The idea of leveling is a simple one. You need experience to get to the next level. That’s it.
To that end, the most efficient leveling comes from being able to kill monsters rapidly, with as little “downtime” as possible. Downtime here defined as time forced to spend recuperating mana or some other resource.
For mages, this means that the choice of a leveling spec is basically between deep fire and deep frost. Sadly, anything arcane has to offer from a leveling sense, the other two do better, usually several times over.
With the exception of Arcane Concentration. That talent is awesome, and highly recommended for any leveling build.
Before we get started here, I’d like to point out the following:
Frost has become the best tree for leveling purposes.
I know, I know, and I’m sorry to the advocates of the other trees. But really, did you still think it was a contest? Leveling is all about mana efficiency and killing monsters as fast as possible without getting killed yourself.
So here we have the most mana efficient tree, with the most powerful snares in the game, it’s offensive talents have been conveniently reworked to cost less talent points, it has the most powerful defensive spells, and now it has a stun. There’s really no competition to that.
What follows is a general guide to the ins and outs of mage leveling. There are separate articles for the particulars of leveling fire and frost, with recommended talent specs to go with them. Note recommended, they are specs I think are the “best” for efficient leveling. If you have your own ideas, want to try arcane, maybe do a frost AoE build, go for it.
What’s stopping you? Some devilishly handsome troll mage on the intarwebs? I wouldn’t listen to him, if I were you. You can’t trust handsome trolls. Really.
Always always always have your buffs up. You can have both Arcane Intellect and Frost Armor on right from the start, make sure you always have those up. Once you get Dampen Magic at level 12, keep that up at all times as well. Use a macro if you have to.
/castsequence reset=10 Arcane Intellect,Frost Armor,Dampen Magic
Feel free to replace the reset number with basically any random number, so long as it is greater than the period of time it takes you to cast the buffs in the first place. Replace the name of the Armor spell as needed for whatever it is you’re doing.
Speaking of armors, you’ll have to use the Frost/Ice version until level 34, when you gain access to Mage Armor. Generally speaking, if you have issues kiting, you’ll want to continue using Ice Armor at that point, although you should feel ashamed for doing so. SHAME!
Mage Armor helps you level far better than Ice Armor does. While the amount of mana you get back is very dependent on the amount of spirit you have, any mana regeneration is better than no mana regeneration. The snare it provides is utterly obsolete by level 20, so it’s not like you’ll miss it or anything.
The choice between Mage Armor and Molten Armor is significantly more difficult, and will be a decision that depends on the gear and spec you are sporting. Consider:
Fire benefits substantially from Molten Armor, in that the tree does not have a “Shatter” mechanic that both the frost and arcane tree can rely on. However, fire is also very expensive, and stands to benefit greatly from using Mage Armor.
Frost has the best critical strike mechanics from a leveling perspective, in that they are largely controlled and easy to take advantage of. The gains Molten Armor provides are, relatively, minimal. On the flip side of that, having greater base critical strike chance can eliminate the need to rely entirely on Shatter combos.
I mean, frost is already the most mana efficient tree, especially when combined with Arcane Concentration, that getting more mana regeneration could very well be pointless. Then again, having more mana regeneration could very well render the need to stop and drink a thing of the past.
You see the dilemma.
Generally speaking: mana issues? Grab a couple things with spirit on it and get Mage Armor up. Things not dying as fast as you like? Throw up Molten Armor and enjoy some extra crits.
General Battle Strategy
You should be starting all fights from as far back as your main nuke allows. Keep your opponent at range as much as possible. As a basic example: cast frostbolt a few times until the mob reaches you. Hit frost nova. Run away. Cast another frostbolt or two. When the mob falls over, repeat.
When fighting a caster mob, use the tools you have to keep yourself from harm. Use shields and wards when you have them, and do not hesitate to use Counterspell. Mobs are stupider than human players, and will often stand around looking confused for a few seconds when countered.
Mana Shield, however stupid it may be in end game content, is a great tool for avoiding spell pushback and damage while leveling. Use when fighting mobs that attack from range when you have no other way to avoid pushback. Fire is generally fine without it once Burning Soul has been maxed, and frost can deal with it by using Icy Veins. Pre-Ice Barrier, however, you will need to bring Mana Shield into use to avoid senseless pushback.
