Today we’re getting back to the leveling guides, this time with the low level Frost Mage. I originally had the Frost and Fire posts combined, but decided that since the style of play really is different now that Frost has a pet that they deserved their own posts.
Right now I plan on bouncing back and forth between the two specs until I get you all the way to the level cap and then whether or not I do an Arcane post will be decided by whether or not I roll an Arcane Mage… which isn’t very likely.
But, first thing’s first:
Playing a Frost Mage
As I mentioned in the 1-29 Fire post, each Mage spec has it’s own focus or specialty, and for Frost that is control. Frost is the king of control and survival, taking me back to the days where I dominated Magic: the Gathering tournaments with something we called a Stasis Deck…
.. oh, sorry. What were we talking about? Oh, Frost Mages. Yeah, sorry about that. It’s been a long time.
So yeah, Frost is all about controlling your opponents, whether they be mobs or other players. Cataclysm actually increased our control capabilities by giving us more ways to freeze our targets and also by making the Water Elemental a permanent pet. They also did us the favor of providing one of our most effective damaging spells, Ice Lance, at level 28 rather than waiting until after level 60, so we’re now able to turn the defensive freezing effects into deadly offensive damage.
But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because we have more control means that we deal less damage. Sure, our spells might be slightly lower in damage than the other specs’, but by combining control with the proper spells you can actually deal more damage in a single hit than either of the other two specs.
General Mage Tactics
Mages are known for two things: Being hard to kill, and being incredibly squishy. That’s right, we’re hard to kill because we’re so easy to kill. Why are we easy to kill? Because we wear t-shirts instead of plate armor. Why are we hard to kill? Because we’re often able to kill you before you can do anything to make our t-shirts matter.
As a spellcaster your primary source of defense is to stay away from things that want to hurt you. That doesn’t mean avoiding combat, it means avoiding damage. You’re a ranged class, so don’t get into melee combat when you don’t have to. That doesn’t mean you have to run away from everything, but it does mean you don’t want to run up and hit things with your staff or stab them with a dagger when you could instead cast several spells at them before they can cause you any harm.
Mages have more crowd control options than any other class, in general. Warlocks can beat us when it comes to using CC on certain types of mobs because they have spells that work on things that we don’t, but generally speaking we’re the kings of CC. We can freeze, stun, slow, and polymorph our targets and in some cases we can do those to multiple enemies at once.
Mages also have a number of defensive spells that can either prevent damage or remove harmful effects. If you’re stunned or “rooted” (you can’t move because of a spell/effect) you can cast Blink and it will remove those effects from you. If you are poisoned or diseased you can cast Ice Block to remove all of those effects as well. And if you’re about to die you can always just jump off of a cliff…just make sure you cast Slow Fall before you hit the ground.
While you won’t see it in this level range, Frost also has additional defensive tools that the other specs do not as well as offering talents that can lower the cooldown time of some of those abilities that allow them even more control and survival.
Prior to 4.x being released the people who disliked Frost did so because they felt their spells hit for less damage, which was true. The trade off was that Frost spells also had shorter cast times and they did have to give up some damaging potential in exchange for their increased survivability. But the real problem was that so many people who played Mages were afraid of getting killed in melee that they overplayed their defenses to stay alive even if there wasn’t any real threat.
So here are some things to keep in mind when you’re playing a Frost Mage:
- Use your pet – constantly.
- Use the terrain to your advantage.
- Use the extra time to cast additional spells.
- Take advantage of Crowd Control.
- Chill, there’s no need to hurry.
Use Your Pet: The biggest mistake that Frost Mages are making right now is that they’re trying to treat their pet like a Warlock treats his, which is to say they just leave it alone and let it do its thing. The Water Elemental can do some decent damage with his attack, but his real value is actually in his special ability called Freeze. At level 10 when you get the pet this ability is mostly helpful in the form of defense by keeping mobs away from you, or in keeping fleeing mobs from bringing other mobs into the mix. Macro this ability. Use it. Love it. Embrace it.
