This article is designed to give a basic overview of the Mage Class and its various specialisations; it is very much an introductory article to being a Mage in Patch 4.2 and is really designed for those who have never really played the class or have not touched it for a long time. Its planned that this will be the first in a series of updated posts for Mages detailing the different specs for both PvE and PvP in Patch 4.2.
Why Play As A Mage?
Playing as a Mage is probably the most fun you can have as a DPS class with your trousers on (and sometimes without, but that depends on personal circumstances). The Mage class has a wide and varied 'box of tricks' which add much need utility to most groups, which are also a boon to you during the levelling process too. The key Mage abilities of reliable and reapplicable Crowd Control, interrupt capability, buff stealing and decursing (yes we can decurse, there are just far too many lazy Mages that don't bother) combined with a strong ability to kick out high DPS means that we are one of the most versatile 'pure' DPS classes in game. Travel in game is also a breeze thanks to the Teleport and Portal spells that allows you and your fellow party members rapid travel to all of the faction and neutral capitals. Oh and we have Bloodlust now... *cough* I mean Time Warp.
In absolute truth, Mages don't require a high level of skill to produce reasonable DPS which makes it a good choice for beginner players; it's pretty much a case of cast spells and watch the nuke. But as you progress in your studies you will find, as with most classes in WoW, that there are additional layers of subtlety that define the differences between ok Mages, good Mages and absolutely awesome Mages. Of course this all boils down to how you approach your spell casting rotation, talent choices, gear choices, knowledge of the mechanics in Boss Encounters and the strategy you should adopt within those encounters. As I said, it doesn't take a lot of skill to produce reasonable DPS, an untrained Mage will do more damage than an untrained Shadow Priest for example, but to really excel at the class? Well that takes practice, knowledge and a willingness to do a little bit of research.
Mages also make a very good PvP class in both the Arena and in Battlegrounds. Frost Mages in particular are extremely versatile in PvP as they have excellent control and good survivability; they are generally overpowered at the lower levels of Arena but this balances out extremely well at the higher end level of play. Their damage is not as high as some other classes but it is still extremely good, particularly if played well, but it is their capability to root other classes then unload a good amount of damage which makes them deadly. Arcane Mages also make good PvP characters; they're much more fragile than Frost Mages and lack the same level of control but they are capable of some truly devasting burst damage due their mechanics. The trick to being an Arcane Mage in is being able to reach your full potential as many classes will seek to lock down an Arcane Mage as quickly as possible.
Signature Mage Abilities
The Mages of WoW are known for a number of signature abilities which go beyond their Damage Per Second (DPS) capability. These are as follows:
Polymorph: This spell transform any humanoid or beast type monster into a harmless critter (usually a sheep) for up to 50 seconds. Whilst polymorphed the mob will wander around aimlessly and can neither attack nor cast any spells (offensive or defensive). Any damage to the polymorphed monster will break the spell. Be aware that any monster that is polymorphed will regenerate their health very quickly. As of Patch 4.2, using the Polymorph spell will no longer cause aggro meaning that you can easily polymorph a target in a group of monsters without worrying about the rest of the monsters immediately targeting you. Polymorph can also be used on players in PvP but is subject to the rule of Diminishing Returns (ie. each time you repeatedly cast Polymorph on a player the duration of the spell is reduced).
Counterspell: This interrupts an enemy spell cast, preventing it from being cast and also preventing any other spell from that school of magic being cast for 7 seconds. It has a 24 second cooldown period during which counterspell cannot be used again.
Spellsteal: This ability steals a beneficial magic effect (called a buff) from the target. The stolen buff will last for a maximum of 2 minutes. In Patch 4.2 the mana cost of spellsteal was increased significantly to make it more balanced in PvP, therefore repeated casts of Spellsteal are likely to cause you to run out of mana quickly. This does not have any serious repurcussions for PvE as most mobs only have one stealable buff.
Remove Curse: A frequently forgotten Mage ability that removes a curse type debuff (a spell cast which hampers the target in some way, such as lowering statistics or causes damage over time). Only Druids, Shamans and Mages can remove curses.
Time Warp: An extremely beneficial buff typically used during boss encounters. Time Warp increases the casting speed of all melee, ranged and spell attacks by 30%. This effect lasts for 40 seconds. Time Warp's cooldown is 5 minutes, however, anyone who received the Time Warp buff may not benefit from Bloodlust/Heroism (the Shaman equivalent spell for Horde/Alliance) or Time Warp for 10 minutes.
Teleports/Portals: The ability to instantly travel to your faction's various capital cities or other specific places. This is determined by the spell cast eg. Teleport: Orgrimmar. Portal is effectively the same ability but creates a portal to the destination that is useable by fellow members of your party/raid.
Conjure Refreshment: Conjures food for the mage that will restore health and mana when eaten. The conjured food is tradeable to other players. At higher levels Mages are also able to cast Ritual of Refreshment; this conjures a table from which members of your party or raid can receive up to four stacks of conjured food. Conjured food disappears when logged out for more than 15 minutes.
Slow Fall: Slows a friendly target's falling speed for 30 seconds.
Priority Statistics For A Mage
All Mages, regardless of specialisation, should regard Intellect as their most important statistic and it should be stacked whenever possible. Intellect determines the size of your mana pool as well as your Spell Power statistic (which increases damage) and also provides a small bonus to your Critical Hit Chance.
