Arcane Brilliance: Mage leveling guide, 11-20

Christian Belt
C. Belt|10.11.09

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Arcane Brilliance: Mage leveling guide, 11-20
Welcome to another installment of Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that dares to ask the question: how much mage is too much? Then Arcane Brilliance slaps itself in the face, because that's a stupid question. You can never have too much mage.

So, your mage is leveling nicely. You've wandered out of the starting area and into the wider zone beyond, done a bunch of quests, learned a rudimentary spell rotation (Frostbolt-->Fireball-->Fireball-->Fireball-->Conjure Water-->Drink) and now you've gone and hit level 10. This is a milestone for a number of reasons:
  1. The mage staff quest we talked about two weeks ago.
  2. You can now begin doing PvP in an actual battleground against players in your level bracket (as opposed to doing PvP against bored 12-year-olds who think it's fun to run around the starting areas with their level 80 death knights ganking lowbies).
  3. Your first talent point!
Let's discuss the second two of these three things before we move forward.

PvP as a leveling mage

Patch 3.2 brought us a number of changes, but none altered the leveling landscape so much as battleground experience. It is now possible to level from 10 to 80 entirely through PvP, without completing a single quest, killing a single mob, visiting a single new zone, or conquering a single instanced dungeon. I wouldn't advise it, but it's possible.

The first battleground that you can visit is a place called Warsong Gulch, physically located between the northern border of the Barrens and the southern border of Ashenvale. Not that you have to actually go there to fight in this battleground. The moment you hit level 10, you can immediately begin queuing for WSG from anywhere, while doing anything, simply by clicking on the PvP button on your hotbar and selecting the battlegrounds tab. Depending on the battlegroup your server is in, you may have to wait a few minutes to get into a match, but once you're in, you can PvP to your heart's content, gaining honor and marks as well as a healthy amount of experience.

If you're looking for the fastest way to gain levels, keep looking. PvP simply isn't going to produce the amount of experience you can gain from efficient questing and mob-killing. I'm not saying it's terrible, but there are better ways to gain experience quickly. Still, leveling through PvP certainly has its share of perks. Because I like lists, here's one to help you decide if PvP is the leveling route for you.

  • Gaining honor and marks as you level will net you some pretty awesome gear (and even mounts!) as you go along, and the honor you accrue will set you in good stead when you do hit max-level.
  • PvP can be incredibly engaging (if you like that sort of thing; WoW PvP is sort of one of those things you either love or hate). For a lot of folks, it certainly beats the sometime tedious PvE level grind.
  • You can queue for battlegrounds while you do other things, jump in when the invite pops up, and then return to whatever else you were doing when the battleground ends.
  • Unless you're one of those pathetic wastes of human tissue who AFK their way through battlegrounds, PvPing your way to 80 will teach you a hell of a lot more about how to play your class (at least the PvP aspects of it) than solo questing will. PvP, done right, demands your attention and almost forces you to learn and improve. In a lot of ways, you'll be a better mage when you hit 80 if you've done some serious PvPing along the way, and that's nothing to sneeze at.
  • Fully sanctioned opportunities to kill warlocks.
  • Also you get to kill warlocks.
  • I may have mentioned it already, but warlock-killing is involved.
  • Time consuming. Queues can frequently be long, so if you plan to PvP exclusively to 80, you may well end up wasting quite a bit of time. Matches are much shorter now than they used to be, thanks to hard time-limits and other basic mechanic improvements to the battlegrounds themselves, but you're still looking at spending about 20 minutes or so per match, to get the same amount of experience you can get from doing a quest or two and killing a few mobs along the way.
  • You'll miss out on all the money and items you'd otherwise be picking up by doing the PvE content. PvPing exclusively to 80 is something that's very difficult to do without a higher level character bankrolling you. You get almost no money from PvP, you can't gather materials to advance a tradeskill, and you won't pick up any gear upgrades from quests.
  • You won't learn how to play your mage in a PvE environment. We'll discuss this more later, but I'm a huge proponent of running a few instances on the way to 80. There are things you need to learn from operating within a group dynamic that you simply won't get any sense of in PvP.
  • Lots of dying if your level ends in a number between 0 and 6. Though the problem isn't as severe and unforgiving as it used to be, the difference between, say, a level 10 mage and a level 19 mage is still massive. Especially at lower levels, you'll find yourself being more of a liability to your team than an asset. Also, it's just no fun, getting killed over and over. Once you get to the later levels in a particular bracket (which go in runs of ten, from 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, etc.), you'll have a significantly better time of it. For the first 5-6 levels, though, you're going to experience an unending parade of painful and frequently embarrassing failure, interspersed only occasionally by brief moments of moderate success. Sort of like high school.
For these reasons, I suggest a mix. When questing starts to become tedious, or just when the urge strikes you, queue for a battleground, then keep questing while you wait. Picking up the daily battleground quest from the battlemasters in your nearest capital city maximizes your experience gain for the time spent. This way, you're still picking up honor and marks, but you're also still getting a healthy dose of quest rewards, item drops, the occasional instance run, and everything else the PvE game has to offer.

