Arcane Brilliance: Mage leveling guide, 21-30

Christian Belt
C. Belt|10.31.09

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Arcane Brilliance: Mage leveling guide, 21-30

Welcome to another edition of Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that won't give up, will never back down, won't retreat and won't surrender. Arcane Brilliance has the heart of a champion, the eye of the tiger, the soul of a lion, the reflexes of a mongoose, and the gall bladder of an emu. Now, if you'll excuse Arcane Brilliance, it needs to go indulge in an 80's movie training montage to get ready for this column. And yes, in case you were wondering, Stan Bush and Vince Dicola will feature prominently.

After a rather extended hiatus from the leveling grind, we here at Arcane Brilliance (and when I say "we," I pretty much mean "me," and when I say "pretty much," I mean "absolutely." I fact, I'm not sure why I even said "we" in the first place. Just forget I said anything. Let's move on, shall we?) are finally ready to continue with our series of overly wordy leveling guides this week. Here's what we've covered thus far (and, yes, I'm aware that I continue to use the first-person plural when referring to myself. I'm a very confused individual.):

Part 1: Getting started

Part 2: Levels 1-10

Part 3: Levels 11-20

We begin today's installment at the grand old level of 21. Your mage is freshly bemounted (That word doesn't actually exist, but I think it should) and ready to take on the world. Chances are you're preparing to move into your third major zone. From this point on, you have a great deal of freedom in choosing where you want to quest. I'd recommend an add-on like Cartographer, or a website like mapwow (just check the box that says "Show names for zones") to see a map that tells you the appropriate levels of the zones around you, so you can pick a place to make your home for the next 5-10 levels. Once you've selected a destination, mount up and head that way. Stick to the road if you decide to travel through any higher-level zones in-between, and be sure to pick up any flight paths you pass during the trip.

With the general speed of leveling in the game these days, you really do have an abundance of freedom in how you choose to level. You can very easily skip any number of perfectly good quest hubs without so much as a hiccup in your leveling. For example, it's entirely reasonable for you to take your Blood Elf mage through Eversong Woods to level 10, Ghostlands to 20ish, then skip over traditional Horde staples like The Barrens and Stonetalon Mountains completely, and head straight for someplace like Hillsbrad Foothills or Ashenvale. Or you could hit the Battlegrounds for a few levels. Or go farm lower level zombies in Silverpine Forest until your brain begins to atrophy. Or just get a good group together and chain-run Shadowfang Keep until your mage looks more like Arugal than Arugal does. There are all kinds of ways to level, and none of them are the right way. Or the wrong way, for that matter. Choose the method that appeals to you the most and ride it til it no longer appeals to you.

My preferred method, especially for first-time players, is to choose a level-appropriate hub and quest it until there are no more quests left to do. Kill monsters along the way, of course, but there's no real need to farm anything. Then when the quests dry up, select another hub and repeat the process. When things get boring, throw in an instance run or a battleground to spice it up. Take a bit of time out to level up your professions as you go, and attack and viciously murder any warlocks that happen to cross your path. It's the little things.

Levels 21-22

New spells: Frost Ward, Scorch

New ranks of spells: Conjure Food (rank 3), Arcane Explosion (rank 2), Fire Blast (rank 3)

Like Fire Ward, which you got a couple levels earlier, Frost Ward is a handy little defensive spell to use whenever you realize you're being pelted by Frost magic and actually have the wherewithal to throw the spell up instead of just spamming your Fireball button in a panic. Like I do most of the time. I really wish both of these spells had a longer duration, because with their current short duration and long cooldown, they're more reactionary spells than anything else. More often than not, I forget to use them until the time of their usefulness has passed. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this.

Scorch is a nice addition to the leveling rotation as well. It's a short-cast, low-mana spell that you'll find is often your best option at close quarters, simply because you can get it off quicker. At later levels, Fire mages will find it becomes the starter spell of their rotation, as taking the Improved Scorch talent gives the spell the ability to apply a debuff that gives you (and your party) a better chance to critically strike your target with spells.

Levels 23-24

New spells: Counterspell

New ranks of spells: Arcane Missiles (rank 3), Dampen Magic (rank 2), Fireball (rank 5), Flamestrike (rank 2)

Level 24 brings with it one of the very best PvP spells in the game in Counterspell. Use it when someone's casting something on you and not only will you interrupt their spell, you'll also lock them out of casting anything else in that school of magic for a full 8 seconds. That's an eternity. Other casters hate it, andthe first time you have another mage use it on you, you'll understand why. Even in PvE it can be a blessing. There's nothing better than using it on an enemy caster right at the end of their cast, wasting the time they spent casting, rendering them impotent, and forcing them to run toward you waving their staves in frustration while you wind up another Fireball to plant in their grill.

