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Best Skyrim character builds – The Mage

In the last part of this series of Skyrim character guides I detailed exactly how to create, build and develop a character of my own favourite class – the assassin. This instalment will focus on a hugely popular character class in this, or any other, RPG – the mage.

There are many different types of magic in Skyrim, many different ways to use it, and so many different kinds of magic using character. But for the purpose of this guide, a mage is a character specialising purely on the use of magic spells and powers, with a particular focus on raw magic combat, so we’re not going to be talking about utility magic or support magic that much. This mage is all about sheer magical power and force.

We’ll cover race selection, what skills and attributes to focus on and how to increase them fast, which Perks really help and which are a waste of XP, what kind of equipment load-out you should use and even what quests to prioritise in order to develop the relevant skills and earn bonuses to suit your character’s specialisation.

This is by no means a definitive, rigid set of instructions – the beauty of Skyrim is that you can do anything you want with your character – but it will, at the very least, give you some effective blueprints to work from.


Mages are a popular choice in RPGs because most RPGs have fantasy settings and what’s more integral to fantasy settings than magic? No, not beards. No, not pointy ears. Magic powers tend to be more varied and spectacular, especially later in the game, too, which many players find more fun than just hacking their way through the whole game with samey physical attacks. A mage’s weakness of course is that he’s very dependent on magical power and physically vulnerable. These weaknesses are especially acute in Skyrim which, aside from a few companions, is a solo RPG, in which your character does not form part of a balanced party. So your Skyrim mage has to be able to protect himself.


For a pure magic user there’s no better race than the Altmer high elf. They get a skill bonus to every type of magic, along with hefty bonuses to starting Magicka and Magicka generation. The only slight downside is that they’re not that well geared towards combat magic, so you might want to try one of two other options.

Bretons are the most magic of the human races in Skyrim and are extremely good at defending against magic, as well as using it. Not only do they have a natural magic resistance of 25%, they can also absorb the Magicka from magic attacks using their Dragonskin power. They specialise in Conjuration and don’t get a starting bonus to Destruction, which isn’t ideal early on, but Conjuration does become extremely powerful at higher levels.

The main reason to opt for a Dunmer dark elf for your mage is that +10 starting bonus to Destruction, the most to-the-point combat magic you can get. They’re handy with Illusion and Alteration too and their fire-based trait powers are cool but, aside from Alchemy, their non-magic skill bonuses aren’t great for a pure mage.


Magicka should obviously be your main focus as a mage, but it’s worth bumping the other two up here and there just to make sure you don’t end up an ultra vulnerable wussy.


Every Destruction spell is essentially a weapon so for a character specialising purely in magic, Destruction is a must. If you essentially treat Skyrim as an FPS then you’ll rack up your Destruction level in no time.

This is essentially a mix of bound weapon spells, which aren’t much use to a pure mage, and summon spells, which are really useful. Even the weak ones are good for drawing enemy attention away from your poor, vulnerable mage, and the stronger ones will be powerful enough to fight most of your battles for you. Having a summon ready to cast the instant enemies are encountered is a good habit to get into.

The spells might be boring protection and healing types, but overall Restoration is a pretty useful skill, not just for mages, but for any character, really. Of particular use for mages though, are the Perks that improve Magicka regeneration.

This school of magic boasts a good variety of spells, mixing support magic with psychological effects on enemies that can make them much easier, less threatening opponents. Using a Calm spell followed by a Destruction attack is a solid strategy.

It’s mostly utility spells in this school, which are useful, but you’ll hardly want to be ploughing that much focus into them. Combat-wise you’ve got various types of protection spell, which are handy given that you’ll probably not be wearing any armour and, later on, Paralysis spells, which are even better than Calm spells for keeping your targets still.

Best Perks:

This Restoration Perk speeds your Magicka regeneration, which is useful for any mage, no matter what your particular specialisations.