Also, forget the pros and cons. PvP wins because of the whole warlock-killing thing. I don't know why I even bothered to type all that up there.

Your first talent point!

This may not seem like a big deal, but it totally is.

Talent points, and the manner in which you allocate them, determine what kind of mage you will be. This is the moment you take the first step toward your career as a Fire, Frost, or Arcane mage, so I suggest you give it some thought. Decide what school of magic appeals to you and start working toward mastering it.

Having said that, know that you are in no way locking yourself into anything here. You can always change your talent spec at any point, and in fact almost certainly will, multiple times, during the leveling process and beyond. You may find it beneficial to select talents as you level that aren't necessarily the "optimal" talents, but make the leveling process easier and/or more fun, then change to a more efficient spec as you reach end-game. In that spirit, here are a few random pieces of advice:
  1. Don't pick Arcane. It's terrible until the later levels, and then it becomes awesome. Just don't use it while leveling. At low levels, it'll make you feel weak, slow, and awkward, much like middle school gym class did.
  2. Fire is good for pure damage, and Frost is good for control. For now, take one of the two and run with it. Fire is generally considered better from levels 10-40ish, at which point Frost's ability to gather up every mob in the zone and then kill them all at once nudges it into the lead as a leveling spec. Do what you like, I'm just throwing out some conventional group-think here.
  3. With your first few talent points, take either Improved Fireball or Improved Frostbolt. No other talent will help you as consistently and immediately as speeding up your nuke of choice will. If you hate yourself and are going with a low level Arcane spec, go with Arcane Stability, I guess, and may God have mercy upon your soul.
I'll throw out some ongoing talent spec suggestions as we go along, but considering we're already about 1400 words into this behemoth, we'd better get to the leveling guide proper.

Levels 11-12

New spells: Dampen Magic, Slow Fall

New ranks of spells: Fireball (rank 3), Conjure Food (rank 2)

At this point, you should be thinking about moving out into the great wide world beyond your home zone, to a quest hub like Crossroads or Sentinel Hill. Things will get progressively harder, and the levels will come more slowly. Fortunately, you can now conjure slightly more potent bread to assist you on your quest. If you let it harden long enough in your backpack, it can serve as a pretty effective projectile.

I'm lying. You can't actually throw your bread. The good news? You can throw a ball of flame. And at rank 3, that ball of flame will blow things up like it means it. If you're going the Frostbolt route with your talent points, Frostbolt is probably still a better choice for a primary nuke, but if Fire is your spec, open with that Frostbolt to snare your target and then start chucking Fireball after Fireball at it.

Your two new spells are Dampen Magic (which sort of sucks), and Slow Fall (which does not). Dampen Magic gives you a small damage reduction from spells, but also gimps incoming heals. If you're playing solo, there's no reason -- other than that inconvenient extra button press and mana expenditure -- not to keep it up as a third buff. If you're fighting casters, it can take a bit of the sting out of their spellcasts. If you're running with a friend who has heal spells, Dampen Magic is a bad idea. It's really as simple as that. This is one of those spells you'll pick up at the trainer and then promptly forget you have it. It's that mediocre.

