While there tends to be an assumption that priest is the hardest class to level, mage is in a difficulty class of its own. That's why it is vital to make sure you are specced and geared as well as possible during your journey to level 80, because it's going to be a bumpy ride even if everything is perfect.
Let's talk gear first. Spellpower or Spell Damage of the appropriate element, enough Hit to be capped (four percent against equal-level targets), and Int. Don't bother with spirit, and don't dump other stats for stamina, unless you want to PvP a lot while leveling. Evocation and Replenishment are both max-mana based, so Int is your goto stat for regen; Spirit is worthless even with the appropriate talents.
Hit capping takes priority over the rest, but after that you have to determine for yourself whether you need more damage, or more regen. Generally if you are getting hit again after your frost nova, you need more damage. Otherwise stack Int and reduce your downtime by improving the regen from you get from Evocation.
So, you know how to gear now. The next question is how you should spec. The popular answer is frost, and I'll agree with that, but with a warning: Frost is horribly weak until you get a decent ways in. Until around level 30, you will do FAR better going Arcane and spamming Arcane Missiles. Grab the two 5-point talents first, then Arcane Attunement and Arcane Focus. Afterwards, grab whatever you like until you are ready to respec Frost at 29 or 30.
http://www.wowhead.com/?talent=#oZZAc0hobu is what you should aim for in your new Frost spec, although if you are killing quickly enough you'll want to get Icy Floes instead of Frostbite. Not that it matters, since you'll get whichever one you DON'T start with using your next three points. Then, get Frost Channeling and Winter's Chill, followed by Ice Barrier and Shattered Barrier, and finally Cold as Ice. Pretty much fill out the tree at this point, grabbing everything below and including Empowered Frostbolt and Fingers of Frost. With the Eternal Water glyph, you can turn your elemental permanent, at which point you'll be nearly unstoppable.
With spec and gear out of the way, all that's left to discuss is playing style. AoE requires more skill than I can teach easily, so we'll stick to single-target pulls, which are preferable now that AoE has been nerfed anyways. Basically, you want to nuke the enemy until they are close to hitting you, then Nova them. After you get some distance, continue nuking until they die. For the first ten or fifteen levels, just use your wand or whatever you just got a rank in as your nuke. And always finish off near-dead enemies with your wand to conserve mana!
The same strategy applies to both Arcane and Frost, but you should note that Arcane will have to tank every second fight, thanks to a longer cooldown on Frost Nova. This isn't a big deal, since Arcane Missiles is immune to knockback, but you may have to shield if you are taking too much damage. Generally, though, Mana Shield and Ice Barrier are unwanted mana drains outside of emergencies or ranged mob pulls.
Obviously there's a lot more to playing mage, but this should be enough to get you to the point where you can start working out more complex strategies! I hope you enjoyed this article, make sure to read my other World of Warcraft guides!
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