10 May 2010

The Fresh 80 Mage: An Arcane Raiding Guide

Levelling a mage to 80 is no mean feat – it takes dedication, patience and practice to pull it off. This is especially true for the last twenty levels in Outland and Northrend, as instance groups are a rarity and solo questing is pretty much all that’s available. But once you’re at level cap there’s nowhere else to go except heroics and raids. This guide is intended to help you get ready to raid as quickly as possible.

Before We Begin

This guide assumes that you’re already a level 80 mage. If you’re currently looking to roll a new mage and level up to 80, I suggest you check out Psynister’s excellent levelling guides. Using these you should get to 80, but you’ll also pick up guidance on how the class works and how the mage talents contribute to the class mechanics.

This guide also focuses exclusively on the Arcane raiding spec. For other raiding specs I’d suggest checking out Empowered Fire’s guide to raiding in 3.3.3, or the  info at Frost is the New Black or Spicytunas. Although Arcane is currently Flavour Of The Month, it’s worth being aware of other specs so that you can swap to them as the buffs and nerfs change things.

The final thing I should mention is that this guide is designed to get you started as a raiding Arcane mage. It doesn’t cover individual raid tactics or advanced strategies. For those, I’d reccomend the resources avaiable at the Elitist Jerks mage forums or the mage section of Epic Answers.

Playstyle

Mages are the typical glass cannon. They do a high amount of damage, but can only take very little punishment before falling over dead. As a result, your job is focused on doing two really simple tasks:

  • Doing as much damage as you can, over as long a time as you can. As a raiding mage, you’re looking for consistency – there’s no point to being able to frontload your damage in the first ten seconds of a fight. Having a consistent DPS rate from the start to the end of the bossfight is what you’re looking for here. You also want to stretch your mana as far as it will go – this means that you need to have a healthy mana pool and know how to keep it topped up.
  • Taking as little damage as possible. This means moving out of the bad stuff quickly and being very aware of what’s going on around you – dead mages don’t DPS. It also means knowing what spells you can use while you’re moving so that your DPS doesn’t plummet as soon as you start running around screaming. I’d also suggest having a good read of the healing tips for DPS, as we’re so fragile that getting on the good side of healers is strongly encouraged.

Setting Up

When getting any new character ready to raid, it’s worth spending time to freshen up the talent spec and glyphs. I’ve included a basic Arcane raiding talent spec below that’ll be useful for most fights. You might also want to have a look at it on the armoury.

From this baseline, there’s a couple of things that you can play around with if you’re feeling adventurous. Incanter’s Absorption can be a little situational, but allows you to use Mana Shield, Fire Ward and Frost Ward to boost your DPS. By dropping the points in Student of the Mind and Slow, you can throw a point in Magic Attunement to get a bit of extra range and throw the rest in Incanter’s Absorption. You can even take the points out of Ice Shards and put them in Frost Warding if you want to make this mechanism even more useful. It’s worth noting though that both wards are being removed in Cataclysm, so this additional technique might not be as viable. Experiment with it though and see how you get on.

For Glyphs, it’s again a bit of a mixed bag. There are four absolute must-haves, but the two leftovers are pretty much up for debate.

  • Glyph of Molten Armor is worth having as it makes all that surplus spirit on your gear more useful. Although crit rating isn’t as useful as haste rating to an arcane mage, the increase to your damage output is still significant.
  • Combining with the Molten Armor boost, the Glyph of Arcane Missiles will increase the damage your missiles do when they crit. It’s a win-win situation.
  • The last major one to go for is Glyph of Arcane Blast, as it works to improve the bonus you get from your spell rotation.
  • If you’re fed up of buying Light Feathers from the Auction House, it’s worth going for Glyph of Slow Fall to remove the annoying reagent requirement.
  • The two remaining minor slots are flexible. Most people tend to use Glyph of Fire Ward and Glyph of Frost Ward, but they’re not essential and depend on your playstyle.

Rotations

Arcane has three basic rotations: a standard one that provides the best balance between DPS and mana consumption, a light one that reduces your DPS but stretches your mana out for long fights, and an all out nuke that ramps up your DPS but drains your mana quickly.

Spam until you have four stacks of buff and procs , then cast

Your standard rotation involves casting Arcane Blast a minimum of four times. You’re trying to get Missile Barrage to proc, but you’re also wanting to make sure that you get the full boost that Arcane Blast gives. If Missile Barrage hasn’t proc’ed by the time you’ve cast Arcane Blast four times, just keep on casting it.

Spam until you have four stacks of buff and procs, up to five times maximum, then cast

This rotation is a halfway-house between doing solid DPS and having your mana stretch out over the duration of a bossfight. In fact, considerign the downtime that you get from Evocation, it can sometimes result in higher DPS. The rule with this rotation is to only cast Arcane Blast a maximum of five times. If Missile Barrage hasn’t proc’ed by your fifth Arcane Blast cast, use Arcane Missiles anyway. The casting time is longer and it’ll cost mana to cast, but it’ll also eat up the Arcane Blast stack and reset it for you.

