Should you play a mage in WoW?

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Should you play a mage in WoW?
World of Warcraft has been around for so long that it can be a bit daunting to get started. What server do you roll on? What faction should you pick? What class should you choose -- and how will you know if the choice you make, on a whim, during character creation will result in something you'll want to play at level 90? While server and faction are mostly a matter of where your friends are playing, class is a question we can help you figure out.

Experienced WoW players, this guide is probably not for you -- but for newbies, we'll try to help point you towards the class that's the best fit for your playstyle by giving you a detailed overview of what classes are like. Today, we're talking about mages, who unleash elemental and arcane magics on their foes. These powerful abilities come at a cost: mages can only wear light cloth armor, which can leave them vulnerable to physical attack. But if you're interested in wielding the powers of magic to devastate your enemies -- from a safe distance -- the mage may be just the class for you.

Just what is a mage?
Mages do only one thing, but they do it very well: ranged magical damage. Like most of WoW's classes, mages use mana to fuel their abilities. Without mana, a mage has little in the way of offensive or defensive capabilities, so prospective mass should be prepared to keep a careful eye on their mana pool. Beyond straight-up, single-target damage -- in fire, frost, and arcane forms -- mages also have access to a lot of handy abilities, like:
  • Area of effect spells, which cause damage to multiple monsters in a specific area
  • Crowd control using Polymorph to turn humanoids and beasts into harmless sheep as well as frost spells to slow and freeze enemies
  • Teleportation and portals to transport themselves or groups to major cities
  • Conjuring food and drink, either for themselves or for an entire group
As we mentioned before, mages can be vulnerable to attack because of the light armor they wear, meaning that they rely on their high damage output and their abilities to control and slow their enemies in order to bring them down before they can score a single hit. Mages are experts at kiting monsters -- drawing them out like a kite on a string, but never letting them get close enough to attack -- using frost spells to slow or freeze an opponent, Blink to quickly gain distance, and Polymorph to render their target harmless while they get away (or kill another target).

These abilities don't, however, make mages invulnerable. If an enemy gets in close, Frost Armor and Frost Nova can help give a mage time to get away while Blink lets them cover distance fast. But it's not a playstyle for everyone: juggling all of a mage's abilities (and vulnerabilities) can definitely prove a challenge. Whether that challenge sounds like fun or frustration, though, is up to you.

Because they specialize in magic, mages can wield few weapons: only wands, daggers, one-handed swords, staves, and off-hand items (no off-hand weapons of any kind). A mage will primarily want to use these to supplement their stats rather than increase their damage, though low level mages may find a wand invaluable to supplement their damage when they're low on mana.

Would-be mages have a lot of race options, as the class is available to every race save tauren. So your choice is between human, dwarf, night elf, gnome, draenei, worgen, pandaren, orc, undead, troll, blood elf, and goblin. If you're dead set on playing a tauren, then you might consider an elemental shaman or balance druid instead. For everyone else, pick the race that most appeals to you -- though the gnome's racial bonus of +5% intellect can come in handy for shoring up your mana pool.

A world of magical options
Most classes we've talked about can fill several different roles in combat, with talent specializations focused on different roles. Mages, who can only fill the role of DPS, have three talent specializations that tweak the way they dish out hurt on their targets. Here are your specialization options, as described by Blizzard:
  • Arcane: Manipulate the arcane, destroying enemies with overwhelming power.
  • Fire: Ignite enemies with balls of fire and combustive flames.
  • Frost: Freezes enemies in their tracks and shatters them with Frost magic.
Whichever spec you choose has a major impact on your playstyle -- perhaps more than any other class due to mage's heavy reliance on their spellbook. Arcane mages will be casting Arcane Blast and Arcane Missiles; fire mages will be using Pyroblast and Fireball; and frost mages will be using Frostbolt and their Water Elemental. Each of these specs has their benefits and all can be used by a leveling mage -- though anyone with a fondness for kiting will particularly appreciate frost's abilities to freeze and slow enemies. But in short: pick a specialization that seems interesting to you and go for it.

Who should (and shouldn't) play a mage?
We're fans of mages, but we have to admit the class isn't for everyone.You might want to play a mage if:
  • You're a fan of the traditional magical caster class, WoW's mage fits the archetype.
  • You like dishing out tons of damage, whether arcane, fire, or frost.
  • You like kiting, mages do it as well or better than any class in the game.
And you might not like mages if:
  • You don't like playing a fragile, glass-canon style character. Unfortunately, that's exactly what WoW mages are. If you want a caster that's more durable, consider warlock, elemental shaman, or balance druid.
  • You want to do something beyond magic or beyond DPS. Sorry, but mages are a single-role class.
  • You hate being asked to conjure things or open portals for players. If you're a mage, you can get these requests frequently and not everyone is polite about making them.

Want to know more about mages?
If we've piqued your curiosity and you want to learn more, here are some great resources: If you've decided mage just isn't the class for you, don't fret: there are plenty of other options! Be sure to check out our guide to druids, hunters, monks, paladins, priests, rogues, and warlocks -- and look for more newbie class coverage showing up soon!

Just because you're a newbie doesn't mean you can't bring your A-game to World of Warcraft! Visit the WoW Rookie Guide for links to everything you need to get started as a new player, from the seven things every newbie ought to know to how to get started as a healer or as a tank.
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