Arcane Brilliance: Level 80 mage gearing roadmap, part 1

Christian Belt
C. Belt|05.15.10

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Welcome to another installment of Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column of choice for mages who hate warlocks, warlocks who secretly want to be mages, and everybody else who likes their mage discussion sprinkled lightly with random and inappropriate references to Lost, Flock of Seagulls, Lufia, and KFC's new "Double Down Sandwich," or as I like to call it, "population control." I mean, seriously? Who greenlit this? "I have an idea, guys. Let's offer a bacon and cheese sandwich where we remove the bun and replace it with two slabs of fried chicken! Ooh, and then, instead of offering drink sizes, let's work on a way to allow customers to hook themselves directly into our soda machines intravenously. They'll be mainlining Dr. Pepper! Because if there's anything America needs more than ever during these tough economic times, it's more ways for people to kill themselves via food!"

Lately, a lot of you have been asking for gearing advice for the new level 80 mage. It seems that a good number of people (myself included) have been making good use of this pre-Cataclysm lull to level their alts, and I'm proud to learn that many of you have chosen to level a mage as one of your alts. For many of you, the gearing landscape probably looks very alien when compared to the way it looked when you were gearing up your last character. New opportunities abound, with the promise of epic gear dangling around every bend. What path should you take?

Fear not, young magelings. This week, Arcane Brilliance has decided to draw you a roadmap. Now, a warning: Arcane Brilliance can't draw. Seriously, when Arcane Brilliance was 5, he drew a picture of a "horse" for his mother. As horse pictures go, it was apparently quite disturbing. Arcane Brilliance had to spend some time at a hospital for "special" children, and mom started drinking heavily. So, you're going to have to use your imaginations about the "map" part of the roadmap. It's mostly going to consist of words, something Arcane Brilliance can produce largely without upsetting medical professionals. Largely.

So you've hit level 80 with your mage. Your gear slots are likely filled with a random assortment of quest rewards, heirloom gear that suddenly doesn't look so good anymore, and stuff that dropped in normal Nexus ten levels ago. You'd like to start running some of the level 80 content, but your DPS still hasn't cracked a thousand. You're not geared enough for a trip to heroic Ramparts, let alone heroic Trial of the Champion. So what do you do? Where do you begin?

The lure of the random dungeon finder is strong. It is truly a wonderful thing, but before you jump into it, you need to be able to pull your weight. Nobody likes to hop into a random heroic and discover that he's in there with a mage who's wheezing out 800 DPS. Don't be that guy.

Luckily, you can begin improving your DPS right away. The first step is to begin replacing your current gear with as many item level 200ish blues and purples as possible. There are a few quick sources:

1. Profession loot

If you have access to money (and really, after leveling through Northrend, you should have a couple thousand gold just sitting in your bags even if this is your first character) you can immediately improve your gear a bit by simply perusing the auction house or finding somebody willing to craft what you want.
Again, these items are only an option if you have the funds to take advantage of them, and understand before you invest in them that you're likely going to be replacing anything you buy before very long. For those on a budget, skip ahead to step 2.

2. Faction gear and BoE blues

I'm going to assume that after questing through Northrend, you haven't hit exalted with any of the major Wrath factions, but you do have some reputation with a few of them. It's reasonable to believe you may have access to a few relatively cheap gear upgrades upon hitting 80.
  • Ebon Blade - Revered will net you Sterile Flesh-Handling Gloves.
  • Wyrmrest Accord - Revered will allow you to purchase the Ancestral Sinew Wristguards.
  • Kirin Tor - Revered will get you a very nice dagger: Flameheart Spell Scalpel.
  • Grinding daily quests at the Argent Tournament can also net you some entry-level gear and even epics, should you save enough Champion's Seals. It's not the most effective way of getting gear these days, but if you've got the seals lying around, maybe a piece can fill a slot for you. For instance, 25 seals can net you this. Here's a list of the mage-worthy items available there: Tourney loot.
And of course, by hitting the auction house, you can snag a few bind-on-equip blues that might be upgrades for certain slots. The price of these varies by server, but it's not unusual to be able to snatch a few of these up for anywhere from 10-50 gold apiece. If you have the funds, this isn't a bad option to kick your DPS up to heroic-worthy levels.
3. Dungeon Drops