Use Polymorph liberally. The vast majority of things you need to kill while leveling are sheepable, it lasts a long time, and does not suffer from DR as it does in PvP. You first get it at level 8, and it lasts 20 seconds. There is a lot you can do in 20 seconds: run away, first aid, kill some other mobs, or make some food like in those commercials depicting inexplicably cheerful moms using a microwave.
Avoid using Blink and Frost Nova at the same time. They are separate escape abilities and should be used as such. It is a really bad habit to have if you plan on doing PvP at any time. Consider them mutually exclusive.
You learn how to summon water and food very early on. Make enough to last you for some time; at least one stack of each. Feel free to delete them if you need room for loot, they aren’t hard to replace.
Speaking of Food…
Food and water concerns get easier as you progress in level. At first, when you first get a new rank in Conjure Food/Water, you can only summon two of each at a time. This doesn’t change until level 60, when you can finally summon ten of each in one go. This, too, becomes outdated at level 75, when you can conjure a pie that restores both health and mana, and it conjures at 20 per cast. Just hang in there… the time and inventory space you use for refreshment will shrink as things move along.
Drink prematurely. You never know when something is going to go wrong. Try to figure out how much mana you need to kill a mob, and never enter combat with anything less than double that amount. Try to save potions for emergencies.
You get your first mana gem a level 28. Always have a mana gem on you; however, unlike potions, use them liberally. Mana gems are free, potions will either cost you or be unreliable. Hence, better to hold on to them for emergencies. You only need one emergency mana resource, and potions fill that need very well.
You get Evocation at level 20. Feel free to use this liberally as well. It is a significant source of mana, and it can cut out a lot of downtime due to mana concerns. However, hold it in reserve if you are heading into an area that carries a very distinct possibility of going to hell. An area with a lot of mobs close together, an area with a lot of patrols moving around, that type of thing.
Speaking of Food…
Food and water concerns get easier as you progress in level. At first, when you first get a new rank in Conjure Food/Water, you can only summon two of each at a time. This doesn’t change until level 60, when you can finally summon ten of each in one go. This, too, becomes outdated at level 75, when you can conjure a pie that restores both health and mana, and it conjures at 20 per cast.
Get your teleports as soon as they become available. It might be a hassle to run around and get them all from the start, but it is well worth it in the long run. Try to save up cash so you can buy your mounts right as they become available. Again, it is well worth it to do so. Senseless travel time is the hugest liability to your leveling, eliminating as much of that as possible is only a plus.
LEVEL 20 (Portals to these available at level 40)
Exodar, Ironforge, Stormwind.
Orgrimmar, Silvermoon, Undercity.
LEVEL 30 (Portals to these available at level 50)
LEVEL 35 (teleport and portal)
*This one you can skip for the time being, if you really want to. They can squash some travel time, if you are questing in areas close to them. Horde, at least, should look into getting Stonard fairly early, as it allows rapid access to Outland once you hit 58*
LEVEL 60 (Portal at level 65)
Well worth the early run to Shattrath to nab the teleport. You get new abilities every level, and while it is easy to get back to your trainers, it is not easy to return to Outland from them. Portals, once again, make it easy. Remember to grab all the flight paths when running to Shattrath.
LEVEL 71 (Portal at level 74)
A reward from a very easy quest (unless you are an arcane mage), this allows access to Dalaran much earlier than any other class. And hey, the only trainers in Dalaran just happen to be mage trainers.
Usually it is best to accommodate those who track you down and demand food, water, or teleports. Like it or not, it is something we are expected to do for the community.
Don’t ask for a tip; say “thanks” if you get one; say “you’re welcome” if you don’t and put them on ignore. You don’t need to explain yourself to idiots who don’t understand the basics of courtesy, and it is not your job to teach them. Guild mates and friends are typically exempt from this, unless you are a bastard.
Be liberal with Arcane Intellect. Throw it at every mana user that you meet out in the world. You’ll usually get some pleasant buffs back. No, it is not a sin to track down paladins and offer them a tip for a Greater Blessing. Hell, bring a stack of King Symbols with you to trade with Paladins you meet.
*Note: buffing people who are flagged for PvP will flag you as well.*
Have a plan to kill everyone you meet.