At level 85 your Hit Rating is your second most important statistic as it decreases the chance that you will miss the target of your spells, this is less important during the leveling process as you are most likely to be facing monsters of equal level to you.
Spell Power should be considered your third most important statistic as it provides a direct bonus to your damage. Most of your spellpower will be determined by your intellect score, although at higher levels weapons (and only weapons) can provide a direct Spell Power increase.
The order of priority for other statistics (Haste, Critical Hit Chance and Mastery) is largely determined by your chosen specialisation and will be covered in greater detail in later guides.
Since the Cataclysm expansion, Spirit is no longer considered a Mage statistic and should not be stacked. Ideally your gear should not have any Spirit on it, however during the levelling or gearing process you may obtain items with the Spirit stat in lieu of any better upgrade. Remember, these items can be reforged to reduce the Spirit statistic and boost another, more beneficial statistic.
Resilience is only useful within the PvP environment; at level 85 most mages seek to have approximately 3k resilience from PvP gear. The same is true for Spell Penetration, although the cap (maximum score) for Spell Pen at level 85 is 240.
Other statistics such as Strength, Agility or Dodge are worthless to the Mage Class. Within PvE the Stamina statistic will already be increased by the +intellect items you gear with, there will rarely (if ever) be a scenario where you require to seek out items with higher Stamina. Within PvP Stamina is a very useful statistic which will significantly aid your survivability, however, again most items of PvP gear with have higher Stamina scores than their PvE equivalents in order to account for this. Some PvP Mages will enchant or gem items for higher Stamina scores depending on their play style.
The Mage Specialisation Trees
Arcane: Arcane Mages excel at single target fights which require little to no movement, however, they suffer during fights which require significant movement as they lack sufficient Instant Cast spells (Arcane Barrage has a long cooldown period compared to over spells of this nature). Arcane Mages also lack a high Area of Effect (AOE) capability, so whilst they are capable of it with spells such as Blizzard, Flamestrike and Arcane Explosion they are far less proficient at it when compared to other Mage specialisations.
Arcane Mages are capable of kiting monsters with the Slow spell when used in conjunction with other Mage spells such as Blink and Frost Nova.
Arcane Mages have a very simple rotation; much of the complexity (such as it is) of an Arcane Mage comes from the Mana Adept ability. Mana Adept provides a bonus to the amount of damage done by all spells. The size of the bonus granted by the Mana Adept ability is determined by how much Mana you have remaining in your Mana Pool; the more mana, the greater the damage bonus.
Within PvP; Arcane Mages have a high burst damage potential and can be very effective with battlegrounds and low level arena. However, at higher levels play Arcane Mages are likely to be targeted heavily once they are identified. They lack the same level of control and survivability as Frost Mages which makes both the stacking of resilience and the use of certain mobility increasing talents extremely important.
Fire: Fire Mages are very strong in single target fights and have excellent abilities when dealing damage to multiple monsters. Fire mages also have better mobility than Arcane Mages due to a number of instant cast abilities and spells that can be cast whilst moving.
Fire Mages are less effective at kiting monsters than either Frost or Arcane Mages although it can be done by using an improved Blast Wave in conjunction with Frost Nova, Blink and Frostbolt or Frostfire Bolt.
In my opinion, Fire Mages have the most complex rotation which involves ensuring that a number of debuffs are applied to your target at any one time whilst also casting Fireball and Pyroblast! Fire Mages can also be very susceptible to bad luck as much of their rotation relies on the Proc of the Hotstreak ability and of a high Ignite debuff (ideally both at the same time).
Fire Mages are not popular within PvP owing to their reduced control compared to other Mage specs and relatively low survivability when compared to the Frost spec. They are capable of kiting melee classes about with the use of Blast Wave, Frostfire Bolt and Cone of Cone (and of course Frost Nova if they get too close). Due to their squishiness, Fire Mages need to stack resilience as a priority (many thanks to Zubius for pointing out Fire Mage PvP capabilities to me).
Frost: Frost Mages have high burst damage; theoretically they have the highest level of DPS amongst all the Mage specialisations within PvE (as of Patch 4.2), however, this requires near perfect rotations and it is far more difficult to consistently achieve this when compared to Arcane Mages. Frost Mages also have a reasonable/good level of AOE ability owing to the bonuses to damage with the Blizzard spell from the Frost specialisation, particularly if monsters have been rooted/frozen by Frost Nova, Cone of Cold or Ring of Frost as extra damage is applied through the Frostburn ability.
As Frost Mages do not excel (or are not perceieved to excel) to the same level of either single target or multiple target DPS as the other two Mage specialisations, they are currently the least popular high end raiding specialisation (although they remain popular for the level 85 heroic dungeons).
Frost Mages have good survivability and mobility and excel at kiting; these attributes make the Frost specialisation a very popular choice for the levelling process as well as for many dungeons. It is also these strengths that make Frost Mages the most popular choice for PvP as their high burst damage combined with their control and survivability make them particularly deadly.
Frost Mages are also the only Mage specialisation to receive a combat pet (Water Elemental). Whilst these are not as effective as Hunter or Warlock combats, they do provide a unique DPS boost and have a Freeze ability which is designed to help augment the Frost Mage's own ability to deal damage.