Once you've made whatever immediate upgrades you choose to make, it's time to move on to gearing through drops. You'll be at the mercy of the random number generator, but by going on just a few runs through the level 80 normal dungeons, you should be able to snag enough item level 187 blues to safely start jumping into random heroics. They aren't going to be the greatest items ever, and will be swiftly replaced the moment you start entering heroic dungeons, but if your DPS still isn't up to par or your funds are limited, the level 80 nomral dungeons are going to be your best source of loot. Make sure, if possible, to grab the dungeon quests for these places before you go. Some of them are chains, but are worth your time because they guarantee you a nice item level 187 piece simply for completing the instance. In addition, if you queue for the random dungeon finder, you're also getting two emblems of triumph per day. More on those later.

I won't list all of the available drops here. Just head into a random dungeon, then queue normally for Halls of Stone, Utgarde Pinnacle, Halls of Lightning, and even--shudder--The Oculus. Get as many drops as you need, then move on.

4. Trial of the Champion

The goal in all of this gearing is simply to get your DPS up to a level that will allow you to contribute in random heroics. Oh, and also this place. Generally, if you can consistently put out something in the neighborhood of 1300-1500 DPS, you won't be considered dead weight. Granted, there's absolutely nothing stopping you from simply jumping into random heroics and normal ToC, or even the normal Icecrown 5-man instances immediately upon hitting 80. You can hop in there, and hopefully the rest of your group outgears the instance and can carry you through to the finish. They'll resent you, of course, and all you'll be doing is reaping the benefit of their efforts, but it's quite doable.

The tempation to do so is sizable, to be sure. Why waste time in these normal dungeons, or in buying gear I'll be replacing soon anyway, when I can just hit Forge of Souls and grab me some quick epics? I'm not telling you you're wrong, but you're wrong.

Do just a little of the work yourself. You may gear up a bit more slowly. But you won't be a dick.

Once you're in the 1300-1500 DPS range, you're at the very low end of the spectrum for usefulness in the first best place to go to grab epics quickly at 80: normal Trial of the Champion. Feel free to hop on in there and start rolling need on everything with spellpower on it.

The loot to watch for:
The Abyssal Rune, in particular, is a prize worth running the instance to get even after you completely outgear the rest of the drops. You simply won't find a better mage trinket outside of the higher-level raids. Just be prepared to have to outroll absolutely every other caster in the instance if it drops, though. Be prepared to fight off the urge to stab them all in the face. Or, if they happen to be a warlock, don't fight off the urge at all.

5. Random heroics

Once you're ready to head into ToC, you're also ready to start farming random heroics. You'll want to do this at least once per day, so that you get your daily pair of Frost Emblems. Those will become very important in not too long. Random heroics offer several incentives:
  • Emblems of Frost (twice daily)
  • Emblems of Triumph (usually around 2-4 per run, depending on the number of bosses in the instance and how many of those bosses your group decides to actually bother with, plus two bonus emblems for finishing the instance)
  • Blue item level 200 drops (every boss)
  • Purple item level 200 drops (only the final boss of each instance)
Roll need on every upgrade that drops and start farming those emblems. The gear drops are an immediate reward, but the emblems must be saved up in order to purchase upgrades. Here are some of the epic drops to watch for while you're farming those emblems:
So grab what you need when it drops, but don't sweat it if you never seem to see the upgrades you want. The real purpose of grinding randoms isn't the drops, it's the emblems. The gear you'll soon be purchasing with them far outclasses anything you'll find as a drop in a heroic.

Next week, we'll assume you've spent a nice full day farming emblems and upgrading slots with gear drops. Come back for a discussion of what to begin spending those emblems on, and for a detour into the Icecrown 5-mans and beyond. Part 2, next week!

Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent look at how much I hate damage meters or our lengthy series of mage leveling guides. Until next week, keep the mage-train a-rollin'.

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