Mage Leveling Part I: Beginning
In sticking with my normal routine here, I’m going to break the Mage leveling down into smaller blocks rather than lumping them all together. I already have a Mage sitting at level 80 that I have not bothered to play in about eight months, and I am currently leveling another mage on my wife’s Alliance server, Durotan-US.
I posted a while back about grinding rep grinding on my mage and getting Exalted with Darnassus at level 31, but I have not yet covered the process of leveling the character.
If you took the time to look at my post on Motivations Assessments then you’ll see that I’m a mechanics-driven guy. I like to plan out my character before I even bother rolling him. I like to know my spec, my gear, professions, where I’m going to level, instances I want to run, recipes or mats that need to be farmed to make them better or help ease a hard task, or whatever.
Part of that whole process of planning out my characters generally involves taking a look at information on blogs and on forums. I like to get a general idea of what other people are doing in case a change that I missed or had forgotten about has changed how something works or in case I just don’t know how to play the class or build to begin with. For the most part, the information I find there is useful, but there’s one big exception that just really bothers me: Frost Mages.
A lot of what you see on the Frost Mage is actually useful, it just isn’t as useful as it could be. Everywhere you look for information on the Frost Mage and how to level with them using AoE, you find some very key bits of information that people seem to agree with and support, and yet…they’re wrong.
So not only am I going to be covering the leveling process of the mage in this series, but I am going to dispel some of the many myths concerning Frost Mage leveling like talents and rotations that people tell you to avoid which actually slows down your leveling, what spells you shouldn’t use even though they all say you should, and how to realize that even though you may wear cloth armor your ice is even thicker than plate.
Choosing a Race
Mages have a pretty wide variety of races available to use. Alliance has Human, Gnome, and Draenei while Horde has Troll, Undead, and Blood Elf.
Each of the available races has is pros and cons for the class, and in the overall scheme of things you really can’t go wrong with any of them since the “cons” really make very little difference at all. But, since I did just do a whole series on all of the races, I will actually take the time to point out the pros and cons of each in relation to the Mage class in particular.
Human: High starting Intellect (23) for a large mana pool. Diplomacy to help with Reputation grinding throughout the game, and Every Man For Himself to break you out of snares so you don’t get stuck in melee.
Gnome: Very high starting Intellect (27) plus the Expansive Mind racial bonus gives you the largest starting mana pool in the game. As with the humans, Escape Artist allows you to break snares to prevent being stuck in melee.
Draenei: High starting Intellect (24) for a large mana pool. Gift of the Naaru provides a racial heal that you would otherwise lack, and Heroic Presence helps you hit with your spells more often.
Troll: Below-average starting Intellect (19) gives you the smallest mana pool for a mage, but Berserking gives you 10-30% faster casting time when used.
Undead: Above-average starting Intellect (21) gives you a decent starting mana pool. Cannibalize allows you to restore up to 35% of your health over 10 seconds if you have a dead humanoid body near you.
Blood Elf: Very high starting Intellect (27) gives you the second highest starting mana pool in the game. Arcane Torrent allows you to instantly restore 6% of your total mana every 2 minutes.
As the saying goes, play whatever you want to play. From a purely mechanics stand point, Humans and Gnomes are your best bet for Alliance, and Blood Elves and Undead are the top two for Horde. I personally prefer Human and Undead of all the ones listed.
Mages get tons of spells, and I would expect nothing less from a class of that name. Luckily, the majority of them are actually useful.
Going from Left to Right, Top to Bottom we have the following:
Fireball, Frostbolt, Fire Blast, Frost Nova, Arcane Intellect, Conjure Water, Polymorph, Arcane Missiles
Fireball is your heavy hitter early on and it’s the only offensive spell you start out with. It’s damage is high throughout the entire game, but it has a longer cast time than Frostbolt. It’s a great spell to use for pulling mobs where its long cast time makes little difference.
Frostbolt will be your bread and butter spell during your entire career as a Frost Mage and will be the spell you cast more than any other. It doesn’t hit as hard as Fireball, but it does have a faster cast speed and it slows enemies down as well.
Fire Blast is a great finishing move, your only instant cast spell with decent damage for a single target until higher levels.
Frost Nova is used to freeze the mobs within its radius in place so that they cannot move. Great for both crowd control, offensive, and defensive purposes. It is also a key part of Frost Mage AoE grinding.
