You don't need to wait for level 70 to make the leap to Northrend. Just as you could reasonably step through the Dark Portal at level 58 and immediately start questing and equipping new gear, it's perfectly advisable to start eyeballing the trip northward at level 68ish. At that level, you'll be able to handle the mobs in the Wrath starter zones, take the initial quests found there, and begin equipping the gear drops and quest rewards, so feel free.
Once you decide to take the plunge, you'll be faced with your first major choice. Which starter zone should I go to? There are two very nice zones to choose from, and though both offer a fundamentally similar experience in many respects, your decision of where to start will significantly impact your initial forays into the new content. I'm not going to tell you which zone to choose, because I believe the answer is both.
Howling Fjord is my personal preference, from a purely aesthetic standpoint. If I'm being honest, I'm mostly just a sucker for the Braveheartish pipe music that plays there. I keep expecting Mel Gibson to look soulfully at me and demand his freedom. You reach it by taking a zeppelin from just outside Undercity if you're a member of the Horde, or a ship from Menethil Harbor in the Wetlands if you roll with the Alliance.
The Borean Tundra is the other starter zone, reachable by Alliance characters from Stormwind Harbor, and by Horde characters from a zeppelin tower outside Orgrimmar. Both of these two zones provide about the same amount of questing opportunities and a comparable selection of gear to be obtained from those questing opportunities.
The most notable differences between the zones, gear-wise, is found at the end of the major quest-lines with a few blue-quality items. Howling Fjord will net you a couple of likely trinket upgrades, including the Horn of the Herald and the Strike of the Seas, while Borean Tundra grants a decent ring (Activist's Signet of Blasting), a selection of neck-pieces (Indomitable Choker of Light or Pendant of Revolutionary Thought for Alliance and Clutch of Undying Will or Chain of Vilgilant Thought for the Horde), and pretty sweet staff (Tower of the Inifinite Mind).
Either of these zones will gain you one or two levels, depending on the level at which you made the jump to Northrend and how much rest experience you had saved up. When you finish up, you'll probably have a quest or two in your log directing you on to the next zone, Dragonblight. I would strongly advise you to ignore this quest for now. Dragonblight is a fine zone, don't get me wrong, but you're missing out if you skip the other starting zone. Sure, you could always go back and do it for the money after you've hit level 80, but the zone is worth so much at the lower levels in gear upgrades and experience points that it's just a better idea to do it now, when the mobs you'll be killing will still be worth experience points. The faction reputation alone makes this a no-brainer.
If you do quest out both zones, you'll find yourself somewhere around level 73ish before you ever step foot in Dragonblight, and that'll make the rest of the leveling process that much easier.
Be sure you're visiting your class trainer every time you ding, because he or she will have sparkly new and improved spells for you every level. Aside from the usual new versions of old spells, level 71 brings you a very nice bonus in the form of Teleport: Dalaran. You can earn this spell by making a short detour into Dragonblight and completing a simple quest there. You should be able to handle it at the level without too much trouble.
If you need some ideas for leveling builds in this stretch, you're in luck! Arcane Brilliance has you covered.
It's now time to head in earnest for the icy wastes of Dragonblight. This zone is huge, and rife with quests and quest-hubs. There are a number of challenging group quests here as well, with worthwhile rewards. Though you may have been able to solo much of the group quests you've encountered so far (depending on your level and gear), even epicced-out Sunwell veterans will probably need to gather friends for the ones found here and in the zones beyond. This zone is also where you will begin (and end) the incredibly long, incredibly cool Wrath Gate quest chain, culminating in several of the coolest lore-moments the game has ever provided us with, and rewarding you with a sweet leveling trinket and some sexy pants.
You should be able to make it somewhere close to level 74 or even 75 before leaving this zone, if you've been questing dilligently. Another word of advice: do the dailies. By this point, if you've completed all three of the zones we've talked about so far, you should have opened up multiple daily quests for several factions. Each day you log in, it's well worth the effort to seek each of these dailies out and complete them as you level. By giving us access to so many faction dailies so early in this expansion, Blizzard has made the overall reputation grind far more palatable, and by doing each of the dailies every day as you unlock them, you're giving yourself a huge leg-up for when you do hit level 80. You'll be revered and possibly exalted with several factions and be able to pick up some very nice faction rewards at the levels when using them would actually be appropriate. Plus, the extra experience points each day doesn't hurt.
