I currently have 4 characters in World of Warcraft which I play, that is do quests and dungeons with as opposed to using them as crafting or bank alts. There are my two level 80 characters, priest and warrior on the Horde side, there is my Alliance paladin level 63 on a different server, and there is another Horde character, a blood elf mage, currently level 78. This post is just a personal journal entry with a bunch of random thoughts regarding that mage. [This means you have been officially warned about the content of this post. I know some people don't like it when I write about my characters. If that is the case for you, I recommend skipping this post. Don't count on your QQ comment of "you shouldn't write about yourself" making it through comment moderation. The idea that I shouldn't be allowed to write about myself on my blog is absurd anyway.]
The initial idea of playing that mage when I created him during the Burning Crusade was to complete the holy trinity of pure classes, adding a pure dps to the holy priest and protection warrior I had. But as I mentioned previously, the priest and warrior are now dual spec. While the warrior never really got into dps, due to not having serious dps gear, the healing gear of the priest is good enough to deal 3k dps when I switch him to shadow. Nevertheless I decided to level the mage to 80 anyway, just to increase my options.
The mage has, and has always been, a deep frost spec. I did buy the dual spec capability for him, and tried a frostfire build once I got the frostfire spell. But that wasn't a huge success, as the frostfire build appears to be very much a raiding build, working well against a single large target. For soloing quests it is far inferior to deep frost, and for running 5-man dungeons the frost build is also often better, due to better AoE. I will have to look into an arcane build as second spec, I hear arcane mages aren't as bad as they used to be in the past.
My previous two level 80 characters covered all of Northrend, one doing all the "do all quests in this zone" achievements of the right half of the map, the other doing them on the left half. Thus the mage flitted all over the map, doing a "best of Northrend" quest selection. I leveled him extremely slowly previously, but the pace picked up with patch 3.3 and the Dungeon Finder. While as dps I do have to wait considerably longer to get into a random Dungeon Finder group than my tank or healer, it is still very much worth it. I just log on, join the queue, quest and play solo as if I were alone, and then interrupt soloing for half an hour or so whenever the Dungeon Finder gets me into a group. After the dungeon I'm right back where I was in the middle of the quest. That usually works very well, with two exceptions: I got a Dungeon Finder invite in the middle of the Veteran of the Wrath Gate cutscene, which was completely distorted and didn't work at all. And getting a dungeon invite while doing a vehicle quest also isn't perfect, usually forcing you to redo the quest from the start.
In the level 70's the first random dungeon of the day gives you 2 Emblems of Triumph, of which I already have over 20. It is quite possible that by the time I ding 80, I'll already have 30 Emblems of Triumph, and thus could directly buy a piece of T9 gear. I don't consider that to be optimal design. I would have preferred during my level 70's to receive level-appropriate rewards instead of an advance payment on level 80 gear. Thus my main motivation of using the dungeon finder is not the emblems, but the loot that drops from the bosses, and the xp. I find that during the time I am in a dungeon, I make considerably more xp per hour than during the time I solo quests, due to there being no more waiting and traveling involved in running dungeons.
My mage also has two professions, tailoring and inscription. I don't craft many glyphs any more, the market being too crowded on my server nowadays, but I'm proud that I have every single glyph recipe there is in the game. In tailoring I'm far from having all recipes, due to the fact that many tailoring recipes are drops from dungeons and raids I never went with my mage. I do however already have some recipes for epic cloth gear, even one for a iLevel 245 epic cloth robe. So again the moment I hit level 80 I will be able to "skip" some of the classic "gear up in heroics" phase.
But then of course the question is "gear up for what?". Patch 3.3 sneakily introduced an official gear level, that is if you are level 80 and open the Dungeon Finder on the "specific WotLK heroics" page, you will find that depending on your gear you are locked out of some heroics. If you are wearing not good enough gear, neither the specific nor the random function will allow you to join a group for lets say the Forge of Souls. But as I have around 60k gold on that server, a mix of gear from already earned emblems, crafted epics, and boe epics from the AH should quickly get me beyond that hurdle, allowing me to access any heroic.
At that point there is currently a gap for me, and I assume for many other players of alts as well. The Dungeon Finder still doesn't work cross-server for raid dungeons, Blizzard says that this is due to raid lockouts and such. My guild, and presumably many other guilds, are doing the harder raid dungeons like ToC and ICC with mains, and joining a different guild with your alt is frowned upon. Runs to places like Naxxramas are mostly limited to "kill the first boss of one wing for the weekly raid quest" runs. And the raid pickup groups forming via the chat channel still suffer from all the organizational problems of the pre-Dungeon Finder era: Manual travel, manual selection, with the organizers often requiring you to have the achievement of having killed Kel'Thuzad before allowing you in the raid, plus all the problems of finding replacements for the people who left after the first wipe. In any case, due to a somewhat perverse reward structure, there isn't much interest in going to Naxxramas any more, as "farming" heroics for emblems will result in better gear.
Thus it looks like it will be heroics or game over for my mage at level 80, until the next expansion comes out. I will try the hidden "/lfr" looking-for-raid functionality, but I don't have high hopes at the moment. We'll probably have to wait for some patch after Cataclysm, if ever, before we get a system that makes pickup raids as easy to organize as pickup heroics.