Terrain: As a caster you have the huge advantage of being able to use terrain to your benefit where melee classes cannot. If you’re fighting mobs that fight back with melee rather than ranged attacks or spells of their own, then make use the terrain. You can cast your spells through trees, or from the top of a hill or a wall. The time that it takes your target to reach you is time that you have to freely cast your spells. Casting from the opposite side of a tree makes the mob run around the tree to get to you, effectively making the distance between you longer. Doing the same from the opposite side of a fallen log has the same effect, for example. And you’re playing Frost which means that the mobs chasing you down are moving at a slower speed than usual thanks to your Chill effects. A good Frost Mage who’s able to abuse the terrain is virtually unstoppable.
Time: I mentioned the travel time of your spells in the Fire guide, and Frost takes advantage of this as well, but in a different way. Rather than using the travel time strictly to queue up our second spell (which we do, but that’s not the only reason) we’re also doing it to use and abuse our Freeze effects. Our talents grant us extra benefits, such as an increased chance to Crit or additional damage, against targets who are frozen. When a spell is cast the game checks to see if there is a frozen debuff on the target and then if so it applies the buffs. One of Frost’s signature damage spells though is Ice Lance which is an instant-cast spell which does double damage (even more later on) against frozen targets and because it’s instant you’re able to take advantage of a Freeze with both a Frostbolt and an Ice Lance cast by taking advantage of Frostbolt’s travel time to cast an instant Ice Lance so that they both get to benefit from the target being frozen.
Crowd Control: There are three types of CC to bring up here: Slow, Freeze, and Polymorph. Slow refers to any Chill effects you have that slow the target down, primarily Frostbolt. By pulling mobs with a Frostbolt cast you can slow the target’s movement to allow additional time for casting additional spells before they reach you. Freeze is similar, though it prevents movement from the target all together. Frost has the advantage of being able to freeze with Frost Nova, Freeze (pet ability), and Cone of Cold (via talent). You’ll have access to even more freezing abilities later on as well. Polymorph is just that, and typically used when you’ve pulled multiple mobs. If you’ve taken the time to sheep a mob then the best way to break that CC to get back into combat is to move out to max range and then make use of your long-cast time spells such as Fireball in the case of a Frost Mage, or a Frostbolt if you want to immediately apply a slow once Polymorph is broken.
Chill: Yeah, I know, I’m so punny aren’t I? Like I said before, Frost might be the spec of control and survivability, but it’s still a very deadly spec as well. If a mob is hitting you, but you’re not in immediate threat of dying, then who cares? You can either Freeze them and then relocate for safety, you can Freeze and then lay on the extra damage, or you can just keep right on casting and kill them anyway. If you like to move a lot in combat (like me) then go ahead and do so. If you would rather stay in one place and cast until they die then do that. There are very few times outside of fighting elites or group quest mobs that you’ll actually be killed by a mob in a 1v1 fight in which you pull from range.
Important Spells & Abilities
Mages have such an amazingly useful spellbook that it’s really hard to narrow it down to which spells are important and which ones aren’t. Some of them aren’t useful in every fight, but under the right circumstances they’re your go-to spell of choice for the situation. But, I’m going to do my best to remove all of the “but what if…” questions and stick strictly to usefulness for leveling in general circumstances.
All numbers are taken from the level 29 version (where applicable) of the spell. The number following the spell name is the level at which it becomes available.
Fireball (1): Hurls a fiery ball that causes 63 to 79 Fire damage.
Arcane Missiles (3): Launches a 3-5 waves of Arcane Missiles at the enemy over 2 sec, causing Arcane damage per wave. Each offensive spell you cast has a 40% chance to activate Arcane Missiles.
Fire Blast (4): Blasts the enemy for 67 to 79 Fire damage.