At this point, your talent spec should be beginning to take shape. For fire mages, I'd suggest something like this:

Fire 0/15/0

This gives you short-cast Fireballs that can't be pushed back very easily and can be cast from farther away. When they crit, Ignite will make sure your target feels it, and Pyroblast...well, Pyroblast is Pyroblast. It takes forever to cast, but it's a giant freaking ball of fire. It's the single most powerful spell in the game. And later on, when you get Hot Streak...mmmm. Toasty.

A good Frost build at this point would be somewhere in the neighborhood of this:

Frost 0/0/15

Your Frostbolts will be speedy, have a chance to freeze, crit for big damage, cost less mana, and hit more often. Plus, you get Icy Veins, and Icy Veins is awesome.

Arcane--when compared to the other two trees--is still a fairly difficult spec to level with. If you're going to do it, though, here's a decent build:

Arcane 15/0/0

This makes your Arcane Missiles hit more often, cost less mana, and become impossible to push back. You get extra damage for a lot of the spells you'll have to rely on even though they aren't Arcane spells (due to the fact that the only offensive Arcane spell you've got at this point is still Arcane Missiles), and you get Focus Magic, a spell that can help you a lot in groups, or even from throwing it on a random passing caster while playing solo. Every time they crit--even if you're nowhere near them when they do--you get a crit percentage buff.

As always, these builds come with a strong caveat: they're suggestions. Use your talent points how you see fit. One thing you'll notice, though, is that each build has all of its points squarely in one tree, and one tree only. This isn't an accident. At low levels, it's never a good idea to spread your talent points around between trees. Pick a tree, and put all of your points there. In fact, I'd advise this until you hit level 60 and pick up your 51 point talent. You want that 51 point talent as early as possible. Once you get there, in many cases you'll already have the talents you want from your tree and can safely branch out to find the complementary talents for your spec in the first tiers of the other two trees.

No matter your spec, your major glyph, now that you're high enough level to use it, should be Glyph of Evocation. Just trust me. No other glyph will make your life easier as a leveling mage than this one. The ability to quickly heal yourself while you get your mana back is just too useful for words. And as I said in a previous installment of this guide, I like Glyph of Slow Fall for your minor glyph simply because I like Slow Fall and not having to carry around Light Feathers frees up an inventory slot and probably saves the lives of countless low-level birds all over Azeroth.

Levels 25-26

New spells: Cone of Cold

New ranks of spells: Frost Nova (rank 2), Frostbolt (rank 5)

Cone of Cold is another relatively mediocre AoE option. It only hits enemies in front of you, but it's instant, and it has a slowing component, so it can make for a handy option when the need arises.

This level range opens up a few more quest-hub options and instances. Alliance parties can complete a bunch of quests, grab a buttload of mob-killing experience quickly, and get some pretty crappy gear in The Stockade, and easily get to Gnomeregan, which is a great place to go if you like killing Gnomes. Horde parties can make their way through Razorfen Kraul, home of a really, really big pig. As with every dungeon in this game, none of these instances are exclusive to either faction, but at these levels, it can be very difficult for the opposing faction to get to them intact in order to run them. For instance, The Stockade is located beneath Stormwind. Good luck corpse-dragging your level 25 Horde mage through the the Trade District.

Though I didn't mention it at the time, level 20 also opened up another Battleground to you, and now that you're level 25ish it might be a good time to pay it a visit. It's called Arathi Basin, it's all about controlling key nodes, and I consider it to be one of the most uncomplicated, well-balanced Battlegrounds in the game, even after all this time. Give it a shot, and at some point, go up to the Lumber Mill, wait until you see somebody try to attack the Blacksmith below, then cast Slow Fall on yourself, mount up, and coast all the way down there and pump a Fire Blast into his face before you touch down. Do it for me.

Levels 27-28

New spells: Conjure Mana Gem

New ranks of spells: Arcane Intellect (rank 3), Blizzard (rank 2), Mana Shield (rank 2), Scorch (rank 2)

Conjure Mana Gem kicks butt. Really, it's awesome. You cast it once, and it gives you what is essentially a 3-charge mana potion that you can use more than once per fight, and doesn't share a cooldown with a mana potion. You can recharge the mana gem between fights, or just make a new one if you've run out. It makes mana retention so much easier, reduces downtime while solo, and keeps you casting a lot longer in long instance boss fights.

Edit: At lower ranks, your conjured mana gem only has one charge. It doesn't start having three until level 68. I'm an idiot!

If you're a fire mage, a good place to put the talent points you've been gaining since last we spoke of it is in Improved Scorch. As we mentioned above, it turns Scorch from just another damage spell into your opening spell on every mob, every time.