Slow Fall, on the other hand, is good, clean fun. Use it any time you see a drop that will get you where you want to go faster than going around will. Also, use it whenever there's a drop. Because it's fun. You'll need to get your hands on some Light Feathers to use as reagents for the spell, but those should be fairly common drops. Kill things like harpies or buzzards to get them. Then leap from great heights and sail down safely as often as possible. You know you want to.

Levels 13-14

New spells: Arcane Explosion

New ranks of spells: Frostbolt (rank 3), Fire Blast (rank 2), Arcane Intellect (rank 2)

Ah, your first AoE. Perfect for any occasion when blowing up just one thing simply won't do. Be warned, though: it will suck your mana pool dry faster than you can say "holy crap where did my mana pool go and why are these four bears eating my face?" Use it prudently.

Frostbolt gets more powerful, meaning it's smart to simply spam it again, especially if you've been using your talent points to lower its cast time. Fire Blast improves as well, and your Arcane Intellect is slightly more intellectual than it previously was.

If you've rolled a Horde-side mage, level 14 is a good level to start trying to find groups for Ragefire Chasm, the lowest-level instance in the game. It resides beneath Orgrimmar, and is the home to some very sweet loot. Here is what you need to know as a low-level mage entering an instance for the first time:
  1. Monsters in instances are "elites," meaning they have far more hit points and hit far harder than normal monsters of the same level. They're designed to provide a challenge for five players, and absolutely slaughter one.
  2. You do not want them to hit you.
  3. There will be a tank in your group. He'll be a warrior, druid, or paladin. You want the monsters to hit him.
  4. If you do too much damage to a monster too quickly, you'll piss the monster off and it'll ignore the tank and come for you. This mean you will probably die, and possibly take the whole group down with you.
  5. If this happens, stop casting.
Your role in an instance is DPS. You're in charge of dealing damage to whatever the tank is fighting. The tank will do his or her best to keep the attention of whatever he or she is fighting focused squarely on him or herself, as opposed to on you, with your cloth armor and squishy innards. If this means you occasionally need to cut back on the Fireballing a bit (and that's exactly what it means), do it. The default UI will tell you when you've ticked the monster off by saying "High Threat" and flashing red and whatnot, but by the time it does so, it's probably too late. I'd encourage picking up a threat-meter add-on and using it liberally. It will keep you up-to-date on how mad the monster is at you in relation to how mad it is at the tank, and paying attention to it will save your life. Omen is a good solid choice, though a quick perusal of WoWCurse or WoWInterface or some similar site will reveal several other viable alternatives.

You may also be asked to fulfill another role: that of crowd control, or CC. Polymorph is one of, if not the single most reliable CC spell in the game, and you will be asked to sheep something if you go into an instance in possession of it. All this means is that you will need to keep one target in whatever group of enemies it is that you are fighting out of commission. You do that by turning them into a sheep and then turning them into a sheep again if the spell wears off or some stupid nub breaks your sheep. Your tank will hopefully mark your sheep targets clearly before the fight begins, so you'll know which mob to do this to. Set your sheep target as your focus by right-clicking its portrait and sheep it after the tank pulls. Then DPS the tank's target while you keep an eye on your sheep target, re-sheeping it as necessary. This is a skill you should perfect as soon as possible.

Levels 15-16

New spells: Flamestrike

New ranks of spells: Arcane Missiles (rank 2)

Flamestrike provides you with another mana-intensive and semi-awkward AoE option. It does quite a bit more damage than Arcane Explosion, but is far more clunky to use. Also, you get a new rank of Arcane Missiles, a spell that remains relatively useless at this level. It uses too much mana and takes too long to cast. It'll be awesome later, but for now, only use it when you get bored of Fireballs or Frostbolts.

Level 15 brings you brand new customization option: glyph slots. You get two to start with, one minor and one major. Your choice of glyphs is entirely up to you, but at low levels I'd recommend glyphing Fireball in that major slot. Not Frostbolt, mind you, since that glyph has a side effect that sucks for a leveling mage: it removes Frostbolt's slowing effect as a trade-off for more damage. The Fireball glyph is a clear damage increase, and unless you absolutely won't using Fireball, is worth picking up. There are certainly other choices, but Fireball is my preference at this level.