Frostbolt (7): Launches a bolt of frost at the enemy, causing 47 to 59 Frost damage and slowing movement speed by 40% for 9 sec.
Summon Water Elemental (10): Summon a Water Elemental to fight for the caster.
Cone of Cold (18): Targets in a cone in front of the caster take 53 to 57 Frost damage and are slowed by 60% for 8 sec.
Ice Lance (28): Deals 25 to 31 Frost damage to an enemy target, damage doubled against frozen targets.
I only mention Fireball because when you first roll your Mage you have no other option. You don’t actually get Frostbolt until level 7. Arcane Missiles I only list because up to level 29 it will be your main proc spell, allowing you to get mana-free damage; after level 29 you’ll never cast this again. Fire Blast is one of your most useful spells, dealing better damage on average than Fireball and as an instant cast as well; the only drawback being its cooldown. Fire Blast is one of the few spells that provides great utility no matter what spec you choose.
At level 7 we actually get the bread and butter spam spell, Frostbolt which deals decent damage and slows the target by 60% for 8 seconds. At level 8 we get our first freeze effect in the form of Frost Nova, freezing the mobs near the caster. Level 10 gives us access to our Summon Water Elemental which provides our second freeze effect, called Freeze (creative, I know), which works just like Frost Nova except that we get to pick where its effect is centered. The details of the elemental’s Freeze spell can be found in the Utility section just below.
Level 18 gives us Cone of Cold which is a decent spell in its own right being instant cast and dealing AoE damage in a frontal cone, but it also provides yet another freeze effect from the talent points we spend. Finally we have Ice Lance at level 29 which is the key to Frost’s burst damage. It’s an instant cast spell that’s fairly cheap and usually doesn’t deal a whole lot of damage. But, if you cast it on a target that is frozen it will deal double damage instead, putting it slightly ahead of Frostbolt in raw damage if the target is frozen.
Frost Nova (8): Blasts enemies near the caster for 26 to 30 Frost damage and freezes them in place for up to 8 sec. Damage caused may interrupt the effect.
Freeze (Pet 10): Blasts enemies in a 8 yard radius for 27 Frost damage and freezes them in place for up to 8 sec. Damage caused may interrupt the effect.
Evocation (12): Gain 15% of your mana instantly and another 45% of your total mana over 6 sec.
Polymorph (14): Transforms the enemy into a sheep, forcing it to wander around for up to 50 sec. While wandering, the sheep cannot attack or cast spells but will regenerate very quickly. Any damage will transform the target back into its normal form. Only one target can be polymorphed at a time. Only works on Beasts, Humanoids and Critters.
Blink (16): Teleports the caster 20 yards forward, unless something is in the way. Also frees the caster from stuns and bonds.
Frost Nova gets a special mention even though it’s not a Fire spell because it’s such an excellent tool for both offense and defense, often both at the same time. If a mob manages to get into melee range use Frost Nova to keep them in place, move away, and then use the time that they’re frozen to cast another Pyroblast. Evocation is your source of massive mana return, and once glyphed it also restores a good amount of your health as well.
Polymorph is your primary crowd control (CC) spell, effectively removing the target from combat. If you pull more than one mob, use this on one of them to even the odds and then smack them upside the head with a Pyroblast once the first target is killed. Blink is another one of our signature abilities, a spell that no one else can duplicate save Subtlety Rogues to a much lesser extent. It allows you to teleport 20 yards away in the direction you’re facing and breaks any stuns or roots that have been cast on you.
Leveling a Mage
Questing Rotation: Frostbolt, Freeze (Pet), Ice Lance x2, Frostbolt, Frost Nova, Ice Lance
Optional Rotation: Frostbolt, Ice Lance spam while kiting, Arcane Missile on proc
Dungeon Rotation: Frostbolt spam, Ice Lance on proc, Arcane Missile on proc
Frost is often seen as a somewhat boring spec to play, and the rotations up there are your reason why. There’s not a wide variety of damaging Frost spells, so you find yourself doing a whole lot of Frostbolt spam, especially in dungeons since we no longer get Blizzard until we get to the end of Vanilla content.