The coolest way to top up your Magicka is to absorb it directly from enemy spells, and that’s exactly what this Perk allows you to do.

Aspect Of Terror
It’s supposed to just give a bonus to Fear spells, but this Perk also enhances the damage done by Fire spells (because they have a fear effect). It is technically a glitch and might get patched, but you might as well take advantage while you can.

This Perk adds a stagger effect to most of your destruction spells, which can be incredibly useful, especially when faced with charging enemies. More efficient than using a separate Calm or Paralyze spell too.

Twin Souls
Higher level Summon spells are powerful as they are, but doubling up with this Perk makes some of them ludicrously good, especially Dead Thrall.

Best Items:

Archmage’s Robes
It’ll be no surprise to learn that the most powerful item for mages can only be earned by completing the final main quest of the College Of Winterhold mage faction campaign. It has generous bonus to all magic skills and to both Magicka and Magicka regeneration. Also note that despite the built-in hood, you can wear these with a circlet or Dragon Mask.

This Dragon Mask might count as heavy armour, but it’s still great for a mage, thanks to huge bonuses to Destruction and Restoration, and a pretty hefty one to Magicka too. It can only be obtained during The World-Eater’s Eyrie quest towards the end of the main campaign. Just don’t forget to loot Nahkriin’s body when you defeat him – you can’t come back.

Sanguine Rose
This is the perfect staff for the mage who wants to summon a badass Dremora – and what mage doesn’t? – but can’t be bothered spamming lesser Conjuration spells in order to get good. It’s a reward for completing the quest A Night To Remember.

Staff Of Magnus
Another item only available during the latter stages of the College Of Winterhold campaign. It has huge range and capacity and absorbs 20 Magicka per second (Health if the target has no Magicka), making it both useful against mages and useful if you are one.

Skull Of Corruption
The regular damage rating of this creepy, but fun, staff isn’t that great, but if you absorb dreams from sleeping people with it before use it packs more than double the punch. From the quest Waking Nightmare.

Mage’s Circlet
This Magicka boosting headware is obtained halfway through the main College Of Winterhold quest line, and its power depends on your level. If you want the maximum bonus of +70, don’t start the Good Intentions quest ‘til you’re at least level 25.

Savos Aren’s Amulet
This +50 Magicka boosting amulet is another quest item from the College Of Winterhold faction. You get it at the end of Containment.

Armor Of The Old Gods or Shrouded Robes
You get the Armor Of The Gods for siding with Madanach on No One Escapes Cidhna Mine and the Shrouded Robes during the Dark Brotherhood campaign. Both give you a +15 to Destruction, the only difference being that the Armor Of The Gods is armour, obviously. For pure mages, I’d suggest going with the robes.

Helmet Of The Old Gods
This Magicka boosting helmet comes with the Armor Of The Gods.

Mythic Dawn Robes
These robes speed your Magicka regeneration and can be looted from the body of Silius Vesuius who lives in Dawnstar. You can, in theory, kill him any time. But it’s better to wait ‘til you’re level 20 so that you can get an invitation to his museum and begin the Pieces Of The Past quest.

Destruction Spells:

Every player starts with this spell, so you might think it should probably suck, but when used properly it’s the most Magicka-efficent spell in the game. Using it in short bursts stacks the “on-fire” damage bonus inflicted on enemies and, as described above, combining it with the Aspect Of Terror Perk makes it even more powerful.

Without Aspect Of Terror, this is the most Magicka-efficient spell in the game. Generally, fire spells are the best kind because so many enemies in Skyrim are vulnerable to fire.

Wall Of Fire
Not a great spell on its own as you’re unlikely to be able to inflict sustained damage with it. But if you can get a companion or summon, preferably both, to pin an enemy in place then you can whack a Wall Of Fire right on top of them and toast them hard.