Spam until procs , then cast straight away

If you’re trying to conserve mana, just cast Arcane Blast until Missile Barrage procs. As soon as it does, cast Arcane Missiles. You’ll lose out on DPS as you’re not get the full benefit of stacking up the Arcane Blast buff, but your mana will stretch much further.

Spam until you run out of mana

You can perform burst damage just by spamming Arcane Blast. This will suck through your mana incredibly quickly though, so only use it when you absolutely have to.

You can also boost your DPS through the use of long-cooldown spells. The key ones for an arcane mage are Mirror Image, Icy Veins and Arcane Power. Use them as soon as they become available on trash and general boss fights, or at the same time for a significant boost in DPS when you need it. Sync their use up with Heroism/Bloodlust for even greater effects.

There are times when you need to move around, like getting out of the Bad Stuff or changing fight phase. During these times, switch to using Arcane Barrage instead of Arcane Blast as it’s an instant cast that you can use while moving. You can also use Presence of Mind to make an Arcane Blast instant cast if you’re doing a lot of dancing.

It’s worth going to a target dummy and practicing all of these rotations so that you can get a feel for their nuances and build up some muscle memory. Being able to switch gears during a fight is incredibly useful, especially if several people are floor-tanking and you have a healthy mana pool to give you options.

Gearing Up

At this late stage in the expansion, your quickest way of gearing up is running heroics till you’re blue in the face. Get as many Emblems of Triumph as you can from running heroic instances and pick up the five pieces of Tier 9 gear. You’re going to need 220 emblems for the full set, needing roughly 37 instance runs to collect so it’ll take anything between three days and a week to complete. Surplus badges will end up going towards gap items (belts, rings, trinkets etc) or gems, so every extra badge is worth getting.

It’s also worth keeping a careful eye out for any other gear upgrades that might come your way. Chances are that any loot that drops will be yours if it’s an upgrade. The RatingBuster addon does help, but in order to do a quick comparison, there’s a couple of simple rules to follow:

  • Spell power is the most important stat, with haste rating being a very close second. If an item has less spellpower but much more haste, grab it. point for point they work out very similar.
  • Crit rating is the third stat to look out for, but each point of critrating is only worth about half a point of spellpower. It’s usually not worth going for if you’re going to lose a lot of spellpower or haste.
  • Reaching the hit cap is important for raiding, but don’t downgrade gear purely for the sake of getting more hit. You already get 6% hit through your talents, meaning that in order to be self-reliant you’ll need about 289 hit rating to be capped. Depending on the raid composition though, you might be able to increase it to as much as 10%. You might find you can get away with as little as 184. There’s a good comparison table on Wowwiki’s Spell Hit page.

When gemming your gear, there’s only four to consider. For your headpiece the Chaotic Skyflare Diamond is undoubtedly the best choice. Red or no-colour (belt buckle) sockets are best suited to using a Runed Cardinal Ruby. The orange Reckless Ametrine is the best one for your yellow sockets, while the Purified Dreadstone is the best for your blue sockets.

It’s also important to keep your gear enchanted, particularly when you pick up an epic quality item. It’s worth having an Arcanum of Burning Mysteries, a Greater Inscription of the Storm and a Brilliant Spellthread ready for any outstanding gear that you pick up. You might also want to do the same with enchanting scrolls – spellpower boosts, hit/crit boosts or overall stat boosts are the ones to look for here.

Managing Consumables

Apart from the obvious need for a large stack of Arcane Powder, you’re going to need to bring a hefty amount of consumables. As you start out raiding your performance won’t be as good as that of more seasoned mages, it’s very important to make sure that you’re prepared for the raid. Part of this is making sure that the gear you have is optimised, but part of it means that you have the right consumables with you.

Fish Feasts are pretty much the standard buff food, but a cheaper alternative might be Firecracker Salmon, particularly if you’re in a PuG. Either way, you can’t guarantee that there will always be a fish feast for you to use, so it’s worth keeping a stack of these in your bag.

Make sure you have a stack of Runic Mana and Runic Health potions, as you never know when you’ll need them. To avoid using mana potions, make sure you create a Mana Sapphire at the start of every raid, and replace it if you think you’ll exhaust the charges. Also make frequent use of Evocation to keep your mana topped up.

A good number of Flask of the Frost Wyrm are essential for raiding. There’s no need to drink a flask at the start of the raid, but make sure that you’re under the effects of one during every boss fight.

Further Reading

As I mentioned at the start, this guide is designed to get you in a position to raid as quickly as possible. If you feel that there’s something worth adding, please feel free to shout about it in the comments.

For those of you after some further detail on Arcane mages and raiding specs, the following sources are worth checking out. If you think that there’s something worth adding here, let me know.

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