Arcane Brilliance: Gearing up after the glorious patch 3.3

Christian Belt
C. Belt|12.19.09

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Arcane Brilliance: Gearing up after the glorious patch 3.3

It's time again for Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that loves nothing more than to gaze down upon the whole of Northrend from one of the floating chunks of stone around Dalaran and realize that at some point, a mage has probably killed every living thing down there. At least the targetable ones, anyway. And the ones you can't target? I'm sure more than one mage has certainly tried.

So I'm officially nominating patch 3.3 for "best patch ever" status. Here's a short list of the highlights of this patch:
  • Three highly challenging, fun, lore-filled 5-man instances, full of sweet loot
  • A massive new raid, with four gated sections, 12 bosses, and the promise of eventually being able to shove a Fireball up the Lich King's tailpipe
  • The incredible, game-changing Dungeon Finder Tool, which is responsible for peace in the Middle East, has brought an end to the recession, and has cured cancer
  • A few choice mage buffs, including a PvE viable Frost spec
  • Quest Tracking without the need for an addon
  • Quel'delar and Shadowmourne
  • A swiftly approaching new Arena Season
  • Weekly raid quests
  • The Kalu'ak Fishing Derby
  • Perky the Pug
  • A host of little changes for low level characters
  • Rocket bare
Not shabby, right? And best of all, Blizzard has managed to deploy the majority of this new content without also deploying a host of bugs, glitches, and instability, or otherwise making the game unplayable for awhile as we've come to expect from patches this large. There were some log-in issues and bugginess on day one, but by day two, everything was running relatively smoothly by day two. I'm being relatively conservative when I say that Blizzard, in my personal opinion, has hit this one out of the park.

As we discussed last week, perhaps no single change in the history of the game has altered WoW's landscape so fundamentally as the Dungeon Finder Tool. Bridging the gap between a fresh level 80 character and a completely raid-worthy character has never been easier, or more fun, to accomplish. The options are myriad. Even those of you who have been raiding consistently with your mages prior to 3.3 will likely find a host of new ways to plug holes in your gear set through this new tool.

So let's look at our new options:

Gearing from scratch

Once upon a time (and not very long ago at all), hitting 80 was a milestone that ushered in a new weeks-long period of desperately trying to span the gulf between your mismatched greens and blues and the epicness you saw all around you. It required expensive profession mats, reputation grinding, and hours of waiting for instance groups to form. It took, as I mentioned earlier, weeks.

Now you can make more progress in an afternoon.

As I see it, there are two excellent options for a fresh level 80 mage, depending upon the resources available to you. If you have a group of friends or guildies to play with who are willing to carry you a bit at first, your single most efficient path is to head directly for normal Trial of the Champion and then farm it. Item-level 200 epics drop from every boss there, and you'll find you can fill up a great many slots with quality gear in very little time without ever leaving that instance. It isn't terribly difficult for even moderately geared characters on normal mode, and after a few runs, if the drops go your way, you'll find you aren't a liability anymore.

The other option, for those without access to that kind of in-game support structure, or those who simply wish not to be carried even for a short while, is to immediately begin queuing for random Lich King dungeons in the Dungeon Finder. Not the aren't ready for that. Just hit the normal versions of the level 80 Lich King dungeons, and start upgrading your gear to blue-quality and picking up Emblems of Triumph. Now, the problem with this is that you will likely get thrown into some random Trial of the Champion groups, or even more likely, some random Icecrown Citadel 5-man groups. The Icecrown 5-mans, especially, are a bit beyond your abilities at this point. Blizzard has implemented a hidden minimum gear-score requirement for entry into these instances, but in my experience, it doesn't always work.

If you get one of these instances, you have two choices: leave and wait out the 15 minute debuff, or stick around and risk being kicked. I'm not telling you what to choose here. If you leave, there's still a very good chance you'll get thrown into another of these four tough instances the next time you queue anyway. If you're confident in your skills, and you feel you can make up for your low DPS by not dragging down your group in other ways, then by all means give these instances a shot. If your group is forgiving, they may not care about your subpar DPS. If the group is struggling, you may need to discretely excuse yourself to provide them the opportunity to find a more seasoned DPS. One place I'd absolutely avoid until you get better gear is the final Icecrown 5-man instance, Halls of Reflection. The wave-style opening encounter can be harsh for even strong groups, and the final flight from the Lich King is such a massive DPS race that you risk crippling your group and causing a wipe if you're not putting out solid damage.

