Swords and armor not for you? Rather blast your opponents from afar or maybe make them look ridiculous by turning them into cutesie little critters? Look no further, the mage is for you. Mages have the best overall selection of AOE damage in the game and also benefit from a selection of unrivaled utility. They are a solid choice for PvE, PvP, and public transit.
Strengths: Damage. Mages have a large variety of damage effects, preferrence will depend on spec. Mages also have a wide variety of kiting abilities, giving the mage time to put some distance between themselves and mobs. Also, mages are one of the strongest AOE grinding classes in the game. One other solo benefit of the mage is the ability to quickly travel anywhere a teleport has been learned. This makes travel between areas extremely fast and convenient and is something no other class can do.
Weaknesses: Durability and down time. Mages have two resources that are of pretty limited supply: health and mana. Unfortunately, they are highly dependant on casting so the mana will be used up fairly quickly. Also, since they are incapable of wearing any but the weakest armor, although talents later in the game can help with absorption, any damage they take will eat into their health pool fairly quickly. This causes them to have a lot of downtime between mobs, normally eating and drinking.
Strengths: Damage and utility. Sheep (or penguin if you picked up the glyph) is one of the best CC abilities in the game and is welcome in any group setting. Mages are also one of the few classes that can remove curses. And everyone loves being ported out of an instance instead of having to burn their hearthstone. Oh, and it goes without saying they have powerful single target and AOE damage.
Weaknesses: Mana dependancy. Although there are talents to make them more efficient, it is a constant balancing act for the mage to keep up the most efficient damage for the situation.
Strengths: Kiting and burst damage. There are multiple PvP mage builds which basically boil down to almost instant death. If a mage sees you at range before you see them, there's a very good chance you're dead before you realize it. Also, mages have many tools to keep melee classes from getting to them through their many kiting abilities.
Weaknesses: Durability. The counter point to a mge being able to one shot most other classes is that they themselves are one of the easiest classes to one shot kill in the game due to low armor and a general lower priority on stamina stacking. One you have gotten into melee range mages really have little defense to a melee assault.
Arcane: This tree focuses on efficiency and adds some powerful utility to the mage's arsenal. It is a very good choice as a primary spec or secondary. Most casters will at least try to get the ability to clearcast as there is no spell as efficient as a free spell. CriticalQQ has recently run a blog about Arcane as a powerful PvP spec, I will bow to his superior theorycrafting abilities for specifics on that one.
Fire: If you ever played the original Warcraft (I'm talking orcs and humans, not vanilla Wow), the dwarf said "I love blowing things up!" Well, switch the dwarf to a gnome, put him in some robes and thats the fire mage. Nukes, both single target and AOE are what this spec is about. If you are getting one shotted, it was probably a fire mage, or someone at least specced into fire.
Frost: If fire is all about damage, frost is all about effects. Extra kiting, freezing opponents in place, adding critical strike chance to frozen opponents, faster cooldowns on kiting abilities, thats what the frost tree specializes in. If you are planning on soloing at all, frost is a very solid choice.
The mage class is not without faults. If you don't know what you're doing it is very easy to get overwhelmed, die a lot, and give up on the class. It is not a class for the novice warcraft player. Still, for those who can level one, they posess almost un-rivaled utility and power. Mages have some truly unique abilities and a good mage can always find a spot in an instance run or raid group. And, if all that doesnt appeal to you, you can always be a Wow travel agent and open portals for people for a fee.
Mid Afternoon Quickie
8 months ago