Arcane Intellect is your primary buff spell that you should never be without. Trainable at level 1, and provides you with a bonus to your Intellect which means more mana and more spell crit.
Conjure Water is a big gold saver over time and is how you never have to worry about carrying enough water around with you to restore your mana. Cast it when you first log, while you’re standing around chatting with friends, checking your mail, scanning the auction house, etc. Get a stack or two worth of your water and then go about your business. I never have less than a full stack of water and oftentimes have 2 full stacks though I’ll end up using less than a stack during an extended play period.
Polymorph Your primary crowd control used to turn a single target into a harmless animal for 20 seconds. Use it to even the playing field with how many mobs you’re facing, use it to pull, annoy players of the opposing faction, or use it to run away from combat.
Arcane Missiles A channeled spell that does great damage if you manage to get the full channel time out of it, or a huge waste of mana if you are not able to fully channel it. A potentially deadly spell when used in addition to frost spells.
Frostbolt, Fire Blast, Frost Nova, Blizzard, Frost Armor, Evocation, Arcane Explosion, Blink
Nothing new about the first few spells up there.
Blizzard you get at level 20 and it is the key to your AoE grinding. It has a high mana cost, but with its high damage and large radius the cost is well worth it when facing multiple mobs.
Frost Armor you get early on in your playing and though it’s protection does help keep you alive when enemies manage to move within melee range of you, the true beauty of the spell comes when you properly spend your talent points turning it from a purely defensive spell to both offensive and defensive at the same time (more on that in Part II).
Evocation is key to reducing your downtime by allowing you to restore 60% of your total mana over a few seconds. It is a channeled spell so should only be used when you are not getting hit (unless you have no mana and need to get whatever you can). When you use the Glyph of Evocation as well you also restore 60% of your total health over the channeled time as well.
Arcane Explosion an instant cast AoE spell that’s great for finishing off mobs that are low on health. The spell is very taxing on your mana and should not be used any more than you need to, but it is a very helpful spell when utilized correctly.
Blink is a ten yard teleport that can save your life, shorten your travel time, or give you an advantage in combat.
Alliance (left column): Stormwind, Iron Forge, Exodar
Horde (right column): Orgrimmar, Undercity, Silvermoon
Each of these spells is gained at level 20 for your respective faction, allowing you to teleport yourself to the respective city. At higher levels you will be able to open portals allowing your party members to travel to the chosen city as well.
Leveling 1-6: Starting Zone
Rotation Option 1: Fireball, Frostbolt, Frostbolt, Frostbolt, Frostbolt
Rotation Option 2: Fireball, Frostbolt, Fireball, Fireball, Frostbolt
Rotation Option 3: Fireball, Fireball, Fireball, Fireball, Fireball
Explanation: You start out with just Fireball and Frost Armor, with Arcane Intellect being trainable for 9 copper at level 1 as well. Initially you’ll just Fireball the snot out of everything until it’s dead. Fireball hits harder than Frostbolt, but it also has a higher mana cost and a longer cast time as well. I stick to Rotation 1, personally. But you don’t get Frostbolt until level 4 so for the first few levels you have no option other than #3.
Frost Armor is a decent armor buff for you and it slows mobs down when they hit you. It’s not really necessary to have it on at this low level because nothing has a chance of killing you anyway, but it will save your life later on so you might as well get used to having it on at all times. Arcane Intellect is trainable at level 1, so as soon as you have a few coppers in your belt pouch go grab that for +3 Int, which equates to +45 mana, which at this level is an additional 2 spells worth of mana.
If you know how to kite, then you may want to start practicing your kiting while using Frostbolt. Basically you cast the spell and wait for it to leave your hand, and the second it does so you start moving away from your target. The idea is to use the slowing effect of Frostbolt to constantly keep yourself out of your opponent’s reach. If you’re a kiting veteran you can pretty easily make it all the way through level 6 and out of your starting zone without ever taking a single point of damage.
Leveling 6-12: Surrounding Map
Rotation Option 1: Frostbolt, Frostbolt, Frostbolt, Fire Blast
Rotation Option 2: Fireball, Frostbolt, Frostbolt, Frostbolt
Rotation Option 3: Frostbolt, Arcane Missiles, Fireblast, Wand
Explanation: At level 6 you get Fire Blast, and at level 8 Arcane Missiles. Both of them are often considered to cost more mana than they are worth, though Arcane Missiles is more accepted now than it was in previous patches.
