The races in the Elder Scrolls series are all unique, just like their homelands. The Nords are a strong race adapted to the cold weather of Skyrim, while the Bretons of High Rock have a blend of elven and human traits that make them quick to master magic.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim may take place in a region not known for its magic-wielding people. However, this does not mean you cannot create a powerful mage. Skyrim allows the player to create a character from any Elder Scrolls race.
So don’t worry; I’ve got your back and compiled a list of the best races and builds for creating some fantastic mage characters. So without further ado, let’s channel, lightning, and fire blast our way into this!
Bottom Line-Up Front
Would you rather be casting fireballs at giants rather than in class at the College of Winterhold? Don’t worry; I got your back. I’ve got all the important details here for Tolfdir’s exam on becoming a master mage.
The three best races for mages are:
- High Elf
- Dark Elf
There is no one true best race for mage builds, but these races offer the best potential for creating mages. High Elves are great for typical pure mages that focus on all aspects of magic. They have large Magicka pools and can regenerate Magicka very fast.
The Breton race, however, is my favorite of the three races for mage builds as they have strong magic resistances, are masters at Conjuration, and are great for creating battle mage builds, a subclass that infuses warrior skills with mage skills.
Dark Elves, on the other hand, are Destruction magic specialists and are adept at sneaking. They’re also given natural fire resistance and can activate the Ancestral Wrath ability to deal fire damage to all foes that get too close. Dark Elves are an interesting race as they make fantastic pure destruction mages but also great mage assassins.
I picked these three races because they can be used as pure mages and are versatile enough to fit sub-classes to pander to your preference in gameplay. It’s essential that you join the College of Winterhold at some point in the game due to it being a mage-orientated guild. You can train your skills and learn new spells here.
Before you start slinging spells about and zapping your enemies with electricity, it’s important that we understand what race attributes make great mages to find the best! So here are the considerations I took into account when creating this guide:
- Race attributes must favor Mage Skills over any other class.
- All races must be able to specialize in at least one school of magic, so I had to consider what builds were best suited for each specific race.
- All races must feature a race power that supplements a mage build.
- Skyrim’s open-world elements equally match the character creator and gameplay. As a result, some players may wish to blend two gameplay styles together, so I’ve considered the best races for mage hybrid classes.
High Elf Pure Mage Build
- +5 Alteration.
- +5 Conjuration.
- +5 Destruction.
- +5 Enchanting.
- +10 Illusion.
- +5 Restoration.
High Elves, also known as Altmer, are master mages with the biggest bonuses to mage skills than any other race in the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Moreover, the High Elf race gets a +50 Magicka headstart, and their Highborn power enables you to fling spells out a fast a Nord kicking back pint after pint in the Bannered Mare.
Once a day, the player can activate the Highborn power to recharge their Magicka 25% faster for sixty seconds. This makes the High Elf incredibly powerful for consistently putting out damage and is perfect for anyone who wants to bring Palpatine and the empire to Skyrim; I recommend installing the Deathstar Moon mod!
The High Elf has a few extras to sweeten the deal, like starting with Fury as an extra spell. An extremely useful spell that sends a target insane with rage to attack other nearby enemies. This spell is super fun, but watching NPCs attack each other is extremely effective at keeping danger at bay, as the target will become a temporary tank for you.
In Survival Mode, High Elves are granted a 25% Resist Fatigue bonus which is nowhere near as good as that of the Khajiit’s survival abilities. But it does give you a small buff for when your character is starting to get tired.
High Elf Pure Mage Skills
- Destruction: Expert Destruction, Augmented Flames 2/2, Intense Flames, Augmented Shock 2/2, Disintegrate, Destruction Dual Casting, Impact
- Restoration: Master Restoration, Recovery 2/2, Avoid Death, Regeneration, Necromage, Ward Absorb, Restoration Dual Casting
- Alteration: Apprentice Alteration, Magic Resistance 3/3
- Conjuration: Adept Conjuration, Summoner 2/2, Atromancy, Twin Souls, Necromancy
- Illusion: Adept Illusion, Aspect of Terror, Hypnotic Gaze, Kindred Mage, Animage
- Enchanting: Enchanter 5/5 Insightful Enchanter, Corpus Enchanter, Extra Effect,
This build is extremely fun and perfect for players who want to blow up their enemies with Destruction magic. Players should focus on summoning Atronachs to act as tanks in battle and ignore Bound Weapons. However, if you wanted to save perk slots, you could ignore Conjuration and invest them more in Illusion Magic.
