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Arcane Brilliance: Level 80 mage gearing road map, part 2

The dawning of another Saturday brings with it another edition of Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column delivered direct to your driveway by a paperboy who blinks from house to house, fending off overprotective guard dogs with the occasional conjured ball of flame and constantly demanding his two dollars (I really, really wish I could have found an actual clip of that, but yet again, YouTube has failed me). It's all pretty impressive, especially when you consider that this paperboy is also wearing a dress.

Okay, after last week's part one of this topic, many of you disagreed with my assertion that a fresh level 80 mage should attempt to upgrade his gear prior to jumping into random heroics. I understand this point of view. Farming random heroics is by far the fastest way to gear up initially, and it is true that if you find the right groups, you and your pathetic new-80 DPS may be viewed less as a liability and more of a charity project. Thinking about it, I too secretly enjoy having someone in the group who's needing on blue drops because they're honest upgrades for him. As long as we have a decently geared tank (or a healer who's capable of keeping him up even if he isn't), even a dungeon run with terrible damage dealers can go relatively smoothly.

If you wish to gear up as rapidly as possible and you don't mind the idea that you won't quite be pulling your own weight at first, then by all means, skip my first few suggestions for gearing up and head directly for the random heroics. Better yet, get together with some better-geared guildies and queue together. That way you'll always be in a good group and one that doesn't absolutely require you to be up-to-par right away.

This week, regardless of the path you've taken to get there, I'm going to assume that you've been industrious and spent a significant amount of time gearing through drops and collecting emblems in those random heroics. Here's the general road you should be following ...
  • Get all the drops you want/need from normal Trial of the Champion.
  • Grind random heroics until your eyes bleed, gathering any upgrades from the boss drops and soaking up emblems like a giant, super-absorbant mage sponge. Before anyone in the comments comes up with it, I'm going to throw my new least-favorite nickname out for you: Spongemage Magicpants. Just like the cartoon that inspires the name, my columns are funnier when you're high. Or when you're 5. Either way.
  • Remember to gem and enchant any upgrades that seem like they might last you a while. If funding is an issue, seek less expensive alternatives, but don't simply eschew gems and enchants. Doing so cripples your potential.
  • One thing a large number of you mentioned that I neglected to put in last week's part 1 was PvP gear, and I have to agree with you. If PvP appeals to you at all, the PvP gear available can provide massive upgrades for you fairly quickly. Head into Wintergrasp, do a few dailies and hit a few random battlegrounds, and you'll have enough honor to buy a piece or two of very high-level PvP gear that can also double as perfectly serviceable dungeon-running garb.
Once you've got all the drops you want from normal ToC and you're going strong with the random heroic grinding, it's time to move on to other sources of good drops.

6. Normal Icecrown 5-mans and Heroic Trial of the Champion

Upon hitting level 80, you probably noticed a quest giver in Dalaran who directs you to find Lady Sylvanas in the Forge of Souls. As soon as you can cut it (a general guideline would be item level 200ish gear in most of your slots), you should head here. A quick piece of advice for the uninitiated: Go there in the actual game world first, and figure out where the entrance to the instance is located. Your party will thank you when they don't have to describe in painful detail to you how to reunite your spirit with your corpse after the first wipe. "Ok, fly up, look for the big tunnel near the balcony thing -- no, not that balcony thing, the other one. Keep going ... second star to the left and straight on 'til morning ... "

There are many awesome things about these dungeons:
  • The bosses drop item level 219 loot, meaning that chances are good almost everything you can equip will be an upgrade for you.
  • Even the trash mobs have a decent chance of dropping similarly budgeted epics. Example: Coffin Nail.
  • They're normal instances, so you're never locked out. Like normal ToC, you can run them as often as you want, soak up as many drops as you can like the aforementioned magesponge, and then move on.
  • Running them the first time grants you a nice head-start on your Emblem of Frost collection, as the one-time quests that you complete therein will grant you a total of six emblems.
  • You get to see Sylvanas break down walls of ice by shooting them with arrows.
When they were first introduced these dungeons -- even the normal versions of them -- were pretty steep gear checks, and they still sort of are. The final encounter in normal Halls of Reflection especially is a test of your group's DPS output. Simply put, if you can't produce enough DPS quickly enough, you'll all die a horrible, painful death (but at least you'll know why). With the speed at which it is possible these days to gear up, though, you'll find more and more of the groups you get for these dungeons are overgeared for them, meaning that an undergeared DPS is no longer quite the liability they used to be. Generally, if most of your gear is at or above item level 200, you should be OK.

In addition, your gear should now be good enough that you're no longer locked out of heroic ToC, which also includes a bevy of item level 219 goodies. You can only run it once per day (barring some fortunate random dungeon-running), but it's worth the trip.

Because we have so very much to cover, I won't list all of the drops contained in these dungeons. I'll let you use Wowhead for that, but just know that you can fill a large number of your slots here with item level 219 loot. While you're doing that, you should also be grinding at least one random heroic each day and spending those emblems as you get enough of them.

