), Conjure Water (rank 2)

At this point, you should be getting close to moving on from the second town, and into a new zone. You should pick up a quest leading you on to someplace like the Barrens, Ghostlands, or Westfall. Here, again, the difficulty level rises, though not so much that things become tedious or overly complicated.

Level 10 brings with it only one new spell, but it's a doozy: Frost Nova. This spell will save your proverbial bacon more times than you can fathom. It's an instant-cast area-of-effect crowd control device. It freezes your enemies into place for a short duration. At these levels, it can be used as an escape mechanism, allowing you to run away from a bad situation, or as a way to outright win fights. Freeze a monster into place, back out of their range, and pound away until the ice breaks. It's a fantastic spell that only gets more useful as you go along.

Also at level 10, you should pick up a short quest chain in your race's home city from the head mage trainer there. You should do this questline. It rewards you with your choice of a sweet green-quality staff or off-hand frill item. Chances are good that you do not have anything even close to this good equipped yet, and the quest is generally easy and fun, so do it. Plus, what's the point of being a mage if you aren't going to bother with the mage quests?

Oh, and another thing...

Just a heads up, here guys. I may or may not actually be doing these guides all in one shot. There will likely be 8 of them in all, and I want to do the guide right. I don't want to skimp on these. But 8 columns is a bunch. That's a couple months of leveling guides. I know there are a lot of you who would prefer this column to occasionally cover something besides low-level content, so I'll probably be interrupting the succession of leveling guides with other things every now and again. We'll see how it goes.

In the next installment of the guide, we'll move on to the next ten or so levels of magedom. It just may not happen next week. Or it might! I don't know!

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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