This is the level bracket where you find a lot of different advice on what sort of spells you should be casting. A lot of mages like to keep using Fireball as their pulling spell and then move into Frostbolts, but I personally step away from using Fireball at this level and don’t bother going back unless I’m bored and just want to change things up a bit.
I use Fire Blast from level 6 all the way through level 80, it’s my finishing move, it’s something I use to pull when I’m AoE grinding, it’s constantly on my bar bound to my 4-key and it never leaves. Some people don’t like it, some think it’s mana cost is too high or it’s damage is too low, but regardless of what their opinion is I think it’s a wonderful spell.
Rotation 3 up there is one that I never bothered with before but found to be extremely effective this time around. Arcane Missiles is a channeled spell that shoots out little purple missiles at the chosen mob. It’s an expensive spell, but as long as you get to channel the whole thing then you pretty well get your money’s worth. If you don’t get to use the full channel time then it’s a definite mana drain and not worth the cost. I found though that I was able to use Frostbolt once, follow it up immediately with Arcane Missiles, and by the time the channel was up the mob was either already dead or within a single Fire Blast or one shot from my wand away from dying.
Level 10 is where you get one of your primary spells for the rest of the game, Frost Nova. When you first get it the main benefit that you get from it is just keeping mobs from closing into melee range with you while you back away, but later on it’s going to provide you with the foundation of your AoE grinding as well as significantly increasing both your chance to crit and the amount of damage that you deal when you crit due to the talent points that you invest.
I also want to point out that level 12 is when you can learn Slow Fall. This is one of the best utility spells in the game if you take the time to learn how to make use of it. I get the minor glyph for this spell at level 15 and it never gets changed. It can save your life in both PvE and PvP, it can save you time and effort when you’re traveling, it can screw with other players if you feel so inclined, etc. There are a lot of uses for this spell, and regardless of it being utility rather than dps or defense, it’s one of my favorite spells in the game from any class.
Leveling 12-20: Secondary Zone
Rotation Option 1: Frostbolt, Frostbolt, Frostbolt, Fire Blast
Rotation Option 2: Fireball, Frostbolt, Frostbolt, Frostbolt
Rotation Option 3: Frostbolt, Arcane Missiles, Fireblast, Wand
Explanation: Basically the same as before.
You don’t see a whole lot of changes in what you do or in what spells are available during these levels, so it’s pretty much more of the same thing.
At level 14 you are introduced to Arcane Explosion which is a decent AoE spell that is centered around the caster, but it is also one of the worst mana draining spells you get throughout the entire game. It does go on my primary action bar and it does stay there the entire game, but it only gets used in specific situations. The damage on it is not great, so I tend to use it either to pull multiple mobs at a time or to finish off mobs that are low on health and other spells like Fire Blast are on cooldown. After I start AoE grinding, I often use Arcane Explosion to finish off the group of mobs when their health is low enough that casting a second Blizzard is a waste.
At level 16 your Arcane Missiles reaches Rank 2 and gets a pretty significant boost in damage. I actually used Rotation 3 to kill a lot of mobs at this level just because I did not expect it to be nearly as effective as it was and I was surprised by that compared to when I leveled my previous mage. I pretty well stop using Arcane Missiles at level 20 in all things except pvp.
Find a rotation that works for you during these levels and stick to it. A big part of being a mage involves spamming the same buttons over and over until things die. Adding kiting and other forms of movement into your combat does a lot for keeping the mage an interesting class to play and helping you be ready to react to whatever situation you might find yourself in. Nothing sucks more than plinking off a single mob only to find another mob walk up and agro you from behind. Getting used to being able to move on the fly early on will end up saving your life later in the game. It helps to always be aware of your surroundings.
After you hit level 20 you finally find yourself able to AoE grind effectively and much of your world begins to change as you find out that you go from spamming a couple of keys to kill a single mob turns into casting a handful of spells to kill an entire group of them.
There are a lot of different tactics that you can employ as a Frost Mage. Frost Mages have more potential for crowd control than any other class. Your primary spells slow down your targets and after spending talent points even have the chance of freezing them in place all together. You have Polymorph that allows you to change a target into a harmless animal for a time, and spells such as Blink (level 20) allow you to move around the field faster than your opponents.
Kiting is a great tactic to use for any class that can actually do it, and only a Hunter has the potential to kite mobs better than a Mage. Practice kiting early on and get used to using it.