Your choice of minor glyph is largely a cosmetic one, so choose whatever suits you. I like the Slow Fall glyph just because it allows me to stop carrying around Light Feathers, but that's just me.

If you happen to be a scribe yourself, you can make your own glyphs, but if not, you'll most likely need to pay a visit to the auction house to procure your glyphs, and some of them can be quite expensive. Save your pennies and do what you can, but don't think it's the end of the world if you simply can't afford the glyph you want yet. At this level, they're a nicety, not a necessity.

Lastly, at level 15 you should be done placing talent points into reducing the speed of Fireball or Frostbolt. If you've chosen to spec Fire, I'd start working on Ignite, which will add a powerful DoT effect to anything you manage to crit with a Fire spell. It's a big damage increase and it's always fun to set things on fire. On the Frost side of things, I'd start investing in Frostbite, which gives you a chance to freeze your target completely every time you hit it with a Frost spell and is one of the bedrock talents for the tree as you go forward. Once you hit level 17, I'd move on to Ice Shards, which will makes your Frost crits do an almost obscene amount of damage. good times. If you're still speccing Arcane at this point, I don't have any advice for you, Do what you want, crazy person. I wash my hands of you.

Levels 17-18

New spells: Amplify Magic, Remove Curse

New ranks of spells: Fireball (rank 4)

Amplify Magic sucks. It has some very niche uses later in the game, but for now, just put it in your spellbook and tell it not to order any pay-per-view or invite any friends over. Remove Curse...removes curses. If you get cursed, use it. Don't forget you have this spell; you'll find it very useful on certain bosses in raids and instances later on. Also, Fireball gets more powerful. That's never a bad thing.

A couple new instance options open up in this level range: Deadmines and Wailing Caverns. Deadmines is worth the trip even for Horde characters, simply because it has pirates. Who doesn't like pirates? Specifically, who doesn't like setting pirates on fire? Put your hands down, pirates. I wasn't talking to you.

Levels 19-20

New spells: Blink, Blizzard, Evocation, Fire Ward, Mana Shield, the various Teleport spells

New ranks of spells: Conjure Water (rank 3), Frost Armor (rank 3), Frostbolt (rank 4), Polymorph (rank 2)

Level 20 may just be the best level in the game. Ok, maybe 80 is better, but not by much. In terms of pure advancement, it's tough to top level 20 for mages. You get a buttload of new and improved spells, you get to start teleporting around willy-nilly, and most of all, you get a pony.

Yes, in one fell swoop, we get one of the best AoE spells in the game in Blizzard, a couple of nice defensive spells in Fire Ward and Mana Shield, the down-time reducing, mana returning, sweetness that is Evocation, and the ability to pop forward twenty yards with the recently improved Blink. As if that wasn't enough, we also get better water to conjure, more armor from Frost Armor, a more powerful Frostbolt, and an update to Polymorph that lengthens its duration from 20 seconds to 30.

To make the level seem like even more of a milestone, we get access to our first three Teleport spells: Stormwind, Ironforge, and Exodar for the Alliance, and Orgrimmar, Undercity, and Silvermoon for the Horde. Welcome to one of the hands-down best parts of being a mage: get-around-ability. We can pop around from city to city without using a hearthstone, and our options only get more numerous as we level. This is extremely helpful in the old world, where a disturbingly large number of quests pop up that send you back and forth to capital cities for no good reason.

Perhaps the best part of level 20, though, is that you can train to use your first mount. This used to happen at level 40. I don't know if you remember that, but it happened. Then after like four years of making us grind our way to 40 before we could be trusted to ride into battle on something faster than our own two feet, Blizzard changed the level requirement to 30. Then about 15 minutes (give or take) later they switched it down even further, to 20. I halfway expect, every time I create a new character, to see them spawn at level 1 already on the back of a spectral raptor or a winged giraffe or something.

Whoo... I need to shut up. As more than one of you pointed out on the last installment of the mage leveling guide: it takes longer to read these columns than it does to actually level your mage ten levels. I don't know if next week will bring levels 21-30 yet or not. If PTR news drops, we may cover that. But if not... bring on the leveling!

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 ongoing series of mage leveling guides. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

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