The problem, really, is that in this calm before the Cataclysm, we have two distinct sets of stat weights to sort out: level 80 stats and level 85 stats. What your mage needs right now to down the Lich King for the 25th time is significantly different from what he'll need at level 85 in full mastery gear to run Cataclysm heroic 5-mans. All the numbers we've got coming out of the beta don't really help us in this final stage of the Wrath cycle. Our stats, our talents, our spells, our basic class design philosophy -- all of those things are balanced around level 85, not 80.
Still, there are some constants that almost everybody can agree on.
This is still our first priority. Nothing increases your raid DPS faster than reaching the hit cap. For level 80 spellcasters like ourselves, that cap is 17 percent, which translates into 446 hit rating. You need to get 446 hit rating from somewhere, and you need to get it before you get anything else.
Having said that, once you reach the cap, every point of hit rating beyond that 446 cap is completely wasted. Unlike every other ranged caster class, mages have no talent that converts spirit to hit and no hit-increasing talents of any kind. No matter your spec, you'll need to get 446 points of hit rating from somewhere.
Luckily, hit rating is a secondary stat, meaning you can use reforging to get it. As we'll discuss later, spirit is a completely useless stat for mages now, and you likely have a bunch of it on your gear somewhere. Feel free to reforge every point you can of it into hit rating.
Another good place to obtain extra hit is from Veiled Dreadstones. Put one in every blue slot. If you end up with extra hit, reforge it into something else.
With spellpower as a stand-alone stat all but gone, intellect becomes our pure, stackable DPS stat. It increases your mana pool, spellpower, and spell crit. Once hit is capped, it is the primary stat for mages. All of your gear should have intellect on it in large chunks, and every gem slot should be filled with something that increases it.
For red slots, that means Brilliant Cardinal Rubies. For other slots, just pick some combination of intellect and another stat you need. Veiled Dreadstones work well for blue slots, and Reckless or Potent Ametrines are great for yellow slots. Intellect is simply weighted so much higher than any other stat that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to socket a gem that doesn't give you at least some of it.
Here's where it becomes a bit murky. Some mages are arguing for mastery in this slot, and while mastery is indeed attractive, I'm going to put haste and crit ahead of it. Here's why:
Mastery is going to be awesome. At level 85, it'll likely usurp haste and crit as your secondary stat of choice. But for now, the only way to get it is by reforging another stat into it. The relatively miniscule amount you'll get even from reforging every secondary stat you have simply isn't worth the effort at level 80.
Haste, on the other hand, is a known quantity, and you likely have plenty of it. It does what it says it does, makes your spell casts faster. It also reduces your global cooldown, making instant-casts slightly faster, and increases the speed with which channeled spells play out and (in very large amounts) the rate at which DoT effects tick.
The way it's looking currently, arcane and frost mages will want to prioritize haste over crit, simply because their DPS numbers aren't as reliant on crit frequency as fire's are. It's close, though, and nobody's going to fault a fire mage for wanting a bit more haste. You can get some interesting things to happen with enough haste, including squeezing in an extra tick of Living Bomb before the explosion, but the other stats you have to sacrifice to get to that point may be too much to bear.
This is probably the best secondary stat for fire mages, but you can make a viable argument for it even as a frost or arcane mage. We still don't have quite enough theorycrafting numbers done on these at level 80 to really make a firm call. With their high dependence upon frequent crits for so many of their talents to be effective, fire mages seem to benefit the most from high crit numbers. Haste is definitely helpful, but crit is probably the better choice.
Mastery is a new stat introduced in patch 4.0.1. The effect of it changes depending on your class and spec. For fire mages, it increases the damage done by your periodic fire spells. For arcane mages, it increases the damage done by that whole mana-adept-doing-more-damage-the-more-mana-you-have-left mechanic. And for frost, it increases the damage you do against frozen targets.
Now, while all of those effects are pretty straightforward DPS increases, the fact remains that mastery is balanced around level 85 numbers, and you simply can't get enough of it at level 80 to make it a priority. My suggestion is that if you are at the hit cap and feel you already have enough haste and crit for your needs, then feel free to reforge a bit of mastery. It isn't going to hurt. But in my opinion -- and keep in mind that the numbers simply aren't complete enough to say anything for certain yet -- you're better off seeking out haste and/or crit than you are squeezing a bit of mastery rating out of your gear.
You simply can't get enough of it now to make a dent.
We talked about this last week, but let me restate as succinctly as I can:
Spirit is a steaming pile of poo.
It's completely worthless to mages now. The sole purpose of it is to increase your out-of-combat mana regen, something you don't need at all. Get rid of as much of it as you can. Any gems you still have that carry a bit of spirit need to be replaced. Any gear you have that has spirit on it is now devalued; reforge the 40 percent you can into something useful, and look to replace said gear with something sans spirit as soon as humanly possible.
We've already mentioned most of the gemming strategies in the text above, but let me put it all together in one place. For now, gemming appears to be quite simple:
Red slots Brilliant Cardinal Ruby, 20 intellect
Blue slots Veiled Dreadstone, 10 intellect/10 hit rating (reforge any extra hit from gear into haste/crit)
Yellow slots Reckless Ametrine, 10 intellect/10 haste rating or Potent Ametrine, 10 intellect/10 crit rating
And there you have it -- and remember that I said quite clearly up front that nobody really knows what they're talking about when it comes to stats yet, least of all me. I'm no theorycrafter. If you want to feel better about things, feel free to plug your mage into Rawr and do what it tells you to do. Don't be surprised to learn, though, that even that venerable program is just as confused as the rest of us right now. By the time we have everything nailed down, the expansion will hit and we'll have to start all over again. For now, just do the best you can and enjoy figuring things out with the rest of us.
I declare the arguments may begin ... now! Remember: Namecalling is frowned upon unless you're arguing with 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 look at how much I hate damage meters or what to expect for mages in patch 4.0.1. Until next week, keep the mage-train a-rollin'.