Although there are no Alteration Spells in this build, it’s essential that you invest in Magic Resistance, as this will grant you some much-needed Magic protection. Recovery 2/2 is another essential skill that will increase your Magicka Regeneration by 50%.
High Elf Best Spells
- Destruction Spells: Flames, Sparks, Fireball, Firebolt, Chain Lightning, Flame Cloak, Lightning Cloak, Incinerate, Thunderbolt, Wall of Flames, Wall of Storms
- Restoration: Spells: Healing, Fast Healing, Healing Hands, Lesser Ward, Steadfast Ward, Greater Ward, Close Wounds, Heal Other, Grand Healing,
- Illusion: Fury, Fear, Frenzy, Calm
- Conjuration: Conjure Familiar, Raise Zombie, Conjure Flame Atronach, Flaming Familiar, Reanimate Corpse, Revenant, Conjure Storm Atronach
High Elf Best Equipment
For the High Elf mage, I recommend sticking to Mage Robes in apparel rather than armor. Early on in the game, it can be tempting to equip yourself with some hard protection. However, by doing this, you’re actually making your character weaker. Instead, I suggest you invest in summoning spells or acquire a follower to tank incoming damage.
- Thalmor Robes: Enchanted with the Fortify Destruction enchantment to reduce Destruction Magic spell cost. It can be acquired during the “Diplomatic Immunity” quest or looted from Thalmor Wizards.
- Cultist Robes: The Player receives 75% faster Magicka Regeneration. To spawn the cultists, you must own the Dragonborn DLC and have traveled to High Hrothgar at least once.
- Archmage’s Robes: The payer receives a 15% spell cost reduction to all spells, +50 Magicka, and 100% Magicka Regeneration. The robes are acquired by completing “The Eye of Magnus” quest.
High Elf Best Standing Stones
Activating the right Standing Stone goes a long way in building your character. A High Elf has fast Magicka regeneration meaning that The Apprentice Stone is wasted on them.
The Atronach Stone is a great option as you gain extra Magicka and a chance to absorb spells, although a -50% Magicka regen cancels out your Highborn power. So this is something to consider; in the mid-late game, it’s easy to cancel out these negatives with equipment and enchantments.
High Elves don’t have as much defense as Bretons and other physically strong races, making the extra 50 points of damage resistance and 25% Magicka resistance effects from The Lord Stone an option. In my opinion, I would activate The Mage Standing Stone until you have built up your character’s skills and perks.
Breton Battle Mage Build
- +10 Conjuration.
- +5 Alchemy.
- +5 Alteration.
- +5 Illusion.
- +5 Restoration.
- +5 Speech.
The Breton race is my favorite next to the Khajiit; they make excellent mages rivaling the High Elves race. A battle between a High Elf and Breton would be interesting, as Breton has a 25% resistance to all magic and is equipped with the Dragonskin race ability granting them the ability to absorb 50% of Magicka from hostile spells for 60 seconds.
Their powerful resistance to magic makes the Bretons one of the best races in the game, period. They start with an extra ten skill points in Conjuration, making them experts at conjuring weapons and summoning creatures to fight for them, which you should lean into early in the game.
Breton’s start with the Conjure Familiar to help them at the beginning of the game; this is great as you’ll be able to summon your own tank.
I recommend allocating attribute points in Health and Magicka for the Breton Battle Mage build. You can ignore Stamina, as spells will still be your main source of damage output. Moreover, power attacks can be cast as long as you have remaining stamina points.
Completing “The Book of Love” quest is essential for any Breton character and especially for a battle mage, as completing this quest will grant you a permanent 15% resistance to magic.
Breton Battle Mage Skills
- Alteration: Expert Alteration, Magic Resistance 3/3, Stability, Atronach.
- Destruction: Expert Destruction, Augmented Flames 2/2.
- One-handed: Armsman 5/5, Fighting Stance, Savage Strike.
- Conjuration: Master Conjuration, Mystic Binding, Summoner 2/2, Atromancy, Elemental Potency, Twin Souls.
- Alchemy: Alchemist 5/5, Physician, Benefactor, Experimenter 1/3, Snakeblood, Purity.
- Enchanting: Enchanter 5/5, Insightful Enchanter, Corpus Enchanter, Extra Effect.
Breton Battle Mage Spells
- Alteration Spells: Dragonhide, Paralysis
- Destruction Spells: Flames, Firebolt, Fire Rune, Flame Cloak, Incinerate.