Of course, you can solve all of these problems by queuing only for specific instances, but by doing so, you eliminate the ability to start collecting Emblems of Triumph. The bottom line here is to start hitting instances right away, learning your role within the group, and collecting gear upgrades as swiftly as possible. When you feel ready (and it really shouldn't take very long at all), you can again choose from one of two paths.

1. Random Heroics

You should find it even faster to find groups for these, as everybody and their grandma is farming heroics for Emblems right now, and I don't see that popularity tapering off anytime soon. It's important that you be relatively well-geared before hitting the heroics, so that you aren't the proverbial turd in your group's punchbowl while running these potentially challenging instances. Once you're ready, though, there may be no single more efficient way to gear yourself up than by farming random heroics.

Your gear upgrade options here are legion. There are the drops themselves, which will all be item-level 200 rare or epic-quality and can swiftly provide upgrades for the gear you got in the normal versions of these instances. In addition, you will be gaining two Emblems of Frost a day, and more Emblems of Triumph than you can keep track of. In a matter of hours, you can have enough to begin purchasing pieces of your tier 9 set from the emblem vendors at the Argent Tournament. I want you to take a brief look at one of these pieces to give you some idea of how massive these upgrades will be:

Sunstrider's Shoulderpads of Conquest

Yup. And it'll cost you 30 Emblems of Triumph to purchase that. That'll take you an hour or two, if you get in some decent groups. In fact, with some efficient heroic-running, you could easily have the entire set in a matter of days. Then you can start farming up Emblems for some of the other choice items available at the vendors in Dalaran, like this trinket:

Talisman of Resurgence

Now again, though the gear-score requirements should keep you out of them early on in your heroic-running, you may find yourself thrown into a random Heroic ToC or one of the Icecrown 5-mans, any of which may very well be a bit beyond your capabilities at this point. If you can stick around and not kill your group or get yourself kicked from it, then by all means do so. The gear you get there is potentially very nice. But as with the normal versions, if you're going to be a liability, leaving is always an option. Only you can make this decision.

Which leads to the second option:

2. Trial of the Champion/Icecrown 5-mans

Once you're ready, you may instead choose to gear up by running these instances exclusively, farming all the gear from them that you want, then moving on to the heroic versions. This is an especially efficient options if you have an already established group to run them with.

The normal version of ToC nets you item-level 200 epics (the trinket is especially nice), and the heroic item-level 219 epics. If you want a more detailed run-down, see my ToC gear guide here. The normal versions of the three Icecrown instances provide you with item level 219 epics on par with those from heroic ToC, and the heroics throw item-level 232 epics at you. These can easily fill open slots in even an experience raider's gear sets.

Here's the full list of mage gear from these three instances:

Normal Forge of Souls

Normal Pit of Saron
Normal Halls of Reflection
Heroic Forge of Souls
Heroic Pit of Saron
Heroic Halls of Reflection
There are a few other possible upgrades in there, but they all have mana-per-5 on them, which means that they go to the healer unless the healer passes. If they're upgrades for you, and the healer doesn't need them, by all means take them.

Bottom line here? You can very easily gear your mage up in full epics in a very short amount of time. No more grind. Most of the old stop-gaps (expensive profession epics, BoE world drop epics, faction rewards, PvP gear for PvE) have fallen into the realm of obsolescence. It's too easy, too fast, and too much fun not to gear up through the new instances and the Dungeon Finder these days.

One final tip, before you embark upon your great random 5-man adventure: As soon as you can, buy up all of the various faction tabards. You can purchase them from the various faction quartermasters at Friendly, and by equipping them while running these random dungeons, you'll find you hit exalted with the various factions with amazing speed. I'm not even kidding, it's ridiculous. And though the gear these factions offer is no longer worthwhile, the head enchants totally are. Start with the Kirin Tor, since they've got the one for mages. You're already running the dungeons, right? Might as well get the rep while you're there.

And make friends with a Jewelcrafter and an Enchanter. You're gonna need lots of both. Oh, and a disclaimer: You're a DPS, which means finding groups might take a bit longer than you're used to if you've tried to find groups as a tank or healer before. As with all things that annoy me, I blame this particular problem on warlocks. They're all over the place. Like cockroaches. Stealing our DPS spots. And generally just smelling up the place. When I'm mayor of Dalaran, I'll fix this, I promise. I have a whole new Warlock-Population-Counter-Measure program ready to go before congress. It involves trading in warlocks for a used car. I call it Trash for Clunkers.

Belt in 2010! Yes we can!

Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent mage primer for patch 3.3, or our lengthy series of mage leveling guides. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

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