Chain Lightning
Shock spells are easy to use because they don’t have trajectory – they hit where you’re aiming instantly. Chain Lightning in particular is the easiest area of effect spell to use as it just does the job for you. The only drawback is that it can hit companions and companions have no sense of self-preservation, so they’re unlikely to stand back out of the way.

Conjuration spells:

Conjure Dremora Lord
Not the most powerful or expensive summon spell, but probably the best for all-round use. Dremora Lords are just double-hard bastards – simple as that. Like many of the best spells, it can only be purchased from Phinis Gestor at the College Of Winterhold.

Dead Thrall
When combined with the Twin Souls Perk this is probably the most powerful Perk in the game, although it depends on exactly what kind of person you reanimate. Mages are generally best. You can only buy it from Phinis Gestor once you’ve completed his Conjuration Ritual Spell quest, and you need at least 90 Conjuration before he’ll offer that to you.

Restoration spells:

Fast Healing
It’s just easier than carrying around loads of healing potions.

Illusion spells:

Calm, Pacify, Harmony
These are good in combination with Destruction spells, particularly the slow moving fire and ice ones. It stops enemies hitting you and, what’s more, make them much easier targets for you to hit.

Fury, Frenzy, Mayhem
These spells are particularly useful when combined with Invisibility because that allows you to sneak into the midst of groups of enemies and just set them off against each other.

See above. It’s not really a pure mage kind of a tactic, but it is both funny and effective.

Alteration spells:

Mass Paralysis
It’s generally easier to enchant a weapon with Paralysis than to put the effort into levelling up Alteration, but you can’t paralyze several enemies at once with a weapon. You can with this very powerful spell, though. You can only buy it from Tolfdir at the College Of Winterhold after you’ve completed his Alteration Ritual Spell quest, and you need 90 Alteration for him to offer it to you. You’ll need to spam a lot of not particularly useful spells to get that far.

Best quests:

College Of Winterhold
This is the must-join faction for mages. To start on its main quest line simply got there and pass the test set by Faralda, who is standing on the bridge leading to the college entrance. Her test will simply be to cast a specified spell (randomly selected from Fear, Firebolt, Magelight, Healing Hands and Conjure Flame Atronach). If you don’t know her requested spell, she will offer to sell it to you for 30 gold, which is a reasonable price.

A Night To Remember
This quest rewards you with the awesome Sanguine Rose staff and to start it you have to reach level 14 then keep an eye out for an NPC called Sam Guevenne, who can show up in any tavern in the game. Speak to him to start the quest.

Waking Nightmare
If you wan the Skull Of Corruption, speak to Erandur in the Nightcaller Temple in Dawnstar. You need to then kill him at the end of the quest to get the Skull Of Corruption.

If you missed our guide to building the best assassin in Skyrim, check it out now.

18 comments on “Best Skyrim character builds – The Mage

  1. SkyrimFTW

    Nice man, I havent got skyrim yet but i thought i should be prepared to start the game. Thanks for the help

  2. Longcatcloud

    I havent got skyrim yet, but I’ve played it! Its awesome! Btw, lvl 3 with dualcast frostbite can kill a giant! xD Lololol! Try it with a new game! Just backpedal and keep a few magicka potions! :D

  3. Levi Nordstrom

    I find it better to max out enchanting and enchant a suit of amour with fortify destruction, and restoration, and various suits with different combinations.

  4. LiZaRdEnKi

    Very well done list of must-haves! Thanks for the information! Skyrim is an amazing game and it is awesome people like you take the time to make player guides for people who want to learn everything they can about everything in the game!!!!