- Conjuration Spells: Conjure Flame Atronach, Conjure Frost Atronach, Conjure Storm Atronach, Reanimate Corpse, Bound Sword.
For this build, I like using the unique Dawnbreaker sword. It not only looks the part and fits the character but also compliments your Fire Destruction spells as it deals bonus Fire damage per strike. Moreover, there is a small chance that undead creatures will explode in a ball of fire upon dying.
Or you can ignore One-handed weapons entirely and conjure your own ethereal One-handed weapons! This is a great idea as Bound weapons save you valuable inventory space and level your One-handed and Conjuration skills.
The player should craft or obtain the highest tier Heavy Armor they can throughout the game and apply the Resist Magic and Regenerate Magicka enchantments. This mage build relies heavily on Alchemy and potions for healing due to ignoring Restoration Magic.
Breton Standing Stones
Like every beginner mage in Skyrim, I suggest you activate The Mage Stone located outside of Riverwood to acquire a 20% increase XP bonus to all Magic skills. However, later on, in the game, it’s highly recommended that you activate The Atronach Stone, as this standing stone grants the user:
- 50% extra Points of Magicka.
- 50% Absorb spells.
- -50% Magicka Regen.
This is by far the best standing stone for a Breton mage, as the 50% absorb spells effect works extremely well with the Dragonskin ability. Although -50% Magicka Regen is quite taxing on your character. However, pick up the Aetherial Crown by completing the “Lost to the Ages” quest, and you’ll unlock a second Standing Stone.
Activate The Apprentice Stone as your second Standing Stone. This grants the user the following:
- 100% Magicka regeneration.
- 100% Weakness to Magicka.
Alternatively, play it safe with the Lord Standing Stone to receive the following benefits:
- 50 Points of damage resistance.
- 25% Magic resistance.
This one is nice and simple; extra Magicka resistance and damage resistance will make you almost untouchable with the right enchantments and armor. I much prefer this as a Standing Stone as it plays into the warrior aspect of the battle mage build.
Dark Elf Stealth Mage Build
- +10 Destruction.
- +5 Alchemy.
- +5 Alteration.
- +5 Illusion.
- +5 Light Armor.
- +5 Sneak.
Dark Elves are masters at Destruction magic, giving them huge offensive capabilities early in the game. Dark Elves get a few more benefits, such as starting with the Sparks spell and a strong 50% resistance to fire! And Ancestor’s Wrath is a unique racial ability that burns foes in melee range with 8 points of fire damage per second. This ability can be activated once per day for sixty seconds.
The +10 Destruction skill start makes Dark Elves powerful spell-slingers and a lot of fun to play. Beginners will likely go down the path of a Dark Elf Destruction mage, and while this is strong, I’m going to show you a build that plays into the Dark Elf’s stealth skills.
Dark Elf Stealth Mage Best Skills
- Illusion: Kindred Mage, Quiet Casting, Master Illusion, Illusion Dual Casting, Rage, Aspect of Terror
- Conjuration: Master Conjuration, Mystic Binding, Oblivion Binding, Soul Stealer, Conjuration Dual Casting
- One-handed: Armsman 5/5, Fighting Stance
- Destruction: Augmented Shock 2/2, Rune Master, Master Destruction, Disintegrate, Destruction Dual Casting, Impact, Intense Flames
- Sneak: Stealth 5/5, Backstab, Deadly Aim, Assassin’s Blade, Muffled Movement, Silent Roll, Silence, Shadow Warrior
- Light Armor: Agile Defender, Custom Fit, Matching Set, Unhindered, Deft Movement
I’ve focused on this build as it’s easy enough to create a pure mage build or Destruction spell caster. This build will shine a different light on how magic can be used in Skyrim and the variation that it can give you in combat.
For Dark Elf and stealth mage build, I prefer leveling my stealth skills over magical skills. This is because early-level sneaking isn’t the greatest. It’s very easy to be revealed by enemies, and leveling this skill sooner rather than later will give you a lot more enjoyment out of this build in the mid-late game.
Dark Elf Best Stealth Mage Spells
- Illusion: Muffle, Mayhem, Invisibility, Frenzy, Fury
- Conjuration: Bound Dagger, Bound Sword, Bound Bow
- Destruction: Sparks, Flames, Lightning Bolt, Lightning Rune, Fire Rune, Flame Cloak, Lightning Cloak, Thunderbolt, Fireball, Incinerate
Perhaps you want to be a mage who uses Illusion magic to trick your foes into killing each other. Or maybe you want to be a cutthroat specializing in one-handed daggers and Illusion magic. Alternatively, a Dark Elf stealth mage could use Conjuration to summon Bound Bows to use stealth bonuses and pick enemies off from afar.
