Arcane Brilliance: Cataclysm 101 for mages level 81 to 85

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C. Belt|12.11.10

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Arcane Brilliance: Cataclysm 101 for mages level 81 to 85
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Arcane Brilliance for arcane, fire and frost mages. This week, Arcane Brilliance tears itself away from flying circles around Azeroth going "ooh," "ah," and "holy crap is that the sarlac pit?" to deliver you a brief leveling guide. If you happen to be a mage and you happen to be between the levels of 80 and 85 (or someday hope to be in that level range), and you hate warlocks with a passion that borders on religious fervor, you've stopped at the right place.

Seriously, you should know that it's physically painful for me to not be playing Cataclysm right now. I hope you people appreciate my sacrifice. There are flagged warlocks right this very moment on my server questing in Vashj'ir that are not being killed, and it hurts my heart to think of it. To make up for lost time, I demand that each of you slaughter at least one warlock when next you log in. It's the least I could ask.

So, I assume that those of you who have a mage as your main are well on your way to level 85, if you haven't gotten there already. Those of you who have a mage alt or are still leveling a lowbie mage may not have even started on this portion of the mage leveling game yet. Whatever the number next to your mage's name, at some point or another, you may find yourself in the market for a mage 81-85 leveling guide. Good news, everyone! This is that leveling guide. Also, I just managed to use "mage" in a sentence 72 times. Let's begin, shall we?

The many ways to level

Never before in the history of this game have our options for gaining experience been so numerous and varied. If you are actively doing something in this game -- anything really -- chances are pretty good that you're gaining experience by doing it. Let's look at a list of the things I can think of right off the top of my head that will gain you experience:
  • killing mobs
  • completing quests
  • gathering herbs or mining ore
  • finding an archaeology item
  • discovering a new area
  • getting an honorable kill in PvP
  • completing a PvP objective
  • completing a battleground
Once upon a time, you had three choices when it came time for leveling: farm mobs, run dungeons, or quest. Now you can pretty much do what you want. Like PvP? Go slaughter the opposing faction until you get to level 85. Hate questing? Go find the entrances to the various 5-man Cataclysm instances and then queue for randoms until your head explodes. Or find a remote area with lots of mobs and quick respawns and just farm. I mean, jeez, I leveled my pally alt to 81 last night simply by flying around mining Elementium, discovering new areas, and killing the occasional mob that got in my way. Then I sold off the ore and now I am filthy, filthy rich.

The moral of the story here is that whatever way you choose to level, you shouldn't have too hard a time of it. I prefer a healthy mix, myself. My favored method of leveling involves questing out a zone, gathering and exploring while I do so, and running each 5-man at least once upon completing the quest line that leads me to its entrance. The actual brute force concept of leveling is so ridiculously easy these days, that it's now mostly a question of determining the method you find most pleasant and then going out and doing it.

Some things to keep in mind as far as experience gain goes:

Your heirloom items that you purchased during Wrath will no longer scale or grant experience buffs after level 79. Once you hit level 80, bank them and move on to normal gear upgrades. Rest experience still doubles your experience gains from kills and gathering nodes, but if you started leveling your mage immediately upon the release of Cataclysm, you don't have any of it saved up. If you're not currently playing your mage, first of all, what's wrong with you? And secondly, at least make sure he's logged out in a major city or inn somewhere so that when you get to him, he's got a bunch of rest accrued.

And last of all, once you hit level 80, you can no longer gain any worthwhile experience from doing things in Northrend. If you were thinking about skipping the starter area crowds and instead doing Wrath dailies to level your mage, you will only be gaining 10% of the normal experience you would gain from similarly leveled content in the new Cataclysm areas. So make sure that the moment you hit level 80, you move on posthaste to Vashj'ir or Hyjal.

Leveling specs

Now you may be looking here for actual specs, wherein I link you to Wowhead's talent calculator and you can just copy past the command line from there into the game and not have to actually pay attention to how you're speccing. If that's the case, I apologize for the disappointment I have caused you.

Here's the thing: With these redesigned talent trees, there simply aren't any truly bad talents any more. Anything you decide to take will have some real, tangible benefit to you, if it suits your style of play and current leveling needs. And no matter how you spec your mage, chances are good that you'll be respeccing them come level 85 anyway. When speccing for leveling, don't look at your choices based upon maximizing your raid DPS, because you won't be doing that until you hit max level. Take each talent on its own merits and evaluate its worth to you based upon how you play. Is Blast Wave something you'll be using as you move throughout this brave new world? Is Molten Fury all that important to you outside of boss fights? How cool would having Improved Blink be when you're in a place where you can't mount up and want to get from point A to point B with speed, style and a little flash?

The same principle applies to gylphing, enchanting, and gemming. Take what you want at the time, and don't bother taking the best in slot, because not only are you going to want different things at level 85 than you will at 82, you're also going to be replacing gear at a ridiculous clip. Focus on your current needs, and leave the rest for later.

Bottom line: There is no right or wrong way to spec while leveling. You're going to be getting five more talent points as you level through these new zones. Put them wherever the hell you want them to go and we'll revisit this topic as soon as I stop writing this column and get my mage to level 85.

Gear replacement

We'll go more in-depth into this topic at some future date, but here are some basics to keep in mind as you start to see some of this ridiculous new gear that drops in these new zones.