Prior to level 20 your options for taking on multiple mobs at once are fairly limited, but you do have some options. If you know that you are going to pull multiple mobs whether you want to or not, likely because the mobs are right next to each other, then the best way to take on those mobs is to cast Frostbolt on the target that you want to kill first and as soon as you start casting the spell go ahead and click on the other mob to target him as we get ready to use a crowd control spell on it.
I use the Quartz addon to tell me when I can start casting another spell but if you don’t have access to an addon like that then just start spamming the button for your next cast which will be a crowd control spell. If you have Polymorph already, then that’s the spell to cast on that second mob and as soon as you start casting it you need to retarget the original mob. By doing this you are going to slow down the first mob by hitting them with Frostbolt (if it misses, it misses, just go with the flow), the second mob is going to agro you as soon as your Frostbolt hits/misses that first mob and come running after you. Before he takes more than a couple of steps though he’s going to get hit with your crowd control which essentially takes him out of the fight until the spell wears off which should be more than enough for you to kill the first mob.
After the crowd control hits it’s time to focus fire on the first target and take them out. If you managed to start this type of battle off from a distance, which you should have unless you had no other option, then it’s likely that using this method along with some amount of kiting will allow you to take out both mobs without taking any damage yourself. Another option you can consider in this type of battle is to go ahead and use Frost Nova when the first mob starts to get within range of you. You can then spend a few seconds running away from the first mob and then turning back around to Frostbolt them again before they are able to start moving.
Facing melee mobs is your specialty and where you can really show overwhelming strength because of your many slowing and freezing spells. Caster mobs are slightly harder since they are going to hit you just as much as you hit them, but that’s where a couple of your other spells come into play, primarily Dampen Magic (which lowers the amount of damage you take from spells) and Counterspell (which stops a spell from being cast), though you will have to wait a few levels before these are made available to you.
Because the mage has so many spells that he can use, and all of them have their various uses, I use a lot of macros when playing a mage. Some of them are just for saving space, some are for being able to change from one type of damage to another for when you find thing like elemental that are immune to your main damage type.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts before, I have a standard that I follow when setting up my action bars so that similar spells from each class can be found on the same keys. So when I’m in the habit of playing my mage and then step over to playing my paladin I don’t end up casting the wrong spells just because my fingers want to react a certain way.
The first Mage Macro that I make is a simple one for Fireball:
At level 4 I add a similar macro for Frostbolt:
After I get more levels and decide to remove Fireball from my normal rotation I replace both of those with a single macro instead:
/cast [modifier:alt] Fireball; Frostbolt
The macro above will cast Frostbolt by default, but will change to Fireball if I hold Alt when I cast the spell.
Macros like the one above are time savers and space savers (the third option is anyway). They set your character to attack the target with your melee weapon and then start casting a spell. The benefit of that is that you will attack the mob when they get within melee range when you aren’t casting a spell. It also helps you to target mobs without having to click on them or tab to start off as it will auto-target the nearest mob that is in front of you and within range if you do not already have a target selected.
Talent Points and Glyphs: Level 10-20
This is the talent build that I recommend for leveling with your Frost Mage up to level 20. As you progress higher in your levels a lot of the talents that are only getting some points right now will be capped and some talents that are being skipped now will be filled in. Frost Mages get a lot of use out of their talent tree.
3/3 Frostbite: Gives all of your Frost spells a 5/10/15% chance to freeze the target in place for 5 seconds.
2/3 Ice Flows: Reduces the cooldown of Frost Nova, Cone of Cold, Ice Block, and Icy Veins by 7/14%.
3/3 Ice Shards: Increases the critical hit damage of your Frost spells by 33/66/100%.
2/3 Precision: Reduces the mana cost and improves the hit chance of all spells by 1/2%.
1/3 Improved Blizzard: Adds a chill effect to your Blizzard spell reducing the target’s speed by 25% for 1.5 seconds.
Frostbite is the most controversial of these talent points and the one that most guides tell you to avoid when trying to AoE grind with your Frost Mage. Where they feel that it can ruin their pulls, I’m here to tell you that it’s going to save your life as well as help you kill faster which reduces the mana you have to spend and because of that reduce your downtime. Ice Flows reduces the cooldown of some of your most beneficial spells which also reduces your down time.