7. Spending your Emblems of Triumph

Your first goal when budgeting your emblems should be a full set of tier 9 gear. The set bonuses for mages are well worth the effort, and the pieces themselves are relatively cheap. I would advise a gear path as follows, because I feel that doing so will give you the most benefit in the shortest amount of time:
  • Gloves 30 emblems
  • Shoulders 30 emblems
  • Chest 50 emblems
  • Pants 50 emblems
There are, of course, other ways to do this, but this gives you the two-piece set bonus by spending only 60 emblems, an amount you can gather in day or two. Whichever order you go with, consider leaving either the head or shoulder slot open (I choose head because it's more expensive) and filling it with the non-set item for that slot, which costs more (45 for the shoulders, 75 for the helm) but is budgeted higher and will last you longer.

Once you have your full four-piece set, it's time to move on to the miscellaneous pieces. Worthwhile items include:
Purchase these items according to your needs. Which slot is in direst need of being replaced?

Once you've purchased all the upgrades you can with your emblems, what to do? Well, aside from the obvious application of using your unspent emblems to build a scale model of the Millennium Falcon, there are also a few game-viable alternative uses:
  • Trade down to a lower-level currency. There probably isn't much out there worth trading down for, but if you still have need of a trinket and those emblems are literally burning a hole in your magepants, you could do worse than swapping out for Emblems of Heroism and picking up a Sundial of the Exiled in exchange for 40 of them. Just know that there's a far better trinket out there to be had for the low, low price of free: the Abyssal Rune in normal Trial of the Champion.
  • Start spending your leftovers on Crusader Orbs, which will cost you 15 emblems apiece. Why would you do that, you ask? To have a tailor craft you some upgrades! More on that later.
8. Heroic Icecrown 5-mans

Once you start picking up item level 232 and above stuff from trading in your emblems, you should quite quickly find yourself well geared enough to meet the entry requirements for these heroics. It may take a bit longer to qualify for heroic HoR, but that's for your own good. An underpowered DPS in there can quite literally kill your group. The stuff that drops in here is item level 232, and much of it is better than anything else you'll find outside of the Icecrown Citadel raids or 25-man Trial of the Crusader.

9. Weekly raid quest

You can start doing these even earlier than this, depending on the weekly being offered that week. If it's Flame Leviathan, Sartharion, Patchwerk or something similarly low-level, then you can contribute even at fairly low gear levels. Start checking the quest each week as early as the point at which you start grinding random heroics. If it's something doable for you, find a group for it. You might get a gear drop that actually helps you, but chances are better that you only walk out with the quest rewards themselves. Still, five each of both Frost and Triumph emblems is nothing to sneeze at. Doing these quests anytime you can will greatly speed up your emblem collection efforts.

Speaking of emblems ...

10. Spending your frost emblems

There are a couple of schools of thought you can subscribe to here:
  • You can start buying the non-set pieces that are immediate (and massive) upgrades, or ...
  • ... you can skip those and go straight for your two-piece tier 10 bonus.
Either route is fine, really. The non-set pieces benefit the slow emblem collector, since they're slightly cheaper, while those with access to faster methods of obtaining emblems might benefit more from obtaining that two-piece tier 10 set bonus faster.

The route I took, since I already had the four-piece tier 9 bonus and wasn't in a huge hurry to break it, was to spend my hard-earned emblems on the non-set items first, then start saving to replace my tier 9 set two pieces at a time. I bought in this order, based upon my mage's needs and the general difficulty of finding viable alternatives in the slot:
Unfortunately, there simply isn't a really worthwhile mage trinket available for purchase with Emblems of Frost. If you have a really unusual need for hit rating, I guess you could pick up Maghia's Misguided Quill, because who doesn't need a faulty writing utensil? For the most part, unless you're a fire mage who's still hurting for hit, there are going to be better trinkets out there that cost you far less.

11. Crafted upgrades

Once you obtain a viable source of Crusader Orbs (or better yet, Primordial Saronite, though if you've got access to a ready supply of those, you've likely progressed beyond the scope of this guide), there are a few tailored upgrades out there to consider bribing someone to make for you. There are quite a few of these, and I'll link you to one of them:
You'll see that for sale in the auction house from time to time for an ungodly sum, and for good reason. In addition to other relatively expensive materials, it'll cost you eight Crusader Orbs, which will in turn cost you 120 total Emblems of Triumph. If you've got the emblems to spare, this is a great way to fill a slot you've been having trouble upgrading.

12. Start raiding already

Seriously, by now, your gear should be largely 10-man ICC-ready. Here's how you can tell if you're ready:
  • Is most of your gear item level 232 or above?
  • Are you able to do around 5k or more DPS with consistency on raid boss training dummies?
  • Have you read up on the raid strategies for the encounters you'll find in ICC?
  • Can you say with confidence that you are not a douche?
If you answered yes to all four of those questions, you're pretty much done with this guide and should immediately begin finding a guild with which to beat the current incarnation of the game. If you're still not sure you're ready, start smaller and find a guild that still runs Trial of the Crusader. Either way, it's probably time to start gearing through raid drops, as opposed to gearing through random heroics and their ilk.

So get out there, my fellow mages! Take your shiny new gear and beat the Lich King upside the head with it!

Every week, Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent look at how much I hate damage meters or our lengthy series of mage leveling guides. Until next week, keep the mage-train a-rollin'.

Filed under: Mage, (Mage) Arcane Brilliance

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