My mage in World of Warcraft reached level 80 this weekend, and that turned out to be far more fun and excitement than I had anticipated. Traditionally the level cap means your character development is slowing down; instead of gaining xp and levels and gear, you gain nothing but gear any more. But in its current incarnation, the level cap at 80 in World of Warcraft is where the game starts handing out epics like candy. And in spite of rationally knowing that this is all just purple pixels, the dopamine rush in our brains just feels good at the time.
At level 78 last week my mage had found that he could tailor for himself a complete set of 8 pieces of Frostsavage cloth armor, each one better than anything he had found in repeated random dungeon runs. When I dinged level 80 I was still wearing that complete set, which is iLevel 187. But I had already tailored for myself a Merlin's Robe, iLevel 245, plus Ebonweave Gloves, iLevel 200. And I already had 30 Emblems of Triumph. So I put on those, and went doing my first heroics.
Now in my 70's in Dungeon Finder pickup groups for normal dungeons I quite often ended up on top of the damage meter. Heroics were a shock because suddenly I was at the bottom of that meter. But then most of the dungeons I ran at level 80 were with guild groups. Nowadays doing random dungeons with the Dungeon Finder is one of the major guild activities outside raid times, with heroics groups constantly forming, doing one or several runs until somebody has to leave, and then reforming with different people. Everybody seems to have several level 80 characters, logging on whatever role is needed, and forming a group just takes a few minutes. And this being a very nice guild, everybody understands that not every freshly minted level 80 alt is directly able to do 4k dps. Not that you'd need 4k dps for random heroics.
So I ran several heroics, up to and including ToC, and also ran ToC and FoS on normal, with those dungeons already dropping epics on normal mode. So quickly I had a first random bunch of iLevel 200+ epics, and was up to over 50 Emblem of Triumph. So I bought the T9 hat, and then went shopping. I bought some boe epics for the slots were I was still undergeared, put epic gems in all available slots, and also bought enchantments. Being tailor / inscriber helped for the shoulder and pants enchantment, while I could get a head enchantment via one of my other level 80s who was already exalted with the Kirin Tor, the "Augments" now being bind on account. For the rest I bought scrolls from the auction house. I was already loaded up with fish feasts and flasks, so at the end of the day my damage output was starting to get acceptable. As it was the mage who had made tons of gold with inscription previously, I thought the character deserved to splurge on the best stuff money could buy. (And I still got 50k gold left on that server, 20k on the other server with my paladin)
Now the next two things to do are getting more selective in chosing gear, and reviewing my talent build. Both of which aren't as easy as it sounds. If you check various theorycrafting sites for the best gear and build, you will find that "best" there is usually defined as "best for raiding". But raiding isn't really what my mage is going to do, for two reasons: My guild is doing Icecrown Citadel rather than Naxxramas / Ulduar, and I don't really want to get back into heavy raiding anyway. I'm having a lot of fun in heroics right now, and that is what I'll stick to at least until I wear full T9 gear. Even if they would take me (they might), I'll not join a raid to one of the more advanced raid dungeons as a leech.
But it turns out that gearing and speccing for heroics is a different kettle of fish than gearing and speccing for raids. In gear the problem is the hit cap. As a mage you generally want to be at the hit cap, that is have a 0% chance of your spells to miss. But the miss chance for a heroics boss and for a raid boss differs by a large amount, and thus the hit rating you need differs by several hundred points. Thus my current hit rating of over 300 is "too low" for raiding, but already "too high" for heroics. As long as I stick to heroics, going for the classic 446 spell hit cap would be a complete waste. And even for raids I don't need the complete 446, because various other bonuses from both myself and the presence of certain other classes and races in the raid.
For the talent build for heroics I'll have to experiment a bit. Here there are two issues: AoE and mana breaks. Quite often a random pickup group, and sometimes even guild groups, are very much in a hurry to complete the random heroic. The goal is to get through the dungeon in the fastest time possible, and rather run two dungeons in half the time each than taking a lot of time to run just one. But in heroics a significant amount of time is spent on trash, not just on bosses. Thus a mage talent build which deals a lot of AoE damage speeds heroics up, while for a raid you'd obviously rather go for a build which deals the maximum damage on a single boss target. The other requirement for a talent build for heroics is that it minimizes downtime for mana breaks between fights. My current frost build is mana conservative as long as I just use frostbolts on single targets, but when I start blasting away blizzards to AoE trash mob groups my dps goes up and my mana goes down. Sitting down to refill mana after the fight often means that the group is already in the next fight before my mana is back to full.
As I never specced arcane on that mage, I'll have to look into arcane builds as dual spec alternative to frost builds (and I'll have to review my frost build, which is optimized for solo PvE, not heroics). I know there are arcane AoE spells, and the single target damage of arcane is higher than that of frost, but I also hear that arcane uses up a lot of mana, which might become problematic in heroics groups not willing to wait for the mage to regain his mana between fights. It is no good if your dps is awesome, but you're only participating in half of the fights, spending the other half on your ass waiting for the blue bar to refill. Already with the frost build I tend to place higher on the "dps" meter than on the "damage" meter when I AoE.
Well, anyway, I'm quite happy that I reached level 80, and still planning to have a lot of fun with that character. In parallel I'm planning to go back to my paladin, who took a break in the mid-60's when his rest xp ran out, but is back to full rest xp now. Having discovered how much fun reaching the level cap is nowadays, I'm quite motivated to get the pally all the way up to level 80, even if the original plan was mainly to play him through old Azeroth before the Cataclysm hits it.