Ice Shards is going to double the amount of damage that you deal with your Frost spells when you crit. At this level that’s just a nice little bonus when you manage to crit, but in a few levels you are going to greatly increase your chance to get crits with spells while your target is frozen (which is why Frostbite is especially powerful in AoE grinding). Precision gives you a better chance to hit which is always nice, but it also reduces the mana cost of all of your spells so that you can keep on grinding for longer periods of time. The 3% reduction might not be all that significant, but it’s going to add up over time.
Improved Blizzard is going to add a chill effect when it hits which will make your AoE grinding that much more effect, and it will give Blizzard more chances to proc Frostbite on the target which will freeze them in place, which in turn will give Shatter (the talent that increase crit chance on frozen targets I mentioned above) a chance to proc, which then gives you the benefit of doubled crit damage from Ice Shards.
As I said before, you will be filling out these talent points as you gain more levels, so do not worry too much right now about the fact that you are leaving some of them incomplete.
Glyphs for Leveling
Mages have a decent number of glyphs to choose from, and most of them are actually pretty good. Some of them are crap, which is the case for all classes.
You get both a Major and Minor glyph slot when you hit level 15 with any character. I personally start off with the following Glyphs:
Glyph of Frost Nova [Major] Increases the amount of damage that a target can take before breaking the freeze effect of Frost Nova by 20%.
Glyph of Evocation [Major] Also grants you 60% of your total health over the channeled time of your Evocation spell.
Glyph of Slowfall [Minor] Removes the reagent requirement of the Slowfall spell.
Glyph of Frost Nova is going to help you to some extent prior to level 20. It is not a great glyph that you will use throughout your entire career, but it will help give you better control while leveling. I use this glyph when I hit 15 and I replace it with Evocation when I get to level 20. If you don’t feel like wasting the glyph then you can either wait or use another one in its place, or if you’d like you can use it instead of Evocation.
Glyph of Evocation changes the spell so that you restore 60% of both your health and mana over the channel duration. Being able to restore 60% of both every 3 minutes is huge for reducing your down time and it can be used in the middle of combat just as easily as it can between pulls. You can use it after casting Frost Nova or Polymorph to allow you to regain most of your health and mana in the middle of a big fight, a bad pull, or when an unexpected enemy paths into you in the middle of a fight. I use this glyph at level 20 and keep it there until I get close to level 80.
Another option that is open to you for your Major glyph is the Glyph of Frostbolt which increases the damage of Frostbolt by 5%. The down side of the glyph is that it also removes the chill effect of Frostbolt, which is one of the primary reasons for using it in the first place. I do not suggest the glyph, but if you find that dealing more damage is more important to you than controlling your targets then it is a good replacement when fighting single mobs.
Most of the Mage’s minor glyphs suck pretty bad. Some increase spell durations, some reduce mana costs, and others have no effect on the game (such as the Glyph of Penguin).
I personally pick Slowfall because I use the spell constantly. Slowfall can save you travel time, can save you from a fall that would have otherwise killed you, or it can be used to great benefit in PvP. Taking away the reagent requirement for the spell allows you to cast it whenever you want to for nothing more than its low mana cost. At this level of play I would not consider any other minor glyph to be more valuable.
Gearing Up for Spellcasting
Your primary stat is, was, and forever will be – Spell Power. It’s the bread and butter of everything you do. If your damage sucks then you suck, so stack this whenever you can.
Next in line is going to be Intellect for your mana pool and spell crit. If you don’t have mana then you aren’t going anywhere except to the spirit healer. A tank needs plate armor (or thick fur) to survive, and you need mana. It doesn’t matter how much health you have or how much damage you can deal if you don’t have the mana to put any of your spells to use.
A lot of other things can help you as well, Stamina for health, Hit so that your spells actually do what they are intended to do, Crit to make those spells hit even harder, and so on. That’s where you should be looking after Spell Power and Intellect are covered.
Tailoring is a great source of gear throughout the various levels, especially if you plan on solo questing and solo AoE grinding your way to the top. You can generally find better gear in instances than you can from tailoring when you are starting out, but you can certainly weave that cloth to fill in any gaps you might have.
Whether you use a staff or you go with a one handed weapon and an off hand item is mostly up to you. Use whatever will give you better stats overall and go with it. Typically the low level staffs will be better than other options, but just use whatever you have on hand that provides the most benefit.
Keep a close eye on wands that are available to you and be sure to get one as soon as possible. You can equip the lowest level wand in the game at level 5 and it’s basically a free source of ranged damage. A lot of wands, starting in your teen levels also have other stats on them if you are willing to look around a bit to find them.