  5. Lyzern

    I’m an Imperial pure mage myself (some pts into one-hander damage for early on levels) and I find some of these things to be sort of ineffective in my opinion. You don’t mention enchanting (As you also haven’t in your assassin’s guide) which is an absolutely major skill for Mages as it can make at most, although not effective, 2 Magic skills cost 0 Mag per spell. On my mage, currently level 51 with most perks on Destruction, Alteration (full) and Enchantment, I cast Incinerate at 0 Magicka, have a bonus to Health and Magic resistance and 500 Magicka. This allows me to cast ebonyflesh before all fights so it never runs off, without being afraid of running out of magicka to kill the enemies or have to use a staff, which can’t stagger.
    With that said, I don’t use any named items. I have a full set of Mage-clothings that improves destruction to 0% cost, Magicka, Magicka Regen, spell resist and Health and I find it better than using the Archmage’s Robe or Savos Aren’s Necklace (Enchanting also allows me to craft other skill enchancing items so I can improve non-mage skills, which is great). Lastly, the race choice: I don’t find it very important beyond the +50 Magicka from Altmer, the 50% fire resistance from Dunmer or the Spell absorption from Breton. They’re useful, sure, but I don’t see them as a race-choosing factor. I chose Imperial, and am a true Imperial, and all my future characters (Naming my thief) will be Imperials. So yeah, that’s my opinion :P

  6. SincroFashad

    Interesting guide, but I think it ignores the most powerful magic-related skill in the game: Enchanting.

    Without using any alchemy, one can craft items with the enchanting skill which will lower your cost to cast any single school of magic to 0. With the extra effect perk, you can have the ability to do this to two different schools of magic without requiring gear changes on the fly. There is no exploit involved. No shady potion stacking necessary. Its built right into the skill. At enchanting skill 100, the ‘fortify magic school effect’ magnitude is 25%. You can apply it to 4 pieces of gear. 4 x 25% is 100% reduction in casting cost.

    I am currently playing a battle mage. Every piece of gear I wear is something I crafted, aside from my Falmer helmet, and a circlet. I cast destruction spells for no magicka. I have 85% resist magic (actually 90%, but it’s capped at 85.) My gear also adds the muffle and waterbreathing effects, and I think I also have some health added to a piece. Add in double shock perk, plus impact and I can stun lock 99% of all the enemies in the game with endless Thunderbolts cast for free. (I do have double fire damage perk, and some fire spells for the rare shock immune monsters.)

    As I levelled up, I chose health every single level. When my character ran out of magicka, it was time for a potion, or a strategic withdrawal. When a character runs out of health, its back to your last save point. Easy choice to make from my point of view.

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  8. Kyle

    I agree with SincroFashad, enchanting is extremely useful for not just mages, but any character build it is probably the single best skill in the game, if you can get it to 100, which can be tricky, since you must enchant or disenchant items to level it up. With my dark elf I have Daedric armour enchanted to make me practically invincible. Never overlook enchanting. Oh and by the way great guides very useful and accurate.

  9. Hurry The uglyfire

    I tried every race and every character in Skyrim so far. Pure mage is on of the hardest character to build at beginnings and one of the most powerful on 50+ lvl of the game. However, i want to point out to use free perks very careful, because you may have lot of troubles. I suggest you to try playing on adept lvl and later try expert and master level of the game. If you want to be pure mage than try to use perks on Conjuration after 40+ level. It is nice and easy to sit back and watch summoned followers how they kill your enemies than you will suffer lot against powerful opponents later on. Who ever try to reach Lover stone at level 1-10 it could be seen wolf as guardian, later bear, sabre cat, but did you try reach lover stone at lvl 70?. Two dragons who shout for animals aid in combat. ( very fun battle and hard one even for adept lvl).

    -Try to develop 2 destruction magic perfectly ( fire kills health, shock kills stamina and magicka 1st) Firestorm magic can kill anything in 20m radius in 2 shots ( Dragons, dragon priests even toughest bosses..etc) lvl 90+
    -Alternation is you shield. ( Atronach +Dragon skin absorbs anything) Lvl 100
    – Enchanting on max soon as u can Lvl 100 for
    – Use weapon Combat follower Lydia for eg. ( maybe Lydia is not best choice because of bug, can not rise some skills). You will kill two flies, you need to do smiting and if you give him or her lot of soul gems and soul trap weapon you will solve money and training problems.Also to distract oppo.