The Questing Rotation can also be used in dungeons, but a lot of tanks tend to get pissy when you start freezing things in place with your pet or with Frost Nova. If you’re going to use these in a dungeon be sure to use them in situations where you’re not going to mess things up with the group. For example, don’t use your freeze effects until the mobs are gathered closely around the tank, and if you find that one of them is outside of the range that the tank can currently build agro on then you either need to focus on that target to kill them off quickly or do nothing else to them at all so that the tank doesn’t have to put extra effort into pulling threat.
The Questing Rotation is going to maximize your Ice Lance damage by applying freeze effects as often as possible. It’s a great tactic for both PvE and PvP, and it allows you to stay fairly mobile with the Ice Lance casts.
The Optional Rotation is how you’ll see a lot of PvP players utilize a Frost spec, which is slowing the target down and then kiting them around while killing them with Ice Lance casts. If the target does catch up to you just use Freeze or Frost Nova to root them in place, get your distance, bust the freeze with a Frostbolt, and then go back to IL kiting. It’s a “cheap” way to fight, but as long as you’re left alive and they aren’t then who cares, right?
The Dungeon Rotation is what you’ll use when you have a tank. If you get a Fingers of Frost proc from your talents then switch over to Ice Lance to use the proc, but otherwise stick with Frostbolt spam unless you need to move.
Procs: Unlike Fire, Frost keeps the Arcane Missiles proc for quite a while, so when you get an AM proc go ahead and use it so long as the target’s not frozen and you don’t have a Fingers of Frost proc to use instead. AM is a decent damaging spell, but Ice Lance takes priority if the target is frozen or if you have a FoF proc. Once you get to 29 and spend your talent point on Fingers of Frost you get your second proc which makes your Ice Lance treat the target as frozen even when it’s not, allowing Ice Lance to do additional damage and benefit from the x3 crit chance.
Shatter 2/2: Multiplies the critical strike chance of all your spells against frozen targets by 3, and increases the damage done by Frostbolt against frozen targets by 20%.
Piercing Ice 3/3: Increases the critical strike chance of your spells by 3%.
Improved Cone of Cold 2/2: Your Cone of Cold also freezes targets for 4 sec.
Ice Floes 3/3: Reduces the cooldown of your Frost Nova, Cone of Cold, Ice Block, Cold Snap, Ice Barrier, and Icy Veins spells by 20%.
Fingers of Frost 1/3: Gives your Chill effects a 7% chance to grant you the Fingers of Frost effect, which causes your next Ice Lance or Deep Freeze spell to act as if your target were frozen. Fingers of Frost can accumulate up to 2 charges and lasts 15 sec.
Shatter is one of your most important talent points. It’s one of the primary keys to your damage output as a Frost Mage. It triples your crit chance against frozen targets and also gives a 20% damage buff to Frostbolt against frozen targets as well. It’s the best DPS increase you can get at that level. Piercing Ice is one of those talents that basically every Mage will take at some point. Free crit chance is free crit chance.
Improved Cone of Cold gives you a third method of freezing targets, and while you probably won’t have points in this talent at level 85, it’s an excellent addition to your leveling tool belt. The more you can freeze targets in place, the more you can abuse the increased damage, crit chance, and instant cast speed of Ice Lance. Ice Floes is a great tool, providing a faster cooldown of all of your most important spells, allowing you to make use of them more often.
The final talent point goes into Fingers of Frost which gives your chill effects a chance to proc the Fingers of Frost buff which treats your next Ice Lance cast as though the target were frozen. So IL’s damage is doubled because that’s the way the spell itself works, plus you get triple your crit chance because your points in Shatter, so you’ve got a very high chance of dealing critical strikes every time you cast Ice Lance on a frozen target or when you have a FoF proc.