Level 74 brings you access to Portal: Dalaran, which is all kinds of cool. You can pick it up for less than ten gold from the portal trainer in Dalaran. You can already teleport there, right? Go get it, and then enjoy porting everybody there for the rest of eternity at the end of every instance ever.
Your zone of choice in this level range is Grizzly Hills. Crank the tunes here. Seriously, if Howling Fjord is like battling through 13th century Scotland alongside Mel Gibson, driving out the evil British, this zone is like running through the forest with Daniel Day Lewis...um...driving out the evil British. I mean French. Both? Oh, who cares.
You'll encounter a large amount of PvP-daily quests in this zone, so if you don't like getting ganked by a level 80 Death Knight while picking quest items up from the ground, you might want to avoid them. I personally enjoyed (and still anjoy) these dailies to no end, but I'm a bit of a masochist. They do grant some very nice reputation gains, and the expected amount of experience points, and barring an inordinant amount of the aforementioned ganking, are reasonably quick and easy.
Level 75 brings you the first of the expansion's new spells, Frostfire Bolt. You can find Arcane Brilliance's overly wordy essay on the subject here, but suffice it to say that this is a nuke that does both frost and fire damage, making it very nice to have around when you encounter mobs with resistances to either of those. It also ends up being the single most-powerful Mage spell in the game at level 80, if you spec specifically to make it so, but I've already said as much about that as I intend to.
You also learn to conjure mana pies, which look suspiciously like pumpkin pies. Who knew that the reason you feel so full after a Thanksgiving feast is because you're full of mana?
You have a choice here again, as you can spend the next couple levels in either of two zones. Sholozar Basin is a good choice because it enables you to start gaining reputation with your choice of the Oracles or the Frenzyheart, and because it gives you yet another chance to mindlessly slaughter wildlife at the behest of one Hemet Nesingwary, meaning loads of experience points.
Zul'Drak is also a good choice because you can start raising your rep in earnest with the Argent Crusade and you get to kill a lot of zombie-trolls, which is always a good time. Also, at level 75 you can find a group for the completely awesome Amphitheater of Anguish quest chain in this zone, which will eventually net you a super-cool staff. You won't find an upgrade for it before the end-game content.
Either choice is completely valid, and once you're done with whichever one you settled on, you can move on to the other for the rest of the trip to 80. Depending on a lot of things, there's a pretty good chance you might hit 80 somewhere in these two zones. If so: good for you. If not, don't worry, there are still two more zones full of quests waiting on the horizon.
Level 77 brings a nice milestone, because that's the level at which you can purchase Cold Weather Flying from a trainer in Dalaran or Sholozar Basin for a cool 1,000 gold. Once you can use your flying mount again, questing becomes a cinch, so don't put this off.
The Northrend equivalents for Netherstorm and Shadowmoon Valley can be found in the level 80ish zones of Storm Peaks and Icecrown. If you manage to finish Zul'Drak and Sholozar basin without dinging 80, just head a little further north to complete the journey. Unless you've been seriously neglecting a lot of quest-hubs on your way, however, you should hit that final level-up before going very far into either of these zones.
Level 80 is every bit the milestone that level 70 once was, bringing with it new spells, talent spec options, instances, PvP possibilities, and access to a multitude of gear upgrade options. Your new spells are pretty cool, too. Mirror Image, of which I remain a stalwart advocate, is endlessly fun, and most importantly, you can now conjure strudel. Everybody loves strudel. Everybody.
At level 80, you can begin to gear up for the end-game content, which will be our topic for next week. Trust me, the gear-gap isn't anywhere near as steep at 80 as it was at 70. Wave goodbye once more to your experience bar and congratulations on level 80! Go celebrate by killing a Warlock.
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 reputation rewards in WotLK, or our guide to leveling builds to get you through Northrend. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.