Frost mages should be picking up Shatter, which forms the basis for the hallmark of Frostmageyness: the Shatter combo. In a nutshell, it basically means that when you freeze your target (something that should be happening at a pretty high rate at this point), chances are that you're going to crit with whatever spell you hit them with next. At this level, every time you realize you've got a frozen target, make sure that the next spell you hit that target with is a Frostbolt.

Arcane mages can snag start putting points into whatever they feel like, really, as they approach level 30 and Presence of Mind. Improved Counterspell is a must if you intend to do much PvP, and Magic Attunement is handy for increasing the range of your Arcane spells. Just don't get suckered into Arcane Fortitude. It's a stupid talent and I hate it. It sounds good the first time you glance at it. "Armor," you say to yourself, "I'm soft and delicate...I could use more armor." Then you take the talent, and realize that it still only takes a stiff breeze to kill you, and your tears are bitter and salted with disappointment and angst. You start writing bleak poetry, take to wearing black even when it isn't appropriate to do so, fill up your iPod with Paramore and AFI songs (or if you're old, The Smiths and Joy Division), and make fun of Twilight fans for not being "Vampirey" enough. Seriously, don't take Arcane Fortitude.

Secret admission: (I actually like all of those bands. And I have reams of bleak poetry in my bedroom. Reams. Mock me if you wish. I'll write a poem about it later.)

Levels 29-30

New spells: Ice Armor, Ice Block, Teleport: Darnassus or Thunder Bluff

New ranks of spells: Conjure Water (rank 4), Amplify Magic (rank 2), Arcane Explosion (rank 3), Fire Blast (rank 4), Fire Ward (rank 2), Fireball (rank 6)

And just like that, you're level 30. Only 50 more to go! Head to Darnassus or Thunder Bluff to pick up your new teleport spell. Then head to the Auction House or find a willing scribe to make you a couple new glyphs. You now have one more major slot and one more minor. Fire mages would benefit from Glyph of Fireball or Glyph of Improved Scorch (though if the PTR changes to Improved Scorch go through, that particular glyph will become fairly useless when the next patch hits, even in its new form).

Frost mages don't really have a lot of good choices in this level range, but Glyph of Frost Nova isn't bad. For arcane mages, it's pretty much Glyph of Arcane Missiles or nothing. Glyph of Mana Gem is a pretty good glyph for any spec, if you don't see anything else that appeals to you. And as far as minor glyphs go, the choice is largely aesthetic. Just pick whatever you think sounds fun. I lean toward Glyph of Arcane Intellect here, simply because using less mana to cast a mage's signature buff is always helpful. But if you'd rather turn things into penguins or something, have at it.

Edit: Again, I'm a moron. At 30, you only get an additional major slot, not a minor. Your next minor slot doesn't come until level 50.

Ice Armor is ostensibly a "new" spell at level 30, but it's really just Frost Armor with a new coat of paint. The only new component it adds to the spell is a bit of frost resistance. I will never understand why they gave these spells two different names. Why not just make Ice Armor rank 4 of Frost armor? It's a mystery.

The real star at this level is Ice Block. This, my friends, is your panic button. It renders you completely invulnerable to everything for 10 seconds and removes all debuffs you may have had on you, but also makes you unable to move, attack, or do anything at all for the duration. If you're with someone else, they can still heal you through the Ice Block, but no hostile actions will reach you. Random list of reasons Ice Block is awesome:
  1. Though it doesn't clear your threat, it is very helpful when you happen to pull aggro off the tank in an instance and the mob wanders over in your direction. Ice Block and then hope the tank can grab the mob back before he loses interest in you and eats the healer.
  2. Use it to clear DoTs. It's always fun to watch that warlock DoT you up at the start of a fight and then imagine his frustration when you Ice Block right away to wipe all of them off you all at once. I like to picture that warlock throwing an embarrassing hissy fit like that German kid in that Youtube video, which I won't link because it's annoying.
  3. Use it even when you don't have a healer around to get cooldowns back. Maybe you need to have your Frost Nova or Blink available in order to survive a bad encounter. Pop Ice Block and wait those abilities out.
  4. Go to your options screen and switch off "Secure Ability Toggle" option under the Interface tab. This way, you can hotkey Ice Block, trigger it when you're full of debuffs or have a nasty spell rocketing at your face, then simply hit the same hotkey again to pop out of your Ice Block and start firing away again. Of course, this can also prove fatal if you've got a habit of spamming your Ice Block hotkey in a panic when near death and end up dispelling it by accident, like I do.
Level 30 is a nice milestone to reach, but it's got nothing on level 40. Rest assured, though: we'll get there in the next installment of this leveling guide. Stay tuned, leveling mages!

[Last Update: 10/31/2009]

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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