I added Muffle despite eventually unlocking the “Silence” perk because Muffle can be extremely useful in the early-mid game.
Dark Elf Best Stealth Mage Equipment
I recommend equipping your Dark Elf Stealth Mage with full sets of Light Armor due to the Matching Set perk. So the Shrouded Armor and Nightingale Armor acquired by joining both the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild are perfect for this build.
Nightingale armor is a unique set of armor that grants you the following bonuses:
- Move silently.
- 15% easier to pick locks, and One-handed attacks deal 15% more damage.
- Illusion spells cost less Magicka to cast.
If you plan on running the Nightingale Armor for your build, consider ignoring the Silence perk, as the set allows you to move silently.
A full set of Shrouded Armor gives the player similar benefits such as:
- Increase Poison Resistance by 50%.
- Muffle the player to move silently.
- +20% extra damage from bows.
- Backstabs inflict double damage.
Dark Elf Best Stealth Mage Standing Stones
Because the Dark Elf requires specialization in stealth, I recommend activating The Thief Standing Stone to increase your experience gained from all stealth skills by 20%.
You know the drill by this point; as your character grows stronger, shift over to The Atronach Stone to gain an extra 50 points of Magicka and a 50% chance to absorb spells. This will give you much-needed defense against enemy mages.
Question: What are the Best Followers for a Mage in Skyrim?
Answer: If you’ve ever played Dungeons or Dragons or taken part in any multiplayer fantasy RPGs, then you should be familiar with the typical Tank, DPS, Support, and Healer lineup. Although Skyrim is a single-player RPG, and generally, you can only be accompanied by one follower, this rule applies. As a mage, you’ll want warrior followers, like Mjolll The Lioness, as they can keep enemies from reaching you while you deal damage from range.
Brelyna Maryon is a great mage follower due to her high Conjuration skill level. She will frequently summon Atronachs to battle alongside you, allowing both you and Brelyna space to put in damage.
J’zhargo wants nothing more than to be the strongest Destruction mage in all of Skyrim. He’s great as a follower; if playing a Breton, he will cause mayhem on the battlefield dealing significant damage from Destruction Magic.
Question: Is it Better to Become a Werewolf or Vampire Lord Playing as a Mage in Skyrim?
Answer: The Vampire Lord is hands down the best option for a mage. Note that to become a Vampire Lord, you must have Dawnguard DLC installed. Transforming into a Vampire Lord will be able to unlock powerful perks to aid your magical spells and skills. Straight out of the bat, you get 50 bonus points for health, Stamina, and Magicka; all the better, too, because you’ll need the extra Magicka to cast Blood Magic, a new type of magic limited to Vampire Lords. As a Vampire Lord, you can summon Gargoyle and raise the dead to fight for you.
Question: What are the Rewards for Becoming the Arch-Mage in the College of Winterhold in Skyrim?
Answer: For completing the College of Winterhold quest, you’ll be rewarded the Archmage’s Robes, a powerful set of robes that grant the player a 15% reduction to spell cost for all spells, +50 Magicka, and +100 Magicka regeneration. If that wasn’t enough, you get the Arch-Mage room in the College of Winterhold, equipped with Arcane Enchanter, Alchemy Lab, and all kinds of potion ingredients and Soul Gems.
Best Races for Mage in Skyrim: Conclusion
In conclusion, if you stick by these three races for mage builds, you can’t go wrong. The Breton is my favorite of the three races, followed by Dark Elf and then High Elf. Don’t get me wrong High Elves are extremely strong. However, Dark Elves and Bretons make for a lot more fun gameplay. High Elves specialize in all magic skills, being granted bonuses to all. However, I find that Bretons are the best race of the three for mage builds.
Overall, if you’re new to Skyrim, don’t worry too much about sticking to a build, but do play into your race’s strengths. The builds mentioned in this article are just ideas to get you thinking of the various ways to play as a mage.
As a parting note stretching your character too thin by only allocating perks to early skills means that you won’t specialize your character, and it will take you much longer to increase your damage output. This can ruin your game if you’re playing on hard difficulties such as Master or Legendary.