Glyphs for Leveling
You don’t get glyphs now until level 25, but at least you do get to use them a little bit in this level range.
Glyph of Ice Lance: Increases the damage of your Ice Lance spell by 5%.
Glyph of Frostbolt: Increases the critical strike chance of your Frostbolt spell by 5%.
Ice Lance wins out for me because I primarily level solo so I use a lot more freeze effects which makes the extra damage to IL more appealing overall. If you’re not primarily a solo leveler then Frostbolt is also an excellent spell and you’ll see a better return overall if you use it instead. You’ll use both of these glyphs eventually, so you really can’t go wrong here, just pick the one that fits better for you.
Glyph of Evocation: Also grants you 40% of your total health over the channeled time of your Evocation spell.
Glyph of Frost Nova: Your Frost Nova targets can take an additional 20% damage before the Frost Nova effect automatically breaks.
Evocation is one of the most amazing glyphs that Mages have access to. If you can only afford a single glyph, make it Evocation because the ability to heal yourself on the fly like that for 40% of your total health is amazing.
Frost Nova isn’t a great replacement, but it can help give you additional Ice Lance casts if you manage to not score crits with your Ice Lances when the target is frozen. Unfortunately the freeze from FN breaks pretty easy regardless, so while it has some potential benefit now and then overall it’s not all that great. It is much better while leveling than it will be at end game though, so it’s not a bad choice even though it’s not optimal.
Glyph of the Monkey: Your Polymorph: Sheep spell polymorphs the target into a monkey instead.
Glyph of the Penguin: Your Polymorph: Sheep spell polymorphs the target into a penguin instead.
These are your only two options within the level range, and sadly they both essentially do nothing at all. They change the physical appearance of what you change targets into when you polymorph them, and that’s it. Of the two, I definitely prefer Monkey, so that’s my suggestion….or just wait until level 32 and use the Glyph of Slow Fall instead.
Frost makes a bit more use of macros thanks to the Water Elemental. The best way to make use of his Freeze spell is to use a macro and add it to your action bars (or you can keybind it directly). You can either have it there by itself like I do, or you can tie it into other spells to make it easier for you to remember.
This macro simply calls up the Freeze spell to be cast and nothing else. This is the version that I use for any special abilities that my pets have, regardless of class. In fact it’s literally the exact same macro with a /cast for every spell that I have a pet that can cast, and I just use a default icon for it. But I’m lazy like that.
This is the version that I made for my wife to use on her Frost Mage. This is the first pet class where having the pet’s special ability activate on demand was especially important, so she’s not used to having to use them. This macro casts your own Frostbolt spell but also brings up the target icon for your pet’s Freeze spell. Many players tend to spam the button needed to cast their spells so the exclamation point in front of Freeze will prevent the target area for constantly going in and out while you spam it because activating it every other time cancels the cast without it.
Gearing Up for Spellcasting
Intellect > Crit > Haste > Hit > everything else
You’re a caster, so Int is your top priority. Crit is number two because your DPS thrives when you manage to crit due to Hot Streak procs and Ignite DoT’s. Haste is good for helping you with those cast times, and it will improve your DoT’s later on when you actually have some. Hit really doesn’t matter while you’re leveling; it’s not a bad stat, it just isn’t all that great either. If you stumble onto some great gear that just so happens to have Hit on it, then grats on your bonus stat, but don’t turn down upgrades to the other stats in favor of Hit at this level.
The Tailoring profession is a great source of gear throughout the various levels, especially if you plan on soloing 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. Don’t discount quest rewards though, because Cataclysm brought a whole new set of quest rewards and some of them are fantastic for their level.
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.
When it comes to Wands, it’s all about the stats. I haven’t used my wand for anything other than killing critters when I’m bored in a very long time. Look for Intellect and Crit above all others for your wand and ignore the damage it can do all together.