    – Conjuration perks after characters 40+ lvl . Well its you choice. It is more fun to me to be pure Destruction mage than conjurer, but its your choice. Storm Attronach is enough for me.

    -Illusion, well its your choice again, very useful and powerful 100lvl but as i said i created destruction not hiding or manipulate mage
    – Restoration, hm close wounds spell to obtain is awesome and enough but ok 100+ is good

    – Useful Quests for Destruction Mage:
    – Winterhold Quest
    – blood on ice ( best amulet in game)
    -Lost to the age ( mage stone+love stone gives 35% faster magerskills)
    – The only cure ( Spellbreaker is the best ward in game, lol)
    and Some other mention above

  10. Hurry The uglyfire

    Currently playing new mage :Hurry The Ugly Fire pure mage High Elf summary At lvl 47:

    enchanting 100 Lvl., only middle branch perks use.
    Alternation: 100 lvl All perk used Except dual cast+ Dragon skin
    Restoration: 67 lv 3 perks use to obtain close wounds
    Conjuration 85 Lv. Only 4 perks used right branch- rare used only frost and storm atronach
    Illusion – 51lv no perks at all ( muffle spell rises fastest)
    Destruction as primary weapon Lvl 100 but fire as primary weapon and Shock as second choice. all 2/2 but dont waste perks on thing like disintegrate or intense flames, no use, u r strong enough to kill anything and high lvl bosses will not run.
    I spent perks on speach, lvl 65, Smithing Lvl 90… Alchemy lvl 18 no use at all but u may need potion for smithing or restoration. Best way to increase is mix giant toe+ wheat with alchemy gear. but that is for thief


    Nahkriin Mask
    Arch Mage robes
    Hurry ugly fire ring: 25% destruction less to cast+ 62% magicka regenerate faster.
    Hurry Ugly fire simple gloves(bought for 10 septims)-Carry capacity 35%+ and magicka increase 62+
    Fine boots- Vs fire and Vs Ice 37% protection
    Necromancer Amulet from Blood on ice

    I made 3 pairs of fine boots change if needed against shock and magic, fire and ice and disease and carry weight. if you notice all clothes has no armor only use spell armor from skills as pure mage

    i made few clothes more, because you need Alchemy set and smiting set, price decrease, from quests, all masks but i didnt placed for final one because i carry Nahkriin, Otar an Morokei everywhere.

    I finished main quest , Dawnguard quest and Winterhold quest, Thief guild half of quest because i needed Riften underground. also I wanted solve some quests to obtain things like. Blood on Ice, Lost to Ages, the only cure,Dawnbreaker, Onmund Quests, White phial

    -Follower: Mjoll the Lioness 1st than she became spouse (watch out Do not have bounty in Riften she will leave for good) and Serena
    Seems Mjoll can not die, she can use Bow soul trap, In downguard quest you can obtain Dragon bone Axe and Bow the best weapon for her (serena’s mother will tell you to kill guardians, they have dragon’s gear and weapons, and if u find 25 soul husks you can obtain fine spell books from trader, but use quick save and quick load when u are selling husks, randomly he doesn’t care to give you spell for lvl 10 or lvl 100, eg, I got mass paralyze spell there and guardian circle ( found 50soul hasks i Cairn) Put soul trap on her weapon and money flows like hell.
    As I wrote i used perks on middle branch on enchanting, If you get any spell weapon conjured spells mostly, by smiting knives and put conjure magic on it , you can earn 1100 gold per knife. My knife on lvl 47 costs 3360 gold each without Haggling gear that why i put perks on speech. At lvl 23 you can get any type of weapon randomly in bosses chests or shopkeepers with “Enchanting description: Summoned Daedra up to level are sent back to Oblivion”+ Chance to paralyze target 5 seconds. It costs 1 petty soul game 1 iron ingot and 1 strip and u have 3360 gold, LOL. Shopkeeper dont have money, but 1200 gold is fine per 1 knife. If you put only 1 spell” sent to blivion” your knife will cost 2000 golds basic price.