Gear type is easy for mages; we wear cloth because we have to. Also because it's sexy. The problem you're going to begin running into almost immediately is this: A massive chunk of the new caster gear you'll be seeing isn't made for mages. It seems that the developers have forgotten that mages, as a class, have absolutely zero need for spirit. And so very, very much of the gear out there is lousy with it. You'll complete a quest, and sitting there, taunting you, is a Staff of Ungodly Magical Magehood. It looks like mage gear. It smells like mage gear. It has gigantic heaps of intellect, crit, haste, mastery and whatnot. It's streets ahead of even your tier 10 awesomesauce stuff you squeezed out of the Lich King himself. But then you look a little closer and realize that there below the intellect, smeared across your shiny new loot like the poop that escapes my kid's diaper and goes up his back sometimes after my wife transfers Mexican food to him through her breast milk, is a steaming mass of spirit. It just sits there, stinking up what was an otherwise awesome piece of caster gear.

I'm through complaining -- but holy crap, guys. Even the classes that like spirit don't want that much of it on their gear. As a mage, we want to be on the lookout for the occasional drop or quest reward that has a base of intellect and stamina, but also has secondary stats that are a combination of crit, haste, spellpower (on weapons only), or mastery. No spirit. Spirit ruins the item for us.

The good news is that even with the relative rarity of true mage gear, you'll still manage to find quality upgrades early and fairly often, even in some of the very first quests you complete. Keep a special eye out for trinkets, as there are some unequivocally incredible ones to be had out there. You may find you want to keep an inferior piece around longer than you might otherwise, to avoid breaking a set and losing a set bonus or to keep an especially epic trinket's effect, but even those will fall by the wayside long before you make it to the new max level.

New spells

Level 81 brings you your first new spell, and it's a doozy. Flame Orb is a new type of spell, unique among every other class and spec. Casting it instantly conjures a giant flaming ball of kickassery that isn't targeted but instead moves along a straight line, doing damage to the closest mob to it, at a generous per-second clip. After 15 seconds, the orb terminates, and if you're a fire mage with Fire Power, it then explodes, doing a bunch more damage to anything standing nearby.

It isn't an AoE spell in the sense that it does not hit multiple enemies at once. The damage it does during its 15-second lifespan is all to the enemy closest to it, though it will switch targets as it moves beyond one target and closer to another. Best used as a fire-and-forget, single-target spell you cast at something before winding up your normal opening spell, it does a very respectable amount of damage, even taking the long cooldown into account. It isn't a game-changing spell by any means, but it is fun to cast and is one more tool in our toolbox. It works for all mages but really shines when unleashed by a fire mage.

At level 83, we get Ring of Frost. This is a powerful new area of effect control spell that every mage will benefit from having access to. It places a 10-yard circle of frost on the ground at a location of your choosing, taking 3 seconds to fully form and lasting for 12 seconds. Any mobs that enter this circle will become frozen, rooted in place, for 10 seconds. This is pretty awesome. It's incredibly handy for controlling large pulls and actually generates DPS for frost mages, in that it is one more way to place frozen status upon enemies, thus allowing your spells to benefit from Shatter.

Level 85 brings us everybody's favorite Bloodlust clone: Time Warp. It increases the raid's casting and attack speed by 30 percent for 40 seconds. Because it shares a raid-wide, 10-minute cooldown during which casting Bloodlust, Heroism, or Time Warp is impossible, this basically acts as a second raid haste buff for groups that don't have a shaman, or groups that have a dead shaman, or groups that have a shaman who would rather concentrate on healing or whatever than buff the raid, or groups that just want to do the Time Warp again. Whatever the case, it's nice to be able to bring one more solid piece of raid utility to the table.

Where to level

Now that you have a general overview of the leveling experience, you may be wondering where to go at what level. Fear not, Arcane Brilliance has a handy list of zones and levels for your convenience, and rest assured that mages are welcome everywhere.
  • Level 80: Mount Hyjal and Vashj'ir These are the two equally entry-level starter zones, and you should pick Hyjal if you want to see Deathwing right away or Vashj'ir if you want to ride a shark. Either of these zones should get you to at least level 82.
  • Level 82: Deepholm Take a trip down into the Maelstrom at this point and kill a bunch of awesome stuff. I'm going to be increasingly vague from this point on to avoid too much spoilery stuff.
  • Level 83: Uldum Old. Sandy. Mass gnome-killing.
  • Level 84: Twilight Highlands The first thing I'm going to do here is fly down into the Maw of Madness and rescue Boba Fett. That guy deserves better.
Everything about the questing and zone progression in this expansion is organized so much better than we're used to. You'll get plenty of direction from multiple sources as to where you need to go and what to do when you get there; it's kind of ridiculous. You'll walk into a new area, and the game will just hand you a quest. "Here you go," says the game, "have a new way to get free experience for doing stuff you were probably going to do anyway." "Thanks, game," you say, then immediately begin to wonder if the fact that you are now having an active, two-way conversation with your computer means you are crazy or just means you are the greatest nerd ever.

And that marks the end of this little leveling guide. Now to go back and rewrite my rewrites of all of the other mage leveling guides for all of the other level brackets ...

Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent Cataclysm 101 guide for new mages or our mage Thanksgiving spectacular. Until next week, keep the mage-train a-rollin'.
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