    one More thing about Mjoll. when i killed Dragon priests i gave her Dragon’s priest stuffs. Sometimes she uses magic and in deepest dungeons constantly uses Frost Atronach(if u hit her atronach he will attack u) stuff or storm wall and fireballs against dragons during he circle around her in open. in right hand he uses best axe.
    -Made 1 house basic with Lydia as Stuart (with mjoll and Sven there,no kids) , bought Breezhome, honestly I have money enough to buy house in Solitude or elsewhere but personally that sims part of the game has no point because most of the time (99%) you are somewhere in action. in my opinion Riften house is best because you have everything in 1 small place low cost. Windhelm house after blood on ice is good too and it is interesting because of false door room and you also have everything at 1 place (except Sun, lol)

    -Serena is Excellent follower but fills less amount of soul gems than Mjoll, lol.

    uffff what to say more about my current character. I didn’t put new patch to reset skills over level 100. I can give you plenty of advice how to get all magic skills in less than 5 hours and get lvl 35 or so instantly, but that is catch. you may do that on ” Dont hurt me lvl” or you may get some angry Orc to slam you with heavy sword in some stupid cave, and by animation how he kills you he acts like has lvl 100 two hand weapon ( I played that character too), or you may find some angry pyromaniac mage who has fire spell on lvl 100.( Arch Pyromancer in Fort Kustav, lol). NEVER NEVER do fast leveling if basic attack skill is not 90 lvl no matter you are thief, mage or warrior.

    Alternation Fast leveling. Buy Detect life spell, Go i in Whiterun on stairs just above market heading to Dragonsearch. start leveling from 8 AM to 4 PM. Any time u cast spell u light 70 people. 27 minutes from lvl 25 to 100.
    someone said something about Enchanting. right now I try to play character without weapons for fun few hours. I get to lvl 18 so far and killed 2 dragons with bare hands and few tough guys as well. On lvl 5 i jumped to Riften took puglist gloves. than i visit the temple of Dibella in Markarth(figured why that quest), LOL, i used perks only for heavy armor Enchanting and smiting so far and has Atronach Stone power. Khajit name Rocky Marciano character. That was my attempt for non weapon character, and Rocky is promising. My friend is playing without weapon, seemed interesting and i have good start,
    _____________________But MAGE is MAGE FUN

    PS: Sorry about my Bad English, i m Serb

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  13. Axeclown

    the best mages in the game are ones with massive enchanting skill, recomended most useful item for a mage is azura’s black star and use it to make a set of robes gloves hood ring etc that fortify destruction and if you enchant enough peices you can come out with all destruction spells costing ZERO to cast

  14. Sebastien Edwards

    I just wanna know is there anything specific i should know about how to make a Mage i just started the winterhold quest line im lev 4

  15. Bohemianrug

    Never underestimate healing spells. It never hurts to put a few points into restoration. And healing hands is very useful if you pick up a tanky follower.

  16. The BEST way to be an awesome mage is to get your enchanting skill up to at least 50 or preferably 75 and get Armor, Helmet, Ring and Necklace with the enchantment Fortify Destruction which will reduce the cost of Destruction magic by 15 – 20% per item. With 4 enchanted items, the cost will be reduced by a total of 60 – 80% which will allow you to use as many Destruction spells as you want, making it easy to be a pure mage.

  17. revanist

    Or, you can get enchanting up to 100, at which point you can reduce the cost of 2 schools of magic by 100%, as well as have access to 1 shot weapons(dual fire/frost chant) with lots of charges that slowly recharge themselves as well. Enchanting is just overpowered, but it takes a while to grind out to balance it.

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